Thursday, 9 August 2012

The ground of the soul

In her final book, The Science of the Cross, completed just before she was taken to be killed by the Nazis, St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – the philosopher Edith Stein – whose feast is celebrated today, described the human spirit as the inmost region of the soul, St Teresa of Avila’s “seventh dwelling place”, where God lives “all alone” as long as the soul has not reached the perfect union of love.

At this depth the life of the soul “precedes all splitting into different faculties”. “There the soul lives precisely as she is in herself, beyond all that will be called forth in her through created beings. Although this most interior region is the dwelling of God and the place where the soul is united to God, her own life flows out of here before the life of union; and this is so, even in cases where such a union never occurs. For every soul has an inmost region and its being is life.”

This life in the spirit is hidden even from the soul herself, and often our “I” dwells outside it, having been drawn out from this ground of the soul to a more
superficial existence. Yet the spirit or interior castle remains as the deepest point in us, the place where God is (and not simply in the way he exists within everything created). It is the place of the soul’s true freedom – the only place she can “collect her entire being and make decisions about it.” Only from there can she find the place in the world intended for her. “The angels have the task of protecting it. Evil spirits seeks to gain control of it. God himself has chosen it as his dwelling.”

Most interesting is the way St Teresa Benedicta goes on to clarify a point that she says is not clear in St Teresa and St John, namely the three types of divine presence in the soul. The first is that by which the Creator accompanies everything in existence and sustains it in being. The second, which is an actual "indwelling" of the person, is the indwelling by sanctifying grace. This we associate with baptism and the life of faith. The third is mystical union, in which "the locked inner region of God opens up" (p. 178), within the ground of the soul. In this, not only does the soul give herself to God, but God gives himself to the soul (p. 179):
"John of the Cross gives clear expression to this when he says that the soul can now give God more than she is herself: she gives to God, God himself in God. So it is that there is something in essence that differs from the union in grace: a being drawn to the utmost limit within the divine being. This divinizes the soul herself. It is a union of persons that does not end their independence, but rather has it as a prerequisite, an interpenetration that is surpassed only by the cicumincession of the divine persons upon which it is modeled."

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