The Function of Discipline

“If one ‘trains’ and disciplines his faculties and his whole being, it is in order to deepen and expand his capacity for experience, for awareness, for understanding, for a higher kind of life, a deeper and more authentic life ‘in Christ’ and ‘in the Spirit.’ The purpose of discipline is not only moral perfection (development of virtue for its own sake) but self-transcendence, transformation in Christ ‘from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.’ The death and crucifixion of the old self, the routine man of self-seeking and conventionally social life, leads to the resurrection in Christ of a totally ‘new man,’ who is ‘one Spirit’ with Christ. This new man is not just the old man in possession of a legal certificate entitling him to a reward. He is no longer the same, and his reward is precisely this transformation that makes him no longer the isolated subject of a limited reward but ‘one with Christ’ and, in Christ, with all men. The purpose of discipline is then not only to help us ‘turn on’ and understand the inner dimensions of existence, but to transform us in Christ in such a way that we completely transcend our routine existence. (Yet in transcending it, we rediscover its existential value and solidity. Transformation is not a repudiation of ordinary life but its definitive recovery in Christ).

From “Renewal and Discipline” in Contemplation in a World of Action, by Thomas Merton

(Doubleday, New York 1971): p.117.

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