Talking Philosophy: a Carmelite Perspective

“Talking Philosophy: a Carmelite Perspective”

Reading & Discussion Zoom Group

Open to All

My name is Jane Horton. During 2019, I decided to read some of Edith Stein’s writings, and had not got very far, when I realised it was going to be a challenge! I did a Politics and Philosophy degree many moons ago, and vaguely recalled some of Edith’s ideas, but all had faded into a general mire, and I was distinctly rusty at grappling with complex (and logical!) thought.

Heather Ward, the Formation Director of our Carmelite Group, explained how Philosophy is actually a perfectly natural part of human experience, but one that we often feel is too difficult – sometimes simply because of the way writers (dare I say Edith?!) formulate ideas. In Heather’s words:

“In the French play, ‘The Bourgeois Gentleman’, a newly rich man wants to learn to be upper class: a gentleman. His freshly appointed tutor, hearing him speak, praises his use of prose, and he responds delightedly, ‘To think I’ve been speaking prose all my life and didn’t know it!’ .

I love this story because it shows how often we don’t give names to what we do and how we can be influenced, for good or ill, by the names we do attach to what we do. It’s like this, I think, with philosophy. All of us, at some time or other, ask ourselves: ‘What’s real?’; ‘What’s true or truth?’; ‘How do I know it’s real, or true?’; ‘What’s right?’; ‘How do I know what’s right?’ . Children can sometimes ask, ‘What happens to the world when I’m asleep: is it still there?’ . These are all philosophical questions, but we don’t often identify them as such: we don’t realise ‘I’ve been doing philosophy all my life’ and get put off by the word ‘philosophy’, seeing it as something beyond us, or as nothing to do with actual life.

The answers given to these questions we ask, and many more, in their own day, helped to shape the way our Carmelite saints understood, and wrote about, their world and the human person.

Our understanding of their teaching can be deepened and expanded when we come to appreciate how they heard and used the philosophy of their times. Such an appreciation may also help us to listen and respond to the philosophical ideas that can challenge or inform our communication of faith today.”

James Hunter joined our Nottingham Secular group in April, 2020, and has a lot of experience in teaching both Theology and Philosophy in schools, and as a Deacon, so he and I exchanged a few emails. From this (and the Covid communication revolution) came the idea of a Zoom group for Carmelites who would like to ‘discover, grapple with, and ultimately conquer’ (his words) some of the more philosophical Carmelite writers.

Here’s an introduction by James:

“I took my Final Promises, as a Secular Carmelite, on 28 th June, 2008, with the ‘St Edith Stein’

Community in Derby.

During the course of my Diaconal ministry, I have been promoting the practice of Contemplative Prayer to adults, from all kinds of backgrounds and beliefs, and been active in the Secular Discalced Carmelite Order. Whilst investigating St John of the Cross and St Edith Stein, amongst other writers, it seemed that their ‘philosophical background’ was an important part of understanding their ideas: for example, the ‘scholastic Thomism’ of St John of the Cross and St Edith Stein.

Similarly, when exploring the ‘Cloud of Unknowing’, the ‘apophatic’, or ‘via negativa’ (ie ‘praying without mental images’) thinking of the ‘Cloud’ author is clearly influenced by Denys the Areopagite, who also influences St John of the Cross and St Edith Stein.

Again, the ‘faculty psychology’ (ie ‘memory, understanding, will’) language of St John of the Cross, St Teresa of Avila and St Edith Stein is influenced by the teaching of St Augustine, who, in turn, is much influenced by Plotinus, Philo, and Plato.

All this made me wonder if it is time for us to offer a chance for Secular Carmelites, and anyone else who may be interested, to investigate the ‘history of ideas’, and the thinking and philosophical input which informs much of Carmelite ‘mystical theology’? This would be in a friendly, intimate, non-threatening group, assuming no previous knowledge, and also open to non-Carmelites, non-Catholics, Christians of any denomination, contemplative tradition, or, indeed, anyone, of any faith, or none.

Hence, ‘Talking Philosophy: a Carmelite Perspective – Reading & Discussion Zoom Group – Open to All’, which we are suggesting, as a way forward.”

After wider consultation, with Fr Yamai Bature OCD, at Boars Hill, Oxford, we have decided to start with “History of Philosophy” materials, to lay a broad, general, foundation, together, before moving on to Stein, etc. Please see attached “Talking Philosophy: Reading List & Further Information”, for details.

We are delighted to be in collaboration with Fr Kelvin Ekhoegbe OCD, at Boars Hill, for planning a Conference, at Boars Hill, on 2 nd Weekend in May, 2024. Again, see attached “Reading List & Further Information”, with more details to follow.

In addition to our current first Zoom Group, we are also delighted to be in partnership with the Sisters at Notting Hill Carmel, London, with whom we shall be starting a second Zoom Group, in January, 2023. These will be joined by Sisters of the Carmelite Retreat,

Cape Town, South Africa, as well as Sisters from West and East Africa, and other Sisters from UK Carmels, including Liverpool and Quidenham, etc. Again, we are delighted to announce that a third Zoom Group will, hopefully, be starting in May, 2023, in

partnership with Canadian and US Carmelites, which will accommodate their time-zones, and there may be scope for a fourth Zoom Group to accommodate the Australian and New Zealand time-zones, if there were sufficient demand, in order to cover both the Western and Eastern hemispheres! Kindly note, that none of these groups are confined to “Religious” and/or “Carmelites”, alone, but are open to all who may be interested.

Please see “Reading List & Further Information” for details.

We do hope you will join us!

If you wish to enquire further, please contact us as follows:-

James Hunter OCDS (Deacon) Email:

Jane Horton OCDS (‘Holy Family’, Norwich) Email:

Heather Ward OCDS (Formation Director, ‘St Elizabeth of the Trinity’, Nottingham)


Fr Yamai Bature OCD (Boars Hill, Oxford) Email:

Tim Burton OCDS (‘The Vine’ Editor & OCDS Webmaster) Email:

Fr Matt Blake OCD (Provincial Delegate) Email:

“Talking Philosophy”: Reading List & Further Information

The books listed below should all be available, either new and/or second-hand, from various booksellers, via Amazon UK.

If you are new to Philosophy, the following are recommended:-

1. “Sophie’s World” (20 th Anniversary Edition) by Jostein Gaarder (An easy read, from cover to cover, it “punches above its weight”, providing a surprisingly comprehensive and insightful “history of ideas”, with detailed index section at the back, for

quick reference. This is an international best-seller, with over 40 million copies sold, and translated into 60 languages!)

2. “The Dead Philosophers’ Café” by Vittorio Hösle (A great introductory, and exploratory, exercise in the art of philosophical dialogue)

3. “History of Western Philosophy” by Bertrand Russell (Slightly “dated”, in parts, but remains a best-selling, accessible, and, sometimes, witty and amusing, reference work)


For the main “Talking Philosophy: a Carmelite Perspective – Reading and Discussion Zoom Group” sessions, we shall be starting with the following two books, together, “in parallel”, which complement and support one another:-

1. “A New History of Western Philosophy” by Anthony Kenny, in Four Parts, pub 16 th August 2012 (Particularly good for group reading and discussion, by a leading philosopher, providing “four volumes in one”, in combining four of his previous books in one volume, at a very competitive price! Takes us further into 20 th /21 st Century Philosophy than Bertrand Russell’s book – see

“Recommended Reading", item 3, above)

2. “Western Philosophy: An Anthology” by John Cottingham, 3 rd Edition, pub 13 th May 2021, by Blackwell Philosophy Anthologies (This is the best anthology on the market, covering the widest range of selected readings, in one volume, of any other anthology currently available, by a leading Catholic philosopher, at a reasonable comparative price)

As we finish using selected portions of the books, above, similarly, we shall then go on with the next two books, together, “in parallel”, which likewise complement and support one another:-

1. “Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue” by Alasdair MacIntyre (By a leading Catholic philosopher, who was actually “converted” through trying to explain the philosophical theology of Thomas Aquinas to sceptical students!)

2. “A Short History of German Philosophy” by Vittorio Hösle (From the mediaeval “mystical philosophy” of Meister Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa to the post WWII “schools” of German Philosophy, including, along the way, Edith Stein and her contemporaries, some of whom were particularly influenced by Meister Eckhart and the “Rhineland mystics”)

Again, as we finish using these, we shall go on, still further, with another two books, and so forth, etc, etc.

Further possibilities might be:-

1. “The Living Philosophy of Edith Stein”, by Peter Tyler (A “magnum opus” by a leading UK authority on the Philosophy, Theology and Psychology of Edith Stein)

2. “At the Existentialist Café” by Sarah Bakewell (An accessible introduction to Existentialism, in general, with quite a lot about

Phenomenology, in particular, including Husserl and Jaspers, who were influential on Stein, and her generation)

[NB Any E-book editions of the books we use should best be avoided, as these are proven, from experience, to be quite impractical for Group work and research purposes!]

It is estimated that each of the books, above, should last our “Talking Philosophy” sessions anything from 10 to 24 months, before going on to new material. So this will be “good value”, and “cheaper” than comparable “online” courses, but with no essays or course deadlines, to meet! Also, members will “take ownership” of their reading and learning, in dialogue together, and build up a “home library” of Philosophy, to refer to again and again, in future. In the spirit of John Paul II’s encyclical, “Faith and Reason”, a similar structure for a “Talking Theology” session will, also, subsequently, be rolled out. The “Talking Philosophy” sessions, this year (2022), and onwards, are, normally, on 1 st Wednesdays, of each month, and the “Talking Theology” sessions will be, normally, on 3 rd Wednesdays, of each month, starting in February 2023, with both these two meeting monthly, in mutual support, from then on, as one, unified, Philosophy & Theology Group.

(NB For “Talking Theology”, please see separate “Talking Theology Reading List”). Allowances will, of course, be made for occasional “breaks”, and “absences”, and there will be no meetings in August, and a break for Christmas (ie Christmas Eve till Epiphany, inclusively) and for Easter (ie Holy Week), with an optional annual week-end residential Conference, including one or two Guest Speakers, etc. This will afford an opportunity for members, and others, to gather together, “in the flesh”, to enjoy one another’s company, and to celebrate our shared interest! Our first such Conference will be at Boars Hill, on the 2 nd Weekend in May, 2024, with Professor Peter Tyler, of St Mary’s University, London, as our main Guest Speaker (Please see “Reading List & Further Information”). If anyone else would like to contribute, whether as a Speaker, or with a Workshop or Video, etc, etc, or assist in any way, please do let us know! For “Talking Philosophy and Theology”, taken together, apart from the cost of books, for each member, there will be an annual subscription of £10 towards the Zoom licence costs, paper, printing, etc. Our Zoom sessions are from 7.45 pm, logging on, for an 8.00pm prompt start (with latecomers logging on when they can) and finishing promptly by 10.00pm. At this time, we are reading and discussing selections from both the Kenny and Cottingham books together. However, since this is not a “formal course”, as such, and both Philosophy and Theology are about everything, with each area having reference, whether directly or indirectly, to every other area, at some point, or other, therefore new members are always welcome, at any time, regardless of “where we are” in our reading and discussion, or “which” particular books we are using. To join, please email us!

We are also delighted to announce that a second “Talking Philosophy” ZoomGroup will be starting on second Thursday afternoons, beginning in January,2023, in partnership with the Sisters of Notting Hill Carmel, London, with the possibility of linking up with other Carmels in West, South and East Africa, as well as elsewhere in the UK! These Zoom sessions will be at 12.45pm for 1.00 - 3.00pm (UK Time). We shall be starting at an easy pace, with “Sophie’s World”, from January till September or October, 2023, when we shall be switching to the Kenny and Cottingham books, together, as with our first Zoom Group (Please see “Reading Lists”, above). We shall, subsequently, be starting “Talking Theology”, beginning on fourth (NOT fifth) Thursday afternoons in January 2024. From then on, we shall be continuing as one, joined – up, second “Philosophy and Theology” Zoom Group, as will have happened with the first Zoom Group. We have also had enquiries from Australia and Canada, so that, if there were sufficient demand, more Zoom Groups could be formed, which could accommodate these time-zones, and any international time zones in between: the possibilities, are endless!

“Talking Theology”: Reading List

The books listed below should all be available, either new and/or second-hand, from various booksellers, via Amazon UK.

See, also, separate “Talking Philosophy Reading List”.

We shall be starting “Talking Theology: a Carmelite Perspective”, which is designed to run alongside “Talking Philosophy: a Carmelite Perspective”, with the following two books, together, “in parallel”, which complement and support one another:-

1. “An Introduction to Christian Theology” by Anthony Towney, 2 nd Edition, published 22 nd February 2018 (A broad and accessible introductory survey, by a Catholic author, providing three types of Theology textbook, in one!)

2. “Divine Teaching: an Introduction to Christian Theology” by Mark A. McIntosh (Introduces the “mystical” element to the more general introduction, above)

As we finish using the books, above, we shall then go on with the next two books, together, “in parallel”, which likewise complement and support one another:-

1. “The Science of the Cross” by Edith Stein (Includes Stein’s commentary on John of the Cross, plus her own theological insights into the mystery of the Cross)

2. “The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition” by Andrew Louth (The best book available on the origins of Mystical Theology: but I would say that - the author was my teacher!)

Again, as we finish these, we shall go on, still further, with another two books, and so forth, etc, etc.