Mysticism and the Inquisition in sixteenth-century Spain
Gutierrez Berner, Virginia
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I explore the significance of the flourishing of mysticism occurring in Spain simultaneous with the Inquisition that at best mistrusted mystics and at worst was openly hostile to them. The mystical texts of Teresa de Ávila and Juan de la Cruz contest the interpretative tradition of the Catholic Church at a time when plurality and the proliferation of meaning challenged the unity of Christian faith and European culture. I argue that the Spanish Inquisition reinforces the interpretative tradition of the Catholic Church, a tradition that favored a way of reading texts and formulating orthodoxy that is strongly dependent upon analogy. This Catholic analogy, exemplified by the operation of transubstantiation, attempts to create a stable, unchangeable relation between its component terms in such a way that not only discourages other modes of reading, but also attempts to displace the literal term by replacing it with the transcendent one. The Spanish Inquisition takes this approach in order to produce a stable truth over and against the different signs of subversion. On the other hand, Christian mystical texts in general, and those of Juan de la Cruz and Teresa de Ávila in particular, have a more complex relation to analogy. While analogies often inform the structure of these mystical texts and are essential to them, they tend to be unstable, ambivalent, and ultimately undermine the very similarities they seek to establish. This operation understands mystical experience as a suspended dialectics between divine presence and absence, and significantly anticipates forms of interpretation of contemporary philosophy (the phenomenological turn, and deconstruction).