About the mystics
by Nymph Kellerman
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“Oh night that guided me,
Oh night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh night that joined
Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!”
From “Dark Night of the Soul” (Noche Oscura)
St. John of the Cross (Juan de la Cruz)
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. Some philosophers feel that he was probably seen as a threat to the Church because he advocated a religion that was of a very personal nature to the individual. It is possible that the Church of yore feared that it's members would turn away from the hierarchy of the Church because salvation did no longer depend on the Church and it's rituals. It now depended on the believer's relationship with God inside. Yet, that was by far not Eckhart's idea. He did not want members to be estranged from the Church, as he viewed the Church to be the Mother of all believers. As a place of gathering and worship, the church was of prime importance to Eckehart.
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”.
We also had a fair share of renowned Anglican thinkers who propagated the importance of mysticism in Christian history, Anglicans such as the prelate William R. Inge, and Evelyn Underhill, the British poet and writer, and Kenneth E. Kirk.
Amongst the most prominent mystics in the Christian Church and some of their acclaimed writings, are: St. Augustine – “Confessions”, “City of God” and “Enchiridion”. Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite - “The Celestial Hierarchy” and “Mystical Theology”. Hugh of St. Victor, Richard of St. Victor, Hildegard of Bingen, St. Francis of Assisi - “Canticle of the sun”, Bonaventure (John Fidanza) - “The Mind's road to God” and “The tree of life”, Henry Suso - “The little book of wisdom”, J Ruysbroeck - “The adornment of the spiritual marriage”, Walter Hilton - “The scale (ladder) of perfection”, Julian of Norwich - “Revelations of Divine Love”, St. Catherine of Genoa - “Treatise of purgatory”, St. Teresa of Avila - “The interior castle”, St. John of the cross (San Juan de la Cruz) - “The ascent of mount Carmel” from which we have the popular “Dark nights of the soul” or “Noche Oscura” and Albertus Magnus - “Cleaving to God” (attributed to him)).
Mysticism is anchored in various arenas and we hence find it's roots in Greek Neoplatonism, Pantheism, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Taoism. In the Hellenistic Age, Plato's doctrines had a wide following, but in the 3rd century AD, a thorough recasting was embellished, and this recasting was called Neoplatonism, which was developed in direct opposition of Christianity. However, the believer who worships the God of Genesis and who has his roots firmly in the dogma of Christianity, knows of his responsibility to ask for the Holy Spirit's guidance on his personal journey into inner space. Christian Mysticism emphasizes the “Thou art in me and I am in Thee”.
It further desires and aims at an intimate and personal communion of the spirit with the Infinite 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”.
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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