By Fr. Alex Ezechukwu, OCD
The Mystical Theology Adopted by St. Teresa of Avila
How much balance do we have been doing and being – between the Martha and the Mary in our lives?
That is a question asked by Julienne McLean, one of the lecturers in our Wisdom Lecture Series of Carmelite spirituality videos.
Ms. McLean’s talk is called “Reflections from The Third Spiritual Alphabet,” which taken from the name of a popular 16th century book of mystical theology written by Francisco de Osuna.
If you think the name The Third Spiritual Alphabet is an odd one for a book on theology, you are probably not alone. The name comes from different treatises, or sections, in the book that begin with letters of the alphabet: A, B, C., etc. This is the third book of Osuna’s written in this style and was his most popular.
A Classic of Western Spirituality
The Third Spiritual Alphabet is a classic of Western spirituality. It was the most popular book on mysticism of that century and had a great influence on the famous Carmelites of the that century, including St. Teresa of Avila.
Teresa took her practice of twenty years using this mystical theology and brought it to the reform of the Carmelite Order.
She wrote in her autobiography,
“My uncle, of whom I have said lived on our road, gave me a book called The Third Alphabet, which treats of the Prayer of Recollection. I had read good books during this first year (for I would read no others, understanding the harm that they had done me), but I did not know how to proceed in prayer, nor how to recollect myself. I was therefore greatly pleased with this book and determined to follow the way of prayer with all my might.”
Tasting the Good of the Lord
Of this type of spirituality, Ms. McClean emphasized the importance of finding a balance between tasting the Lord (enjoying his presence) and understanding of Who He is. One has to do with reason, the other with the heart.
Thus, we are talking about the difference between speculative theology and mystical theology, she said. The speculative type utilizes reason and logic, while the mystical is “hidden in our hearts; hidden in our souls.” Here are some important points about mystical theology, which is also called the art of love, or the path of profundity, according to Osuna.
- It pertains to the will, which is enamored with the highest good.
- The theology will be perfected by adding love.
- It will no longer remain hidden but will be revealed from the youngest to the oldest.
- It cannot be taught – it’s already within us, in our heart. No mortal can teach us.
- God teaches it to those with a loving heart.
- Christ reserves to himself the ministry of secretly teaching the heart with that theology that lies hidden like a divine fire.
- It is a “delectable knowing,” a tasty knowing.
- It’s generally obscured from our human mind or intellect.
- It begins in the heart, which is dark, because the human heart is deprived of light.
- “Seeing the heart plunged into shadows, the spirit of God comes over the heart on the waters of desire to proclaim his divine light.”
- Of all the doctrines, mystical theology is the “Queen lady of learning.”
The maxim, or wise saying, of Treatise VI is, “Frequently practice recollection to train yourself. Frequently enter the desert of recollection.”
Thus, before the beginner experiences this closer intimacy with God, he may be said to know about God and the divine mysteries of life. As he moves toward perfection, he begins to really know God and his own relation to God in some way as he knows himself.
Wisdom Lectures Available
By watching Ms. McLean’s two talks on the mystical theology of Francisco Osuna, you can greatly benefit from the same knowledge of which St. Teresa availed herself.
Ms. McLean’s videos and one hundred others have been produced by the newly formed DecorCarmeli Media, a service of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites in the United Kingdom. We produce these videos so that people can have access to authentic teachings on the spiritual life and benefit from the insights from the Carmelite tradition that has produced many saints and Doctors of the Church.
Monthly and annual subscriptions to the video platform will be available soon. We will let you know – simply sign up for our mailing list: DecorCarmeli Media
Click here to purchase The Third Spiritual Alphabet.