Seminary/School of Divinity
Date of Paper/Work
Master of Arts in Theology (M.A.)
Type of Paper/Work
John Froula Ph.D., Kenneth Snyder Ph.D., Rev. John Gallas S.T.L.
This thesis seeks to support and synthesize the claims of Carmelite Nun and contemporary author, Ruth Burrows. Across her writings, Burrows contends that a lack of flowering of the mystical life in the Church today results from a false typification of mysticism as both linear and bench-marked by sensible signs. Burrows argues this imbalanced view has stunted the spiritual growth of many, due to false expectations and discouragement. Rather, Burrows asserts that the normative experience of Divine Union is given both obscurely and intangibly (“light off”), whereas the sensible and conventional sense of mysticism is both rare and didactic in purpose (“light on”). Burrows’ arguments are evaluated chiefly in dialogue with St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John of the Cross. Burrows’ case for a didactic “Light On” mysticism is best understood as gratia gratis data, specifically as an expression of the prophetic charism. “Light Off” is explored through a closer examination of St. John of the Cross’s writings, where a reconsideration of sensate imagery in light of his doctrine of obscure faith reveals a mystical marriage more in support of Burrows’ conception. This claim is further strengthened when compared with St. Thomas Aquinas’ treatise on faith. An incarnational case for the two modes of mystical life is made through an analysis of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity (“Light on”) and St. Therese of Lisieux (“Light off”). Burrows’ theology stands the test of scrutiny, though not without limitations: research remains to be done on the function of the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit in Burrows’ mystical theology. Additionally, when pushed to its furthest limits, Burrows’ commitment to obscure union risks a radical disjunct between the perceiver (the soul) and the object perceived (God Himself). Nonetheless, should spiritual theology undergo a ressourcement as did systematic and moral theology, the theology of Ruth Burrows offer important contributions.
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Wrigley, Sister Elizabeth John OP, "Union in Obscurity: Ruth Burrows’ Contributions to Developments in Mystical Theology" (2022). School of Divinity Master’s Theses and Projects. 35.