lHas its origins in the earliest Christian communities
lJesus of Nazareth is the first and greatest of the Christian mystics
lMysticism is at the core of Christian spirituality
lThe Christian mystical tradition can be a valuable source of renewal of the faith
The Mystical Experience
lIs a direct experience of God that goes beyond an intellectual understanding
lIt is not a matter of belief but a matter of love and joy in one’s everyday life
lIt is to experience the Kingdom of God in the present
lJesus proclaimed “I and the Father are One” (Jn )
lChristian mysticism is simply to experience a similar sense of union with Christ and God
lThe goal is ultimately to become Christ, while, paradoxically, remaining one’s self
lDuring Communion Saint Augustine was fond of saying “Come and receive what you are!”
Why the Christian Mystics?
lThis authentic, yet largely forgotten tradition can be a pathway to meet the religious
Other (the Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu)
lThe mystical tradition has certain characteristics (particularly its images of God) that
parallel many eastern conceptions of God and his relationship to humanity
The Demise of Religion in the West
lWestern society tends to be scientific, rationalistic, and dualistic
lDualism: the separation of all things into an either/or relationship:
*Collectively, these Western traits
have had a profoundly negative impact on Western Christians spirituality
lWe tend to view God and Christ as separate and apart from us
lResult: assumption by many that to be holy, or close to God, one must escape this world;
one must deny the flesh and all its pleasures
Growth in the Role of Doctrine and Correct
lSince the modern Age, the Church has emphasized the rational acceptance of doctrine and
the use of precise, formula-like prayers as the best way to achieve salvation
lOne is reminded of Paul, “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown
about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming”. (Paul, Ephesians,
Crisis of Meaning
lFather and Zen Roshi Robert Kennedy states that “Many gifted Catholics sadly walk
away from the church because they have not found a vision of Catholicism that they can integrate into their mature experiences
of life” (Kennedy, 1995, 14).
lChristians often forget that the Gospel was written by mystics
lNon-Dualistic images of God are scattered throughout the Bible, particularly in John and
lPaul’s Galatians 2:20 ““I have been crucified with Christ; and it is
no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me”.
lFor Paul, Christ was the deepest core of his being.
lLike Paul and the later mystics, the highest point of Christian mysticism is not experienced
in a dualistic, I/Thou, sense but in the experience that one’s own being shared the Being of God (Kennedy, 1995, 36).
lThis mystical union is expressed in the Eucharist where we ritualistically and communally
express our union with Christ
lThis union allows us to become one with him: we become our true selves in Christ
Problem of Religious Language
lChristianity has always struggled to find appropriate language that maintains a creative
balance between knowing and unknowing
lGnostics (Those claiming to know the will and nature
of God) and Agnostics (those claiming that nothing can be known about God) have both been unacceptable ways of speaking
lTo focus on only one way while ignoring the other is to slip into heresy
Knowing and Unknowing God
lThe mystical tradition has tended to emphasized the mystery and unknowability of God
lTraditional Roman Catholic teaching has emphasized the equally important theological precept
that God can be known: specifically, can be known through Holy Scripture, church tradition, and, most fully, in the person
of Jesus Christ.
lNeither approach can be detached from the other.
lNegation (Unknowing) must always be a way of affirmation (Knowing)
lAffirmation (what can be said about God) needs to always be open to limited forms of negation
(what cannot be said about God) (LaCugna, 158).
lWith regards to interreligious dialogue, it is always wise to remember that the final
word has not been said; in fact, can never be said
l“By emptying ourselves of concepts and images of God, or of expectations about what
God is or should be or should be doing, we become free to know and love the real loving God instead of the God of our projections.This emptying leads us not into absence but into the presence of the God who far exceeds
our thoughts and words and even our desires” (LaCugna, 157).
Brief History of Christian Mysticism
lGregory of Nyssa
lOne of the Cappadocian Fathers who helped formulate the Doctrine of the Trinity at the
Council of Nicea
lthe Cappadocians stressed the infinite and therefore incomprehensible nature of God
lFrom this would develop an understanding of mysticism as an endless pursuit of an infinite
God (McGinn, 141).
lA key theme for the mystic was eros: the divine longing for God.
lThe ancient mystics stressed that mystical consciousness was to be grounded in dedicated
reading of the Bible.
lChristians were called to immerse themselves in the words and images of scripture not
to simply memorize and accept them, but to enter into the deeper moral and spiritual messages found there
Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C. E.)
lAugustine grounds the chance for all Christian’s to experience a deep and transforming
awareness of God
lThis experience was found not in some individual mystical journey towards a questionable
and suspect “union” with God, but through full participation within the community of the Church
lAugustine was aware of the profound limits language had in describing ultimate reality.
lFor Augustine, the incomprehensibility of God is a basic principle that guides all interpretation
of Scripture and all language about God.
lHe warns that one cannot talk about God since he is, in the end, mystery and unknowable
lFollowing his spiritual mentor Paul, Augustine claims that the cosmic Christ is found
in the depths of the human person and is quite beyond any words, even words of doctrine.
lStill, as bishop, he realized that you had to talk about God in meaningful ways that the
average person could relate to
Dionysius the Areopagite (5th Century
lDionysius saw all of reality as proceeding from and returning to their origin (God)
lHis most common metaphors used to express one’s journey back to the Divine Source
was that of darkness, cloud, and, in the end, silence (McGinn, 184).
lThis language and method helped reinforce the mystical ideal that God can be attained
only through unknowing (McGinn, 185).
The Cloud of Unknowing (12th century
lGod is not in one’s being: God is your being.
lRegular contemplative practice (silent prayer) is thought to lead to a new awareness of
one’s relationship to God and to others
lRegular contemplative practice centers one’s whole life around the fact that God
is at the center of all that one does.
lThe Author is suspicious of attempts to conform oneself to an external code, or pattern,
of holiness or mysticism, claiming that such ape-like imitation can never produce an authentic contemplative experience (Tugwell,
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
lAlong with Augustine, Aquinas had perhaps the greatest impact on the Roman Catholic tradition
lAlthough not commonly recognized, Aquinas was profoundly influenced by the mystical tradition,
l“Now we cannot know what God is, but only what God is not: therefore, let us consider
the ways in which God does Not exist” (Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1.1.3,
lAquinas is the first Western philosopher to view knowledge metaphysically; meaning that
“knowing” was simply a form of “being”.
lAquinas asserts in the Summa that all things in the universe are interconnected
because all participate in “to be”.
lGod is viewed as the Ground of all Being
lParallels to Hindi conceptions of Brahma: Buddhist conception of Buddha-Nature: Taoist
concept of The Tao
lIn Merton we can see elements of both the apophatic mystical contemplative tradition as
well as the key characteristics of a Roman Catholic Zen practitioner.
lFor Merton, keeping the faith was a matter of balancing faithfulness to tradition with
openness to the signs of the times
lMerton considered himself to be neither conservative nor progressive.
lLike Pope John XXIII Merton saw himself as a progressive with a deep respect and love
for tradition who wanted to preserve a clear continuity with the past (Bochen, 150).
Merton’s 3 Elements of Being
l1) the reality of God’s presence in one’s life
l2) love and openness towards others through dialogue and committed social justice
l3) the basic unity that lies at the heart of the human community (Bochen, 32).
Merton on Contemplation
lMerton called his students to recognize through contemplation that this superficial “I”
was not our real self
lThis superficial I was the thinking part of us that was aware of and lived in the world
lIt was not the hidden, internal, true self who faced God and had been united with God in Christ
lMerton called all Roman Catholics to become more aware of this Other within each of us.
lThe more we were able to recognize this Stranger within, the more we would be able to
recognize it in people of other faith traditions.
lAnother name for this mysterious Other could be Christ-Consciousness.
l“Just as we have a superficial, external mask which we put together with words and
actions that do not fully represent all that is in us, so even do believers deal with a God who is made up of words, feelings,
reassuring slogans, and this is less the God of faith than the product of religious and social routine.Such a “God” can become a substitute for the truth of the invisible God of faith, and though
this comforting image may seem real to us, he is really a kind of idol.His chief
function is to protect us against a deep encounter with our true inner self and with the true God” (Burton, Stone &
Hart, 1979, 38-43).
l“If I affirm myself as Catholic merely by denying all that is Muslim, Jewish, Protest,
Hindu, Buddhist, etc., in the end I will find that there is not much left for me to affirm as a Catholic and certainly no
breadth of the Spirit with which to affirm it” (Merton, 1966, 128-29).  From Christine Bochen (Ed.). Thomas
Merton: Essential Writings. (2000). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, p.76.
of God and the Son of Man
lJohn 3:1-15: Jesus the Mystic
lNichodemus questions Jesus about the Kingdom
lKey to Jesus’ answer is his meaning of the Son Of Man
lJesus: “No one can enter the Kingdom
of God unless he is born again in the Spirit
Scriptural Grounding: The Gospel
lWhen speaking of the Kingdom
of God Jesus claims he is speaking of earthly things, open to experience
by those touched by the Spirit.
lJesus continues that no one has ascended to heaven but he
who has descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
lHe then refers to Numbers 21:8, and says that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in
the wilderness, so too must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (Leong, 89).
lIn Luke, the Pharisees are portrayed asking Jesus whether
or not he claims to be the Christ.Jesus is evasive: ‘“If I tell,
you will not believe; if I ask, you will not answer.From now on the Son of Man
shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God’.And they said,
‘Are you the Son of God?’And he said to them, ‘You say that
I am’” (Luke 22:66, in Leong, 101).
lLeong notes while many Christian apologists have focused on defending the divinity
of Christ, they seem to overlook the reality that Jesus openly denied any monopoly on the “Son of God” title (Leong,
100).In John, Jesus asks why the Council would be so offended by such a response.
He again quotes Hebrew Scripture: “I say, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you’.Nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince’” (Psalms, 82:6-7, in Leong,
lSon of Man? A Hebrew term found in numerous parts of the Hebrew Bible
lThe term has two distinct, but not separate meanings
lIn one sense, the term refers to a prophetic figure thought to be marked by the “Spirit
lThe term also seems to refer to anyone born of woman,
lIt therefore can be used to refer to anyone of the human race
D. “The more I am able to affirm others, to say ‘yes” to them in myself, by discovering
them in myself and myself in them, the more real I am. I am fully real if my own heart says yes to everyone” Thomas