Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism

Article excerpt

The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. Edited by Bernard McGinn. New York: Modern Library, 2006. 592 pp. $19.95 (paper).

No one is better equipped than Bernard McGinn to provide a thorough and balanced guide to this vast literature. "A first-class selection by a first-class scholar," Archbishop Rowan Williams says on the cover of this small but thick paperback anthology. It is difficult to argue with his assessment. While McGinn's concentration is on the thousand-year period of the Middle Ages, his examples range from Origen in the second century to Simone Weil in the twentieth, and include patristic, medieval, and modern selections, including both Roman Catholics and Protestants from the post-Reformation period.

Bather than reproduce selections in a simple chronological order, as do most anthologies, McGinn has far more helpfully grouped his readings into three parts and fifteen sub-sections which illuminate the human psychology and experience of mysticism. He begins each of the three parts with a brief explanation of what is to follow. Part 1, Foundations of Mystical Practice, examines ways in which Christians have prepared for the encounter with God and illustrates it by readings subdivided into: Biblical Interpretation; Asceticism and Purgation; Prayer, Liturgy and Sacraments; Inner and Outer Practices; and Mystical Itineraries. Part 2, Aspects of Mystical Consciousness, details eight essential ways in which mystics have written of their encounters with God, and groups readings under the headings Living the Trinity; Encountering Christ: Love and Knowledge; Positive and Negative Ways to God; Vision, Contemplation and Rapture; Distress and Dereliction; Deification and Birthing; and Union with God. Part 3, Implications of the Mystical Life, highlights two important effects of mystical consciousness, on those who do not share the experience and on those who do: Mysticism and Heresy; and Contemplation and Action.

At the beginning of his introduction McGinn asks, What is mysticism? He offers no simple or simplistic answer. Some moderns, heirs of pioneering early twentieth-century studies, he writes, Immediately think of "strange and uncanny, even bizarre" religious experiences. …

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