Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Underhill & Bonhoeffer - Seminar

Underhill & Bonhoeffer A Seminar

Evelyn Underhill

Evelyn Underhill was a unique and intriguing woman at a point where it was not all that easy to be those things in the church. She is remembered by a friend as, "slight and thin … and not very tall, her body carrying her spirit with as little fuss as possible" She has a number of experiences that lead her to becoming a Christian and in 1907 was even very close to becoming a Roman Catholic. Yet her soon to be husband persuaded her to wait a while before making that commitment. During this period of waiting a Papal Bull Condemning modernism, published by Pope Pius X, caused her to turn away from Catholicism and all organized religion for many year. She continued to have encounters with the divine over the next twenty years. These years would be very productive. Evelyn was incredibly productive writer in her 39 years of publishing she produced 40 books, collections, editions and over 350 essays, reviews and articles. She was also a woman of many first as this list from Todd E. Johnson: "She was the first woman to lecture in theology at Oxford college, the first woman to lecture Anglican clergy, and one of the first women to be included in Church of England commissions. These accomplishments, along with her work as a retreat leader, made Evelyn Underhill a prominent figure in her day."

Mary Ford-Grabowsky in the book she edited, Sacred Voices: Essential Women's Wisdom Through the Ages; states: "By the 1030's, Evelyn had become the first women in the twentieth-ce
ntury England to be taken seriously as a theologian, a stunning feat in an era when women were forbidden to even teach theology." Yet why did she turn to mysticism as a field of study and personal experience? Mary Ford-Grabowsky in the book she edited, Sacred Voices: Essential Women's Wisdom Through the Ages; postulates this possibility: "An only child whose upper-class parents often left her at home alone while they went yachting, she took to Plotinus at an early age, perhaps finding in his idea of 'the flight of the alone to the Alone' a solution to her own loneliness and an impetus to study the mystics…" So now that we have some background on the woman let us turn to her writings.

We will begin by noting the contrast she makes between her understanding of the marks of a mystic with the list she quotes from William James, James list consists of "Ineffability, Noetic Quality, Transiency, and Passivity" whereas Underhill has these four characteristics:
  1. Active and Practical, not Passive and theoretical
  2. It aims are wholly transcendental and spiritual
  3. It draws one homeward, but always under the guidance of the heart.
  4. Living union with the One(God)
Paraphrased from page 382 of our text. I would like to highlight a few lines from this section, from the last full paragraph on page 382 "it is the art of establishing his conscious relation to the Absolute" This is the best definition of he goal of mysticism that I have encountered to date. I am intrigued that in her writings she quotes so often from those who have gone before her. Almost as if she saw her role more as that of compiler and explainer then original source. She quotes Recejec, Blake, William James, St Teresa, Plato, John of the Cross, in just these four short pages we have from her writings.

I would like to draw our attention to the middle of page 383 Underhill states: "Taken all together, they c
onstitute phases in a single process of growth; involving the movement of consciousness from lower to higher levels of reality, the steady remaking of character in accordance with the 'Independent spiritual world.'." From here she goes on to outline these phases of the mystical life, the three that I focused on are:
  1. The Awakening of the Self to consciousness of Divine Reality
  2. The Self, aware for the first time of Divine Beauty, realized by contrast its own finiteness and imperfection.
  3. The development of the great and strenuous seekers after God.
  4. Union: The true goal of the mystic quest.
These are some of the Items in this selection that really spoke to me. Now can we share some of the items in these sections in this selections that spoke to you the class.

I would like to conclude our study of Evelyn Underhill by stating that she was an amazing woman in a time when the church was not looking for nor necessarily wanted amazing women in their traditions. Yet she stood behind her beliefs in her intellect and
her faith and pursued both.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich was another amazing person in the Christian tradition in the 20th Century, He had his first Phd. At age 21 and a second by 24 years of age. His two most influential books are Cost of discipleship and Life Together. He als
o co-authored with Karl Barth The Confession of the Underground Church. Throughout his life he pursued the question 'What does it mean to live for Christ today?' To understand Bonhoeffer's work we must understand the man. Bonhoeffer and his family were all influenced by the natural sciences. His Father was a Physician and his brother was a Physicist. He believed that Christ was found in the midst of persons. He believed that costly grace was won in battles in our heart. In defying Hitler he ended up fighting both the Church and the Nazi's. He ran an underground seminary in Nazi Germany. There were eight Children in his home growing up and Bonhoeffer, two brothers and two brothers-in-law died in the camps for their activities against the Nazi regime. He saw himself as an ecumenical pastor and respected the Roman Catholic Church, he saw the church as One Body, one Universal church under Christ. He saw salvation as more that the soul, it is the restoration of people, families, friends and social justice. He once told Hitler face to face what he thought of his policies and Hitler's reported response was 'I only have to pick up the phone and you die.' Which would later be fulfilled William Platcher states: "Dietrich Bonhoeffer tried to follow one side of Barth, his seperation of Christianity from culture and religion, to its radical conclusion. Bonhoeffer participated in church opposition to Hitler but remained in Germany. The Nazis arrested him for playing a minor part in a plot on Hitler's life, but he continued to write theology in letters from his prison cell."

With this in mind let us now move into our selections. The First selection 'Costly Grace' is a key though in Bonhoeffer's life. He outlines How Grace is either cheap and of no use or value or else it is costly and of ultimate value. He states "Cheap Grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the incarnation
of the Word of God.". He also later on page 391 states: "Cheap grace is preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confessions, absolution without personal confession." From this we see that he contrasts being religious with being Christian, Being religious make grace cheap and of no value. Whereas "Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ." For Bonhoeffer grace cost God a lot in sacrificing his son, but was not to high a price to pay, and if we are to be followers of Jesus the Son, we too will have a cost to pay.

The call to discipleship is part of costly grace, for if we are to be Jesus's disciples we must be willing to live with the costs of that relationship. On the bottom of page 392 Bonhoeffer says: "He is called out, and has to forsake his old life in order that he may 'exist' in the strictest sense of the word. The old life is left behind, and completely surrendered. The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus)." He also states that when we are called to Jesus it is an exclusive relationship, we become attached to Jesus and through him to the family of God.


In our final selection Bonhoeffer states: "To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us." We begin to see here that even though discipleship is costly, we have the means of attaining it through the guidance of Jesus Christ and through his working in and through us. It is interesting that Bonhoeffer using the examples of this calling being costly of the first disciples, and Luther. For we have seen again and again in our readings how often people go back to the beginning, the disciples the church fathers, and even many of the authors we have covered thus far. Here Bonhoeffer is doing the same, drawing different examples from the past. I would like to end my highlighting of selections with 2 final quotes from our last 2 paragraphs first: "If we refuse to take up our cross and submit to suffering and rejection at the hands of men, we forfeit our fellowship with Christ and have ceased to follow him." And "Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called to suffer." We know that Bonhoeffer lived this, they were not just words to him. He could have stayed teaching theology in the states during the war. But he felt he could not play a role in helping to rebuild Germany after the war if he was not willing to work for change there during the war. He died at the hands of the Gestapo just weeks before the end of the war.

From my rereading of course notes for RS 100K Introduction to theology as well as my research for this seminar, I believe that Bonhoeffer has a few area's of focus in his writings and life, they are as follows:
  1. What does it mean to live for Christ today
  2. "Only he who believes if obedient and only he who is obedient believes
  3. Costly grace
  4. The combination of the transcendence and the Imminence of God
  5. That Bonhoeffer is a synthesis of the though of Tilloch and Barth
So we see a man deeply committed to living a vital, real Christian life.

Endnotes:
  1. Life of Evelyn Underhill; Cooper, Margaret, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1990, p.109
  2. Evelyn Uderhill's Pneumatology: Orgins and Implications; Johnson Todd E. Downside Review, 1998, 116, no. 403 p.109
  3. Sacred Voices: Essential Women's Wisdom Through the Ages; Ed. Mary Ford-Grabowsky, HarperCollins, San Francisco, 2002, p.155
  4. Sacred Voices: Essential Women's Wisdom Through the Ages; Ed. Mary Ford-Grabowsky, HarperCollins, San Francisco, 2002, p.155
  5. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.381
  6. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.382
  7. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.383
  8. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.383,384 Paraphrased.
  9. A History of Christian Theology; Placher, William C., The Westminster Press, Philodelphia, 1893, p.295
  10. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.391
  11. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.391
  12. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.392
  13. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.392
  14. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.393
  15. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.394
  16. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.394
Bibliography:

Tyson, John R.:Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. New York: Oxford UP, 1999

Fanning, Steven Mystics of the Christian Tradition;
Routledge, New York, 2001

Ford-Grabowsky, Mary Sacred Voices: Essential Women's Wisdom Through the Ages; HarperCollins, San Francisco, 2002, p.91

Placher, William C. A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction
Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983

Cooper, Margaret. Life of Evelyn Underhill; Harper & Brothers, New York, 1990, p.109

Johnson, Todd E. Evelyn Uderhill's Pneumatology: Orgins and Implications; Downside Review, 1998, 116, no. 403 p.109

McEvoy, Steven R. Course Notes RS 100K Introduction to Theology
Fall Term 1998, Professor P. Frick

(First written for RS 383 Shapers of the Roman Catholic Tradition in the winter of 2003.)

1 Comment:

Frank Rivera said...

The knowledge Underhill imparts remains all but a secret to a select few. Evelyn Underhill has captured the mystic mind and the mystic ways through her own exploration of the unconscious symbols that surface during the process of intense religious devotion to that which is both unheard and unseen by the ordinary individual. Her works are usuall reserved for those who have both studied and / or applied themselves to collective symbolism in mythical and psychological sphere's, although one's enthusiasm and interest in exploring the depths of the human soul will find her works of immense interest and perhaps spur one on to find one's true spiritual path. Underhill's epic works on the trials and tribulations of those who have suffered and endured through isolation and ridicule by the masses but inspired others through love and the conviction that God can be known in one's own life is a triumphant epitaph to the saints and sages of the past.I cannot emphasize enough the magnitude of historical and psychological insight that gave inception to the scientific understanding of the human soul and it's struggle to become whole.
Frank Rivera