In a Great and Noble Tradition (Guéranger)
The Autobiography of Dom Prosper Guéranger| Translated and edited by Br David Hayes, OSB and Sr Hyacinthe Defos du Rau, OP | Gracewing Publishing | 278 pages | Paperback
The Benedictine abbey of Solesmes in France is famous for the quality of its Gregorian chant, recordings of which are appreciated throughout the world. Nevertheless, the life of its founder, Dom Prosper Guéranger (1805-1875) is still relatively unknown. This is partly due to Guéranger himself, who never sought to promote his life story. While he published many liturgical and spiritual works, this highly personal account of his early life and events surrounding the foundation of Solesmes in 1833 was never intended for publication, and indeed was never completed. For this reason, the manuscript remained in the archives of the abbey of Solesmes for well over a hundred years. Growing recognition of its wider importance and interest led to its eventual publication in 2005, the bicentenary of Guéranger's birth.
The book is far more than a personal portrait of an interesting and innovative individual. Through the prism of events surrounding his early life as a seminarian, secular priest and then Benedictine monk, Guéranger's account illustrates many of the wider issues at play in early nineteenth-century France and French Catholicism. Guéranger's first-hand account of various political events under the regimes of Napoleon I, the Bourbon Restoration and Louis-Philippe has its own historical value. Above all, however, the book shows how Guéranger's project to re-found Benedictine life in France, after its disappearance in the wake of the French Revolution, stood in relation to other currents of religious thought and monastic tradition, notably Gallicanism, Ultramontanism, the Maurists and the Cistercians. Those interested in monastic life and liturgical spirituality will further draw inspiration from Guéranger's narration of the human relationships and mystical experiences that inspired his Benedictine vocation and subsequent life's work.
Guéranger's lively text is also enjoyable in its own right. His optimism, determination, creativity, unwavering trust in divine providence, capacity for friendship and often humorous (and occasionally devastating) portraits of the many people whom he encountered give a particular charm and colour to his writing. Ultimately, however, this account of Guéranger's spiritual and intellectual awakening provides impetus for a renewed contemporary appreciation of his convictions, which are of perennial value for all who are seeking God. The monastic community founded by Guéranger bears witness to the transforming power of contemplative liturgical spirituality lived in and for the Church and the world. As such, monastic life serves as an exemplar of spiritual and human values whose relevance extends far beyond the cloister.
Extensive footnotes, and an introduction by Dr Judith Bowen, whose recent doctoral thesis is one of the most important studies on the unity and significance of Guéranger's liturgical and theological work, further enhance this translation.