Surin, Jean Joseph

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Jesuit spiritual writer; b. Bordeaux, France, Feb. 9, 1600; d. Bordeaux, April 22, 1665.

Surin was the son of a conseiller to the Parlement of Bordeaux and studied at the Jesuit college of that city. At 16 he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus, then was sent for his theological studies to the college of Clermont in Paris. His formation culminated in the year of tertianship (162930) he made under the direction of Louis lallemant, who was an opponent of Jansenism.

In 1634 Surin was sent, at the request of Cardinal Richelieu, to Loudun, a small city in the Province of Poitou. For two years strange phenomena had been taking place in a community of Ursuline nuns, the victims, apparently, of diabolical possession. Surin was named exorcist and was given special charge of the prioress, Jeanne des Anges. His mental equilibrium did not withstand this ordeal, which lasted three years. From 1635 to about 1656 he was subject to abnormal phenomena and believed himself possessed by the devil; at the same time he was favored with signal graces. It is impossible to distinguish clearly the supernatural graces from the pathological elements. He seems to have had a true manicdepressive type of breakdown, which was for him, however, the occasion of genuine spiritual progress. Despite his sickness or mental fatigue, Surin wrote numerous works. One finds in them the influence of St. Ignatius Loyola and Lallemant, as well as quotations from numerous other Jesuit spiritual writers. Surin has been criticized for placing too much importance on the extraordinary sensible manifestations of the mystical life. He has also been accused of quietism. An Italian edition of his Catéchisme spirituel was even placed on the Index in 1695. Bossuet, however, energetically approved and defended the orthodoxy of Surin. Fénelon also had much esteem for him.

He insisted on the interior and free character of the spiritual life. That life ought not be subject to exterior constraints or to selfish motives, but solely to what he called, using an expression borrowed from St. Ignatius, "the interior law of charity and love." Surin emphasized the role of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the spiritual life. He distinguished the "common gifts" of grace from the "interior and mystic way," known only by the "disciples of the Holy Spirit."

One of the best methods of prayer, he thought, is that which he called "ordinary contemplation," a "simple repose of the soul" that tastes spiritual realities interiorly and holds itself without effort in the presence of God. But Surin did not neglect the use of other methods in prayer. He recommended the prayer of St. Ignatius as the way toward spiritual liberty and mystical contemplation, which is according to him perfectly compatible with the apostolic ministry.

Absolute detachment and the perfect acquiescing in the will of God held an important place in his spiritual doctrine and in the exercise of his spiritual direction. He insisted on the disinterestedness of our love for God, but distinguished his teaching from that of Fénelon on "pure love" by showing that one must also practice the virtues of hope, fear of God, and apostolic zeal.

Surin had a great influence on such Jesuit spiritual writers of the 18th century as J. P. de caussade, J. N. grou, and P. de cloriviÈre.

Bibliography: h. m. boudon, L'Homme de Dieu (Chartres 1683). This, the only complete life of Surin, is very unsatisfactory. It was republished by M. Bouix under the title Vie du Père Jean-Joseph Surin (Paris 1876). h. brÉmond, Histoire littéraire du sentiment réligieux en France depuis la fin des guerres de religion jusqu'à nos jours (Paris 191136) 5:148310. j. de guibert, La Spiritualit de la Compagnie de Jésus, ed. e. lamalle (Rome 1953). e. de greef, "Succédanés et Concomitances psychopathologiques de la 'Nuit obscure' (Le cas du Père Surin)," Études Carmélitaines 23.2 (1938) 152176. M. olphe-galliard, "Le Père Surin et les Jésuites de son temps," ibid. 177182. j. de guibert, "Le Cas du Père Surin: Questions théologiques," ibid. 183189. f. achille delmas, "À propos du Pére Surin et de M.-Th. Noblet," ibid., 235239. m. de certeau, "Jean-Joseph Surin," Month NS 24 (1960) 340353. m. olphegalliard, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables Générales 1951 ) 14.2:283442.

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