Armand-Jean de Rancé (1626–1700), the reforming abbot of la Trappe, was a prolific writer in a verbose age. Until he was in his thirties, he enjoyed the life of a young man about town, but then, after experiencing a dramatic conversion, he left the world forever for the silence and austerity of la Trappe. To read all that he wrote when he governed the abbey would take a great deal of time, but in 1703, three years after Rancé’s death, Jacques Marsollier, archdeacon of Uzèz and one of Rancé’s biographers, published a slender volume of selected Pensées et Reflexions, “Thoughts and Reflections,” by Rancé, which presents the essential ideas of the abbot in a condensed form. There are 259 Pensées, ranging in length from a couple of lines to about thirty. They are best dipped into, not read consecutively, for some will have more impact than others depending on the reader, the time, and the place.
David N. Bell is professor emeritus of religious studies at Memorial University (Newfoundland and Labrador) and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. His research encompasses Europe, Asia, and Egypt and range in time from the early years of Christianity to the twenty-first century. He has published nearly thirty books and one hundred articles. His main areas of interest are the history of medieval libraries, especially Cistercian libraries, medieval intellectual history, and the life and writings of Armand-Jean de Rancé, abbot of la Trappe.