in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Mystical Theology - Renewing the Contemplative Tradition. St John's College, Durham, 3rd - 5th September 2014

Dear All

Just a quick reminder that our next Mystical Theology conference takes place in Durham at the beginning of September. Bookings are flowing steadily in but we will have to put a deadline of 15th August. So if you have not booked please do so now. Here is the running order to remind you:

Mystical Theology: Renewing the Contemplative Tradition

Durham University (Project for Spirituality, Theology and Health, and the Centre for Catholic Studies) in collaboration with St Mary’s University

3rd – 5th September 2014,  St John’s College, Durham

A three-day conference exploring the tradition of mystical theology from contemporary academic and practitioner perspectives.

Speakers include:

Archbishop Kallistos Ware, Professor Andrew Louth, Canon Rosalind Brown, Dr Bernadette Flanagan, Professor Corinne Saunders, Dr Peter Tyler

Cost (including accommodation and all meals) Residential Single £258, Residential En-Suite £278, (including lunch only) Non-residential £156

For bookings and further information contact: Louise Elliot, 0191 334 2883,,,

For Call for Papers see:


'Taste and See That the Lord is Good' - Happy Feast Day of St Ignatius Loyola

Dear All,

Apologies for not writing a post for a couple of weeks but I have been working on my latest book. I shall post some of it in the next few days. Recent events in the Middle East and Ukraine have been horrific and I continue to pray for all who are affected. Today we celebrate someone who was no stranger to the military but was able to extricate himself from the coils of military passion that grasped him. The reading for Mass today cites Psalm 33 - 'taste and see that the Lord is good' - a motto, as it were, for Ignatius, as I write about in this extract below from 'Picturing the Soul'.
Happy Feast Day! - Especially to all my Jesuit friends and orders inspired by his followers and companions, and of course to Pope Francis who so passionately appealed for peace last week.

Best wishes

Born around 1491 in the ancestral castle of the Loyola family near the village of Azpeitia in Guipúzcoa in the Basque Country (Northern Spain, near the French border). The Basque territories being north of Navarre and Castille, with which they had friendly relations. He was baptised with the name Iñigo and from an early age, like his fellow Basques, was fond of dance, music and song.[1]

          Around 1506, when he was 15, he was sent to the house of Juan Velázquez de Cuéllar, High Treasurer of the ‘Catholic Monarchs’ Ferdinand and Isaballa, to be trained and prepared for courtly life. Here he became acquainted with the learning of the Spanish Renaissance: a spirit, and spirituality, which would imbue all his future work. At this time, however, this spirit dominated his attitudes to reading, food, clothes and military prowess. The latter he was particularly fond of and early on developed a skill and love of the military arts. He tells us in his autobiography that up to the age of 26 he was ‘a man given to the follies of the world, and what he enjoyed most was warlike sport with a great and foolish desire to win fame’ (R.1). He loved gambling, affairs with women and generally misbehaving. Indeed we have a record that at age 24 he was prosecuted by a magistrate at Azpeitia for ‘misdemenours which were outrageous, committed in carnival time, at night’.[2]

          Yet his first love definitely remained the practice of military arms and in 1521 the young Iñigo had an opportunity to display his skills in this arena when a large French army besieged the town of Pamplona.[3] Despite unwillingness amongst his confreres, Iñigo urged a resistance to the French which was to prove futile. In the battle of 17th May a cannonball shattered one of his legs as it passed between them. He retired wounded from the battle and was taken back to the family castle, arriving in June 1521, aged 30.

          From hereon, by the action of the Holy Spirit, young Iñigo’s life was to change dramatically. In the Reminiscences he tells us that in his boredom of convalescence he asked for romantic books of chivalry to while away the time. Instead, the only books available in the house were a Life of Christ/Vita Christi  by the Carthusian, Ludolf of Saxony and a collection of Lives of the Saints: The Golden Legend by the Dominican Jacobus de Voragine (d. 1298), translated into Castillian in a 1511 Toledan edition called Flos Sanctorum/The Flowers of the Saints.[4] In his preface to this book the Cistercian Gauberto Vagad wrote that the saints were ‘the knights of God’ who did resplendent deeds ‘in the service of the eternal Prince, Christ Jesus’ under whose ‘victorious banner’ they assembled. We can see already how these military metaphors would have appealed to the young hothead Iñigo and the idea of embarking upon military service to Christ under the Banner of the King would stay with him for the rest of his life. From now on he resolved rather than following the chivalrous service of high born ladies he would dedicate his energies to become a ‘knight of Christ’.

          If this were all then Iñigo would probably have become another footnote of the great outpouring of early sixteenth century Spanish piety. Yet, this young man was more complicated, and ultimately more interesting, than a young military and ladies man who repents and decides on a life of contrition and piety. After spending days planning his new career as a soldier of Christ, in the Reminiscences Iñigo tells us that he subsequently returned to his previous thoughts of pursuing and charming  a certain noble lady whose identity has still not been worked out (R 5.6). But this is now where the interesting thing happens, which will eventually lead in a straight line to the later ‘Rules for the Discernment of Spirits’ in the ‘Spiritual Exercises.’  For he noticed that his sexual thoughts of pursuing the lady in question would initially delight and stimulate him but would ultimately leave him feeling dry and dissatisfied whereas his earlier thoughts of leading a life dedicated to Christ retained their joy long after he has thought about them. Thus, as he writes in the Reminiscences  ‘little by little he came to recognise the difference between the spirits that were stirring him, one from the devil and the other from God’ (R 8). This is what he would later call the ‘Discernment of Spirits’. What is probably most striking to the contemporary reader is the importance of feeling and affect in Ignatius’ notion of ‘discernment’. In his summary of these events later published as the Spiritual Exercises he returns frequently to the Spanish words sentir and gustar: literally to ‘sense/feel’ and ‘enjoy/savour/taste’[5] the action of the Spirit of God in our lives. See, for example, Exx 2.3:


Whether this comes from ones own reasoning or because the understanding is enlightened by the divine power, (the retreatant) will get more spiritual relish and fruit, than if the one who is giving the Exercises had much explained and amplified the meaning of the events. For it is not knowing much but deep down feeling and relishing things interiorly that contents and satisfies the soul./ Quier sea en cuanto el entendimiento es ilucidado por la virtud divina, es de más gusto y fruto spiritual que sí el que da los ejercicios hubiese mucho declarado y ampliado el sentido de la historia, porque no el mucho saber harta y satisface al anima, mas el sentir y gustar de las cosas internamente. [6]


Like his later Spanish contemporaries, Teresa of Avila (1515 – 1582) and John of the Cross, Ignatius presents a ‘full bodied’ spirituality that wants to take in all aspects of the self, not just what we might call ‘pious’ or ‘holy’ feelings or sensations. His spirituality, then, must find ‘God in all things’. For Ignatius nothing is not worthy of study or investigation, especially in the human psyche, for nothing is beyond the reach of God’s grace. This, I think, is where his contemporary relevance lies as a fellow traveller to the later twentieth century psychoanalytic movement.


[1] Much of our knowledge of Ignatius comes from Reminiscences (Autobiography), see Endean and Munitiz, 1996. Hereafter R.
[2] See de Dalmases 1985:33 and Ganss 1991:15.
[3] France, in allegiance with the Papacy, being at war with Charles V’s Spanish empire.
[4] For more on the early 16th century publication of spiritual books instigated by the Franciscan Cardinal Cisneros see Tyler 2011.
[5] For more on this term see my discussion in Tyler 2013.
[6] Gustar was also a favourite word of St Teresa of Avila in her writing. In my Return to the Mystical (2011) I argue that upon it we find in her writing a whole ‘epistemology of delight’. It would not be far-fetched to make a similar claim for Ignatius’ ‘Spiritual Exercises’.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Zen, Thomas Merton and Ludwig Wittgenstein

Dear All

I'm just back from a pleasant (but tiring) few days at Liverpool Hope University in the company of the Mystical Theology Network (the brain-child of Dr Louise Nelstrop and Dr Simon Podmore), the Society for the Study of Continental Philosophy and the Eckhart Society - what a combination! It really was a fascinating few days with some heavy-weight breakfast table conversations with some great scholars from all over Europe and beyond. Below is an extract from my contribution to the feast - reflections on the relationship between Merton and Wittgenstein which seemed to go down well. I shall be giving an extended version of this paper in Durham at the beginning of September so if you like this then do come to Durham for the full thing.

Best wishes


The 'Inner' Merton

The Inner Experience (IE), published in 2003 from the manuscript of Merton’s 1950s revision of his earlier What is Contemplation (1948), neatly encapsulates Merton’s lifelong attempt to describe the nature of the contemplative life.[1] Throughout it appears to assume the approach to the ‘inner’ as a distinct ‘mental realm’ that Wittgenstein had so forcibly critiqued in his own late writings. Take this passage from the beginning of the text for example:


Every deeply spiritual experience, whether religious, moral, or even artistic, tends to have in it something of the presence of the interior self. Only from the inner self does any spiritual experience gain depth, reality, and a certain incommunicability. But the depth of ordinary spiritual experience only gives us a derivative sense of the inner self. It reminds us of the forgotten levels of interiority in our spiritual nature, and of our helplessness to explore them. (IE: 7)


Now much of the language here is the traditional language of the Christian contemplative (and often mystical) tradition – that is, ‘interiority’, ‘depth’, ‘the inner self’ and ‘levels of interiority’. As explained above, Wittgenstein was deeply sceptical of such metaphors, not least because he continually asked: ‘Yes, but what do they mean?’ How can we talk of psycho-physical spatial ‘depth’ in the construct of the mental which is essentially non-spatial. Merton is right to point to the ‘certain incommunicability’ that lies in this process for the very concepts of meaning (or in Wittgensteinian terms, ‘the language game’) begin to break down at this point.[2] Now if Merton was to simply essay ‘the inner’ as a realm to be ‘mysteriously approached’ through contemplation without intuiting (I use the word here in its Kantian sense) an unease with such language this paper could finish at this point, we could cheer the wisdom and perception of Wittgenstein and leave the mystical theology of Merton to continue languishing in its dark ‘inner’ prison. But, fortunately for our investigation today, what is fascinating in Merton’s late writing (and the editing of the Inner Experience by William Shannon allows us to read the middle-aged Merton critiquing the work of his younger self) is that Merton himself intuits that the mental language of ‘inner and outer’ simply won’t work as a means of expressing what he has encountered in the contemplative life. These ideas are brought out forcibly in one of his last published works, Zen and the Birds of Appetite (ZB,1968). In this late work Merton (like Wittgenstein) takes as his target the Cartesian self:


Modern man, in so far as he is still Cartesian... is a subject for whom his own self-awareness as a thinking, observing, measuring and estimating ‘self’ is absolutely primary. It is for him the one indubitable ‘reality’ and all truth starts here. The more he is able to develop his consciousness as a subject over against objects, the more he can understand things in their relations to him and one another, the more he can manipulate these objects for his own interests, but also, at the same time, the more he tends to isolate himself in his own subjective person, to become a detached observer cut off from everything else in a kind of impenetrable alienated and transparent bubble which contains all reality in the form of purely subjective experience. (ZB:22)


Which is as good an account as any of the false subject-object duality that Wittgenstein is also gently teasing apart in his later writings. Modern consciousness, for Merton, becomes ‘an ego-self imprisoned in its own consciousness, isolated and out of touch with other such selves in so far as they are all ‘things’ rather than persons’ (ZB: 22). So our two authors, then, share a common unease of the developing of the subject-object duality of the post-Cartesian Western empirico-scientific mindset. However the two authors do differ somewhat in their solutions to this problem. Wittgenstein prefers to lay the problem before us and give us his unendingly curious, frustrating and infuriating puzzles, crypotgrams and aphorisms in order to coax each of our dualistic Cartesian mindsets out of our individualised fly-bottles.

Within Merton’s writings, on the other hand, we can find at least three attempts to crack this problem by three related, but quite different solutions (which has led, perhaps unfairly but understandably, to charges laid at Merton’s feet over the years of eclecticism and syncretism).

The first is the one that occured to Merton as a young man – his encounter on the trams of New York with the writings of Étienne Gilson, especially his Spirit of Medieval Philosophy. From this work he became interested in what he later characterise as ‘the search for Being’ as being at the root of his conversion from post-modern lost soul to reborn Trappist monk:


Underlying the subjective experience of the individual self there is an immediate experience of Being. This is totally different from an experience of self-consciousness. It is completely non-objective. It has in it none of the split and alienation that occurs when the subject becomes aware of itself as a quasi-object... In brief this form of consciousness assumes a totally different kind of self-awareness from that of the Cartesian thinking-self... Here the individual is aware of himself as a self-to-be-dissolved in self-giving, in love, in ‘letting-go’, in ecstasy, in God. (ZB: 24)


This, as I say, is an attitude that Merton had explored all his life following his conversion to Catholicism in his 20s and developed through his long study of scholastic theology in Gethsemani monastery. However, as revealed in this late quote from Zen, Merton is still striving for the healing of a split (between self and Other) rather than the dispersal of the illusion of a split that Wittgenstein is pursuing in his late works.


[1] Both authors share the distinction of having just as much published after their deaths as in their lifetimes. As with Wittgenstein, editors have sometimes been less than transparent about giving their reasons for certain editorial choices. However this makes studying the posthumous work more challenging and exciting for the serious research student!
[2] In similar vein see Tyler 2013.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Christian - Muslim Dialogue Abbot Timothy Wright and Dr Mustafa Baig

Dear All

As promised please find attached the video of the searching recent dialogue of Abbot Timothy Wright and Dr Mustafa Baig at our recent InSpiRe conference chaired by Dr Lynne Scholefield. I think this will make excellent teaching material for Muslim-Christian seminars, groups and discussions.

Best wishes


Jewish-Christian Dialogue : The Inspire Conference - Gavin D'Costa, Jonathan Gorsky, Mary Boys

Dear All

As promised please find attached the video of the extraordinary recent dialogue of Dr Jonathan Gorsky and Prof Mary Boys at our recent InSpiRe conference chaired by Prof Gavin D’Costa. I think this will make excellent teaching material for Jewish-Christian seminars, groups and discussions.

I will attach the Christian-Muslim video shortly.

Best wishes


Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Teresa of Avila - Doctor of the Soul - 500th Anniversary

As I said in my earlier post today its been a wonderful 2 weeks here in Texas. Its the first time I have worked with a group using 'Teresa of Avila: Doctor of the Soul' as a text and it was great to see how the very mixed group interacted with it and in many cases were able to take Teresa's writings and make them their own. It all bodes well for the 500th anniversary year and confirms my suspicion that 'her time has come' and she speaks to us now in a way that is new, arresting and ultimately very healing. I attach the last chapter of 'Doctor of the Soul' for you below as it seems an appropriate place to finish. Thanks especially to Fr Ron Rolheiser and Cliff Knighten for inviting me and looking after me so well - and all the team here. We are now talking of taking a group to Avila in 2016 so watch the Oblate School of Theology website for more on this in the coming months...

Best wishes

Epilogue. Teresa of Avila: Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Soul


In 1970 Teresa of Avila, along with St Catherine of Siena, was declared a Doctor of the Universal Church by Pope Paul VI in Rome. According to the ‘New Catholic Encyclopedia’ in 1967:


          No woman has been proclaimed (Doctor of the Church), although   Teresa of Avila has popularly been given the title because of the         influence of her spiritual teaching; it would seem that no woman is       likely to be named because of the link between this title and the     teaching office, which is limited to males. (Forshaw: 1967)


By conferring this honour upon her, the church demonstrated that Teresa’s teaching had indeed become of age, yet it had waited several centuries before giving her this recognition. In light of the examination of her texts in this book this is perhaps unsurprising. As I have argued throughout, I believe that her writings remain as challenging today as they did five hundred years ago. What I hope to have demonstrated in this account is the intellectual rigour with which Teresa explores the landscape of the soul and how throughout she is alive to the nuances and subtleties of the language required to depict the encounter of the soul with the transcendent. As we have seen, this she does by using the tradition of theologia mystica to which she is heir but adapting it, almost playing with it, to forge a unique spiritual language as finely wrought as anything by a contemporary linguistic philosopher. By forging this provocative and challenging language she truly deserves to be called a ‘Doctor of the Soul.’

          I have concluded the book with a descriptive analysis of two aspects of the contemporary psycho-spiritual thought-world: the rediscovery of ‘mindfulness’ as a tool for clinical intervention and the long shadow cast by Carl Jung and his pioneering research into the nature of soul and psyche. In doing this I hope to have demonstrated how a re-reading of Teresa in the light of this context can challenge us to perceive our contemporary spiritual anthropology in new and surprising lights.

          In the case of Jungian analytical psychology the questions raised by the challenges of Teresa’s approach are ones not unfamiliar within the discipline itself. The second generation Jungian theorist, James Hillman (1926 – 2011), writing in the same year as the ‘Catholic Encyclopedia’ was pronouncing on the legitimacy of the female teaching office, stated:


          Because the soul is lost – or at least temporarily mislaid or bewildered      –ministers have been forced, upon meeting a pastoral problem, to go         upstairs to its neighbour, the next closest thing to soul: the mind. So   the churches turn to academic and clinical psychology, to      psychodynamics and psychopathology and psychiatry, in attempts to         understand the mind and its workings. This has led ministers to regards troubles of the soul as mental breakdowns and cure of soul as       psychotherapy. But the realm of the mind – perception, memory,       mental diseases – is a realm of its own, another flat belonging to     another owner who can tell us very little about the person whom the        minister really wants to know, the soul. (Hillman 1967:44)


Yet, shortly before his death in 2011, the same theorist voiced a sense of disillusionment with the direction that Analytical Psychology had taken in the past few years:


          I am critical of the whole analytic discipline… It has become a kind of       New Age substitute for life, on the one hand; a substitute for rigorous education in culture, philosophy and religion, on the other; and third, a ‘helping profession’… the whole thing has lost its way. Something is         deeply missing.[1]


This, ‘something’, he had described in somewhat cryptic terms in the earlier Insearch in terms that Teresa would probably have concurred with:


          Besides the familiar reality of my mental activity (my introspection,           worries, plans, observations, reflections, projects), and the worldly   reality of objects, there can grow a third realm, a sort of conscious     unconscious. It is rather non-directed, non-ordered, non-object, non-       subject, not quite a reality of a concrete kind… It is a realm for itself,          neither object nor subject, yet both. This third reality is a psychic        reality, a world of experiences, emotions, fantasies, moods, visions,           dreams, dialogues, physical sensations, a large and open space, free         and spontaneous. (Hillman 1967:66)


It is from this ‘third position’: ‘the knowing unknowing’ of the medieval stulta sapientia, that I have suggested Teresa’s perspective on the soul arises, and it is from this third perspective that this book has been written. As we find ourselves in a world of rising materialism on the one hand and simplistic religious fundamentalism on the other, Teresa offers, I suggest, a light-footed path of desire that will lead us from the abyss into which we stare. Taken as a whole her writings provide a course in self-awareness and discovery, the aim of which is to lead us back into engagement with the world where our ‘decentred’ self may be nourished by the deep libidinal sources of grace that lie within us as our birthright.

          Kristeva, with whom we began this book, sees in Teresa’s phrase Buscate in Mí / ‘Seek Yourself in Me’ - heard in prayer sometime around 1576 (See VE), a rebuke to the Western tradition of ‘Know Thyself’ and the Cartesian ‘I think therefore I am’. She replaces the Socratic command with the Teresian Connais-toi en Moi – ‘Know Thyself in Me’ (Kristeva 2008:35). Is this, perhaps, Teresa’s message to us today? She is the ‘symbolic thinker’ who taps into the deep subterranean libidinal sources upon which the roots of Western culture rests. As we listen to her gentle voice we realise that the wounded and disorientated postmodern soul is being called back to the ancient realities of the pre-modern self. For if we listen carefully we can just about make out the quiet song of a little girl singing in a cool courtyard high above the mountains of central Spain on a hot summer afternoon a long, long time ago. The breeze catches her song and we hear it again, now clear, now indistinct. Now, more than ever, the world once again needs to listen, and dance to, that song:


Alma, buscarte has en Mí,                     Soul, you must Seek Thyself in Me,

Y a Mí, buscarme has en ti.          And in Thyself Seek Me!


De tal suerte pudo amor,                      With such fortune could love,

Alma, en mí te retratar                         Soul, portray you in me

Que ningún sabio pintor                        Such that no gifted painter

Supiera con tal primor                          Could portray that beauty

Tal imagen estampar                            With which the image is engraved.


Fuiste por amor criada                          For love created you,

Hermosa, bella, y así                            Precious, fair one,

En mis entrañas pintada,                      Deep within me carved,

Si te perdieres, mi amada,                     For if you lose me, love,

Alma, buscarte has en Mí                      Soul, Seek Thyself in Me!


Que yo sé que te hallaras                      For I know that you will find

En mi pecho retratada                          Yourself engraved in my heart

Y tan al vivo sacada                              And so drawn from life

Que si te ves te holgaras                       That when you see you will rejoice

Viéndote tan bien pintada.                    To see yourself so well painted.


Y si acaso no supieres                           And if by chance you do not know

Donde me hallarás a Mí,                        Where to find me,

No andes de aquí para allí,                    Don’t wander here and there,

Sino, si hallarme quisieres                     For, if you want to find me,

A Mí buscarme has en ti.                       In Thyself Seek Me!


Porque tú eres mi aposento,                  For you are my refuge,

Eres me casa y morada,                        My home and my dwelling place,

Y así llamo en cualquier tiempo,             And if I call at any time,

Si hallo en tu pensamiento                    And find in the castle of your mind

Estar la puerta cerrada.                         The door is closed.


Fuera de ti no hay buscarme                  Do not look for me outside yourself

Porque para hallarme a Mí                     For, if you want to find me

Bastará solo llamarme,                          All you need do is call me,

Que a ti iré sin tardarme                       Then I shall come quickly

Y a Mí buscarme has en ti.                     And in Thyself Seek Me!















[1] Interview with Jan Marlan, International Association of Analytical Psychology Newsletter 26:2006.

Ecclesiam Suam - Archbishop Kevin McDonald's Speech

Dear All

Well its been a busy last two weeks but the great summer school here in Texas is now coming to an end - the last talk is tonight. I will put up a separate post about that shortly. However I wanted to put here a link to Archbishop Kevin McDonald's speech /booklaunch at our 'Ecclesiam Suam' conference two weeks ago. I hope you enjoy it.

What has emerged since the conference has been the wonderful interest in continuing the dialogue and pursuing it in new ventures. Prof Sara Sviri, Dr Jonathan Gorsky, Dr Mustafa Baig, Dr Michael Kirwan, Dr Lynne Scholefield, myself and many other colleagues and associates are very keen for us to take the Toledan/Convivencia framework forward with some new events in the coming months. So watch this space! Equally some new ventures around the area of Jewish-Christian dialogue are being mooted. Prof Jose Nandhikkara is now organising a dialogue conference in Bangalore for January next year with ourselves and Liverpool Hope University as dialogue partners. So all in all the work of the conference, including the conference publication, looks set to continue for many months and years to come. A fitting tribute to Pope Paul VI and the extraordinary work he accomplished 50 years ago.

Best wishes