Mystics of the Christian Tradition

Mystics of the Christian Tradition

Mystics of the Christian Tradition

Mystics of the Christian Tradition

Synopsis

From divine visions to self-tortures, some strange mystical experiences have shaped the Christian tradition as we know it. Full of colourful detail, Mystics of the Christian Tradition examines the mystical experiences that have determined the history of Christianity over two thousand years, and reveals the often sexual nature of these encounters with the divine.In this fascinating account, Fanning reveals how God's direct revelation to St Francis of Assisi led to his living with lepers and kissing their sores, and describes the mystical life of Margery Kempe who 'took weeping to new decibel levels'. Through presenting the lives of almost a hundred mystics, this broad survey invites us to consider what it means to be a mystic and to explore how people such as Joan of Arc had their lives determined by divine visions. Mystics of the Christian Tradition is a comprehensive guide to discovering what mysticism means and who the mystics of the Christian tradition actually were.

Excerpt

The modern Anglican priest and mystic Robert Llewelyn, former chaplain of the shrine of Julian in Norwich, wrote that there were two ways of knowing Christ: one can either know all about him or one can know him. He added that knowing Christ "is the only knowledge which ultimately matters. We Christians have a great start in being able to know about Christ from the Gospels, but if we do not know him it is as nothing." This dichotomy represents the two different though intimately related Christianities that coexist uneasily within each other. One Christianity emphasizes human intellect and reason and is a theology, a set of beliefs to be accepted and rules to be followed, a creed that is proclaimed. The other Christianity is that of the mystics, who seek the experience of the God of the former and stress the inability of human reasoning to know the incomprehensible deity. These two Christianities present different means by which one can know God, either through the divine self-revelation to be found in the Scriptures and in Christian theology or through the direct revelation of the divine to the individual. Fr. Llewelyn's preference for the mystical approach as the essential aspect of Christianity fits easily with the view of Evelyn Underhill, one of the twentieth century's best-known writers and teachers on mysticism, who argued that "mysticism represents the very soul of religion."

This book is concerned with the mystics of the Christian tradition, those who have gained the direct experience of the divine. However, the central problem in the study of mystics and of mysticism remains one of definition, for there is an astonishingly wide variety of connotations associated with those terms, which was pointed out from the beginning of the "modern" study of mysticism. In 1899 William Ralph Inge, later dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, London, published Christian Mysticism, which "almost single-handedly caused an English revival of interest in Christian mysticism." 3 In that work he wrote that no word in the English . . .

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