It is not uncommon to find The Spiritual Life by Adolphe Tanquerey on a list of recommended spiritual classics. When first published a century ago, the author intended his treatise primarily for priests and seminarians. However, he expressed his hope that others, such as lay persons, might find it useful for living a more “thoroughly Christian life”.
In fact, the book has proved to be very popular among common folk. What is the appeal? For starters, the author brings his Sulpician training to the fore, as he unravels the main tenets of Christian spirituality in a highly organized fashion. Everything is neatly subdivided and categorized, yet at the same time, the language is far from tedious. One might expect a textbook intended for seminarians to be as dry as a camel skull. Happily, the author’s style is wholly engaging and sets one on fire for the spiritual life.
Additionally, this book contains “old school,” Catholicism. That is to say, Fr. Tanquerey brings out the importance of traditional practices that have largely been overlooked by modern Catholics – the examination of conscience, mortification, a program of life, and the importance of the sacraments, spiritual reading, and the ways to avoid sin.
He draws largely upon the French school, as may be expected, but he also includes the Carmelite doctors, Saints Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, as well as Jesuit spirituality.
While the book comes highly recommended, it is not something to be read casually over the weekend. It’s a beefy manual of the spiritual life. In order to not be overwhelmed by its length, I recommend this reading schedule. It spreads Fr. Tanquerey’s book over an entire year, providing a small portion of substantial food each day.
Here is a PDF version, though I also recommend finding a paperback or hard-bound version online. The old version published by the Society of St. John the Evangelist is especially nice to hold in one’s hands.