8306Re: Spanish mystics
- Sep 15, 2003Hi Gerry,
> I can't put my hands on my copy of "Dark Night of the Soul" rightnow, but I've mentioned before on this board that I was really
disappointed with it at first reading. Mind you, I loved *what* he
wrote, I just had issues with the process by which he seemed to
indicate one should follow to approach the Divine. I'm wondering how
you would see the achievements of these mystics in relation to the
Valentinians' notion of psychic vs. pneumatic salvation? From our
Links section, here's an essay by David Brons that outlines that
Thanks for the great question. Sorry I didn't respond right away - I
actually waited until I finished the last chapter in Gnostic Gospels
("Gnosis: Self Knowledge as Knowledge of God"), which seemed relevant
to an answer. Sorry that what follows is lenghty...
In her introduction to Interior Castle, Teresa says something to the
affect that, like the parrots, she knows how to say little but what
she has been taught, and repeats it often. Be warned - like the
parrots, I say little but what I've been taught, and unlike Teresa,
I've been taught very little! But as best I can, I'll suggest some
limitations for attempts at correlating Teresan/Johannine mysticism
with pneumatic gnosticism.
I wish I had Interior Castle with me that I might quote Teresa
accurately, but the notion that my mangled quote of Interior Castle
highlights - that we are 'taught' - is central to a distinction I
would draw between Teresa's experience and Valentinian, pneumatic
gnosis (it applies to Juan de la Cruz too, if less directly). To
think that Teresa's frequent protestations of doctrinal orthodoxy are
a meer attempt to avoid Inquisition scrutiny, or an attempt to
assuage those scandalized by her sex, is, I beleive, simplistic and
overly informed by a 'modern' outlook. Teresa, IMO, wants her
students and future readers to encounter her way of prayer and
internal discovery as fundamentally consistent with and derivative of
orthodox teaching. To her this is not just a means of deflecting the
ill intentions of men who do not understand - this is a goal to which
she is committed 'in the heart'. Again, that's just IMO, I know
there are many scholars who suggest otherwise, and I'm no scholar so
what does that tell you?
But, for the sake of argument, go along with my take on Teresa's
orthodoxy as I attempt an answer to your question.
You wrote, "I'm wondering how you would see the achievements of these
mystics in relation to the Valentinians' notion of psychic vs.
Teresa offers us a way of prayer - a way of interior life that leads
to a condition from which we can encounter the Divine,
experience 'Union'. Thus, there is both an objective - Union - and a
road to get there. I think we'd find the most sympathies between
Teresa, in particular, and the Valentinians when we consider her way
of prayer independent of the objective.
But to answer your question, I am required to opine on
the 'pneumatic' nature of the objective itself - what you called
her 'acheivement', what Teresa calls Union, and what I would call
What's involved in this encounter? First, there are two parties.
There is the one who prays, and an 'other', that which is
encountered. The one who prays seeks the other. What's
this 'other', and what's it doing? Can an encounter with an 'other' -
distinct from the self - be pneumatic in a Valentinian sense? And
what happens when the praying one and the 'other' finally encounter
For Teresa, the Other is God. God her What? God her Father. God
her Brother. God her Majesty. God her King. God her Friend. God
her Companion. God her Savior. The list goes on, and my point is
only that Teresa encounters a great many faces of the Divine, but
ever God is a real Other with whom she communes. He may be All-
Other, Ineffible, but there is one very 'real' face, God from God,
Light from Light, True God from True God, that she encounters in her
daily practice of faith - Jesus Christ. Though Teresa's mysticism
enabled her to encounter many faces of the Divine, her Union remained
grounded in Trinitarianism, Christ-centric to its core.
I should note here that there is a dimension to Teresa's encounter
with God that is not easily placed in either 'pneumatic' or 'phsycic'
terms: she encounters Jesus Christ in the here and now through the
Presence of the Blessed Sacrament. But that could probably launch an
entire other discussion (even though it's very relevant to the
present discussion), and I'll try and stay focussed on Teresa's
encounter of the Divine in a broader sense than any one particular
sacrament or prayer practice.
Well, from what I understand of Valentinianism, the meer fact that
Teresa encounters an Other - Jesus Christ in paritcular - is
problematic. Not having done enough research to have my own opinion,
I'll conditionally accept Elaine Pagels' (and Jung's) assessment that
Valentinian scriptures direct the postulant to attain self-knowledge,
an encounter not with 'other' so much as with 'true self'. I say
conditionally, because I suspect that Valentinians' equation of self-
gnosis with God-gnosis is not exclusive of an encounter with a
distinct 'Other' that is 'Source'. But I'm ready to accept that
Teresa's objective is to find that distinct Other, while the
gnostic's prime objective is to find the true self. The gnostic
makes knowledge of the Other subordinate, even if pre-requisite, to
self-knowledge. And with that stated, I can already respond to your
question, no, Teresa' 'acheivement' is not Valentinian.
However, that doesn't mean I can or would want to deny that Teresa's
encouter is, in a sense, pneumatic. Teresa's encounter is more than
Faith - it is an intimate, personal experience of the Divine. This
is pneumatic, in that the encounter is intuitive, it is an answer to
a call that is constantly beneath the surface noise (unconcious), and
it is fundamentally spiritual. The very word 'Union' implies a
certain experience of the Divine that penetrates beyond pistis.
But imagine Teresa, having come into Union, proclaiming, 'I know
God.' Try saying it yourself, for that matter. To know something in
the sense of 'gnosis', you have to be able to penetrate its meaning
fully. I don't think Teresa thought she'd done that, or that she
ever would. She certainly didn't think, like some Greeks would have,
that by knowing God she would become God.
That said, I think Teresa equates the encounter with salvation. You
might even say that, in Interior Castle, Teresa is recommending self-
knowledge as a condition from which one can best acheive Union
(through Quiet, Union). But I think Teresa also believes that, once
she's acheived Union, she is herself fulfilled - self as it should
be. Thus, for Teresa, true self-knowledge remains intimately tied to
the process of encounter - we do not acheive encounter as a result of
some precursory steps towards self-awareness. Rather, we become more
and more truly aware of ourself as we encounter a distinct Other, an
Other that Teresa's writings clearly conceive as Trinitarian.
I've already babbled on too long, and it will be a true act of
charity if any of you have read this far. So in closing, what I've
been trying to say is: Teresa, and many orthodox believers then and
now, pursue an encounter with the Divine Other that might well be
described as 'pneumatic'. Many have come to broadly associate
Salvation with the individual encounter with the Divine, and
Salvation History in turn with Humanity's encounter of the Divine.
We have come to see self-awareness as an integral aspect of the
encoutner process. And on the whole, we believe that the encounter
leaves us more Christ-like than before. But ever our way is
Immitation of Christ, Encounter of Christ, but not to be Christ. For
us, Christ IS the Limit - that value which we shall ever approach,
seeming more and more similar, but never meet. I think that's
pneumatic, but it doesn't seem Valentinian.
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