in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

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.

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