Beyond Compare

St. Francis de Sales and Sri Vedanta Desika on Loving Surrender to God

Francis X. Clooney, SJ

"It is very rare to say of an academic book that it might become a spiritual classic, but this may well be one of them."
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Beyond Compare is a remarkable work that offers a commentary on spiritual learning for the twenty-first century rooted in two classic texts from the Hindu and Christian traditions: the Essence of the Three Auspicious Mysteries by Śrī Vedānta Deśika and Treatise on the Love of God by St. Francis de Sales.

In his commentary, Clooney achieves multiple goals—the book is a contribution to Christian spiritual theology, highlighting for today the beautiful insights into love by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1623), Doctor of the Church. At the same time it points out how even in our world of many religious paths, we can recover and deepen the ancient tradition of loving surrender into God's hands by opening ourselves to the wisdom of India and one of Hindu India's most famous traditions of loving God, explained to us by the south Indian Hindu theologian Śrī Vedānta Deśika (1268-1369). Clooney goes further, offering a comparative study of these classic works in which he self-consciously writes about the process of reading the two works and the impact this approach has on the reader. The good advice found through this deep engagement with these texts offers a deeper insight into how we can most fruitfully and spiritually think about religious pluralism in the 21st century, remaining open in heart and mind while loyal still to our own tradition.

Not merely a book about loving surrender to God, Beyond Compare offers us the opportunity to advance along that path ourselves, learning from the wisdom of St. Francis de Sales and Śrī Vedānta Deśika, meditating on their two paths together, deepening our own love and willingness to surrender in love to God.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1
Two Spiritual Classics and the Possibilities They Present

I. On Writing as a Scholar Beyond Himself:1996

II. Reading Loving Surrender across Religious Boundaries
1. Vedānta Deśika, His Śrīvaisnava Tradition, and the Essence
2. Francis de Sales, His Catholic Tradition, and His Treatise
3. Vedānta Deśika and Francis de Sales, Brought into Conversation
4. "Loving Surrender" as the Key in This Double Reading

III. Some Cautions as We Look Ahead

Chapter 2
Thinking, Writing, Reading: Finding a Path to Loving Surrender

I. The Problem of Reason in Interpreting Religious Truths

1. Reason’s Limits and Potential in the Treatise
a. De Sales on Pagan and Christian Learning
2. Reason's Limits and Potential in the Essence
a. The Ascent of the Mind and Heart to God

II. Conversion: Reason and the Leap Beyond
1. Deśika on Conversion
2. De Sales on Conversion

III. The Self-Understanding and Intentions of Deśika and de Sales as Writers
1. Why de Sales Writes, and with What Authority
2. Why Deśika Writes, and with What Authority

IV. From Writer to Reader: On the Exercise of Religious Reading
1. Paul Griffiths
2. Pierre Hadot

Chapter 3
Awakening: Reading and Learning on the Way to God

1. Scripture, Inscribed in the Treatise and Essence
1. De Sales' Use of Scripture
a. Appropriating Scripture's Wisdom
b. An Example: The Liquefaction of the Soul
2. Deśika's Use of Scripture
a. "Five Things to be Known”: First, God's Nature
b. The Self and the Obstacles to Attaining God

II. Engaging the Reader: Person to Person
1. De Sales Makes It Personal: Learning by Example
a. Reports of Heroic Persons
b. Addressing the Reader: O, Theotimus
2. Deśika's Sparer, More Traditional Approach
a. Hearing Great Persons of the Śrīvaisnava Tradition
b. Shifting the Way We Read: From Prose to Poetry
c. A Lineage of Verses, A Lineage of Teachers

III. Reading More Intensely to Discover a Destiny
1. The Particulars of Rapture: Advice from Charles Altieri
2. The Complex Text and the Complex Reader

Chapter 4
Loving Surrender: Insight, Drama, and Ecstasy

I. The Theological Presuppositions of Self-Abandonment
1. De Sales: Freely Choosing to Let God Be All in All
2. Deśika: From Devotion to Human Readiness

II. Deśika's Exegesis of the Dvaya Mantra
1. The First Clause: I approach for refuge the feet of Nārāyana with Śrī
a. I approach Nārāyana: Nārāyanam prapadye
b. I approach Nārāyana with Śrī: Śrīman-Nārāyanam prapadye
c. I approach the feet of Nārāyana with Śrī: Śrīmannnārāyana-caranau prapadye
d. For refuge I approach the feet of Nārāyana with Śrī: Śrīmannārāyana-caranau śaranam prapadye
e. I approach: prapadye
2. The Second Clause:Obeisance to Nārāyana with Śrī
a. With Śrī: Śrīmate
b. For Nārāyana: Nārāyana-āya
c. Obeisance: namah
3. The Whole Dvaya Mantra

III. De Sales on Love and Loving Surrender
1. The Foundations of Love
2. A Note on Deep Pleasure (Complaisance)
3. Deep Pleasure, Conformity, and Obedience
4. The Role of the Indifferent Heart
5. De Sales' Mantra?

IV. Loving Surrender—Intensified

Chapter 5
As We Become Ourselves: On the Ethics of Loving Surrender and of Persistence in Reading

I. Life after Loving Surrender to God
1. Deśika on Life after Refuge
2. De Sales on Life after Loving Surrender

II. On Being a Religious Reader and Writer after the Essence and Treatise
1. On Becoming the Right Person
2. Reason Humbled and Restored (Chapter 2)
3. The Grounded, Liberated, Passionate Reader (Chapter 3)
4. The Vulnerability and Safe Haven of the (Inter)Religious Reader (Chapter 4)

III. A Final Word



"An extremely thoughtful and well-informed work that merits the attention of all those interested in issues of interreligious theology."—Theological Studies

"A remarkable commentary on spiritual learning, this book provides a deeper insight into how we can most fruitfully and spiritually think about religious pluralism in the twenty-first century, being open in heart and mind and at the same time remaining loyal to one's own tradition."—Dialogue & Alliance

"This is not a shallow or introductory analysis of comparative spirituality but a solid, methodical, and critical examination of the subject. The text is respectful of Hindu spirituality and loyal to Christian doctrines. It is philosophical, theological, and practical."—Catholic Library World

"This excellent and fascinating study of two important devotional texts . . . is much more than an interfaith commentary."—The Way

"It is very rare to say of an academic book that it might become a spiritual classic, but this may well be one of them."—Reviews in Religion and Theology

"Beyond Compare is an amazing book. The research is thorough and the appreciation of Śrī Vedānta Deśika’s thoughts and writings prove beyond doubt that [Clooney] has imbibed the teachings of our great Teacher in the true spirit of a Srivaishnava. The comparative study of St.Francis de Sales’ Treatise and Swami Desika’s Srimad Rahasyatrayasara makes most interesting reading and invites Srivaishnavas to read about the Catholic saint’s ideas on loving surrender to God. Beyond Compare is truly beyond compare!"—Anuradha Sridharan, associate editor, Sri Nrsimhapriya

"Salesian scholars will certainly find this work rich and rewarding, especially in the novel and refreshing way in which the Treatise on the Love of God is read and reflected upon in the light of a recognized scholarly work in an entirely different religious tradition. Moreover, theologians and philosophers interested in furthering the debate and dialogue between faith and reason or religion and reason will relish the observations and insights demonstrating in an engaging fashion both the power and limitations of 'undisciplined' reason."—Alexander Pocetto, DeSales University


Supplemental Materials


2009 Catholic Press Association Book Award for Theology, Second Place. 2012 Society of Hindu-Christian Studies Best Book Award, Finalist.

About the Author

Francis X. Clooney, SJ is Parkman Professor of Divinity and Comparative Theology in the Harvard Divinity School at Harvard University.

288 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

Oct 2008

288 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

ISBN: 978-1-58901-211-0
Oct 2008

288 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-650-7
Oct 2008

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