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Mysticism is the philosophy and practice of a direct experience of God. Although it needs to be born in mind that 'experience' is a hotly debated term in the discussion on mysticism, and experience understood simply as a psychological state or event may be contested. In the Christian context it is traditionally practiced through pursuit of the three disciplines of prayer (including Christian meditation and contemplation), fasting (including other forms of abstinence and self-denial), and alms-giving, all discussed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew Chapters 5-7). Other forms of mysticism include participation in ecstatic worship and the use of entheogens. Christians believe that God dwells in Christians through the Holy Spirit, and therefore all Christians can experience God directly.

Biblical foundations

The tradition of Christian Mysticism is as old as Christianity itself. At least three texts from the New Testament set up themes that recur throughout the recorded thought of the Christian mystics. The first, Galatians 2:20, says that:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (KJV)

The second important Scriptural text for Christian mysticism is 1 John 3:2:

Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

The third such text, especially important for Eastern Christian mysticism, is found in II Peter 1:4:

...[E]xceedingly great and precious promises [are given unto us]; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (emphasis added)

Two major themes of Christian mysticism are (1) a complete identification with, or imitation of Christ, to achieve a unity of the human spirit with the spirit of God; and (2) the perfect vision, or experience, of God, in which the mystic seeks to understand God "as he is," and no more "through a glass, darkly." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Other mystical experiences are described in other passages. In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, Paul sets forth an example of a possible out of body experience by someone who was taken up to the "third heaven", and taught unutterable mysteries:

I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

Perhaps a similar experience occurred at the Transfiguration of Jesus, an incident confirmed in each of the Synoptic Gospels. Here Jesus led three of his apostles, Peter, John, and James, to pray at the top of a mountain, where he became transfigured. Jesus's face shone like the sun, and he was clad in brilliant white clothes. Elijah and Moses appeared with Jesus, and talked with him, and then a bright cloud appeared overhead, and a voice from the cloud proclaimed, "This is my beloved Son: hear him."

The Practice of Christian Mysticism

While such phenomena are often associated with mysticism in general, including the Christian variety, for Christians the emphasis is elsewhere; specifically, the major emphasis in Christian mysticism concerns a spiritual transformation of the human person, such that they become, as some have put it, more fully human, or fully realized human persons, "created in the Image and Likeness of God." For Christians, this full realization of human potential is realized most perfectly in Jesus and is manifested in others through their association with Him, whether conscious, as in the case of Christian mystics, or unconscious, with regard to persons who follow other traditions, such as Gandhi. The Eastern Christian tradition speaks of this transformation in terms of theosis or divinization, perhaps best summed up by an ancient aphorism usually attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria: "God became human so that humans might become God."

Going back at least to Evagrius Ponticus and Pseudo-Dionysius, Christian mystics have pursued a three-fold path in their pursuit of holiness. While the different aspects of this path have different names in the different Christian traditions, they can be characterized as purgative, illuminative, and unitive, in correspondence to an understanding of human personhood that is three-fold: body, soul (or mind), and spirit. The first, the way of purification, is where aspiring 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.

This phase, which forms the basis of Christian spirituality in general, is designed, in the words of St. Paul, to "put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 8:13). The "deeds of the flesh" here includes not only external behavior, but also those habits, attitudes, compulsions, addictions, etc. (sometimes called passions) which oppose themselves to living as a Christian is called to live, not only exteriorly, but interiorly as well. Because of its physical, disciplinary aspect, this phase, as well as the entire Christian spiritual path, is often referred to as "ascetic," a term which is derived from a Greek word referring to 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 so much to one's eternal fate, but to one's healing, spiritually, mentally and emotionally, and physically.

The second phase, called 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 natural happenings, such that the working of God is perceived in all that one experiences.

The third phase, usually called contemplation in the Western tradition, has to do with the experience of oneself as in some way united with God. This experience of union varies and is difficult to describe. However, it is first and foremost always associated with Divine love, the underlying theme being that God is known or experienced at least as much by the heart as by the intellect since, in the words of the book 1 John 4:16: "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him."

Another aspect of traditional Christian spirituality, or mysticism, has to do with its communal nature. Even for hermits, the Christian life is always lived in communion with the Church, the community of believers. Thus, participation in corporate worship, especially the Eucharist, is an essential part of Christian mysticism. Connected with this is the practice of having a spiritual director, confessor, or "soul friend" with which to discuss one's spiritual progress. This person, who may be clerical or lay, acts as a spiritual mentor.

Christian mystics

Some examples of Christian mystics:

St. Paul (? -c. 66)
St. John the Baptist
St. John the Apostle (? -c.100)
St. Peter
St. Clement of Alexandria (? -216)
Evagrius Ponticus (345-399)
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (5th century)
St. Gregory I (590-604)
St. Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022)
Saint Anselm (1033-1109)
Hugh of Saint Victor (1096-1141)
Richard of St. Victor (? -1173)
St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
Mechthild of Magdeburg (1210-1279)
Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 - 1327/8)
St. Gregory Palamas (1296 - 1359)
St. Bridget of Sweden (1302-1373)
St. Julian of Norwich (1342-c.1416)
Margery Kempe (c.1373-1438)
St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)
Jakob Boehme (1575-1624)
Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682)
Angelus Silesius (1624-1677)
George Fox (1624-1691)
Sarah Wight (1632-?)
Madame Guyon (1648-1717)
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)
John Woolman (1720-1772)
William Blake (1757-1827)
St. Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833)
Anna Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824)
St. Jakob Lorber (1800 - 1864)
Thomas Merton (1915-1968)
Thomas Keating (1923-?)
St. John of Kronstadt (1829-1908)
St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897)
St. John Maximovich (1896-1966)
Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897-1963)
St. Padre Pio (1887-1968)
St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938)
Pope Pius XII (1876-1958)
Pope John Paul II (1920-2005)
Richard Foster

Bibliography

  • Bernard McGinn: The Foundations of Mysticism: Origins to the Fifth Century, 1991, reprint 1994, ISBN 0824514041
  • Bernard McGinn: The Growth of Mysticism: Gregory the Great through the 12th Century, 1994, paperback ed. 1996, ISBN 0824516281
  • Evelyn Underhill: Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness, 1911, reprint 1999, ISBN 1851681965
  • Tito Colliander: Way of the Ascetics, 1981, ISBN 0060615265
  • Thomas E. Powers: Invitation to a Great Experiment: Exploring the Possibility that God can be Known, 1979, ISBN 0385141874
  • Richard Foster: Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, 1978, ISBN 0060628316

Classics

  • St. John of the Cross: Ascent of Mount Carmel, Dark Night of the Soul
  • St. Teresa: Interior Castle
  • Meister Eckhart: German and Latin sermons
  • Jan van Ruysbroeck: The Adornment of Spiritual Marriage
  • Anon.: Cloud of Unknowing
  • Anon.: Theologia Germanica
  • St.Ignatius of Loyola: Spiritual Exercises
  • William Law: Works
  • George Fox: The Journal
  • Heinrich Suso: The Book of Eternal Wisdom
  • Thomas à Kempis: On the Imitation of Christ
  • Jackob Lorber: The Great Gospel of John
  • Max Heindel: The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception or Mystic Christianity
  • Pseudo-Dionysius: Divine Names, Celestial Hierarchy, Mystical Theology
  • Philokalia

See also

External links

de:Christliche Mystikpt:Cristianismo místico

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