Evelyn Underhill

From Academic Kids

Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) was an Anglican writer on mysticism, a novelist, and a metaphysical poet. She was formally educated at King's College for Women in London, where she was later elected as a Fellow. Both her father and her husband were London barristers; she and her husband, Hubert Stuart Moore, grew up together. The couple had no children and spent a part of their leisure hours yachting.

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A_young_Evelyn_Underhill.jpg
Evelyn Underhill as a young woman

Called simply "Mrs. Moore" by many of her friends, she published over thirty books either under her maiden name Underhill or under the pseudonym John Cordelier, as was the case with the 1912 release The Spiral Way (http://www.mrrena.com/spiral.shtml). Initially an atheist, she gradually began to acquire an interest in Neoplatonism and from there became increasingly drawn to Catholicism, becoming eventually a prominent Anglo-Catholic. Her spiritual mentor was Baron Friedrich von Hügel, who encouraged her to adopt a much more Christocentric view as opposed to the more merely Theistic one she previously held. After his death in 1925, her writings became more focused on the Holy Spirit. Neither her husband nor her parents shared her interest in spiritual matters.

In her earlier books, she wrote often of "mysticism" and "mystics" but later began to adopt the terms "spirituality" and "saints" because she felt they were less given to misunderstanding. In later years, her focus increasingly became interested in "practical mysticism," that is, in laying out a spirituality that the average, ordinary person could enjoy. To this end, she conducted many ecumenical retreats.

Though conferred with an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Aberdeen University--and though named fellow of both King's College for Women and King's College--she possessed no degrees herself. Despite this fact, she was the first woman to lecture to the clergy in the Church of England as well as the first woman to officially conduct spiritual retreats for the Church. She was also the first woman to establish ecumenical links between churches and one of the first woman theologians to lecture in English colleges and universities, as she did frequently. She was schooled in the classics, well read in Western spirituality, well informed (in addition to theology) in the philosophy, psychology, and physics of her day, and acquired the prestigious post as editor of The Spectator, that famous publication first begun by Addison and Steele in the eighteenth century.

More than any other person, she was responsible for introducing the forgotten authors of medieval and Catholic spirituality to a largely Protestant audience. She was a frequent guest on radio, and her 1936 work The Spiritual Life (http://www.mrrena.com/sl.shtml) is transcribed from a series of broadcasts given as a sequel to those by Dom Bernard Clements on the subject of prayer. Fellow theologian Charles Williams wrote the introduction (http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~dcandmkw/spirit/eucw%20-%20int.htm) to her published Letters in 1943, which reveal much about this prodigious woman. Upon her death, The Times reported that on the subject of theology, she was "unmatched by any of the professional teachers of her day."

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