Jean de Caussade Godfather of the Creative Impulse

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Fr. Jean Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) was a French Jesuit priest, spiritual director, and theologian. He is to my mind one of the greatest spiritual geniuses of his age (and largely unknown).  

Caussade's major work is often translated into English as The Sacrament of the Present Moment. The more literal translation from the French would be Abandonment to Divine Providence (a title I prefer in some ways). There is a free online copy of the text from Christian Classics Ethereal Library here

I bring him up because I've been reflecting of late on whether Caussade is the unknown godfather (or maybe great-grandfather) of various movements known as evolutionary spirituality. In that spiritual school there is something known as the Creative Impulse, also known as the Evolutionary Impulse or the God Impulse. This is a moment to moment impulse or desire that is the creative moment of life. 

Here is a quotation I found from Caussade writing in the year 1730s! It comes from the first portion of Abandonment to Divine Providence--Caussade is here speaking in the past tense, arguing that in the former times people were more spiritual than they were in his day (my bold emphasis):

Then, for those who led a spiritual life, each moment brought some duty to be faithfully accomplished. Their whole attention was thus concentrated consecutively like a hand that marks the hours which, at each moment, traverses the space allotted to it. Their minds, incessantly animated by the impulsion of divine grace, turned imperceptibly to each new duty that presented itself by the permission of God at different hours of the day.

There is that word impulse (impulsion). Caussade is keying on on the awakening of the will. In each moment, Caussade says, we have an implicit understanding of what the will for that moment for us is. Our spiritual life is simply to follow that impulsion with joy and love. Caussade merges beautifully a sense of the awakened heart and the awakened will together. 

By Providence Caussade means that if we all listen to this impulse within us and act on it that there is a guiding intelligence or higher wisdom (Providence) at work. In so doing we become softer, clearer, more full of light and love but also stronger, more mature. Each moment becomes very precious--the sacrament of the present moment.

The impulse does not need to be highly sophisticated--in fact it very often is not. It might be the creativity of loving a child, listening to a friend, carrying for someone hurting, sitting in grateful silence. The path is surrender (or abandonment) to that providential impulsion.

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  • Comment Link David McCallum, S.J. Sunday, 08 January 2012 21:21 posted by David McCallum, S.J.

    Chris, I appreciate your sharing de Cassaude with the larger audience... while his prose style is a reflection of his times, his insights are profound. His focus on the heart and the will are picked up again in the 20th century by fellow French Jesuit, Teilhard de Chardin, as you know. What I find so helpful about what these two mystics offer is the way in which they embrace and ascend beyond the intellectual apprehension of spiritual maturation to include the affect and one's will to act. This emphasis on the heart and the gut is an important complement to the emphasis on gnosis amongst evolutionary Christians and in the Integral movement generally speaking. Thanks so much!

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Tuesday, 10 January 2012 05:45 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Chris and David,

    I haven't come across de Cassaude - until now. I agree that there tends to be an overemphasis on gnosis in evo-Christianity. It's good to be able to ground this "evolutionary impulse" in the Christian lineage. Some interesting cross-over with your interview of Thomas, in terms of practice

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Tuesday, 10 January 2012 23:20 posted by Chris Dierkes

    thanks Bruce, David.

    What I find deepening in Caussade (whom Merton called a genius, quite rightly) is the impulse is complemented well with a softness. He talks a great deal about normal things as well as the crosses to bear.

    Sometimes this evo-spirituality thing gets all hyped up and gives off the sense that people will live perfect fabulous existences. There's a question around humility in all that. About the broken elements of life--in ourselves and others.

    Caussade talks a great deal about forgiveness, about incompleteness while also emphasizing the creative. I think that's really crucial.

  • Comment Link A Hunt Thursday, 19 January 2012 18:22 posted by A Hunt

    I'm glad to see a post on Caussade. The Sacrament of the Present moment was/is the title of a contemporary American Translation but until it came out Image books a Catholic imprint was the only english source that I was aware of and many of us who started reading Caussade in the 70's read it. This was John Beever's translation and was titled Abandonment to divine providence. If you are a Caussade lover I suggest that you read it as well. The two books have a certain difference about them. That may or may not be important to the reader... While I've read Kitty Muggridge's translation, I prefer Beevers. Though the Beever translation was a more than annual read for me for a decade or more before Muggeridge's translation came out and that may have made it more difficult to appreciate the newer translation.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 19 January 2012 20:09 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Thanks for the comment. It probably says more about my own spirituality, but as I mentioned in the text I prefer Abandonment to Divine Providence.

    The two titles do catch the twin poles at the heart of Caussade I think: 1. the sense of the impulse and surrendering into it and trust that it (plus the impulses of all others) leads to providential aims 2. that in the doing of #1, there is sense of the sacramentality, the beauty and meaning, of each moment.

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