The Role of Symbols in St Ephrem the Syrian and St Teresa of Avila

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Saturday 10 February 10.30 am – 4 pm

The Role of Symbols in St Ephrem the Syrian and St Teresa of Avila

The Role of Symbols in St Ephrem

Dr Sebastian Brock, a Trustee of St Theosevia’s, was for many years Reader in Syriac Studies in Oxford. He is a leading expert in Classical Syriac language and literature, and on the history of Syriac Christianity.

The Syriac poet and theologian St Ephrem (died 373) left a large body of stanzaic poems in which he explores the different ways in which symbols (Syriac raze. lit. mysteries) function in pointing to connections between the physical and spiritual worlds, between the Old and New Testament, and between past, present and future. This talk will aim to illustrate and explain how his theory of symbolism works, focusing especially on his small group of poems on the pearl and its symbols.

St Teresa’s use of symbols in The Interior Castle

Julienne McLean practices as a psychologist, psychotherapist and Jungian analyst in north London, having studied in Australia, the United States and England. In private practice for nearly thirty years, she was on the clinical team at the St Marylebone Healing and Counselling Centre in central London for fifteen years. She is also a spiritual director, who has had a lifelong involvement in the Christian contemplative tradition, with a particular interest in the relationship between modern depth psychology, prayer and Christian mysticism. She has taught at St Mary’s University, Strawberry Hill, London and Sarum College, Salisbury, where she is a Visiting Scholar in Christian Spirituality; and has been involved with the Centre for Applied Carmelite Spirituality ( since 2018. She is the author of ‘Towards Mystical Union’ (St Pauls, 2003, 2013, 2017) a modern commentary on St Teresa’s Interior Castle and ‘The Diamond Heart – Jungian Psychology and the Christian Mystical Tradition’. (Chiron Publications, USA, 2023).

Many of the key themes of Carmelite spirituality are expressed by the two great Spanish Carmelites, Teresa of Avila (1515 – 1582) and John of the Cross (1542 – 1591), in symbols such as Elijah, Mary, the desert, the garden, the water of life, the purifying fires of Love, and the summit of mystical contemplation, Mount Carmel. In The Interior Castle (1570, Toledo), St Teresa used a creative, dynamic mix of symbols to convey the many dimensions of the spiritual life and contemplative prayer. She describes the inner movement of the soul in search of God, privileging symbols connoting retreat, inwardness and interiority. In two lectures, Julienne will present St Teresa’s symbolic language of the soul in this text – interior castle, fountains, water, butterfly, and explore how St Teresa used these symbols of transformation from psychological and spiritual perspectives.