Phoebe Palmer: Selected Writings

Phoebe Palmer: Selected Writings

Phoebe Palmer: Selected Writings

Phoebe Palmer: Selected Writings

Excerpt

Few have spent more effort studying the mystical element of religion than Baron Friedrich von Hügel. In his massive study of the life of St. Catherine of Genoa, he determined that the mystical element could not be seen apart from its relation to other aspects of the religious experience: the institutional and the intellectual elements. In certain individuals and in certain movements one of these elements is more pronounced than the others. For the mystic, it is the element that stresses a direct experience of God through contemplation and ultimately through union that is central.

Although the experience of Phoebe Palmer, a nineteenth-century American woman, is the product of a thoroughly different age than the six‐ teenth-century Liguorian world of Catherine of Genoa, there was in her life also a modified though discernible emphasis on what von Hügel would call the mystical element. For Phoebe Palmer, though, "mystical" was a dirty word. She was weaned on Wesleyan piety—a piety that was weary of what its creator John Wesley called "the trap of the mystics." It reacted with distrust to talk of pure love, of ultimate stillness, of the quiet of the heart and chose instead to speak of good works done in evangelistic fervor, of social reform, of revival, of the fire of the Lord, and the enthusiasm of the heart strangely warmed.

If one looks further at the structure of the two women's experiences, one sees more similarities. There was the emphasis on total commitment of life which for Catherine meant consecration to pure love and to Palmer meant holiness. In either case the results were similar. Good works, whether ministering to the dying in a Genovese hospital or to the urban poor at Five Points in Manhattan, flowed from the beliefs about God and humanity that so engaged the intellects and affections of these women. There was also the common experience of the ineffable, which not only formed . . .

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