....do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” (verses 18-20)
Peter Williamson, in the Catholic Commentary, has a very good exposition of these verses in St. Paul’s letter, and I am going to use his teaching as a handout to give those of you who meet with our study group on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. But I have decided to share with you in this blog post a passage which is part of chapter one of Fr. Cantalamessa’s outstanding book, Sober Intoxication of the Spirit, Filled with the Fullness of God (referred to as SIS after this). Fr. Cantalamessa, a Capuchin Franciscan, has been for some time the preacher to the papal household in Rome. In chapter one he is speaking about the remarkable Fourth Century A.D., and the way the teaching of St. Paul and other New Testament writers concerning the life of the Spirit in the Church was continuing to be fulfilled hundreds of years after the initial founding of Christ’s Church at Pentecost (Acts 2):
He says, “In 348 the bishop of Jerusalem, Cyril, commenting on the words of Peter at Pentecost–These are not drunk, as you suppose (Acts 2:15)–said to the catechumens: ‘They are not drunk in the way you might think. They are indeed drunk, but with the sober intoxication (nephalios methe) which kills sin and gives life to the heart and which is the opposite of physical drunkenness. Drunkenness makes a person forget what he knows; this kind, instead, brings understanding of things that were not formerly known. They are drunk insofar as they have drunk the wine of that mystical vine which affirms, I am the vine, you are the branches’ (John 15:5).
“The inebriation that comes from the Holy Spirit thus purifies of sin, renews the heart in fervor and enlightens the mind by a special knowledge of God–not a rational but an intuitive, experiential knowledge, accompanied by inner joy.
“From Jerusalem let’s go to Milan (with)…a hymn of St. Ambrose…Preaching to neophytes he said: ‘Every time you drink, you receive the remission of sins and you become intoxicated with the Spirit. It is in that sense that the Apostle said, Do not get drunk with wine…but be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). He who becomes intoxicated with wine staggers, but he who becomes intoxicated with the Holy Spirit is rooted in Christ. How truly excellent is this intoxication which produces the sobriety of the soul!’
“The Christians in Milan had the same experience as did those in Jerusalem: The Holy Spirit, when received in the sacraments and especially in the Eucharist, gives the soul a kind of intoxication that has nothing disordered or superficial about it. Rather this intoxication takes the soul beyond its normal experience, beyond its poverty and powerlessness, into a state of grace where there is no room for doubts, regrets or self-absorption but only for joy and thanksgiving. The soul is rooted in Christ. Another voice from Tradition, Saint Augustine, counsels Christians newly baptized on Easter: ‘The Holy Spirit has come to abide in you; do not make him withdraw; do not exclude him from your heart in any way. He is a good guest; He found you empty and he filled you; He found you hungry and He satisfied you; He found you thirsty and He has intoxicated you. May He truly intoxicate you! The Apostle said, Do not be drunk with wine which leads to debauchery. Then, as if to clarify what we should be intoxicated with, he adds, But be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart (See Ephesians 5:18ff). Doesn’t a person who rejoices in the Lord and sings to Him exuberantly seem like a person who is drunk? I like this kind of intoxication. The Spirit of God is both drink and light.’
“Saint Augustine asked himself why Scripture had used such a daring image as intoxication. He concluded that it is because only the state of a man who has drunk so much as to lose his mind can give us an idea–even though it is a negative one–of what happens to the human mind when it receives the ineffable joy of the Holy Spirit. The mind recedes and becomes divine, becoming intoxicated with the abundance in the house of God, i.e., tasting something of the goodness that is to come in the heavenly Jerusalem. When spiritually intoxicated, a person is out of his mind not because he is bereft of reason, as is the case with wine or drugs, but because he passes beyond reason into the light of God….
“The pastors of the Church, far from being afraid of this enthusiasm and trying to rein it in, nourished it and became its promoters and its pastoral guides. Historians generally call this the golden age of Church history, but they do not seem to wonder where this extraordinary flowering of genius in the Church came from, that is, the magnificent doctrines in the writings of the Fathers, that incomparable ability to spiritually read the Scripture so as to draw out nourishing food for the life of the whole people of God.
“All of that happened because the Holy Spirit flowed freely in the Church–like honey in a honeycomb, to use an image that was well known at the time…This was a time when a bishop (and not just a simple theologian!) like Gregory of Nazianzen could exclaim to his people: ‘How long are we going to keep our light hidden under a bushel? Now is the time to set the light (the Holy Spirit!) in the lampstand so that it can give light to the whole church, to souls, and to the whole world.’
“Less than two years later, in the Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381, the profession of faith in the full divinity of the Holy Spirit finally entered into the Apostles’ Creed; the great light was placed on the highest lampstand of the Church.” (SIS, pp. 2-6)
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This passage is an encouragement, I hope, for many to obtain and read Fr. Cantalamessa’s book, published by Servant Books in 2005. There is both knowledge and encouragement for all of us in what he is teaching us in our own day. And pondering the reality of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, as well as the life of the family, is what will help us in coming weeks to understand and fully receive Paul’s teaching concerning the nitty-gritty of relationships which we’ll find in the remainder of Ephesians. JC