Sunday, January 8, 2017

Book Review: Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition- Aumann

I have been spending a lot of time reading some great Catholic books on spirituality lately. One book I just finished was 'Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition' by Jordan Aumann. I found the book to be quite informative as a survey of Catholic spirituality from the beginning of the Church until the 20th century. Although I was aware of different schools of spirituality, I was not aware of the different nuances and emphasis of many of the various schools. The books goes far beyond the schools that most Catholics are aware of, Franciscan, Dominican, Carmelite, etc.

The book provides a lot of valuable information surrounding how Catholics have lived the spiritual life over the centuries. What I found most intriguing were the basics in which every school subscribes to more or less. I would summarize a list of the very basic tenets of the spiritual life as follows.

1. Sacred Scripture is the most important reading source for meditation.

2. We are created to be deified and perfected in the image of God.

3. In order to be perfected you must repent for your sins and exercise some form of ascetic penance.

4. You must detach yourself from worldly things.

5. The Eucharist is the center of our faith and spiritual nourishment.

6. We must work on exercising virtue and rooting out vice.

7. We must strive in prayer asking for all the gifts we need to grow in love of God. First vocal prayer, then meditative, and finally contemplative.

8. There are generally three stages of the spiritual life: beginners, intermediates and advanced.

These eight general tenets are the building blocks for any solid Catholic spiritual life.

The book goes through many great spiritual writers over the course of 2000 years. I will list some of them so you get an idea of what the book covers.

1. The apostolic Church from Sacred Scripture.

2. The apostolic Fathers from the Didache and Church fathers such as St Ignatius of Antioch, Origin, Tertullian, and Irenaues. It also covers in brief the Gnostic heresy.

3. Eastern Monasticism, St Antony, Macarius, Pachomius, St Basil and the Cappadocian Fathers, Evagrius, Pseudo-Dionysius and Maximus the Confessor.

4. Western Monasticism, St Jerome, St Paulinus, Martin of Tours, John Cassian, St Augustine, St Benedict of Nursia, Irish monasticism and St Gregory the Great.

5. Benedictine Spirituality in light of Benedict of Aniane, Hildemar, John of Fecamp, who are all virtually unheard of today. Also examined are the Carthusians, the Camaldolese and the Cistercians,

6. Medieval piety is covered in great detail and there are many great spiritual writers that have been  forgotten such as St Norbert and the Premonstratensians and the Canons of St Victor. The well known St Dominic, Aquinas, the Franciscans, and St Bonaventure are also discussed.

7. The chapter on Dionsian spirituality was very interesting covering Eckhart, the Beghards, the Beguinnes, the mystics of Helfta (Mechtilde of Magdeburg, Mechtilde of Hackeborn, St Gertrude the Great), Tauler and Suso are also of interest.

8. The English mystics such as Walter Hilton, and Julian of Norwich are covered.

9. Devotio Moderna covers writers such as John Busch, John Gerson, Gerard Groote, Thomas a Kempis and two of my favorites, St Catherine of Siena and Denis the Carthusian.

10. Post-Tridentine Spirituality is filled with unknown writers, John Wessel Gransfort, John Mombaer, St. Laurance Justinian as well as some more well known such as St. Thomas More, Erasmus, Ignaitus of Loyola, Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross

11. The golden age of Spain is also covered and you get know about Alonso of Madrid, Francis de Osuna, Bernardine of Laredo, St Peter of Alcantara, Louis of Grenada, John of Avila, Alphonsus Rodriguez and Alvarez de Paz.

12. The Italian mystics are not left out, John Baptist la Crema, Laurence Scupoli, Magdalene of Pazzi, Catherine de Ricci and St Philp Neri and the great Francis de Sales are covered.

13.  The book also has a fact packed chapter on modern spirituality and the French school of spirituality. I learned about many unknowns such as Peter de Berulle who pioneered the concept of slavery to Jesus and Mary well before St Louis de Montfort came along to invigorate it once again.
Other influential unknowns such as Charles Condren and Jean-Jacques Olier are discussed.

14. The errors of Jansenism and Quietism are discussed in detail as well as the orthodox writers like Louis Lallemant, John Cheron, John Grou, the great St Alphonsus Liguouri and John Baptist Scaramelli are also of interest.

15. We get a breif overview of the German mystics John Sailor, John Jospeh Gorres, and Anna Catherine Emmerich.

16. The modern English writers David Augustine Baker and Richard Challoner are covered in brief.

17. The book ends with some of the great modern spiritual figures, St Therese of Liseux, and Elizabeth of the Trinity, while also briefly covering others such as Maritain, Dom Guerganger and Garrigou Lagrange.

Overall the book is a pleasure to read and you get the basic spiritual tenets of each of these interesting figures. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in knowing where the many spiritual practices we know of today originated from, and how there came to be different emphasis on spiritual practices depending on the time it was needed in the Church. I warn you however, if you are book hoarder like myself you may be ordering more books for your library!

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