A little something on Christian Mysticism
by Nymph Kellerman
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According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Mystical Theology is the science of the spiritual life, and it is dependent on the operation of Divine grace. According to this source, mysticism is: “In general, an immediate knowledge of God attained in this present life through personal religious experience. It is primarily a state of prayer and as such admits to various degrees, from short and rare Divine 'touches' to the practically permanent union with God in the so-called mystic marriage”.
The Encyclopedia Britannica states: “Christian Mysticism refers to the human being's direct experience or consciousness of ultimate reality, understood as God within the context of Christian faith. The essence of mysticism is the sense of some form of contact with the Divine or Transcendent, frequently understood in its higher forms as involving union with God. Mysticism has played an important role in the history of Christian religion, and it has once again become a noticeably living influence in recent times”.
Western Christian Mysticism developed at the same time as Scholasticism in Mediaeval Theology. It traces its origins back to Plotinus in the third century, who’s dogma was blissfully derived from Platonism and debouched from dialogues between Plotinus and Ammonius Saccas. It was further advanced by Porphyry (c.232-304 C.E.), Proclus (412-485 C.E.) and some of their students. Plotinus et al were followers of Neoplatonism which developed in direct opposition of Christianity. However, they became important pillars in the history of Christian Mysticism. Proclus influenced Pseudo-Dionysius, the fifth century Christian Philosopher who's actual identity remains unknown. He also influenced most of the mystical tradition beyond. The Areopagitica of Pseudo-Dionysius is the locus classicus of metaphysical thought of the medieval mystics, as well as Christian Mysticism in general. The Areopagite was furthermore the first to introduce the concept of “unknown knowing” to the Western world. His works were translated from Greek into Latin by the 9thcentury Scholastic philosopher John Scotus Erigena. Mystical Theology of Eastern Christianity was thus introduced into Western Europe, and here it was combined with the mysticism of St. Augustine.
We accept that St. John and St. Paul had mystical experiences as we see in the Gospel of St. John and the Epistles of St. Paul in the Holy Bible. St. Paul is envisaged as the first great Christian mystic. John R. Yungblut argues that Paul's mysticism was predominantly a Christ-mysticism which was expressed in the being-in-Christ terminology, and that the identification with the risen Lord took so poignant a form that Paul could say: “I, yet not I, but Christ who lives in me”.
Mysticism as a system had various evaluations in the history of the Church. Some Protestant thinkers denied mysticism the place of honor that it unquestionably deserves. In fact, Protestants in general rejected mystical theology - thinkers such as Albrecht Ritschi, Adolf von Harnack through Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann claimed that mystical union was a Greek allegory and contradictory to the faith in the Gospels. For almost seven centuries the Roman Catholic Church too, condemned one of it's greatest mystics, the German Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) of Hochheim. He was blacklisted for articulating heretical views concerning Theology, and it was only during the nineteen hundreds that this execration was withdrawn.
Despite mainstream Protestantism that was antagonistic and mistrusting towards Mysticism, all periods delivered Protestant theologians greatly in favor of Christian Mysticism. Men with a sincere and arcane interest in Mystical Theology, men such as Ernst Troeltsch in the 1931 translation of “The social teaching of the Christian Churches” and Albert Schweitzer in the same year's translation of “The mysticism of Paul the Apostle”.
Christian Mystics desire intimate and personal communion with the Holy Spirit by undertaking a pilgrimage to the cloister of the innermost self, by detachment rather than eclectic analysis, by acceptance rather than argument. Mysticism looks more for God within, not only for God without. It is the direct experience of God. It is living in His presence and delving into the soul to meet with Him. It is seeking the Kingdom of God that is within. It was St. Augustine who said: “Thou has made us for Thyself and the heart is restless till it rests in Thee”.
FROM “THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS” – Nymph Kellerman
ABOUT the author:
Nymph completed her L.T.C.L. in music and drama, and obtained a B.A. Psychology and Philosophy a few years later. She trained as formal singer under various renowned vocal advisers and performed in numerous concerts, recitals, and oratorios. After a car accident that lead to a few neuro surgeries, she began investigating the benefits of deep relaxation and wrote a few books and numerous articles on the subject.
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