Briefly Reviewed: December 1984
The Life of Prayer
By St. Teresa of Avila, edited by James Houston
Publisher: Multnomah Press, Classics of Faith and Devotions series
Review Author: Giles R. Dimock
Also reviewed: The Love of God by St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Edited by James Houston. Multnomah Press, Classics of Faith and Devotions series. 271 pages. $11.95.
It is not unusual to find Protestants interested in the spirituality of Catholic saints, but it is very unusual to find an evangelical Protestant publisher (Multnomah Press) interested in one of the saints who lived during the Counter-Reformation and imbibed its spirit. What comes as an even greater surprise to the Catholic reader is that the editor’s mother, a Protestant “missionary” to Spain, was driven out of Avila, and the author of the Introduction to the thoughts of Teresa was another “missionary” to Costa Rica!
That evangelical missionaries to Catholic countries could find profound Christian spirituality in St. Teresa of Ávila, who in her time was much preoccupied with the errors of the “Lutheranos” to the North, suggests that our times are truly ecumenical. Happily, people who disagree are willing to discover the common riches from the Lord that are variously shared in their traditions.
One can learn a good deal about prayer from St. Teresa, as our Protestant brethren know. While she vividly describes her own states of mystical union with God, she discourses about the basics of prayer with feet firmly on the ground. She would have us begin by resolutely fleeing vice and growing in virtue before we worry about the higher realms of prayer. Yet she also recognizes that struggles with sin do not rule out the experience of God as long as repentance is the soul’s response to any fall from grace.
St. Teresa uses the classical images of life with God: the journey, the interior castle (with many chambers to be traversed before arriving at the central room where the Lord dwells). She uses gardening images in speaking of the stages of prayer: watering from a well (beginning to pray); using a water wheel (practicing recollection); irrigation (God’s increasingly taking over the faculties); and a spring gushing forth (the soul resting completely in God). But Teresa’s advice does not neglect the stages in which we’re more likely to find ourselves: she speaks consolingly of dryness and aridity.
This volume is a good selection of Teresa’s writings and as such a rather painless introduction to her spiritual thought. Its one disadvantage is that, even though in the Introduction there is a thorough discussion of St. Teresa’s writings and their various editions, it isn’t always clear in this edition precisely which document one is reading, although this is sometimes clarified in the text by La Madre herself.
The other volume is entitled The Love of God and Spiritual Friendship by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, but this is misleading because the selections are not only his, but also those of his friends William of St. Thierry and Aelred of Rievaulx. Part of the charm of this volume, however, is that we’re not dealing just with abstractions about spiritual friendship, but the experience of good friends in the Lord who write to and for one another.
Reading this as a Thomist, I was intrigued to find that many approaches I had regarded as contributions of St. Thomas (while doubtless refined by him) were in fact common teaching of the early Middle Ages as developed in the monastic schools. For the most part, we are dealing here with a monastic theology of the spiritual life before the time of great scholastic precision, and the text emerges as a rich amalgam of biblical allusions (all cited), sound doctrine, and moving experiences about the love of God and neighbor. We can see how all of this, plus the great emphasis on the role of faith in salvation, would appeal mightily to our Protestant brethren.
I hope that anyone who reads either book will glean as much as I did theologically and spiritually, but most of all in my life of prayer, which is the most certain means of drawing separated Christians more closely together.
Butler’s Lives of the Saints (Complete Edition, Revised and Supplemented)
By Edited by Herbert J. Thurston & Donald Attwater
Publisher: Christian Classics
Pages: 2,824 pages (in four volumes)
Price: $110 for the set
Review Author: Dale Vree
This is the latest edition of Alban Butler’s classic Lives of the Saints, suitably updated and supplemented for today’s reader, and reissued by Christian Classics. This is the sort of work which belongs in every good library. It contains an abundance of information on some 2,565 saints, from the obscure to the celebrated.
But the true greatness of this famous work is not the raw information, but the profound inspiration which is gracefully woven through the information.
Christianity is more than a series of dogmas and a list of “dos and don’ts.” It is a way of living — the way of living. Many there be who have intellectual doubts or are sorely tempted to do what they clearly must not do, but the challenge to live the Christian life in its fullness, day-in and day-out, can sometimes seem the most daunting challenge of all.
Read about the saints, and let them be a beacon to your path.
On Christian Truth
By Harry Blamires
Review Author: Rosamond Kent Sprague
Harry Blamires is probably best known as a crisp and pungent analyst of theologically “liberal” Christianity, in such books as The Christian Mind and The Tyranny of Time. Here he attempts something different, an exposition of Christian fundamentals in short, reflective pieces.
At times Blamires seems to be writing against his natural bent, in his effort to be lively and practical. The best in him comes out more strongly in other books, when he is angry and his audience is more sophisticated.
Nevertheless, there is no denying the bracing solidity of doctrine to be found here. That Christianity is firmly based in history, that evil is essentially a parody of good, that it is baptism, not rule-keeping, that makes the Christian, that everlasting life is concerned not so much with the future as with the present: all these and other soul-saving truths are uncompromisingly presented.
Blamires is an apologist who does not, in the weaker sense, “apologize” for the Christian faith.
©1984 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved.
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