Inner and Outer Hearing

I want to do one more post on Carol Harrison's discussion of listening and catechesis in The Art of Listening in the Early Church. I've commented recently about how the role of time and developing "literate listeners." Here I want to look at how she talks about the relationship between "inner and outer hearing." She makes an interesting connection between hearing, seeing, and faith. The audial, she says, is especially linked with faith because both of these realms traverse the realm of the unseen: 

Hearing ... enables us to grasp, in faith, what otherwise goes beyond what bodily eyes can see or human reason can discover and explain.
— Carol Harrison, The Art of Listening in the Early Church


So hearing, like faith, goes "beyond what bodily eyes can see." This seems exactly right, and helps us get at why hearing plays such an important role in the Scriptures, especially the Old Testament. It also helps us see why and how the early church developed the language of the "spiritual senses" to describe the relationship between the surface level of things and their inner patterns or meanings. This most often occurred in talking about vision—seeing with one's physical eyes and seeing with "the eyes of the heart." Harrison wants to emphasize that there was also an "inner and outward hearing." 

There is now, in a sense, both an outward and inward hearing, since what is heard by the ears can be received, interpreted, and understood by what has already been imprinted upon the mind and heart by the gift of God’s word in instruction, preaching, baptism, and the Eucharist. It is as if the themes (the creeds, summaries, and statements) stated so carefully during catechetical instruction, which have been inscribed upon the mind of the catechumen in order to prepare and inform it for baptism, and which have been sealed by the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism and the Eucharist, are now able to echo and find a resonance with the explanation of the mysteries which are imparted to the newly baptized member of the Church, thus making them truly one of the faithful—a literate listener.
— Harrison, The Art of Listening

The church fathers did not always, or necessarily see outer and inner senses in conflict (or at least, not as much as is often thought). At least in some instances, they saw physical hearing as a preparation for inner hearing. Hearing the physical words spoken by the catechists was not a different kind of thing than hearing with the "ear of the heart." Rather, it was in the hearing of the creeds, the preaching, or the teaching, that the inner ear became primed to be able to listen to the "inner teacher," Christ.

One cannot hear the Inner Teacher unless the preparatory work has been done in catechesis. Harrison puts it this way: the "inward hearing of the inner teacher depends, first and foremost, upon the teaching which has already informed the mind and will by means of outward, preparatory, formative hearing or catechesis. It is this which enables it to be attentive to, and to receive the grace of God’s gift of inner teaching and formation which begins in baptism; the theme cannot create echoes or resonances until it has already been stated and heard." 

The fathers used particular kinds of metaphors to talk about the preparatory aspects of catechesis. They would say, for instance, that it's like preparing the soil for the seed, or crafting a jar to receive liquid. 

So get your soul ready like a jar, to become a son of God, “God’s heir” and “Christ’s fellow-heir” (Rom. 8:17)—provided you get yourself ready to receive, provided you approach in faith, so as to become one of the Faithful; provided you lay aside the old man in earnest.
— John Chrysostom

Not only listening to teaching, but everything that happened during the Lenten catechumenate—everything was aimed at preparing the catechumen to receive the Holy Spirit at baptism. Harrison again: "The anointings, exorcisms, scrutinies, and spiritual/ascetic exercises which were an intrinsic feature of the catechumenate were also interpreted in this same context, as cleansing the soul, ridding it of evil, preparing it for the reception of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins in baptism." 

We can return again to the meaning of the word "catechumen" as "one who hears." The early Christian catechists like Augustine, Ambrose, Cyril of Jerusalem, Theodore of Mopsuestia--they wanted the truth of Christ to "resound" in the hearts and minds of their hearers. Everything in catechesis—learning the Scriptures, the Creeds, the Lord's prayer, the anointings—all of it was "directed at preparing and forming the mind and will through the ears, so that it is ready to receive (or resonate with) the gift of the Holy Spirit."