Three Books on the History of
Carmelite Mysticism

Apologie mystique en défense de la contemplation by José de Jesús María Quiroga. Texte espagnol et français, introduction, traduction et notes par Max Huot de Longchamp. FAC-éditions. Spirituels. 1990. 230 ff.

L'Apologie mystique de Quiroga; Saint Jean de la Croix et la mystique chretienne by Jean Krynen. France-Iberie Recherche. 1990. 120 ff.

Saint Jean de la Croix et l'aventure de la mystique espagnole by Jean Krynen. Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 1990. 190 ff.

On the eve of the 400th anniversary of the death of  John of the Cross the appearance of these three volumes pays a particularly fine homage to his memory by raising critical questions about long accepted interpretations concerning St. John's doctrines on mysticism, especially its delicate beginnings. By one of the ironies that sometimes beset publishing history, after we have waited more than 350 years for the publication of one of the most important commentaries on John of the Cross, Francisco de Quiroga's Apologia mística, it finally sees the light of day not once, but in two independent editions by French scholars. Max Huot de Longchamp's edition provides us both with the original Spanish text from MS. 4478 of the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid, and a French translation. Jean Krynen's edition gives us the French text along with an important introduction to Quiroga's work. Francisco Quiroga, in religion José de Jesús María, was the discalced Carmelite's first Historian General, and he busied himself in visiting the convents and monasteries of the Order in order to gather material about its founders. His Apologia is a defense of St. John against those he considered his detractors, and it is particularly important in understanding how St. John's mystical teachings were understood in his own Order in the early years of the 17th century. Both Krynen and Huot de Longchamp are unreserved in their praise of Quiroga's Interpretation of St. John, and while this interpretation could be challenged, they have done a real service in making this important text available.

Today's enthusiasm for Christian mysticism can only gain by a careful study of the third of our volumes, Jean Krynen's Saint Jean de la Croix et l'aventure de la mystique espagnole. Krynen, who in 1948 caused a stir in the world of the exegesis of John of the Cross' writings by his claim that the second redaction of St. John's Spiritual Canticle showed the hand of the famous Carmelite theologian Thomas of Jesus, has returned here with a careful work of scholarship much wider in scope. Without renouncing his earlier contentions he has crafted an explanation of just how and why St. John's mystical writings were distorted even within his own Order prior to the publication of the first edition of St. John's writings in 1618. Krynen provides us with a detailed explanation of contemplation in St. John, the Spanish school of spirituality both before and after his death, and the role of Thomas of Jesus in altering our understanding of John of the Cross, an alteration which contributed to the rise of Quietism and the decline of mysticism we are only now beginning to recover from. This work is a challenge to certain long-accepted views in the history of Christian mysticism, and ought to stimulate discussion of basic issues about our understanding of John of the Cross that have been too long neglected.
                                                    James Arraj

This book review first appeared in Spiritual Life.