I don’t know who said “An author is not famous until after he (or she) dies,” but I do believe there is some truth to it. Last night I began reading Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence. de Caussade was a French Jesuit who lived from 1675 to 1751, and who gained some renown in his lifetime as a spiritual director. He did write one book that is now pretty much forgotten; meanwhile, Abandonment to Divine Providence was essentially redacted from the authors letters by another French Jesuit in 1861 — over a century after de Caussade’s death! A century and a half later, this book is now considered a classic of 18th-century mysticism as well as a brilliant call to the spirituality of the present moment; one could think of it as a Catholic response to Eckhart Tolle, only from the past.
But this is not the only classic of Christian spirituality that was published after its author’s death. Another French contemplative, the Carmelite lay brother Nicholas Herman (better known by his religious name, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection), never set out to write a book — but after his death, a French priest who was an assistant to the Archbishop of Paris collected letters by Brother Lawrence as well as recollections of his spiritual counsel from those who knew him, and published them as The Practice of the Presence of God, which has not only become a contemplative classic, but its title, like “dark night of the soul” or “the cloud of unknowing,” has entered the lexicon of Christian spiritual formation: “practicing the presence” is a term that refers to any spiritual exercise or activity designed to foster awareness of God’s presence in our lives.
So Jean-Pierre de Caussade and Brother Lawrence, both Frenchmen, are two examples of Christian spiritual teachers whose greatest work was compiled by editors and published after their demise. The moral of the story is simple: be mindful of what you write, for somebody might try to publish it after you’re gone.