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Compassionate Presence

Compassionate Presence

The Trinitarian Spirituality of Adrienne von Speyr

By Matthew Lewis Sutton

228 pp

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About the Book

In the ancient Christian Apostles' Creed, we speak the fourth line that Jesus Christ "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he went down to the dead (ad inferno-to hell)." This mysterious line of Christ's descent to hell generated a deep mystical spirituality in Adrienne von Speyr (d. 1967), a Swiss laywoman, physician, wife, mother, and spiritual writer. Her extensive, speculative mysticism influenced the critical work of the Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, who had a profound influence on Catholic theology in the late twentieth-century, and even today. In this book, Matthew Lewis Sutton offers a profound encounter with Adrienne's mystical encounter with the inner life and intense love of the Trinity. This mystical spirituality of Holy Saturday-the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday-guides us away from our age of loneliness, isolation, and alienation toward a new restoration of compassion, love, and reconciliation. The ancient Christian doctrine of Christ descended to hell can be a rediscovery of the extreme compassion of God to rescue us back to his compassionate presence.


“Our postmodern world suffers from an excruciating loneliness that can only be overcome by God’s compassionate presence, which reaches even into hell. In his penetrating and timely study, Matthew Sutton carefully constructs a biblical and trinitarian framework for appreciating the profound theological contribution of Adrienne von Speyr, one of the most important and yet overlooked Christian mystics of our age.”

 — BISHOP JAMES MASSA, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn; rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary, Yonkers, NY

“There will always be debates among theological schools, and this marvelously erudite book doesn’t hesitate to wade into them. But the book’s greatest contribution lies elsewhere. Matthew Sutton has achieved a work of Christian doctrine that is also (as theology should be) a theo-dramatic and scriptural spirituality. He invites the postmodern reader, isolated, lonely, and caught up in political strife, to turn to the Trinity for succor. This book breathes with a rare and inspiring spiritual power!”

 — MATTHEW LEVERING, James N. Jr. and Mary D. Perry Chair of Theology, Mundelein Seminary

“Matthew Sutton sheds a surprisingly bright light on the dark cultural moment of our western civilization. Postmodernism, with its desperate attempt to celebrate subjectivism and loneliness, might be a better soil for Christianity than was the arrogant modernist faith in ‘reason alone.’ This paradoxical light comes from the darkest and most mysterious event of Redemption: the descent of Jesus into the loneliness of hell. Against temptations of puritan retreat and calls to cultural warfare, Sutton draws from the Church’s treasure to issue a call for mission and compassion. A compelling and urgent book.”

 — FR. PAUL ANEL, Diocese of Brooklyn

About the Author

MATTHEW LEWIS SUTTON (Ph.D., Marquette University) is associate professor of systematic theology at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. He is the author ofHeaven Opens: The Trinitarian Mysticism of Adrienne von Speyr(Fortress, 2014).

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