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Thread: Christian Mysticism

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    Default Re: Christian Mysticism

    Part II: The Desert Fathers and Early Orthodox Mysticism


    The roots of Orthodox mysticism are complex, with numerous imputs. Events in the life of Christ, the sudden conversion of Paul, and certain experiences of the Apostles are usually cited in discussions on earliest forms of Christian mysticism. The Gnostic sects, Jewish mysticism, and Neoplationism had some influence on the course on the development of early Orthodox spirituality. During the historical epoch known as “Late Antiquity,” many different spiritualities and philosophies were interacting and influencing each other, from Egyptian and Hermetic ideas to Chaldean, Persian, and even Indian thought.

    The so-called Church Fathers and Desert Fathers are respected by most forms of Christianity, but they have been particularly influential on Orthodox thinkers and mystics. We will look at a few important examples below.


    Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 to 215)




    Not much is known about Clement’s life. He was head of the so-called Catechetical School in the city of Alexandria. During the time, many different ideas and faiths were swirling together in this dynamic city. He was the first to use the word “mysticism” with reference to Christianity.

    Key mystical teachings:

    • Some non-Christian ideas, such as from classical philosophy, are also gifts from God, although subordinate to scripture. Clement tried to Christianize a number of neo-Platonic ideas.
    • “True gnosis” is different from the “false gnosis” of the so-called Gnostic Christian sects. True gnosis is not necessary for salvation, but a gift from Christ, a special direct experience of the Divine accessible through spiritual discipline. By achieving a state of “passionlessness,” the mystical seeker attempts to “become like God.”
    • The mystical journey has three steps, which can be compared to the three days of Abraham’s journey in Genesis: “the perception of beauties” is followed by “the desire of the good soul,” and finally “the eyes of the understanding [are] opened by the Teacher who rose again the third day.” If God grants the seeker success with the highest contemplation as a special gift, Christ “seals the divine image upon the soul."
    • Clement distinguished “contemplation” and “action” on the spiritual journey, using the Mary and Martha story from the Book of Luke as a symbol to explain these two types of spirituality.




    Origen (c. 185 - 254)




    Origin was another Aleandrian, and a pupil of Clement’s who succeeded him as the leader of the Catechetical School. He wrote on many subjects and was very influential in both Eastern and Western theology, although he was controversial and many of his ideas have been considered heretical.

    Key mystical teachings:

    • Scripture is full of many rich spiritual meanings, in the form of metaphor and allegory. Scripture should not be read narrowly or as literal truth; rather, it should be contemplated more mystically, to draw out the “secret and hidden things of God” within.
    • Self-denial, discipline, ascetic practices, mortification of the flesh, renunciation of sexuality, annihilation of base desire, and the like are roads to mystical experience. Origen was very severe in his asceticism and it is said he castrated himself as a young man in an attempt to combat desire.
    • The soul is created in the image of God, and this evidence of special connection between the human mind and God. God can be approached successively, in stages.
    • The Song of Songs expresses the mystery of union of the soul and God, and of the Church and God. Origen saw three different levels of meanings: 1) as a simple and passionate wedding poem; 2) as an expression of Christ’s love for Christians, and an expression of the hunger of the soul for the divine Word.






    The Desert Fathers





    Influenced by the thought of Clement and Origin, as well as the life of Christ himself, increasing numbers of men and women began to withdraw to the desert to live quiet lives of solitude and spiritual struggle. Most of these mystics embraced poverty, prayer, fasting, solitude, and ascetic self-denial as a way to escape the world and turn inward, pursuing divine illumination. Mostly solitary at first, the first Christian monestaries developed out of this tendency to solitude and renunciation.

    The most well-known Desert fathers include Anthony the Great (pictured above), Abba Arsenius, Abba Poemen, Abba Macarius of Egypt, Abba Moses the Robber, and Amma Syncletica of Alexandria, Pachomius and Shenouda the Archimandrite. Their sayings have been collected in works such as The Paradise of the Desert Fathers, and cherished by generations of mystical seekers.


    Gregory of Nyssa (330-395)




    Along with his brother Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus. Gregory of Nyssa is one of the three great “Cappadocian Fathers.” After many years as a solitary monk, Gregory took on a more active role as a bishop and a leading theologian.

    Key mystical teachings:

    • The mystical life is described in terms of the unending ascent of the soul to God, with successive realizations leading the seeker closer to God’s ultimate mystery. The divine element in every soul is an “inner eye” that can be opened to the vision of the sacred. And yet the more one advances, the greater the mystery, which Gregory describes as the “darkness” or hiddenness of the face of God.
    • Gregory praised the solitary spirituality of the desert hermits, and practiced as a monk himself for many years. Ultimately, however, he believes contemplation must manifest as action in the real world. Ideally, the most accomplished mystics should be able to maintain the stillness of desert spirituality inside themselves, while engaging actively with the “real world.”
    • For Gregory, spiritual life is a continual progression and a journey without end, rather than an unchanging state of perfection. The progress of a mystic in this world is never completed.




    Dionysius the Areopagite (c. 500)




    This author is sometimes called “Pseudo-Dionysius” because the name he wrote under was that of an earlier figure in Christian history. His Mystical Theology is perhaps the most influential and towering work of early Christian mysticism, and it had an enormous influence in both the Eastern and Western churches.

    Key mystical teachings:

    • God cannot be known intellectually, but he can be experienced mystically though spiritual discipline. Dionysius speaks of seeking God with an “eyeless mind.”
    • God should be conceived of in terms of what he is not, rather than what he is. It is blasphemous and wrong to use the imperfect images of our mind drawn from this fallen world to envision God, a higher order being altogether. By stripping away false ideas of God, we draw closer to God.
    • Dionysius describes the three stages of the soul’s movement toward God as Purification, Illumination, and Union. This is similar to the threefold scheme of earlier mystics, although envisioned differently by Dionysius.
    • Dionysius wrote: “Ascending upwards from particular to universal conceptions we strip off all qualities in order that we may attain a naked knowledge of that Unknowing which in all existent things is enwrapped by al objects of knowledge, and that we may begin to see that super-essential Darkness which is hidden by all the light that is in existent things.” He says God “plunges the true initiate into the Darkness of Unknowing [to belong] wholly to Him who is beyond all things and to no one else [and to gain] a knowledge that exceeds understanding.”




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    Default Re: Christian Mysticism

    Part III: The Great Medieval Mystics of the Christian East





    As time went on, the Western and Eastern churches drew apart, developing in different directions. The mystics we will look at here perhaps represent the “mature phase” of Orthodox mysticism, as this spiritual tradition became more complex and well-defined.


    Maximus the Confessor (c. 580 - 662)




    Maximus the Confessor is considered by many to stand at the pinnacle of Orthodox theology. He commentated on Gregory of Nyssa and Dionysius, developing various aspects of earlier mystical thought while also being a completely original thinker. His mysticism is mature, subtle, complex, and of lasting importance.

    Key mystical teachings:

    • All of creation is filled with the energeia, or activity of God, which shapes the universe. God himself remains incomprehensible and beyond human minds, but man can achieve mystical union with God through love.
    • In The Four Hundred Chapters on Love, the central importance of love and empathy are highlighted. Maximus believed that the mystical quest should be integrated with love, empathy, charity, and love of knowledge.
    • Detachment was crucial for Maximus, who wrote it “is impossible to reach the habit of this love if one has any attachment to earthly things.” Detachment from worldly desires and complications allows love for God, which in turn brings a more profound detachment.
    • The human being stands as a mediator between God and the cosmos. God has become man through Christ, and this fusion of the human and the divine is realized again in the mystic journey, as the seeker pursues mystic union through ecstatic love. Maximus wrote of perichoresis, or a kind of interpenetration of man and God that allows both to be united with each other without losing their separate identities.




    John Climacus (579–649)



    This monk and abbot deserves brief mention for his work The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which systematized the mystical quest in great detail and achieved vast popularity throughout the Christian east. The work uses the image of Jacob’s ladder from the book of Genesis to describe the ascent of the mystic to God. John Climacus’s ladder (see image above) had thirty “rungs” or stages by which the mystic draws closer to the Divine. Renunciation of worldly things is followed by penitence, defeat of vices and acquisition of virtue, and avoidance of certain spiritual traps (laziness, pride, mental stagnation), and finally the mystic achieves hesychia (“inner stillness”) and apatheia (“dispassion” or “detachment”). Nevertheless, as seen in the image above, one can always tumble from the ladder and away from the Divine, no matter how advanced.






    Symeon the New Theologian (949–1032)




    Symeon’s thought is rooted in tradition, but he provided a fresh approach to mysticism and new ways of thinking about timeless spiritual truths. His bold and original style was to have a massive influence on the development of mystical prayer, which took on more and more importance in the Orthodox world as time went on.

    Key mystical teachings:

    • Symeon affirmed the insights of earlier mystics, but he also asserted that God was not simply a distant and unknowable figure: God can be accessed here and now, in daily life, by laypeople as well as monks. Symeon wrote: “[A man] who has wife and children, crowds of servants, much property, and a prominent position in the world …[can live] a heavenly life here on earth…not just in caves or mountains or monastic cells, but in the midst of cities.”
    • Symeon used the light rather than darkness in his symbolism when considering mystical union with God. Union comes through a vision of divine radiance: “We bear witness that God is light, and that those counted worthy to see him have all beheld him as light, and those who have received him have received him as light, for the light of his glory goes before him.”
    • In his Hymns of Divine Love, Symeon describes his own mystical experiences, providing a personal perspective that is rare in orthodox mystic writing. The Hymns are poetic meditations on the contemplation of God as a “light and fire” and a divine outpouring experienced as an “indwelling” of the sacred. Visions of Christ as a more personal, less distant figure and a sense of mystical union with Christ through the mystery of the blood are also present in Symeon’s work. All of these factors make him stand out sharply from earlier strains of Orthodox mysticism.




    Gregory of Palamas (1296–1359)




    Gregory of Palamas made an enduring contribution to Orthodox mysticism with his defense of and codification of the Hesychast tradition (see below) and divine prayer. These concepts were to dominate the later history of Orthodox mysticism, and he provided a strong philosophical foundation for later mystics to build on.

    Key mystical teachings:

    • Like Symeon, Gregory of Palamas spoke of the sacred in terms of in light rather than darkness. The mystical prayer of the heart can lead the seeker to a vision of the divine light, identical with the brilliant luminescence of Christ’s transfiguration on Mount Tabor. The essence of God remains unknowable, but the divine energies permeate all things and are experienced in the form of “deifying grace.”
    • Palamas was an important defender of hesychasm, a Byzantine movement that fused mystical contemplation, ascetical ideals, repetitive prayer (especially the “Jesus Prayer”), special bodily postures, attention to heartbeat, and controlled breathing. During the lifetime of Palamas, hesychasm came under attack, but he successfully defended its legitimacy in debate and helped to develop and clarify the full practice.
    • In hesychast mystical prayer, the seeker sits with head down and gaze directed toward the belly or heart. Prayer, rhythmic breathing, and sometimes heartbeat are carefully synchronized. Many have compared hesychast prayer to yogic exercises of East Asian mysticism. This tradition could be practiced and handed down simply without schools or literature, and helped Eastern Christianity to survive the 400-year Muslim occupation after Constantinople fell in 1453. It also spread widely throughout the Balkins, the Slavic world, and especially Russia, where Orthodox Mysticism was to take root and flourish vigorously.




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    Default Re: Christian Mysticism

    Quote Originally Posted by crossnote View Post
    How about first things first. What is Christian Mysticism?
    "It is [ somewhat of ] a contradiction of terms."

    The idea of 'mysticism' is always associated with Satan and the "complex hidden secret truth" that he would like for people to believe actually exists. However, Biblical Truth defies it entirely.

    There is no such thing as 'Christian Mysticism' -- apart from being used (the phrase as a notion) to mislead people away from "the real truth" by attempting to create a false 'layer' of 'truth' that is "added" to "the real truth" to 'skew' it into having different meaning...



    .
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    Quote Originally Posted by crossnote View Post
    How about first things first. What is Christian Mysticism?
    According to the 'ever-reliable' Wikipedia ( ):

    Christian mysticism refers to the development of mystical practices and theory within Christianity. It has often been connected to mystical theology, especially in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. The attributes and means by which Christian mysticism is studied and practiced are varied and range from ecstatic visions of the soul's mystical union with God to simple prayerful contemplation of Holy Scripture (i.e., Lectio Divina).

    Christian mysticism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia <------- link


    But to me there's a world of difference between prayerfully (and consciously) thinking about the Word of God and 'ecstatic visions of the soul's mystical union with God'.

    One dictionary I checked defined mysticism as 'obscure or irrational thought'.
    I just don't see scripture to back up that idea.
    We are certainly told to worship in spirit and in truth, which may lead one to think those are two ways in which to worship, but is that so?

    And if it is so, does one employ the mind in the latter, and the, what, heart? in the former?

    And if that's so, what is the difference between the mind and the heart in the believer?

    My apologies, Crossnote, for bringing more questions into your thread, but I wonder if answering those questions might be helpful to the discussion?

    If not, please feel free to ignore me.
    -ellie
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    Default Re: Christian Mysticism

    Oh,
    I thought you were talking about the gifts of the Spirit, and not all that religious mumbo-jumbo....my bad.
    crossnote likes this.

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    Default Re: Christian Mysticism

    Quote Originally Posted by RickShafer View Post
    Oh,
    I thought you were talking about the gifts of the Spirit, and not all that religious mumbo-jumbo....my bad.
    This is exactly what my own reference was to in my post above; words, they sure can be used in a lot of ways.
    From the Mouth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, or do you call Him Yeshua?
    Mat 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.


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    Quote Originally Posted by seahawk View Post
    We can make spiritual experiences that aren't in the Bible legitimate by pointing out things like car makes that aren't in the Bible? The Book of Mormon isn't in the Bible, but either are solar panels, so the Book of Mormon is legitimate?
    Sorry, folks, but "caught up to the third heaven" and "eye has not seen, ear has not heard" is mystical experience. Most of the visions in Revelation are reminiscent of things the mystics had seen.

    You might argue that nothing proves one should seek it, and that is true, unless you take Col. 3:1-3 literally. And you might argue that there is valid and invalid mystical experience, and that is true also.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kenisyes View Post
    Sorry, folks, but "caught up to the third heaven" ......is mystical experience. Most of the visions in Revelation are reminiscent of things the mystics had seen.
    .
    hi Ken!
    okay but Paul said the things he saw he wasn't allowed to speak about.
    today's mystics are all to happy to talk about their trips to heaven < Patricia King getting drunk in God's wine-cellar???

    [hey! side-note Ken...are you interested in a discussion on Geocentrism sometime?
    over in Miscellaneous? you're an uber-brain with science, so maybe you could help out your geocentrist-leaning friend?]

    luv z

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    Default Re: Christian Mysticism

    What is Mysticism? If it is seeing the spiritual side of our physical, I think it is often truth. Man has added many things, all of us here just want to follow and understand God. What does God want us to understand about mysticism?

    It is certain that the spiritual is real, so is the physical. There is a connection. If we doubt the reality of the physical or the spiritual we do not have truth. Gnostics said true reality was only in the spiritual, God said that was not true for us. I think it is equally not true when we deny the spiritual in our physical reality.

    As I study scripture it seems to me more and more that it is important to obey God physically, for God sees spiritual reality in what He tells us to do that we are not seeing. As one example of what I am speaking of, God says to keep the Sabbath. My physical self often objects. Like when I couldn’t finish a project so I needed to work to finish it on a Sabbath. I copied every bible verse with the word Sabbath in it, God says finish after the Sabbath, if I work on that day it needs to be to help someone who would suffer if I didn’t help. From a purely physical point of view that doesn’t make sense to me, but I think we must also see our life from the mystic.

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    Default Re: Christian Mysticism

    Quote Originally Posted by zone View Post
    okay but Paul said the things he saw he wasn't allowed to speak about.
    I haven't been like Paul yet myself, however I'm sure there's also things that God wants to release from heaven through us visiting.
    He could only speak for his experience................
    But yes if God says not to share then we shouldn't, I still want to go
    Jesus. is. so. beautiful!



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    Quote Originally Posted by zone View Post
    hi Ken!
    okay but Paul said the things he saw he wasn't allowed to speak about.
    today's mystics are all to happy to talk about their trips to heaven < Patricia King getting drunk in God's wine-cellar???

    [hey! side-note Ken...are you interested in a discussion on Geocentrism sometime?
    over in Miscellaneous? you're an uber-brain with science, so maybe you could help out your geocentrist-leaning friend?]

    luv z
    The mystics I know don't talk to each other. I guess it's a little like the Holy Spirit "gifts" we spent so long on.

    I'll go have a look. If I haven't posted to it in an hour or so, assume i can't find it, and e-mail me a link.

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    Default Re: Christian Mysticism

    Quote Originally Posted by kenisyes View Post
    I'll go have a look. If I haven't posted to it in an hour or so, assume i can't find it, and e-mail me a link.
    I found two, both very long since anyone posted, and both very long. Help!

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    Default Re: Christian Mysticism

    Quote Originally Posted by kenisyes View Post
    I found two, both very long since anyone posted, and both very long. Help!
    sorry Ken!
    oops...i didn't start it yet!
    i was waiting to see if you wanted to discuss it...
    let's do it tomorrow, Lord willing.

    in the meantime, here's a stoopidpedia resource:

    Geocentric model - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia < click

    ttyl

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