The Spiritual Combat


The Spiritual Combat is one of my favorite religious works.

Its author, Lorenzo Scupoli, had immediate need of his own message. Shortly before the time of its first publication, he was convicted in a religious trial conducted by his own order. He was imprisoned for a time, and severely sanctioned. Whatever the reason for the condemnation, Scupoli was not rehabilitated until a few months before his death twenty-five years later. Remarkably, he remained a member of the order the entire time, and continued work on the book.

God has rewarded his patience and humility. The Spiritual Combat became an enormously popular book over the centuries. It has even become popular in non-Catholic circles: for example, a Greek Orthodox monk revised the book and published his own version, called Unseen Warfare. The remarkable thing is that Scupoli's book does not strike one as very well-organized, or at times even well-written. The author seems to have assembled notes and letters from over the decades -- most clearly from his time as a spiritual director of women religious. While the notes themselves are clear, and somewhat succinct, at times the book becomes become tedious or repetitive, then wanders off. Sentences ramble on, and ideas that ought to go together are often separated by unrelated ideas. Perhaps that is merely the style of the Italian of his time. All the same, the essence of his message pierces whatever inadequacies plagued the messenger, and those of the translator.

Like all books, The Spiritual Combat was written in a particular cultural context. It uses terminology and reflects attitudes that some people today might find offensive. Readers who are not used to thinking while they read, or to being generous to the intentions of the author, may have a hard time with this book. In particular, the term "hatred of oneself" should not be taken too literally. It has real meaning in the spiritual life, but it is not akin to the hatred nursed by a person who wishes to end the life of another.

I have decided to compile this personal translation for myself. There appear to be two English Translations from publishers. One is very scholarly and literal, the other uses old-fashioned language and is a little too free with its expressions (how the opening figluola -- lit., daughter -- becomes "Christian soul!" is a mystery to me). I decided for my own personal hobby to read an Italian version, and in the process translate it into the English that I might use to convey the ideas. So, literalism has been sacrificed somewhat in this version, although the ideas are entirely Scupoli's. Also, my translation seems to me closer than that of the second one I mention above.

This series of web pages constitutes a work-in-progress. I translate a chapter here & there in my spare time as a hobby -- after all, my job at NC State is that of a mathematician, not a translator of religious works -- so if it does not yet appear complete, that is for good reason.

Additional Notes
The Italian edition I am translating adds notes that cross-reference the Scriptures. I have no idea if such references were in Scupoli's original writing, although it wouldn't surprise me: part of Theatine communal life was to have the Scriptures read aloud at their common meals. In any case, I have cross-referenced them to the precise chapter & verse of the NIV edition at Scupoli would not have used the NIV, of course; he would have used the Latin Vulgate. While this is available at BibleGateway, I don't see the point in cross-referencing Latin in an English translation. I would prefer to cross-references the American bishops' official translation of the bible, but their site isn't anywhere as sophisticated as BibleGateway.

Here and there I add some commentary, in the form of footnotes.

Table of Contents · Dedication