A concise and profound manual of spiritual life, without rhetoric and without compromise: an antidote to modern, nebulous and sentimental pseudo-spirituality. This is Lived Christianity, the magnificent text by Dom François de Sales Pollien, just published by Calx Mariae Publishing in the first English edition (London: 2022).
Joseph Pollien was born on 1 August 1853 in Chèvenoz, near Annecy, Haute-Savoie (France), into a deeply Christian family. He was ordained in 1877 and on 4 October 1884 entered the Grande Chartreuse in Grenoble as a postulant, where he pronounced his first vows on 1 November 1885, taking the name of Francis of Sales (1567-1622), in devotion to the great Savoyard saint. He was coadjutor (i.e., guest master and spiritual adviser) in several charterhouses, became prior at Mougères in 1901, and at Pleterjé (now in Slovenia) in 1911.
In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War (1914-1918) he was transferred to the Carthusian Monastery of Serra San Bruno, in Calabria (south of Italy), where he remained until his death on 12 February 1936. Brother Benoît du Moustier (1898-1974), who had known him at Serra San Bruno, provides a telling description of the personality and contemplative soul of the Carthusian writer:
In the last years of his life Fr Pollien no longer had a voice to take part in singing the Divine Offices of his Order. But when the Creed was intoned in the Conventual Mass, the tall old man would shake himself, stand upright and, with his eyes dulled as if fixed on beauties invisible to other mortals, ecstatically sing with what remained of his voice, his Creed, for him the evocative summary of those mysteries that he had, during his long life, with so much diligence and love, studied, meditated upon and contemplated.
The Scriptures and SS. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Francis of Sales, but also the masters of the counter-revolutionary school, such as Count Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) were his favorite reading material. He was the author of many works, including La Vie intérieure simplifyée [he preferred unifiée ] et ramenée à son fondement, edited in 1894 by Joseph Tissot (1840-1894). This was a spiritual classic that contributed greatly to the renewal of ascetical and mystical doctrine in the first quarter of the 20th century.
In Lived Christianity, Dom Pollien offers a programme of life for those who want to be serious and militant Christians:
There can be no half measures, no mediocre men, no half Christians: it is all or nothing. We deal in certainties, rigorous conclusions, cause and consequence, and we accept everything without batting an eyelid, proceeding with the coolness of reason and with the ardour of the Faith. No calculating interests! Vile pretexts and fearful distinctions are banned. Principles, absolute principles! Integral Christianity in the absolute fullness of its truth (p. 12).
In the life of men and in the life of societies, everything must always be traced back to principles.
Christian society must be rebuilt; and, to rebuild it, the first thing which is required is to straighten out one’s ideas. As long as we do not have upright ideas, we will walk wrongly, because man walks according to his ideas. It is the idea that makes the man.
According to Pollien, there are no more men today because there are no more ideas, there are only words.
Do you want to be a man? Get away from words, and have ideas, that is, profound visions of things. And in order to have profound visions of things, it is necessary to see them as they are, and as God made them, and as they are guided by God (p. 58).
The appeal is recurrent in its pages: “I beg you, be a man of principles; it is the only way to be someone and to do something” (p. 92). “Only principles make men — and things — nothing is done without principles”(p. 185). “Firmness in principles, gentleness in means: this is the seal of truth. Principles, absolute principles! Integral Christianity in the absolute fullness of its truth” (p. 185).
The man of principles is a simple man, who does not lose himself in details, because he knows the priority of things, the difference between the end and the means. His prayer and meditation are not complicated verbal mechanisms, because prayer, in its essence, is not a formulary, it is a movement of the soul and not a movement of the lips.
In essence, prayer — the spirit of prayer — is the impulse towards and return to God, it is receiving God and life with God. And it is in this sense that Our Lord said that prayer must always continue and never cease (Lk 18:1). Insofar as you understand me, you must strive to become a reflective and praying man who routinely combines reflection with prayer throughout the day. And you must come to do so in a movement of simple, easy, practical life, equally devoid of naturalism and sentimentality, equally far from exaggeration and dissipation (p. 172).
At the heart of Dom Pollien’s spirituality is a continuous examination of conscience, made from a simple look in the heart.
To better understand the simplicity of this spiritual operation, which is needed to ensure a good course for your life, remember that your purpose is essentially one: to glorify God; that your journey is essentially one: to follow the will of God; that the multiple dispositions and movements of your soul must be dominated by grace, and that the main formative disposition of your piety is docility to God. What, therefore, must the glance assure you of? Of the existence of this dominant disposition in you, which commands everything (p. 179).
Dom Pollien wants to form Soldiers of God, active and contemplative, who fight on earth to conquer Heaven.
God and the Church ask for defenders, but true defenders; those who will never take a step back; those who know how to be faithful until death; those who are trained in all the severities of discipline, to be ready for all the heroic struggle (p. 192).