Documents and Introductory Materials
Part 3 Theological Issues

Chapter d33 Spirituality

Preliminary Questions


Spirituality: Adrian Burke

To Think About

"The liturgical life is not a relic of the past. It is the resounding reality of life in the present lived out of an ancient but living faith." Chittister, The Liturgical Year, p xiv.

"Liturgical spirituality is about learning to live an ordinary life extraordinarily well." Chittister, The Liturgical Year, p 179.

Preliminary Questions

What is spirituality?  Describe a sacramental (or liturgical) spirituality.  How does one become holy by/through the liturgy? 

Return to the top of this page -- Return to General and Introductory Materials Index -- Return to Fr. Tom's Home Page


Richard R. Gaillardetz. Transforming Our Days: Finding God Amid the Noise of Modern Life. Liguori Publications, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7648-1622-2 

Richard R. Gaillardetz.  A Daring Promise: A Spirituality of Christian Marriage: Revised and Expanded - Paperback (Jan 22, 2007)

Kieran Scott, "A Spirituality of Resistance for Marriage,"  Chapter 34, pp 397-410 in Kieran Scott and Michael Warren. Perspectives on Marriage: A Reader (Second Edition). Oxford University Press.  ISBN 0-19-513439-7

Evelyn Eaton Whitehead and James D. Whitehead,  "Spirituality and Lifestyle,"  Chapter 35, pp 411-424 in Kieran Scott and Michael Warren. Perspectives on Marriage: A Reader (Second Edition). Oxford University Press.  ISBN 0-19-513439-7

"Sealed With God's Spirit: Sacrament of Confirmation," Catholic Update Video, St. Anthony Messenger Press, October 2001. V2023.   This video is part of a series intended to assist catechetical leaders in the preparation of candidates of various ages and backgrounds for the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation.  However the story segment of this video would be very useful for married couples as an introduction to the spirituality of marriage.  The video begins with a fictional drama, "Moving On:  Responding in the Spirit,"  the story of a family challenged to respond to Christ's call to encounter him in a neighbor.  (20 minutes)  The teaching segment could serve as a lead in to the role of the Holy Spirit in the Spirituality of Marriage by looking at the epiclesis at Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, and Marriage.  (7 minutes)

Return to the top of this page -- Return to General and Introductory Materials Index -- Return to Fr. Tom's Home Page


What is Christian Spirituality?
Presentation by Fr. Adrian Burke, OSB
March 28, 2003


The term "spirituality" is problematic. There are many uses of the word in theology today. It can be applied to a field of theological science, usually called "spiritual theology", though in previous times it was often divided into two branches, one called mystical theology (Grace and its movements in the believer—the "supernatural life"), and another called ascetical theology (the life of the virtues—how the believer responds to grace).

Today, "spiritual theology" is usually understood to refer to the interdisciplinary and systematic study of the spiritual life of the sanctified Christian and its manifestations in the concrete circumstances of life.

This later term, spiritual life, already places us in the second arena where the term spirituality is frequently used (and sometimes abused), that of applied spirituality – the actual life of the Christian and the many forms that the Christian spiritual life assumes.

I. Spiritual Theology: the "Science of Spirituality" and its Method

A. Foundations

One can describe the essence of the theological "method" by using the "Anselmian" maxim faith seeking understanding, sometimes rendered faith seeks understanding (Proslogion 4—PL 153). This brief formula is foundational for all authentic theological methods.

There are many methods and schools of thought in the various fields of theology, still, this one basic essential dynamic between faith and reason informs all our efforts. Faith must remain in a proper relationship with reason; those who take up an intellectual investigation of God and the things of God must constantly be mindful of the role of faith as informative to the intellect; inquiry that is not enlightened and guided by faith is mere curiosity, a purely speculative venture, it is not theology, properly speaking. [NB: This is precisely why a comprehensive and vital spiritual life is vital to all genuine theological effort.]

Hence the theologian must am engaging basic principles of applied spirituality for the sake of his or her theological investigation…in this sense, there is a spirituality of the theologian that is rooted, like all authentic spiritualities, in the one Christian Spirituality of discipleship. . .more on that later.

B. The Science of Spirituality

In order to get at what "spirituality" is from a theological point of view I would like very briefly to touch on the discipline of spiritual theology itself.

Every science has its givens, the raw empirical data from which we hope to learn about essential relationships: causes and their effects, dynamics and inner workings of things and in theology the ultimate causes of things, so as to learn the truth about life and our world.

The science of spiritual theology also begins with a set of givens, in this case the "givens of faith":

A. The doctrines and beliefs derived from revelatory sources: viz. the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church, as framed especially by the disciplines of systematic and moral theology (here is our foundation as fides quaerens intellectans)

AND we add to that

B. The psychological realities of the personal religious experience of those who over the centuries of Christian life and tradition have professed their faith with intention and commitment, and have striven to live as Christian disciples in the world (and in the Church).

The former (A), the "givens of the faith" derived from revelatory sources, provides the objective-deductive element (ontological) of the discipline. The latter (B), "personal religious experience," provides the subjective-inductive element, a psychological element, which serves to corroborate the givens of the faith in the concrete world of Christian living. The objective-subjective/deductive-inductive/logical-intuitive binomials must remain balanced otherwise spiritual theology would lack both veracity and practicality; i.e., the discipline can neither be "abstracted" from real life [as would be the case for an overly predominant objectivity] or "uninformed" by faith and "undirected" by sound theological principles [which would be the case for an overly predominant subjectivity].

From the dialectic of these binomials, the science of Christian spirituality seeks:

A. To define or describe the "supernatural life" of the sanctified person.

1. To answer the question, "What does it mean to be ‘renewed in the spirit of your minds and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness' (Eph 4.24)?"

B. To formulate norms (universal laws) for growth and development of the interior life.

1. To answer the question, "What does it mean to ‘…grow to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ' (Eph 4.13)?"

2. "How does one effect this growth and development?"

C. To describe patterns of growth from beginning of the sanctified life to its fulfillment in "perfection".

1. To answer the question, "How does one understand, speak of, perceive and measure growth in the spiritual life?"

2. "Can a person know he or she is growing in ‘holiness'?"

In short, beginning with faith, the scientific discipline of "spirituality" seeks to understand the Christian religious experience (spirituality in the concrete). So, one might say that the religious experience of the Christian, or the life of grace, is the object of the study of Christian spirituality.

This is not exactly the same thing as "spirituality" per se, however. As a Christian theologian, I must approach this term, to understand and define it, from the standpoint of my Christian faith and the theological tradition and official teachings of the concrete community of faith in which I find myself (Roman Catholicism). I cannot speak to you today about "spirituality" as a Buddhist understands the term, or a Moslem, or even a Jew; I am only competent to speak about spirituality as lived in the Christian mode, from the standpoint of the Christian faith, but even more specifically, as a theologian steeped in the principles of the Catholic Theological tradition. (There are many principles that apply in the concrete to all Christian spirituality, no matter the denomination, but the underlying theological principles will vary according to the Christian tradition in which one stands.) The basic theological principle stands: faith seeking understanding—for the Buddhist, his or her particular faith and faith-life must enlighten his or her journey to understanding. [The liturgico-theological principle of Lex orandi-lex credendi can also be applied here. What we believe determines the way we worship…spirituality is founded on a similar formula: Lex vivendi-lex credendi. This is an apt way to signify the relationship between theology and spirituality.]

So having said all this, let's turn to our immediate concern for today's class—what is Christian spirituality in the concrete sense, not as science but as a lived reality?

II. Applied Christian Spirituality

Let's stick to our method, as it were, and GO TO THE REVELATORY SOURCES…

A. Scriptural Sources

The Scriptures provide us with a picture of God as the One who, though beyond our capacity for understanding, the completely transcendent Other enters our world and manifests himself through wondrous deeds. The term the ancient redactors of the Hebrew Scriptures used to describe this God was the Living God; the God who manifests himself as alive and living among us, GOD FOR US, to use the theologian Catherine LaCugna's favorite way of naming God!

In the history of this people who came to know themselves as chosen by God, God has revealed himself as one who favors them, as one who liberates them, and who leads them to a promised land, a promised heritage that they will possess for their own. The Exodus accounts of the OT (and there are more than one!) are theological reflections by Hebrew redactors about this God who favors, liberates, leads them and makes this people his own possession, revealing himself as their God through the self-communication of covenant love.

The Christian Testament paints a more perfect picture of this same God for us. What was before only a foreshadowing of the full truth, we now see face to face…Jesus Christ, the eternal One as self-emptying, self-giving, self-communicating God, is born a human being, dwelt among us, and reveals himself to be the Saving God through a self-emptying sacrifice which establishes and renews a people as God's people, and the new Israel… universally realizing as chosen what was before only inchoate…to gather all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth…marked (claimed) with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people." (cf. Eph 1.13-14)

To ensure the growth and development of this people throughout history this same self-emptying and self-communicating God, made visible and among us as Christ Jesus, continues his presence throughout history as Spirit.

One cannot understand what Christian spirituality is without considering its form and principle: The Holy Spirit of God.

1. The Pauline corpus is replete with teaching on the Holy Spirit and the divine indwelling as the source of the Christian Life:  Rom 5.5; 8.9, 11, 15, 23; 1Cor 2.12; 3.16; 6.19; 2Cor 3.3; 5.5; Gal 3.2, 5; 4.6; 1Thes 4.8; 2Tim 1.14; Tit 3.5; Heb 6.4

2. Indwelling us "as in a temple": 1Cor 3.16; 2Cor 6.16

3. "To drink of the Spirit—anointed by—sealed with (or in) the Spirit": 1Cor 12.13; 2Cor 1.21; Eph 1.13; 4.30

4. PRINCIPLE EFFECT: The Indwelling of Christ:   Rom 8.10: Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is ‘dead' because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.   [cf. also: Gal 2.20; Eph 3.16-17; Col 1.27]

5. Secondary Effects of the indwelling Holy Spirit:

"Being led" by the Spirit Rom 8.14
"Fervent in spirit" Rom 12.11
"Sanctified and Justified" 1Cor 2.15; 6.11
"Strengthened in the inner being" Eph 3.16
"Enlightens the ‘eyes' of the heart" Eph 1.18
"Sharing in Holy Spirit" cf. Heb 6.4 [
Makes us to be enlightened, to taste the heavenly gift (divine life in the Spirit), to share in that Spirit, to taste the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come.]
"Fruit of the Spirit" Gal 5.22-23 [
One fruit: seven aspects— Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control—where one is they all are!]

B. The "Tradition of the Church"—Standing in the Community of Faith

1. St. Basil the Great: "Through the Holy Spirit we are restored to paradise, led back to the Kingdom of heaven, and adopted as children, given confidence to call God ‘Father' and to share in Christ's grace, called children of light and given a share in eternal glory." (De Spiritu Sancto—PG 32, 132)

2. St. Cyril of Alexandria: "All of us who have received one and the same Spirit, that is, the Holy Spirit, are in a sense blended together with one another and with God….He binds together the spirits of each and every one of us…makes us appear as one in him (in Christ-in God). For just as the power of Christ's sacred flesh unites those in whom it dwells into one body, I think that in the same way the one and undivided Spirit of God, who dwells in all, leads all into spiritual unity." [In Jo. Ev.—PG 74, 561]

3. St Hippolytus: Understood the Church as that place "where the Spirit flourishes." [Trad. Ap. 35]

4. Byzantine Liturgy: "It belongs to the Holy Spirit to rule, sanctify, and animate creation, for he is God, consubstantial with the Father and the Son…Power over life pertains to the Spirit, for being God he preserves creation in the Father through the Son." [Troparion of Morning Prayer]

5. St. Irenaeus: The Son and the Spirit as the two "hands of the Creator"…by which God "impressed his own form on the flesh he had fashioned, in such a way that even what was visible might bear the divine form." [Dem ap. 11—Sources Chrétiennes 62, 48-49]

C. Christian Spirituality Applied to Life

Based then on what we read in the Scriptures and from just this tiny sampling of the Tradition on the subject of the Spirit one can see already the relationship between the Holy Spirit and (1) the life of the Church as a body of faith under the headship of Christ and (2) the life of individual Christians who make up that body of faith.

Christian Spirituality as an applied theology: Life as a member of the Body of faith, having the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (and consequently Christ and the Father) as its form (to use a familiar philosophical construct) and principle of action (empowering agent)—the Triune God indwells the human nature and elevates it by virtue of the power of the Spirit.

Spirituality, or the Spiritual Life, is simply "Life in the Spirit" as St. Paul describes it in Romans, his "summa" (see especially 8.5-11): "those who live according to the spirit set their minds on the things of the spirit"… [alive] "in the spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you."

III. The Life of Grace

Theology is never done in a vacuum—With the dominance of scholastic theology after Trent with its preference for philosophical categories and language that tend to be static more than dynamic, and with the movement of centers of theological study and research away from the old centers of prayer and pragmatic spirituality (the monasteries) to the urban universities where scholarship became more refined, more specialized, and consequently more abstracted from its applications, the field of spirituality and Christian living became less and less an integrated whole.

Unfortunate breaches appear between the secular and the sacred; between profane life during the week and one's "religious duty" on Sunday; between the Church and the State; between ones personal spiritual life and public life; between spiritual activity and profane activity, etc.

A. Shifts in Language: The attempt to re-integrate Spiritual Theology

For many theologians of the 20th century, the static terms of scholasticism were insufficient to meet the task of describing the spiritual life, the life of grace, which the scholastics, using principally Aristotelian language, described in terms of the static category "being in the ‘state of grace'."

This was a major complaint of such theologians as B. Lonargan, K. Rahner, H. von Balthasar, Y. Congar, W. Kaspar, C. LaCugna, and many others, who made concerted efforts to build on the scholastic heritage by breaking out of the static nature of the language of "being" and turning more to the language of "becoming," which they saw as more true to the biblical manner of description…being a Christian means Living in the Spirit, which means for these contemporary theologians becoming another Christ, growing, rather than having grown, in Christian perfection (holiness). This movement continues today to reclaim the heritage of a spirituality that integrates concepts of being through becoming: being a new creature through becoming more and more Christ-like, a way of perceiving spirituality that began with St. Paul and strands of which have continued throughout each successive era of the Church's spiritual tradition.

As the language of systematic spiritual theology has moved away from the static concepts of "state of being" and more and more reclaimed the "traditional" concepts of growth and development in the spiritual life, growth in holiness, etc., more and more focus has been placed on the theological concept of Grace as dynamic principle of life, grace understood in both its uncreated and created aspects.

B. Grace – God's Gift of Self

K. Rahner understood the spiritual life in terms of a life of grace. He understood the term grace to refer principally to the self-communicating presence of God indwelling the person; this is his "name" for the Holy Spirit.

1. Uncreated Grace—He argues that Paul's concept of "inner sanctification" is first and foremost a "communication of the personal Spirit of God—in scholastic terminology a donum increatum, an uncreated gift or grace, "Grace" with a capital ‘G'.

2. Created grace: for Rahner refers to the effects of the uncreated Grace indwelling the human nature. The impact of the Spirit on the human spirit, the cooperation freely chosen by the human will leads to virtue, choosing God and leading to gradual growth and development in charity, faith, hope, and all the "infused" virtues that are really the disposition of the human will to choose for God, to do the good, to act virtuously.

IV. Ramifications of this Theology for Applied Christian Spirituality

New Way of Being   One can say that the Christian, because of Grace, is a new creation regenerated and "reborn" in water and the Holy Spirit, the baptized take on a new form of existence that is radically different from the life that is not sanctified in the same way. That change can be understood in ontological terms (a new creation), but also teleological terms (ordered to God). (Contemporary Thomistic theologians have coined the term "supernatural organism" to refer to the baptized person who is in the "state of grace;" the language still seems to emphasizes the ontological over the teleological [being over becoming].

The Essence of Christian Spirituality is One   The Spiritual Life, or Spirituality, consists in the entirety of the life of the Christian who, having received the gift of God's Spirit with active cooperation and openness, with deliberate motivation and commitment lives out the Christian calling (election), having the Gospel of Jesus Christ as his or her basic principle or "philosophy" of life. The particular circumstances of one's life become the matter for manifesting concretely one's faith in Christ and love for God through virtue enlivened by charity (loving one's neighbor, to use biblical language). The first place this is done is the Church itself: within the community of faithful. Christian Spirituality is incarnate because it has as its form the indwelling and kenotic Christ-Spirit which demands that the person "embody" his or her faith in the circumstances of ones life-situation.

Particular Forms of Christian Spirituality Are Many  The particular forms that Christian spirituality takes are manifold; they vary according to the specific contexts provided by particular life-circumstances. Hence one can speak, for instance, of a spirituality of the laity which consists of the life circumstances and vocational duties shared by those who are living the Christian vocation predominantly in the secular sphere; a priesthood spirituality is shaped by the realities and vocational duties shared by the those ordained to preach the Gospel and serve the universal priesthood of the baptized; there is a spirituality of consecrated life that is shared among all those in religious life, and special spiritualities that correspond with the particular circumstances of the many kinds of religious orders and institutes (e.g.: Benedictine, Franciscan, Dominican, missionary orders, orders that work with the poor, the elderly, with children, in education, social welfare, etc. A general principle can be seen here:

If one can define or describe a life context, a set of particular life-circumstances shared by people of Christian faith, then one can legitimately describe a form of Christian spirituality that corresponds to the shared circumstances within which they live their Christian life of faith.

[For example: Priestly spirituality can be further broken up into spirituality subsets corresponding to the special circumstances of, for instance, diocesan priests, religious priests, retired priests, etc. One can get carried away, of course, but the it remains true that circumstances particular to each individual Christian impact the way the life of Christian discipleship is lived out—the maxim that holds that there are as many "Christian spiritualities" as there are Christians has some validity.]

But again, the essence of all concrete forms of Christian spirituality is "DISCIPLESHIP"—the Gospel (as Lumen Gentium stresses) is the principle of the life of the Church for all times (Cf. LG 20) and therefore the gospel counsels, the gospel precepts to Love God and Love Neighbor and the gospel values (e.g. the Beatitudes), are informative to the life of every Christians no matter what his or her personal life-circumstances might be. "Spirituality" then, in this applied sense, is simply the appropriation and application of the Gospel-principles of discipleship in the life of the baptized.

Return to the top of this page -- Return to General and Introductory Materials Index -- Return to Fr. Tom's Home Page

To Think About

1.  When and how can we catechize regarding the spirituality of marriage, and regarding spirituality in general? 

2.  What can priests learn from the spirituality of marriage that is applicable to their own lives and spirituality?

3.  If as Gaillardetz says (page 12) "For Christians salvation is never a private undertaking,"  how does the "private" spirituality of the diocesan priest become Christian?  Where does he enter into relationship with another human being? 

4.  Navajo Spirituality:  "Navajo Sister Gloria Davis said, 'I noticed that the holy people in our community, the ones we turned to for spiritual guidance and who conducted the blessing and healing ceremonies, were always the people who had the keenest sense of humor. You could spot them by the laugh wrinkles near their eyes.' The hallmark of holiness was not a gaunt, hollow-cheeked, aesthetic look or one of otherworldly serenity, but just a common lively sense of humor, honed from birth on the lathe of life's ups and downs, its absurdities and sorrows, its joys and unpredictable encounters. Humor is a side effect of living deeply. Are applicants to Catholic seminaries ever checked for a funny bone?"  (Rich Heffern, writing in NCR May 2, 2003 p 13)

Return to the top of this page -- Return to General and Introductory Materials Index -- Return to Fr. Tom's Home Page

© Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 06/10/15 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at