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On Cleaving to God

attributed to

Albertus Magnus


Translator’s Introduction

This famous and much loved little treatise, On Cleaving to God, (De Adhaerendo Deo) has always been attributed to Saint Albert the Great, who lived from about 1200 to 1280, and was one of the most respected theologians of his time. He was moreover a voluminous writer in the scholastic tradition, and, amongst other things, Bishop of Ratisbonne and one of the teachers of Eckhart at Paris University. The Latin text of which this is a translation is found in volume 37 of his Opera Omnia published in Paris in 1898.

However almost all modern scholars are agreed that the work could not have been written by him, at least certainly not in its present form. It contains many implicit references and quotations from writers who lived well after Albert the Great. It is quite clear from the opening words of the treatise that it is in essence the private anthology of a contemplative or would-be contemplative, culled from many different sources, and including thoughts of his own. From the references included, it would seem to belong, at least in its present form to an unknown writer of the fifteenth century.

However, it has often been pointed out that the first nine chapters seem to be of a somewhat different character to the remaining seven. Indeed most of the directly contemplative and mystical material in the work is contained in this first half, while the second section is concerned largely with more general matters of ordinary Christian piety. It has therefore been suggested that it is perhaps possible that a later hand has to some extent reworked and extended an original, shorter text, that could perhaps even go back to Albert the Great. Albert, we know, wrote a commentary on the teachings of the famous St. Dionysius, and this work, particularly in the first nine chapters is full of “Dionysian” themes. This could indicate that these chapters at least may belong to Albert the Great, or, alternatively, it could explain how it came to be attributed to him. The fact remains, whichever way round, that the work stands on its own merits as a classic of Western contemplative mysticism in the Via Negativa tradition. It has indeed been frequently called a supplement to the Imitation of Christ.

In view of all these considerations, and in view of the fact that the work has always been attributed to Albert the Great (and all libraries and catalogues include it under his name), I have felt it best to leave it attached to his name, though with the above reservations. After all, Anonymous has dozens of works attributed to him that were actually written by someone else, so perhaps for once it is only fair to attribute an anonymous work to an actual person. Anyone who has ever tried to look for a work by Anonymous in a big library catalogue will, I feel confident, be grateful to me!

Like Anonymous, I lay no claims to copyright on this translation. I commit it, and a copy of the Latin original, to the deep in sure and certain hope that it will do its own work.

John Richards


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