Learning from Evelyn Underhill

Today is the feast day of Evelyn Underhill.  Although, she is not a saint in the traditional sense, it is only because the Anglican Church does not have a process to canonize holy individuals to the title of Saint.  She is a great spiritual leader and her works have had a large impact on the study and practice of mysticism in the 20th century.  I have not had the time to read a lot of her works (although I do have her big book on mysticism on my bookshelf, and when I get some time I look forward to reading it).  But I have read excerpts from her books.

Underhill was an Anglo-Catholic, an Anglican with an interest in Roman Catholicism and catholic spirituality.  She traveled much and visited many churches and monasteries in her life.  After 1925 she became more interested in the Holy Spirit and taking a more active role in the Anglican Church, which she acted as a lay leader of spiritual retreats, a spiritual director for hundreds, and proponent of contemplative prayer.

The fundamental difference between the two is this: magic wants to get, mysticism wants to give—immortal and antagonistic attitudes, which turn up under one disguise or another in every age of thought. Both magic and mysticism in their full development bring the whole mental machinery, conscious and unconscious, to bear on their undertaking: both claim that they give their initiates powers unknown to ordinary men. But the centre round which that machinery is grouped, the reasons of that undertaking, and the ends to which those powers are applied differ enormously. In mysticism the will is united with the emotions in an impassioned desire to transcend the sense-world, in order that the self may be joined by love to the one eternal and ultimate Object of love; whose existence is intuitively perceived by that which we used to call the soul, but now find it easier to refer to as the “cosmic” or “transcendental” sense. This is the poetic and religious temperament acting upon the plane of reality. In magic, the will unites with the intellect in an impassioned desire for supersensible knowledge. This is the intellectual, aggressive, and scientific temperament trying to extend its field of consciousness, until it includes the supersensual world: obviously the antithesis of mysticism, though often adopting its title and style.
– from Mysticism A Study of the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness

The Collect of Evenly Underhill: O God, Origin, Sustainer, and End of all your creatures: Grant that your Church, taught by your servant Evelyn Underhill, guarded evermore by your power, and guided by your Spirit into the light of truth, may continually offer to you all glory and thanksgiving, and attain with your saints to the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have promised us by our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

About Jesse

I am a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary with a Masters of Arts in Theology focusing on Church History. I am a Third Order Benedictine monk, in the Company of Jesus. I am married to a wonderful woman, we just had a baby Michaela Rose. You can follow me and be alerted of new blog post by following me on Twitter @jtalexanderiv. Or following this blog.
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2 Responses to Learning from Evelyn Underhill

  1. Sarah says:

    I love mysticism. It allows an individual to tell about God through a unique experience.

  2. Tara Gading says:

    I am inspired of her spiritual experience and her concern about spiritual life in a contemplative way. .

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