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Title: “The soul’s growth is not like the body’s growth” : Teresa of Jesus’ fourfold path for mystical transformation
Authors: Camilleri, Charlo
Keywords: Teresa, of Avila, Saint, 1515-1582 -- Influence
Teresa, of Avila, Saint, 1515-1582 -- Criticism and interpretation
Teresa, of Avila, Saint, 1515-1582 -- Quotations
Mysticism -- Catholic Church
Issue Date: 2019
Publisher: University of Malta. Faculty of Theology
Citation: Camilleri, C. (2019). “The soul’s growth is not like the body’s growth” : Teresa of Jesus’ fourfold path for mystical transformation. Melita Theologica, 69(2), 189-206.
Abstract: The path of interiority in beholding divine revelation is central to mysticism, particularly in theistic traditions. This article tries to present Teresa of Jesus’ doctrine on mystical transformation which leads towards ecstatic union. To express this path the Spanish Carmelite mystic makes use of various universal metaphors, symbols and similes. Recent studies have shown that Teresa is an interesting case of a mystic who portrays similarities to, if not influence from, Sufi mysticism. To start with, it is well established that Teresa hails from a converso family; moreover, scholars, like Américo Castro, identified both Judaic and Islamic connections in her mysticism due to the insistence on self-consciousness, introspection and didactic characteristics of morisco religious discourse. Castro argues that until Teresa there was no Spanish Christian literary discourse which displayed these characteristics, apart from the well-known Augustine’s Confessiones, widely available to Spanish readers, and which affected Teresa in both her introspective mystical experience as well as her confessional and didactic kind of writing. Within this framework López-Baralt goes as far as to show direct influences of Sufism on Teresa’s mysticism while Éric Geoffroy is more cautious in his approach. He points out that “the fact that a doctrinal theme has been loved and expressed in a prior religion or mystical system does not automatically mean that a later one has borrowed it: beyond dogmas and human psychospirituality, experience is certainly one.” This is conceivable, notwithstanding the distinctive characteristics of both Christianity and Islam and their underlying essential difference which shapes both their respective exterior religious practices (exoteric) as well as their inner mystical dimension (esoteric), as elucidated by Macnab. Acknowledging that “Spain was for many centuries a nursery of Sufism” and that Christianity is “pre-eminently the religion of Love,” Macnab concludes that in mysticism “the similarity of the language and conceptions of whoever follows the way of divine Love, whatever the denomination of the lover may be.” In the case of mystical Christianity and Sufism, one should consider the singular flourishing of the latter within the Spanish and Andalusian context, and this “to such an extent that it is impossible to avoid the conviction that the voices of the Arab Sufis, or their echoes, should have reached the ears of Juan de la Cruz and Saint Teresa.” Raynold Nicholson also points out the possible Christian mystical or Neoplatonic, Gnostic, Hindu and Greek ideas at the origins of Muslim Sufism. Anyhow, it is nonetheless irrelevant for the scope of our study, to delve into the question of who influenced who, and to what extent! Irrespective of possible mutual influences and inspirations, the scope of the present paper is that of presenting the mystical path as explained by Teresa of Avila, focusing on metaphors, symbols and imagery common also to Sufism.
ISSN: 10129588
Appears in Collections:MT - Volume 69, Issue 2 - 2019
MT - Volume 69, Issue 2 - 2019

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