Spirituality from below

 A theology of humanity

Author: Father Amseln Grün
In his book “Spirituality from Below”, Father Anselm Grün explores the various facets of spirituality from below. He presents how this path, which leads down into our own humanity and earthiness, can at the same time mean the ascent to God. We present here some excerpts from the book of the same name. This should give the seeker courage and serenity on the spiritual path, and which particularly emphasizes a religious virtue, humility.

In the history of spirituality, among others, there are two currents. There is a spirituality from above and one from below. Spirituality from below means that God speaks to us not only in the Bible and through the Church. But that he speaks also through ourselves, through our thoughts and feelings. Through our bodies, our dreams, and especially through our wounds and our supposed weaknesses. Spirituality from below was practiced especially in monasticism. The early monks started with dealing with their own passions. They began with self-knowledge in order to be able to recognize and encounter the true God. Evagrius Ponticus formulates this spirituality from below in the classic phrase:

“If you want to know God, first get to know yourself.” The ascent to God goes through the descent into one’s own reality to the depths of the unconscious.

Spirituality from below does not see the path to God as a one-way street on which one goes further and further toward God. Rather, the path to God leads through aberrations and detours, through failure and through disappointment with oneself. It is not my virtue that opens me above all to God, but my weakness, my powerlessness, even my sin.

Eine Theologie der MenschlichkeitA theology of humanityAdobe Photostock


We are not concerned with placing spirituality from below in total opposition to that from above. One-sidedness is never helpful. And so there is also a healthy tension of these two spiritual approaches. Spirituality from above presents us with ideals to emulate and ultimately to live up to. Ideals certainly have a positive effect on people. Especially for young people, ideals are vital.

Without ideals, they would only revolve around themselves. They would not be able to unfold the possibilities that lie within them. And they would not get in touch with their power, which wants to be awakened. Ideals draw young people out of themselves so that they can transcend themselves, overcome themselves, and discover new possibilities. Without ideals, many would pass by their own possibilities. In order to grow, I need role models. Gestalt grows from gestalt. Saints can be good role models for young people, challenging and spurring them to work on themselves and discover their true vocation. But:

We cannot copy the saints.

Looking at the saints does not want to make us feel bad that we are not so holy. Rather, it wants to encourage us not to think too small of ourselves and to discover our personal vocation, to recognize the unique image that God has made of each of us.

So we cannot do without spirituality from above.


G. Jung points out to us again and again that the path of becoming human goes via the descent into the underworld, into the unconscious. He himself once quotes Eph 4:9: “But if he ascended, what does this mean but that he also descended to the earth?” and thinks that psychology, about which many Christians rail, wants exactly the same thing. One paints “psychology as black as can be, because it teaches – quite in accordance with the Christian symbol – that no one can ascend who has not descended.” (Jung, Vol. 18 II, 733)

Jung speaks of the inflation of the proud who puff themselves up with high ideals, who identify themselves with archetypal images, e.g., the image of the martyr, the prophet, the saint. Identification with an archetypal image blinds us to our own reality.

For Jung, humility is the courage to look at one’s own shadow.

In this version, excerpts from the article are reproduced. The full article is available in pdf, which can be ordered below.


Humility is not a virtue we can work out for ourselves, but an expression of the experience of God and our own reality. And humility is the way of descending into one’s own humus, into one’s own earthiness. This becoming familiar with the humus within us leads to humor. This is an essential aspect of humility, that it is serene, that it deals humorously with one’s own reality as with the world. But humility also describes the path of failure, the path to the zero point at which our life seems to break, but at which it is broken open precisely for God. If we reconcile ourselves to the fact that the path of humility is our path to God, then we would not be constantly fighting against our nature, then we could give up the futile efforts to make ourselves better.

Eine Theologie der MenschlichkeitA theology of humanity

Again and again I experience in spiritual accompaniment how people think they have to overcome their faults, they have to develop more self-confidence, they have to become stronger. And then they are often disappointed beyond measure when they are still sensitive and vulnerable. It is precisely the failure of our own efforts to reach a state of serenity and security, of self-confidence and strength, that can open us up to the true God. And it can also make us more human. If we reconcile ourselves to the fact that we are simply wounded children, sensitive, in need of love, dependent on praise and blame, then we have become more human than if we had made ourselves insensitive and self-assured.

Der Autor Pater Anselm GrünAbout the author

Anselm Grün, born in 1945, entered the Benedictine Abbey of Münsterschwarzach near Würzburg at the age of 19. From 1977 to 2013, after studying philosophy, theology and business administration, he was the cellerar, economic director, of Münsterschwarzach Abbey. In numerous courses and lectures, he tries to respond to the needs and questions of people. Thus he has become the spiritual advisor and spiritual companion of many managers.

This article was originally published in the German Issue of Tattva Viveka No. 86: Spiritualität von unten – Eine Theologie der Menschlichkeit

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