Articles from the newsletter

The Spiritual Entente

by Dana Greene

A little known aspect of Evelyn Underhill’s spiritual formation was that which occurred through her relationship with Sorella Maria, an Italian Franciscan.

Although greatly influenced by French spirituality and the English mystics, Underhill’s writing also illustrates her profound love of Italy and the influence of the spirituality of Francis. It was in the art and architecture of Italy in the 1890s that she came to know the life of the spirit. The Italian Sorella Maria was also an important influence on her during the difficult period immediately after World War I. We know little of the relationship between Underhill and Sorella Maria except that the former experienced profound consolation from this nun.

Apparently it was through an English woman, a Miss Turton, that Underhill first became acquainted with what was called the Confraternity of the Spiritual Entente, … Read more

Teresian Wisdom in Selected Writings of Evelyn Underhill

by Mary Brian Durkin, O.P.

The following is excerpted from an article that first appeared in Spiritual Life, Spring 1995. It illustrates the extent to which Teresian wisdom permeates, supports, and enhances Underhill’s ideas of how ordinary people, leading ordinary lives, can, by selfless prayer and sanctified work, become forces for good, channels of God’s grace flowing out t improve God’s world.

What is the spiritual life? Inspired by Teresa’s analogy of the soul as an “interior castle,” a spacious mansion with various floors, rooms, and apartments—many in poor condition—Underhill expands and adapts the simile to emphasize the Teresian principle that there should be no distinction between the spiritual and the practical life. Underhill pictures the soul, not as a lofty castle, diamond bright and imposing, but as a simple two-story house; the ground floor is the natural life, … Read more

Coming Home to Pleshey: A Memoir

by Kathy Staudt

Evelyn Underhill recalls how her first experience of a conducted retreat at Pleshey retreat house in 1922 transformed her attitude toward church and vocation, and began the process of clarifying her own calling. She writes to Baron von Hugel of the satisfactions of the daily regime of communion and four services a day, and reflects that “the whole house seemed soaked in love and prayer.” With that description in my memory, I made a two-day retreat to Pleshey last April.

And so I found myself, late on a Saturday afternoon, at the railway station in the distinctly unromantic London suburb of Chelmsford, being met by a tall, soft-spoken man in a worn tweed jacket! He introduced himself as Bruce Hollamsby, the assistant warden, and welcomed me heartily, saying, “You cannot imagine how delighted we are to have … Read more

Evelyn Underhill: Middle-Way Within the Media?

by Todd E. Johnson

“‘Souls who live an heroic spiritual life within great religious traditions and institutions, attain a rare volume and vividness of religious insight, conviction and reality’—far more seldom achieved by the religious individualist.”  Evelyn Underhill applied this quote of Baron von Hugel to the Oxford Tractarians and their spiritual revitalization of the Church of England. As Underhill describes the work of the Tractarians—those heroic souls whose vision of a church filled with mystery and awe created a renaissance within Anglicanism—one is struck by the similarity to her own life almost a century later. Underhill describes the Tractarians as restoring a sense of the Catholic tradition to the church, of reviving liturgical and sacramental worship, advocating a disciplined life, and emphasizing Christian sanctity. The examples of Underhill’s writings which square nicely with each of these four areas are … Read more

The Note of Failure in the Symphony of Grace: Reading Evelyn Underhill’s Theophanies

by Kathleen Henderson Staudt

A modern reader coming to Theophanies is bound to be put off by the Edwardian conventionality of rhythm and music and by the tendentiousness of those poems on explicitly spiritual—especially neo-platonic—themes. But buried among these unsatisfactory efforts are flashes of genuine and original insights, where we see Underhill testing and using her gift for imaging, in homely terms, what she perceived as the presence and pull of God’s love in the world.

For example, the poem entitled “In the Train” constrasts the ardor and excitement of her own vision with the blindness of those around her. Beginning “O Train full of blind eyes, rushing through the world,” it goes on to sketch out in vivid, positively sensual imagery the poet’s imaginative communion with the meadow outside—”it and I, close locked in passionate embrace”

And the moist … Read more

Evelyn Underhill and Vatican II: A Comparison of the Influence of the Catholic Church of Her Time and Ours

by Grace Adolphsen Brame

When people study history there are always several questions which seem important to be considered. How do the times affect individuals, and how do individuals affect their times? Secondly, what are the birth pangs of outstanding events in history, and how does that pain actually contribute to the positive or negative results? Lastly, are the events unifying or divisive? All these questions may be asked about individuals, or of groups, or of a society.

Evelyn Underhill, born in 1875 during the reign of Pius IX, is a fascinating bridge between the Protestant and Catholic approaches to worship and theology in that she was essentially a Vatican II person, a breath of fresh air, in her own time. Raised by parents who were Anglican in name, but thoroughly disinterested in the church, her birth followed five years … Read more