St. Paul of the Cross, Writer


When we speak of St. Paul of the Cross as writer we immediately think of his Letters, his Spiritual Diary and the short Treatise on Mystical Death which, too, basically form part of his correspondence. The Rules and Constitutions of the Passionist Congregation, in their various editions, are the juridic text for the organization of the Passionist life and apostolate. All of these texts are fundamental for the discovery of his thought on Passionist spirituality and formation.

How many letters did St. Paul of the Cross write? Those we actually have number 2,000 but many have either been destroyed or lost. It’s estimated that Paul wrote at least 32,500 letters, a sufficient number comments Father Enrico Zoffoli, C.P., to give some idea of the remarkable productivity of Paul of the Cross as writer (San Paolo della Croce, Storia Critica, Vol 11; Roma 1965, pp. 212-213, note 23)

The letters are addressed to every category of individuals (relatives, friends, benefactors, religious men and women, laity and clergy …). Some of them are particularly significant for their references to the Passion. The letters addressed to the Abbot Conte Garagni contain the fundamental key to Passionist spirituality. They depict in detail the motives which moved Paul to focus on the Charism of the Passion; meditation on the Passion is the most effective means for re-evangelisation, for conversion and for the sanctification of the world (Letters II, 213).

The letters to Agnes Grazi (165 in all) are of critical importance for the doctrinal and mystical elements (the theme of “pure love”) they breathe.

Of value, too, are those addressed to Thomas Fossi, for they contain some basic guidelines on the Spirituality of the Passion for married couples, for the family and for the education of children.

Elements characteristic of Passionist Spirituality are especially developed in the correspondence with cloistered nuns and some of the laity, such as Lucia Burlini. In these letters we find his “doctrine on nothingness”, on the “sacred interior desert”,  and on the “mystical death and divine nativity”, on “conformity to the Will of God” and finally, on the mystique of the Passion as the unifying factor of “sorrowful love and loving sorrow”.

The letters Paul of the Cross wrote to his religious are of particular interest, some are confidential and personal; others of an official, juridic nature, though all of them contain some element of Passionist spirituality. Of paramount importance is the circular letter of the 2n May 1750 in which he writes on the union of hearts and of the renewed outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Paul of the Cross looked upon his correspondence as a ministry to specific individuals with concrete needs. We should not, therefore, be surprised that he always wrote them in unusual circumstances, often during the night, by candlelight or using an oil lamp, sacrificing sleep, or frequently rushing to be finished in time for the mail pickup.

His style – only a few of his letters are attentive to the rules of style. Paul did not write with thought of eventual publication, this is what makes his correspondence so invaluable; his letters are rich in spontaneity and filled with confidence. The warmth and wisdom found in them certainly make them the most fruitful source of Paul’s spirituality, as Adolfo Lippi rightly maintains (S. Paolo della Croce, Mistico, 1993, p. 149) for they always breathe the Spirit of God even beyond the individual to whom they are addressed.

The images Paul of the Cross employs in his writing are also most influential in making the message of the cross more palatable and attractive. We dare say that without a clear idea of his images and symbolism, one cannot even begin to understand his spiritual doctrine.  When one roams through a field of flowers, engulfed in their fragrance, when one is fascinated by the sight and gracefulness of a butterfly, or is standing on a hillside watching the sun descend as a fire into the immensity of the sea, one then gets some idea of what the world of the spirituality of the Passion was for Paul of the Cross. For him the Cross was captivating, intriguing and an all-consuming ecstacy to which everyone should be attracted.
adapted from St. Paul of the Cross, Writer by Father Max Anselmi, C.P.
International Annuario, Passionists ’94, p. 20 – 21.


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