Vol 9, No 1, 2007

Evelyn Underhill on Spiritual Transformation: A Trinitarian Structure?

Tom Ryan SM

Abstract

There is a trinitarian structure underlying Evelyn Underhill's understanding of spiritual transformation as the presence and action of the Holy. After briefly outlining her spiritual vision, this article will discuss Underhill’s foundations by tapping the philosophical psychology within the spiritual heritage, namely its cognitive, affective and conative dimensions. We then examine, in three phases, how she uses these resources, combined with other influences, in adapting the schema of Adoration/ Adherence/ Cooperation from the French School of Spirituality. This becomes the dominant lens through which she interprets the pattern of human responsiveness to the divine and the role of the trinitarian relations in the process of spiritual transformation. It will emerge that her method is descriptive and existential, with a focus on experience of the divine as distinctively ecstatic and self-transcending. Finally, there will be some evaluative comments on her significance within the tradition, both past and present.