Teresa of Avila's elaboration of imagery in her literary expression of mystical experience

Paddock, John Allan Barnes (2004) Teresa of Avila's elaboration of imagery in her literary expression of mystical experience. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

This thesis argues that Teresa of Avila's mystical writings contain images which she methodically fashions and elaborates into a developed and consistent scheme designed to express, to the extent possible through literary artistry, her mystical experiences of God. Teresa does not give a specific or detailed account of the sources for her key images. However, her mental and spiritual formation were those of a devout Catholic in sixteenth century Spanish society, in which the teaching of the Catholic Church (Scripture and Tradition), with its Christocentric, redemptive doctrines, was as fundamental to life for the secular laity as it was for the religious Orders. When Teresa introduces a particular image, whether from secular or religious sources, she does so as if it is a memory that occurs to her which gives her a trusted foundation to build on. From the initial image-idea, whether consciously or unconsciously remembered, she develops and expands a complex system within an inter-relating structure. The thesis seeks to show that she develops, extends and elaborates imagery as her mystical experiences intensify, and as she reflects on them with steadily growing insight and maturity. Her imagery undergoes a process of growth and development to maturity as Teresa attempts to convert ultimately indescribable mystical experiences into intellectually understandable metaphor. Chapter I examines the social and religious background to her writings and the literary and spiritual traditions in which she writes. Chapter 2 explores the meaning of "oracion" in Teresa's writings, for which 1 have retained the Spanish word, for the term "prayer" does not encapsulate the depth of meaning and significance of the term "oracion" as understood by Teresa and her contemporaries. This chapter, while identifying some of Teresa's principal imagery, considers the problem she encounters of expressing the inexpressible, the difficulty of paradoxes, and her literary management of concepts or ideas which challenge, or even defy, rational and intellectual credibility. Chapter 3 examines the key Teresian imagery of water, in which the soul is seen as a garden which produces growth and increase, and shows how this imagery relates both to similar ideas in Catholic teaching and to Teresa's other key images. Chapter 4 considers the complexity of the imagery of the Castle as it is used to convey both the process and the effects of spiritual exploration and experience as achieved through "oracion". Chapter 5 examines Teresa's imagery of Fire, considering that image in relation to other "elemental" images already surveyed, and to those of other writers, secular and sacred. The thesis concludes that all Teresa's key images, and indeed subsidiary images, interrelate, growing and developing into a skilfully contrived fabric of imagery which is of the highest literary quality, and which has a profoundly spiritual impact on the reader. The images seem to take on a life and significance of their own, so that they relate to the other images and to the whole scheme of Teresian imagery, and yet at the same time convey to the reader a constant awareness that there is much more spiritual meaning and experience beyond what these words of the image express, "y asi es mejor no decir mas".

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: Ann Mackenzie
Keywords: Romance literature, Religion
Date of Award: 2004
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2004-71261
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 May 2019 10:49
Last Modified: 10 May 2019 10:49
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/71261

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