The Ascent of Man To God
by Michael J. Carroll
White Rose Publishing
Fr Garrigou-Lagrange, surely the greatest Catholic theologian of the twentieth century, was a remarkable exponent of the three stages of the interior life. So was another Dominican mystic and theologian, Juan Arintero. They were influenced by two outstanding Catholic saints: St John of the Cross and St Thomas Aquinas. After the Second Vatican Council, and not at all in keeping with either the letter or authentic spirit of the Council, a number of attempts were made to update Catholic spirituality. Some writers turned Catholic spirituality to nothing more than psychology. Others came to believe that a synthesis could be made between Catholicism and Hinduism or Buddhism.
All these attempts have led us in the wrong direction.
In contrast, we have a clear path as set forward in this superb book. What Michael Carroll has done so well is to update the work of Fr Garrigou-Lagrange and others, in the light of the teachings of The Second Vatican Council. Far from repudiating the three stages, the Council has proclaimed the universal call to holiness. As the author says, this call to Christian perfection is the "antidote to the current crisis which has beset the Church."
Christian perfection is dependant on the three stages of purgation, illumination and union. While always respectful of the tradition, the author has a certain conversational style which makes his work easy to read. Apart from generous quotes from Garrigou-Lagrange and Arintero, there is recourse to the works of St John Henry Newman and Mother Cecile Bruyere, first abbess of St Cecilia' Abbey, Solesmes.
The author succeeds in reminding us that the call to holiness is for everyone, priests, religion and laity. Perfection is not a task reserved for an elite few: Catholicism can never fall into Gnosticism. As the author puts it of the three stages: "St Thomas teaches that it is the normative spiritual path to heaven." Many of us have reflected on what the renewal of the Church will depend on. According to the author, it is in the transition within the souls of individuals from the purgative to the illuminative and unitive stages.
If the salvation of souls is the most important task of the Church, he is surely right.
The author writes: "In the three ways of the spiritual life we continually climb upwards, as if up the side of a mountain, sometimes steadily, sometimes with difficulty, then sometimes we are given periods of peace, consolations, and rest, but on the way there are two cliff faces we have to scale, those being the dark night of the senses (the purification of the senses) and a second cliff face, the dark night of the spirit (the purification of intellect, memory, and will)."
What a wonderful summary of the teachings of St John of the Cross.
The author has given us a map to lead us out of the current crisis afflicting the Church. It is the universal call to holiness.