AUGUST 01, 2013 - Introduction to Guerric of Igny (III): CHRIST AS THE FORM OF LIFE

Guerric Of Igny

Guerric's contribution to the spirituality of Citeaux is closely bound up with his developed teaching on the formation of Christ in the Christian (formatio Christi in nobis).  In this theme Guerric, who otherwise is reluctant to enter upon excursions into the world of Philosophy or of dogmatic problems, can deploy a passionately speculative vein.  This is so much the case that with his teaching of the form of Christ in the soul, Guerric has been named an important forerunner for Meister Eckhart's theology of the birth of God in the ground of the soul.1

Basing himself on Saint Paul, who in the hymn he cites in the letter to the Philippians distinguishes between the heavenly and earthly Christ,2 Guerric postulates a threefold stage in the formation of Christ in the soul.  There is the form of the flesh that becomes visible through the incarnation of God in this world; there is a second form of heavenly glory that will become visible to men at the end of days in the glorification.  Finally there is a third form: Christ in us.  Guerric writes of these stages in his second sermon for the Birth of Mary: "In the first form he appeared and had neither form nor beauty (Isaiah 53:2).  In the second he is the reflection of eternal light (Wisdom 7:26) . . .  Now there is between the form of the flesh and the form of the Word as it were a middle, a step from the one to the other, a further form of Christ . . .  This is the form of life that he lived in his body for the transforming (ad informational) of those who will believe in him."3

According to the ancient early Christian theological theme of the birth of God in man, Guerric took up the opinion that, through the act of faith and the uniting to Christ of the very person of the Christian, Christ in fact can become visible in the Christian.4

Bernard of Clairvaux in this sense maintained a "middle" coming of Christ in the heart of the Christian, a coming between the incarnation in Mary and the return of Christ at the completion of time.  Precisely here will Guerric expand his thought on the Christi consequences of this third kind of form of Christ in universal history.  Naturally in the first place there is the bodily prototype of Christ (the forma corporalis) that through the imitation, the so named Imitatio, that has further effects, an d incites others to carry over into one's own life the works of Christ and his apostle.  Guerric takes up the old early Christian theological doctrine concerning the birth of God among men that Christ actually becomes visible in the Christian through the act of faith and the taking up of his own person by Christ.

Beyond this sensibly perceived form the teaching of Christ also begins to have further consequences that now begins to determine a new manner of thinking and of acting, the so-named forma moralis or spiritualis.  Here Christ operates in the moral or spiritual sense as the Word, who was already present in the Scripture of the Old Testament, was not as yet directly accessible.  As the concise saying in the Middle Ages expressed it:  " Christ was hidden in the Old, and revealed in the New" (In Vetere latet, In Novo patet).  Finally there is in the end a third mystical kind of form development of the Christ event that points beyond the history of humanity.  Guerric here is thinking of the procession from the Father for all eternity of Christ in his divine form.  In this form he will appear only to reward the just.  Here Guerric is speaking of the forma intellectualis, in order to indicate that this form can be impressed, not by virtue of images or likenesses but is only purely spiritual.  It is accessed by grace-inspired intuition.  It is fashioned only by a higher knowledge to which wisdom points in its spiritual substance.5  To be sure Guerric here mysteriously refers to the fact that he who seeks to investigate this invisible form could receive the impression of its glory.6

This sketch by Bernard of a threefold form of the Christ event in man has been more deeply thought through and presented by Guerric.  The perceptibility of the forma carnalis of Christ with a human countenance, allows the teaching, is the basis for the forma moralis, is again conceived as bound up with the activity of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit in turn can open to man the forma intellectualis, in itself inaccessible. Christ works in this case through the forma moralis as life-giving Spirit who introduces the ascent to God. Participation in the forma moralis assures to man access to the fully spiritualized and consequently spirit-filled forma intellectualis which Christ will as it were intuitively impress in the human soul.7  Much more important is it to receive Jesus in the heart than to see him with the eyes or to hear him with the ears.

How much more importantly the Spirit works on the senses of the inner person more than corporal matters affect the exterior senses.  What room is there for doubt where the one who witnesses and the one for whom witness is given is one and the same Spirit.8

	The model of the formatio , the assuming of form in the
	existence of the Christian is, moreover, to  be understood as a
	dynamic process.  In the background probably operative is
	the concept of he Church-father Augustine who viewed Christ as the
	forma formans, analogous to the taking of the form of
	creation from the formless primitive matter and confers on the
	inner man his intended unique form with its psychic structure.9  
	At the new creation of the human person there stands now, according
	to Guerric, the transformation of the person in the sense of a
	co-ordination with the dispositions of Christ in the foreground
	The Mysterium becomes as it were an Exemplum, the mystery of
	faith turns into the activity of life.10
With this Guerric is far removed from all designs of a spiritual life that suggests as it were human capacity and thinking leading in a way not far removed from the capacity for self redemption. On the contrary, Guerric sees very clearly that the formation of Christ in the heart of man can take place only in the context of the community of the Church.  Consequently, for Guerric's thought a Marian component plays an important role, that of Mother of the Church.  According to Guerric she bears in herself the desire "to form Christ in all her adopted sons (that is, Christians).  Of course, they were born by the Word of truth, she, however, begets them daily through her desire and her maternal care." 11
Mary as Mother of Fair Love recommends to those who honor here the disposition of the virtues through which the various parts of the body are to be given form through the formation in the inner person of the figure of Christ, and a destructive false love distances itself.12
As the new Eve Mary, Mother of all the living, the type of the Church.  As "[Maria] gave birth to Life in a manner she was to transmit life again to all who live were to live from [Christ]"13   Mary is apostrophized here as anticipated image of the church, she collaborates , according to Guerric, in a spiritual way at the rebirth of the person that in the second birth through faith, baptism, and Eucharist are born for life.14
Here Guerric shows himself as a speaker close to the people whose theme of the spirituality of the sacraments is rather uncommon for the Cistercian fathers.  The reception of the sacraments as an expression of piety was taken for granted, whereas for the religious Orders a special ascesis of atonement and spiritual practices stood in the foreground.  Guerric, like his Cistercian companions on the way, is quite clear that many Christians in spite of receiving the sacraments do not really appropriate them though they seek to give new meaning to the Christian mysteries as the basis of Church teaching in that it reveals its spiritual significance.

Although the women church-goers distinguished themselves by a provocative behavior: walking on high-heeled shoes, wearing erotic clothing, impure looks, and a "godless belly",15 so too the monks were often more in appearance mortified men who were dedicated to work and the practice of piety.  Guerric looked upon himself as one of these hypocrites in the clothing of consecrated garments.  "For my part, I acknowledge very often that I know the [the virtue of piety] but have not developed a taste for it.  Justly then do I experience shame and fear at wearing the habit of the Order for almost no proof of virtue accompanies it How could I appropriate the name and honor of a monk if I do not possess its merit and its virtue? . . .  Pretentious holiness is doubly evil, and the wolf that is caught in lamb's hide will be subject to all the more severe judgment." 16

After Guerric in a rather humorous way and manner unmasks himself as a hypocrite who like others piled up shame on the consecrated condition of the life of the Order, he continues in the style of instruction for confession:  "Get off the high horse of pride into the water of the Jordan."17  Without using the word "confession" Guerric speaks metaphorically, using the term "second baptism" for this sacrament that promises a repetition of the baptismal grace:  "Here the Father comes to know and recognize the son again [or, as the case may be, the monk redeemed in the Son] in the innocence of a new-born child.18  The monk along with his thinking is accordingly formed anew or, as it were, reforme d, receiving back the form of Christ.19

Based on this Guerric is able to develop a thoroughly specific spirituality of sinners that permits, in a spiritual manner in Christ, the inclusion of sinners in the form of salvation.  In particular this can occur through the contemplation of the wounds of Christ that represent the sympathetic, divine mercy.  His many wounds that gape open in nearly the whole of his body offer pardon to those laden with sin, and bestow grace on the just.  Truly, it is a strong tower against the enemy if we constantly dwell in loving meditation on the wounds of Christ.  Through faith in the crucified and by love of him we defend the soul against the burning desires of the flesh, from the whirl of the world, and from the attacks of the enemy.  The protection that this shelter offers surpasses all the magnificence of the world.20

Next to this impressive recourse to the application of the saving event that, as it were, the divine mercy visualizes, one can identify throughout in Guerric the beginnings of a Eucharistic spirituality.  Here also he takes refuge in tried and trusted metaphors taken, as is so often the case in the literature of monastic theology, from the Song of Songs.  To the man who complains of himself before God the divine bridegroom comes as it were unexpectedly.  At this point Guerric inserts an artistic dialog that teems with biblical references.

	And God stands at the door and knocks that it might be opened to him 
	and take food with him from the delicious heavenly meal.  
	The bride speaks: "the voice of the beloved; 
	he knocks!- "Open to me, my sister bride! Open your heart to me 
	and I will nourish it; open your mouth to me and I will fill it."21
In treating of this sacrament Guerric, as elsewhere, doe not occupy himself with the dogmatic definition of the Christian salvation mystery; rather, he only considers sacrament of the Body of Christ for a supernatural consolation that can be imparted for the edification and strengthening of the inner man.  More particularly, he is concerned with the person who has entered through the door of the correct profession of faith.  In another place Guerric explains his interpretation of the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son:  "the merciful father not only waits for the acknowledgement of the failed son, he goes on his own to embrace the sinner to embrace him by way of giving him forgiveness and to give him the kiss of oneness, whereby a rising to the realm of mystical union is to be understood:

	For Him who possesses the highest mercy it was too little 
	not to open his merciful heart to the miserable one.
	He drew him to his heart and enclosed him in his embrace.
	He could not bind us with Himself more intimately . . . than 
	by enveloping us with his body. In love as well as with power 
	He united Himself not only with His body which he had taken 
	but even with His Spirit.22 
The Eucharist furnishes with its eschatological dimension not only a certain look into the future onto "the fruit of life at the table of eternal joy"23 , it also unites in the first place with the God of life.  Further, it brings about also an entrance into the dynamic process of formation according to the form of Christ.

The way that Guerric develops, or rather paints with hyper-realism the parable of the formation of Christ is truly astonishing.24   Along with his figurative rhetoric, the imagery of his language will prove rather gripping to his audience as does Guerric's dramatic way of presenting his material contributes perhaps to this effect.  The theological theme of the Birth of God in the soul by faith is vividly described with all his pleasure in detail by Guerric whose power of comprehension astonished his audience ("forgive me, my brothers!", he interposed).  This spiritual even is compared with motherhood, with conception, with pregnancy and even with delivery:

	He who has created you is now created within you!  
	And as if it were too little that you have Him as a father, 
	he wills also that you become a mother to him . . .  
	Oh believing soul, open your heart, make your love broad be not
	narrow in your interior, receive Him whom no creature has made!
	Open.  That is the way to the womb of the heart, so as to
	conceive the Spirit.  In this way the members of Christ,
	that is the virtues, formed in the womb of those who are pregnant.25 
Guerric is here less interested in offering to his imagined audience a classical doctrine of virtue based on ancient philosophy, than in communicating rather something of the basic attitude of Christ that is in the end to be given form the disposition of the Christian.  Guerric is certain that this consists without doubt in the basic attitude of humility.  This, as the chief virtue, is not only the nourishing ground of almost all virtues, their impulse and vitality, but also their peak and high point as well as their defender and teacher.26

In the course of a dialog within a homily Guerric presents a kind of "Play in a Play" in which he has the Creator of all that is helpful speak to the human person:  "You make yourself comfortable I will serve you, I will wash your feet.  You take a good rest, I will take your fatigue on myself, your weakness, your sickness.  Make use of me in all your needs as much as you like, not only as your slave, but as your beast of burden and your own property."27  It is not surprising that Guerric takes up the same tone in the dialogue prayer in which the paradox of the situation that consists in a reversal of roles, the paradox that reflects the opposition of service and freedom:  "With what happy and good art of love have you received back your rebellious slave . . . defeating pride through humility . . . so that it flares up to repentance.  You have conquered, Lord, you have constrained the rebel.  Look, I place my hands in your chains, bend my neck under your yoke; give your grace that I might serve you."28

To take up the yoke of Christ means to allow the signature of Christ, the cross, to be imprinted in his soul and to cut off both of the basic components of the human person, flesh and spirit, in their mutual conflict and sinfulness.  This is the condition for attaining to inner peace in function of a life lived according to the wisdom of Christ.

In the eyes of Guerric this represents a time of grace when the disciple can hand over his soul and his very self into the hands of God so as to receive salvation by the mystery of the cross:  "Go to him without fear, go joyfully to him . . .  Only let your spirit be stamped with the sign of the cross."29

This way of thinking is essential for the committed Christian, not only in order to become a companion of the glory of the Lord, but even more in order to have peace between our twofold nature consisting of flesh and spirit.  This attitude is essential as a service to the spiritual person and leads us to the peace of Christ.  Like Bernard who on one occasion spoke about human nature- as it were, its very substance - is the conflict resulting from the differences of the two natures, flesh and spirit.30  Guerric goes on to maintain that these two fundamental components of human nature, flesh and spirit, must be changed in the Spirit of Christ so that the person can be at one with himself and with God:

We suffer from two kinds of distress:  that we not only possess a twofold nature consisting of flesh and spirit, but we also live on two different levels, partly of the flesh partly of the spirit . . .  Thus there comes now a twofold constraint, for the fleshly in us, because of the opposition of the spiritual in us, troubles the spiritual through sinfulness.31

The susceptibility of the human spirit to temptation caused by its own futility and poisonous pride as well as persistence in a undirected sensibility are viewed as the predominant block to spiritual growth.  Guerric has very sharp words for the vices of the spirit that as it were kills others with the tongue.32  Likewise he condemns the "dry thorn bush" of indolence, ease, and sensual indulgence that causes the loss of those who extinguish the spirit of Christ.33  Guerric sees the only remedy in the thorough following of the disposition of Christ who set forth humility that at the same time is the only way to peace and to the gaining of wisdom:  "Wisdom has sought rest in all creation, but found it only in the humble."34

Here the human person finds back the harmony of oneness with himself and the spiritual cosmos of God, God and man and spirit and flesh become one in the person was Guerric testifies:  "For my eyes have seen your salvation that is our peace, that unites both parts, not only Jew and Barbarian, but also God and the person, and in the person Spirit and flesh:  "For the future this desire remains open for your servant . . . that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding receives me in the agreement with the highest and simplest unity.  The peace that I looked for has come."35


1 Cf Marie-Anne Vannier, Presentation in Dies., "La naissane de Dieu dans l'ame chez Eckhart et Nicolas de Cues. Paris 2006, 9-12, 10
2 Phil. 2:6,7
3 Guerric, Sermons, Sermon for the feast of Mary's Birth 2:1
4 Cf. Hugo Rahner, "Symbol of the church: The Ecclesiology of the Fathers. Salzburg 1964, 67,68: "Saint Augustine's birth mystique found a rich development by Bernard of Citeaux. He had further elaborated for the first time the teaching, later so greatly loved, of the spiritual Advent of Christ in the Christian soul. Daily Christ is newly born in the heart:quotidie videtur et nasci dum fideliter representamus eius natuvitatem. Bernard's student Guerric hadimitated this teaching in the homilie "De Verbi incarnation in Maria et in anima fideli. Here we see at its high point the Marian mystique previously modeled by Augustine and Ambrose. Mary is the moral image of the interior soul: ut plenius noveris conceptum Virginis non solum esse mysticum sed morale,, quod sacramentum est ad redemptionem, exemplum quoque tibi est ad imitationem."
5 Cf also Annie Noblesse-Rocher, "The formation of Christ in us according to Guerric d'Igny" in Marie=Anne Vannier, op. cit., p 55-72.
6 Bl Guerric, , Sermon for our Lady's Birthday, 2.2, Kalamazoo, CF 32, p 200
7 Cf. Bernard McGlynn, "Mysticism in the West",
8 Guerric, First Sermon for Easter, #4, CSF 32, p. 83.
9 Cf. Augustine, Sermon 117.3 (PL 38:662-63): "[The Word of God] is a form not having been formed but is the form of all things formed. It is incommunicable, without a fall, without defect, without time or place. It overcomes all things, existing in all and a kind of foundation on which all are placed and a ceiling under which they exist.."
10 Cf Guerric, Sermon for Advent 2:3.
11 Guerric, Sermon for feast of Mary's Birth, 2:3
12 Guerric, ibid. 2:4-5.
13 Guerric, Sermon for the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, 1:2
14 Guerric, Sermon for the Epiphany, 4:1
15 Guerric, Sermon for the Epiphany, 4:2.
16 Ibidem 4:3.
17 Ibidem, 4:5.
18 Ibidem, 4:7.t
19 Guerric, Sermon for All Saints, 1:3.
20 Guerric, Sermon for Palm Sunday 4:2.
21 Guerric, Sermon for Advent, 3:3.
22 Guerric, Sermon 2 for Lent, 21:2.
23 Guerric, Sermon for the Assumption, 4:5.
24 Cf. Kurt Ruh, Geschichte der Abendlandischen Mystik, vol. 1 "Die Grundlegung durch die Kirchenvaeter und die Moenchentheologie des 12. Jahrhunderts." Muenchen 2001, 324: "In this presentation the realism may at first surprise or even put us off."
25 Guerric, Sermon for the Annunciation, 2:4.
26 Cf. Guerric, Sermon for Lent, 2:4.
27 Guerric, Sermon for Palm Sunday, 1:1
28 Guerric, Sermon for Palm Sunday, 1:3.
29 Guerric, Sermon for Palm Sunday, 2:6
30 Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon on the Dedication, 5:7: "You will not wonder to find such dissimilar qualities in humans if you carefully advert to how many dissimilar natures come together in the very substance."
31 Guerric, Sermon for Lent, 1:1
32 Guerric, Sermon for the feast of John the Baptist,3:5: " What of the way you murder another, as it were, with your poisonous and insidious tongue to steal his glory for yourself."
33 Guerric, Sermon for the feast of John the Baptist,4:4; Sermon for the feast of Christmas , 3:5: "Indolence and luxury extinguish the Spirit."
34 Guerric, Sermon for the Assumption of Mary into heaven,3:3.
35 Guerric, Sermon for the Presentation of the Lord, 3:3.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger