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Wellsprings of Faith: The Imitation of Christ, The Dark Night of the Soul, The Interior Castle (Barnes & Noble Collectible Editions)

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Overview

Each of the spiritual classics in The Wellsprings of Faith—Thomas à Kempis' The Imitation of Christ, Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle, and St. John of the Cross' The Dark Night of the Soul—remains strikingly fresh and relevant for modern readers. The books continue to inspire believers today, and yet were either products of conflict within the Church or agents of religious upheaval. Thomas à Kempis' The Imitation of Christ touches seekers with its powerfully personal spiritual advice, while Teresa of Avila's...
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Overview

Each of the spiritual classics in The Wellsprings of Faith—Thomas à Kempis' The Imitation of Christ, Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle, and St. John of the Cross' The Dark Night of the Soul—remains strikingly fresh and relevant for modern readers. The books continue to inspire believers today, and yet were either products of conflict within the Church or agents of religious upheaval. Thomas à Kempis' The Imitation of Christ touches seekers with its powerfully personal spiritual advice, while Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle and St. John of the Cross' The Dark Night of the Soul show seekers how to have a personal union with Christ, instead of a relationship solely with the Church.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780760775066
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble
  • Publication date: 10/24/2005
  • Series: Barnes & Noble Collectible Editions Series
  • Edition description: Genuine Bonded Leather with Ribbon Marke
  • Pages: 704
  • Product dimensions: 6.64 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 2.15 (d)

Introduction

Each of the spiritual classics in The Wellsprings of Faith-Thomas à Kempis' The Imitation of Christ, Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle, and St. John of the Cross' The Dark Night of the Soul-remains strikingly fresh and relevant for modern readers. The books continue to inspire believers today, and yet were either products of conflict within the Church or agents of religious upheaval. À Kempis' book was spurred on by The Brethren of the Common Life, the Dutch religious community founded in the late fourteenth century that wielded great influence during the rise of the Reformation. Martin Luther, who was known to have read The Imitation, championed the supremacy of individual conscience over the authority of the Church, a phenomenon which gave rise to the many Protestant denominations still with us today. Later, in sixteenth-century Spain, two evangelical Catholic mystics, members of the Reformed Carmelite Order, Teresa of Avila and her disciple St. John of the Cross, likewise transformed Christianity through their struggles against Church authority. Teresa's spiritual classic The Interior Castle asserted that contemplative prayer was not a practice only for the elite few, and that women should not be excluded from higher religious life. St. John of the Cross, whose The Dark Night of the Soul challenged traditional theological writing, employed mystical symbols and a lyricism that made him deeply suspect in the eyes of his superiors, resulting in his lifelong conflicts with the Church hierarchy. Transcending time, place, and religious affiliation, these seminal works provide insight into Christian theology and inspiration.

Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471) was born in Kempen, near Dusseldorf, Germany. His parents were people from the artisan class. Thomas left home at the age of thirteen and traveled to the Netherlands to join one of the schools of the Brethren of the Common Life, established in 1376. In 1406 Thomas entered religious life, and in 1413 he became a priest at the age of thirty-three. His service among the Brethren provided both the impetus and the form for The Imitation of Christ, his most famous work. Although there is ample evidence that à Kempis wrote The Imitation, he probably did not create the teaching contained in the book; it is more likely that he compiled and organized his lessons as "Master of the Novices," a post he held at the monastery of St. Agnes in the Netherlands from 1425 until his death in 1471 at the age of ninety-one. For this reason, then, The Imitation, which was born in the practical piety of its author and his movement, is a testament to the fact that à Kempis wrote from a deep wellspring of both spiritual practice and practical insight.

The Imitation of Christ has been described as "religion's second-best seller"; it is second only to the Bible in sales and popularity among religious readers. Through its realistic delineation of the complexities of human existence and its soul-building optimism about the benefits of aspiring to a Christ-shaped life, The Imitation clearly deserves the accolade of "spiritual classic." Although they were written early in the fifteenth century, the short meditations that comprise The Imitation have a timeless, universal quality. The chapters are short meditations for morning or evening devotional reading; yet, they include nuggets of spiritual wisdom that are worth pondering at any time. While occasionally quoting from classical Greek and Roman writers, most of its sources are drawn directly from the Bible. The piety of à Kempis' Brethren, or "New Devout," as they were called, paved the way for the leaders of the sixteenth-century Reformations: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Desiderius Erasmus, and Ignatius of Loyola each bore the imprint of the practical piety found in The Imitation. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was deeply affected by the book. In more recent times, it is known that the widely revered former Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, turned to The Imitation at crucial times for spiritual reflection and direction.

Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle is one of the most important spiritual books to emerge from sixteenth-century Spain and today is an enduring classic of world mystical literature. A narration of Teresa's journey toward union with God, it chronicles a profound longing for the divine that is unparalleled in its complexity of thought given its simplicity of style. Although written from a Christian perspective, The Interior Castle appeals to both religious and non-religious readers who can appreciate the universality of Teresa's personal journey of struggle and triumph.

Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada was born in Avila, Spain, in 1515. Her father was a descendent of conversos (Jews converted to Christianity), and her mother died in childbirth when Teresa was thirteen. Teresa was thereby sensitized to both the ravages of social injustice and also to the suffering of women. Teresa entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation in 1535. Twenty years later, she had a mystical awakening to an understanding of God's suffering and man's often meager response to it. This marked a radical turning point in her life and would bring her fame as a spiritual author, mystical theologian, contemplative teacher, and founder of the reformed Carmelite Order.

Teresa's genius was her ability to recognize that contemplative prayer or "mental prayer"-the prayer of surrender and openness to the divine Other-was far from an ascetic practice reserved for a privileged few. Overcoming great spiritual and social condemnation, Teresa tackled numerous legal and administrative affairs to teach others about the benefits of mental prayer applied to practical ends. Teresa was also an ardent champion of women's religious life.

Teresa of Avila's writings are distinguished by a refreshing originality, and a disarming colloquialism that belies the intensity and depth of her transcendent experiences and her startlingly modern feminist outlook, speech, and writing. To combat the blatant anti-female scrutiny and censorship of the age, Teresa developed a "rhetoric of femininity" in which she consistently disparages her self-worth, while she exposes the prevailing view of women as weak spiritual authorities.

The most mature synthesis of her spiritual thought, The Interior Castle was written in 1577 and remains today one of the great treatises on a woman's spiritual journey. Unable to begin writing, Teresa prayed for guidance and soon received a vision of the soul as a crystalline castle, with seven interior dwelling places. Each place represents the soul's progression into deeper levels of the divine nature, as its moves from beginning to more advanced-and from active to passive-stages of contemplation. Teresa of Avila is still celebrated for her endearing human qualities, mystical insights, and refreshing candor, which all contribute to her legacy as a master of contemplative prayer, as well as a champion the rights of women and the oppressed.

The Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross was born in Fontiveros in 1542 and entered the Carmelite monastery in Medina del Campo when he was twenty-one. In 1567 he met Teresa of Avila, who was reforming the religious life of the Carmelite nuns of the Incarnation. During John's years as chaplain to the nuns, conflicts arose within the order, and John's tenure ended abruptly in 1577 when rival friars kidnapped and imprisoned him at the Carmelite monastery in Toledo. He remained there in a cell for nine months with little in the way of food or clothing.

In the midst of this "dark night" of abandonment and privation, John turned to writing poems, now esteemed to be among the greatest lyric poetry in Spanish literature. John sought to give expression to incompatibilities of his experience and the resolution they found in union with the divine essence. John escaped from prison in August 1578 and was soon appointed vicar at a monastery in a remote area of Spain where he was unlikely to be kidnapped again. In 1582 he moved to Granada, where he held various high administrative posts in the order.

It was in this context that he wrote The Dark Night of the Soul, which was composed as a commentary on his poem of the same title. John employs the symbol of the "dark night" to denote the discipline of privation, or renunciation, in spiritual life. This discipline has two aspects: the active night of voluntary self-discipline, and the passive night of God-given privation. This juxtaposition of adversity and love is deeply expressive of the paradox central to the Christian faith: that in the cross of Christ, an abyss of suffering and degradation, is the ultimate expression of the love of an all-powerful and all-merciful God.

John describes the purification, or "night," that the human soul must experience as God's gift if one is to enter into loving union with God in this life. This loving union is the goal of the mystical life, a spiritual path that seeks not simply a right intellectual knowledge of God and the things of God, nor simply a moral likeness to God, but a relationship with God in which God's being is encountered directly and personally.

In the period after 1582, John traveled a great deal and founded seven new monasteries. In his later years, however, he again became involved in conflict within the order while serving in Castile; in 1591 he was sent away to the remote monastery of La Peñuela. There he fell ill, and after months of suffering, he died in the nearby town of Ubeda.

Of the three spiritual classics presented in this volume, The Imitation of Christ has been by far the most influential, mostly because of its ties to the Reformation. However, each of the books in The Wellsprings of Faith offers a unique and powerful message. Thomas à Kempis' The Imitation of Christ touches seekers with its powerfully personal spiritual advice, while Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle and St. John of the Cross' The Dark Night of the Soul show seekers how to have a personal union with Christ, instead of a relationship solely with the Church.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2006

    Great Book...

    I almost didn't buy this book, simply becuase of someone else's bad review. But it turns out they were just offended at the Introduction. I would NOT say the Introduction is 'anti Catholic'. Its really a great Introduction... but more IMPORTANTLY, a great book! It has all three classic devotions in one book for a low price. I was very happy to find it and I'm glad I got it. If you're looking for Christian writings on the inward life of Christ, then I'd definately recommend Wellsprings of Faith.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2006

    Why the agenda?

    This would have been a great addition to any personal library. Truly these three works have stood the test of time and are indeed still read by the modern Christian. Unfortunately, rather than letting the works exist for what they are, an anonymous editor has had to inject feminism, pantheism, and an anti-Catholic attitude into the introductions. This was truly disappointing, as The Interior Castle is an excellent translation, the appearence of the volume beautiful, the binding of high quality, and the print easy to read. But, for those seeking the Truth in the works themselves, the revisionist agenda will be too much to ignore in order to keep this collection.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2013

    Is this really $500 dollars? 

    Is this really $500 dollars? 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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