Christian mysticism

Christian mysticism

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Christian mysticism refers to the development of mystical practices and theory
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

 within Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

. It has often been connected to mystical theology
Mystical theology
Mystical theology is a branch of theology which treats of acts and experiences or states of the soul which cannot be produced by human effort.-Catholic tradition:...

, especially in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 traditions. The attributes and means by which Christian mysticism is studied and practiced are varied and range from ecstatic
Religious ecstasy
Religious ecstasy is an altered state of consciousness characterized by greatly reduced external awareness and expanded interior mental and spiritual awareness which is frequently accompanied by visions and emotional/intuitive euphoria...

 visions of the soul's mystical union with God
Bridal theology
Within the Judeo-Christian tradition, bridal theology, also referred to as mystical marriage, is the New Testament portrayal of communion with Jesus as a marriage, and God's reign as a wedding banquet. This tradition in turn traces back to the Old Testament...

 to simple prayerful contemplation
Contemplation
The word contemplation comes from the Latin word contemplatio. Its root is also that of the Latin word templum, a piece of ground consecrated for the taking of auspices, or a building for worship, derived either from Proto-Indo-European base *tem- "to cut", and so a "place reserved or cut out" or...

 of Holy Scripture (i.e., Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina
In Christianity, Lectio Divina is a traditional Catholic practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God's Word...

). This article addresses the practice of the inner, spiritual
Spirituality
Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop...

 life within the Christian tradition.

Definitions


As described by scholar Bernard McGinn
Bernard McGinn (theologian)
Bernard McGinn is a theologian, historian, and scholar of spirituality, affiliated with the University of Chicago, where he is Naomi Shenstone Donnelley Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology and of the History of Christianity in the Divinity School and the Committees on Medieval Studies and on...

, Christian mysticism would be "that part, or element, or Christian belief and practice that concerns the preparation for, the consciousness of, and the effect of [...] a direct and transformative presence of [the Christian] God". The idea of mystical realities has been widely held in Christianity since the second century AD, referring not simply to spiritual practices, but also to the belief that their rituals and even their scriptures have hidden ("mystical") meanings.

McGinn raises several points about his choice of words: He argues that "presence" is more accurate than "union", since not all mystics spoke of union with God, and since many visions, miracles, etc., were not necessarily related to union. He also argues that we should speak of "consciousness" of God's presence, rather than of "experience", since mystical activity is not simply about the sensation of God as an external object, but more broadly about "new ways of knowing and loving based on states of awareness in which God becomes present in our inner acts". Related to this idea is his emphasis on the transformation that occurs through mystical activity: "This is why the only test that Christianity has known for determining the authenticity of a mystic and her or his message has been that of personal transformation, both on the mystic's part and—especially—on the part of those whom the mystic has affected."

Another consideration to be made is that mystical experience is not simply a matter between the mystic and God, but is often shaped by cultural issues. For instance, Carolyn Walker Bynum has shown how, in the late Middle Ages, miracles attending the taking of the eucharist were not simply symbolic of the Passion story, but served as vindication of the mystics' theological orthodoxy by proving that the mystic had not fallen prey to heretical ideas, such as the Cathar rejection of the material world as evil, contrary to orthodox teaching that God took on human flesh and remained sinless. Thus, the nature of mystical experience could be tailored to the particular cultural and theological issues of the time.

Origins


Christ's disciples
Disciple (Christianity)
In Christianity, the disciples were the students of Jesus during his ministry. While Jesus attracted a large following, the term disciple is commonly used to refer specifically to "the Twelve", an inner circle of men whose number perhaps represented the twelve tribes of Israel...

 have been considered by some to be the first Christian mystics. They were called disciples because, as with mystics of other religions (such as the stoics
Stoicism
Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early . The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of "moral and intellectual perfection," would not suffer such emotions.Stoics were concerned...

 and sramanic traditions), they followed a discipline prescribed by their teacher—in this case Jesus himself. Jesus' disciples lived their lives in accordance with Jesus' doctrine of the Kingdom
Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven is a foundational concept in the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.The term "Kingdom of God" is found in all four canonical gospels and in the Pauline epistles...

. This doctrine was explained in terms of parables and similes concerning the manner in which a human being should live their life in order to achieve spiritual perfection and inherit eternal life with God. Jesus referred to himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life, described himself as the bread of heaven and as the true vine (both of which suggest types of union with Christ), and, in his "farewell discourse
Farewell discourse
In the New Testament, Chapters 14-17 of the Gospel of John are known as the Farewell Discourse given by Jesus to eleven of his disciples at the conclusion of the Last Supper in Jerusalem, the night before his crucifixion....

", prayed that the disciples may be one with each other and with him just as he was one with the Father.
Asked by a disciple how he would reveal himself to them and not to the world, Jesus answers:
"If a man loves me, he will keep my Word, and my Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make our home with him." (Jn 14,23)"
This describes a mystical way of life, not just a limited mystical experience.
Other scriptural texts testify to mystical experiences, if not actual mystical union: the apostle Paul mentions the mystical experience of a person who was caught up into the Third Heaven
Third Heaven
The Third Heaven is a spiritual division of the universe within Judeo-Christian cosmology. In some traditions it is considered the abode of God, and in others a lower level of Paradise, commonly one of seven.-Hebrew Bible:...

, and John the Revelator
John of Patmos
John of Patmos is the name given, in the Book of Revelation, as the author of the apocalyptic text that is traditionally cannonized in the New Testament...

 describes a vision he had of the end times.

In subsequent centuries, especially as Christian apologetics
Christian apologetics
Christian apologetics is a field of Christian theology that aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defend the faith against objections, and expose the perceived flaws of other world views...

 began to use Greek philosophy to explain Christian ideas, Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism , is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD, based on the teachings of Plato and earlier Platonists, with its earliest contributor believed to be Plotinus, and his teacher Ammonius Saccas...

 became an influence on Christian mystical thought and practice via such authors as Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo , also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius . He was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province...

 and Origen
Origen
Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

.

Jewish antecedents


Jewish spirituality in the period before Jesus was highly corporate and public, based mostly on the worship services of the synagogues, which included the reading and interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures and the recitation of prayers, and on the major festivals. Thus, private spirituality was strongly influenced by the liturgies and by the scriptures (e.g., the use of the Psalms for prayer), and individual prayers often recalled historical events just as much as they recalled their own immediate needs.

Of special importance are the following concepts:
  • Da'at (knowledge) and Chokhmah
    Chokhmah
    Chokhmah, also sometimes transliterated chochma or hokhmah is the Hebrew word for "wisdom". It is cognate with the Arabic word Hikmah, which also means 'wisdom'. The word "chokhmah" and others derived from it may connote one of several things.-People:A "wise man" is a chakham...

     (wisdom), which come from years of reading, praying and meditating the scriptures;
  • Shekhinah
    Shekhinah
    Shekinah is the English spelling of a grammatically feminine Hebrew word that means the dwelling or settling, and is used to denote the dwelling or settling divine presence of God, especially in the Temple in Jerusalem.-Etymology:Shekinah is derived...

    , the presence of God in our daily lives, the superiority of that presence to earthly wealth, and the pain and longing that come when God is absent;
  • the hiddenness of God, which comes from our inability to survive the full revelation of God's glory and which forces us to seek to know God through faith and obedience;
  • "Torah-mysticism", a view of God's laws as the central expression of God's will and therefore as worthy object not only of obedience but also of loving meditation and Torah study
    Torah study
    Torah study is the study by Jewish people of the Torah, Hebrew Bible, Talmud, responsa, rabbinic literature and similar works, all of which are Judaism's religious texts...

    ; and
  • poverty, an ascetic value, based on the apocalyptic expectation of God's impending arrival, that characterized the Jewish people's reaction to being oppressed by a series of foreign empires.


In Christian mysticism, Shekhinah became mystery
Sacred Mysteries
The term sacred mysteries generally denotes the area of supernatural phenomena associated with a divinity or a religious ideology.-Pre-Christian religious mysteries:...

, Da'at became gnosis
Gnosis
Gnosis is the common Greek noun for knowledge . In the context of the English language gnosis generally refers to the word's meaning within the spheres of Christian mysticism, Mystery religions and Gnosticism where it signifies 'spiritual knowledge' in the sense of mystical enlightenment.-Related...

, and poverty became an important component of monasticism
Monasticism
Monasticism is a religious way of life characterized by the practice of renouncing worldly pursuits to fully devote one's self to spiritual work...

.

Philo
Philo
Philo , known also as Philo of Alexandria , Philo Judaeus, Philo Judaeus of Alexandria, Yedidia, "Philon", and Philo the Jew, was a Hellenistic Jewish Biblical philosopher born in Alexandria....

 of Alexandria was a Jewish Hellenistic philosopher
Hellenistic philosophy
Hellenistic philosophy is the period of Western philosophy that was developed in the Hellenistic civilization following Aristotle and ending with the beginning of Neoplatonism.-Pythagoreanism:...

 who was important for connecting the Hebrew Scriptures to Greek thought, and thereby to Greek Christians, who struggled to understand their connection to Jewish history. In particular, Philo taught that allegorical interpretation
Allegorical interpretation
In a biblical context, allegorical interpretation is an approach assuming that the authors of a text intended something other than what is literally expressed....

s of the Hebrew Scriptures provides access to the real meanings of the texts. Philo also taught the need to bring together the contemplative focus of the Stoics and Essenes
Essenes
The Essenes were a Jewish sect that flourished from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE which some scholars claim seceded from the Zadokite priests...

 with the active lives of virtue and community worship found in Platonism
Platonism
Platonism is the philosophy of Plato or the name of other philosophical systems considered closely derived from it. In a narrower sense the term might indicate the doctrine of Platonic realism...

 and the Therapeutae
Therapeutae
The Therapeutae were a Jewish sect in which flourished in Alexandria and other parts of the Diaspora of Hellenistic Judaism in the final years of the Second Temple period. The primary source is the account De vita contemplativa by the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria who appears to have...

. Using terms reminiscent of the Platonists, Philo described the intellectual component of faith as a sort of spiritual ecstasy in which our nous
Nous
Nous , also called intellect or intelligence, is a philosophical term for the faculty of the human mind which is described in classical philosophy as necessary for understanding what is true or real, very close in meaning to intuition...

 (mind) is suspended and God's Spirit takes its place. Philo's ideas influenced the Alexandrian
Alexandrian school
The Alexandrian school is a collective designation for certain tendencies in literature, philosophy, medicine, and the sciences that developed in the Hellenistic cultural center of Alexandria, Egypt during the Hellenistic and Roman periods....

 Christians, Clement
Clement of Alexandria
Titus Flavius Clemens , known as Clement of Alexandria , was a Christian theologian and the head of the noted Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement is best remembered as the teacher of Origen...

 and Origen
Origen
Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

 and through them, Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa
St. Gregory of Nyssa was a Christian bishop and saint. He was a younger brother of Basil the Great and a good friend of Gregory of Nazianzus. His significance has long been recognized in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic branches of Christianity...

.

Jesus and the Apostles


The Christian scriptures, insofar as they are the founding narrative of the Christian church, provide many key stories and concepts that become important for Christian mystics in all later generations: practices such as the Eucharist
Eucharist
The Eucharist , also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a Christian sacrament or ordinance...

, baptism
Baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

 and the Lord's Prayer
Lord's Prayer
The Lord's Prayer is a central prayer in Christianity. In the New Testament of the Christian Bible, it appears in two forms: in the Gospel of Matthew as part of the discourse on ostentation in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the Gospel of Luke, which records Jesus being approached by "one of his...

 all become activities that take on importance for both their ritual and symbolic values. Other scriptural narratives present scenes that become the focus of meditation: the Crucifixion of Jesus
Crucifixion of Jesus
The crucifixion of Jesus and his ensuing death is an event that occurred during the 1st century AD. Jesus, who Christians believe is the Son of God as well as the Messiah, was arrested, tried, and sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be scourged, and finally executed on a cross...

 and his appearances after his Resurrection
Resurrection of Jesus
The Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus states that Jesus returned to bodily life on the third day following his death by crucifixion. It is a key element of Christian faith and theology and part of the Nicene Creed: "On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures"...

 are two of the most central to Christian theology; but Jesus' conception, in which the Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit (Christianity)
For the majority of Christians, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and is Almighty God...

 overshadows Mary, and his Transfiguration
Transfiguration of Jesus
The Transfiguration of Jesus is an event reported in the New Testament in which Jesus is transfigured and becomes radiant upon a mountain. The Synoptic Gospels describe it, and 2 Peter 1:16-18 refers to it....

, in which he is briefly revealed in his heavenly glory, also become important images for meditation. Moreover, many of the Christian texts build off of Jewish spiritual foundations, such as chokhmah
Chokhmah
Chokhmah, also sometimes transliterated chochma or hokhmah is the Hebrew word for "wisdom". It is cognate with the Arabic word Hikmah, which also means 'wisdom'. The word "chokhmah" and others derived from it may connote one of several things.-People:A "wise man" is a chakham...

, shekhinah
Shekhinah
Shekinah is the English spelling of a grammatically feminine Hebrew word that means the dwelling or settling, and is used to denote the dwelling or settling divine presence of God, especially in the Temple in Jerusalem.-Etymology:Shekinah is derived...

.

But different writers present different images and ideas. The Synoptic Gospels
Synoptic Gospels
The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in the same sequence, and sometimes exactly the same wording. This degree of parallelism in content, narrative arrangement, language, and sentence structures can only be...

 (in spite of their many differences) introduce several important ideas, two of which are related to Greco-Judaic notions of knowledge/gnosis by virtue of being mental acts: purity of heart, in which we will to see in God's light; and repentance
Metanoia (theology)
Metanoia in the context of theological discussion, where it is used often, is usually interpreted to mean repentance...

, which involves allowing God to judge and then transform us. Another key idea presented by the Synoptics is the desert, which is used as a metaphor for the place where we meet God in the poverty of our spirit.

The Gospel of John
Gospel of John
The Gospel According to John , commonly referred to as the Gospel of John or simply John, and often referred to in New Testament scholarship as the Fourth Gospel, is an account of the public ministry of Jesus...

 focuses on God's glory in his use of light imagery and in his presentation of the Cross as a moment of exaltation; he also sees the Cross as the example of agape love, a love which is not so much an emotion as a willingness to serve and care for others. But in stressing love, John shifts the goal of spiritual growth away from knowledge/gnosis, which he presents more in terms of Stoic
Stoicism
Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early . The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of "moral and intellectual perfection," would not suffer such emotions.Stoics were concerned...

 ideas about the role of reason as being the underlying principle of the universe and as the spiritual principle within all people. Although John does not follow up on the Stoic notion that this principle makes union with the divine possible for humanity, it is an idea that later Christian writers develop. Later generations will also shift back and forth between whether to follow the Synoptics in stressing knowledge or John in stressing love.

In his letters, Paul
Paul of Tarsus
Paul the Apostle , also known as Saul of Tarsus, is described in the Christian New Testament as one of the most influential early Christian missionaries, with the writings ascribed to him by the church forming a considerable portion of the New Testament...

 also focuses on mental activities, but not in the same way as the Synoptics, which equate renewing the mind with repentance. Instead, Paul sees the renewal of our minds as happening as we contemplate what Jesus did on the Cross, which then opens us to grace and to the movement of the Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit (Christianity)
For the majority of Christians, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and is Almighty God...

 into our hearts. Like John, Paul is less interested in knowledge, preferring to emphasize the hiddenness, the "mystery" of God's plan as revealed through Christ. But Paul's discussion of the Cross differs from John's in being less about how it reveals God's glory and more about how it becomes the stumbling block that turns our minds back to God. Paul also describes the Christian life as that of an athlete, demanding practice and training for the sake of the prize; later writers will see in this image a call to ascetical practices
Asceticism
Asceticism describes a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various sorts of worldly pleasures often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals...

.

Eastern Christianity


Inspired by Christ's teaching and example men
Desert Fathers
The Desert Fathers were hermits, ascetics, monks, and nuns who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt beginning around the third century AD. The most well known was Anthony the Great, who moved to the desert in 270–271 and became known as both the father and founder of desert monasticism...

 and women
Desert Mothers
The Desert Mothers were female Christian ascetics living in the desert of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria in the 4th and 5th centuries CE. They typically lived in the monastic communities that began forming during that time, though sometimes they lived as hermits...

 withdrew from life in the Mediterranean cities and withdrew to the deserts of Sketes
Wadi El Natrun
Wadi El Natrun is a valley located in Beheira Governorate, Egypt, including a town with the same name. The name refers to the presence of eight different lakes in the region that produce natron salt. In Christian literature, the region is also referred to as the Nitrian Desert...

 where either as solitary individuals or communities lived lives of austere simplicity oriented towards contemplative prayer. These communities formed the basis for what later would become known as Christian monasticism
Christian monasticism
Christian monasticism is a practice which began to develop early in the history of the Christian Church, modeled upon scriptural examples and ideals, including those in the Old Testament, but not mandated as an institution in the scriptures. It has come to be regulated by religious rules Christian...

. Mysticism is integral to Christian monasticism because the goal of practice for the monastic is union with God
Theosis
In Christian theology, divinization, deification, making divine or theosis is the transforming effect of divine grace. This concept of salvation is historical and fundamental for Christian understanding that is prominent in the Eastern Orthodox Church and also in the Catholic Church, and is a...

. Eastern Christianity
Eastern Christianity
Eastern Christianity comprises the Christian traditions and churches that developed in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Northeastern Africa, India and parts of the Far East over several centuries of religious antiquity. The term is generally used in Western Christianity to...

 has especially preserved a mystical emphasis in its theology and retains a tradition of mystical prayer
Hesychasm
Hesychasm is an eremitic tradition of prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and some of the Eastern Catholic Churches, such as the Byzantine Rite, practised by the Hesychast Hesychasm is an eremitic tradition of prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and some of the Eastern Catholic Churches,...

 dating back to Christianity's beginnings.

Catholicism


The practice of Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina
In Christianity, Lectio Divina is a traditional Catholic practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God's Word...

, a form of prayer that centers on scripture reading, was developed in its best-known form in the sixth century, through the work of Benedict of Nursia
Benedict of Nursia
Saint Benedict of Nursia is a Christian saint, honored by the Roman Catholic Church as the patron saint of Europe and students.Benedict founded twelve communities for monks at Subiaco, about to the east of Rome, before moving to Monte Cassino in the mountains of southern Italy. There is no...

 and Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I , better known in English as Gregory the Great, was pope from 3 September 590 until his death...

, and described and promoted more widely in the 12th century by Guigo II
Guigo II
Guigo II was a Carthusian monk and the 9th prior of Grande Chartreuse monastery in the 12th century. He died about 1193, and is distinct from Guigo I, the 5th prior of the same monastery.Surnamed "angelic" he was the 9th prior of the monastery...

. The 9th century saw the development of mystical theology
Mystical theology
Mystical theology is a branch of theology which treats of acts and experiences or states of the soul which cannot be produced by human effort.-Catholic tradition:...

 through the introduction of the works of sixth-century theologian Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, also known as Pseudo-Denys, was a Christian theologian and philosopher of the late 5th to early 6th century, the author of the Corpus Areopagiticum . The author is identified as "Dionysos" in the corpus, which later incorrectly came to be attributed to Dionysius...

, such as On Mystical Theology. His discussion of the via negativa was especially influential.

Protestantism


As part of the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

, theologians turned away from the traditions developed in the Middle Ages and returned to biblical and early church sources. Accordingly, they were often skeptical of Catholic mystical practices, which seemed to them to downplay the role of grace in redemption and to support the idea that human works can play a role in salvation, and which also seemed to come from post-biblical sources and practices. However, Quakers
Religious Society of Friends
The Religious Society of Friends, or Friends Church, is a Christian movement which stresses the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Members are known as Friends, or popularly as Quakers. It is made of independent organisations, which have split from one another due to doctrinal differences...

, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Lutherans
Anglicanism
Anglicanism is a tradition within Christianity comprising churches with historical connections to the Church of England or similar beliefs, worship and church structures. The word Anglican originates in ecclesia anglicana, a medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246 that means the English...

, Pentecostals and Charismatics
Charismatic movement
The term charismatic movement is used in varying senses to describe 20th century developments in various Christian denominations. It describes an ongoing international, cross-denominational/non-denominational Christian movement in which individual, historically mainstream congregations adopt...

 have in various ways remained open to the idea of mystical experiences.

Major historical movements



Early church



The texts attributed to the Apostolic Fathers
Apostolic Fathers
The Apostolic Fathers are a small number of Early Christian authors who lived and wrote in the second half of the first century and the first half of the second century. They are acknowledged as leaders in the early church, although their writings were not included in the New Testament...

, the earliest post-Biblical texts we have, share several key themes, particularly the call to unity in the face of persecution and internal divisions, the reality of the charism
Charism
In Christian theology, a charism in general denotes any good gift that flows from God's love to man. The word can also mean any of the spiritual graces and qualifications granted to every Christian to perform his or her task in the Church...

s, especially prophecy, visions and Christian gnosis
Gnosis
Gnosis is the common Greek noun for knowledge . In the context of the English language gnosis generally refers to the word's meaning within the spheres of Christian mysticism, Mystery religions and Gnosticism where it signifies 'spiritual knowledge' in the sense of mystical enlightenment.-Related...

, which is understood as "a gift of the Holy Spirit that enables us to know Christ" through meditating on the scriptures and on the Cross of Christ. (This understanding of gnosis is not the same as that developed by the Gnostics
Gnosticism
Gnosticism is a scholarly term for a set of religious beliefs and spiritual practices common to early Christianity, Hellenistic Judaism, Greco-Roman mystery religions, Zoroastrianism , and Neoplatonism.A common characteristic of some of these groups was the teaching that the realisation of Gnosis...

, who focused on esoteric knowledge
Esotericism
Esotericism or Esoterism signifies the holding of esoteric opinions or beliefs, that is, ideas preserved or understood by a small group or those specially initiated, or of rare or unusual interest. The term derives from the Greek , a compound of : "within", thus "pertaining to the more inward",...

 that is available only to a few people but that allows them to free themselves from the evil world.) These authors also discuss the notion of the "two ways", that is, the way of life and the way of death; this idea has biblical roots, being found in both the Sermon on the Mount
Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount is a collection of sayings and teachings of Jesus, which emphasizes his moral teaching found in the Gospel of Matthew...

 and the Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

. The two ways are then related to the notion of purity of heart, which is developed by contrasting it against the divided or duplicitous heart and by linking it to the need for asceticism, which keeps the heart whole/pure. Purity of heart was especially important given the real threat of martyrdom, which many writers discussed in theological terms, seeing it not as an evil but as an opportunity to truly die for the sake of God—the ultimate example of ascetic practice. Martyrdom could also be seen as symbolic in its connections with the Eucharist and with baptism.

The Alexandrian contribution to Christian mysticism centers around Origen
Origen
Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

 and Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria
Titus Flavius Clemens , known as Clement of Alexandria , was a Christian theologian and the head of the noted Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement is best remembered as the teacher of Origen...

. Clement was an early Christian humanist
Christian humanism
Christian humanism is the position that universal human dignity and individual freedom are essential and principal components of, or are at least compatible with, Christian doctrine and practice. It is a philosophical union of Christian and humanist principles.- Origins :Christian humanism may have...

 who argued that reason is the most important aspect of human existence and that gnosis (not something we can attain by ourselves, but the gift of Christ) helps us find the spiritual realities that are hidden behind the natural world and within the scriptures. Given the importance of reason, Clement stresses apatheia
Apatheia
Apatheia in Stoic philosophy refers to a state of mind where one is free from emotional disturbance. This might be translated as equanimity or indifference...

 as a reasonable ordering of our passions in order to live within God's love, which is seen as a form of truth. Origen, who had a lasting influence on Eastern Christian thought, further develops the idea that the spiritual realities can be found through allegorical readings of the scriptures (along the lines of Jewish aggadah
Aggadah
Aggadah refers to the homiletic and non-legalistic exegetical texts in the classical rabbinic literature of Judaism, particularly as recorded in the Talmud and Midrash...

 tradition), but he focuses his attention on the Cross and on the importance of imitating Christ through the Cross, especially through spiritual combat and asceticism. Origen stresses the importance of combining intellect and virtue (theoria
Theoria
For other uses of the term "contemplation", see Contemplation Theoria is Greek for contemplation. It corresponds to the Latin word contemplatio, "looking at", "gazing at", "being aware of".- Introduction :...

 and praxis
Praxis (Eastern Orthodoxy)
Praxis, a transliteration of the Greek word πρᾶξις, which is derived from the stem of the verb πράσσειν "to do, to act.", means "practice, action, doing"...

) in our spiritual exercises, drawing on the image of Moses
Moses
Moses was, according to the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed...

 and Aaron
Aaron
In the Hebrew Bible and the Qur'an, Aaron : Ααρών ), who is often called "'Aaron the Priest"' and once Aaron the Levite , was the older brother of Moses, and a prophet of God. He represented the priestly functions of his tribe, becoming the first High Priest of the Israelites...

 leading the Israelites through the wilderness, and he describes our union with God as the marriage of our souls with Christ the Logos, using the wedding imagery from the Song of Songs
Song of songs
Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon, is a book of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. It may also refer to:In music:* Song of songs , the debut album by David and the Giants* A generic term for medleysPlays...

. Alexandrian mysticism developed alongside Hermeticism
Hermeticism
Hermeticism or the Western Hermetic Tradition is a set of philosophical and religious beliefs based primarily upon the pseudepigraphical writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus...

 and Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism , is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD, based on the teachings of Plato and earlier Platonists, with its earliest contributor believed to be Plotinus, and his teacher Ammonius Saccas...

 and therefore share some of the same ideas, images, etc. in spite of their differences.

The Eastern church then saw the development of monasticism
Monasticism
Monasticism is a religious way of life characterized by the practice of renouncing worldly pursuits to fully devote one's self to spiritual work...

 and the mystical contributions of Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa
St. Gregory of Nyssa was a Christian bishop and saint. He was a younger brother of Basil the Great and a good friend of Gregory of Nazianzus. His significance has long been recognized in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic branches of Christianity...

, Evagrius Ponticus
Evagrius Ponticus
Evagrius Ponticus , also called Evagrius the Solitary was a Christian monk and ascetic. One of the rising stars in the late fourth century church, he was well-known as a keen thinker, a polished speaker, and a gifted writer...

 and Pseudo-Dionysius. Monasticism, also known as anchoritism (meaning "to withdraw") was seen as an alternative to martyrdom, and was less about escaping the world than about fighting demons (who were thought to live in the desert) and about gaining liberation from our bodily passions in order to be open to the Word of God. Anchorites practiced continuous meditation on the scriptures as a means of climbing the ladder of perfection—a common religious image in the Mediterranean world and one found in Christianity through the story of Jacob's ladder
Jacob's Ladder
Jacob's Ladder is a "ladder to heaven", described by biblical Jacob in the Book of GenesisJacob's Ladder may also refer to:* Ladder of Jacob, a pseudepigraphic text of the Old Testament...

—and sought to fend off the demon of acedia
Acedia
Acedia describes a state of listlessness or torpor, of not caring or not being concerned with one's position or condition in the world. It can lead to a state of being unable to perform one's duties in life. Its spiritual overtones make it related to but distinct from depression...

 ("un-caring"), a boredom or apathy that prevents us from continuing on in our spiritual training. Anchorites could live in total solitude ("hermit
Hermit
A hermit is a person who lives, to some degree, in seclusion from society.In Christianity, the term was originally applied to a Christian who lives the eremitic life out of a religious conviction, namely the Desert Theology of the Old Testament .In the...

s", from the word erēmitēs, "of the desert") or in loose communities ("cenobites", meaning "common life").

Monasticism eventually made its way to the West and was established by the work of John Cassian and Benedict of Nursia
Benedict of Nursia
Saint Benedict of Nursia is a Christian saint, honored by the Roman Catholic Church as the patron saint of Europe and students.Benedict founded twelve communities for monks at Subiaco, about to the east of Rome, before moving to Monte Cassino in the mountains of southern Italy. There is no...

. Meanwhile, Western spiritual writing was deeply influenced by the works of such men as Jerome
Jerome
Saint Jerome was a Roman Christian priest, confessor, theologian and historian, and who became a Doctor of the Church. He was the son of Eusebius, of the city of Stridon, which was on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia...

 and Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo , also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius . He was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province...

.

Middle ages


The Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

 in the West includes the work of Gregory the Great and Bede
Bede
Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

, as well as developments in Celtic Christianity
Celtic Christianity
Celtic Christianity or Insular Christianity refers broadly to certain features of Christianity that were common, or held to be common, across the Celtic-speaking world during the Early Middle Ages...

 and Anglo-Saxon Christianity, and comes to fulfillment in the work of Johannes Scotus Eriugena
Johannes Scotus Eriugena
Johannes Scotus Eriugena was an Irish theologian, Neoplatonist philosopher, and poet. He is known for having translated and made commentaries upon the work of Pseudo-Dionysius.-Name:...

 and the Carolingian Renaissance
Carolingian Renaissance
In the history of ideas the Carolingian Renaissance stands out as a period of intellectual and cultural revival in Europe occurring from the late eighth century, in the generation of Alcuin, to the 9th century, and the generation of Heiric of Auxerre, with the peak of the activities coordinated...

.

The High Middle Ages
High Middle Ages
The High Middle Ages was the period of European history around the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries . The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the Late Middle Ages, which by convention end around 1500....

 saw a flourishing of mystical practice and theorization corresponding to the flourishing of new monastic orders, with such figures as Guigo II
Guigo II
Guigo II was a Carthusian monk and the 9th prior of Grande Chartreuse monastery in the 12th century. He died about 1193, and is distinct from Guigo I, the 5th prior of the same monastery.Surnamed "angelic" he was the 9th prior of the monastery...

, Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen
Blessed Hildegard of Bingen , also known as Saint Hildegard, and Sibyl of the Rhine, was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. Elected a magistra by her fellow nuns in 1136, she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and...

, Bernard of Clairvaux
Bernard of Clairvaux
Bernard of Clairvaux, O.Cist was a French abbot and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian order.After the death of his mother, Bernard sought admission into the Cistercian order. Three years later, he was sent to found a new abbey at an isolated clearing in a glen known as the Val...

, the Victorines, and Bonaventure
Bonaventure
Saint Bonaventure, O.F.M., , born John of Fidanza , was an Italian medieval scholastic theologian and philosopher. The seventh Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, he was also a Cardinal Bishop of Albano. He was canonized on 14 April 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV and declared a Doctor of the...

, all coming from different orders, as well as the first real flowering of popular piety
Popular piety
Popular piety refers to religious practices that arose and occur outside of the official Church. Typically the term is used within the context of the Catholic church, the practices are generally accepted and allowed...

 among the laypeople.

The Late Middle Ages
Late Middle Ages
The Late Middle Ages was the period of European history generally comprising the 14th to the 16th century . The Late Middle Ages followed the High Middle Ages and preceded the onset of the early modern era ....

 saw the growth of groups of mystics centered around geographic regions: the Beguines, such as Mechthild of Magdeburg
Mechthild of Magdeburg
Mechthild of Magdeburg , a Beguine, was a medieval mystic, whose book Das fließende Licht der Gottheit described her visions of God....

 and Hadewijch
Hadewijch
Hadewijch was a 13th century poet and mystic, probably living in the Duchy of Brabant.Most of her extant writings, none of which survived the Middle Ages as an autograph, are in a Brabantian form of Middle Dutch...

 (among others); the Rhineland mystics
German mysticism
German mysticism, sometimes called Dominican mysticism or Rhineland mysticism, was a late medieval Christian mystical movement, that was especially prominent within the Dominican order and in Germany. Although its origins can be traced back to Hildegard of Bingen, it is mostly represented by...

 Meister Eckhart
Meister Eckhart
Eckhart von Hochheim O.P. , commonly known as Meister Eckhart, was a German theologian, philosopher and mystic, born near Gotha, in the Landgraviate of Thuringia in the Holy Roman Empire. Meister is German for "Master", referring to the academic title Magister in theologia he obtained in Paris...

, Johannes Tauler
Johannes Tauler
Johannes Tauler was a German mystic theologian.- Life :He was born about the year 1300 in Strasbourg, and was educated at the Dominican convent in that city, where Meister Eckhart, who greatly influenced him, was professor of theology in the monastery school...

 and Henry Suso
Henry Suso
Henry Suso was a German mystic, born at Überlingen on Lake Constance on March 21, c. 1300; he died at Ulm, January 25, 1366; declared Blessed in 1831 by Gregory XVI, who assigned his feast in the Dominican Order to March 2...

; and the English mystics Richard Rolle
Richard Rolle
Rolle is honored in the Church of England on January 20 and in the Episcopal Church together with Walter Hilton and Margery Kempe on September 28.-Works in print:*English Prose Treatises of Richard Rolle of Hampole, Edited by George Perry...

, Walter Hilton
Walter Hilton
Walter Hilton was an English Augustinian mystic.-Biography:Hilton was born ca. 1340-45; he was first recorded in January 1371 as a bachelor of law attached to the diocesan court of Ely, and again in 1375...

 and Julian of Norwich
Julian of Norwich
Julian of Norwich is regarded as one of the most important English mystics. She is venerated in the Anglican and Lutheran churches, but has never been canonized, or officially beatified, by the Catholic Church, probably because so little is known of her life aside from her writings, including the...

. This period also saw such individuals as John of Ruysbroeck, Catherine of Siena
Catherine of Siena
Saint Catherine of Siena, T.O.S.D, was a tertiary of the Dominican Order, and a Scholastic philosopher and theologian. She also worked to bring the papacy of Gregory XI back to Rome from its displacement in France, and to establish peace among the Italian city-states. She was proclaimed a Doctor...

 and Catherine of Genoa, the Devotio Moderna
Devotio Moderna
Devotio Moderna, or Modern Devotion, was a 14th century new religious movement, with Gerard Groote as a key founder. Other well known members included Thomas à Kempis who was the likely author of the book The Imitation of Christ which proved to be highly influential for centuries.Groote's initial...

, and such books as the Theologia Germanica
Theologia Germanica
Theologia Germanica, also known as Theologia Deutsch or Teutsch, is a mystical treatise believed to have been written in the mid 14th century by an anonymous author, usually associated with the Friends of God. According to the introduction of the Theologia the author was a priest and a member of...

, The Cloud of Unknowing
The Cloud of Unknowing
The Cloud of Unknowing is an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the latter half of the 14th century. The text is a spiritual guide on contemplative prayer in the late Middle Ages.Manuscripts of the work are today at British Library and Cambridge University Library...

 and The Imitation of Christ.

Modernity



With the Renaissance came the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

, which in many ways downplayed mysticism, although it still produced a fair amount of spiritual literature. Even the most active reformers can be linked to Medieval mystical traditions. Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

, for instance, was a monk who was influenced by the German Dominican mystical tradition of Eckhart and Tauler as well by the Dionysian-influenced Wesonmystik ("essence mysticism") tradition. He also published the Theologia Germanica, which he claimed was the most important book after the Bible and Augustine for teaching him about God, Christ, and humanity. Even John Calvin
John Calvin
John Calvin was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530...

, who rejected many Medieval ascetic practices and who favored doctrinal knowledge of God over affective experience, has Medieval influences, namely, Jean Gerson
Jean Gerson
Jean Charlier de Gerson , French scholar, educator, reformer, and poet, Chancellor of the University of Paris, a guiding light of the conciliar movement and one of the most prominent theologians at the Council of Constance, was born at the village of Gerson, in the bishopric of Reims in...

 and the Devotio moderna, with its emphasis on piety as the method of spiritual growth in which the individual practices dependence on God by imitating Christ and the son-father relationship. Meanwhile, his notion that we can begin to enjoy our eternal salvation through our earthly successes leads in later generations to "a mysticism of consolation".

But the Reformation brought about the Counter-Reformation
Counter-Reformation
The Counter-Reformation was the period of Catholic revival beginning with the Council of Trent and ending at the close of the Thirty Years' War, 1648 as a response to the Protestant Reformation.The Counter-Reformation was a comprehensive effort, composed of four major elements:#Ecclesiastical or...

 and, with it, a new flowering of mystical literature, often grouped by nationality:
  • The Spanish had Ignatius Loyola, whose Spiritual Exercises
    Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola
    The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, are a set of Christian meditations, prayers and mental exercises, divided into four thematic 'weeks' of variable length, designed to be carried out over a period of 28 to 30 days...

     were designed to open people to a receptive mode of consciousness in which they can experience God through careful spiritual direction and through understanding how the mind connects to the will and how to weather the experiences of spiritual consolation
    Religious ecstasy
    Religious ecstasy is an altered state of consciousness characterized by greatly reduced external awareness and expanded interior mental and spiritual awareness which is frequently accompanied by visions and emotional/intuitive euphoria...

     and desolation
    Spiritual dryness
    In Catholic spirituality, spiritual dryness or desolation is a lack of spiritual consolation in one's spiritual life. It is a form of spiritual crisis experienced subjectively as a sense of separation from God or lack of spiritual feeling, especially during contemplative prayer...

    ; Teresa of Avila
    Teresa of Ávila
    Saint Teresa of Ávila, also called Saint Teresa of Jesus, baptized as Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, was a prominent Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun, and writer of the Counter Reformation, and theologian of contemplative life through mental prayer...

    , who used the metaphors of watering a garden and walking through the rooms of a castle
    El Castillo Interior
    El Castillo Interior or Las Moradas was written by Saint Teresa of Ávila in 1577 as a guide for spiritual development, through service and prayer...

     to explain how meditation leads to union with God; and John of the Cross
    John of the Cross
    John of the Cross , born Juan de Yepes Álvarez, was a major figure of the Counter-Reformation, a Spanish mystic, Catholic saint, Carmelite friar and priest, born at Fontiveros, Old Castile....

    , who used a wide range of biblical and spiritual influences both to rewrite the traditional "three ways" of mysticism after the manner of bridal mysticism and to present the two "dark nights": the dark night of the senses and the dark night of the soul
    Dark Night of the Soul
    Dark Night of the Soul is a treatise by Saint John of the Cross containing a commentary explaining his poem of the same name.-Poem and treatise by Saint John of the Cross:...

    , during which the individual renounces everything that might become an obstacle between the soul and God and then experiences the pain of feeling separated from God, unable to carry on normal spiritual exercises, as it encounters the enormous gap between its human nature and God's divine wisdom and light and moves up the 10-step ladder of ascent towards God. Another prominent mystic was Miguel de Molinos
    Miguel de Molinos
    Miguel de Molinos , Spanish divine, the chief apostle of the religious revival known as Quietism, was born about 1628 near Muniesa ....

    , the chief apostle of the religious revival known as Quietism. No breath of suspicion arose against Molinos until 1681, when the Jesuit preacher Paolo Segneri, attacked his views, though without mentioning his name, in his Concordia tra la fatica e la quiete nell' orazione. The matter was referred to the Inquisition. A report got abroad that Molinos had been convicted of moral enormities, as well as of heretical doctrines; and it was seen that he was doomed. On September 3, 1687 he made public profession of his errors, and was sentenced to imprisonment for life. Contemporary Protestants saw in the fate of Molinos nothing more than a persecution by the Jesuits of a wise and enlightened man, who had dared to withstand the petty ceremonialism of the Italian piety of the day. Molinos died in prison.
  • The Italians had Lorenzo Scupoli
    Lorenzo Scupoli
    Lorenzo Scupoli was the author of Il combattimento spirituale , one of the most important works of Catholic spirituality.-Life:...

    ;
  • The French had Francis de Sales
    Francis de Sales
    Francis de Sales was Bishop of Geneva and is a Roman Catholic saint. He worked to convert Protestants back to Catholicism, and was an accomplished preacher...

    , Jeanne Guyon, François Fénelon
    François Fénelon
    François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon, more commonly known as François Fénelon , was a French Roman Catholic archbishop, theologian, poet and writer...

    , Brother Lawrence
    Brother Lawrence
    Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection served as a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. Christians commonly remember him for the intimacy he expressed concerning his relationship to God as recorded in a book compiled after his death, the classic Christian text, The Practice of the Presence...

     and Blaise Pascal
    Blaise Pascal
    Blaise Pascal , was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic philosopher. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a tax collector in Rouen...

    .


Meanwhile, the English had a denominational mix, from Catholic Augustine Baker
Augustine Baker
Fr Augustine Baker OSB , was a well-known Benedictine mystic and an ascetic writer. He was one of the earliest members of the newly restored English Benedictine Congregation.- Early life :...

 to Anglicans William Law
William Law
William Law was an English cleric, divine and theological writer.-Early life:Law was born at Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire in 1686. In 1705 he entered as a sizar at Emmanuel College, Cambridge; in 1711 he was elected fellow of his college and was ordained...

, John Donne
John Donne
John Donne 31 March 1631), English poet, satirist, lawyer, and priest, is now considered the preeminent representative of the metaphysical poets. His works are notable for their strong and sensual style and include sonnets, love poetry, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs,...

 and Lancelot Andrewes
Lancelot Andrewes
Lancelot Andrewes was an English bishop and scholar, who held high positions in the Church of England during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. During the latter's reign, Andrewes served successively as Bishop of Chichester, Ely and Winchester and oversaw the translation of the...

, to Puritans Richard Baxter
Richard Baxter
Richard Baxter was an English Puritan church leader, poet, hymn-writer, theologian, and controversialist. Dean Stanley called him "the chief of English Protestant Schoolmen". After some false starts, he made his reputation by his ministry at Kidderminster, and at around the same time began a long...

 and John Bunyan
John Bunyan
John Bunyan was an English Christian writer and preacher, famous for writing The Pilgrim's Progress. Though he was a Reformed Baptist, in the Church of England he is remembered with a Lesser Festival on 30 August, and on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church on 29 August.-Life:In 1628,...

 (The Pilgrim's Progress
The Pilgrim's Progress
The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come is a Christian allegory written by John Bunyan and published in February, 1678. It is regarded as one of the most significant works of religious English literature, has been translated into more than 200 languages, and has never been...

), to the first "Quaker", George Fox
George Fox
George Fox was an English Dissenter and a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers or Friends.The son of a Leicestershire weaver, Fox lived in a time of great social upheaval and war...

 and the first "Methodist", John Wesley
John Wesley
John Wesley was a Church of England cleric and Christian theologian. Wesley is largely credited, along with his brother Charles Wesley, as founding the Methodist movement which began when he took to open-air preaching in a similar manner to George Whitefield...

, who was well-versed in the continental mystics.

Similarly well-versed in the mystic tradition was the German Johann Arndt
Johann Arndt
Johann Arndt was a German Lutheran theologian who wrote several influential books of devotional Christianity...

, who, along with the English Puritans, influenced such continental Pietists
Pietism
Pietism was a movement within Lutheranism, lasting from the late 17th century to the mid-18th century and later. It proved to be very influential throughout Protestantism and Anabaptism, inspiring not only Anglican priest John Wesley to begin the Methodist movement, but also Alexander Mack to...

 as Philipp Jakob Spener
Philipp Jakob Spener
Philipp Jakob Spener was a German Christian theologian known as the "Father of Pietism."...

, Gottfried Arnold
Gottfried Arnold
Gottfried Arnold was a German Lutheran theologian and historian.Arnold was born at Annaberg, in Saxony , where his father was schoolmaster. In 1682 he went to the Gymnasium at Gera, and three years later to the University of Wittenberg...

, Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf of the Moravians, and the hymnodist Gerhard Tersteegen
Gerhard Tersteegen
Gerhard Tersteegen , was a German Reformed religious writer, born at Moers, at that time the capital of a countship belonging to the house of Orange-Nassau , which formed a Protestant enclave in the midst of a Roman Catholic country.After being educated at the gymnasium of his native town,...

. Arndt, whose book True Christianity was popular among Protestants, Catholics and Anglicans alike, combined influences from Bernard of Clarivaux, John Tauler and the Devotio moderna into a spirituality that focused its attention away from the theological squabbles of contemporary Lutheranism and onto the development of the new life in the heart and mind of the believer. Arndt influenced Spener, who formed a group known as the collegia pietatis ("college of piety") that stressed the role of spiritual direction
Spiritual direction
Spiritual direction is the practice of being with people as they attempt to deepen their relationship with the divine, or to learn and grow in their own personal spirituality. The person seeking direction shares stories of his or her encounters of the divine, or how he or she is experiencing...

 among lay-people—a practice with a long tradition going back to Aelred of Rievaulx and known in Spener's own time from the work of Francis de Sales
Francis de Sales
Francis de Sales was Bishop of Geneva and is a Roman Catholic saint. He worked to convert Protestants back to Catholicism, and was an accomplished preacher...

. Pietism as known through Spener's formation of it tended not just to reject the theological debates of the time, but to reject both intellectualism and organized religious practice in favor of a personalized, sentimentalized spirituality.

This sentimental, anti-intellectual form of pietism is seen in the thought and teaching of Zinzendorf, founder of the Moravians; but more intellectually rigorous forms of pietism are seen in the teachings of John Wesley
John Wesley
John Wesley was a Church of England cleric and Christian theologian. Wesley is largely credited, along with his brother Charles Wesley, as founding the Methodist movement which began when he took to open-air preaching in a similar manner to George Whitefield...

, which were themselves influenced by Zinzendorf, and in the teachings of American preachers Jonathan Edwards, who restored to pietism Gerson's focus on obedience and borrowed from early church teachers Origen
Origen
Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

 and Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa
St. Gregory of Nyssa was a Christian bishop and saint. He was a younger brother of Basil the Great and a good friend of Gregory of Nazianzus. His significance has long been recognized in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic branches of Christianity...

 the notion that humans yearn for God, and John Woolman
John Woolman
John Woolman was an American itinerant Quaker preacher who traveled throughout the American colonies and in England, advocating against cruelty to animals, economic injustices and oppression, conscription, military taxation, and particularly slavery and the slave trade.- Origins and early life...

, who combined a mystical view of the world with a deep concern for social issues; like Wesley, Woolman was influenced by Jakob Boehme, William Law
William Law
William Law was an English cleric, divine and theological writer.-Early life:Law was born at Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire in 1686. In 1705 he entered as a sizar at Emmanuel College, Cambridge; in 1711 he was elected fellow of his college and was ordained...

 and The Imitation of Christ. The combination of pietistic devotion and mystical experiences that are found in Woolman and Wesley are also found in their Dutch contemporary Tersteegen, who brings back the notion of the nous ("mind") as the site of God's interaction with our souls; through the work of the Spirit, our mind is able to intuitively recognize the immediate presence of God in our midst.

Practice



Historically, Christian mysticism has taught that for Christians the major emphasis of mysticism concerns a spiritual transformation of the egoic self, the following of a path designed to produce more fully realized human persons, "created in the Image and Likeness of God" and as such, living in harmonious communion with God, the Church, the rest of world, and all creation, including oneself. For Christians, this human potential is realized most perfectly in Jesus, precisely because he is both God and human, and is manifested in others through their association with him, whether conscious, as in the case of Christian mystics, or unconscious, with regard to spiritual persons who follow other traditions, such as Gandhi. The Eastern Christian tradition speaks of this transformation in terms of theosis
Theosis
In Christian theology, divinization, deification, making divine or theosis is the transforming effect of divine grace. This concept of salvation is historical and fundamental for Christian understanding that is prominent in the Eastern Orthodox Church and also in the Catholic Church, and is a...

 or divinization, perhaps best summed up by an ancient aphorism usually attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria
Athanasius of Alexandria
Athanasius of Alexandria [b. ca. – d. 2 May 373] is also given the titles St. Athanasius the Great, St. Athanasius I of Alexandria, St Athanasius the Confessor and St Athanasius the Apostolic. He was the 20th bishop of Alexandria. His long episcopate lasted 45 years Athanasius of Alexandria [b....

: "God became human so that man might become god."

Threefold path


Going back to Evagrius Ponticus
Evagrius Ponticus
Evagrius Ponticus , also called Evagrius the Solitary was a Christian monk and ascetic. One of the rising stars in the late fourth century church, he was well-known as a keen thinker, a polished speaker, and a gifted writer...

, Christian mystics have been described as pursuing a threefold path corresponding to body, mind, and soul (or spirit). The three aspects later became purgative, illuminative, and unitive in the western churches and prayer of the lips, the mind, the heart in the eastern churches. The first, purification is where aspiring traditionally Christian mystics start. This aspect focuses on discipline, particularly in terms of the human body; thus, it emphasizes prayer at certain times, either alone or with others, and in certain postures, often standing or kneeling. It also emphasizes the other disciplines of fasting and alms-giving, the latter including those activities called "the works of mercy," both spiritual and corporal, such as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless.

Purification, which grounds Christian spirituality in general, is primarily focused on efforts to, in the words of St. Paul
Paul of Tarsus
Paul the Apostle , also known as Saul of Tarsus, is described in the Christian New Testament as one of the most influential early Christian missionaries, with the writings ascribed to him by the church forming a considerable portion of the New Testament...

, "put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Holy Spirit" (Romans
Epistle to the Romans
The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, often shortened to Romans, is the sixth book in the New Testament. Biblical scholars agree that it was composed by the Apostle Paul to explain that Salvation is offered through the Gospel of Jesus Christ...

 8:13). This is considered a result of the Spirit working in the person and is not a result of personal deeds. Also in the words of St. Paul
Paul of Tarsus
Paul the Apostle , also known as Saul of Tarsus, is described in the Christian New Testament as one of the most influential early Christian missionaries, with the writings ascribed to him by the church forming a considerable portion of the New Testament...

, "...he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Epistle to the Philippians
Epistle to the Philippians
The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, usually referred to simply as Philippians, is the eleventh book in the New Testament. Biblical scholars agree that it was written by St. Paul to the church of Philippi, an early center of Christianity in Greece around 62 A.D. Other scholars argue for an...

 1:6). The "deeds of the flesh" here include not only external behavior, but also those habits, attitudes, compulsions, addictions, etc. (sometimes called egoic passions) which oppose themselves to true being and living as a Christian not only exteriorly, but interiorly as well. Evelyn Underhill
Evelyn Underhill
Evelyn Underhill was an English Anglo-Catholic writer and pacifist known for her numerous works on religion and spiritual practice, in particular Christian mysticism....

 describes purification as an awareness of one's own imperfections and finiteness, followed by self-discipline and mortification. Because of its physical, disciplinary aspect, this phase, as well as the entire Christian spiritual path, is often referred to as "ascetic
Asceticism
Asceticism describes a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various sorts of worldly pleasures often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals...

," a term which is derived from a Greek word which connotes athletic training. Because of this, in ancient Christian literature, prominent mystics are often called "spiritual athletes," an image which is also used several times in the New Testament to describe the Christian life. What is sought here is salvation in the original sense of the word, referring not only to one's eternal fate, but also to healing in all areas of life, including the restoration of spiritual, psychological, and physical health.

It remains a paradox of the mystics that the passivity at which they appear to aim is really a state of the most intense activity: more, that where it is wholly absent no great creative action can take place. In it, the superficial self compels itself to be still, in order that it may liberate another more deep-seated power which is, in the ecstasy of the contemplative genius, raised to the highest pitch of efficiency.


The second phase, the path of illumination, has to do with the activity of the Holy Spirit enlightening the mind, giving insights into truths not only explicit in scripture and the rest of the Christian tradition, but also those implicit in nature, not in the scientific sense, but rather in terms of an illumination of the "depth" aspects of reality and natural happenings, such that the working of God is perceived in all that one experiences. Underhill describes it as marked by a consciousness of a transcendent order and a vision of a new heaven and a new earth.

The third phase, usually called contemplation (or Mystical Contemplative Prayer ) in the Western tradition, refers to the experience of oneself as in some way united with God. The experience of union varies, but it is first and foremost always associated with a reuniting with Divine love, the underlying theme being that God, the perfect goodness, is known or experienced at least as much by the heart as by the intellect since, in the words 1 John 4:16: "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him." Some approaches to classical mysticism would consider the first two phases as preparatory to the third, explicitly mystical experience, but others state that these three phases overlap and intertwine.

Mystical Contemplative Prayer is the blessing for which the Christian mystic hopes. No human effort can produce it. This form of prayer has three characteristics. (a)It is infused (i.e. filled with enthusiasm or desire.) (b) It is extraordinary (i.e. indicating that the intellect operates in new way). (c) Moreover, It is passive (i.e. showing that the soul receives something from God, and is conscious of receiving it.) It can manifest itself in one of four degrees. The four degrees are the prayer of quiet, the prayer of union, ecstatic union, and transforming deifying union.

Underhill's five-stage path


Author and mystic Evelyn Underhill
Evelyn Underhill
Evelyn Underhill was an English Anglo-Catholic writer and pacifist known for her numerous works on religion and spiritual practice, in particular Christian mysticism....

 recognizes two additional phases to the mystical path. First comes the awakening, the stage in which one begins to have some consciousness of absolute or divine reality. Purgation and illumination are followed by a fourth stage which Underhill, borrowing the language of St. John of the Cross, calls the dark night of the soul
Dark Night of the Soul
Dark Night of the Soul is a treatise by Saint John of the Cross containing a commentary explaining his poem of the same name.-Poem and treatise by Saint John of the Cross:...

. This stage, experienced by the few, is one of final and complete purification and is marked by confusion, helplessness, stagnation of the will
Will (philosophy)
Will, in philosophical discussions, consonant with a common English usage, refers to a property of the mind, and an attribute of acts intentionally performed. Actions made according to a person's will are called "willing" or "voluntary" and sometimes pejoratively "willful"...

, and a sense of the withdrawal of God's presence. This dark night of the soul
Dark Night of the Soul
Dark Night of the Soul is a treatise by Saint John of the Cross containing a commentary explaining his poem of the same name.-Poem and treatise by Saint John of the Cross:...

 is not, in Underhill's conception, the Divine Darkness of the pseudo-Dionysius and German Christian mysticism. It is the period of final "unselfing" and the surrender to the hidden purposes of the divine will. Her fifth and final stage is union with the object of love, the one Reality, God. Here the self has been permanently established on a transcendental level and liberated for a new purpose.

Community


Another aspect of traditional Christian spirituality, or mysticism, has to do with its communal basis. Even for hermits, the Christian life is always lived in communion with the Church
Christian Church
The Christian Church is the assembly or association of followers of Jesus Christ. The Greek term ἐκκλησία that in its appearances in the New Testament is usually translated as "church" basically means "assembly"...

, the community of believers. Thus, participation in corporate worship, especially the Eucharist
Eucharist
The Eucharist , also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a Christian sacrament or ordinance...

, is an essential part of Christian mysticism. Connected with this is the practice of having a spiritual director, confessor
Confessor
-Confessor of the Faith:Its oldest use is to indicate a saint who has suffered persecution and torture for the faith, but not to the point of death. The term is still used in this way in the East. In Latin Christianity it has come to signify any saint, as well as those who have been declared...

, or "soul friend" with which to discuss one's spiritual progress. This person, who may be clerical or lay
Laity
In religious organizations, the laity comprises all people who are not in the clergy. A person who is a member of a religious order who is not ordained legitimate clergy is considered as a member of the laity, even though they are members of a religious order .In the past in Christian cultures, the...

, acts as a spiritual mentor.

Types of meditation


Within theistic mysticism two broad tendencies can be identified. One is a tendency to understand God by asserting what He is not and the other by asserting what He is. The former leads to what is called apophatic theology and the latter to cataphatic theology
Cataphatic theology
Cataphatic theology is the expressing of God or the divine through positive terminology. This is in contrast to defining God or the divine in what God is not, which is referred to as negative or apophatic theology.-Terminology:...

.
  1. Apophatic (imageless, stillness, and wordlessness) -- e.g., The Cloud of the Unknowing
    The Cloud of Unknowing
    The Cloud of Unknowing is an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the latter half of the 14th century. The text is a spiritual guide on contemplative prayer in the late Middle Ages.Manuscripts of the work are today at British Library and Cambridge University Library...

    , Meister Eckhart
    Meister Eckhart
    Eckhart von Hochheim O.P. , commonly known as Meister Eckhart, was a German theologian, philosopher and mystic, born near Gotha, in the Landgraviate of Thuringia in the Holy Roman Empire. Meister is German for "Master", referring to the academic title Magister in theologia he obtained in Paris...

    ; and
  2. Cataphatic (imaging God, imagination or words) -- e.g.,The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Dame Julian
    Julian of Norwich
    Julian of Norwich is regarded as one of the most important English mystics. She is venerated in the Anglican and Lutheran churches, but has never been canonized, or officially beatified, by the Catholic Church, probably because so little is known of her life aside from her writings, including the...

    , Francis of Assisi
    Francis of Assisi
    Saint Francis of Assisi was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher. He founded the men's Franciscan Order, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the lay Third Order of Saint Francis. St...

    , This second type is considered by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite


Scholars such as Urban T. Holmes, III have also categorized mystical theology in terms of whether it focuses on illuminating the mind, which Holmes refers to as speculative practice, or the heart/emotions, which he calls affective practice. Combining the speculative/affective scale with the apophatic/cataphatic scale allows for a range of categories:
  • Rationalism = Cataphatic and speculative
  • Pietism
    Pietism
    Pietism was a movement within Lutheranism, lasting from the late 17th century to the mid-18th century and later. It proved to be very influential throughout Protestantism and Anabaptism, inspiring not only Anglican priest John Wesley to begin the Methodist movement, but also Alexander Mack to...

     = Cataphatic and affective
  • Encratism = Apophatic and speculative
  • Quietism
    Quietism (Christian philosophy)
    Quietism is a Christian philosophy that swept through France, Italy and Spain during the 17th century, but it had much earlier origins. The mystics known as Quietists insist, with more or less emphasis, on intellectual stillness and interior passivity as essential conditions of perfection...

     = Apophatic and affective

Ascetic practices


Many mystics, following the model of Paul's metaphor of the athlete, as well as the story of the disciples sleeping while Jesus prayed
Gethsemane
Gethsemane is a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem most famous as the place where, according to Biblical texts, Jesus and his disciples are said to have prayed the night before Jesus' crucifixion.- Etymology :...

, disciplined their bodies through activities ranging from fasting and sleep-deprivation to more extreme forms, such as self-flagellation
Flagellation
Flagellation or flogging is the act of methodically beating or whipping the human body. Specialised implements for it include rods, switches, the cat o' nine tails and the sjambok...

.

Sensory experiences


Many mystics experience visions. But other sensory experiences are common as well. For instance, Richard Rolle heard heavenly music and felt a fire in his chest.

Ecstasies


Religious ecstasy
Religious ecstasy
Religious ecstasy is an altered state of consciousness characterized by greatly reduced external awareness and expanded interior mental and spiritual awareness which is frequently accompanied by visions and emotional/intuitive euphoria...

 is common for many mystics, such as Teresa of Avila, whose experience was immortalized in the sculpture Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini.

Physical transformations


One of the most familiar examples of mystical physical transformation is the appearance of stigmata
Stigmata
Stigmata are bodily marks, sores, or sensations of pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus, such as the hands and feet...

 on the body of the mystic, such as those received by Francis of Assisi. But other transformations are possible, such as the odour of sanctity
Odour of Sanctity
The odour of sanctity or odor of sanctity, according to the Catholic Church, is commonly understood to mean a specific scent that emanates from the bodies of saints, especially from the wounds of stigmata.-Meanings:...

 that accompanies the body of the deceased mystic, such as Teresa of Avila and Therese of Liseaux.

Miracles


Some mystics are said to have been able to perform miracles. But for many mystics, the miracles occurred to them. In the Middle Ages, one common form of mystical miracle, especially for women, was the Eucharistic miracle
Eucharistic miracle
A Eucharistic miracle is any miracle involving the Eucharist. Eucharistic miracles typically involve the visible transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ during the consecration portion of a Catholic Mass or Orthodox Liturgy...

, such as being able to eat nothing other than the communion host. Catherine of Genoa was an example of someone who experienced this type of miracle.

Biblical influences


Hebrew scriptures

Genesis 15 begins, "After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:" but even the reference to Adam and Eve walking with God in the Garden of Eden is subject to an interpretation which includes the mystical encounter between flesh and blood and God: between God and his spoken word, between God and His wisdom, teachings, Self-revelation, and of His relation to us as His creatures.

Number 12:6 includes the Lord speaking from a pillar of fire which had come down, "And he said, 'Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.'" The Lord then goes on to state that with Moses, He speaks mouth to mouth, not in figures as with others who are present. This with many other examples expresses the various means by which God may be encountered by His creatures—not as an overwhelming union of absorption, but in a relationship which preserves the identity of each, while focusing upon the intimacy possible.

The Christian mystical practices are rooted in the experiences of the Jewish patriarchs, prophets and other encounters found in the Jewish Canon of Scripture: Visions, dreams, angelic messengers, divine inspiration, miraculous events, and wisdom all are of the more profound examples. Just as Old Testament prophets seem rooted in a direct consciousness of the Divine Presence (e.g. Ezekiel), the less profound such as are to be found in several psalms (e.g. Psalm 73:23-26), none-the-less, suggest a similar mystical awareness.

New Testament
  • 2 Peter 1:4 says that God enables Christians to be "partakers of the divine nature."
  • John 17:21 records Jesus' prayer for his followers during the last supper: "You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; [I pray] that they also may be one in Us."
  • The mystical experience of the apostles, Peter, John, and James, at the Transfiguration of Jesus, is confirmed in each of the Synoptic Gospels. See, e.g., Mark 9:2-8. Jesus led the three to the top of Mount Tabor. Before the eye of the disciples, he was transformed. His face shone like the sun, and his cloths became brilliant white. Elijah and Moses appeared to them. Then “A cloud came, overshadowing them and a voice came out of the cloud, and said “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.""
  • In II Corinthians 12:2-6, St. Paul refers to what tradition says was his own mystical experience, when he speaks of a man who was "caught up to the third heaven."
  • In Galatians 2:20, Paul says "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me."
  • In Ephesians 4:6, Paul writes "[There is] one God and Father of all who is above all and through all and in all.
  • 1 John 4:16: "He who abides in love abides in God, and God in him."
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19: "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?"
  • 2 Timothy 1:14: "Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us."

Greek influences


The influences of Greek thought are apparent in the earliest Christian mystics and their writings. Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 (428–348 BCE) is considered the most important of ancient philosophers and his philosophical system provides the basis of most later mystical forms. Plotinus
Plotinus
Plotinus was a major philosopher of the ancient world. In his system of theory there are the three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition...

 (c. 205 – 270 CE) provided the non-Christian, neo-Platonic
Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism , is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD, based on the teachings of Plato and earlier Platonists, with its earliest contributor believed to be Plotinus, and his teacher Ammonius Saccas...

 basis for much Christian, Jewish and Islamic mysticism.

Early Christians

  • Justin Martyr
    Justin Martyr
    Justin Martyr, also known as just Saint Justin , was an early Christian apologist. Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and a dialogue survive. He is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church....

     (c. 105-c. 165) used Greek philosophy as the stepping-stone to Christian theology. The mystical conclusions that some Greeks arrived at, pointed to Christ. He was Influenced by: Pythagoras
    Pythagoras
    Pythagoras of Samos was an Ionian Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the religious movement called Pythagoreanism. Most of the information about Pythagoras was written down centuries after he lived, so very little reliable information is known about him...

    , Plato
    Plato
    Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

    , Plotinus
    Plotinus
    Plotinus was a major philosopher of the ancient world. In his system of theory there are the three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition...

    , Aristotle
    Aristotle
    Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

     as well as Stoicism
    Stoicism
    Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early . The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of "moral and intellectual perfection," would not suffer such emotions.Stoics were concerned...

    .
  • Origen
    Origen
    Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

     (c. 185 – 254): On Principles, Against Celsus. Studied under Clement of Alexandria, and probably also Ammonius Saccus (Plotinus' teacher). He Christianized and theologized neo-Platonism.
  • Athanasius - The Life of Antony (c, 360)
  • Gregory of Nyssa
    Gregory of Nyssa
    St. Gregory of Nyssa was a Christian bishop and saint. He was a younger brother of Basil the Great and a good friend of Gregory of Nazianzus. His significance has long been recognized in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic branches of Christianity...

     (c 335 – after 394): Focused on the stages of spiritual growth, the need for constant progress, and the "divine darkness" as seen in the story of Moses.
  • Augustine
    Augustine of Hippo
    Augustine of Hippo , also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius . He was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province...

     (354–430): De Trinitate, Confessions. Important source for much mediaeval mysticism. He brings Platonism and Christianity together. Influenced by: Plato
    Plato
    Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

     and Plotinus
    Plotinus
    Plotinus was a major philosopher of the ancient world. In his system of theory there are the three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition...

    .
  • Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (c. 500)
    Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite
    Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, also known as Pseudo-Denys, was a Christian theologian and philosopher of the late 5th to early 6th century, the author of the Corpus Areopagiticum . The author is identified as "Dionysos" in the corpus, which later incorrectly came to be attributed to Dionysius...

     - Mystical Theology

Middle Ages and Renaissance

  • John Scotus Eriugena (c. 810 – c. 877): Periphyseon. Eriugena translated Pseudo-Dionysius from Greek into Latin. Influenced by: Plotinus, Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius.
  • Bernard of Clairvaux
    Bernard of Clairvaux
    Bernard of Clairvaux, O.Cist was a French abbot and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian order.After the death of his mother, Bernard sought admission into the Cistercian order. Three years later, he was sent to found a new abbey at an isolated clearing in a glen known as the Val...

     (1090–1153): Cistercian theologian, author of The Steps of Humility and Pride, On Loving God, and Sermons on the Song of Songs; strong blend of scripture and personal experience.
  • Hildegard of Bingen
    Hildegard of Bingen
    Blessed Hildegard of Bingen , also known as Saint Hildegard, and Sibyl of the Rhine, was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. Elected a magistra by her fellow nuns in 1136, she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and...

     (1098–1179): Benedictine and missionary, known for her visions, recorded in such works as Scivias (Know the Ways). Influenced by: Bernard of Clarivaux.
  • Victorines: fl. 11th century; stressed meditation and contemplation; helped popularize Pseudo-Dionysius; influenced by Augustine
    • Hugh of Saint Victor (d.1141): The Mysteries of the Christian Faith, Noah's Mystical Ark, etc.
    • Richard of Saint Victor (d.1173): The Twelve Patriarchs and The Mystical Ark (e.g. Benjamin Minor and Benjamin Major). Influenced Dante, Bonaventure, Cloud of Unknowing.
  • Franciscan
    Franciscan
    Most Franciscans are members of Roman Catholic religious orders founded by Saint Francis of Assisi. Besides Roman Catholic communities, there are also Old Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, ecumenical and Non-denominational Franciscan communities....

    s:
    • Francis of Assisi
      Francis of Assisi
      Saint Francis of Assisi was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher. He founded the men's Franciscan Order, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the lay Third Order of Saint Francis. St...

       (c.1182-1226): founder of the order, stressed simplicity and penitence; first documented case of stigmata
    • Bonaventure
      Bonaventure
      Saint Bonaventure, O.F.M., , born John of Fidanza , was an Italian medieval scholastic theologian and philosopher. The seventh Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, he was also a Cardinal Bishop of Albano. He was canonized on 14 April 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV and declared a Doctor of the...

       (c.1217-1274): The Soul's Journey into God, The Triple Way, The Tree of Life and others. Influenced by: Pseudo-Dionysius, Augustine, Bernard, Victorines.
    • Angela of Foligno
      Angela of Foligno
      Angela of Foligno was a Christian author, Franciscan tertiary, and mystic. She was noted not only for her spiritual writings, but also for founding a religious order.-Early life and conversion:...

       (c.1248-1309): tertiary anchoress; focused on Christ's Passion; Memorial and Instructions.
  • Beguines (fl. 13th century):
    • Mechthild of Magdeburg
      Mechthild of Magdeburg
      Mechthild of Magdeburg , a Beguine, was a medieval mystic, whose book Das fließende Licht der Gottheit described her visions of God....

       (c.1212-c.1297): visions, bridal mysticism, reformist; The Flowing Light of the Godhead
    • Hadewijch of Antwerp (13th century): visions, bridal mysticism, essence mysticism; writings are mostly letters and poems. Influenced John of Ruysbroeck.
  • Rhineland mystics
    German mysticism
    German mysticism, sometimes called Dominican mysticism or Rhineland mysticism, was a late medieval Christian mystical movement, that was especially prominent within the Dominican order and in Germany. Although its origins can be traced back to Hildegard of Bingen, it is mostly represented by...

     (fl. 14th century): sharp move towards speculation and apophasis; mostly Dominicans
    • Meister Eckhart (1260-1327)
      Meister Eckhart
      Eckhart von Hochheim O.P. , commonly known as Meister Eckhart, was a German theologian, philosopher and mystic, born near Gotha, in the Landgraviate of Thuringia in the Holy Roman Empire. Meister is German for "Master", referring to the academic title Magister in theologia he obtained in Paris...

      : sermons
    • Johannes Tauler
      Johannes Tauler
      Johannes Tauler was a German mystic theologian.- Life :He was born about the year 1300 in Strasbourg, and was educated at the Dominican convent in that city, where Meister Eckhart, who greatly influenced him, was professor of theology in the monastery school...

       (d.1361): sermons
    • Henry Suso
      Henry Suso
      Henry Suso was a German mystic, born at Überlingen on Lake Constance on March 21, c. 1300; he died at Ulm, January 25, 1366; declared Blessed in 1831 by Gregory XVI, who assigned his feast in the Dominican Order to March 2...

       (c1295-1366): Life of the Servant, Little Book of Eternal Wisdom
    • Theologia Germanica
      Theologia Germanica
      Theologia Germanica, also known as Theologia Deutsch or Teutsch, is a mystical treatise believed to have been written in the mid 14th century by an anonymous author, usually associated with the Friends of God. According to the introduction of the Theologia the author was a priest and a member of...

       (anon.): Influenced: Martin Luther
  • John of Ruysbroeck (1293–1381): Flemish, Augustinian; The Spiritual Espousals and many others. Similar themes as the Rhineland Mystics. Influenced by: Beguines, Cistercians. Influenced: Geert Groote and the Devotio Moderna.
  • Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)
    Catherine of Siena
    Saint Catherine of Siena, T.O.S.D, was a tertiary of the Dominican Order, and a Scholastic philosopher and theologian. She also worked to bring the papacy of Gregory XI back to Rome from its displacement in France, and to establish peace among the Italian city-states. She was proclaimed a Doctor...

     - Letters
  • The English Mystics (fl. 14th century):
    • Anonymous - The Cloud of the Unknowing (c. 1375)
      The Cloud of Unknowing
      The Cloud of Unknowing is an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the latter half of the 14th century. The text is a spiritual guide on contemplative prayer in the late Middle Ages.Manuscripts of the work are today at British Library and Cambridge University Library...

       -- Intended by ascetic author as a means of instruction in the practice of mystic and contemplative prayer.
    • Richard Rolle
      Richard Rolle
      Rolle is honored in the Church of England on January 20 and in the Episcopal Church together with Walter Hilton and Margery Kempe on September 28.-Works in print:*English Prose Treatises of Richard Rolle of Hampole, Edited by George Perry...

       (c.1300-1349): The Fire of Love, Mending of Life, Meditations on the Passion
    • Walter Hilton (c. 1340-1396)
      Walter Hilton
      Walter Hilton was an English Augustinian mystic.-Biography:Hilton was born ca. 1340-45; he was first recorded in January 1371 as a bachelor of law attached to the diocesan court of Ely, and again in 1375...

       - The Ladder of Perfection (a.k.a., The Scale of Perfection) -- suggesting familiarity with the works of Pseudo-Dionysius (see above), the author provides an early English language seminal work for the beginner.
    • Julian of Norwich (1342- c. 1416)
      Julian of Norwich
      Julian of Norwich is regarded as one of the most important English mystics. She is venerated in the Anglican and Lutheran churches, but has never been canonized, or officially beatified, by the Catholic Church, probably because so little is known of her life aside from her writings, including the...

       - Revelations of Divine Love (a.k.a, Showing of Love)

Renaissance, Reformation and Counter Reformation

  • Ignatius of Loyola
    Ignatius of Loyola
    Ignatius of Loyola was a Spanish knight from a Basque noble family, hermit, priest since 1537, and theologian, who founded the Society of Jesus and was its first Superior General. Ignatius emerged as a religious leader during the Counter-Reformation...

     (1491–1556): St. Ignatius had a number of mystical experiences in his life, the most significant was an experience of enlightenment by the river Cardoner, in which, he later stated, he learnt more in that one occasion than he did in the rest of his life. Another significant mystical experience was in 1537, at a chapel in La Storta, outside Rome, in which he saw God the Father
    God the Father
    God the Father is a gendered title given to God in many monotheistic religions, particularly patriarchal, Abrahamic ones. In Judaism, God is called Father because he is the creator, life-giver, law-giver, and protector...

     place him with the Son
    God the Son
    God the Son is the second person of the Trinity in Christian theology. The doctrine of the Trinity identifies Jesus of Nazareth as God the Son, united in essence but distinct in person with regard to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit...

    , who was carrying the Cross
    Crucifixion
    Crucifixion is an ancient method of painful execution in which the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead...

    . This was after he had spent a year praying to Mary
    Mary (mother of Jesus)
    Mary , commonly referred to as "Saint Mary", "Mother Mary", the "Virgin Mary", the "Blessed Virgin Mary", or "Mary, Mother of God", was a Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee...

     for her to place him with her Son (Jesus
    Jesus
    Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

    ), and was one of the reasons why he insisted that the group that followed his 'way of proceeding' be called the Society of Jesus
    Society of Jesus
    The Society of Jesus is a Catholic male religious order that follows the teachings of the Catholic Church. The members are called Jesuits, and are also known colloquially as "God's Army" and as "The Company," these being references to founder Ignatius of Loyola's military background and a...

    .
  • Teresa of Avila
    Teresa of Ávila
    Saint Teresa of Ávila, also called Saint Teresa of Jesus, baptized as Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, was a prominent Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun, and writer of the Counter Reformation, and theologian of contemplative life through mental prayer...

     (1515–1582): Two of her works, The Interior Castle
    El Castillo Interior
    El Castillo Interior or Las Moradas was written by Saint Teresa of Ávila in 1577 as a guide for spiritual development, through service and prayer...

     and The Way of Perfection
    Camino de Perfección
    El Camino de Perfección is a method for making progress in the contemplative life written by St. Teresa of Ávila for the sisters of her reformed convent of the Carmelite Order . St...

     were intended as instruction in (profoundly mystic) prayer based upon her experiences. Influenced by: Augustine
    Augustine of Hippo
    Augustine of Hippo , also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius . He was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province...

    .
  • St. John of the Cross (Juan de Yepes) (1542–1591): Wrote three related instructional works with The Ascent of Mount Carmel
    Ascent of Mount Carmel
    Ascent of Mount Carmel is a 16th-century spiritual treatise by Spanish Catholic mystic and poet St John of the Cross. The book is a systematic treatment of the ascetical life in pursuit of mystical union with Christ, giving advice and reporting on his own experience...

     as a systematic approach to mystic prayer, together with The Spiritual Canticle, and The Dark Night of the Soul
    Dark Night of the Soul
    Dark Night of the Soul is a treatise by Saint John of the Cross containing a commentary explaining his poem of the same name.-Poem and treatise by Saint John of the Cross:...

     these provided poetic and literary language for the Christian Mystical practice and experience. Influenced by and collaborated with: Teresa of Avila
    Teresa of Ávila
    Saint Teresa of Ávila, also called Saint Teresa of Jesus, baptized as Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, was a prominent Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun, and writer of the Counter Reformation, and theologian of contemplative life through mental prayer...

    .
  • Brother Lawrence
    Brother Lawrence
    Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection served as a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. Christians commonly remember him for the intimacy he expressed concerning his relationship to God as recorded in a book compiled after his death, the classic Christian text, The Practice of the Presence...

     (1614–1691): author of The Practice of the Presence of God
  • William Law
    William Law
    William Law was an English cleric, divine and theological writer.-Early life:Law was born at Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire in 1686. In 1705 he entered as a sizar at Emmanuel College, Cambridge; in 1711 he was elected fellow of his college and was ordained...

     (1686–1761): English mystic interested in Jakob Boehme, and wrote several mystical treatises.

Modern era

  • Thomas Raymond Kelly (1893–1941): Quaker mystic
  • Frank Laubach
    Frank Laubach
    Frank Charles Laubach was an Evangelical Christian missionary and mystic known as "The Apostle to the Illiterates." In 1935, while working at a remote location in the Philippines, he developed the "Each One Teach One" literacy program. It has been used to teach about 60 million people to read in...

     (1884–1970): Evangelical missionary, author of Letters by a Modern Mystic

See also



  • Ascetical Theology
    Ascetical Theology
    Ascetical theology is the organized study or presentation of spiritual teachings found in Christian Scripture and the Church Fathers that help the faithful to more perfectly follow Christ and attain to Christian perfection. The word ascetic is from the Greek word ἄσκησις askesis, meaning practice....

  • Asceticism
    Asceticism
    Asceticism describes a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various sorts of worldly pleasures often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals...

  • Christian meditation
    Christian meditation
    Christian meditation is a form of prayer in which a structured attempt is made to get in touch with and deliberately reflect upon the revelations of God. The word meditation comes from the Latin word meditārī, which has a range of meanings including to reflect on, to study and to practice...

  • Christian Mysticism in Ancient Africa
    Christian mysticism in ancient Africa
    Africa's Christian mysticism took form in the desert, as part of a long-reaching Judeo-Christian mystical tradition. In the Judeo-Christian mystical tradition, the desert is known to induce religious experiences and altered states of consciousness....

  • Christian mythology
    Christian mythology
    Christian mythology is the body of myths associated with Christianity. In the study of mythology, the term "myth" refers to a traditional story, often one which is regarded as sacred and which explains how the world and its inhabitants came to have their present form.Classicist G.S. Kirk defines a...

  • Christian Soteriology
  • Contemplative Prayer
  • Early Christianity
    Early Christianity
    Early Christianity is generally considered as Christianity before 325. The New Testament's Book of Acts and Epistle to the Galatians records that the first Christian community was centered in Jerusalem and its leaders included James, Peter and John....

  • Eastern Christianity
    Eastern Christianity
    Eastern Christianity comprises the Christian traditions and churches that developed in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Northeastern Africa, India and parts of the Far East over several centuries of religious antiquity. The term is generally used in Western Christianity to...

  • Esoteric Christianity
    Esoteric Christianity
    Esoteric Christianity is a term which refers to an ensemble of spiritual currents which regard Christianity as a mystery religion, and profess the existence and possession of certain esoteric doctrines or practices, hidden from the public but accessible only to a narrow circle of "enlightened",...

  • German mysticism
    German mysticism
    German mysticism, sometimes called Dominican mysticism or Rhineland mysticism, was a late medieval Christian mystical movement, that was especially prominent within the Dominican order and in Germany. Although its origins can be traced back to Hildegard of Bingen, it is mostly represented by...

  • Hellenistic philosophy and Christianity
  • Jesus Prayer
    Jesus Prayer
    The Jesus Prayer or "The Prayer" is a short, formulaic prayer esteemed and advocated within the Eastern Orthodox church:The prayer has been widely taught and discussed throughout the history of the Eastern Churches. It is often repeated continually as a part of personal ascetic practice, its use...

  • Lectio Divina
    Lectio Divina
    In Christianity, Lectio Divina is a traditional Catholic practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God's Word...

  • Mystical marriage
  • Mystical theology
    Mystical theology
    Mystical theology is a branch of theology which treats of acts and experiences or states of the soul which cannot be produced by human effort.-Catholic tradition:...

  • Mysticism
    Mysticism
    Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

  • Neoplatonism and Christianity
    Neoplatonism and Christianity
    Neoplatonism was a major influence on Christian theology throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages in the West notably due to St. Augustine of Hippo, who was influenced by the early Neoplatonists Plotinus and Porphyry, and the works of the Christian writer Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, who...

  • Open theism
    Open theism
    Open theism is a recent theological movement that has developed within evangelical and post-evangelical Protestant Christianity as a response to certain ideas that are related to the synthesis of Greek philosophy and Christian theology...

  • Orthodox gnosiology
    Gnosiology
    The term gnosiology is a term of 18th Century aesthetics, currently used mainly in regard to Eastern Christianity.-Etymology:...

  • Pauline mysticism
    Pauline mysticism
    Pauline mysticism is mysticism associated with Pauline Christianity. Pauline mysticism shows distinct differences from mystical theology.Pauline mysticism centres around the mystery of Christ in the believer and the believer in Christ, who is believed to be the one and only mediator between man and...

  • Quietism (Christian philosophy)
    Quietism (Christian philosophy)
    Quietism is a Christian philosophy that swept through France, Italy and Spain during the 17th century, but it had much earlier origins. The mystics known as Quietists insist, with more or less emphasis, on intellectual stillness and interior passivity as essential conditions of perfection...

  • Soteriology
    Soteriology
    The branch of Christian theology that deals with salvation and redemption is called Soteriology. It is derived from the Greek sōtērion + English -logy....

  • Spanish mystics
    Spanish mystics
    The Spanish Mystics are major figures in the Catholic Reformation of 16th and 17th century Spain. The goal of this movement was to reform the Church structurally and to renew it spiritually...

  • Theosophy
    Theosophy
    Theosophy, in its modern presentation, is a spiritual philosophy developed since the late 19th century. Its major themes were originally described mainly by Helena Blavatsky , co-founder of the Theosophical Society...


External links