in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Pursuit is Over!

Well the pursuit is finally over! After three years, many sleepless nights and constant revisions I submitted the manuscript of 'The Pursuit of the Soul' to T and T Clarke today. It has been a lot of hard work and I am very grateful to so many people who helped in so many ways... not least my new friends on the Blogsphere! I attach the beginning for your pleasure below and hope to 'serialise' more as the year goes on. In the meantime a very happy and peaceful Holy Week and Easter to you all!

best wishes


Prologue: A Night-Dream

Psychoanalysis had to be invented in order to reconstruct a place where mystery might again be a sacred guest rather than always an enemy, always to be slain.

Luigi Zoja, Analysis and Tragedy[1]


‘Soul-ish’ is for me not a metaphysical but a logical epithet.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Last Writings on the Philosophy of Psychology. Vol 2. 63e


Qui enim se cognoscit, in se omnia cognoscet.

(Whoever knows their self, knows all things in their self)

Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola, Oratio de hominis dignitate/Oration on the Dignity of Humanity:118



It is night.

A taxi has come to take me from London to my home in Worcestershire. As we drive I slowly realise that my driver is the celebrated American composer, Philip Glass. He is rather silent and soon I fall asleep. When I awake it is still dark but just before dawn – we are parked in a strange housing estate and my driver is asleep. I shake him awake and ask him where we are. He neither knows nor seems concerned – all he can say is that we got lost during the night. Despite my anxiety (I am due to teach at the university that morning), he seems implacable. In fact, the more agitated I become the more unconcerned he appears. Eventually I go to seek help: first from a woman in an office and then a man on the street. From both I plead for a GPS or satnav in order to find our position. As I am negotiating the loan of these, Philip Glass returns, this time with a group of followers. He tells me, as the sun is rising we now need to pray. I think to myself: ‘Hmmm, this guy would make a good spiritual director, he is so relaxed and easy-going...’


This dream came to me during a stormy night in southern Italy whilst I was thinking about the shape this book would take. At first I was somewhat surprised. My working hours were preoccupied with ‘the mind of Christ’ as it is described by St Paul, the early mental constructs of Christianity and how they relate to the last 150 years of psychoanalysis.  Yet, whenever I receive a dream such as this from the ever-resourceful unconscious I first of all essay my reactions as I was taught during my analytical training. I immediately knew that this was an important dream – it was an ‘opening dream’ that was opening my perceptions and heart. I looked at the images and the shape of the dream. First of all there was the choice of my ‘dream-guide’: the somewhat taciturn figure of the great American minimalist maestro, Philip Glass. Where did he come from? I asked myself. This slightly new-age eclectic composer was not what my conscious mind had been seeking. I had spent Easter in the southern Italian town dodging showers and downpours whilst participating in the fervent devotions of Holy Week in the little hill-top villages and, like the southern storm, my unconscious had blown away my conscious musings on Freud, Jung and the great Christian tradition. As I struggled with the conscious forms – the London of my psychological training as an adult and the Worcestershire of my childhood and religious upbringing – here sat the ‘composer’ of the unconscious, quite happy in the gathering dawn simply to pray. As Novalis wrote in the Hymns to the Night, the night is darkest just before dawn, and in the deepest unknowing a simple light was being shed over my thoughts. The ego had been hijacked by the ‘taxi-driver’ unconscious and taken to a new place, what I will end up calling in this book, a ‘third position of the soul’: a position that the medievals termed the ‘knowing unknowing’.  The unconscious had presented the whole book to me in such an elegant and simple fashion that my conscious mind could not have arranged. For, as with all books, there is the desire to communicate and share ideas with you, the reader, but also there is the desire to work on a problem that besets the author. In my case it was how to reconcile two halves of my adult life: working as a psychological analyst in the Jungian and Freudian tradition on the one hand, and working as a theologian and spiritual director in the Christian Catholic tradition on the other. For in our own lifetimes these two great streams of interpretation of the psyche – that glittering, fragile axis of our existence which the Greeks termed iridescent, breath, life, spirit and even butterfly – have met. Once sworn enemies, in the past few decades psychologists and theologians have once again begun to talk to each other, and I offer this book as a contribution to that dialogue. A dialogue between thought-traditions, ideas and experiences of the self and the world.

[1] Zoja 1998:37

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Teresa of Avila's Cathedral of the Soul: York Minster, Saturday 21st March 2015

I am just preparing my talks for this Saturday's Teresafest in York. I have never visited York so am very much looking forward to meeting the folk there and wandering around the glorious Minster. The talks begin at 2.30pm at St Wilfrid's RC church and after a short tea break we shall repair to the Minster to celebrate evensong in memory of St Teresa's 500th anniversary in the Minster itself. All are welcome so I hope to see some you there. In preparation for my talk I have taken some material from the recent refurbishment of the stained glass of York Minster's great East Window (illustrated) to make the links between Teresa's understanding of the soul and prayer and the medieval Gothic tradition of theologia mystica. Below is an extract from the talk.

All good wishes


The Mystical Theology

Recent research has begun to recover the significance and nature of mystical theology as a distinctive branch of theology in the middle to late Medieval period. Much of this interest seems to be associated with the ‘postmodern turn’ that has overcome theology (for which of course Wittgenstein is partly responsible) and, I would suggest, an attempt to recover answers to the post-modern world in the pre-modern. We can now establish that from the twelfth/thirteenth centuries onwards we see in Europe the rise of a type of discourse that centres around the recovery and translation of the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite – the patristic master of apophasis.[1] Central to this movement was the group of theologians that arose around the Abbey of Saint-Denis near the schools of Paris (see Haskins 1957, Morris 1972, Knowles 1962). [2] This group of writers and commentators took particular interest in the Dionysian corpus which was in the process of being re-translated by theologians such as Sarracenus and our own English Robert Grosseteste in a manner which replaced the deficiencies of the older translations by Hilduin and Eriugena.[3] The abbey grew with the schools of Paris and was open to the new theological developments of the university and from its inception it was concerned with questions on the relationship between the intellectus and affectus, which we can loosely translate as ‘intellect’ and ‘affect’. Within the texts of Dionysius the ‘Victorines’, as they became known, discovered a form of writing that allowed scholars to combine the intellect with the affect. This will go on to form the basis of much of the later Medieval tradition of the theologia mystica/mystical theology. A good example of this discourse can be seen in the work of Jean Gerson (1363 – 1429), sometime Chancellor of the University of Paris.

In his writing Gerson informs us that there are two types of theology open to study.[4] The first of these is the ‘speculative theology’ - the theologia speculativa – which is the theology of the intellect concerned with sharpening our understanding of the logos of Christian life. This would largely correspond to the type of theology taught in most universities today. However, in addition to this mode of theology he describes another, drawing upon Dionysius and the Victorines. This is the ‘mystical theology’/theologia mystica which as the theology of the affectus is concerned with the pathos of Christian life - what we would often today refer to as ‘Christian Spirituality’ (See Tyler 2012).

            Thus, in the Tractatus Primus Speculativus of Gerson’s 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).[5] After much discussion Gerson makes it quite clear which approach he will preference:


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)[6]


Therefore ‘knowledge of God through mystical theology is better acquired through a penitent affectus than an investigative intellectus’ (GMT: 1.28.1). For Gerson, this theologia speculativa resides in the potentia intellective – the intellectual potential - whilst the theologia mystica resides in the potentia affectiva – the affective potential. Thus, 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 aquired through the ‘school of the affect’ (scola affectus).The mystical theology’, he says, ‘is irrational and beyond mind and foolish wisdom, exceeding all praise’ and as he later says in GMT: 1.43.2, ‘as ‘the blessed Dionysius states’, the mystical theology ‘takes place through ecstatic love’.

[1] See, for example, Rorem 1993:214–219 and McGinn 1998.
[2] The Abbey was founded by William of Champeaux, a master of the schools of Paris and described by Abelard as ‘the first dialectician of his age’, founding the abbey after retiring from the schools in 1108. He set up a small community at the site of an old hermitage on the left bank of the Seine just beyond the walls of Paris. Almost, it seems, by accident a community grew up around William who departed in 1113 to be made Bishop of Chalons. His disciple, Gilduin, was elected first Abbot of the community in the same year and under his leadership the abbey grew and flourished. Following the Rule of St Augustine, the community was at the forefront of clerical renewal through prayer, study and liturgy.
[3] Although circulating in the West from the eighth century onwards, the collection of writings attributed to ‘Dionysius the Areopagite’ (See Acts 17:34) had only received limited attention and irregular translation until the advent of the twelfth century Parisian schools. Sarracenus produced his version of the corpus in 1166-7, the first full translation since Eriugena, some three hundred years earlier. As Dondaine points out (1953:64), Sarracenus used the glosses of Anastasius and Hugh of St Victor to perfect and advance his own translation. Generally Sarracenus in his translation  smoothes out some of the inconsistencies and hard edges in Eriugena to present a more flowing Latin text. In particular, he avoided the strange Greek-Latin hybrid words that Eriugena often produced from his straightforward transliterations of Greek terms. Thus he renders θεοσοφίας in Dionysius’s De Theologia Mystica (hereafter MT) as divina sapientia (lit: divine wisdom) rather than Eriugena’s theosophia ( lit: theosophy). However, he does retain the super- terms introduced by Hilduin and Eriugena (ύπέρθεε changes gender from superdeus to superdea in MT presumably in reference to the holy Sapientia, however the text remains ambiguous with the reference to trinitas.
[4] Gerson 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
[5] My translation: an cognitio Dei melius per penitentem affectum quam per intellectum investigantem habeatur.From Hereon I will abbreviate Gerson’s Theologia Mystica to GMT.
[6] Et cognoscamus quoniam, appropriate loquendo, sicut contemplatio est in vi cognitive intelligentie, sic in vi affective correspondente reponitur mistica theologia.