A review of Lived Christianity by Dom François de Sales Pollien

by Peter Newman

“Come, children, hearken to me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” (Ps 33:12)[1]

Thus, Dom François de Sales Pollien states his intention in the opening words of his prologue. It is telling that he draws from the same passage of Holy Scripture as is cited by Saint Benedict in the prologue of his Rule for Monks. Indeed, it is exceptional to find the same teaching — in its purity and with extraordinary richness of insight and fatherly tenderness — addressed 1,500 years later to those outside the cloister. Yet this is what Dom Pollien sets out to do in Lived Christianity, appearing for the first time in English courtesy of Calx Mariae Publishing.

Originally from France, Dom Pollien was destined to become one of the Carthusian order’s brightest lights in the twentieth century. Confessor and spiritual director for many years in different Charterhouses in France (and prior of several more), he spent the last part of his life in Catanzaro, where he composed — in Italian — several works on the spiritual life: the fruit of long maturation and vast experience of directing souls.

Steeped in the philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Dom Pollien establishes his teaching on the solid ground of Aristotelian realism: the only proper terrain for soldiers of the Church Militant and the antidote for the vague and sentimental devotion which was spreading among his contemporaries. Calling us back to first principles, Dom Pollien first reestablishes the spiritual life in the light of faith; always keeping in view the end for which human beings are created, never neglecting the particularities of temperament, state of life or the traps which abound in the modern world. How a contemplative, whose charge was to direct his fellow contemplatives could discern and navigate, nearly seventy years ago, the complexities of today’s world, we cannot know. The fact remains, however, that Dom Pollien acquits himself of the task with admirable tact and fidelity to his purpose, admonishing the reader from the beginning to:

“be bold and break with half measures and compromises; with mixing and matching teachings and compromising principles. If you continue to believe that you can ‘come to an arrangement’ with Heaven, that the rights of God are not so pressing, that some words of the Gospel and of the Church can be chosen and others not; if you believe that the Faith is nothing but a cupboard in which certain ingredients are stored and occasionally used to appease the conscience, and that it should not enter into the particulars of everyday life; if you do not want to take the Faith in its truth and the Gospel in its bareness, if you are not willing to be a Christian in all places and situations, to be nothing other than a Christian, integral and absolute, without calculated interests, you will, in fact, not understand this book — put it down.”[2]

But neither does He abandon any reader who has the good will to persevere. Striking an almost quixotic balance between firmness and tenderness, without frightening or threatening, Dom François de Sales Pollien emulates the saint whose name he took upon entering religion and Saint John Bosco, of whom he is also an avowed devotee, despite the very different character of his own Carthusian calling. The more one reads, the more Dom Pollien’s purpose begins to make sense in the light of his vocation. His words are drawn from the depths of contemplation over a long earthly retreat and, by the grace of God, allow him to participate in the same work as the saints he most admired — for the good souls. It is his faithfulness to his vocation that gives Dom Pollien his warrant to admonish the reader:

“Be one, walking on your only path toward your only destination, without wandering either to the left or to the right. Are you resolved to be a Christian? To be one completely? To be one exclusively? Come, I will tell you what it means to be a Christian and how to become one.”[3]

Combining the sangfroid of the French monastic tradition with the vivacious pastoral zeal of Padre Pio and Annibale Maria di Francia; in an earnest imitation of the saints and of Jesus and Mary, Dom Pollien has perfected a work of unique character and immeasurable value to readers of a time when the interior life is so threatened, along with all understanding of active and lived Christianity. Chapter by chapter, he succeeds in exposing and cleansing the anatomy of the Christian soul, animated by grace and the theological virtues. Despite his brevity in some places, he does not neglect to furnish the most precious (and often startling) insights into the final end of Christian life and the means of reaching it; above all, by the fulfilment of one’s duties of state and the examination of conscience, which he calls “the interior glance”[4]. Many chapters leave the reader wondering, “Why has no one explained this to me before?”

What is perhaps most distinctive about Dom Pollien’s work is the constant sense of dialogue and of the momentum of a priestly heart flooded with the light of grace, almost overcome with zeal to share it with you — you personally and in particular. The author never forgets himself, however; and following his own advice, keeping the “intimate glance”[5] on his heart, concludes his prologue by humbly recommending his short but weighty work to the reader, along with his soul:

“I hope that you will know how to use it to your advantage, and I ask you to pray a little for me, once you feel that I have done you some service.”[6]

Voice of the Family will have the joy to present Lived Christianity by Dom François de Sales Pollien, along with other new titles at the Brompton Oratory on the evening of 9 June. If you are in London next week, you are warmly invited to join us for the occasion. See details here.

  1. Dom François de Sales Pollien, Lived Christianity (Calx Mariae Publishing 2022) p11.
  2. Ibid., p.13.
  3. Ibid., p.182.
  4. Ibid., p.12.
  5. Ibid., p12
  6. Ibid.. p.14.