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date: 30 November 2020

Christian Theology and Mysticismfree

  • William Thompson-UberuagaWilliam Thompson-UberuagaDuquesne University


Should Christian theology be interested in mysticism? A strong current within contemporary theology believes it should be, linking up with an older tradition holding that the mystical dimension has always formed the deepest current in the flowing river of Christianity and its theologies and doctrines, even if some have failed to recognize that. This article explores this modern current, its “founders,” its motivations, the questions it raises, and its accomplishments. Mystics are acknowledged as witnesses to the originary experiential source of Christian doctrine and theology.

These modern pioneers explore possibly constant features of the mystical element, and emphasize the “turn to experience” as a central feature.

The contemporary discussion has moved in the direction of exploring as holistic a view of experience as possible, stressing its constructed nature, and employing a lexicon emphasizing consciousness, practices, participatory awareness, and performative utterances.

One typically thinks of mystics who have written classic articulations of their journey as “the” mystics. This is natural, as these writings are the time-tested paradigms that have founded the science of mysticism. But might one be a mystic whose form of expression occurs through art, or through the prophetic struggle for justice, or simply through the humble and often unnoted life of selfless love? Perhaps most mystics remain unknown!

All forms of Christian mysticism are related to Jesus but take varying forms: a kingdom-centered and Father-centered focus, echoing somewhat the liberating focus of Exodus and the Gospels; a Logos mysticism, who indwells believers and whose indwelling unites all disciples (John 17:20–24); a spousal mysticism, echoing the bride and bridegroom theme in scripture (Hos 2:16–20; Mark 2:18–20; John 3:29; Eph 5:23–33). Paul’s letters are a treasury of participative mysticism (koinōnia), celebrating fellowship with fellow disciples in the body of Christ and being “with” and “in” Christ (1 Cor 10; Rom 6). As the trinitarian belief and doctrine gain clarity, one increasingly comes upon a more trinitarian style of mysticism (e.g., the Rublev Trinity icon).

The relationship between theology and mysticism appears to be mutual: Christian sources and beliefs influence theology, but the mystical vivid experience of God’s presence keeps belief and doctrine anchored in a rich experiential soil. But it is suggested, by way of a heuristic for further exploration, that this mutual, back-and-forth interplay between mysticism and theology or doctrine is asymmetrical as well. That is, mysticism may be thought of as the originary and even paradigmatic source of theology (and formal doctrine). This would echo an older tradition voiced, for example, by Evagrios in patristic times and Vladimir Lossky and Karl Rahner in modern times.

One way of understanding this would be to begin with the phenomenon of spirituality and to view mysticism as spirituality’s radically transformative expression. Spirituality derives from the work of the Spirit, who renders our life “Spirited” (1 Cor 2:15).

Spirituality can take on a range of theological and doctrinal forms, as the human faculties needed for this are gradually enriched and transformed by the Spirit. At times the mystics become paradigms of theology and doctrine, through the radical transformation of consciousness and action.

An important by-product of this model is that theology and spirituality are never really separated. When one begins to think in this separationist way, it is a signal that one’s experience and understanding are suffering from a certain narrowness and distortion.

Finally, Christian mysticism and theology (along with doctrine) have been and are continually challenged by seismic transitions in human history, as is Christianity in general. These are never really left behind, even when their challenges are more or less successfully met. At best one can build on them and continually seek to integrate their enduring lessons. The key transitions that the mystic is challenged to learn from and integrate include: “primary”/cosmocentric challenges; biblical; Classical; sapiential; Far Eastern; Muslim; medieval; Renaissance and Reformation; modern; late modern; postmodern; globalization; neocosmocentric; and ecological challenges. The traditional mystic stages and states, for example, will undergo important transformations as they pass through these various transitions. To the extent that the mystics meet these challenges, they become the paradigmatic theological explorers and guides for the rest of us on our journeys.

Introducing the Theme

Readers will know that each of the terms in the title is, and has continuously been, embroiled in conflicts of interpretation. “Christian” derives its meaning from Jesus Christ, and Christianity has been and continues to be a lively discussion and at times boiling debate about just who that Jesus Christ is. “Theology” has to do with the study of or dialogue about the divine reality. But the Christian divinity receives its clarification from the Christ who is Jesus. So immediately this theology loops back upon the dialogues and debates about being a Christian.

“Mystical science” is likewise notoriously difficult to pin down—fascinating as it is and stubbornly resistant to being buried, at least since the 16th century, when the noun (la) mystique forcefully irrupted in French literature, on Michel de Certau’s telling. Certau’s The Mystic Fable is a fascinating genealogical study of this irruption of the nominative mystique, positioning itself at that point where the adjective “mystic[al],” which occurs much earlier and even frequently in pre-medieval literature, turns into a noun.1 The word “mysticism” (Fr. mysticisme) is related but more abstract; yet it has become the typical word for the phenomenon of the mystical.2

Toward what does the noun mystique gesture? Is it indicating a new kind of emphasis or even a new field of literary and theological concern, and are there any constant features constellating around this new noun? Certau also explores suggestively something of the interrelationship between the Christian theology of the times and la mystique as it comes onto the scene, along with the various Church practices in play. This article will endeavor to attend the relationship between mystical reality and theology. However, it uses the more common term “mysticism” and describes its shifting meanings.

Readers will sense how exceedingly complex and wide are the concerns raised already simply by this article’s title. Accordingly, this article will seek to clear a path that may guide one in a helpful direction, without presuming an unsustainable competency.

Contemporary Christian Theology’s Interest in Mysticism

By “contemporary” this article means largely 20th- and 21st-century Christian theology, and it will draw on the theologians of the Church’s two lungs, East and West. Representatively, one may mention William Ralph Inge (“Dean Inge” of St. Paul’s Cathedral, 1860–1954), Evelyn Underhill (1875–1941), Baron Friedrich von Hügel (1852–1925), and Vladimir Lossky (1903–1958) as contemporary pioneers in the effort to return to a more mystically grounded theology.

Underhill, an Anglo-Catholic, did not consider herself a theologian in the academic sense, but she certainly deserves to be considered a theologian.3 She was a pioneer inasmuch as she suggested rather powerfully and subversively by her studies of the mystics how they might enable theology to return to its sources in the writings of the great saints and mystics. She turned to the emerging fields of history, history of religions, and psychology rather than the doctrinal theologies of her own time to consult the spiritual and mystical pioneers. Had she advertised herself as a theologian, she may not have received the friendly attention she deserved. Dean Inge, as an Anglican priest and Cambridge professor of divinity, was thought of as a theologian.4 Underhill and Inge shared a desire to renew the Church and derivatively its theology and formal doctrine by developing a theology of an experiential kind (of the heart), finding this in an exemplary if at times inchoate way in the works of the spiritual and mystical writers. Inge, for example, looked at mysticism as expressive of “the depths of the religious consciousness,” like Underhill, and said that Christianity’s “‘impregnable rock’ is neither an institution nor a book, but a life of experience.”5 This implies that the reigning Church theology of the time was somehow uprooted from its originating, experiential soil. Certau, in his study noted earlier, characterizes the irruption of mystique in 16th- and 17th-century France in a similar way. One of his go-to writers, the controversial Jesuit Jean-Joseph Surin, in fact titled one of his key works La Science expérimentale!6

Hügel deservedly receives serious attention from Anglophone theologians interested in the question of theology’s relation to mysticism. Usually described as Underhill’s spiritual guide, he perhaps helped her widen or at least deepen the christological and ecclesial dimensions of her approach to the mystics, so that one attends to how the mystical life enhances and is connected with one’s life in history; the church; and in one’s incarnate relationships, beginning and remaining animated by a relationship with the incarnate Christ. However, it is difficult to think that the spiritual guidance in his relationship with Underhill was not at times mutual. Both were theological autodidacts, and Hügel particularly needed the support of his spiritual friendships to withstand the inquisitorial atmosphere of the Roman Church at the time.7

Hügel’s masterwork, The Mystical Element of Religion, remains perhaps the most sustained study until recently of the relationship between (Christian) theology and mysticism. Hügel writes about the mystical element, a terminology also used by Inge before him, indicating that mysticism or mystical experience and its literary remains are not the whole of the Christian life but a dimension, an element.8 This element is in relationship with other elements, and that relationship can be a history of great tension and friction (favored words). The three central elements, varyingly described, are the institutional (historical), the rational or scientific, and the mystical (intuitive). One might think of these horizontally, as existing on a particular timeline within the individual. In this case, one might also think of the field of decision-making and action = the institutional or historical element; the mind = the rational element on the level of the person; and the heart = the affective dimension of the person. This affective dimension is not to be equated simply with raw or untutored emotions or feelings, for it has its cognitive dimension (“the heart has its reasons”). In this regard one might think of Shakespeare’s comment in Measure for Measure: “Love talks with better knowledge, and knowledge with dearer love.” This affective dimension seems to have a wide spectrum in the Baron’s usage, ranging from affections “tutored” in varying ways by a spiritual ascesis, to the “fount of the soul,” the grounding source through which the divine beyond is also felt as the divine within guiding the person.

Hügel transposes these three elements onto the social and ecclesial planes as well. Here he is developing an older triad suggested by Cardinal Newman, which has its roots in scripture, and then more explicitly in John Calvin’s and the early Church’s royal, prophetic, and priestly charisms; namely, the regal (executive) = the institutional; the prophetic = the rational and scientific; and the sacerdotal = the mystical.9 One might think here of Henri Bergson’s thoughts about the role of the mystics in keeping societies open to their grounding source, a suggestion developed as well in the political philosophy of Eric Voegelin.10 Hügel’s work asks: What happens when one or the other of these elements is cramped? How does each impact the other? Hügel invites us to think four dimensionally: synchronically, on the levels of the person, of society widely understood, and of the Church communities; and then diachronically or historically as well.

Lossky’s seminal The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (1944, French original; 1957, English edition) simply asserted that “the eastern tradition has never made a sharp distinction between mysticism and theology; between personal experience of the divine mysteries and the dogma affirmed by the Church.” Lossky even went so far as to assert, in accord with a constant thread of tradition in the East (although the Eastern Church has had its arid, more scholastically rationalistic periods!), that “Mysticism [is] the perfecting and crown of all theology: theology . . . par excellence.”11

Two Key Questions: What Is Mysticism, and What Is Its Relation to Christian Theology?

What is meant by “mysticism”? All of our representative authors offer some constant characteristics: a stress upon the inner life, awareness of an immediate presence of God, the process-character of the mystical life as it moves through various stages, the rich use of symbols (or images) to express the mystical life, and the dynamic relation and even friction between the personal and the ecclesial and social dimensions of human existence. Interestingly the mystical life, at least among those paradigmatic figures exploring it in their writings, develops a tradition of mystical transmission, beginning with regularly cited biblical authors, like Paul and the Gospel of John; moving to some rather canonical patristic authors, especially the Cappadocians, St. Augustine, and Dionysius the Areopagite; and then on toward the medieval and post-medieval periods. The Spanish mystics of Spain’s golden age become especially prominent (Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross), perhaps because they explored more carefully the transformations of consciousness and personality the mystic pilgrim undergoes.

The “turn to experience” is an important attraction. This interest in experience, a characteristically modern interest that Certau traced back to the 16th century already, was certainly the air many modern Anglophone scholars were breathing. One needs only to note James’s classic Gifford lectures of 1901–1902, published as The Varieties of Religious Experience.12 Like our principal authors, he listed constant features of mysticism (ineffability, exhibiting a noetic quality, typically featuring transient states, and a sense of “passivity . . . being grasped and held by a superior power”). Mysticism, indeed, was the key to religious experience for James: “I think that personal religious experience has its root and center in mystical states of consciousness.”13

But what is “experience”? In the humanities the term is loose and its edges are fuzzy and controversial, at least since modern science has tended to define the empirical or experiential in a rather strictly materialistic, sensory sense. That is, experience = sense experience. But mystical experience, while certainly working through the senses, argues for a spiritual dimension of the human being. And so in contemporary religious and philosophical studies, experience undergoes various qualifications, so as to widen its nature as a site in which the human being is open to transcendence and divinity. It is suggested that one encounters human experience in various modes, all somehow interconnected and interwoven within a social-ecclesial, historical, and cosmic manifold: bodily/sensory, moral/ethical, aesthetic, and religious. Experience’s edges may be virtuously fuzzy and leaky.

In some ways this would be a return to an older understanding, reaching back to the Classical Greek peira, the word from which “empirical” is derived, and found also, for example, in Hebrews 4:15, where it refers to Jesus’ being tested. This testing is a feature of experience, something one undergoes. In a way, human life is an experiment, and one must endeavor to find a way to endure this test, so that its challenge is fruitful rather than harmful. As Hans-Georg Gadamer has suggested, the testing of experience keeps one open and growing and even prepares one for new experiences as well. Notice, as well, that this notion of experience embraces both what is commonly referred to as the subjective dimension as well as the so-called objective dimension: experience is something that one (= the subjective pole) undergoes (= the objective pole). Subject and object coincide in one’s experience. Perhaps that might serve as a useful rough definition of experience: the coincidence of subject and object.14 This has implications also for the common terminology of the active and passive dimensions of mystical experience, suggesting some refinements in the understanding of those dimensions.

Might that offer an alternative to the rather common observation that the turn to experience in modern theology is necessarily a turn to subjectivism? It might rather be thought of—at least in some cases—as a turn to the place where both subject and object (or “divine Subject”) meet. For example, Karl Barth’s impressive Church Dogmatics did strive to incorporate the dimension of human experience as the responsive place of the event of divine self-communication. It seems to this reader that he did this rather consistently throughout this seminal work, and he even referred to the Holy Spirit as the source of the subjective reception of the otherwise objective revelation of Christ. But this seeming equation of experience with the subjective is the lingering shadow of a subjectivism that then caused him to have an always rather hesitantly cautious recognition of Christian mysticism, or at least an ambiguous one, despite any number of beautifully moving texts on mystical union.15

Another promising line of inquiry is to question whether the subject-object tension might not rather be a second-order distinction arising from and within a larger manifold in which they are actually one. One’s first or primary experience is more of a compact, undifferentiated experience in which one is continually participating through a compact consciousness and language of symbols within a cosmic-geographical and social manifold. Over time, and depending upon circumstances, humans begin to arrive at a clearer differentiation of the various partners within the primary field, the language of “subjects intending objects” becoming one way in which humans articulate through concepts their awareness of the other partners within the partnership of reality. Interestingly some forms of mysticism, in which binary or dualistic modes of thinking seem to be transcended, may well be a resurfacing of this more compact consciousness, albeit on a different level.16 This kind of mysticism would suggest that one’s goal is not to leave their primary field, were that even actually possible, but to destabilize rigidly conceptual borders and to rediscover one’s embeddedness within the primary field with it at a more complex level of embodied consciousness.

The contemporary discussion in religion is also influenced by the historical, geographical, sociocultural, and linguistic conditioning or formation and construction of human experience. Experience does not appear pure but localized and languaged, and whether there might actually be a form of pure mysticism, beyond the shaping influence of culture and language, is hotly contentious. Writers working out of the British and American schools of language analysis prefer to speak of speech acts, performative utterances, and perlocutionary acts, which unite language with action (“I promise,” “I agree,” “one persuades,” or “I pray,” and so on, where the language brings about or accompanies the effect).17 Other alternatives show up as well: human practices, praxis, human existence, and so on. Another alternative is to keep the term “experience” but to do this in an additive way, embracing now the physical-sensory along with the languaged and culturally formed dimensions, such as one might meet with in the religions and various forms of mysticism. This would allow for both constants and culturally changing features of human and religious experience.18 Finally, one might seek to embrace, within the field of the human, the mind, heart, and will (thinking, affections, and decision-making and doing), not in the sense of separated human faculties but as interconnected modes in which human experience occurs.19 But the embodied, languaged, and culturally (and ecclesiastically) shaped dimensions simultaneously need surfacing as well all along the way, regardless of which lexicon one prefers.

This author suggests thinking in as non-binary a way as possible; that is, seeking the possible equivalences among the technical vocabularies used.20 Typical features occur within the mystical experience or mystical ways of practice: for example, a stress upon interiority, a movement through stages, and a preference for symbols and images. The consciousness of the divine presence, as languaged by and mediated through the Christian historical tradition and wider social milieu, is central. Bernard McGinn, for example, makes this his tentative emphasis in his overture volume to his authoritative theological history of Christian mysticism. The mystic is one enjoying “a direct and transformative presence of God.”21 But such immediacy is also mediated. This presence is intensely transformative of the person in all of his or her dimensions (mind, heart, and will, e.g.), a transformation occurring in a deepening process over time.

Another way to express this is to use the language of “participation,” or “indwelling,” a language that is very Pauline (1 Cor 10:16–21) and Johannine (John 17:21–24; cf 2 Pt 1:4), evoking the Platonic tradition as well.22 A Christian mystic is “someone radically transformed by the encounter with the Divine Ground through participation in Jesus.” The word “radically” indicates that “the experience of Jesus has altered the deepest roots and orientation of the Christian” cognitively and linguistically; affectively; and in action along a bodily, personal, social-ecclesial, and historical grid. Additionally, there may be a peculiar appropriateness to the word “mystic,” inasmuch as the mystics “have participated deeply in the ‘mysteries’ of the divine Ground and know through their participation that which only intimates may know. The words mystical and mystery are thus meaningfully, and perhaps etymologically, related.”23 When Paul, for example, writes of “having learned the secret” (Phil 4:12) of being content in Christ, the verb he uses is one that shares the same root (mu-) as the words from which “mystic” (muō) and “mystery” (mueō) derive.

Extraordinary phenomena accompany some mystics as they make their way along the mystic path; namely, visions, auditory communications, ecstasies, transports of various forms, transverberations, stigmata, and more. Inge had thought this was rather overemphasized in the Roman Catholic spiritual literature of his time, and Hügel offered a rather convincing suggestion in response. These phenomena seem to be a non-essential byproduct of the mystic process, for at times they seem not to occur in certain mystics. When they do, Hügel thought this had to do with the integration in or the “inrush into” the mystic of the divine companion, on all the levels of their being. They are often signs of moving toward the integration of divine love, rather than of having reached it. The stigmata is more complex, but the risen lamb that was slain, noted in Revelation 5:6, indicates that integration does not fully occur until the resurrected life.24

Typically emphasis is placed upon a canon of recognized mystic writers-authors, who might be described as those mystics that have been gifted with the charism of powerfully communicating their mystic journeys through various genres (autobiographies, letters, journals, poetry, images or symbols, treatises of various kinds, vade mecum–like catechisms, etc.). Note that most of these genres are very experiential, relatively close to the originating mystical experience. The activation of the multiple dimensions of consciousness, imagination, and linguistic creativity has left its trace. It would seem that it is these mystic writers that scholars often have in mind when they refer to the mystics. This is rather natural, as these writers are a time-tested paradigm, whose writings are mysticism’s founding classics rather than period-pieces.25

But one can be a non-writing mystic too; for example, one who communicates orally to friends and followers, who sometimes then put what they have assimilated into writing. And in fact some of these also attained a canonical status along with the writing mystics. One might likewise express one’s mystical experience through art. Andrei Rublev’s famed icon of hospitality/Trinity comes to mind. It is hard to believe that this icon painter could have “written” that famous icon without being a mystic.26 Something similar could be said of Hildegard of Bingen’s drawings (“illuminations”), which accompany her revelation-like essays. And what of the mystic hymns of Charles Wesley or the African American spirituals? One should also mention the prophetic mystics, ranging from the Hebrew prophets to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., Oscar Romero, Cesar Chavez, and the founders of monastic/neo-monastic and spirituality movements, among many others.

Jesuit theologian Harvey Egan described the Hebrew prophets as “essentially mystics in action . . . sensitized . . . both to what God had done for his people in the past and to the contemporary religious, social, political, and economic scene.” Johannes Metz intriguingly describes this as “not really a mysticism of closed eyes, but an open-eyed mysticism that obligates us to perceive more acutely the suffering of others.”27 Importantly, one must note the many mystics remaining unknown, who largely make up the long mystic succession down the Christian ages. For in the end it is love that makes the mystic.28

Christian Theology and Types of Mysticism

While all forms of Christian mysticism are in some intrinsic way related to Jesus Christ, they are patently not all related in the same way. Perspectives on Jesus are opened up by, for example, the synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John, and the letters of Paul, or a blend of some or all of these. And so, for example, there are varieties of Christian mysticism that might be thought of as more broadly within the trajectory of the synoptic Gospels, focusing upon the message and deeds of Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, or perhaps like the synoptic Jesus exhibiting a more Father-centered approach to mysticism. As the synoptics stress the reign of God in Jesus’ ministry, so prophetic mystics stress the commitment to the new reign of God within history in its various aspects. The mystic becomes a paradigm of the love of God and love of neighbor, a living albeit imperfect expression of the Lord’s Prayer, whose two parts reflect these two commandments.29 Similarly, the Exodus theme of liberation also fosters a more prophetic style of mysticism.

A Johannine-oriented mysticism would reflect more fully how the mystic indwells Christ (John 17:20–24). Sometimes one finds a bridal or spousal mysticism, as in Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, and in some medieval or Reformation writings, reflecting the bridegroom and spouse biblical theme (Hosea 2:16–20, Mark 2:18–20, John 3:29, Eph 5:23–33). Logos mysticism largely traces its origins to the prologue of the Gospel of John. Paul’s letters would foster a more participatory mysticism. Besides the language of “participation” (koinōnia or metochē), Paul also prefers “with-compound” (or sun-compound) words. Romans (6:4, 6, 8) gives us a wave of these: “Therefore we have been buried with him [sunetafēmen] by baptism into death . . . crucified with him [sunestaurōthē] . . . we have died with [sun] Christ, we believe that we will also live with him [suzēsomen].” Although the belief in the Trinity remains at a more diffuse level in the scriptures, eventually, along with the developing inspiration of the early trinitarian ecumenical councils, one finds a more trinitarian form of mysticism emerging as well. The Cappadocians, Rublev’s Trinity icon, and Lossky’s book, noted earlier, remain good examples of this.

Another important concern is the cataphatic and apophatic style of mysticism. The centrality of the incarnation bends Christian mysticism toward an emphasis upon the disclosure of the Divine in human history and within the human itself. The Divine “speaks” (from phanai). To a great extent this is what the debate over icons was about, the conclusion of the 787 Second Council of Nicea being that the incarnation legitimates icon veneration. On the other hand, the complete transcendence of the Divine would bend mysticism toward some recognition of the Divine “surplus” always exceeding expression within finite terms. The Western 1215 Fourth Council of the Lateran dogmatically defined what would be a widely accepted teaching, namely, that the Divine’s dissimilarity from is always greater than its similarity to the created.

Nonetheless, the incarnation opens up the question of whether a truly Christian mysticism could ever espouse a radically pure form of apophatic (no speaking) mysticism, even granting God’s greater dissimilarity. At a minimum the humanity of Jesus would be God’s word or speech, and communion with him in some measure validates one’s various verbal and iconic echoes of that Word. Historically this has led to debates within Christian mysticism about the enduring place of the incarnate Word in the mystic journey.30 A more abstract style of mysticism has sometimes tended to view companioning with the earthly and risen Jesus, and meditating on the various moments of his life, as a preliminary stage on the way of the spiritual journey, to be surpassed by the higher stages of spiritual experience. Not unexpectedly, the centrality of the incarnation sits uneasily with that and tends to foster a more incarnational (cataphatic) style of mysticism, even in its most developed phases.31 In Christianity the greater dissimilarity of God is partly found in the Gospel inversion of usual human values, that is, one encounters divinity in what would be unexpected (dissimilar) to human expectations: in humility, solidarity with the poor and excluded, humble friendship with Jesus, and most of all in the cross (the “costly love”) of Christ.

This loops back upon the earlier discussion of the languaged or shaped nature of human experience. A common ascetical practice is to strive for being silent. But even when it reaches what seems to be an intensive non-hearing or speaking of words, or non-seeing of images (visual “words”), is this silence unshaped by place, language, and image? The silence may be the reverberation of a word if it truly is an attunement. This, for Christians, raises the question of whether the Father is not one with the Son/Logos and the Spirit? It might playfully be suggested that no-saying (Father) and saying (Son/Logos) somehow are one, in a flowing oneing (Spirit) in which the mystic profoundly participates. Does this mean that from the mystic’s side the silence that is yet a speaking in the Spirit brings about various reverberations in the mystic, from moments of no speaking/imagining; to selfless non-clinging even while speaking/imagining (after the manner of Philippians 2:6–7); to moments of ecstatic doxology and exclamation, and more? What to make of Romans 8:26, with its Spirit-given “sighs too deep for words,” which suggest something between utter silence and more shaped language?

If, for example, we think of the Trinity as a dialogue, does not a dialogue require silence (listening), speaking (communicating), and breathing (inhaling = the space for listening; exhaling = the energy for speaking)? The mystical preference for images and symbols (and “sighs” in Paul), rather than for concepts, reflects the blend of the apophatic and cataphatic. As Austin Farrer well put it, speaking of metaphor (used in imaginative awareness), “[it] goes straighter to the mark by going crooked.”32 The incarnation, in the end, destabilizes the apophatic-cataphatic borders.

More on the Relationship between Christian Theology and Mysticism

Mysticism and theology influence one another and have done so throughout Christian history. Up to this point, it would appear that the relationship is—or potentially can be, at least—an equally mutual one. For example, the rather propositional or rational form of much theology at modernity’s beginning released the longing for something more vital. Or, the doctrinal beliefs of Christianity foster certain forms of mysticism.

Can one go further, in the direction suggested by Lossky? That is, might the relationship be thought to be one of an asymmetrical mutuality in some way? In various ways this seems to have been the case. For example, this article has noted how the belief and indeed doctrine of the incarnation bends mysticism in a certain direction. Here the incarnation belief is leading and guiding, and thus the relationship is more one of an asymmetrical mutuality. On the other hand, for example among the writers this article begins with, Christian mysticism bends theology in the direction of experience and practices, engendering conflicts about its historical, cultural, and languaged nature. This has implications for theological method.

Lossky, however, argues that mysticism is the paradigm of true theology, and James argued something analogous for religious experience in general. Rahner has suggested the same: Mysticism “has . . . a paradigmatic character, an exemplary function, to make clear . . . what really happens and is meant when . . . faith tells [one] that God’s self-communication is given to [one] in grace and accepted freedom whenever [one] believes, hopes, and loves.”33 This would make the relationship more asymmetrical, in the sense that the kind of theology practiced by mystics leads, or sets the standard, and theology then follows. But this leaves us with a number of questions: Are all mystics paradigmatic theologians, and if so, in what way? Or are only some mystics, those with certain theological talents, the paradigmatic theologians? Saint Teresa of Avila and St. Thérèse de Lisieux, for example, have both been declared “doctors of the Church” by the Pope, yet neither earned a theology degree. Would this argue for the prior view, namely that all mystics are in some sense paradigmatic theologians, or for the latter view, namely that in a qualified sense these saints under grace achieved a paradigmatic place in theology?

The following offers one possible heuristic, beginning, firstly, with spirituality in the Pauline sense, whose view roots spirituality or the Christian life in the Holy Spirit. Seeking under grace to be in tune with the Holy Spirit in all the dimensions of one’s life (Rom 8:1–17) can serve us as the initial description. This is what gradually transforms one’s existence into spirituality, rendering it pneumatikos (“Spirited”: 1 Cor 2:15). What is a conscious commitment for the Christian has its analogous forms among others, inasmuch as this Spirit is transcendently present everywhere. And naturally other terms that are roughly equivalent to spirituality might be employed, such as the devout life, piety, holiness, discipleship, and so on. All of these, as Spirited, are expressions of spirituality.

Consequently, secondly, spirituality takes many forms, both for Christians and others, embracing profound levels of attunement to the Spirit in the key dimensions of one’s existence, such as mind, heart, and will, and on local, social, and historical levels. The range is vast, from minimal to profound, with tensions, setbacks from sins, imperfections, failures, slow progress, encountering oppositions from personal and social sources, and so on. The unifying ground of these dimensions receives various names. Some Christian mystics will speak of the “fount of the soul” in which self and God meet; contemporaries sometimes speak of consciousness in its multiple dimensions. When this fount/consciousness is Spirit-transformed, one speaks of spirituality at its most intense. This is what this article has been referring to as a mystic in the paradigmatic sense. And so mysticism varies along a wide spectrum, from the potential mystic, which would seem to be available to all, to the fully realized mystic.

Theology, thirdly, can be understood in the widest sense as the logos/sophia-dimension of human existence; that is, the application of the cognitive faculties to the exploration of existence, particularly in its relation to the Divine. As the self cognitively responds to the Spirit, then spirituality takes on a range of theological forms. Here one might speak of the release or enhancement of embodied consciousness in its many dimensions, which can then result in an icon by Rublev; a prophetic text or act by the “mystic of open eyes” such as Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, or Pedro Arrupe; or the breakthrough writings of Teresa of Avila, John Wesley, and Phoebe Palmer. The writings of Paul and the Gospel of John are paradigmatic here, not to mention sections of the synoptics and prophets.

Fourthly, spirituality is then the originary source of theology, and the mystic practice of theology offers paradigmatic expressions of theology as the cognitive faculties needed for this are released and enhanced in the mystic’s Spirited experience. The realized mystic becomes, it would seem, the paradigm of the spiritual life of discipleship, and at times the paradigm of theology. There are always paradigmatic elements of theology in the mystics, but some mystics become fuller paradigms of theology, through the Spirit-animated transformation of levels of consciousness and action.

Fifthly, the Spirit is the bond uniting people with Jesus Christ, with one another, and with the entire cosmos (1 Cor 2:10, 2:13; Rom 8). There is always a social (including ecclesial) and cosmic-geographical dimension to the Spirit-led life. Spirituality and theology will reflect these dimensions, and some mystic theologians will be especially gifted in these various areas. As the Spirit “groans” (Rom 8:19–23), so the mystic theologian will groan over the social, ecclesial, and cosmic-geographical devastation to which he or she is alert, not to mention the levels of growth still awaiting one on all the levels of consciousness and action. Types of prayer, especially liturgical prayer, contemplative awareness, meditation, and asceticism of various kinds, are all ways in which the mystic seeks under grace to process his or her many dimensions in communion with others.

One result of this way of thinking is that theologies (and the churches’ formal doctrines) are never really separated from spirituality, and analogously, thought and action are never really separated from spirituality either. One is always living out one’s spirituality, knowingly or not, and its results show up all along the line, bodily, personally, socio-ecclesiastically, and ecologically. However, the spirituality might be at a rather low-energy and even unreflective level, which might also be rather distorted and unhealthy. For example, were one to claim that thinking and action or even formal doctrines have nothing to do with spirituality, this would simply mean that one’s understanding of these matters is rather distorted and narrow, not that it is correct. Entire periods of history can undergo such distortions. Certau is tracing some of that in his provocative The Mystic Fable.34 This is one of the reasons that the mystic literature is very attentive to the phenomena of sin, illusion, and distortion, developing the insights of the prophets and Jesus about the “hardness of our hearts” (sklērokardia [Greek] and ʼarelat lebab [Hebrew]: Deut 10:16, Matt 19:8; Mark 7:21–22).35

Historical and Cultural Transitions as Challenges

Do mystics tend to repeat the reigning theologies of the day, or are they breakthrough contributors? Underhill, at the conclusion of her work Mysticism, had suggested that “the great periods of mystical activity tend to correspond with the great periods of artistic, material, and intellectual civilization.” The mystics are “humanity’s finest flower; the product at which each great creative period of the race had aimed.” She suggested that the great mystical waves tended to come “immediately after” the creative “outbursts” of breakthrough periods. Mystical waves are the “heroic” ages of human development. Underhill’s three great mystical waves—of the 3rd, 14th, and 17th centuries ce—are the crowning of the Classical, the medieval, and the Renaissance periods.36 Underhill’s suggestions are provocative and perhaps she implies as well the creativity of the paradigmatic mystics, who are themselves creative outbursts.

Accordingly, this article suggests representatively breakthrough mystic theologians (through the 17th century) as follows. Flourishing in the 2nd to 8th centuries: Origen, Athanasius, Evagrios, the Cappadocians, Benedict and Scholastica, Augustine, (pseudo) Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximos the Confessor, and John of Damascus; flourishing in the 10th to 16th centuries: Symeon the New Theologian, Hildegard of Bingen, Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis and Clare of Assisi, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Eckhart, Sergius of Radonezh, Andrei Rublev, The Cloud of Unknowing, Gregory Palamas, Julian of Norwich, Nicholas of Cusa, and Nil Sorsky; and flourishing in the 16th to 17th centuries: Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Luther, Calvin, the Anglican lyrical poets, Bérulle and the early French School, and Juana Inés de la Cruz. These mystics initiated new styles of thought and living.

History and geography bring their challenges, and sometimes these challenges are profoundly transformative. Underhill noted the challenges offered by the Classical, medieval, and Renaissance/Reformation periods. These were great transitions that the pioneers worked through, attempting to integrate their lessons for humanity. As one enters into a new transition, one attempts to bring the lessons learned earlier but now seeks to integrate them at a more complex level. The process is at its best one of complexification. And to the three transitions noted should also be added the fundamental transitions of the Prophets and of Jesus in the West, keeping in mind that the Classical period means Plato and Aristotle especially, not to mention the breakthrough mystics of the Far East (Confucius, Lao Tzu, Gautama Buddha) and of Islam (Mohammed, the Sufis, and so on). And does one ever really leave the beginning, the cosmological and first primary cultures of the paleolithic and later? Complexification always begins with that.

Mystic theology is creative in ever new ways, as it meets the challenges offered by the historical transitions of the human drama. The mystic path even offers some promising ways in which to do this. Its rooting in experience, in human practices and performatives, opens it to and prepares it for history’s testing. The non-clinging of the mystic path, challenging one to work through hardening or closure of heart, guided by prayer, liturgical worship, meditative and ascetical practices, and ecclesial-community involvement and commitment, keeps one open to the divine ground, breaching closure and maintaining openness (Bergson’s “open society”). Social formation and conditioning need not degenerate into social determinism or colonization with attunement to the divine ground. Among mystics whose theological gifts have been enhanced and liberated, one might expect theological creativity.

Besides those already noted, the major transitions facing the mystic theologian that deserve sketching here are: modernity, late modernity, postmodernity, neocosmological attunement, and globalization. Modernity, with its turn to experience, especially as practiced by the physical sciences, along with all the social repercussions this has brought about and continues to bring about, might be thought of as one of the main factors bringing about the turn to the mystics, as offering one example of how theology emerges from within human experience, practices, and performatives. The reader may wish to revisit the earlier observations on the reshaping of the notion of experience and its rough equivalents. The political emancipation that has accompanied modernity also makes it effects felt and shows up in the mystics of open eyes, who in various ways foster emancipationist theologies. Similarly the emergence of historical science and its critique of the established literary canon of the West forms a significant part of this.

Late modernity brings the founders of the hermeneutics of suspicion—Freud, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Jung, and so on—who drew attention to the shadow side of human living, the passions and victim-creating social ideologies that blind human minds, hearts, and wills, personally and socially. They also challenge the rather optimistic quest of the various human sciences for mastery over human behavior, opening up a possible space of humility and self-criticism.37 This links up with the mystic analysis of pneumopathology and the biblical tradition of the hardened heart, the latter attending to the divine beyond as the ground of self-criticism, which offers a way to recognize one’s psychosocial conditioning without lapsing into simple determinism. The mysticism of open eyes and prophetic protest (feminist, liberationist, ecological, etc.) further complexifies.38

Postmodernity seeks to recognize what remains unsatisfactory about modernity and late modernity. This might take the form of a creative “going back” to significant transitional movements of earlier periods (e.g., humanity’s primary/cosmological cultures, the biblical and Classical periods, the sages of the Far East, or the medieval and Renaissance periods). The historical retrieval of the classic mystic texts exemplifies some of this postmodern sensitivity, although this retrieval has been occurring since modernity and in some ways it is still in its beginnings.

On the other hand, and more radically, postmodernity might manifest itself as a critique of all pretensions to create a universal science. The awareness of the historical, social, and geographical conditionedness of all things human rests on the precarious edge of a historical determinism. But cautious postmodern thinkers stay on this edge, which becomes a sort of constant prod toward critique. This goes along, then, with a renewed sensitivity to the storied/narratived nature of societies; one speaks and thinks in terms of local and changing narratives. Whether a grand or universal human narrative can be found remains questionable. A universal narrative at best would need to be one “in hope,” or eschatological, which might be one way of imagining the biblical canonical narrative. Here it is particularly the apophatic styles of mysticism that seem to echo to a great extent some of this postmodern sensitivity but without the slide into determinism. The divine ground breaches that. And if so, that may well be its trace.

Neocosmological attunement and globalization somewhat accompany one another in the sense that as experience of the global widens, humans again re-own their cosmic habitat, their wider ecology and geography, which reaches out to the galaxies and connections therein. In a way the cosmological awareness of the primal cultures is regained, only now on a more complex level. Hence one sees the interest in nature mysticisms of primal cultures but also in sediments of this within the canon of the classic Christian mystics, and the recognition of some important pioneers in this area like Teilhard de Chardin and Matthew Fox.

The other side of the global is the cross-culturalization through which the human drama is passing, particularly religiously, economically, and digitally. A post-colonial sensitivity forms a part of this: humans are being prodded out of their narrow colonies, although hopefully through complexification they will bring with them the best that their colonies have to offer along the way. But this is accompanied by much conflict and retreats into tribalisms and colonies of all kinds. The “other” easily becomes the target of unrecognized scapegoat mechanisms. The various wars, regional conflicts, and World Wars are evidence enough of this.

Political philosopher Voegelin noted the work of both Nicholas of Cusa and Jean Bodin as mystic philosophers alert to the cross-cultural contexts of their times. Cusa appealed to the universal logos/wisdom as the ground of unity in diversity, and Bodin to the transcendent depth of mystic experience as the ever-greater source of a unity beyond exclusiveness. Voegelin says of Cusa: “It was [his] mysticism that prevented him from becoming dogmatic and taking sides in the factional struggle [of his time].” Voegelin noted that “the differentiation of layers of depth in the ground of being, as expressed in mysticism” provided the foundation on which “tolerance and the balancing out of every symbolism of order by the ineffable is based.”39 These pioneers find their creative mystic developers in figures such as Bede Griffiths, Thomas Merton, Raimundo Panikkar, William Johnston, James Fredericks, Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, and others.

This article noted earlier that Christian mystic authors typically write of various states and stages through which the mystic wayfarer journeys; for example, the common purgative, illuminative, and unitive stages and states; or more complexly, Teresa of Avila’s seven mansions or John of the Cross’s dark nights of the senses and the spirit. These traditional states and stages are always faced with further challenging complexifications as mystics strive to both understand them well and critically and to integrate them with the various transitions of the human and cosmic drama.40 Those mystics in which this occurs become the theological mystic pioneers. They help the human drama to remain open and advancing.

Review of the Literature

Generalizing while simplifying somewhat, theology’s relation to mysticism and more generally to spirituality can be thought of as passing through four phases thus far, but unevenly: (1) a period of undifferentiated unity (biblical, patristic, and medieval monastic periods); (2) a growing attempted separation by scholars into distinct spheres and disciplines, especially in the West (late medieval—especially universities—to late modern); (3) a growing recognition of that separation and the need to address it (late modern, postmodern, and globalization periods); and (4) attempts at a critical integration (contemporary period). Yves Congar’s A History of Theology offers a fine overview of the field of theology, while some earlier, especially French, sources and more recently Certau’s provocative The Mystic Fable cover the development of the science of mysticism. The adjective “mystical” is used already in patristic times, but the noun (la mystique) seems to be a 16th17th-century French development, which then gradually became more common as a noun. La mystique becomes a more abstract mysticisme in French, and that abstract noun tends to gain in prominence (in English, “mysticism”). McGinn’s multivolume history of mysticism, The Presence of God, still in process, offers the most recent analysis of the language and understanding of mysticism.41

Four Anglophone pioneer texts in modern theology’s return to mysticism are: Inge’s Christian Mysticism (his 1899 Bampton Lectures), supplemented by his 1905 St. Margaret’s Lectures, published as Studies of English Mystics, which featured the practical and balanced mysticism of Julian of Norwich, Walter Hilton, Wordsworth, and Robert Browning; Underhill’s classic Mysticism; Hügel’s The Mystical Element of Religion; and Lossky’s The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Inge’s view, that the mystics are “the only thorough-going empiricists” guiding us “to the perennial ‘fresh springs’ of religion,” is widely shared by these thinkers, echoing in their own way James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience (1901–1902 Gifford Lectures). Underhill’s Mysticism has a chapter on mysticism’s relation to theology, and her later The Mystic Way supplemented this with a more thorough study of the mystical origins of Christianity, the Bible, early theology, and liturgy. Hügel’s study focused upon mysticism as an element, as well as seemingly “the” originary element, in Christianity, developing insights already present in Inge’s work. Lossky’s book introduced to the Anglophone and modern Western world the traditional Eastern Christian view that no sharp distinction exists between theology or doctrine and mysticism.42

All of these pioneers noted various, constant features of the mystic experience. Underhill, disagreeing with James’s four (ineffability, a special noetic quality, typical transient states, and a sense of passivity), held that it is: (1) active and practical; (2) wholly focused on the transcendental and spiritual; (3) under the heart’s guidance focused upon a living and personal one; and (4) a result of a life process (the mystic way), leading to a “complete remaking of character” and “liberation of a new, or rather latent form of consciousness.” Certau, thinking of these features as a proposed universal nucleus, opined that Underhill “popularized an entire trend.” Whether Underhill would agree that what she thought of as characteristics were a universal nucleus is questionable.43 One will in fact rather regularly come upon typical or constant features in classic mystical texts and their commentators, for example in the commentaries of Egan and McGinn—a stress on interiority, an immediate awareness of the Divine that is yet somehow mediated, the processive nature of the mystical path, a preference for images and symbols, and an interplay and even common tension between the mystic and social and ecclesial factors.44

“Consciousness” and “experience” are terms regularly used among the pioneers and in current study (consciousness especially and tentatively by McGinn), although now with more hesitation both categories have been thought to suggest subjectivism.45 The use of terms like “practices” and “performative utterances” or “perlocutionary acts,” while helpfully underscoring the bodily, languaged, and social dimensions of experience, do not entirely avoid possible charges of subjectivism. Consciousness needs its somatic, bodily dimension to be noted. Rowan Williams’ Being Human is especially fine on this.46 That seems less of a problem with the term “experience,” especially given the tendency to equate experience with “sense experience.”

Ann Taves’s Religious Experience Reconsidered offers a suggestive review of the questions surrounding this much-used but still somewhat fuzzy notion. Experience, while certainly occurring through the senses, seems also to be the site of significant moral, aesthetic, and spiritual and religious insights, and these latter require the cultivation of certain skills, practices, and virtues for their actualization. When these are missing, as Dante Germino’s Beyond Ideology has well noted, it is not surprising that experience undergoes a kind of sensory reduction.47 Much of the mystic way is in fact concerned precisely with relativizing such a reduction. Taves concentrates upon the constructed nature of experience, through social, cultural, historical, religious, and linguistic influences. This is a very strong current in today’s scholarship, making any kind of essentialism (such as a universal nucleus) questionable. Perhaps some combination of constants in and through historical forms of mystical variety will have to do for now.

Experience may never be able to shed the stigma of subjectivism, but, as Gadamer has noted, evoking its Greek Classical origins (found also in the New Testament) as the locus of that which humans come upon in the laboratory of life may foster a view of it as the site of the intersection of subject and object simultaneously.48 Rahner, Bernard Lonergan, and Hans Urs von Balthasar, among many others, are also suggestive here.49 This links up with another tendency in contemporary philosophy, namely to view the subject-object distinction as a secondary differentiation within the always more comprehensive and unified manifold of reality. Unitive, nondualist forms of mysticism are suggestive of this. Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge and The Tacit Dimension, and Voegelin’s Order and History, vols. 1 and 5 especially, are central here.50 Eugene Webb’s Philosophers of Consciousness offers a trustworthy guide to Polanyi, Lonergan, Voegelin, Ricoeur, Girard, and Kierkegaard, although it needs to be supplemented by the later fifth volume of Voegelin’s Order and History.51

Balthasar’s seven-volume Theological Aesthetics, the first of his trilogy (with Theo-Drama and Theo-Logic), is suggestive of the objective moment within the fundamental union of subject and object in theological experience—being drawn by the glory and beauty of the Lord, the beauty being the inner-worldly manifestation of the greater, transcendent glory—echoing and following Barth. This explains his attraction to the saints and mystics as sources for theological wisdom. Or, more likely, the saints and mystics explain Balthasar’s attraction to a theological aesthetics! The divine glory shines and shimmers in the mystics’ beauty. Balthasar’s attunement to beauty or the aesthetic, in his sense, also attunes his work to form and mediation, through Church, tradition, symbols, and language, and the attractiveness of the saints’ lives. Note that when Barth and Balthasar write of beauty, it is one profoundly marked by the countercultural and strange gospel beauty of the cross (costly, crucified love). Mark McIntosh’s Christology from Within offers an important study of spirituality’s role in the formation of Christology from a Balthasarian perspective.52

Rahner’s work always manifested this pull to the ever greater (the Magis of St. Ignatius Loyola), but it seems to have shown up in different ways throughout his long career.53 At first it was very subdued, in his form of transcendental Thomism, as he sought to bring Aquinas into dialogue with Kant. One’s movement outward into the world or the phantasms was propelled and sustained by the pull of the absolute. At first he studied how this happened in cognitive activity, then more fully in the experiences of willing and loving, and in time he came to emphasize the saints and mystics, especially Ignatius of Loyola, as expressive of his theological style.54 The Jesuit Harvey D. Egan’s works are the major Anglophone commentaries on Rahner’s relationship to spirituality and mysticism.55

In many ways one might say that Balthasar and Rahner express, each in their own highly original manner, many of the themes and concerns of the Anglophone pioneers in modern theological mysticism in the West. Similarly, Rowan Williams’s and Sarah Coakley’s works manifest an attunement to the roots of theology in spirituality.56 In the East, one would want to turn to the works of metropolitan Kallistos Timothy Ware, Andrew Louth, and the hesychast revival; and in the Anglophone world the publication of the Philokalia, for example.57

William Thompson-Uberuaga has come to think of theology as properly rooted in spirituality and mysticism, with mysticism expressing spirituality’s radical transformation of the human person. The notion of spirituality here is very biblical and Pauline, rooted in the Spirit who unites one with the Father/Abba, Jesus, one another, and the cosmos (the body of Christ). While searching for a theological lexicon that is as generous and as nonbinary as possible, his work tends to feature the notion of participation as central; that is, the mystic participates on various levels of one’s being in the mysteries of Jesus. As this participation develops along the mystic way (Underhill), what seems at first to be a very arduous, ascetical, and active project grows ever more passive (or better, more integrated), and thus the flow of the divine triune presence is less blocked. Experience and consciousness exhibit a distinctly symbolic-participatory nature in the mystics—knowledge and action by participative indwelling, bodily, personally, socially, and ecclesiastically, on multiple levels of consciousness.

Mystic classical texts are naturally the paradigm to which one turns for knowledge of mysticism, for they offer time-tested paradigms of the mystic way. These mystics are the mystics gifted with the charism of writing. But in fact most mystics likely remain unknown, for their writing is their life of love and witness in service. This is the key dimension that makes the mystic, as it makes the saint and martyr. All of these are living the Spirited life, that is, they are living out their spirituality in and through the Holy Spirit. These three are one in their root, which explains why it is quite possible to describe them in these terms almost interchangeably (of course, the red martyr suffers the witness of death, but the white and green martyrs do not). Other mystics express themselves through art (Rublev’s Trinity icon, for example, or Hildegard of Bingen’s illuminations), others through prophetic action. When the mystics’ cognitive faculties are appropriately Spirit-transformed, then the mystic becomes capable of producing paradigmatic theological works. It seems that various of these mystics are attuned in different ways to one, many, or all of the significant transitions through which humanity has passed and is still summoned to pass: prehistoric, cosmocentric, and primary; Classical; biblical; medieval; Renaissance; Reformation; modernity; late modernity; postmodernity; and globalization and neocosmocentrism. When this occurs, mysticism becomes ever more complex and self-critical. Johnston’s Mystical Theology, for example, exhibits an attunement to many of these transitions. So, too, do the writings of Ken Wilber, but especially from an interreligious perspective, with a focus upon Buddhism.58

The participatory view of mysticism and its wide variety of types, along with a stress on negotiating the great transitions of human history, can be found in Thompson-Uberuaga’s Jesus and the Gospel Movement; various sketches of dimensions of theology and spirituality in mutual interplay can be found in his Fire and Light: The Saints and Theology and Christology and Spirituality. The role of the French School (especially Cardinal Bérulle, Madeleine de Saint-Joseph, Jean-Jacques Olier, and St. Jean Eudes) has been central in leading him to stress the Johannine and Pauline notions of indwelling and participation, while Voegelin’s influence has been to stress a more Plato-inspired view of participation.59

Primary Sources

Perhaps a good place to begin is McGinn’s The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism and Egan’s An Anthology of Christian Mysticism.60 These two anthologies may not offer selections from every suitable mystic, but the selections are widely representative. Diving more deeply and striving for mystics whose theological talents are significantly developed, one might proceed chronologically with some of the masters. Edward Hardy’s Christology of the Later Fathers offers significant selections from Athanasius and the Cappadocians, which illustrate the typically patristic union of theology and spirituality. The concluding paragraph of Athanasius’s On the Incarnation offers perhaps “the” classic expression of the fusion of sanctity and theology. Gregory of Nazianzus’s The Theological Orations and Gregory of Nyssa’s Address on Religious Instruction, so crucial for the development of trinitarian doctrine, follow the Athanasian sourcing in spirituality.61 Hildegard of Bingen: Scivias and Jean-Pierre Torell’s Christology and Spirituality in St. Thomas Aquinas illustrate the somewhat different ways in which the theological and the mystical fuse in the medieval period. Hildegard is more artistic in genre, and Aquinas more scholastic, but it is a scholasticism rooted in liturgy, prayer, and doctrine.62 McGinn’s Mysticism in the Reformation (1500–1650) presents with commentary the major mystical texts of Luther, Calvin, and the Anglican lyrical poets.63 Rublev’s icon of the Trinity offers a stunning example of theological mysticism in color, while Gabriel Bunge offers an excellent commentary, showing the trinitarian influence of St. Sergius, in his The Rublev Trinity.64 The works of St. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross are widely known—and should be for any student of mysticism and theology—and Cardinal Bérulle and his school offer particularly fine examples of a mysticism rich in Trinitarian, Christological, Mariological, ecclesial, and pastoral themes. For this see Bérulle and the French School, edited by Thompson-Uberuaga.65

Further Reading

  • Classics of Western Spirituality Series. New York: Paulist.
  • Coakley, Sarah. The New Asceticism: Sexuality, Gender, and the Quest for God. London and New York: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2015.
  • Congar, Yves. A History of Theology. Trans. and ed. Hunter Guthrie. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968.
  • Egan, Harvey D. “Theology and Spirituality.” In Cambridge Companion to Karl Rahner. Edited by Declan Marmion and Mary E. Hines, 13–28. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Hollywood, Amy, and Patricia Z. Beckman, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Christian Mysticism. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  • Johnston, William. Mystical Theology: The Science of Love. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995.
  • Johnston, William. “Arise, My Love …” Mysticism for a New Era. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2000.
  • Johnston, William. Silent Music: The Science of Meditation. New York: HarperCollins, 1979.
  • Kelly, James J. Baron Friedrich von Hügel’s Philosophy of Religion. Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium LXIII. Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 1983.
  • Lamm, Julia A., ed. The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism. Wiley-Blackwell Companions to Religion. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017.
  • Leonard, Ellen M. Creative Tension: The Spiritual Legacy of Friedrich von Hügel. Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 2005.
  • Louth, Andrew. The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys. Oxford: Clarendon, 1981.
  • McGinn, Bernard. The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism. 6 vols. New York: Crossroad, 1991–2017.
  • McGuckin, John Anthony. “The Holy Mysteries and Liturgies: Greater and Lesser Mysteries, Traditions of Orthodox Prayer and Spirituality, the Holy Icons; Doors to the Kingdom.” In The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture, 77–379. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.
  • McIntosh, Mark A. Christology from within: Spirituality and the Incarnation in Hans Urs von Balthasar. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1996.
  • McIntosh, Mark A. Divine Teaching: An Introduction to Christian Theology. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.
  • McIntosh, Mark A. Mystical Theology: The Integrity of Spirituality and Theology. Challenges in Contemporary Theology Series. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.
  • Miles, Margaret R. The Word Made Flesh: A History of Christian Thought. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.
  • Sheldrake, Philip. Spirituality: A Brief History. 2nd ed. Malden, MA and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.
  • Williams, Rowan. The Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to Saint John of the Cross. Cambridge, MA: Cowley, 1990.


  • 1. Michel de Certau, The Mystic Fable: The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, vol. 1, trans. Michael B. Smith (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), ix, 15–16, 82, cf. 79–112; and Michel de Certau, The Mystic Fable: The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, vol. 2, ed. Luce Giard, trans. Michael B. Smith (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), which was published posthumously. Also helpful is Natalie Zemon Davis, “The Quest of Michel de Certau,” New York Review of Books 55, no. 8 (May 15, 2008): 57–60.

  • 2. This more abstract term has been the subject of some humorous critique: “myst-i-cism” becoming a shorthand for something “misty,” which fosters the “I” of egocentricity, and which ends up in “schism”! This author believes the authentic mystic would recognize the element of truth in this.

  • 3. Her classic study is Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1930, rev. of 1911 edition).

  • 4. His 1899 Bampton Lectures were published as William Ralph Inge, Christian Mysticism, Considered in Eight Lectures Delivered before the University of Oxford (London: Methuen, 1899, 1918); and see also William Ralph Inge, Studies of English Mystics: St. Margaret’s Lectures 1905 (London: J. Murray, 1906).

  • 5. Inge, Christian Mysticism, 330.

  • 6. See Certau, Mystic Fable, 1.

  • 7. See Dana Greene, Evelyn Underhill: Artist of the Infinite Life (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998).

  • 8. Inge, Christian Mysticism, 329, where he notes both a mystical and an institutional element in Christianity, saying that the mystical element is not the whole of Christianity. His second chapter is titled “The Mystical Element in the Bible.” Inge stresses the role of the Church and sacraments in the fuller mystical life, 331–332, and throughout chapter 8.

  • 9. Friedrich von Hügel, The Mystical Element of Religion as Studied in Saint Catherine of Genoa and Her Friends, 2 vols. (London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1961), esp. 1:387–396, 2:3–49, 50–82, 367–370. Hügel concentrates upon Catherine of Genoa as his mystic “laboratory” so to speak, giving depth to his study while also sketching a more generalized theory. See John Henry Newman, The Via Media of the Anglican Church Illustrated in Lectures, Letters, and Tracts Written between 1830 and 1841, vol. 1 (London: Basil Montagu Pickering, 1877), xv–xciv. Also see Hügel, Mystical Element, for his references to Inge.

  • 10. See Henri Bergson, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, trans. R. Ashley Audra R. Ashley Audra, W. Horsfall Carter, and M. J. Hanak (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1977); and Eric Voegelin, “What Is Political Reality?,” in Anamnesis: On the Theory of History and Politics, ed. David Walsh, and trans. M. J. Hanak and Gerhart Niemeyer, Collected Works 6 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 393–398.

  • 11. Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (London: James Clarke, 1957), 8–9. We can hear the echo of Evagrios [Pontikos]: “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.” Evagrios, “On Prayer,” in The Philokalia: The Complete Text, comp. Nikodimos and Makarios, trans. G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), 1: 61. (But in Lossky without the anti-material overtones of Evagrios.)

  • 12. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (New York: New American Library, 1958). Reading this work remains quite moving, but whether it is too individualistic in its understanding of the origins of religious experience, but not necessarily of its results in charity, needs attention.

  • 13. James, Varieties, 292–293.

  • 14. See Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd ed., trans. rev. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 355 and passim; for the use of the term in Christian theological tradition, see Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Experience God?,” in New Elucidations, trans. Mary Theresilde Skerry (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 20–45; and William M. Thompson [-Uberuaga], Christology and Spirituality (New York: Crossroad, 1991), 6–14.

  • 15. Austin Holmes, “Encountering Christ: Karl Barth and Mysticism,” Lumen Et Vita 8, no. 2 (2018),; for a sympathetic view of mysticism; see Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 3, part 2, #47, “Man in His Time,” trans. H. Knight, G. W. Bromiley, and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1960), 538–549, for an exemplary section on mysticism and union with Christ. This author’s impression is that Anglophone readers by and large know the “neo-orthodox, earlier” Barth, rather than the increasingly “catholic” Barth of the developing Church Dogmatics, which he largely wrote during the World War II years, when Anglophones were separated from German-speaking countries. One almost needs to read the entire series to sense the developments in Barth. But this view is contentious, and one also notes a rear-guard neo-orthodox reaction to this among some contemporary Barthian scholars.

  • 16. See, for example, Eric Voegelin, Order and History, vol. 5: In Search of Order, ed. Ellis Sandoz, Collected Works 18 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 31–33. In other words, there is no gap between subject and object; what we think of as a gap is rather various forms of differentiations or mis-differentiations within the compactly unified manifold of reality. From Heidegger to Karl Rahner to Xavier Zubiri to Michael Polanyi and more, this has been an increasingly accepted view.

  • 17. See, authoritatively, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 3rd ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1968); and J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, The William James Lectures (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975). See also Certau, Mystic Fable, 2:1–22.

  • 18. Suggestive is Ann Taves, Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building-Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009).

  • 19. For example, see Andrew Tallon, Head and Heart: Affection, Cognition, Volition as Triune Consciousness (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997). Obviously this is a work very relevant to Hügel’s triads noted earlier.

  • 20. Helpful here is Eric Voegelin, “Equivalences of Experience and Symbolization in History,” in Published Essays 1966–1985, ed. Ellis Sandoz, Collected Works 12 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), 115–133.

  • 21. Bernard McGinn, Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism (New York: Modern Library, 2006), xiv. Also see Bernard McGinn, “Mystical Consciousness: A Modest Proposal,” Spiritus 8 (2008): 44–63. On consciousness, see Eugene Webb, Philosophers of Consciousness: Polanyi, Lonergan, Voegelin, Ricoeur, Girard, Kierkegaard (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988).

  • 22. See “Consider Participation,” in Jesus and the Gospel Movement: Not Afraid to Be Partners, by William Thompson-Uberuaga (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006), 4–41; and A. M. Allchin, Participation in God: A Forgotten Strand in Anglican Tradition (Wilton, CN: Morehouse-Barlow, 1988).

  • 23. William Thompson-Uberuaga, Jesus and the Gospel Movement (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006), 115, 113–118, 128–133 on the mystics in general and their role in Christology.

  • 24. See Hügel, Mystical Element, 2:3–61; Harvey D. Egan, Christian Mysticism: The Future of a Tradition (New York: Pueblo, 1984), 1–29, 303–359; and Herbert Thurston, The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism (Guildford: White Crow Books, 2013, orig. 1952). On the stigmata, also see Michael O’Neill, Exploring the Miraculous (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2015), 186–195; and Ted Harrison, Stigmata: A Medieval Mystery in a Modern Age (New York: Penguin, 1994).

  • 25. See David Tracy, The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism (New York: Crossroad, 1981), 99–338, esp. 107–115, on the classic.

  • 26. Suggestive is Gabriel Bunge, The Rublev Trinity: The Icon of the Trinity by the Monk-Painter Andrei Rublev (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007).

  • 27. See Thompson-Uberuaga, Jesus and the Gospel Movement, 115–116; Egan, Christian Mysticism, 18–19; and Johann Baptist Metz, A Passion for God: The Mystical-Political Dimension of Christianity, trans. J. Matthew Ashley (New York: Paulist, 1988), 69, 163.

  • 28. Karl Rahner made important contributions to this, for example his “everyday” mysticism. See Harvey D. Egan, “The Mystical Theology of Karl Rahner,” The Way 52 (2013): 43–62. Also see Werner G. Jeanrond, A Theology of Love (London: T&T Clark, 2010).

  • 29. For one attempt at this, see William Thompson-Uberuaga, Your Kin-dom Come: The Lord’s Prayer in a Global Age (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018), 47–48.

  • 30. An important essay on this is Karl Rahner, “The Eternal Significance of the Humanity of Jesus for Our Relationship with God,” in Theological Investigations, vol. 3, trans. Karl-H. and Boniface Kruger (Baltimore: Helicon, 1967), 35–46.

  • 31. Two classic cases of this debate are found in Teresa of Avila’s refusal to bypass Jesus’ humanity, and in Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle’s (and his followers’) grappling with the same issue, taking Teresa’s view as well but by developing a fascinating spirituality of participating in the mysteries of Jesus, both through words and images (more but not fully cataphatic) and by way of intuitive adherence (more but not fully apophatic). See, for example, Antonio Moreno, “St. Teresa, Contemplation and the Humanity of Christ,” Review for Religious 38 (1979): 912–923; and Fernando Guillen Preckler, Bérulle Aujourd’hui 1575–1975: Pour une spiritualité de l’humanité du Christ, Le point théologique, Series 25 (Paris: Beauchesne, 1978). In English, William M. Thompson[-Uberuaga], ed. and introd., Bérulle and the French School: Selected Writings, trans. Lowell M. Glendon, Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist, 1989), esp. 35–47.

  • 32. Austin Farrer, “Poetic Truth,” in Reflective Faith: Essays in Philosophical Theology, ed. Charles C. Conti (London: SPCK, 1972), 25. See also Certau, Mystic Fable, 2:71–97; and William Thompson[-Uberuaga], Fire and Light: The Saints and Theology (New York: Paulist, 1987), 77–84, on the poetry and prose interplay. The place of analogy in theology is also relevant here.

  • 33. Karl Rahner, “Experience of Transcendence from the Standpoint of Catholic Dogmatics,” Theological Investigations, vol. 18, trans. Edward Quinn (New York: Crossroad, 1983), 173–188, 176.

  • 34. See the pioneer study by François Vandenbroucke, “Le Divorce entre Théologie at Mystiques: Ses Origenes,”Nouvelle Révue Théologiques 72 (1950): 372–389.

  • 35. See Mark A. McIntosh, Discernment and Truth: The Spirituality and Theology of Knowledge (New York: Crossroad, 2004); and William Thompson[-Uberuaga], “St. John of the Cross as Pneumopathologist: A Mystic’s Hermeneutics of Suspicion,” in Fire and Light: The Saints and Theology, ed. William Thompson[-Uberuaga] (New York: Paulist, 1987), 118–142.

  • 36. Underhill, Mysticism, 411–431, 453–454.

  • 37. The classic text here is H. Stuart Hughes, Consciousness and Society: The Reorientation of European Social Thought, 1890–1930 (New York: Vintage, 1958).

  • 38. Ken Wilber is attuned to much of this; see his “Part Three: Dysfunctional Shadow Elements in Development,” in The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions, ed. Ken Wilber (Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 2017), 253–489.

  • 39. Voegelin, “What Is Political Reality?,” 406. His analysis of Bodin’s wonderful Colloquium of the Seven about Secrets of the Sublime (the Colloquium Heptaplomeres De Rerum Sublimium Arcanis Abditis, completed 1588), is found in Eric Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, vol. 5, ed. James L. Wiser, Collected Works 23 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998), 180–251. For Nicholas of Cusa, see Eric Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, vol. 3, ed. David Walsh, Collected Works 21 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998), 256–266. Cf. Jean Bodin, Colloquium of the Seven about Secrets of the Sublime, trans. with analysis by Marion Leathers Daniels Kuntz (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975); and Nicholas of Cusa, De Pace Fidei and Cribratio Alkorani, trans. and analysis by Jasper Hopkins (Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning, 1994). See William Thompson-Uberuaga, “The Cross-Cultural Challenge and Mystical Tolerance,” in Jesus and the Gospel Movement: Not Afraid to Be Partners, ed. William Thompson-Uberuaga (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006), 160–168; and William Thompson-Uberuaga, “The Trinity and the Other,” in Jesus and the Gospel Movement: Not Afraid to Be Partners, ed. William Thompson-Uberuaga (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006), 191–192, for further analysis.

  • 40. See Ken Wilber, “Structures and States,” in The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions, ed. Ken Wilber (Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 2017), 493–533, for alternative (partially complementary?) suggestions. This article writes of transitions; he writes, rather, of the archaic, magic-mythic, rational, pluralistic, holistic and integral, super-integral, and “higher” complexifications the mystic needs to undergo, along with the traditional mystic states and stages of development (Wilber, “Structures,” 493). A unitive mystic, for example, would interpret one’s mystic state or stage in one way at the archaic level of development, in another at the rational, in another at the pluralistic, and so on. The issue is complex. Many have met people who “know” things intuitively but cannot articulate them nor conceptualize them very well. There is a fascinating interplay between the classical mystical stages (e.g., purgative, illuminative, and unitive) and how these are and have been understood and even articulated. The paleolithic cave paintings are one such articulation. That of the Greek writers (Origen, Dionysius the Areopagite, etc.) are another, aided by the Greek Classical transition with its “classical” stages. The articulations of the dark nights of John of the Cross, the seven mansions of Teresa of Avila, or Ignatius of Loyola’s attentiveness to processes of discernment seem to manifest a more modern turn to personalism. How do these traditional states and stages have leaky borders, perhaps accompany one another in certain ways, and in some ways bring earlier stages with them in a more complex manner? All of these are questions arising from later transitions in the human drama.

  • 41. Yves Congar, A History of Theology, trans. and ed. Hunter Guthrie (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968); Certau, Mystic Fable, esp. 1:79–150, 2:1–22; Louis Bouyer, “Mystique: Essai sur l’histoire d’un mot,” Supplément de la Vie Spirituelle 9 (1949): 3–23; and McGinn, The Presence of God A History of Western Christian Mysticism, vol. 1 (New York: Crossroad, 2004), esp. 265–343.

  • 42. Inge, Christian Mysticism; Inge, Studies of English Mystics, 238; Underhill, Mysticism, 92–118 for mysticism and theology; Underhill, The Mystic Way: A Psychological Study in Christian Origins (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1913); Hügel, Mystical Element; and Lossky, Mystical Theology.

  • 43. James, Varieties, 292–293; Underhill, Mysticism, 81 (cf. 81–93); and Certau, Mystic Fable, 2:18, 233n47.

  • 44. Cf. for example Harvey D. Egan, Soundings in the Christian Mystical Tradition (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2010); and McGinn, Presence of God.

  • 45. See McGinn, “Mystical Consciousness.”

  • 46. Rowan Williams, Being Human: Bodies, Minds, Persons (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018), esp. 1–27, 49–68. Williams regularly draws on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s work in language analysis (performative utterances); and, of course, Austin, How to Do Things, is authoritative here. The language of “practices” is quite common in postmodern works, as for example in Certau.

  • 47. Taves, Religious Experience Reconsidered; and Dante Germino, Beyond Ideology: The Revival of Political Theory (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), esp. 6 and 183.

  • 48. Gadamer, Truth and Method, esp. 355.

  • 49. Karl Rahner, Hearer of the Word, trans. Joseph Donceel (New York: Continuum, 1994); Balthasar, “Experience God?”; and for Lonergan’s views, see McGinn, “Mystical Consciousness.” Lonergan’s Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, ed. Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran, Collected Works 3 (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1992) and Insight and Method in Theology, ed. Robert M. Doran and John D. Dodosky, Collected Works 14 (Toronto: University of Toronto, 2017), are the major ones.

  • 50. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974); Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); Eric Voegelin, Order and History, vol. 1: Israel and Revelation, ed. Maurice P. Hogan, Collected Works 14 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001); and Voegelin, In Search of Order.

  • 51. Webb, Philosophers of Consciousness.

  • 52. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, 7 vols., ed. Joseph Fessio and John Riches (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982–1991); also Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Theology and Sanctity,” in Explorations in Theology, vol. 1: The Word Made Flesh, trans. A. V. Littledale with Alexander Dru (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 181–210; and Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Spirituality,” in Explorations in Theology, vol. 1: The Word Made Flesh, trans. A. V. Littledale with Alexander Dru (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 211–226. See Karl Barth’s influential study of God’s glory expressed in created beauty in Church Dogmatics, vol. 2/1, trans. T. H. L. Parker et al., ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, #31, “The Eternity and Glory of God,” 608–677. Balthasar throughout his aesthetics seems to be following Barth’s distinction between God’s glory and beauty. Also Mark A. McIntosh, Christology from within: Spirituality and the Incarnation in Hans Urs von Balthasar (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1996); and Mark A. McIntosh, Mystical Theology: The Integrity of Spirituality and Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998).

  • 53. Karl Rahner, “Being Open to God as Ever Greater: On the Significance of the Aphorism Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,” in Theological Investigations, vol. 7, ed. Karl Rahner, trans. David Bourke (New York: Seabury, 1971), 25–46.

  • 54. Rahner’s Hearer of the Word, his early expression of his philosophy of religion, did offer a new emphasis upon the will and love, and some references to the mystics as expressions of the transcendental dynamism toward the beyond. His earlier philosophical dissertation, Karl Rahner, Spirit in the World, trans. Joseph Donceel (New York: Continuum, 1994), with the Kantian critique in mind, concentrated more upon cognition as a form of transcendental dynamism in Aquinas’s thought. Rahner’s Gesamtausgabe (a critical, original-language collection of his works) has been appearing since 1995 from Herder. In English one must consult his twenty-three-volume Theological Investigations (various publishers and translators). One can get the impression that spirituality is a distinct field of theology from reading these volumes; for example, volumes 7 and 8 are devoted to the spiritual life. But in fact spirituality is like a current flowing through all the volumes, and in some essays this becomes more explicitly apparent and more articulately expressed and perhaps even understood by Rahner himself. For example, Karl Rahner, “Christian Living Formerly and Today,” in Theological Investigations, vol. 7, trans. David Bourke (New York: Crossroad, 1971), 3–24, has his famous view that “the devout Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic,’ one who has experienced something, or he will cease to be anything at all” (Rahner, “Christian Living,” 15). One wonders just how autobiographical this is! In Karl Rahner, “Experience of Transcendence from the Standpoint of Catholic Dogmatics,” in Theological Investigations, vol. 18, trans. Edward Quinn (New York: Crossroad, 1983), 173–188, he writes of mysticism’s paradigmatic character for understanding the act of faith, which is in fact what all theology is about. His Ignatian mystical horizon becomes very articulate in Karl Rahner, Ignatius of Loyola Speaks, trans. Annemarie S. Kidder (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2013).

  • 55. Among many, see Egan, “Mystical Theology,” 43–62.

  • 56. Rowan Williams, Holy Living: The Christian Tradition for Today (New York: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2017); and Benjamin Myers, Christ the Stranger: The Theology of Rowan Williams (London: T&T Clark, 2012). Coakley, a philosophical theologian schooled in the patristic tradition and in contemporary feminist and philosophical criticism, is articulating a promising systematics rooted in mysticism. See her first volume of a promised trilogy, Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay “On the Trinity” (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013); and the earlier Sarah Coakley, The New Asceticism: Sexuality, Gender, and the Quest for God (London: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2015).

  • 57. Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995); and Andrew Louth, Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013).

  • 58. William Johnston, Mystical Theology: The Science of Love (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1995); see also William Johnston, “Arise, My Love . . .”: Mysticism for a New Era (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2000). Also see Ken Wilber, The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions (Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 2017).

  • 59. Thompson-Uberuaga, Jesus and the Gospel Movement, 4–41, 113–118, 128–133; Thompson-Uberuaga, Fire and Light; Thompson-Uberuaga, Christology and Spirituality; and Thompson-Uberuaga, Bérulle and the French School.

  • 60. Bernard McGinn, The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, Modern Library Classics (New York: Modern Library, 2006); and Harvey D. Egan SJ, An Anthology of Christian Mysticism, Pueblo Book (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1996 edition).

  • 61. Edward R. Hardy, ed., with Cyril C. Richardson, Christology of the Later Fathers (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954); Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, no. 57 (110): “But for the searching of the Scriptures and the true knowledge of them an honorable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is according to Christ; so that the intellect, guiding its path by it, may be able to attain what it desires, and to comprehend it, in so far as it is accessible to human nature to learn concerning the Word of God”; Gregory of Nazianzus, The Theological Orations, 1:3, 129: “Not to everyone . . . does it belong to philosophize about God . . . because it is permitted only to those who have been examined, and are past masters in meditation, and who have been previously purified in soul and body, or at the very least are being purified”; Gregory of Nyssa, Address on Religious Instruction, 2, 272: “Our knowledge of the Word comes from applying, in a raised degree [anagōgikōs, the mystical process of ascent—editor’s footnote] our own attributes to the transcendent nature . . . we shall be brought to the conception of the Spirit, by observing in our own nature certain hints and likenesses of this ineffable power.”

  • 62. Hildegard of Bingen: Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop, preface by Caroline Walker Bynum, intro. Barbara Newman, Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1990); and Jean-Pierre Torell OP, Christian Spirituality in St. Thomas Aquinas (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2011).

  • 63. McGinn, Presence of God.

  • 64. Bunge, Rublev Trinity.

  • 65. Teresa of Avila, Collected Works, vol. 3, trans. Otilio Rodriguez OCD, and Kieran Kavanaugh OCD (Washington, DC: ICS, 1985–2012); John of the Cross, Collected Works, rev. ed., trans. Otilio Rodriquez OCD, and Kieran Kavanaugh OCD (Washington, DC: ICS, 1991); and Thompson-Uberuaga, Bérulle and the French School.