Top 10 Wisdom Classics from Cynthia Bourgeault

There are rich currents flowing through the Wisdom stream, so it’s hard to offer a “one size fits all” reading list. Some people will be more drawn to the esoteric end of the spectrum; others feel more at home in the classic terrain of contemplative prayer and mysticism. Wherever you’re drawn, start there! But if you stick with the Wisdom path, you’ll probably eventually want to become familiar with at least a significant number of the following core texts.

Primary Source Materials to have permanently on your bookshelf

  1. A Bible in any good translation
  2. The Gospel of Thomas in at least two different translations
  3. The Alphabetical Sayings of the Desert Fathers 
  4. The Rule of St Benedict
  5. The Philokalia (a several-volume treasury of Wisdom teachings from the Christian East)

Mystical Classics

  1. The Cloud of Unknowing (14th century, anonymous)
  2. Jacob Boehme, The Way to Christ
  3. Julian of Norwich, Showings
  4. Meister Eckhart (any good collection)
  5. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle
  6. John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul
  7. Jean Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence
  8. Brother Laurence, The Practice of the presence of God
  9. Simeon the New Theologian, Three Methods of Attention and Prayer

The Christian Wisdom tradition is vast, and exploring it can take a lifetime. As you do so, it’s good to be aware of the Classics of Western Spirituality series, published by Paulist Press. It’s your “go-to” starting point for accessible translations by reputable scholars.

Contemporary Wisdom Classics

Here are my own ten top picks:

  1. Valentin Tomberg, Meditations on the Tarot
  2. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon
  3. G.I. Gurdjieff, Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson
  4. Maurice Nicoll, Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Ouspensky and Gurdjieff (5-volume series)
  5. Jean Gebser, The Ever- Present Origin
  6. Bruno Barnhart, The Good Wine
  7. Bruno Barnhart, Second Simplicity
  8. Beatrice Bruteau, Prayer and Identity
  9. Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion
  10. Ladislaus Boros, The Mystery of Death

Near contenders are:

Thomas McDonnell, ed, A Merton Reader
Raimon Panikkar, Cristophany,
Olga Louchakova, The Esence of Prayer of the Heart