Fray Juan de los Angeles
The Loving Struggle
St Austin Press, London, 2001, £14.95
(price at publication of review)
Reviewed May 2002; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2002
Those making the effort to read this book, written with an amazing breadth of scholarship and insight, may afterwards feel a little like the prospectors for gold in the old West: having had to expend much time and energy in ‘panning’ to find tiny but valuable nuggets. That such treasures are there is certain, but one wonders how many readers will make the effort required to discover them.
The style is very much of the past and reflects the place of the author among the sixteenth-century mystics. Some of the biblical texts, as stated in the Preface, ‘are quoted from memory, not exactly as they appear on the page’; which fact, together with Footnotes which are not always as helpful as intended, does interrupt the flow of thought of the reader. It is also noted that the interpreter has sought to present the author ‘as he would appear to his contemporaries with occasional roughness of language’ and the use of colloquialisms of the time. Some readers, accustomed to modern translations and commentaries, may be put off.
However, those who feel the call to contemplative prayer will find in this volume much to inspire them, since contemplation shapes our love of God, and that is the central theme of the book, with its emphasis on the struggle to maintain the growth and development of that love. The first chapter, with its clarification of the many manifestations of love, highlights the poverty of our modern language, particularly in our use of the same word for our relationship with God and all other relationships.
All elements of contemplation are touched on: the inner life contact between the soul and Christ; the individual spiritual relationship renewed by prayer and meditation – balanced by the sacrament of the eucharist through which the individual contributes to the building up of the body of Christ, his church.
All is aimed at helping to develop awareness of the One being contemplated, with very little suggestion of the movement from contemplation to action which we find in the work of Thomas Merton and other modern writers.
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