Sunday, April 26, 2009

Book: The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence

I got a copy of this book three years ago and never really read it. I received another copy as a gift at Christmas. I'm almost done with it, and I decided to compare it to my previous copy. I feel compelled to warn you about the first copy I got.

The 1982 publication by Whitaker House is not very good at all. It is a loose paraphrase. In the words of the publisher's preface: "In this abridged edition, we have sought to update and clarify the language of this Christian classic, paraphrasing where necessary, while keeping the essence of the message intact." It goes way overboard. It excises several passages, some of which are distinctly Catholic:
  • mention of praying at set times throughout the day (in his Carmelite monastery) in Conversation #2
  • a reference to receiving absolution through a confessor in Conversation #2
  • references in Conversation #2 to acts of mortification are corrupted; Br. Lawrence spoke of "bodily mortifications" as "useless, except as they serve to arrive at the union with God by love" and that "all possible kinds of mortification, if they were void of the love of God, could not efface a single sin." (pp. 21-22) The Whitaker version renders these two separate clauses as one, "that all possible good works or self-abasing acts of contrition we could possibly do would not erase a single sin." (p. 18)
  • a quote from Br. Lawrence at the end of Conversation #4 in which he mentions kneeling in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament
It also re-orders his 15 letters, damaging them in the process:
  • Whitaker's Letter #6 appears to be completely fabricated
  • Br. Lawrence's 11th and 13th letters are missing completely, probably because they praise the salvific quality of suffering and bearing suffering joyfully
  • Br. Lawrence's 14th and 15th letters are merged into one, retaining only the first sentence of letter #14
The new copy I have, from Spire, is far better.

Upon inspection of the original French text (which I haven't found online all in one place), the Spire translation is exceptionally faithful to the French:
  • "qu'il n'avait pas besoin de directeur, mais bien d'un confesseur pour recevoir l'absolution de ses fautes qu'il faisait" (Conversation 2)
  • "toutes les pénitences et autres exercices n'étaient utiles que dans la mesure ou ils servaient à amener l'union avec Dieu par amour" (Conversation 2)
  • "toutes les pénitences possibles, si elles étaient séparées de l'amour, elles ne serviraient pas à effacer un seul péché." (Conversation 2)
And Conversation 4 ends with a clear reference to the Blessed Sacrament:
On ne le voyait jamais agir en hâte ; mais avec une juste modération, il donnait à chaque chose le temps qu'il lui fallait, conservant toujours son air modeste et tranquille, travaillant sans lenteur et sans précipitation, demeurant dans une même égalité d'esprit et dans une paix inaltérable. "Le temps de l'action, disait-il, n'est point différent de celui de l'oraison, je possède Dieu aussi tranuillement dans le tracas de ma cuisine, où quelquefois plusieurs personnes me demandent en même temps des choses différentes, que si j'étais à genoux devant le Saint-Sacrement."


hyperstem said...

Thanks for your post! I have the Whitaker House edition, and I've read it a few times over the years. But I did wonder why references to specifically Catholic practices were conspicuously absent. Now I know.

RichnHim said...

I read this book back in college and loved it then...even before I dreamed I'd love Catholics. Thanks for the tips..I'll keep watching your blog too.
Good blog...I can learn a lot from how you lay things out too.
Rich...Your rose colored glasses friend from the CH Network forum.

Jeff Pinyan (japhy) said...

Hi Rich! Thanks for stopping by. I've added your blog to my daily rotation as well.