On Divine Poverty and Charity


Beati pauperes spiritu, quoniam ipsorum est regnum caelorum

Matthew 5:3



The mystery of Christianity is essentially that of kenosis, for many religions tell us of the ‘All-Merciful’ but it is only the Christian tradition that takes this proclamation to its most radical conclusion, the incarnatus est; only it proclaims the Crucified God, who goes to the very limit of humility, even into the lowest pits, the very edge of being (descendit ad inferos), to gather His lost sheep.


He, who was in the form of God and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied himself (ekénosen heautòn), by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men; and who, being found in human form, humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8).


For ‘God so loved the world that He gave his only Son’ (Joh. 3:19) and it is in this merciful ‘descension’ (synkatabasis), this utter Humility and Poverty that the true Face of the All-Merciful stands revealed, the Face ‘that was hidden from the foundation of the world’ (Matt. 13:35). Hence ‘He no longer calls us servants, for a servant does not know what is happening in his master’s house; but He calls us friends, having revealed to us all the mysteries of the Father’ (Joh. 15:15). We are thus to interpret the events of sacred history (faits sacrés) not simply as ‘historical facts’ pertaining merely to some specific time and place and thus not differing substantially from any event in ‘profane history’ but rather as temporary manifestation of ‘eternal realities’, as veritable ‘symbols’, divine ‘condescensions’ revealing the very essence of God, the inner-secrets of the Divine Life (and it is precisely this ‘symbolic’ character what bestows on them their true reality).


This is why the revelation of the Incarnation is inseparable from that of the Trinity; they are one. For the sacrifice at Golgotha gives us the key to the inner-sanctum of the ‘Divine Liturgy’ itself, the Divine Poverty and Charity in divinis.  In begetting the Son the Father (le Grand Pauvre) gives Himself totally to Him, bestows on Him all his riches and all His Divinity in a perfect ‘gift of self’ – ‘All I am I have received from the Father’ (Matt. 11:27).


The Father gave His only-begotten Son all that He has to offer, all His Godhead, all His bliss, holding nothing back … In fact I declare, He utters the root of the Godhead completely in the Son (Meister Eckhart, Sermon 27).


But the Son, although he thinks it not robbery to be equal with God, eternally ‘empties Himself’ and gives back all He has received in a perfect act of total kenosis (non mea voluntas, sed tua fiat! – Lk. 22:42); and this is what constitutes the ‘eternal Priesthood of the Word’ – Tu es Sacerdos in æternum (Hebr. 7:17).


The Word annihilates himself eternally, empties himself in an act of supreme and total Poverty and offers himself as Sacred Victim, as an unstained Host, in a renouncement, a detachment, a ‘dispossession’ of His whole being, upon which the Father returns the same Gift back to Him. This act of Supreme Poverty and Infinite Charity become thus Infinite Richness in self-giving, Infinite Possession in the dispossession of self, the Richness of a Divine Persons which finds itself by losing itself in the Others (Abbé Stéphane, Introduction a l’Ésoterisme, I.1).


This perfect immolation of the Lamb, the ‘Divine Liturgy’ (Sanctus, Sanctus Sanctus!) in which the Word is Priest and Victim at once, the mutual ‘circulation’ (circumincessio) of the Divine Essence (the ‘fruit’ of which is the Holy Spirit, Divine Poverty and Charity hypostatized), is the very Life of God; and everything that ever is, was, and will be is but a mere reflection of this ‘essential Glory’, a dim echo of the eternal Trisagion.


Thus creation is nothing than an external manifestation of the Divine Charity, for Love is the giving of self in the supreme poverty (bonum est diffusivum sui) and the creation of an ‘other’ marks nothing else than the primordial kenosis of the Supreme One; for in speaking the Verbo Fiat He, the Absolute, makes Himself ‘relative’ in a ‘withdrawal’ (tzimtzum) of His Infinity and in creating free beings He, the Almighty, voluntarily ‘veils’ some of His Omnipotence to make room for the creature. The dawn of creation is the eclipse of God (Götterdämmerung), that fateful ‘darkness’ of Golgotha (Mk. 15:33) in which the High Priest accomplishes his perfect sacrifice: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, that was slain from the foundation of the world!’ (Rev. 13.8).


The creation of the world by God, the self-bifurcation of the Absolute, is the sacrifice of the Absolute for the sake of the relative, which becomes for it ‘other’ (thateron), a creative sacrifice of love. Golgotha was not only eternally pre-established at the creation of the world as an event in time, but it also constitutes the metaphysical essence of creation. The divine ‘it is accomplished’ proclaimed from the cross, embraces all being, refers to all creation. The voluntary sacrifice of selfless love, the Golgotha of the Absolute, is the foundation of creation, for ‘God so loved the world that he gave his Only-begotten Son’ (Fr. Bulgakov, Unfading Light, II.1.1).


But Divine Poverty and Charity are not only whence all things flow from; it is also the way on which we journey back to the Divine Source (ego sum via), the Alpha and Omega. For the very Essence of God is ‘gift of self’ and each Divine Person only finds itself in its own self-giving, has its being only in the Other (esse ad/esse in), and it is this ‘essential altruism’ which constitutes the nature of all personhood as such, persona est donum sui.


The ‘person’ is always only ever ‘towards the other’ (ad aliud) or rather ‘in the other’ (i.e. in God), and our contingent ‘personhood’ being but a dim reflection of the Infinite Personality of God, we too can only find ‘fulfillment’ in the abandonment of self, by uniting with the Word through the Holy Spirit and entering the Divine circumincession. Only when we ‘give ourselves’ in this manner, when we ‘sacrifice’ ourselves totally, do we receive the Divine Plenitude from the Father, the ‘mutual gift’ of the Three Persons, and become ‘partakes of the divine nature’ (2. Pet. 1.4).


The Trinity is thus not a ‘dogma’ to be ‘believed in’ but an imperative to be actualized, for ‘like is only known by like’ and for the soul (imago Trinitatis) to ‘see God’ it has to ‘be God’ (‘Not I live, but Christ in me’ – Gal. 2:20), by ‘becoming uncreated’ (theosis) in an imitatio Christi, a total ‘dispossession of self’ – ‘He that loseth his life shall find it’ (Matt. 10:39). And in this ‘self-emptying’ the two become one.  


Each Divine ‘I’ puts a ‘Thou’ in place of Himself ... The Father sees Himself only as the subject of the Son’s love, forgetting Himself in every other aspect. He sees Himself only in relation with the Son. But the ‘I’ of the Father is not lost because of this, for it is affirmed by the Son Who in His turn knows Himself only as He Who loves the Father, forgetting Himself … The Father beholds only the Son, the Son only the Father, emptying themselves reciprocally by love to the other ‘I’, to a single ‘I’ …  and thus all three Persons are reduced to One (Fr. Staniloe, Theology and the Church, III).


Thus we too have to ‘deny ourselves’ – abneget semetipsum and 'take up our Cross' to follow after Him, who is gentle and humble in heart (Matt. 16:24, 11:29). And that is meant by becoming 'spiritually poor'. For He, the God-Man, is the greatest 'pauper' of all, seeing that in the hypostatic union in which the Incarnation is effected He doesn't become 'man such-and-such' but 'Universal Man', meaning that He is totally 'empty' of human hypostasis, empty of 'ego'. Christ is thus 'selflessness' incarnate, Divine Poverty made Man.


And this is why we have to ‘pray in the Name of Jesus’ for when we pray in this poverty the Father will ‘give us everything we desire’ (Joh. 14:13), then He will pour on us ‘all He has to offer, His whole Godhead, and all of His bliss, holding nothing back’, for then it is ‘it is not we who pray, but the Spirit himself who intercedes for us with unutterable words’, ‘the Spirit of the Son, who cries out: Abba, Father!’ (Rom. 8:26, Gal. 4:6). And only when I am totally submitted to the Divine Will, when ‘I empty myself and take on the form of a servant’ (vassal/vessel), then I worship God ‘in Spirit and in Truth’ (Joh. 4:24). And so it is for us not to 'perform acts of charity and humility', but to be charity and humility, and to become, by the grace of God, Poverty itself (La neige est blanche, elle n’accomplit pas d’actes de blancheur).


A poor man is one who wants nothing, knows nothing, and has nothings ... As long as a man is so disposed that it is his will with which he would do the most beloved will of God, that man has not the poverty we are speaking about: for that man has a will to serve God's will – and that is not true poverty! For a man to possess true poverty he must be as free of his created will as he was when he was not. For I declare by the eternal truth, as long as you have the will to do the will of God, and longing for eternity and God, you are not poor: for a poor man is one who wills nothing and desires nothing … And It is in this manner that I declare, that a man should be so acquitted and free that he neither knows nor realizes that God is at work in him: in that way can a man possess poverty … To be poor in spirit, a man must be poor of all his own knowledge: not knowing anything, not God, nor creature nor himself … A man should be so free of all things and all works, both inward and outward, that he may be a proper abode for God where God can work … For, if He finds a man so poor, then God performs His own work, and the man is passive to God within him, and God is His own place of work, being a worker in Himself. It is just here, in this poverty, that man enters into that eternal essence that once he was, that he is now and evermore shall remain … Here, God is one with the spirit, and that is the strictest poverty one can find (Meister Eckhart, Sermon 52).



Thus I must pray to God to rid me of ‘God’ (sô biten wir got, daz wir gotes ledic werden) for only in this ‘divine ignorance’ (docta ignorantia) this utter ‘poverty of spirit’ can I ‘rise up unknowingly’ (ignote consurge) to the ‘dazzling obscurity’ (hypérphoton gnóphos) of the One who is beyond all (St. Dionysius); and as long as I still know ‘God’ (as other) I’m not yet perfectly poor of self. Dixit insipiens in corde suo: Non est Deus (Ps. 52); in this athéisme purificateur (Weil) the ‘holy fool’ must ‘love God as He is in Himself: as a Non-Person, Non-Spirit, Non-God, a pure and simple One, empty of all duality’ (Eckhart, Serm. 83) – abyssus abyssum incovat (Ps. 42). 


But not only do I have to ‘love God with all my heart, mind and soul’ but also ‘my neighbor as I do myself’ (Matt. 22); but who am I? I’m a nothing, I have to become nothing, have to love my own nothingness, accepter le vide, as Simone Weil says, to make room for grace; And only when I’m nothing, when I’m ‘empty of self’, do I have that perfect poverty in which the Father can accomplish His work: give birth to His only-begotten Son in the Love of the Spirit (which is the only Work there is). Mon Dieu, accordez-moi de devenir rien! For ‘charity is the love one’s own death’ (Borella) and loving God means loving the ‘immolation of oneself’, one’s own ‘crucifixion’: ‘Unless the grain of wheat does not fall into the earth and die it doesn’t bear fruit’ (Joh. 12:24). As St. Bonaventure (Itin. VII.6) puts it: ‘Whoever loves his death can see God, for ‘no one can see God and live’ (Ex. 33:20)’.  


And only in this utter Poverty can I truly ‘love my neighbor’, for when I am empty of ‘me’, there is no more ‘I’ and ‘you’ but only ‘He’ and in this total detachment ‘God gives God to God’ in the perfect charity of the eternal perichoresis; then we are both ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Lk. 1:41) like St. Elizabeth and Holy Mary.  


Magnificat anima mea Dominum,
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae!


And thus every act of charity becomes a participation in the Divine Life, and outside of this participation in the ‘essential Love’ there is no charity worthy of that name, but only profane activism.


The soul that has to become so ‘dispossessed’ of self-will and his ‘realized’ Poverty and Charity in an ‘ontological’ manner, has ‘become Mary’ herself (fiat mihi secundum Verbum tuum); For Mary, Mediatrix of all Graces, is both ‘the channel or aqueduct whereby the heavenly waters reach us’ (St. Bernard) and the celestial mercury that ‘solves’ the ‘egoic coagulations’ into the virginal materia prima over which ‘hovers the Spirit of God’ (Gen. 1:2, Lk. 1:35), the pure receptivity to the ‘Divine Ray’ (ecce ancilla Domini), and an ‘unstained mirror of the Glory of God’ (Wis. 7:26). And having ‘become Mary’ the souls gives birth to the Word (Theotokos) and is finally ‘assumed’ into Him in the mystical marriage of bride and Bridegroom (Qui te, o Virgo, in caelum assumpsit).[1]


Ich muss Maria sein und Gott aus mir gebären,
Soll er mich ewiglich der Seligkeit gewähren.


(I have to be Mary and give birth to God within me,
if He is to grant me eternal Blessedness – Angelus Silesius).


That we may thus become spiritual poor and ‘know the charity of Christ which surpasses all gnosis, to be filled with all the fullness of God’ (Eph. 3:19), so help us God. Amen.




[1] “The sacred marriage, consummated in the heart, adumbrates the deepest of all mysteries. For this means both our death and beatific resurrection. The word to ‘marry’ (eko bhû, become one) also means to ‘die’, just as in Greek, teleô is to be perfected, to be married, or to die. When ‘Each is both’, no relation persists: and

were it not for this beatitude (ânanda) there would be neither life nor gladness anywhere” (A.K. Coomaraswamy, The Hindu Tradition). 







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