Jean Pierre de Caussade

We’re still snowed in here in South Carolina. The six inches of snow that fell on Sunday night has not thawed. Roads are covered with two inch sheets of ice. School’s out for a third day. Two of the high school kids were here Sunday and can’t get home because of the icy conditions so we have a happy house full of kids playing games, eating lots of food and making noise.

Nevertheless I’ve used the opportunity to get some writing done. I completed two writing projects for TAN Books/St Benedict Press. They’re producing a series called Classics Made Simple. I edited and polished the text for the one on St Francis de Sales and yesterday started early and finished late to complete the one on Jean Pierre de Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence.

I first came across this classic text when I was a student at Oxford. I read Kitty Muggeridge’s translation which was titled The Sacrament of the Present Moment. England’s a small place and it was nice to learn once I had settled in Bexhill in East Sussex that Kitty and Malcolm Muggeridge lived not too far away in Robertsbridge. I knew an old priest they were friendly with and I wish now that I had taken the time and had the chutzpah to get to know them.

What is most interesting about de Caussade is how he is writing in the midst of the French church’s fascination with the heresies of Jansenism and Quietism, but how he corrects these errors not by intellectual argument, but through spiritual direction. Jansenism is best described as ‘Catholic Calvinism’. It has a heavy emphasis on God’s providence and man’s inability to respond. Quietism is one of  the results of Jansenism. The soul believes it can do nothing in response to God’s grace so it does nothing. “I’m just a dead leaf floating on the river of God’s grace.” Is a typical Quietist viewpoint.

de Caussade answers these heresies by granting what is true about them, but correcting them by affirmation from within. I love this. It’s very ‘More Christianity-ish’. So he emphasizes God’s providence and his overarching love for all things and the fact that his power will accomplish all things and all things happen for his glory and according to his divine plan. He also teaches that to be close to God all we need to do is submit to his will moment by moment. However he steers around Quietism because this submission to the Divine Providence is not passive but active. The soul is engaged with God and through submission is actively co operating with God’s grace.

de Caussade is popular today among syncretist New Agers. They like his ‘sacrament of the present moment’ idea. Buddhists like his principles of renunciation and detachment, but again, de Caussade corrects these heresies from within. The ‘sacrament of the present moment’ and ‘God in all things’ idea is the Immanentist heresy if taken on its own. This heresy denies the Transcendence of God in favor of the immanent aspect and ends up with ‘God is within You’ and finally ‘God is You’ and ‘You are God’. Yucch. de Caussade does say that we experience God in our hearts and in the lives of others and indeed in all things in every moment, but it is the Transcendent God made Immanent to us through the wonder of the Incarnation.

As for renunciation and detachment, the Christian understanding is not a rejection of material things because they are bad, or even because we want to ascend to the more spiritual realm, or even because attachment to the material things causes suffering. This is Buddhist. Instead Christian detachment is ‘attachment’ to all things in the rightful priority. We love all things. We love all created things. Its just that we must love them according to their intrinsic worth. This is where Thomas Traherne’s thought is so beautiful: “Can a man be just unless he loves all things according to their value.” We renounce not the things or the people, but our inordinate or distorted love of them. By putting God first the rest of our world falls in line with everything in its proper value and place. “Seek first the kingdom of God and everything else will be added to you.”

So one of my resolutions is to read a little bit of Fr. de Caussade every day.

It’s good medicine for the soul. Get it here.

  • pritcher

    I just recently discovered this book in the course of my dissertation work on Dorothy Day. It was, apparently, one of her favorites, and I can absolutely see its influence on her spirituality. It seems to line up very well with her understanding of Therese's little way–which also had a huge influence on her, of course.I'm trying to read it slowly to let it all sink in.