HEALING AND MYSTICAL INFLUENCES
What makes this so important? Must I learn from it to better myself?
The Eastern Church then saw the development of monasticism and the mystical contributions of Gregory of Nyssa, Evagnius Ponticus 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—and sought to fend off the demon of acedia (“un-caring”), a boredom or apathy that prevents us from continuing on in our spiritual training. Anchorites could live in total solitude (“hermits”, from the word erēmitēs, “of the desert”) or in loose communities (“common life”).
With the Renaissance came the Protestant Reformation, 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 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 humans. Even John Calvin, ejected many Medieval ascetic practices and favored doctrinal knowledge of God over affective experience, has Medieval influences, namely, Jean Gerson 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”.
The Spanish had Ignatius of Loyola, whose Spiritual Exercises 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 and desolation, Teresa of Avila, who used the metaphors of watering a garden and walking through the rooms of a castle to explain how meditation leads to union with God; and John of the Cross, 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, , 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 Molino, the chief apostle of the religious revival known as Quietism. No breath of suspicion arose against Molino 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 Molino 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 Molino 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. Molino died in prison in 1696 or 1697.
Eastern Christianity has especially preserved a mystical emphasis in its theology and retains a tradition of mystical prayer dating back to Christianity’s beginnings.
As part of the Protestant Reformation, 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, Anglicans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Pentecostals and Charismatics have in various ways remained open to the idea of mystical experiences.
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 Ghandi. The Eastern Christian tradition speaks of this transformation in terms of theosis or divinization.
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, and 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, put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 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, “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Epistle to the Philippians 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. Purification is seen 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,” 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 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.
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.
Mystic Evelyn Underhill 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 calls the dark night of the soul. This stage, experienced by the few, is one of final and complete purification and is marked by confusion, helplessness, stagnation of the will, and a sense of the withdrawal of God’s presence. This dark night of the soul is not, 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.
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 a pophatic theology and the latter to cataphatic theology.
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, such as being able to eat nothing other than the communion host.
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.
Numbers 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.
The influences of Greek thought are apparent in the earliest Christian mystics and their writings. Plato (428–348 BCE) is considered the most important of ancient philosophers and his philosophical system provides the basis of most later mystical forms. Plotinus (c. 205 – 270 CE) provided the non-Christian, neo-Platonic basis for much Christian, Jewish and Islamic mystics.