Beliefs of Christian Mysticism

by Rachael DeBrouse

Mysticism, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, "is the sense of some form of contact with the divine or transcendent, frequently understood in its higher forms as involving union with God.” Focus on the mystical tradition within Christianity isn't prominent in current society, however, it has existed since the beginning of the religion.

History

Early forms of Christianity were ripe with mystical qualities. The Bible showcases many examples of teachings that could be considered mystical, such as the revelations of the prophets who were said to have come into close contact with the Holy Spirit. The Gospels of Paul and John focus on a union with Christ, not just worship as it is commonly practiced. In John 17:22-23, Jesus says to God, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me.” The Gnostics were early Christians who focused on the mystical aspects of Christ, what they considered his pure spirit. Valentinus, a well-known Gnostic, believed that gnosis –- spiritual knowledge -- comes from Christ in order to rid humanity of spiritual ignorance and separation from God. Mysticism was not a separate branch of Christianity, however, and later it split off into many types, including those that followed the major religious traditions.

Eastern Christian Mysticism

For Eastern Christian mystics, there is the essence of God, belonging to him alone, and also divine attributes of God that are present within the universe, including within human beings. Contemplative prayer, which is a deeper, more meditative prayer, can allow a person to see this divine light, particularly if a certain prayer, called the "Jesus-Prayer," is said. This prayer would divinize the soul, as the name of Jesus is considered divine. One of the major mystics of Eastern Christianity, Dionysius the Aeropagite, wrote, “in the diligent exercise of mystical contemplation, leave behind the senses and the operations of the intellect, and all things sensible and intellectual, and all things in the world of being and nonbeing, that you may arise by unknowing towards the union, as far as is attainable, with it that transcends all being and all knowledge.” This quote embodies the belief that contemplation, when done properly, will unite a person with the transcendent God.

Western Catholic Christian Mysticism

The Western Catholic form of Christian mysticism holds less focus on the idea of union with God during life. Rather, the importance lies in re-establishing the Holy Trinity within the soul. Meister Eckhart, one of the most prominent philosophers and mystics within this branch of mysticism, believed that religious practice was not the proper way to go about finding the true soul and thus restoring Jesus, part of the Holy Trinity, into it. In order to do so, Eckhart believed a person had to detach from the physical world so that the God beyond God could be seen. As he wrote, “In whichever soul God’s Kingdom appeareth, and which knoweth God’s Kingdom, that soul needeth no human preaching or instruction; it is taught from within and assured of eternal life.” This speaks to the belief that it is not human teaching or religious practice, as such, that brings the soul to God, but rather the idea that the soul can listen from within itself and learn of God’s Kingdom.

Protestant Christian Mysticism

Protestant Christian mysticism focuses on the divine element of the soul, the true self that when acknowledged leads to the birth of God in the soul. Protestants believe that the physical world, versus the spiritual world, is the result of the fall of man and that sin continues to separate man from God and prevents God from being born within. Mystic Jakob Boehme wrote, attesting to the belief of God’s place within the soul, “remember also that God had originally created him in such a fair and glorious image, even in his own likeness, in which he, himself, would dwell.”

About the Author

Rachael DeBrouse graduated with honors from Christopher Newport University where she obtained a B.A. in English, writing concentration, and a minor in philosophy and religious studies. She has been studying religion and spirituality independently and in academic environments since high school.

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