R. A. HERRERA, Mystics in Spite of Themselves: Four Saints and the Worlds They Didn’t Leave. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010. viii + 124 pages. $12.99 pb. ISBN 978-0-8028-4861-1.
Reviewed by Robert P. RUSSO, Lourdes College, Sylvania, OH 43560

One will note with sadness the passing of R. A. Herrera, former Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Seton Hall University and author of Silent Music: The Life, Work, and Thought of St. John of the Cross. In one of his final writings, Herrera “attempts to show that active, politically engaged, religious men, separated by chance or circumstance from the solitary cell, hermitage, or desert that was their normal habitat, were nevertheless able to scale the heights of spirituality, and they did so during periods of crisis” (p. vii). Herrera’s use of Augustine (354-430), Gregory (540-604), Anselm (1033-1109), and Raymond Llull (1233-1315) more than exemplify mystics who could retain their holiness while not being in their preferred, ascetical, environment.

The thesis of Herrera’s book is two-fold. On one hand, he advocates that mysticism is generally well suited for the “hermit, the monk, the person withdrawn from the cacophony of the every day world, a lover of solitude and silence, a man or woman of intense prayer” (p. 8-9). On the other hand, Herrera notes the courage of men like Augustine, Gregory and Anselm, who “lived in perilous times of crisis. They were burdened with work and responsibilities, often suffered from ill health, and faced innumerable difficulties” (p. 10). In spite of all of the turmoil, these mystics were able to call upon the Holy Spirit to attain the highest levels of spirituality.

The chapter on Raymond Llull supports Herrera’s thesis, in that the mystic was not appreciated in his lifetime. In fact, “he was rejected by the greater part of the intellectual community as an unwelcome gadfly, a bizarre exception, an unflagging enthusiast, a man of strong if unusual intellect and extravagant imagination…” (p. 87). Llull was also a man of great conviction, having written “fifteen books in less than a year. His last adventure was in Tunis, where he preached and debated with the Islamic sages” (p. 92). Llull was later stoned to death by an Islamic mob, and it is rumored that he died during the Feast of the Martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29th, 1315.

This volume is extremely well written, and highly recommended for undergraduate students or those with a beginning interest in mysticism. One only wishes that Herrera’s last work was a bit longer, as a testament to the contributions of this great man.


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