Cosmas, or the Love of God is a remarkable novel on several accounts. It is a thoroughly absorbing story set in a place where not much happens (a monastery) about a problem that is difficult to dramatize (whether a man has a religious vocation). Surprisingly, it was written by a man who was neither a priest nor a monk. Pierre de Calan was a prominent Paris banker with six children and eighteen grandchildren when he wrote this wholly convincing account of monastic life. It was his first novel. He was sixty-six years old when he published it. No wonder the book and its author created a stir in Paris literary circles when it was published in 1977.
But de Calan’s most notable accomplishment was writing a book that addressed spiritual questions that are profoundly important to nearly everyone. Does God call us to a particular way of life? How do we know this? What do we do when we can’t live the life we think God is calling us to?
Cosmas asks these questions in the context of a religious vocation. But they can be asked of other states of life as well. Indeed, we struggle with them in connection with commitments to careers and jobs, friendships, marriages, and relationships of all kinds. Does unhappiness mean that we should leave? Or is fidelity and perseverance the answer?
This is the dilemma facing Cosmas, a young man with a painful family background who comes to the Trappist monastery at La Trappe convinced that God is calling him to spend his life as a member of that community. Many signs point to this. And he is a happy and contented novice for many months.
Then problems arise. The community supports itself by farming and raising livestock, but Cosmas finds it unseemly that the monks expend so much time and energy on the business end of running a monastery. Even more troubling, Cosmas seems to be offended by the humanity of the monks. One sneaks food from the common pantry. Another loses his temper. They repent of their lapses, but Cosmas can’t get over it.
Cosmas is suited for the monastic life in many ways, and he is not entirely wrong to object to some aspects of it, but he sinks into gloom. He leaves for a time, returns, and leaves again. He is unhappy living at La Trappe, and unfulfilled away from it. He remains convinced that God is calling him to live as a monk.
“Was Cosmas really called to religious life? No other question has ever disturbed me so much,” writes Father Roger, the wise novice master and the narrator of the story. Father Roger embodies the second part of the book’s title. He is the foil to Cosmas—patient where the young monk is restless and demanding, forgiving where Cosmas is harsh.
Father Roger reveals early on in the story that Cosmas’s distress ultimately proved fatal. When the winter snows melt after Cosmas has been away from the monastery, the young man’s body is found in the woods nearby. He had apparently been returning for one last try and had been caught in a blizzard. In the end, the La Trappe community itself settles the question of whether Cosmas belongs among them. Cosmas is buried in the community cemetery—home at La Trappe at last.
To order the book, click here.