May 1989

Spiritual Letters of Jean-Pierre de Caussade.  . Morehouse-Barlow. 148 pages. $6.95.

By contemporary American standards, Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, an 18th-century French Jesuit, suffered from severe psy­chic imbalance. Just listen to this afflicted soul: “Annihilate your­self continually!” “Oh, what a precious state is that state of nothingness!” “I am delighted that the thought of your wretch­edness and weakness…is your usual inward preoccupation!” This is, well, so unhealthy. A vast mental-hygiene apparatus exists to “cope” with this sort of thing — to bolster self-confidence, to improve one’s assertiveness, to banish nagging pangs of inade­quacy, to make one feel good about oneself. Poor de Caussade. If only he had had the benefits of a battalion of American mind-curers.

Fr. de Caussade’s call to spiritual heroism will repel those who seek to suspend themselves in the Jell-o of psychic ease and well-being. Even for more hardy folk, his message is not easy to accept. He preaches nothing less than total abandonment to God; his renunciation of the swollen ego is so radical that it takes one’s breath away. “Wretched pride and human vanity” — the source of all our vaulting ambition, ur­gent need to achieve, and compelling lust to act and do — must be “extinguished.” To what end? “Heaven,” de Caussade writes with utter simplicity, “is worth all these battles.”

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