“An Author is Not Famous Until After He Dies”

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.

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  • noel

    yes carl i have de caussade s book. it is excellent. it seems to be written for the benefit of nuns. it is i think more examination of conscience than teaching

  • noel

    by the way i think more accessible and also more useful are the writings and reflections of john main ,bede griffiths, abhishiktananda……….i guess you could say these are more contemporary journeyers on the mystic path

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    I think it’s important when reading Merton or Main or Keating or any of the other contemporary/recent authors, to immerse ourselves in the texts they would have studied — which is why I keep turning back to the great mystics of the past. And as for my experience, I find the writers of the past to be just as accessible and just as useful as anything written in the last fifty to seventy-five years.

  • http://www.suprarational.org Ron Krumpos


    While I also study the great mystics of the past, there are many 20th C. mystics who are quite important. Mysticism is a living tradition.

    Judaism’s Abraham Isaac Kook, Islam’s Sir Muhammad Iqbal, Hinduism’s Sri Aurobindo Ghose, Christianity’s Thomas Merton, and Buddhism’s
    14th Dalai Lama.

    Also, secular mystics like Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary General of the U.N., Vaclav Havel, past President of the Czech Republic, Ramesh Balsekar, C.E.O. of the Bank of India, Arthur Eddington, Britain’s famous physicist.

    Some contemporary female mystics: Christianity: Bernadette Roberts. Hinduism: Anandi Ma, and Amritanandamayi Ma. Islam: Hatice Hanim, and Hagga Zakiyya. Buddhism: Dipa Ma, and Daw Yusanda