She Became A Theologian
Today the Church remembers the thirteenth century saint Gertrude of Helfta.
Here is how that wonderful spiritual writer, the late Aelred Squire, introduces her:
Gertrude had received a good literary and religious education in the convent which she entered. She could express herself with clarity and a certain charm and, as a finished “grammarian,” a phrase which may be taken to refer to her entire humane education, she felt happy and at home in a civilized household where the liturgy was performed with dignity and beauty.
It was all innocent enough and Gertrude never realized anything was missing until a few weeks before the Christmas of her twenty-fifth year, when the bottom of this sophisticated little world seemed to drop out. The feeling was more than a passing depression and culminated after Compline on the last Monday in January, in a totally unawaited encounter with our Lord.
What matters is not so much the nature of the encounter, but its effect, which tradition is unanimous in regarding as the only sure test of an experience of this kind. This effect her friend and biographer describes in a single simple phrase. It was thus, she says, that “from being a grammarian Gertrude became a theologian.”
Squire, with his solid English good sense, goes on to reflect:
Gertrude’s world and way of expressing herself is hardly one that most modern readers would find it easy to enter, and there is nor reason why they should even try. It is enough that we should understand that it is possible in our world and in our way to become a “theologian” in the same legitimate sense in which Gertrude became a theologian, since the same “Word of God” is still being spoken and is still operative if we can only learn how to attend to it. When this attention grows it will naturally lead into prayer and even sometimes be prayer.
But, the price of such attention may well be for us, what it was for Gertrude: the turning of a world upside down.