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 ones 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 Caussades 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 ones 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.