Monday, October 8, 2012

Five Great Religious Anthologies To Read By the Fire This Fall

If you are desperately searching for some good spiritual reads by the fire this autumn season, then I have the answer for you.  Beyond the morass of pop theology and humdrum political analysis, there lies a whole world of writings of holy men and women throughout the ages just waiting to be devoured.  I present them to you here - may they be as enjoyable to read for you as they are for me!

1.  The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism - Bernard McGinn

Literally, this is the one-stop shop for anthologies when it comes to mysticism in Christendom.  If you are like me, and often cannot afford the pricier titles in the wonderful Paulist Press series, The Classics of Western Spirituality, this single volume work offers excerpts from most of the featured authors in the aforementioned series for the price of a single book. 

Both Eastern and Western mystics are represented here, from ancient to modern, as well as some entries by Protestant mystics as well.  It is a fantastic entry point into going more in-depth into studying the great mystics of Christendom.  Highly recommended. 

2.  The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology - Igumen Chariton of Valamo

If you are interested in learning more about the Jesus Prayer and Eastern Christian spiritual practice, this is an excellent work to start with.  Similar to the famed Philokalia, The Art of Prayer is a compilation formed largely from the writings of Theophan the Recluse and Ignatius Brianchaninov.  Though I am largely unfamiliar with Brianchaninov, Theophan the Recluse I have found to be an incredibly adept spiritual writer.  Scattered throughout are quotes and passages from other largely Eastern Orthodox writers. 

As with any Eastern Orthodox writing, the usual prudence is recommended for Catholic readers.  Aside from that, this is an excellent and extremely worthy read. 

3.  Christian Mystics of the Middle Ages: An Anthology of Writings - Paul de Jaegher, Donald Attwater

If the Catholic mystics of the High Middle Ages is your thing, look no further than this delectable little work.  From Bl. Angela de Foligno through Bl. John Ruysbroeck, all the way down to St. Francis de Sales, this anthology provides a rich dollop of spiritual writings that one can sink their teeth into for ages. 

Especially for those who love the mystics of the 14th century, Western mystical writings, and the writings of our glorious saints and blesseds.

4.  A Treasury of Russian Spirituality (republished by Dover Publications as The Way of a Pilgrim and Other Classics of Russian Spirituality) - G.P. Fedotov

Probably in my top five most beloved spiritual books of all time - this one is already as worn as though I had owned it for years.  Eight authors and saints are featured, some of which we Catholics venerate along with our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters: St. Theodosius of Kiev, St. Sergius of Radonezh, Nil Sorski, Avvakum (whose autobiography almost reads like an Eastern version of SSPX troubles), Tikhon of Zadonsk, Seraphim of Sarov, The Way of a Pilgrim, John of Kronstadt, and Father Alexander Yelchaninov.  Each one of the persons featured in this luscious anthology is different from the last - each has their own particular spiritual wisdom to offer to the willing and open reader. 

As I said, this work is one of my most loved of all the selections in my humble library.  Every author in here has offered me something to meditate upon as I continue to crawl along the via crucis that all of us Christians must walk upon.  Not only is it a great introduction to Eastern Christian spirituality, but it is a gem of spiritual wisdom for any Christian in any walk of life.  It is worth owning for The Way of a Pilgrim alone.

5.  The Mystics of Spain - E. Allison Peers

If some of the other anthologies frighten you off due to their length, then give this little book a look.  Compiled by famed translator and Spanish mystical expert, E. Allison Peers, this anthology presents small digestible morsels of mysticism from many of the greatest Spanish mystics.  Obviously, St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and St. Teresa of Avila are featured - but what is interesting is that other lesser known figures are also alongside them: ones like Francisco de Osuna, St. Peter Alcantara, Raymond Lully, and the newly-declared Doctor of the Church, St. John of Avila. 

A very worthwhile read indeed. 


  1. Do anthologies merely include writings of a specific nature? Or do they go on to discuss the writings or the authors, or explain why the anthologist chose to include that particular writing?

    1. Hello Lady Dragon,
      The anthologies listed by and large provide some very good notes and biographical sketches. Art of Prayer has the info at the beginning before jumping right into it, but the footnotes are very informative.


  2. I would like to add to this list two more excellent titles: "Not of this world. A treasury of Christian mysticism" compiled by James S. Cutsinger and "The book of mystical chapters. Meditations on the soul's ascent from the Desert Fathers and other early Christian contemplatives" by John Anthony McGuckin. Cutsinger's anthology is arranged in the traditional sequence of purification, illumination and union while McGuckin's compilation is meant to be read daily.

  3. I really love your background picture - do you know the title/artist?