saints

how to read the book of all saints

Last year, the publication of the Book of All Saints in English caused quite a lot of excitement. I received many emails from people asking for more information about this fascinating, bewildering book. Here is a collection of advice that I have given over the past year on how to read Adrienne von Speyr’s Book of All Saints.
  • Resist the tendency to read this as a reference book on your favorite saints. Often you will look them up to confirm or deny Adrienne’s views of your favorite saints’ spirituality. This book, however, is about prayer. Or better it teaches you how to pray like all the saints. When (not if) you read the whole book, you will discover you have learned a lot about deep, contemplative prayer. Rather than learning a lot about a lot of saints, you will find that above all you have learned to pray deeply and intimately. In many ways, I think we are incapable of proving or disproving Adrienne’s judgments of a particular saint’s prayer. What we read are her teachings about the communion of saints as a deep, multi-layered communion of prayer.

 

  • The Book of All Saints is the first book of Adrienne’s posthumous works. When Adrienne dictated these prayer portraits, it was not meant to be a collected volume. These are spiritual sketches of saints composed over a long period of time. Von Balthasar only chose to collect and publish them after Adrienne’s death at least as far as I can tell. Because of this, the vignettes on a saint’s prayer are sometimes loosely related to each other and therefore are somewhat episodic.

 

  • While Adrienne strives for objectivity in her mysticism so as to disappear in God’s will, she is nonetheless still a subjective interpreter. These are not definitive portraits of a saint’s prayer life. By God’s grace she was invited in as a guest to observe the saint in prayer. She participates imperfectly in God’s vision of the saint in prayer. She articulates imperfectly the status and character of the saint in prayer. I am amazed, stunned, enthralled, repelled, and always drawn in deeper by these prayer portraits. Above all, because of this book, I have learned much about prayer.

 

  • My last advise: once you’ve read it, read it again. New and substantial insights will emerge. I think this could be a classic of twentieth-century Catholic spirituality. 
As always, I am humbled by the good conversations we have. I look forward to more. Please leave a comment or find my email on my about page. Keep reading Adrienne and let others know what you think. I’ve been struck, how about you?

new translation available - Book of All Saints

There will be a new Adrienne von Speyr translation available from Ignatius Press on March 28, 2008.  It is call the Book of All Saints.1274553-1373122-thumbnail.jpg

You can preorder it with them here or with another online bookstore.

This book is the first volume of the collection of posthumous works published by the Johannes Verlag.  For English-speaking von Speyr scholars (and it is possible to be such), this is quite exciting.  While I have read several of the entries in the German, it will be nice to have a translation of this profound work.  Rather than being a biography of the saints, this book gives us an interior image of the saint's prayer life. 

I am encouraged by Ignatius Press publishing this very mystical work of hers.  When this book becomes available, perhaps the English-speaking world will start to take more notice of Adrienne von Speyr as a major Christian mystical figure of the twentieth century.

learning about prayer

Here is a quotation on learning about prayer:

"How can you make people understand that they are supposed to grow into prayer?--It is just like with a foreign language: you teach the pupil word by word the language of God and the saints.  And all at once they speak this language fluently.  But this is possible only when you teach them the rudiments very clearly.  In an I-thou relationship.  Then the pupil also hears how the teacher speaks the language with others, he listens and acquires fluency.  The teacher can be God himself or the Mother of God or a priest.  But it does not absolutely have to be a human being.  God can open up heaven to a child (Adrienne von Speyr, With God and with Men: Prayers, 118)."

 

Adrienne von Speyr's own mystical, contemplative prayer began as a child and I think that this statement on the need for learning about prayer reflects some of her own interpretation about how she was taken into mystical prayer.  Hers was not an ascetical, acquired mysticism, rather she was introduced to it through a sheer gift of God and through her ascent at an early age.