Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

A summary of the main Christian concerns of Osuna’s The Third Spiritual Alphabet includes the following points:Recollection is a general term for prayer, including vocal prayer accompanied by thinking, mental prayer, and passive prayer. Recollection is also the process of prayer wherein the soul becomes increasingly passive with respect to God. Eventually recollection is an ongoing alertness to God intensified by moments of acute awareness of God when the soul is infused with wisdom beyond rational understanding. The way of recollection is primarily affective, but recollection is not quietism. Recollection is open to everyone, including women and married people.

Osuna’s Third Spiritual Alphabet is important in its own right as a detailed description of the interior journey as well as a source of inspiration for both Saint Teresa of Ávila and Saint John of the Cross. The fusing of the affective and intellectual that is a hallmark of later Carmelite spirituality informs the alphabet. The structure of the alphabet is not as rigorous as that of Saint John’s treatises, but the ascent away from the known to the unknown that Osuna traces through increasingly subtle forms of recollection is similar to Saint John’s. If Saint Teresa is a favorite with spiritual pilgrims today, it is in large part because her appealing style is enlivened by images she met in Osuna’s work. A traveler on the mystical way and spiritual director for many others, Francisco de Osuna, like Saint Teresa and Saint John, drew on rich experiential resources to create a treasure house of practical advice, wisdom, and love of God.