Bede Griffiths called John Main “the most important spiritual guide in the Church to day”. This accolade does not just refer to his teaching on meditation, but also to his essential theology, which supports this way of prayer.
His theology resonates with that of the Christian Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 4th century CE and with the early Christians in general. I would go as far as to say he would have fitted in perfectly with the monks of that time, especially Evagrius, John Cassian’s main teacher. In the third year of these ‘Weekly Teaching’ I will focus on John Main’s teaching and theology and will draw parallels, where appropriate, between him and the early Christians.
All the concepts about God for both John Main and the early Christians rose out of their experience of prayer. This is summed up by Evagrius of Pontus, one of the important Desert Fathers of the 4th century CE: “A theologian is one who prays and one who prays is a theologian.” How did they then experience God? One of the first important figures in the early days of Christianity is Clement of Alexandria (150 -215), who expressed it as follows: God is “beyond all speech, beyond every concept, beyond every thought”, and if he felt obliged to put a name to that experience, the best description he could give is: “The notion of pure being is the closest you can come to God.”
John Main totally agreed with these expressions: “We know we cannot analyse God. We know we cannot with finite minds understand the infinitude of God”. He too saw God as “present being”, as “the ground of our being”, “the energy that is love….God is, God is love, God is now.”
How did they see the relationship between God and humanity? This is expressed clearly by Origen (186 -255), the successor of Clement as Head of the Catechetical School in Alexandria, as follows: “Every spiritual being is, by nature, a temple of God, created to receive into itself the glory of God.” He went further and stressed: “Men and women are created in the ‘image of God’ and our human vocation is to manifest ‘likeness to God’ through our manner of life.” John Main voiced this as follows: ““Jesus has sent his Spirit to dwell within us, making all of us temples of holiness: God himself dwelling within us.” He further stresses that ‘God is the root from which we are sprung…We are created in his image, share in his value and worth as children of God…We know that we are and that we are in God and that in him we discover our essential identity and unique meaning….we know we share in the nature of God.”
For the early Christians and John Main prayer meant re-entering into the life of God: “Our daily meditation is nothing less than a return to this fountainhead of life where our spirit becomes wholly immersed in the Spirit of God, wholly alive with his life, wholly loving with his love.”
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