Cosmas or the Love of God, the latest book in the Loyola Classics series, is a short, quiet novel, written by a French banker three decades ago, about a man with a failed monastic vocation. This doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but the book is a gem. The setting is La Trappe, the mother monastery of the Trappists, where a spiritual drama unfolds. Cosmas is a pious, sensitive young man who is convinced that he has a Trappist vocation. But the reality of monastic life disappoints him badly. It seems too worldly. The shortcomings of other monks scandalize him. He leaves, returns, leaves again. Cosmas is convinced that his vocation is real. His monastic superiors are inclined to think so too. It’s a quandary, and Fr. Jim Martin S.J. in his introduction to the book draws out its large implications: “Does unhappiness in a job, or in a friendship, or in a marriage, mean that one should switch careers, sever a relationship or even end a marriage? This is Cosmas’s dilemma. As the narrator asks, ‘Was Cosmas really called to religious life? No other question has ever disturbed me so much.’”
Cosmas keeps trying to follow his inner call. La Trappe’s abbot extends the lesson of Cosmas to everyone “who suffers from this gap between their aspirations and their attainments.” That is, to all of us. And may we achieve the heroism the abbot finds in Cosmas. Those not blessed with exceptional talent or grace carry on, the abbot says. “In their eyes the sense of inadequacy, of getting nowhere, and their failures, do not relieve them of the responsibility to keep on trying.”
Cosmas created a stir in French literary circles when Pierre de Calan published it at age sixty-six. De Calan was a banker and a family man. He had never been a monk. To a critic surprised that a businessman could write such a polished novel, he said “a man who lives only for his work lives only a half-life.”
For more on this great, unusual novel, read Fr. Jim Martin’s introduction here.