Here’s how I see it. When you read Adrienne von Speyr, you will be lead sooner or later to Ignatius of Loyola. When you read Ignatius and you are looking for living this contemplative action today, you might be lead sooner or later to Adrienne.
The blessings of this website is that you contact me. And many of you are Jesuit, either spiritually or actually.
I love this because a Jesuit, Rev. Raymond Gawronski, S.J., introduced me to Adrienne. He was my dissertation director while I was at Marquette University and is now the director of spiritual formation at the St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, CO. You might recongize him from this DVD series on the Spiritual Exercises.
What I am seeing (anecdotally) is that Jesuit scholastics are introducing each other to Adrienne. And here’s the important point, she is helping them to be more Ignatian!
In her writings, we learn contemplative action grounded in scripture and raised high by the theology of prayer and the saints. May she continue to guide the Jesuits into ever deeper contemplation and action.
Ignatius taught Adrienne this prayer:
(from With God and With Men: Prayers, trans. Adrian Walker [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995], p. 50)
- 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.
Here’s a novena that was passed on to me in preparation for Sept. 17, which is Adrienne’s anniversary of her death. Sorry for the lateness of this post. But please join in. Adrienne will understand.
My thanks to Sr. Marianna Canteros and a Jesuit seminarian who composed this novena from Adrienne’s book With God and Men: Prayers.
On June 17, 2010, I presented an hour and a half long orientation on Adrienne von Speyr to the new volunteers for Heart’s Home, a religious movement I wrote about earlier. I thought I would share the digital audio version of the presentation.
The presentation is divided into three parts. The first third of the talk (00’-22’) gives an interpretive key to Adrienne’s thought. In the second third (22’-41’), I present an biographical overview to her life. In the last third (41’-1:08’), we read and discuss a few quotations from Adrienne’s book, The Boundless God, which I give to you below. In closing (1:08’-1:25’), we have question and answer.
I am presenting to the six new volunteers for Heart’s Home for their orientation program before they are sent to their destination for 14-18 months. Oh, and you’ll also hear me laughing at my own jokes. If I don’t, who will? There is much imperfection here, but you may find this worth listening to if you would like to learn more about who Adrienne was and how to begin to understand her.
Quotations from The Boundless God referenced during the presentation:
1. “When God creates the world he makes a beginning right in the middle of his eternity, a beginning that inaugurates the realm of number and numeration; day and night are already separated, and so times are placed in rhythmic succession. … The realm of number and of finitude does not close in on itself; it remains the arena of infinite, that is, eternal life. And when we are told that the Father is in communion with the Son and with the Spirit from eternity, we also experience that he is a God of love who begets the Son as his image and likeness, who pours out the Spirit, and who lets them both participate in the same eternity and infinity while receiving from them this very same eternity and infinity. Love thus knows no bounds; it proceeds from and to the eternal God.” (21)
2. “Because man sins and becomes unworthy of God’s love, God creates a punishment while at the same time also creating—as a new testimony of love—time which alone can be identified as the experience of finitude in the actual sense: he creates death. Through death, God puts an end to the creature who has chosen sin so that the condition of being in sin does not continue without bounds.” (22)
3. “the Son has taken upon himself the end that is death and has died for all men … Because the Son dies for and with him, he will be entrusted in death completely to the grace of God. Therefore, he already knows in life that the finitude of his existence corresponds to a grace from God that has been granted to all men and not just to him. The experience of his finitude, however, affords him knowledge of God’s infinity: his knowledge of the end of earthly life is a recognition of eternal life. He can thus regard death, not only as punishment, but equally as the Father’s grace. The Son has taken death’s purely punitive character upon himself and thereby released the character of grace for his brothers, whereby he unveils and fulfills the purpose of finitude.” (22-23)
4. “His descent into the underworld is part of this sign: he does not just pass fleetingly through these areas unknown to us; he stays there for three days. He therefore takes the entire accumulation of his strength into the sacrifice that led to his death, beyond death and into the underworld. … the world that he brought with him is his heavenly world, the world of the Father and of the Spirit, a world that infinitely surpasses our own. As humans, we are inclined to regard each act that the Son performs as finite, yet with each act he opens up infinity. Each time he does something as man, he does something divine. In everything he is and does, he grants us glimpses into the boundlessness of heaven. “ (24)
5. “Confession grants us just such a view of infinity. When we go to confession, we pass through a kind of death and, by acknowledging our sin, reach the end of it—the end that God has instituted through death. We repentantly confess and reach a boundary, an endpoint given us by the Son. The absolution we receive comes from beyond the here and now and is comparable to going to heaven. Sin is shown its end in accordance with God’s punitive judgment, but a new life is also shown its beginning. Man experiences through this that God is exercising his love anew. He has been granted death and confession so that he can grant new space to the infinite love of the triune God.” (24-25)
6. “for the individual is always invited by the Son to satisfy the demands of the Father with the strength of the Holy Spirit, in the unity of the Son who lives on in the communion of saints, and with the definitive wherewithal of the Mother’s Yes.” (150)
My thanks to Sr. Regine for the invitation to present on Adrienne von Speyr. Let me know what you think in the comments section below.
Kim Fabricius and Ben Myers of the theological blog Faith and Theology have been composing clerihews (four-line biographical poem) of modern theologians here and here. I thought you would like to read their clerihew of Hans Urs von Balthasar:
Hans Urs von Balthasar
Really raised the bar,
From descensus, to drama, to logic – higher and higher –
With a leg-up from Adrienne von Speyr.
See you can rhyme Speyr.
I’ve thought about revising my tagline for vonspeyr.net. Perhaps it should be: “devoted to getting higher and higher with a leg-up from Adrienne von Speyr.”
In the current issue of Geist und Leben (#83 Mai/Juni 2010), Karsten Erdmann has an article on von Speyr’s theology of confession called “Heimweh nach Gott. Adrienne von Speyrs Theologie der Beichte [Homesick for God: Adrienne von Speyr’s Theology of Confession]” Geist und Leben 83 (2010).
If you know of other recent articles, I would be glad to announce them.
Many are the ways of letting this month be Mary’s. I leave you to find those, but one thing I do recommend—read Handmaid of the Lord by Adrienne von Speyr (preview it here or buy it here). Not only is it Adrienne’s finest one-volume work but it summarizes the whole of Adrienne’s thought and mission. So one motivation for reading it would be to learn the meaning of Adrienne, but more importantly for this month, reading it would help you learn the meaning of Mary.
Here are the first sentences. Tell me what you think in the comments section below:
“As a sheaf of grain is tied together in the middle and spreads out at either end, so Mary’s life is bound together by her assent” (7).
Mary’s assent to the Lord binds the whole of her life such that “From this assent her life receives its meaning and form and unfolds toward past and future” (ibid.). Mary’s meaning and form burst outward from her assent.
“This single, all-encompassing act accompanies her at every moment of her existence, illuminates every turning point of her life, bestows upon every situation its own particular meaning and in all situations gives May herself the grace of renewed understanding. Her assent gives full meaning to every breath, every movement, every prayer of the Mother of God” (ibid.)
Do pick up and read Handmaid of the Lord and tell me what you think.
Recently, I read an interested passage in Adrienne von Speyr’s book, Man Before God, which is a book one could use to approach her theological anthropology. I was very interested, however, not just in what she says about the human person in light of the encounter with the Word. Instead, I was pleased to see her healthy Chalcedonianism.
In the english translation, von Speyr writes, God the Son
“himself is the Word of the Father from all eternity, and he understands his own unlimited meaning. But as man, in terms of his human nature, he has to learn his own eternal word and find the right expression” (von Speyr, Man Before God, pg. 67).
In other words, as God, the Son understands himself perfectly, but as man, he learns to understand and articulate himself as the eternal Word.
“Smile” was my reaction. You’ll find something similar in many professionally-trained theologians of the Chalcedonian strains of Christology, but you would normally not expect it from a lay person not formally educated in classic Christology.
Here’s why this is important: the knowledge of Jesus Christ, that is, his knowledge of himself not our knowledge of him, is a hotly debated topic in contemporary Christology. The question is often put like this: if Jesus is truly human, how is it possible that his human mind could understand himself as fully God? Put too simply, Christologies from above (of course Jesus has perfect knowledge of himself as fully God) part ways with Christologies from below (of course Jesus does not nor cannot have perfect knowledge of himself as fully God).
The problem with those characterizations is that they are not yet Chalcedonian. The Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451 makes the major compromising Christological breakthrough with this statement:
“Following the holy Fathers, we unanimously teach and confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, composed of rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father as to his divinity and consubstantial with us as to his humanity; ‘like us in all things but sin.’ He was begotten from the Father before all ages as to his divinity and in these last days, for us and for our salvation, was born as to his humanity of the virgin Mary, the Mother of God.
“We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division, or separation (in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabiliter). The distinction between natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis.”
There is much here in this text. Look at that phrase “the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together.” In other words, the human nature and the divine nature of the Son preserve their character proper to their nature as they are united. The human nature stays characteristically human and the divine nature stays characteristically divine. This idea, of course, gets developed rightly(!) by the next ecumenical council. (shhhh, I’m a neo-Chalcedonian).
A proper Christology will preserve the two natures of the incarnate Son. Thus, we should say that the human mind of the incarnate Son maintains its limitations in understanding himself as the eternal Word and that the divine mind of the Son maintains its unlimitedness in understanding himself as the eternal Word.
Or we could just say it exactly like Adrienne von Speyr: God the Son “himself is the Word of the Father from all eternity, and he understands his own unlimited meaning. But as man, in terms of his human nature, he has to learn his own eternal word and find the right expression.”
Happily, von Speyr does not stop with this point. She continues. In the next section, she says that to understand properly that even though we can discern a type of separation in the knowledge of the different natures,
“He is ‘I’ as man and as God, and in this ‘I’ there can be no discrepancy between them, … he is active word of the Father, the incarnate, only begotten Son in the entire depth and uniqueness of this word” (von Speyr, Man Before God, pg. 67).
He is one Person with one “I” and this “I” is the divine “I” of the divine Son who has become incarnate.
Happy feast of the Incarnation (sometimes called the Feast of the Annunciation)!
The gospel reading on the Fourth Sunday of Lent is the story of the prodigal son (Lk 15:1-3,11-32). My friend, Deacon Paul Anel, who is the Art Director of Heart’s Home USA in Brooklyn chose to use a Speyrian interpretation of the passage for his sermon last Sunday. Here we see von Speyr’s principle at work—everything in Scripture must be brought into the trinitarian relations.
“‘A man had two sons…’ We heard that story so many times that we know it by heart. Yet each time we hear it again, we cannot help identifying with this man. I am the prodigal son, the son who strayed away from his Father’s love and home. I wasted my time and life for things that could not make me happy. This parable is the story of my life, my journey, it is the story of my sins and conversions.
Conversion, we believe, is our responsibility. That’s what Lent and penance is about, isn’t it? Sin is something that pertains to us, whereas everything good in us pertains to God: patience, tenderness, courage and, above all, charity. He has taken everything from us. Everything but sin. Sin still belongs to us. It is our thing, our responsibility. Sin is what God cannot take away from us. It belongs to us, and therefore, conversion too. It is our work, our lifelong effort. Maybe our pride.
“‘A man had two sons…’ I would like to suggest that we read that Parable differently. ‘A man had two sons…’ God the Father lived in perfect communion with the Word and the Holy Spirit. Everything that belonged to him belonged to them: his divinity, his perfect knowledge, his love. One day though, the Word decided to set off to a country far away. Taking his heritage, that is, his divine nature, he left his Father’s home and came down into the world. The Word was made flesh and he dwelt among us. There he was, walking among us. Wasting his divine heritage during thirty years in the silence of Nazareth. Then sitting in the house of the sinners, eating with tax collectors and prostitutes. Giving away everything he possessed: his time, his words, his strength. Giving away everything, up to his flesh and blood. Up to his garments. Until he found himself starving on the cross, starving for love, for forgiveness. Far from his Father, no longer deserving to be called his Son, abandoned by him and by us.
“Sin does not belong to us. Not anymore. If there is one thing that Jesus took away from us, it is sin, precisely. Not that he committed sin. It did much more than that: ‘He was made sin’, says St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. He was made sin. That is, he experienced the agony, the exile, the consequences of sin to an extent never quite experienced by any human being. He endured the agony of sin and the loneliness of hell in a way we cannot even imagine.
“Lent is not about our conversion, not primarily. It is about Christ’s conversion. It is about Christ confessing on the Cross the sin of the world, our sin, my sin. It is about the Father embracing Jesus-Christ on Easter morning, absolving him from the burden of Sin. Covering him with the mantle of victory. Putting at his finger the nuptial ring… For Jesus did not come back alone to his Father’s home. He married our humanity, saving us from our prostitutions to lifeless idols. Making us the Church, his pure and sinless bride.
“During the next three weeks before Easter, let us ask the Father - not for our conversion - but that we may keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ with faith and gratitude. That each confession may be a participation in his own Great Confession on the Cross. That each confession may fill us with the certitude of the Absolution, that was given once and for all on Easter morning. That each Eucharist may give us the joy to celebrate with him, in his Father’s house, the gift of Salvation.”
—Thank you for this, Deacon Anel.
Adrienne von Speyr, who died in September 17, 1967, was buried three days later on her sixty-fifth birthday in Basel, Switzerland next to her husband, Werner Kaegi. Here's a map of the Basel cemetery Friedhof am Hörnli, which is also the same cemetery where Karl Barth was buried.
View Friedhof am Hönli in a larger map
Here is the location of her tombstone in the cemetery.
View Tombstone of Adrienne von Speyr in a larger map
When you visit, you will see her unique tombstone, which symbolically represents the circumincession of the Trinity. It was carved by Albert Schilling, who also carved the altar in the Basel Allerheiligen church.
"I believe as best I can; I hope as best I can; I love, finally, as best I can. But the Son's love--and in it the love of the triune God--is infinite, accompanying the dying through death and leading them to their place in eternal life" (Adrienne von Speyr, The Mystery of Death, 114).
As a growing number of works by Adrienne von Speyr are being translated, a richer picture of her thought is being painted in the English-speaking world. No matter how many books of Adrienne von Speyr you have read, what book of hers is your favorite?
Please post it in the comments section below.
For those of you wondering about me, my favorite is Handmaid of the Lord. You can see my other favorite von Speyr books here.
What is your favorite Adrienne von Speyr book?
For me one of the great blessings of this website is meeting all of you who read it. Since moving to New York City, I have had the pleasure of meeting the living saints who work for Heart's Home USA, which is an international charitable organization and Catholic ecclesial movement. The reason for featuring them on this website, which is dedicated to all things Adrienne, is that the founder of Heart's Home or Points-Coeur, Rev. Thierry de Roucy, was significantly influenced by Adrienne von Speyr's spirituality in creating this ecclesial movement.
Founded in France in 1990 and now in twenty countries, the international movement is truly spreading a culture of compassion inspired by Speyrian spirituality. Père Thierry who usually works from their International Center for a Culture of Compassion in Woodbourne, NY leads retreats, gives talks, and offers schools of community that are usually based on Speyrian themes and writings. Père Thierry, of course, has written about the spirituality of Adrienne von Speyr (e.g. Adrienne von Speyr: Théologienne de toujours plus and Jésus, les Chrétiens et la Confession: Essai sur le Fondement Christologique de la Confession chez Adrienne von Speyr) and when you meet him and others from Heart's Home you know that von Speyr's spirituality, particularly her understanding of the evangelical counsels, is being lived concretely.
Their good, loving works are many. For example at their house in Brooklyn, NY, with which I am the most familiar, the priests, sisters, young lay men and women care for those who are sick, disabled, poor, or homebound. They visit with these suffering people offering whatever they can, but most importantly as Sr. Regine Fohrer likes to say, they offer compassion that shares these peoples' suffering just as Mary intimately shared in Jesus' suffering. Here in New York City, they also engage in a profound evangelization of culture through their ministry to artists. I think for example here of the work of Fr. Paul Anel. You will also find them, especially Père Thierry, giving presentations and retreats that are imbued with Speyrian spirituality: unreserved readiness for anything, obedience as performative love, confession as a profound way of being present within God, and the importance of compassionate engagement with the secular world.
As you learn more about Heart's Home, please consider volunteering with them in the US and internationally. Above all, pray for them that they always reside in the heart of Jesus, sharing his love with all.
On May 29, 2009, I will be presenting a paper called "Paul's Theology of Charism and the Ecclesial Relationship between Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr" at the annual meeting of the College Theology Society.
I gave an undergraduate-friendly version of this presentation a few months ago. Here is the abstract of my upcoming presentation:
Many systematic theologians acknowledge the relationship between Hans Urs von Balthasar, the significant twentieth-century Catholic theologian, and Adrienne von Speyr, the Swiss physician and Catholic mystic. There is, however, difficulty understanding the actual character and purpose of this relationship. What precisely does von Balthasar mean when he calls the greater part of his writings "a translation of what is present in more immediate, less technical fashion in the powerful work of Adrienne von Speyr" (Hans Urs von Balthasar, My Work in Retrospect, 105)?
I argue in this paper that Paul's theology of charism, particularly dealing with double mission charisms, will help us understand correctly the ecclesial relationship between von Balthasar and von Speyr. While Paul's theology of charism (1 Cor 12-14) speaks mostly of singular missions (preaching, teaching, etc.) for the building up of the church, he also sees a necessary place for double missions. For example, the charism given to the interpreter of tongues accompanies the one who speaks in tongues "so that the Church may be edified" (1 Cor 14:5). This Pauline theology of the mutual dependence of charisms will provide a way for understanding the inextricably interwoven relationship between Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr.
The presentation is my small effort to advance the essential insight that the joint work of von Balthasar and von Speyr is inextricably connected. To be comprehensive and valuable, interpretations of their work must acknowledge this connection.
For those of you interested in reading Adrienne von Speyr in Spanish, I am happy to tell you about a new publishing house called Ediciones San Juan.
Their purpose is mainly to publish von Speyr's works in Spanish. The translators know well her theology and mysticism so they are able to provide good faithful translations.
At the time of this post, these editions are available:
- Ancilla Domini
- El cantar de los cantares
- La confesión
- La creación
- La misión de los profetas
- La Palabra se hace carne: Meditaciones sobre el Evangelio de Juan, 1-5
- La santa misa
- María en la redencion
- Palabras de la cruz y sacramentos
Thanks to Alberto Valero for alerting me to this important work.
Thanks to the translation of David Schindler Jr. and Nicholas J. Healy, we have a new translation of Adrienne von Speyr's short work the way of sanctification, Der Mensch vor Gott. The book, Man Before God, published by Ignatius Press provides a one-volume summary of her theological anthropology, i.e. how she views the human person in light of his encounter with God.
Readers of Hans Urs von Balthasar will see in her book similar themes from his work Heart of the World. If I allow myself any time to reflect upon my existence as a man before God, I begin to know deeply my finitude, my limitations, and my nothingness. Yet, since God has become man, I am now able to find within my finitude a way toward the infinite. I stand before God as a finite man longing for the infinite, but Jesus Christ, who has taken on my position of finitude, stands before God as the perfect man who is perfectly infinite.
If you read this book, you must know that her title has a double meaning: it means Man (as in a human person) before God, but it also means The Man (Jesus Christ as the perfect man [Der Mensch]) before God.
I am happy to present to you a very imperfect presentation I gave to the St. John’s University chapter of Theta Alpha Kappa Society (a theology major and minors honors society). There is nothing more humbling than listening to yourself speak. There are some minor misstatements that I would like to revise, but you may enjoy hearing this informal presentation on Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr.
Here is an unedited mp3 of my presentation called “The Ecclesial Relationship between the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar and mystic Adrienne von Speyr.”
To introduce my presentation, I used this PDF handout.
Please tell me what you think in the comments section below. Enjoy!
A new translation is available of the small but valuable work, Lumina und Neue Lumina. Published by Ignatius Press, this book, Lumina and New Lumina, which is a collection of aphorisms, really contemplative 'insights', should be graciously welcome in the English-speaking world.
"To get or to understand people always means: to look at them from God's angle, from the point of view communicated through Him. It is not a science but a pure grace."
"Christian hope is a vessel in which faith lives; love carries it."
"Only when you are familiar with silence have you learned to speak; what you have to say can ripen only in silence."
The italian journal, Humanitas, has published a concentrated issue on Adrienne von Speyr as a mystic of the twentieth century. Edited by Giacomo Coccolini, you will find these important articles:
Coccolini, G., "Introduzione"
Martinelli, P., "Adrienne von Speyr e la mistica cristiana"
Servais, J., "Una mistica imperniata sulla Rivelazione giovannea. Adrienne von Speyr"
Ouellet, M., "Adrienne von Speyr e il Sabato Santo della teologia"
Krenski, Th., "Stefano o Gezabele? «Mistica oggettiva» di Adrienne von Speyr"
Sincere thanks to Dr. Alberto Fanton for alerting me.
I have uploaded a complete bibliography of the primary works of Adrienne von Speyr, which is unavailable anywhere else on the internet.
This list includes everything available in book or journal form. The English translations are added where appropriate. Soon I will include a list of translations in other languages
If there is anything missing, please let me know.
Yes, as far as I have been able to find, there are a few dissertations (one of which is my own). They are:
Berg, Blaise R. "Christian Marrige according to Adrienne von Speyr," S.T.D. diss., Lateran Pontifical University, John Paul II Institute of Studies on Marriage and Family, Rome, 2003.
Matro, Justin. “Christian Suffering in the Spiritual Writings of Adrienne von Speyr.” S.T.D. diss., Gregorian Pontifical University, Rome, 1999.
Miles, L. M. "Obedience of a Corpse: The Key to the Holy Saturday Writings of Adrienne von Speyr." Ph.D. diss., University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK, 2013.
Schiettecatte, J. “Disponibilité aimante: L’attitude d’amour johannique chez Adrienne von Speyr à la lumière de l’exégèse contemporaine.” S.T.D. diss., Teresianum Pontifical University, Rome, 1998.
Schmidt, William. “The Sacrament of Confession as Sequela Christi in the Writings of Adrienne von Speyr.” S.T.D. diss., Lateran Pontifical University, John Paul II Institute of Studies on Marriage and Family, Rome, 1999.
Sutton, Matthew. "The Gate of Heaven Opens to the Trinity: The Trinitarian Mysticism of Adrienne von Speyr." Ph.D. diss., Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, 2007.
Others in process. I look forward to promoting more dissertations on von Speyr's vast theological and mystical work.