God without the Idea of Evil: Part I—The Origins of a Translation by Gregory Casprini, OSB

Following on Divine Mercy Sunday, we present this week a multipart feature by Gregory Casprini, OSB, on his recent translation of Dominican theologian Jean-Miguel Garrigues’s God without the Idea of Evil (University of Notre Dame Press, 2023). As with the “Doors to the Sacred” series by John Alonzo Dick that we published in 2022, we conceive of Fr. Casprini’s feature as a kind of seminar or “retreat in writing” that explores the idea of a God who simply “cannot comprehend” the evil in the world. Fr. Casprini’s text is based on a presentation he gave about the book in Lithuania, and captures the way such a presentation prompts prayer and reflection in the hearer or reader. In the interest of full disclosure, TAC’s editor assisted with the preparation and submission of both manuscripts mentioned in the text, and receives a portion of royalties for any copies sold—Ed.

In 2022, Cascade Books published my translation of the Dominican theologian Jean-Miguel Garriuges’s A l’heure de notre mort (At the Hour of our Death). This volume is the fruit of the author’s profound theological reflections on his experience as a chaplain in an oncological clinic, accompanying terminally ill patients. Fr. Garrigues seeks to show how God’s providence accompanies us throughout our lives and how it prepares us for our final encounter with the Lord at the hour of death, when we will be invited to open our hearts freely to the gift of eternal life. At that critical moment, we will be judged by our consent to be loved by God, rather than by our capacity to love God. If the latter criterion, that of ability, were applied, who would pass such a test?

The book was also translated into Lithuanian. Shortly after its publication, an oblate of our Benedictine monastery there sent us the following testimonial. I think it is worth reproducing here, since it is representative a quite a few other similar reactions we received. At the time, the oblate was doing volunteer ministry in a parish of Vilnius. Here is what he wrote to us:

One morning, a lady came to the sacristy requesting a special Mass intention for her adult son, who had died the previous month. While waiting for the priest, she explained that her son had died of a heart attack—not suddenly, but a week after the falling ill. During that week, she said she had practically lived at his bedside in hospital. The doctors had managed to restore his circulation, but it was not enough to save his life. He died at the age of 43. For a mother, such an experience is always painful, tragic and devastating. It was difficult and sad to even listen to her tell this story, and I could well imagine how hard it must have been for her to actually live through it. After a short pause, however, the woman said that she had come across and purchased Garrigues’ At the Hour of Our Death in a local bookstore. From that moment on, her story took on an entirely different character, even her tone of voice changed, and her story took on a color of profound hope. She was very happy to discover this book and repeated many times how much the main ideas of the work strengthened her when caring for her son, and how helpful they continue to be now that she reflecting on her loss. She concluded by saying that this book ought to be in all hospitals in Lithuania where people are confronted with the death of their loved ones.

In 2023, the University of Notre Dame Press published another of my translations of Garrigues. This was one of his most important works—the book in which, as a young theologian, he expressed for the first time his most important and fundamental intuitions, lines of thought, and points of reflection that would guide him in his later works. Entitled God without the Idea of Evil, it was first published in France in 1982 as Dieu sans idée du mal. Cardinal Schönborn and many others have called it a classic of Dominican spirituality, and of Christian spirituality more broadly. When the English translation was released, theologian and professor Paul J. Griffiths wrote: “The questions God without the Idea of Evil addresses are of concern to almost all Christians, and the relative lack of technicality with which Garrigues addresses them should make the book accessible to a considerably large audience.” Professor Michael D. Torre added: “This small work is destined to become a spiritual classic, and it is so because it has so many pages that are of such simple (and rare) beauty.”

For me, this translation of God without the Idea of Evil represents the culmination of a journey that began more than forty years ago. Having been born and raised in New York, my native language is English. At age twenty-three, after my conversion and baptism, I entered the Benedictine Abbey of Solesmes in France and lived there for twenty-five years. In 1998 I was sent by Solesmes with other brothers to found a new monastery in Lithuania. I first read Dieu sans idée du mal shortly after its publication in 1982. At the time I was studying for the priesthood at Solesmes, and the book, with its poetic meditations on scripture, illustrated by two beautiful icons, helped me not only to grapple inwardly with the difficult problems relating to the existence of evil, human liberty, and God’s grace but also and above all to discover how theology can become a beautiful road to contemplation and prayer. It was twenty-five years later, in Lithuania, that I came across the second edition of Garrigues’s book, with its supplementary explanations showing how the principal theme of the meditations in part 1, concerning the absolute innocence of God with regard to moral evil, is firmly grounded in the speculative theology of Saint Thomas. After an intensive study of the book, I was able to use it as the basis of a retreat given to religious communities of sisters in French, English, and Lithuanian.

In the meantime, I sent an email to Fr. Garrigues, whom I had never met, and was amazed to receive an immediate and very friendly reply. On my invitation he came to give conferences at our monastery in Lithuania. He, in turn, encouraged me to take part each year in his summer theology sessions in the South of France. I soon translated several of his articles or conferences destined for an American public, and little by little the idea of translating Dieu sans idée du mal was born.

Gregory Casprini. OSB, originally from New York, has lived as a Benedictine monk in Europe for over fifty years. He is presently at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Palendriai, Lithuania. Tomorrow’s installment in this series will look at how God, “who chose and created us, who called us at the very beginning, accompanies us every moment of our lives, regardless of our sins.”

Image: Detail from Fra Angelico, The Mocking of Christ, 1440.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.