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Reviewed by:
  • Fénelon, direction spirituelle et littérature par Pauline Chaduc
  • Nicholas Hammond
Fénelon, direction spirituelle et littérature. Par Pauline Chaduc. (Lumière classique, 100.) Paris: Honoré Champion, 2015. 720 pp.

Perhaps as a direct result of the obscurities of the Quietist dispute, in which François Fénelon played an integral part, spiritual direction very quickly fell out of fashion and was generally treated with disdain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. While letters of spiritual direction began to be appreciated in the late nineteenth century primarily for their stylistic merit, their religious dimension was almost completely overlooked. Pauline Chaduc’s monumental study of Fénelon as spiritual director is therefore to be welcomed, not least because here we have a scholar in complete control of her theological material. Although Fénelon’s direction of Mme de Guyon and dispute with Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet inevitably form an important part of Chaduc’s analysis, they do not overwhelm [End Page 597] all other consideration of his writing—which has sometimes been the case in research on the subject. Starting from Fénelon’s definition of spiritual direction as an ‘art de gouverner’, Chaduc devotes the first part of the book to the history and theory of spiritual direction in the post-Tridentine France, taking in the perceived authority of the director and including such key concepts as correction and consolation. Asking the pertinent question whether Fénelon envisages the spiritual director as father or tyrant, Chaduc demonstrates well the ambivalence of his role: ‘maître, il doit commander, ordonner, tenir dans l’obéissance son interlocuteur; esclave d’autrui, il doit s’adapter à ses besoins, le servir et se sacrifier’ (p. 306). The second part, on ‘un art du dialogue’, is devoted to the social, communicative, ethical, generic, and linguistic dimensions of spiritual direction as conceived by Fénelon. Chaduc’s exploration of silent communication, what she calls ‘l’aporie du langage’ (p. 475), is particularly nuanced, especially within the context of the epistolary exchange between Fénelon and Guyon. The book’s final part begins with the importance attached to self-knowledge alongside the dangers associated with speaking about oneself (a theme that was dear to so many thinkers attached to Port-Royal). Inevitably, the Quietist dispute threw into question the discernment of spiritual directors and the problems in distinguishing between truth and illusion. For Fénelon, Chaduc argues, ‘le discernement repose en effet sur l’idée que le chrétien, comme l’Écriture, porte en lui-même la révélation, qui doit être déchiffrée par une autorité qualifiée’ (pp. 588–89). The final two chapters move from self-contemplation to knowledge of others and in particular the reformation of souls through the complete denial of the self. Chaduc manages to combine precision and subtlety in this magisterial book and is to be applauded for tackling a subject that fully deserves to be reappraised. Given the care and detail with which she approaches Fénelon’s writing, it is only disappointing that she completely ignores all anglophone scholarship on Fénelon, not least the recent work by Michael Moriarty and Richard Parish.

Nicholas Hammond
Cambridge University


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pp. 597-598
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