in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Jean Gerson and the Mystical Theology

Great to get the chance to read Jean Gerson again today in preparation for tonight's lecture - Here is the relevant extract from my 'Return to the Mystical' (Continuum 2011) which I will be referring to tonight...

best wishes


Jean Gerson


Unlike Gallus and Hugh of Balma, of whom we know very little, Gerson’s life is well documented and accounted for. If he is known at all today Gerson is most often cited as one of the main architects of resolving the split in the medieval church between two, and later three Popes: the so-called ‘Great Schism’ of 1378 - 1417. As an advocate of ‘conciliar’ policy Gerson is seen as a leading exponent of a non-monarchical view of ecclesiology that stresses the power of councils to determine Christian doctrine, even over the heads of popes and patriarchs (see Morrall 1960). During a lifetime of academic research the Chancellor was particularly concerned with reconciling the affectus and intellectus amongst his students, or as he calls it the theologia mystica and the theologia speculativa, and to this end wrote two treatises on the theologia mystica which both started as lectures to his Paris students: the first Speculative Treatise (Theologia Mystica Speculativa) presented in autumn 1402 and the second Practical Treatise (Theologia Mystica Practica) given five years later in 1407.[1] Although a noted intellectual Gerson had trouble reconciling his academic life of the mind with his affective life of prayer. It seems that the tradition of the theologia mystica which he embraced[2] enabled the troubled Chancellor to find some peace in his life (which he communicated to his students). After many tumultuous years the tired Chancellor was finally able to spend his last ten years in Lyon, teaching children catechetics and embracing the meditative life he had so long yearned for.[3]

In the Tractatus Primus Speculativus of the De Mystica Theologia, the Chancellor begins by asking: ‘whether it is better to have knowledge of God through penitent affectus or investigative intellectus?’(GMT: 1, Prol.1).[4] After much discussion Gerson makes it quite clear that he will employ the now familiar unknowing and affective mystical strategies within his discourse. Thus in Section 27 he declares:


Thus we see that it is correct to say that as contemplatio is in the cognitive power of the intelligence, the mistica theologia dwells in the corresponding affective power. (GMT: 1.27.7)[5]


Therefore ‘knowledge of God through mystical theology is better acquired through a penitent affectus than an investigative intellectus’ (GMT: 1.28.1). In this passage Gerson contrasts a theologia mystica that depends upon strategies of unknowing and affectivity to the cognitive or speculative knowledge acquired through the theologia speculativa. Clearly Gerson’s strategy differs from Dionysius’ in his emphasis on the purification of the affectus ‘through the fervour of penance in compunction, contrition and prayer’ (GMT: 1.28.2) for Gerson makes fine distinctions between the ‘purified affectus’ and the ‘sordid i.e. unpurified affectus’ (sordidis affectibus) corrupted by the ‘sensual habits of adolescence’ (qui corruptos adhuc habent sensus ab adolescentia). For Gerson the eros of affectus is not an unqualified force for the good as it was in the original text of Dionysius, it may be tainted by the ‘sordid affectus’ of youth.[6]

He rests with Hugh of Balma’s definition of the theologia mystica as ‘extensio animi in Deum per amoris desiderium’: ‘The extension of the animus in God through the desire of love’ supplemented by the definitions: ‘sursum ductiva in Deum, per amorem fervidum et purum’,‘a raising movement in God, through fervent and pure love’ (GMT:1.28.5) and ‘cognitio experimentalis habita de Deo per amoris unitive complexum’, ‘cognition experienced of God through the embrace of unitive love’ and, following Dionysius DN.7: ‘Theologia mystica est irrationalis et amens, et stulta sapientia, excedens laudantes’: ‘The mystical theology is irrational and beyond mind and foolish wisdom, exceeding all praise’. He later returns to this in GMT: 1.43.2, ‘mistica theologia est cognitio experimentalis habita de Deo per coniunctionem affectus spiritualis cum eodum’: ‘theologia mystica is an experimental cognition of God through the union of the spiritual affectus with him’ – ‘as the blessed Dionysius states this takes place through ecstatic love’.

Therefore, for Gerson, the theologia speculativa resides in the potentia intellectiva whilst the theologia mystica resides in the potentia affectiva. Speculative theology uses ‘reasoning in conformity with philosophical disciplines’ (GMT: 1.30.2). Theologia mystica, on the other hand, needs no such ‘school of the intellect’ (scola intellectus). It is acquired through the ‘school of the affect’ (scola affectus) and (following Gerson’s importance attached to the purfication of the affect) through the exercise of the ‘moral virtues’ that ‘dispose the soul to purgation’ (GMT: 1.30.3). This is acquired through the ‘school of religion’ (scola religionis) or ‘school of love’ (scola amoris). The acquisition of the theologia mystica does not therefore require great knowledge or extensive study of books but may be acquired by ‘any of the faithful, even if she be an insignificant woman or someone who is illiterate’ (a quolibet fideli, etiam si sit muliercula vel ydiota) (GMT: 1.30.5). Concurring with St Bernard, Gerson suggests speculative theology can never be complete without mystical theology but the contrary can be the case: we all must acquire this ‘affectivity’ to reach right relationship with God. Therefore ‘the language of mystical theology is to be hidden from many who are clerics or learned or who are called wise in philosophy or theology, so it can be conveyed to many who are illiterate and naïve, provided they have faith’ (GMT: 1.31.1). At this point, as with Dionysius, Gerson employs the strategy of concealment for the ‘language of mystical theology’ is ‘to be hidden from many who are clerics or learned or are called wise in philosophy or theology’ (GMT: 1.31:1) lest they ‘tear apart with the teeth of dogs what they do not understand’. As he states at the end of section 42: ‘To explain these matters an endless succession of words could be added, but for experts these few words will suffice, for the inexpert no words will ever suffice for full comprehension’ (GMT: 1.42.9). It is an ‘irrational and mindless wisdom’ (‘irrationalis et amens sapientia’ 1.43:3) going beyond reason and mind and translating into the affectus.

We are once again in the place of the Wittgensteinian Blick at the interface of ‘saying and showing’ and we find this symbiotic relationship between the unknowing of intellect (‘they all agree that they have come to know that they know nothing’ GMT: 1.34.3) and the ‘wisdom’ of the affectus. The affectus, once purified, possesses all the passionate force of Dionysius’s ecstatic eros: ‘Love takes hold of the beloved and creates ecstasy, and this is called rapture because of the manner in which the mind is lifted up’ (GMT: 1.36.1) and again ‘love ravishes, unites and fulfills’ (GMT: 1.35.3). In conclusion, for Gerson, ‘the school of prayer (scola orandi) is more praiseworthy, other things being equal, than the school of learning/letters (scola litteras)’.



[1] Note the importance of Paris for the evolution of the theologia mystica
[2] As well as the Victorines, he quotes Balma as a work that should be read by all students and devotes a lengthy part of the treatises to commentary on Dionysius.
[3] Gerson is one of the first theologians to write directly in colloquial French so that all the faithful can understand his teaching. His insistence on ‘everyday manners of talking’ will be something we shall see he has in common with Teresa of Avila in Chapter Six.
[4] My translation: an cognitio Dei melius per penitentem affectum quam per intellectum investigantem habeatur.
[5] Et cognoscamus quoniam, appropriate loquendo, sicut contemplatio est in vi cognitive intelligentie, sic in vi affective correspondente reponitur mistica theologia.
[6] Gerson seemed to have a problem with the sexual lifes of his penitents. See On the Art of Hearing Confessions translated in McGuire 1998.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Teresa of Avila, her family and the Inquisition

Day Two of the Summer School here at the Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio, Texas and as always many questions about Teresa of Avila and the Inquisition. I am posting here a section from my book which I will using tonight with the class.

Many thanks again to Fr Ronald Rolheiser, Cliff Knighten, Greg Zuschlag and John Markey OP for making all this possible...

Smoke and Rock: Teresa’s Lineage

Until the mid-20th century most official biographers and commentators on Teresa had accepted the projected Ahumada-Cepeda[1] family picture of an ancient Castilian Christian family always ready to defend the Catholic faith and play a significant role in the ‘re-Christianisation’ (la reconquista) of Muslim Spain.[2] Although, as mentioned, hints and suggestions find their way into Teresa’s writings we had little idea of her actual family lineage itself until comparatively recently. Within a decade of her death in 1582 none of the dispositions for the processes which would lead to her canonisation mention any doubt over her ‘pure blood’ and in fact emphasise her ‘noble’ lineage or that she was of ‘old Christian’ blood (See Egido 1980: 135-7).[3] This fiction is repeated for the next four centuries in her ensuing biographies, sadly reinforced by and reinforcing the need to ally religious with political (usually Christian nationalist) sensibilities.

          This was to all change dramatically in 1946 when an extraordinary document was found by Alonso Cortés in the municipal archives of Valladolid. What is even more remarkable about this document is that it ‘disappeared’ from the archives not long after it had been found in 1960 only to mysteriously reappear 26 years later in 1986. At this point it was immediately transcribed by Teófanes Egido and published in his key work El Linaje Judeoconverso de Santa Teresa (Egido 1986). The document, a pleito de hidalguía or lawsuit of nobility, is reproduced in full in Egido’s text and details the attempt by Teresa’s father and three brothers to prove their ‘noble’ blood, largely to avoid the new tax imposed by the recently crowned King, Carlos I/ Charles V, in 1519. The case began that same year and seemed to start off well with good supporting arguments from the four brothers: Alonso (Teresa’s father), Pedro and Ruy Sanchez and Francisco Alvares.[4] However as the case proceeds all sorts of counter-witnesses begin to appear from the woodwork.     From the testimonies we discover that Teresa’s great-grandparents, Teresa and Alonso de Sanchez (presumably ‘Teresa’ was a popular name in the family) lived in the Saint Olalla or Saint Leocadia district of Toledo. Here their son, Juan Sanchez, the father of the Cepeda brothers, was born, later becoming a cloth and fine silk merchant who would eventually move to the Calle de Andrino in Avila sometime in the 1480s. In Avila the family was known as the toledanos (Juan appeared to adopt the name ‘Juan de Toledo’) and they continued the cloth business in an area known for the many Jews and conversos living there. Juan Sanchez, said some of the witnesses, was a man of great importance, having given help to King Henry IV and the Archbishop of Santiago, he also had a considerable fortune. Later, the family would move away from the cloth trade and live the life more fitting to minor nobility or hidalguía. The four boys thus had all the qualities for this station in life: they had the good pedigree and were loyal to the crown in the practice of arms.   

So far so good, as far as the Cepeda brothers were concerned. However, from spring 1520 contrary voices start to creep into the narrative. On 9th March, for example, Bernardo Platero, a resident of Avila, testifies that Juan Sanchez was ‘reconciled’ by the Inquisition in Toledo and wore there the ‘sanbenitillo  – the strange garment of humiliation that those tried by the Inquisition had to wear as they processed through the streets for public ridicule (Egido 1986:167).[5] Juan González de las Piñuelas, another resident of Avila who knew the family well, provided further details on 12th May, testifying that Juan Sanchez ‘wore the sanbenitillo with its crosses publicly in procession with the other “reconciled ones” and walked in procession from church to church for seven Fridays in succession’ (Egido 1986:170). This was so damning for the brothers’ case that it had to be postponed while testimony was sought from the Inquisitorial office in Toledo. This was duly forthcoming with the final confirmation of Juan Sanchez’s ‘reconciliation’:


          (It is certified by the Holy Office of the Inquisition of the city and         archdiocese of Toledo) that on the 22nd day of the month of June, in       the year 1485, Johan de Toledo, merchant, son of Alonso Sanchez,           inhabitant of Toledo in the district of Santa Leocadia, gave, presented and swore to a confession before the then Lord Inquisitors, in which he        said and confessed that he had done and committed many serious          crimes and offences of heresy and apostasy against our holy Catholic   faith. (Egido 1986:189)


However, even more interesting is that one of Teresa’s uncles Hernando or Fernando Sanchez did not seem to be reconciled. Egido speculates that this ‘mysterious’ uncle died early, however we do not as yet know more about him (he appears to have left for Salamanca to study).

          Yet despite this damning evidence the Cepedas duly received their noble status in August 1522, suggesting that a certain amount of wealth, liberally disposed, could always have the necessary effect.


[1] Teresa’s family names, literally ‘Smoke’ and ‘Rock’. See, for example, Efrén de la Madre de Dios 1951: 160: ‘St Teresa esteemed highly, as did everyone, having been born of noble parents; from her earliest childhood she would hear in her house interminable praise of her noble background.’ This statement was corrected in later versions of the work.
[2] For more on the political and social background of La Reconquista see my John of the Cross, Chapter 1.
[3] ‘Old Christian’ was a term used to refer to families who had not been ‘tainted’ by Jewish or Muslim blood during the ‘occupation’ of Spain by the Muslims. As the 16th century proceeded such designations, connected with the so-called ‘statutes of pure blood’, would become increasingly important in delineating a person’s social standing in post-reconquista Spain (For more on this see, for example, Elliott 2002).
[4] For more on the confusing, often converso, practice of switching and adopting multiple surnames see Davies 1981.
[5] We have some later representations of this odd garment. It was like a rough tunic on which was painted the diagonal cross of St Andrew in red ink. Towards the end of the Inquisition, in the 18th century, the sanbenito would designate all sorts of degrees and types of heresy and apostasy. See Roth 1995.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

'The Gift of Dialogue': Ecclesiam Suam and Christian Dialogue with Non-Christians

Dear All

We really had a stunning conference at Twickenham this week on Ecclesiam Suam. I think in retrospect we took a risk inviting people to dialogue and relying on 3 days of intense study of one Vatican document. Yet it paid great dividends and all agreed that one of the stars of the week was Pope Paul VI and this extraordinary document. If you go on the Vatican website you can download it for free. As the week went on I realised that Ecclesiam Suam opens up a theological space where dialogue can occur... with other Christians, non-Christians and those of no faith. I attach below part of my paper that clarifies this idea. Stephen Bullivant and I are now collating the papers for hopeful publication soon. We have also video recorded two of the dialogues: Those between Dr Mustafa Baig and Abbot Timothy Wright on Islam-Christian Dialogue and between Dr Jonathan Gorsky and Prof Mary Boys on Jewish-Christian Dialogue (both pictured - with Dr Lynne Scholefield). Once I have these links I will post them on here. I am of course extremely grateful to all who participated especially our exceptional speakers. As events darken in the Middle East it is good to know there are beacons of light still burning...

I write this in San Antonio, Texas where I have just touched down to begin a 2-week summer school at the Oblate School of Theology on Teresa of Avila... More of this anon...

best for now


Dialogue according to Ecclesiam Suam

As we have seen throughout this conference Ecclesiam Suam gives three aims for dialogue. The first is to achieve greater self-knowledge not only for all of those engaged in dialogue but indeed to help the Church learn in greater depth about the nature of the mystery of revelation:

We are convinced that the Church must look with penetrating eyes within itself, ponder the mystery of its own being, and draw enlightenment and inspiration from a deeper scrutiny of the doctrine of its own origin, nature, mission, and destiny. (ES:9)

Hiding behind this goal is the necessary separation the document makes between the full revelation as given by Christ to the Church (‘the holy and spotless Bride’) and our current understanding or interpretation of this revelation which will necessarily be fostered by engagement with the perspectives of our non-Christian colleagues:

A vivid and lively self-awareness on the part of the Church inevitably leads to a comparison between the ideal image of the Church as Christ envisaged it, His holy and spotless bride, and the actual image which the Church presents to the world today.

But the actual image of the Church will never attain to such a degree of perfection, beauty, holiness and splendor that it can be said to correspond perfectly with the original conception in the mind of Him who fashioned it. (ES:10)

Or as Levy puts it:


          One does not need to deny the fullness of God’s revelation in

Christ in order to acknowledge the existence of a saving wisdom

in non-Christian religions — a wisdom which, on many points, has

something to teach our present understanding of God as derived from

the revelation of Jesus-Christ. The key to the solution does not lie in

the distance between the pre-existent Logos and the historical Christ,

but in the distance between Christ, in whom dwells the fullness of

the Logos, and the content of wisdom which the Church, through her

meditation on Christ’s Gospel, has till now been able to draw from

this fullness. (Levy p.17)


As he continues: ‘What is revealed is one thing — quite another thing is

what we are able to grasp of this revelation, even with the help of

the Holy Spirit’. Thus, with our co-religionists, we work on the nature of revelation given by Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Ecclesiam Suam thus suggests that the process of dialogue will inevitably lead us all to greater self-understanding of the original revelation of Christ. This process of ‘defamiliarisation’, as Levy calls it, leads, according to Ecclesiam Suam, to the necessary renewal and reinvigoration of the Church (a reinvigoration, I would argue, nicely embodied in the person of Pope Francis):

Hence the Church's heroic and impatient struggle for renewal: the struggle to correct those flaws introduced by its members which its own self-examination, mirroring its exemplar, Christ, points out to it and condemns. (ES:11)

For the Church to be true to itself and its mission it must then, according to ES, engage in this dialogue with those beyond the boundaries of the Church:


We believe that it is a duty of the Church at the present time to strive toward a clearer and deeper awareness of itself and its mission in the world, and of the treasury of truth of which it is heir and custodian. (ES 18)

To adopt Erasmus’ translation of the opening lines of John’s Gospel, in the beginning the Logos is the conversation and this conversation will continue until the consummation of all things:

Here, then, Venerable Brethren, is the noble origin of this dialogue: in the mind of God Himself. Religion of its very nature is a certain relationship between God and man. It finds its expression in prayer; and prayer is a dialogue. Revelation, too, that supernatural link which God has established with man, can likewise be looked upon as a dialogue. In the Incarnation and in the Gospel it is God's Word that speaks to us. That fatherly, sacred dialogue between God and man, broken off at the time of Adam's unhappy fall, has since, in the course of history, been restored. Indeed, the whole history of man's salvation is one long, varied dialogue, which marvelously begins with God and which He prolongs with men in so many different ways.  (ES:70)

From this theological perspective the rest of the encyclical’s delineation of the nature of this dialogue inevitably follows. Thus it must be:

·        Non-coercive: ‘No physical pressure was brought on anyone to accept the dialogue of salvation; far from it. It was an appeal of love.’ (ES:75)

·        Universal:The dialogue of salvation was made accessible to all. It applied to everyone without distinction. Hence our dialogue too should be as universal as we can make it.’ (ES: 76)

·        Its aim is not conversion: ‘If, in our desire to respect a man's freedom and dignity, his conversion to the true faith is not the immediate object of our dialogue with him, we nevertheless try to help him and to dispose him for a fuller sharing of ideas and convictions.’ (ES:79)

·        Its aim is to produce clarity in all participants: ‘Clarity before all else; the dialogue demands that what is said should be intelligible. We can think of it as a kind of thought transfusion. It is an invitation to the exercise and development of the highest spiritual and mental powers a man possesses.’ (ES: 81)

·        Expressed through ordinary language: ‘All of us who feel the spur of the apostolate should examine closely the kind of speech we use. Is it easy to understand? Can it be grasped by ordinary people? Is it current idiom?’ (ES:81). ‘We must forego all privilege and the use of unintelligible language’. (ES:87)

·        Centred on humility: ‘It would indeed be a disgrace if our dialogue were marked by arrogance, the use of bared words or offensive bitterness... It is peaceful, has no use for extreme methods, is patient under contradiction and inclines towards generosity.’ (ES:81)

·        With confidence and in fellowship: ‘Dialogue promotes intimacy and friendship on both sides. It unites them in a mutual adherence to the Good, and thus excludes all self-seeking.’ (ES:81)

·        And adaptability: ‘The person who speaks is always at pains to learn the sensitivities of his audience, and if reason demands it, he adapts himself and the manner of his presentation to the susceptibilities and the degree of intelligence of his hearers.’ (ES:81)

We can thus characterise the model of dialogue presented by Ecclesiam Suam as one that is non-coercive, universal, clear, humble and adaptable, proceeding in fellowship without the aim of conversion and expressed in ordinary language,


Sunday, 15 June 2014

Blessed Ramon Llull, the Trinity and the Kabbalists

I'm heading off to college shortly to start welcoming our first guests for the Dialogue Conference beginning tomorrow... amongst those arriving this evening are Prof Ivana Noble (Prague), Prof Sara Sviri (Jerusalem) and Prof Jose Nandhikkara (Bangalore). This being Trinity Sunday ( a nightmare for preachers) I thought I would share part of my paper dealing with how Llull uses his interpretation of the Doctrine of the Trinity to engage with the Kabbalists of 13th Century Catalonia...

Happy Feast of the Trinity!



Pring-Mill in his Trinitarian World Picture of Ramon Llull (1955) was the first modern commentator to remark the change in Llull’s works from a world picture, in accord with that of medieval precedent, based on the quaternity of the four elements and four humours to a later structure that is essentially Trinitarian in nature. The former is found in the earlier apologetic works, such as the Liber Principorum Medicinae, Libre de contemplació (1272), the Ars Magna (1274) and the Art demonstrativa (1275) whilst the latter begins to make itself apparent after about 1289, not long after the ‘illumination’ that Llull received on Mount Randa in Majorca. From this period onwards Llull develops his notion of what he refers to as the 9 ‘essential attributes’ (praedicata absoluta (1308), principia transcendentia (1306), vertus vertuoses essencials (1275) dignitats, usually referred to as the ‘dignities’).[1] In God’s self they are one in essence and mutually convertible, whereas they manifest themselves in various fashion throughout creation: Bonitas, Magnitudo, Aeternitas (or Duratio), Potestas, Sapientia, Voluntas, Virtus, Veritas and Gloria. Each Dignity is related to the cosmos by nine ‘Correlatives’: Differentia, Concordantia and Contrarietas, Principium, Medium and Finis and finally Maioritas, Aequalitas and Minoritas. Each Dignity contains within itself a intrinsic trinitarian formula which Llull characterised as the relationship between agent, patient and act. Thus from Bonitas we derive bonificativum, bonificabile and bonificare. ( Or in Catalan, from bonea we derive bonificant (the agent), bonificat or bonificable (the recipient) and bonificar (the act) ). As Pring-Mill states: ‘This fundamental triplicity is the basis of Lull’s developed Trinitarian doctrine. Imprinted on the universe by the Dignities, it gives this an ineradicbly Trinitarian structure, for the correlatives turn out to be ‘correlativa innata primitive, vera et necessaria in omnibus subjectis’ (Pring-Mill 5, Liber de Correlativis Innatis (1310)110). As Hames points out, it is noteworthy that when Llull presented his ideas in Paris he was derided for his ‘Arabic mode of speech’ (See AC:223) and indeed what he has done is to translate into a vernacular romance language the essential idiom of semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew where transitive and passive verb forms can be derived from a noun so that agent and patient can be referred. (Hames 2009: 201)

 This basic relationship in the Dignities between action, agent and patient is what allows Llull to make in his apologetic works a direct link between the structure of the cosmos as perceived in this fashion with the image of the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity. Thus this internal dynamism within the persons of the Trinity (and the Dignities) allows a unchanging Deity to create a changing cosmos.[2]

Now what is interesting from our investigation of dialogue in this conference is that as commentators such as Hames have pointed out (See Hames 2009 and Scholem; Idel, Kabbalah and “Dignitate”) this investigation of the attributes or ‘dignities’ of the Godhead is also being practised by contemporary Kabbalists within Spain’s Jewish community as the concept of the Sefirot (often in reaction to the viewpoint developed by scholars such as Maimonides).  In distinction to Llull’s nine Dignities, the Kabblists suggested there were ten Sefirot arising from the Ein sof (‘the Infinite’). As with Llull, each revealed a different aspect of the Godhead in creation and thus permitted a recognition and return to that same Godhead by humanity.  Hames gives us an example of what this imaginary dialogue may sound like:

Ramon: “I have now conclusively demonstrated the necessary existence of a Trinity in the divine Dignities which are the whole essence of God, and hence, the truth of the Christian faith.”

Solomon: “Ah, but what you have shown is that God is not a simple perfect being, in that there is a plurality of persons in the Dignities (Sefirot). We believe that God is one simple eternal being encompassing His Dignities (Sefirot).”

Ramon: “Listen carefully: the Trinity is not a plurality, because it is the very essence of God’s oneness and simplicity. Without this triune relationship, God could not be one in perfect simplicity, nor could creation have taken place without admitting change in the Godhead. This necessary eternal and internal dynamic within the Godhead is what we Christians call the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one in three,

three in one.”

Solomon: “Hmm, give me a moment to think about that one.” (Hames 2009: 205)


[1] For example in the Ars inventiva veritatis written in Montpelier in 1290.
[2] ‘the unity of God is of itself whole, in that it has
the nature of unient (agent), unit (patient) and unir (act of unifying) eternally and
infinitely in all its essence, in itself, and for itself, without which nature of unient,
unit, and unir, it would be unable to be whole of itself, because it would be empty
and idle . . . as would be the intellect if deprived of the nature of entenent (agent), entes
(patient) and entendre (the act of understanding).] ‘ (Libre de Déu 286; Hames 2009: 203)


Saturday, 14 June 2014

'High Midsummer Pomps' - Vaughan-Williams' Oxford Elegy
    Just back from Rome it is a pleasure to see the garden burgeoning with lots of green. BBC Radio 3 are presently playing one piece of British music each day nominated by its listeners. I have just emailed them to suggest a wonderful late work of Ralph Vaughan-Williams: ‘The Oxford Elegy’ for narrator, semi-chorus and orchestra. Written late in his life I don’t think it is performed often because of its unusual combination of forces: as well as a first class choir and orchestra it must have a first-rate actor to speak the parts of Arnold’s wonderful poems upon which VW based his piece. There is something about the text, the English idyll of the ‘Dreaming Spires’ of Oxford and its environs, VW’s evocative music (just listen to the way he writes for the viola!) and the elegiac quality of a late piece clearly remembering his youthful ‘field days’ with Gustav Holst that makes this, for me, a quintessentially British piece. I attach a link to Youtube if you would like to listen to it and leave you with the words of Arnold, set by Vaughan-Williams, as we approach the summer solstice:

    ‘Soon will the high Midsummer pomps come on,
        Soon will the musk carnations break and swell,
    Soon shall we have gold-dusted snapdragon,
        Sweet-William with his homely cottage-smell,
            And stocks in fragrant blow;
    Roses that down the alleys shine afar,
        And open, jasmine-muffled lattices,
        And groups under the dreaming garden-trees,
    And the full moon, and the white evening-star.’
Pale pink convolvulus in tendrils creep;

               And air-swept lindens yield

       And bower me from the August sun with shade;

And the eye travels down to Oxford's towers.



Wednesday, 11 June 2014

St Paul's Lecture on Teresa of Avila

For your interest I attach link to the video of my talk at St Paul's Cathedral a couple of weeks ago: 'Teresa of Avila: Doctor of the Soul'.
Best wishes


Sunday, 8 June 2014

Pope Francis Peace Initiative at the Vatican - 'No Peace without Prayer'

It's been quite a weekend in Rome. We have begun the great feast of Pentecost which I posted about yesterday with the great fire and wind of the Holy Spirit hovering not just over the 'two lungs of Christianity' - Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism - but also over the Jewish and Muslim Presidents from Israel and Palestine. All the reports today stress how Pope Francis' initiative caught everyone by surprise, not least in his subversion of protocol. This really is the work of the Spirit - as I said yesterday 'bending what is rigid, warming what is frozen, cooling what is over-heated'. As we prepare at St Marys for our Dialogue Conference next week ( 16th - 18th June, see this new initiative is both timely and inspiring. All our speakers will no doubt be making reference to it. Although it catches many commentators by surprise we shall be demonstrating next week how the call for dialogue is deeply rooted in Catholic initiatives over the past 50 years beginning with the Second Vatican Council and Ecclesiam Suam... the groundbreaking encyclical from Pope Paul VI, soon to be beatified for his great work as a reconciler and healer. So, as these events unfold let us pray together for peace between the faith and world leaders. In the words of Abbot Timothy Wright, one of our speakers next week, 'there is no peace without prayer'.

Happy Pentecost!



Happy Pentecost!

Happy Feast Day Everyone! I write this from the Eternal City where I am presently looking after the examinations at the Pontifical Beda College. It is a beautiful day here but I haven't been out yet... I am about to go over to St Paul's (see earlier post) but before I do I would like to share two things. One is the ancient Latin hymn, 'Veni Sancte Spiritus', which has meant so much to me over the years. The other is a piece from one of our recent graduates, Junior Lynch. Junior wrote his dissertation on psychosis and spirituality ( I discussed it in an earlier post) and asked if I could post some of his reflections here. I do so with great pleasure... and am always happy to post contributions.
Best for now

  1. Veni, Sancte Spiritus,
    Et emitte cœlitus
    Lucis tuæ radium.
    Veni pater pauperum,
    Veni dator munerum,
    Veni lumen cordium.
  2. Consolator optime,
    Dulcis hospes animæ,
    Dulce refrigerium.
    In labore requies,
    In æstu temperies,
    In fletu solatium.
  3. O lux beatissima,
    Reple cordis intima
    Tuorum fidelium.
    Sine two numine,
    Nihil est in homine,
    Nihil est innoxium.
  4. Lava quod est sordidum,
    Riga quod est aridum,
    Sana quod est saucium,
    Flecte quod est rigidum,
    Fove quod est frigidum
    Rege quod est devium.
  5. Da tuis fidelibus,
    In te confidentibus,
    Sacrum septenarium.
    Da virtutis meritum,
    Da salutis exitum,
    Da perenne gaudium.

  1. Holy Spirit, come and shine
    On our souls with beams divine,
    Issuing from Thy radiance bright.
    Come, O Father of the poor,
    Ever bounteous of Thy store,
    Come, our heart’s unfailing light.
  2. Come, Consoler, kindest, best,
    Come, our bosom’s dearest guest,
    Sweet refreshment, sweet repose.
    Rest in labor, coolness sweet,
    Tempering the burning heat,
    Truest comfort of our woes.
  3. O divinest light, impart
    Unto every faithful heart
    Plenteous streams from love’s bright flood.
    But for Thy blest Deity,
    Nothing pure in man could be;
    Nothing harmless, nothing good.
  4. Wash away each sinful stain;
    Gently shed Thy gracious rain
    On the dry and fruitless soul.
    Heal each wound and bend each will,
    Warm our hearts benumbed and chill,
    All our wayward steps control.
  5. Unto all Thy faithful just,
    Who in Thee confide and trust,
    Deign the sevenfold gift to send.
    Grant us virtue’s blest increase,
    Grant a death of hope and peace,
    Grant the joys that never end


Good day to you all,


Please allow me to introduce myself, my name is Junior Lynch. I am a twenty-two year old graduate from St Mary’s University, Twickenham. During my time as a ‘Simmarian’ I was fortunate enough to work under the stewardship of some truly great scholars, though it was Peter who encouraged me to embrace all things ‘liminal’. This is a term which shall forever remain within my vocabulary! I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to write for Insoulpursuit. Without further ado, I shall proceed to tell you of an experience I had just a few days ago. It was a moment which could either be something or nothing. Though, akin to many aspects of my life, I like to think of it as conceptual. I felt that I had witnessed a flicker between the calm and the storm; it urged me to contemplate the intricacies of my mind. This, an exercise I have not partaken in often or perhaps at all, since childhood. I was recently in my hometown of Swindon you see. My hometown, in all its splendour, provides the backdrop for this tiny tale with a taller moral.


My eyes have become transfixed upon the mellow haze lingering betwixt dusk and dark. The poppy fields in the near distance intermingle with the impending horizon, creating a blood red stain which slowly purges the remaining light. The ominous rain clouds which ran rife throughout the day have now parted, perhaps only for a moment, though the respite from the storm is embraced all the same. A hint of jasmine hovers flirtatiously in the air, before it is lost in the breeze. The flutter of a rook threatens to disturb the calm, yet, it only serves to heighten the serenity.  A red crested beam sweeps through the trees, casting a shadow that looms heavily upon the grass upon which I lay. My mind begins to conjure thoughts of childhood, only slowly at first, like a seasoned dairy farmer churning the last batch of butter for the summer harvest; the memories become thicker, and substantial in clarity.


The mind perseveres, and enters a labyrinth full of memories, beginning with my fourth birthday and ending with a recollection of my Grandfather collecting me from school. The blissful naivety of my younger days warms me ever so slightly, before the slowly cooling breeze threatens to awaken me from this dreamy state. Nevertheless, the tomb which has kept these memories captive for so long, has been opened. Floods of fears, emotions, and troubles of the past resurrect, and are quickly extinguished when I realise they are no longer relevant. The beauty of the sunset leaves me incredulous, when i spend a moment to revel in the glory of it all that is.


Thus far, my life experiences have been positive, in the grand scheme of things. Although, i am often left feeling regretful at thinking of the ‘what if’s’ in my life. However, i am regretful in the sense that i shouldn't be thinking of the ‘what if’s’ at all. In fact, rather than dwelling on why i was deprived of certain opportunities, or why i narrowly missed out on something, i look at the consequential positives that have arisen from these setbacks. In reality, this adequately explains my relationship with God. I have never doubted God’s existence, only his intentions. I often feel as though my faith is tested through varying means, and as the sun sets upon one aspiration, another arises at dawn. Naturally, there have been times in my life, where everything seems eclipsed by darkness. However, a sliver of light has always remained, just enough to regain faith and move on to more prosperous fields. For others, the light is further away and it is a constant struggle to keep it in sight long enough to reach it. On this evening, my surroundings are perfectly attuned to my state of mind. This I find is a rare thing. As the light dims, and the poppy fields become nothing more than an ashen canvas, i have no fear. For i know the sun shall rise tomorrow, and so shall I.                                                                


The brief enlightenment encountered last night, provided a minor respite from what has been a fairly turbulent few weeks. However, that moment spent on the lawn reflecting upon the purity and magnificence of the retreating sunset, afforded me with ample time to reassess a few life choices. The innate nature of light and dark struck me with childlike awe, and I briefly regressed to a time, when I did not take the work of God for granted. I reflected upon the questions that I used to ask as a young boy, about the infinite wonders of the universe. I was once consumed by the complexity of God’s work, though, this has now been exchanged for worries concerning rental payments, weekly food budgets, and how to assert myself in the working world. Alas, i am not sure when this transference of interests occurred, and to pinpoint it, would be futile. Moreover, I have been to the spiritual home of the Catholic church, i have  been blessed by the Pope emeritus, and i have been near to death in my life.


Last night was different.


Last night, nothing happened really. I have looked upon the sunset for many a year, and have bathed in it’s glow. Yet, something was different last night. Perhaps it was purely conceptual. In that moment, it was a loving embrace from God. This evening, the sunset will be nothing more than light shifting from dark.


I hope that you all find your own sunset, and can find a little light regardless of your situation. In the meanwhile, i shall leave you with a beautiful verse from a truly lovely hymn entitled ‘I am weary, let me rest’, written by Pete Kuykendall. It is also performed in one of my favourite films of all time; O Brother Where art thou?


‘Seems the light is swiftly fading

Brighter scenes they do now show

I am standing by the river

Angels wait to take me home’

Best wishes, Junior.