Twenty Centuries of Christian Spiritualities

September 5, 2008

Twenty Centuries of Christian Spiritualities
By Richard H. Schmidt
Eerdmans, 388 pp., $22

Spirituality is found only in the day-to-day lives of ordinary people, claims Richard Schmidt, an Episcopal priest, former editor of The Episcopalian and now editor and director of Forward Movement Publications.

In an earlier book, Glorious Companions, he called our attention to the most influential and significant shapers of Anglican spirituality from the 16th century to the present.

In God Seekers, Schmidt gives us 32 brief biographies of ordinary people "experiencing and responding to the love of God." As they aged,
they grew and changed in their spirituality, some radically. But each was "willing to ask difficult questions and not shy away from hard answers" about God and his or her own spirituality, as each sought to know God.

Schmidt wanted a broad sample of Christian spiritual masters and he includes at least one representative from every major branch of the Christian family tree. Each of the bios concludes with examples from the author's own works as well as some questions for readers' reflection and discussion.

Some of those will be well known to readers, while others may be new spiritual guides. Schmidt begins with Irenaeus (c. 130–c. 200) and continues with Origen of Alexandria, Antony of the Desert Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine of Hippo. Patrick represents Celtic spirituality and Anselm and Bernard of Clairvaux are examples of medieval spirituality. Julian of Norwich represents the English mystics and Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuits; while Martin Luther and John Calvin, mark the time of Reformation spirituality.

Teresa of Avila is one of the Spanish Mystics, while George Herbert speaks for Anglican spirituality, and John Bunyan for the Non-Conformists. Others included by Schmidt are the Wesleys, John and Charles; Kierkegaard; R.A. Torrey; Amy Carmichael and Maria Skobtsova. Donald Gee represents Pentecostal spirituality; and Dorothy Day, the Catholic Worker Movement; followed by Thomas Merton and Madeleine L'Engle. African Christian spirituality tells the story of John Mbiti and feminist spirituality is represented by Rosemary Radford Ruether.

This is quite an interesting mix of spiritual leaders. And each of them comes to life through a drawing done by artist Dean Mosher, who created his own rendition from photographs, paintings or other likenesses, where those were available. For earlier leaders, Mosher researched where the person lived, ethnic background and clothing of that period, then had friends serve as models. It worked wonderfully and adds much to Richard Schmidt's God Seekers.