According to the French Jesuit Cadres, the Caracteres de la vraie devotion of Pere Grou - a work which ran into no less than forty-four editions - was first published in Paris in the year 1788. This was quickly followed by a further work on the same subject, but treated from a somewhat different and more practical angle, the Maximes Spirituelles avec des explications, published in the following year. In his Preface to the original edition, reproduced here in its place, the author says: 'At the end of the little work which I wrote on the Marks of true devotion, I promised to write another under the title of Spiritual Maxims, in which I would explain in more detail the means for practising that devotion. The following work is the result'. The former book defined what true devotion is: its motives, its object and the means for acquiring it; the second outlined in greater detail, as he says, the means for practising that devotion, always bearing in mind that, in Pere Grou's use of the word, devotion stands for the interior life or the life of the spirit.
The author's own life, being sufficiently known from his other works published in the Orchard Series it is hardly necessary to repeat all those details here. After the suppression of the Society of Jesus in France in the year 1763, and subsequently in Lorraine on the death of Duke Stanislaus in 1766, Pere Grou returned to Paris at the invitation of Mgr. de Beaumont, the Archbishop of Paris, and lived in seclusion and real poverty, under the name of Le Clerc, in a garret in the Rue de Sevres, occupying himself with study and writing, and with the direction of a community of Benedictine nuns nearby. It was at this time, roughly about the year 1767, that occurred what he always described as his 'conversion', through the instrumentality of a Visitation nun in the convent of the Rue du Bac, which was to have a profound influence on him for the rest of his life. For reasons which are not too clear, and for a period which is also uncertain, he appears to have passed some time in Holland, returning again to Paris, where he resumed the same life of simplicity, poverty and retirement as before, devoting himself almost exclusively to his personal sanctification and to the writing of books on the spiritual life. In the words of Pere Bernard, the writer of the article on Pere Grou in the Dictionnaire de Theologie Catholique, 'then commenced the series of magnificent treatises of a spirituality at once gentle and firm, penetrating and lofty, which place Pere Grou among the most eminent and best-beloved masters of the interior life'. I Of the works he produced at this time, the Maxims are, in the opinion of some, among his best. A contemporary critic says of this work: 'Few spiritual works contain more illuminating and profound rules for the guidance of the conscience and of the interior life'.
The title of this work recalls - perhaps intentionally the equally famous work of Fenelon, the Explications des Maximes des Saints, published in 1697 and condemned, after a fierce and not very edifying controversy with Bossuet, by Pope Innocent XII two years later. It is this unfortunate incident Pere Grou is referring to in his twenty-third Maxim; and, although the controversy did in fact die down, there is no doubt that there remained a certain element of uneasiness which lasted some time, and which was calculated for some considerable period to discredit even the true teaching of spiritual writers on the subject of prayer, and especially interior prayer. It was with this in mind that our author wrote (p. 252): 'As this subject, which is the highest of all relating to the interior life, caused much public comment at the end of the seventeenth century, and in consequence of a just condemnation many persons became prejudiced against a subject understood by very few, I have thought fit to explain the matter briefly, in order to correct certain false impressions, and to dispel prejudice'. So vivid, however, was the memory of Quietism and its condemnation that even Pere Grou, writing the best part of a century later, was not without his critics at the time. He himself admits that these matters are 'extremely delicate and very difficult to explain, or even to understand with perfect precision' (p. 251).
Pere Grou's great theme in the Spiritual Maxims is his insistence on the following of the spirit of Christ as opposed to what he calls the natural spirit, or the spirit of private judgment. Prayer for him is contemplative prayer, or the prayer of the interior way. Not that he despised formal meditation by any means, but he regarded it always as a stepping-stone towards a higher form of prayer, the intimate prayer of the spirit. His great aim and desire was to urge and encourage souls not to be afraid, but to persevere in a wholehearted gift of themselves to God, and in a faithful surrender to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The question has been asked: for whom is Pere Grou primarily writing, or whom had he in mind when he wrote his treatises on prayer, and especially the Spiritual Maxims? He himself says (p. 211) he is writing for beginners. This may be true of certain points, but in general one is inclined to think that some progress will need to have been made in the way of interior prayer if one is to appreciate, and profit by, his wise guidance. Still, there is something for more than one class of persons, we venture to think. Fr. Clarke, S.J., in his short Introduction to Pere Grou's How to Pray, expresses the belief that these writings (and one may apply the remark to the present work as well) should be a source of comfort and encouragement to many a disconsolate soul that has long struggled against aridity and desolation in prayer, and enable many whose prayers have hitherto been imperfect and ill-directed, to pray better. The influence of this book, in spite of the fact that it has only once been translated into English, persists to the present day. It is significant that Pere Grou was among the favourite spiritual writers of the late Abbot Chapman, and the Maxims was the only book, apart from his breviary, that he took with him to the nursing home where he died.
We have said that the Spiritual Maxims have only once been translated into English. This translation was issued from St. Margaret's Convent, East Grinstead, in the year 1874, and was published by J.T. Hayes of Eaton Square and Covent Garden, London. It ran into several editions, the sixth (by Thomas Baker, then of Newman Street, London) being published in 1924. This sixth edition -- the one probably known to most readers of Grou is identical in every way, even to the type, with the first edition, and is in fact a reprint of it.
It has generally been assumed that this translation was the work of the famous Anglican translator of hymns, the Rev. Dr. J.M. Neale, but this is at least extremely doubtful. Apart from the fact that Dr. Neale died in 1866, there is no reference to it among his works mentioned in the Dictionary of National Biography, nor is it recognized as his at the Convent itself. From an examination of the style, moreover, it would appear to be uneven, suggesting that it may well have been the work of more than one hand. However that may be, with the permission of Mr. Baker, it has been utilized to a certain extent by the present translator, although it soon became evident that a new and revised translation, following much more closely the original text, was needed. Even so, occasionally the over-long sentences favoured at the time have been curtailed, without, we hope, losing anything of the author's meaning; whilst much that was omitted in the 1874 translation has, with profit, been restored.
The paragraph on frequent communion in the sixth Maxim (p. 74) has been brought into line with the more recent directives on the subject by Pope St Pius X. Some obvious errors in the French text have been corrected; occasionally a few words have been added or omitted or even modified on account of certain obscurities in the original text, which could be misconstrued, contrary, we feel sure, to the author's intention. A list of all such corrections and amendments is given in the Notes at the end of this volume. At the request of the publishers, an article on Pere Grou from the pen of Baron Friedrich von Huegel, which appeared in The Tablet in December 1889, and which is well worth preserving in a more permanent form, has been added as an Appendix. Finally, a list, as complete as we have been able to make it, of the works of Pere Grou in French and in English translations, is given at the end.
St Hugh's Charterhouse,
Work of God Apostolate