EVELYN UNDERHILL (1875-1941)
Evelyn Underhill was an Anglican writer on mysticism. She was educated at King’s College, London, of which College she became a Fellow in 1927. She was converted in 1907, and in her spiritual quest she was led to the Christian mystics. She took the Catholic Friedrich von Hügel as her spiritual director until his death in 1925. As from about 1924 she became a much demanded retreat conductor, spiritual counsellor and religious journalist. At the end of her life she was an avowed pacifist.
Her work was set forth in 1911 with the publication of one of her most important book Mysticism. In this and her subsequent works, she sought to find an harmony between formal and orthodox Christian theology and practical spiritual experience. She always encouraged her readers to go beyond mere spiritual curiosity and knowledge in pointing out the practicality of a deeper spiritual experience.
Much of what had been published before her pioneering Mysticism, seemed to limit the reader to an historical knowledge and to an objective approach to mysticism.
Evelyn Underhill became aware that the need of many believers was to have some guidelines so as to appropriate for themselves the spiritual experiences of the great mystics of the past. She was convinced that the spiritual life of a Richard Rolle or of a John of the Cross could be shared by anyone who would give himself enough over to the dealings of the Lord. Her call was to make mysticism relevant to today’s believers. It is to this end that she edited works of English and continental mystical classics like The Cloud of Unknowing. She also ignited a renewed interest in men and women like Nicholas of Cusa, Walter Hilton, Teresa of Avila and many others.
She believed that the Christian mystics attained a high level of spiritual transformation because “they loved and attended to Him more than we do”.
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Biographies by M. Cropper, SPCK 1958 and by C. J. R. Armstrong, Oxford 1975
Letters of Evelyn Underhill, edited by C. W. S. Williams, 1943
Collected Papers of Evelyn Underhill, edited by L. Menzies, 1946
Evelyn Underhill: Mysticism, 1911
Practical Mysticism, 1915
The Essentials of Mysticism, 1920