Callan Slipper shares his enthusiasm for a book he himself edited.
[New City Magazine – Aug-Sept 2011]
I used to wake up in the morning and think: ‘Great, another chance to look at the book!’ I was editing what eventually came to be known as The Roots of Christian Mysticism. It’s a strange thing, perhaps, that editing with all its attention to detail left me feeling like that. The book wove its spell over me.
Perhaps the enchantment was related to the opening words of the Preface: ‘Christianity is in the first place an Oriental religion, and it is a mystical religion.’ In Roots Olivier Clément, presents the early Church writers and shows how Christian experience is less about thinking or doing certain things than about what happens when we live in Christ: new vision, new life, a new creation. Hence a book of ‘text and commentaries’, as its subtitle says, touches something far deeper than dusty academia.
Of course Roots is a proper work of scholarship, and it has been my delight in the years following its publication to find it referred to in a number of weighty books. But at the same time I have found it touching a deeper level in me. Understanding something more of the earliest Christian thought makes prayer, spiritual practice and the entire undertaking of finding how best to love other people somehow come more alive. It nourishes the most intimate levels of the self and I found myself better equipped to live the spirituality I am called to live.
The book is divided into three parts. The first is called Understanding the Mystery, which of course is a paradox since a mystery, by definition, is beyond understanding. Nonetheless it throws light upon core of the Christian faith, upon who Jesus is, the nature of God and what human beings must do in the face of such beauty and wonder. The next part is called Initiation for Warfare and it shows how much the Church is a gift and explains the asceticism and spiritual discipline of the early Christian saints in a way that a person, in a different context and with a contemporary spirituality, can learn how to live for God better. The final part is called Approaches to Contemplation. It contains some of the amazing mysticism of the past. For some reason I love one of the texts it cites, perhaps with an impish sense of fun given that it is set in the midst of quite a lengthy book. A wise man is reported going to Anthony of Egypt and asking how he can be so happy without any books to read:
‘Anthony replied, “My philosopher friend, my book is the book of creatures; and this book is always in front of me when I want to read the words of God.” ’ (p. 215)
Clément’s masterly exposition of the mysticism of the Fathers, already regarded as a modern classic, is now in its third edition. “There are some books so good that all one wants to say is: ‘Go out, buy it and read it – it is marvellous’. So it is with this fine translation.” Andrew Louth, Fairacres Chronicle