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An overview of selected religious mystics:
St Teresa of Avila (1515-1582):
Born March 15th 1515 in Spain.
Family inspired her to take her religious life seriously
1535 she joined an order of Carmelite nuns.
After a severe illness she became disillusioned with her religious practices, especially
A vision of the `Sorley wounded Christ' was to re-energise her spiritual journey and
inspired her to write great works on prayer.
Her approach to mystical experience was though her four stages of prayer. She believed
that the true union with God could only be achieved by intense concentration and
disciplining oneself through a life of prayer that would, by a series of stages, allow a person
to reach that union.
She firmly beloved that I was not possible for an individual to achieve that union by
themselves but that, only through God's grace, could a person move through the various
stages. Teresa is often associate with her teaching on the various stages of prayer. She
compares these stages to the ways in which a garden can be watered. `The garden can be
watered in four ways: by taking water from a well, which costs us great labour, or by a
water wheel and buckets, when the water is drawn by a windlass...; or by a stream or
brook, which waters the ground much better, for it saturates it more thoroughly and there
is less need for it to be watered so often, so that the gardener's labour is much less; or by
heavy rain, when the lord waters it with no labour of ours, a way incomparably better
than any of those which have been described.'
Many observers believe that the real insight into mystical experience is found in her final
work: The Interior Castle. Teresa considers the soul to be like a castle which contains seven
suites or mansions. The first three refer to a type of prayer that she speaks in more detail
about in her other works. These prayers do not give the same level of union that can be
gained, although they do allow you to become closer to God. The union is found in the
fourth to seventh mansions.
The fourth mansion: Here the prayer of consolations for God is found, better known as the
prayer of Quiet. Teresa describes this as a state where the human will is captivated by God's
love. This now has the individual operating on the mystical level, and they now experience
peace and spiritual delight. Sometimes it can be so intense that the individual can faint or
appear semi-comatose Teresa refers to this as the `sleep of faculties'.
The fifth mansion: Within this mansion Teresa describes the next stage as the prayer of
simple union: `God implants himself in the interior of the soul in such a way that, when it
returns to itself, it cannot possibly doubt that God has been in it and it has been in God'
The sixth mansion: This contains the longest of her mystical descriptions and it is
occasionally disputed as to precisely what was being described. It is commonly known as the
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The main experiences associated with this stage can include
rapture, feelings of painful longing, spiritual ecstasy and visions. The over-riding
characteristic is the sense of wanting to be able to spend every possible moment alone with
the divine `spouse' and the complete rejection of all things that can get in the way of such
The seventh mansion: This is regarded as the highest possible state of prayer that is
achievable on earth.…read more
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He also presented a form of language to describe God that some describe as a `via negativa'
For Eckhart, applying any kind of finite language to God was inappropriate for it didn't
encompass the quality of God being infinite. Therefore, Eckhart would often say that God
was `not "X"' (X being the finite quality). In this he was not denying that God had the quality
`X' just that God didn't possess the quality in a finite sense.…read more