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Working paper

Solitude and life in the world in the letters of Antoine Arnauld

Al-Faradzh E. A.
This article features the correspondence of Antoine Arnauld, who lived close to the Port-Royal monastery, as a case study for the perception of solitude in the spiritual literature of the 17th century. For Arnauld the world is corrupt, as a man in it is prone to an excess of temptation. A truly virtuous life means retirement from the world, not monasticism, but a refusal to comply with a world ruled by passions since the original sin. In his letters, Arnauld speaks of seclusion not only from the world but also from human nature with its sinful inclinations. Denouncing the world and its temptations Arnauld sees it as a battlefield for truth and his own mission in the protection of the latter from profanation. Despite seeing the solitary life as the most dignified, he compares the life of a virtuous married woman to a nun’s. Thus, he does not exclude the chance of salvation for those who lead a virtuous secular life. By 1660s his views become more lenient; in one of the letters Arnauld comes up with an apology for the existing social order and its characteristic luxury, seeing it as a manifestation of God’s will. The heterogeneity of Arnauld’s views could be explained by the nature of our source, the letters, as his ideas there are in the process of development of which each letter only registers stages.