A Brief Review of
Catherine De Hueck Doherty: Essential Writings.
Modern Spiritual Masters Series.
Paperback, Orbis Books, 2009.
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Reviewed by Chris Smith.
Prior to receiving a copy of the new book Catherine De Hueck Doherty: Essential Writings (Orbis 2009), my only encounter with the late Ms. Doherty was through her classic work Poustinia, which appropriates the Eastern Christian practice of poustinia (Russian: “desert”) for readers in the West. One of the newest volumes in Orbis’ “Modern Spiritual Masters” series, this anthology of Doherty’s writings is a fabulous introduction to her life and work. The book opens with a lengthy introduction by editor David Meconi, S.J., which follows the complex story of Doherty’s life from her upbringing in an aristocratic Russian family, to her narrow escape from Russia during the Bolshevik revolution to her eventual settling and ministry in the United States and Canada. Although never formally trained in theology, Doherty was one of the twentieth century’s most prominent thinkers in the area of Christian spirituality. Having been raised by Russian Orthodox parents, but with a Roman Catholic grandfather, Doherty would herself ultimately settle within Roman Catholicism. This rich heritage offered Doherty a unique opportunity to speak in broad terms about Christian faith and experience. The categories into which the selections from her writings have been presented in this volume shed some light on the key themes of her work: “The Divine Presence,” “The Mystical Body,” “Christian Prayer,” “Christian Action” and “The Human Condition.” Although Doherty’s most poignant writings could be described as mystical – probing our relationship with God and with one another – her life was clearly not one of isolation, but rather engagement – particularly in caring for the poor, a virtue that was nurtured in her by her parents from her earliest years. The most striking section of the book for me were her writings on the human condition, which reflect the familial and cultural struggles that she faced throughout her life and yet demonstrate an unwavering faith in the sovereignty of God in the midst of these trials. I highly recommend this book as a fine introduction to one of the most significant Christian women of the twentieth century, a visionary whose message is of great value even to us, as followers of Christ in the twenty-first century.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com