Jean Pierre de Caussade (7 March 1675 – 8 December 1751) was a French Jesuit priest, mystic, and writer known for his work Abandonment to Divine Providence (also translated as The Sacrament of the Present Moment). de Caussade was born in Cahors, Lot, France. He was spiritual director at the Nuns of the Visitation at Nancy, France from 1733 to 1740. During this time and after he left Nancy, he wrote letters of instruction to the nuns that were posthumously-published.
Caussade believed that the present moment is a sacrament from God and that self-abandonment to it and its needs is a holy state – a belief which, at first glance, would appear to be heretical relative to Catholic dogma. In fact, because of this fear (especially with the Church’s condemnation of the Quietist movement), Caussade’s instructions to the sisters were kept unpublished until 1861, and even then they were edited (by fellow Jesuit Henri Ramière) to protect them from charges of Quietism. A more authoritative version of these notes was published only in 1966. In his writings, he is aware of the Quietists and rejects their perspective. Abandonment to Divine Providence has now for many years been read widely and is considered a classic in the spiritual life by Catholics and many others. Writers such as Alan Watts have found in Caussade an Occidental, Christian-theological analogue to the Eastern religion of Mahayana Buddhism, particularly Zen Buddhism.
Excerpts from his writing:
“In the state of abandonment the only rule is the duty of the present moment. In this the soul is light as a feather, liquid as water, simple as a child, active as a ball in receiving and following all the inspirations of grace. Such souls have no more consistence and rigidity than molten metal. As this takes any form according to the mold into which it is poured, so these souls are pliant and easily receptive of any form that God chooses to give them. In a word, their disposition resembles the atmosphere, which is affected by every breeze; or water, which flows into any shaped vessel exactly filling every crevice. They are before God like a perfectly woven fabric with a clear surface; and neither think, nor seek to know what God will be pleased to trace thereon, because they have confidence in Him, they abandon themselves to Him, and, entirely absorbed by their duty, they think not of themselves, nor of what may be necessary for them, nor of how to obtain it.”
“Come, then, my beloved souls, let us fly to that love which calls us. Why are we waiting? Let us set out at once, let us lose ourselves in the very heart of God and become intoxicated with His love. Let us snatch from His heart the key to all the treasures of the world and start out right away on the road to heaven. There is no need to fear that any lock will hold us back. Our key will open every door. There is no room we cannot enter. We can make ourselves free of the garden, the cellar, and the vineyard as well. If we want to explore the countryside, no one will hinder us. We can come and go; we can enter and leave any place we wish, because we have the key of David, the key of knowledge, and the key of the abyss that holds the hidden treasures of divine wisdom. It is this key that opens the doors of mystical death and its sacred darkness. By it we can enter the deepest dungeons and emerge safe and sound. It gives us entrance into that blessed spot where the light of knowledge shines and the Bridegroom takes His noonday rest. There we quickly learn how to win His kiss and ascend with surety the steps of the nuptial couch. And there we learn the secrets of love — Divine secrets that cannot be revealed and which no human tongue can ever describe.”
“Faith transforms the earth into a paradise. By it our hearts are raised with the joy of our nearness to heaven. Every moment reveals God to us. Faith is our light in this life. By it we know the truth without seeing it, we are put in touch with what we cannot feel, recognize what we cannot see, and view the world stripped of all its outer shell. Faith unlocks God’s treasury. It is the key to all the vastness of His wisdom. The emptiness of all created things is disclosed by faith, and it is by faith that God reveals Himself … With faith, all that is dark becomes light, and what is bitter becomes sweet. Faith transforms ugliness into beauty, and malice into kindness. Faith is the mother of tenderness, trust, and joy … There is nothing faith cannot overcome; it passes beyond all shadows and through the darkest clouds to reach the truth, which it embraces and can never be parted from.”
“O Lord, let others ask for every kind of gift, with more and more prayers; I ask for one gift with but one prayer: ‘Grant me a pure heart!’ How blessed are the pure of heart. By the power of their faith they see God within themselves; they see Him above and below, in all things, at all times. They become the instruments of this Divine Play, as God guides them everywhere and leads them to everything.
A pure heart and good will! The one foundation of every spiritual state! … The pure heart could well say to every soul: ‘Look at me carefully. It is I who generate that love which always chooses the better part. I produce that mild but effective fear which arouses such a dread of wrong-doing that it can easily be avoided. I impart that excellent understanding which reveals the greatness of God and the merit of virtue. And it is also I who causes that passionate and holy yearning which keeps the soul resolute in virtue and in expectation of God.’
Yes, 0 Pure Heart, you can invite everyone to gather round you and enrich themselves with your inexhaustible treasures. There is not one single kind of spiritual practice, not one path to holiness, which does not find its source in you.”
“The essence of all spirituality is this: Complete and utter abandonment to the Will of God!
We must offer ourselves to God like a clean, smooth canvas and not worry ourselves about what God may choose to paint on it, but at each moment, feel only the stroke of His brush … It is the same with a piece of stone. Each blow from the sculptor’s chisel makes it feel –if it could — as if it were being destroyed. As blow after blow descends, the stone knows nothing of how the sculptor is shaping it. All it feels is a chisel chopping away at it, cutting it, and mutilating it. For example, let’s take a piece of stone destined to be carved into a crucifix or a statue. We might ask it: ‘What do you think is happening to you?’ And it might answer: ‘Don’t ask me. All I know is that I must stay immobile in the hands of the sculptor … I have no idea what he is doing, nor do I know what lie will make of me. But I know his work is the best possible. It is perfect and so I welcome each blow of his chisel as the best thing that could happen to me, although, if I’m to be truthful, I feel that every one of these blows is ruining me, destroying me, and disfiguring me.’”
“Come, all you simple souls those without piety, grand talents, or lessons learned. Come, all you who understand nothing of spiritual terms, who are filled with amazement at the eloquence of the learned. Come, and I will teach you the secret, unreachable by those brilliant scholar s — the secret of perfection. You will find this perfection within you, above you, below you, with every step you take. Then you will be united with God, hand in hand you will walk.
Come, not to study the map of spiritual terrain, but to possess it for yourself; to walk about in it without fear of going astray. Why learn the theory of Divine Grace, and what it has been doing throughout the ages, when you can become and be the very instrument of its operation?
Come, not to discuss the words of others, but to listen… for in the sacredness of every moment Divine Grace is telling you alone all that is required.”
“What is the secret of finding the Treasure? There isn’t one. The Treasure is everywhere. It is offered to us at every moment and wherever we find ourselves. All creatures, friends or enemies, pour it out abundantly, and it courses through every fiber of our body and soul until it reaches the very core of our being. If we open our mouths they will be filled. God’s activity runs through the entire universe. It wells up around and penetrates every created being. Wherever they are, it is there also. It runs ahead of them, it stays with them, and it follows after them. All they have to do is to allow its waves to sweep them forward, fulfill the simple duties of their religion and status in life, accept cheerfully all the difficulties they meet, and surrender to the will of God in all they have to do…. This is authentic spirituality, and it is valid for all times and for everyone. We could not choose to become good in a better, more miraculous, and yet easier way than by the simple use of the means offered us by God; the whole-hearted acceptance of everything that comes to us at every moment of our lives.”
“There is not a moment in which God does not present Himself under the cover of some pain to be endured, of some consolation to be enjoyed, or of some duty to be performed. All that takes place within us, around us, or through us, contains and conceals His divine action.”
“All simple souls must admire and respect one another, saying: ‘Let us proceed each one along our path to the same goal, united in purpose and by means of God’s order which, in its great variety, is in us all.”
“The books the Holy Spirit is writing are living, and every soul a volume in which the divine author makes a true revelation of his word, explaining it to every heart, unfolding it in every moment.”
“The duties of each moment are the shadows beneath which hides the divine operation.”
“Job blessed the name of God in his utter desolation. Instead of looking upon his condition as ruin, he called it the name of God and by blessing it he protested that the divine will under whatever name or form it might appear, even though expressed by the most terrible catastrophes, was holy.”
“If we wish to be united to God we should value all the operations of his grace, but we should cling only to the duties of the present moment.”
“That which I might endeavour to find in other ways seeks me incessantly and gives itself to me through all creatures.”
“Each saint receives a share in this divine life, and in each, Jesus Christ is different, although the same in Himself. The life of each saint is the life of Jesus Christ; it is a new gospel. The cheeks of the spouse are compared to beds of flowers, to gardens filled with fragrant blossoms. The divine action is the gardener, admirably arranging the flower beds. This garden resembles no other, for among all the flowers there are no two alike, or that can be described as being of the same species, except in the fidelity with which they respond to the action of the Creator, in leaving Him free to do as He pleases, and, on their side, obeying the laws imposed on them by their nature. Let God act, and let us do what He requires of us; this is the Gospel; this is the general Scripture, and the common law.”
“Oh! all you that read this, it will cost you no more than to do what you are doing, to suffer what you are suffering, only act and suffer in a holy manner. It is the heart that must be changed. When I say heart, I mean will. Sanctity, then, consists in willing all that God wills for us. Yes! sanctity of heart is a simple “fiat,” a conformity of will with the will of God. What could be more easy, and who could refuse to love a will so kind and so good? Let us love it then, and this love alone will make everything in us divine.”
“The soul in the state of abandonment knows how to see God even in the proud who oppose His action. All creatures, good or evil, reveal Him to it. The whole practice of the simple soul is in the accomplishment of the will of God. This it respects even in those unruly actions by which the proud attempt to depreciate it. The proud soul despises one in whose sight it is as nothing, who beholds only God in it, and in all its actions. Often it imagines that the modesty of the simple soul is a mark of appreciation for itself; when, all the time, it is only a sign of that loving fear of God and of His holy will as shown to it in the person of the proud. No, poor fool, the simple soul fears you not at all. You excite its compassion; it is answering God when you think it is speaking to you: it is with Him that it believes it has to do; it regards you only as one of His slaves, or rather as a mask with which He disguises Himself. Therefore the more you take a high tone, the lower you become in its estimation; and when you think to take it by surprise, it surprises you. Your wiles and violence are just favours from Heaven. The proud soul cannot comprehend itself, but the simple soul, with the light of faith, can very clearly see through it.
The finding of the divine action in all that occurs at each moment, in and around us, is true science, a continuous revelation of truth, and an unceasingly renewed intercourse with God. It is a rejoicing with the Spouse, not in secret, nor by stealth, in the cellar, or the vineyard, but openly, and in public, without any human respect. It is a fund of peace, of joy, of love, and of satisfaction with God who is seen, known, or rather, believed in, living and operating in the most perfect manner in everything that happens. It is the beginning of eternal happiness not yet perfectly realised and tasted, except in an incomplete and hidden manner.
The Holy Spirit, who arranges all the pieces on the board of life, will, by this fruitful and continual presence of His action, say at the hour of death, “fiat lux,” “let there be light”, and then will be seen the treasures which faith hides in this abyss of peace and contentment with God, and which will be found in those things that have been every moment done, or suffered for Him.
When God gives Himself thus, all that is common becomes wonderful; and it is on this account that nothing seems to be so, because this way is, in itself, extraordinary. Consequently it is unnecessary to make it full of strange and unsuitable marvels. It is, in itself, a miracle, a revelation, a constant joy even with the prevalence of minor faults. But it is a miracle which, while rendering all common and sensible things wonderful, has nothing in itself that is sensibly marvelous.”
“The spiritual life, gentle, and tranquil as I have always described it to you to inspire you with a taste for it, is only to be found in two sorts of persons; first, in those who are entirely separated from the world and have nothing to do with its affairs; secondly, sometimes, but more rarely, in persons living in the world, when by dint of having overcome themselves, and detached themselves from everything, they live in the world, but are not of it; that is to say they belong to it outwardly, but not in mind and heart.”
“There is a time when the soul lives in God, and a time when God lives in the soul. What is appropriate to one state is inconsistent with the other.
When God lives in the soul it ought to abandon itself entirely to his providence. When the soul lives in God it is obliged to procure for itself carefully and very regularly, every means it can devise by which to arrive at the divine union. The whole procedure is marked out; the readings, the examinations, the resolutions. The guide is always at hand and everything is by rule, even the hours for conversation.
When God lives in the soul it has nothing left of self, but only that which the spirit which actuates it imparts to it at each moment. Nothing is provided for the future, no road is marked out . . . No more books with marked passages for such a soul; often enough it is even deprived of a regular director, for God allows it no other support than that which he gives it himself. Its dwelling is in darkness, forgetfulness, abandonment, death and nothingness. . .
Everything that others discover with great difficulty this soul finds in abandonment, and what they guard with care in order to be able to find it again, this soul receives at the moment there is occasion for it, and afterwards relinquishes so as to admit nothing but exactly what God desires it to have in order to live by him alone.
The former soul undertakes an infinity of good works for the glory of God, the latter is often cast aside in a corner of the world like a bit of broken crockery, apparently of no use to anyone. There, this soul, forsaken by creatures but in the enjoyment of God by a very real, true, and active love (active though infused in repose), does not attempt anything by its own impulse; it only knows that it has to abandon itself and to remain in the hands of God to be used by him as he pleases.
Often it is ignorant of its use, but God knows well. The world thinks it is useless, and appearances give colour to this judgment, but nevertheless it is very certain that in mysterious ways and by unknown channels, it spreads abroad an infinite amount of grace on persons who often have no idea of it, and of whom it never thinks . . .
. . . Often they do not perceive the outflow of this virtue and even contribute nothing by cooperation: it is like a hidden balm, the perfume of which is exhaled without being recognized, and which knows not its own virtue.”
“With God, the more one seems to lose the more one gains. The more He strikes off of what is natural, the more He gives of what is supernatural. He is loved at first for His gifts, but when these are no longer perceptible He is at last loved for Himself. It is by the apparent withdrawal of these sensible gifts that He prepares the way for that great gift which is the most precious and the most extensive of all, since it embraces all others. Souls which have once for all submitted themselves to the divine action, ought to interpret everything favourably.”
“To escape the distress caused by regret for the past or fear about the future, this is the rule to follow: leave the past to the infinite mercy of God, the future to His good Providence, give the present wholly to His love by being faithful to His grace.”
“You would be very ashamed if you knew what the experiences you call setbacks, upheavals, pointless disturbances, and tedious annoyances really are. You would realize that your complaints about them are nothing more nor less than blasphemies – though that never occurs to you. Nothing happens to you except by the will of God, and yet [God’s] beloved children curse it because they do not know it for what it is.”
“The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams but you will only enjoy them to the extent of your faith and love. The more a soul loves, the more it longs, the more it hopes, the more it finds. The will of God is manifest in each moment, an immense ocean which the heart only fathoms in so far as it overflows with faith, trust, and love.”
“To discover God in the smallest and most ordinary things, as well as in the greatest, is to possess a rare and sublime faith. To find contentment in the present moment is to relish and adore the divine will in the succession of all the things to be done and suffered which make up the duty to the present moment.”
“Those who have abandoned themselves to God always lead mysterious lives and receive from him exceptional and miraculous gifts by means of the most ordinary, natural and chance experiences in which there appears to be nothing unusual. The simplest sermon, the most banal conversation, the least erudite books become a source of knowledge and wisdom to these souls by virtue of God’s purpose. This is why they carefully pick up crumbs which clever minds tread under foot, for to them everything is precious and a source of enrichment. They exist in a state of total impartiality, neglecting nothing, respecting and making use of everything.”
“Everything that happens to us, in us, and through us, embraces and conceals God’s divine but veiled purpose, so that we are always being taken by surprise and never recognize it until it has been accomplished. If we could pierce that veil and if we were vigilant and attentive, God would unceasingly reveal himself to us and we would rejoice in his works and in all that happens to us. We would say to everything: ‘It is the Lord!’ And we would discover that every circumstance is a gift from God; that human beings, frail creatures though they are, will never lack anything; and that God’s unceasing concern is to give them what is best for them.”