BROTHER LAWRENCE (Nicholas Herman c.1605-1691)
Nicholas Herman was born in Lorraine province, France in about 1605; he came from a humble background and was an unlearned man. He was converted in 1629, and after being a soldier and a footman for some time, he entered the religious community of the Carmelites1 in Paris in about 1649. It was there, as a lay brother, that he took the name of Brother Lawrence. He remained in the community until his death in 1691. While in the community he worked most of the time as a helper in the kitchen, it is in this specific surrounding that he became known for his simple, practical faith. His life was one of constant recollection, which he practiced in all circumstances and at all times.
During his lifetime, his influence became quite widespread throughout France as we see from his letters.
His writings, consisting mainly of conversations and letters, were edited after his death by Abbé de Beaufort and printed in two volumes: Maximes Spirituelles (1692) and Moeurs et Entretiens du Frère Laurent (1694)2. In these writings, we discover a very aspiring way of prayer consisting in a simple and constant practice of the presence of God. This he did by meditating unceasingly on the Godhead and by entertaining high thoughts of God.
His edited writings have been appreciated by thousands of believers, both of his own generation and of those that followed. François Fénélon for one quoted them often.
Brother Lawrence teaches us, that amidst outward affairs and daily occupations, it is possible to cultivate a life of contemplation. Every Christian has the ability, by the grace of God, to enjoy an ongoing fellowship with his Creator wherever he is and whatever he does.
In the preface of Abbé Beaufort’s edition we read: “[he was] a holy man who all his life had studied to avoid the gaze of men and whose saintliness is only fully seen now that he is dead”, “Those in the thick of the great world will learn from these Letters how greatly they deceive themselves seeking for peace and joy in the glitter of things that are seen yet temporal: those who are seeking the Highest Good will gain from this book strength to persevere in the practice of virtue”.
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D. Attwater Trans.: The Practice of the Presence of God; (Orchard Books, 1926)
E. M. Blaiklock Trans.: The Practice of the Presence of God; (Hodder & Stoughton, 1990)
1 The Carmelites go back to 1562 when Teresa of Avila took it to herself to reform the Carmelite Order instituted in 1154 on the Mount Carmel, Israel. The Order fell victim of a lack of discipline among its monks and nuns, Teresa resolved to revive it by restoring the primitive rule and emphasizing a contemplative life. John of the Cross joined forces with Teresa to reform the monks houses of the Order.
2 Consisting of four Conversations and sixteen Letters.