The American Monastic Newsletter

Nr. 2, June 1999

On Publishing Purity of Heart

"Purity of heart" is not exactly a household word, not even for most monastics. We have all heard references to it, but we might find ourselves hard-pressed to explain to someone else what it means or to describe what place it holds in the life of a monastic. I can remember quite clearly the first time the term "purity of heart" took on significance for me.

It was early in 1988. Sister Katherine Howard, our prioress at the time, was giving monthly conferences on the monastic life. This particular conference was entitled, "The Monastic Life: Its Goal and Its Way of Life." At the time, we were studying conversatio morum as the monastic way of life. She told us that John Cassian defined the ultimate aim of monastic life as the kingdom of God, but that the immediate goal was purity of heart. She spent most of her time that Sunday exploring the concept of purity of heart. She saw it was a "turning to and a turning from." Inspired by John Cassian, she invited us to "turn to" a loving God in unceasing prayer and out of that strength to "turn from" material goods as a goal; our compulsions and false self as a goal (eight logismoi or passions); the visible and present world as a goal. That introduction to the concept of purity of heart was very significant for me. It made me especially alert to the term.

Early in 1997, I found reason to take an even deeper interest in this concept. Sister Johanna Becker and others in our community alerted me to the continuing interest being shown to the work of one of our deceased sisters. The work was a series of five articles on the purity of heart published in Studia Monastica between 1966 and 1970 by our Sister Juana Raasch. I began to realize the depth of her historical research into this concept. I recognized how quietly and unassumingly she had pursued her interest in purity of heart nearly twenty years prior to the time that this term began to take on real meaning for me. Even more impressive was the fact that monastic scholars around the world did know about her research and continued to write us about her seminal work in this area.

Our community realized that the time had come to formally recognize the life and scholarly work of Juana Raasch. I was pleased to be asked to help plan a publication that would honor her memory. Harriet Luckman, a doctoral candidate in historical theology at Marquette University, had shown a special interest in Juana's work. I asked her to coedit this volume with me. Together we decided on a format of essays that would expand the pioneering research Juana had begun. Fourteen contemporary monastic and patristic scholars have joined together in this volume to honor Juana's work. They have built on the foundation she began and added new insights into the various texts and authors of the period as scholarship in the area has advanced since the time of Juana's writing. Harriet's own expertise is apparent in her essay "Basil of Caesarea and Purity of Heart."

Columba Stewart, OSB, of St. John's Abbey, himself a well-known Cassian scholar, has over the years expressed his appreciation of Juana's work. He agreed to do the introduction to this volume of essays. This introduction will be invaluable for prospective readers who may worry about the adequacy of their own background concerning the theme of purity of heart. They will be reassured when they note that in this essay Stewart "will offer some general observations about how we approach an ancient Christian theme like purity of heart, situate the notion of purity in its cultural and religious context, introduce the two early monastic theologians most responsible for the doctrine of puritas cordis and finally consider some aspects of purity of heart particularly as they are found in the writings of John Cassian."

In the epilogue of this book it is my privilege to tell Juana's life story. Juana Raasch died of cancer in our infirmary in 1974 at the age of 47. Although she was always an unassuming presence among us, she is remembered with deep love. This final chapter gives our community an opportunity to express its love, respect and gratitude to this dear friend and devoted monastic scholar. The Liturgical Press has just (May 1999) published our book Purity of Heart in Early Ascetical and Monastic Literature: Essays Honoring Juana Raasch, OSB. We invite you to read this book as a way to deepen the meaning of this important concept in your own life.

I personally want to thank Juana for her part in helping me to realize that purity of heart is not only a crucial monastic concern, but is a fundamental Christian theme which has a central place in the spiritual lives of all searchers.

Linda Kulzer, OSB

Saint Benedict's Monastery

St. Joseph, MN


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Rev. 990630 / Copyright 1999-2009 by the American Benedictine Academy / Richard Oliver OSB / http://www.osb.org/aba/news/992902/purity.html