This Lent I succeeded at finishing the English translation of vol. 1 of The Philokalia. Still four volumes to go (although vol. 5 still in production)! As I think on Philokalic spirituality, and the Athonite tradition of hesychasm, and the Greek Byzantine environment that fostered the 1000 years of Greek spirituality contained in the anthology, I ask myself:
Could we do this for Latin Christianity?
I suppose it would take a saint like St Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain to properly sift the vast amount of Latin Christian spirituality that is out there to consider. I would want to keep it pre-Reformation and post-Constantine, similar boundaries to the Greek Philokalia. The first difficulty is discerning a common thread to unite the texts selected. Not all of Greek spiritual thought is in The Philokalia, after all — there are certain concerns that have been chosen. Thus, one of the most popular of all Greek ascetic texts, The Ladder by St John of Sinai (aka The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St John Climacus), is not there. Nor are swathes of St Maximus the Confessor. No hagiography. No liturgy. No monastic rules. No Cappadocian Fathers. No St Athanasius. No St Cyril. No Ante-Nicene Fathers. No Pseudo-Dionysius.
Anyway, who are the neptic Fathers of Latin Christianity?
I’m not sure, but as an initial brain-storm, perhaps a prayerful exploration of theses guys would be good. Remember, we’re thinking selections with a theme, not the Complete Works.
- John Cassian
- Augustine of Hippo
- Bernard of Clairvaux
- Aelred of Rievaulx
- Julianus Pomerius
- Prosper of Aquitaine, De Vita Contemplativa
- Gregory the Great
- Guerric of Igny?
- Richard Rolle?
I know many would want to see, say, Meister Eckhart in the list, but I don’t know enough about his works to know if he’s worth searching for a common thread of Latin spirituality running from Jerome to the Renaissance. On the other hand, I know that, while Julian of Norwich is worth reading, her work is of a specific nature and, I think, very distinct from the tradition that links Bernard and Aelred with Cassian and Augustine.
Indeed, the late medieval mystics are hard. What about St Catherine of Siena? I’ve yet to read The Cloud of Unknowing. Would any of it fit?
Likewise, the scholastics. Bonaventure, sure. St Thomas Aquinas? Or the pre-scholastic Anselm: I love him, but I don’t think he belongs, even if he was a practicioner of the tradition from Julianus Pomerius to the Cistercians. My own inclinations lean towards Cistercians more than scholastics for this, but maybe that’s false?
Of course, should we cut it short with the Reformation? Will we suffer for the lack of Sts John of the Cross and Teresa of Ávila?
Just some thoughts. It is at least an interesting thought experiment. Maybe a way to make a personal reading list, even if not a multi-volume anthology.