A treatise on the spiritual life, especially in its ascetical aspects. Spiritual Combat first appeared anonymously in Venice in 1589. In Genoa, in 1610, it was first published under the name of Lorenzo scupoli, a Theatine, who died that year. Shortly thereafter many editions appeared in the various European languages and in Latin. It is a book on spiritual strategy presenting a simple and practical method for bringing souls to perfection, principally by interior mortification.
The central section, the core of the work, gives the book its name and constitutes a valuable contribution to spiritual literature. Here the author considered the nature and the use of the faculties of the soul, and principally of the will, in achieving union with God (ch. 10–26). There are Ignatian traces, but the ascetical note is much more marked and detailed than in the Exercises.
The book has been ascribed to different authors, especially to a Spanish Benedictine, John of Castagniza, and to an Italian Jesuit, Achille gagliardi. As it stands today, the work contains traces of Spanish asceticism and also of Ignatian and Franciscan spirituality. The first editions contained only 24 chapters; later versions had 33, 37, 47, and 66 chapters. As the editions grew in size, the work lost its earlier simple grace and unction. Today historians generally agree that the basic chapters were written by Scupoli and were added to later (not to their benefit) by writers of widely varying schools.
The popularity of the book was due in large part to the recommendation given it by St. Francis de Sales. He is said to have received a copy of the first edition from Scupoli. At any rate, it was his self-confessed favorite, and he read from it every day for 18 years (see Camus, 37). Its teaching on the place of the will in self-denial was of capital importance in the development of Salesian spirituality (see Bremond, 53).
Bibliography: j. mercier, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 14:1745–46; h. bremond, Histoire littéraire du sentiment réligieux en France depuis la fin des guerres de religion jusqu'à nos jours, 12 v. (Paris 1911–36) 7:52–57. j. p. camus, The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, tr. c. f. kelley (New York 1953) 37. p. pourrat, Christian Spirituality, tr. w. h. mitchell et al., 4 v. (Westminster, MD 1953–55) v.3.
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