THE BOOK OF ALL SAINTS
by Adrienne von Speyr
(Ignatius Press, 2008, hardback, 429pp, $49.90.
ISBN 978-1-58617-192-6. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Some books appeal to the general reader, some to specialists and others defy category. The present book belongs to the last. Superficially, Adrienne von Speyr's The Book of All Saints consists of thumb-nail, two-to-three page accounts of the lives of scores of canonised saints. However, there is much more to this book.
Von Speyr (1902-1967) was a Swiss physician who converted to Catholicism in 1940. During the next 27 years, the famous 20th century theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, was Adrienne's confessor and spiritual director. He observed her interior life carefully and was convinced she was gifted with a special mission in the life of the Church, namely to revitalise personal, as well as communal faith and prayer.
Prior to her conversion and afterwards, Adrienne worked in close collaboration with von Balthasar, and together they founded the Secular Institute of the Community of St John. On another level, Adrienne, the mystic, received intimate portraits of men and women in conversation with God. She was favoured with many visions of individual saints throughout her life, both as a Protestant and after she was received into the Catholic Church.
It is not clear from the Introduction to this translation from the original German whether Adrienne's visions and mystical life have been investigated and received the approbation of the Church. However, the content and tone of the book are clearly within the Magisterium.
The punch-line follows: The Book of All Saints explores the prayer life (only) of scores of saints. Adrienne was able to put herself in the place of various individuals to observe and describe their prayer, their whole attitude before God.
The Book of All Saints should be in monastic and theological libraries world-wide, although this reviewer suspects its contents would make very serious demands on any reader unacquainted with mystical literature in general.
Dr Barry Coldrey taught in Christian Brothers colleges for many years and is currently a writer and lecturer and active in youth ministry.