Simone Weil

Philosopher and Mystic (1909–1943) 
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Portrait of Simone Weil, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Simone Weil was born in France to a family of secular Jews. From early childhood she displayed a brilliant mind, a steel will, and an acutely sensitive conscience. After studying philosophy, she embarked on a teaching career. But in her desire to understand the working class, she took repeated leaves from her teaching to experience factory work. 

A series of profound experiences in the late 1930s brought her latent spiritual inclinations to the fore. While watching a religious procession in Portugal, she felt the conviction that “Christianity is preeminently the religion of slaves, that slaves cannot help belonging to it, and I among others.” Later in Assisi she felt the compulsion to kneel and pray. In 1938, while spending Holy Week in a Benedictine monastery, she felt that “Christ himself came down and took possession of me.” 

Though her thinking became increasingly Christ-centered, she believed her vocation was to remain on the “threshold of the Church”—in solidarity with all those outside. She could not bear to separate herself from “the immense and unfortunate multitude of unbelievers.” In exile, following the German occupation of France, she died in England on August 24, 1943. 

Weil was undoubtedly a complex figure. Her posthumously published writings, however, marked her as one of the most compelling religious figures of her century—an example of engaged mysticism, attuned to the pathos of the human condition and the particular struggles of our time. 

“Today it is not nearly enough to be a saint, but we must have the saintliness demanded by the present moment.” 

—Simone Weil 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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