User:Aristophanes68/BioDrafts

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The Early Church[edit]

Jewish Antecedents[edit]

Jewish spirituality in the period before Jesus was highly corporate and public, based mostly on the worship services of the synagogues, which included the reading and interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures and the recitation of prayers, and on the major festivals. Thus, private spirituality was strongly influenced by the liturgies and by the scriptures (e.g., the use of the Psalms for prayer), and individual prayers often recalled historical events just as much as they recalled their own immediate needs.

Of special importance are the following concepts:

  • Da'at (knowledge) and Chokhmah (wisdom), which come from years of reading, praying and meditating the scriptures;
  • Shekhinah, the presence of God in our daily lives, the superiority of that presence to earthly wealth, and the pain and longing that come when God is absent;
  • the hiddenness of God, which comes from our inability to survive the full revelation of God's glory and which forces us to seek to know God through faith and obedience;
  • "Torah-mysticism", a view of God's laws as the central expression of God's will and therefore as worthy object not only of obedience but also of loving meditation and Torah study; and
  • poverty, an ascetic value, based on the apocalyptic expectation of God's impending arrival, that characterized the Jewish people's reaction to being oppressed by a series of foreign empires.

In Christian mysticism, Shekhinah became mystery, Da'at became gnosis, and poverty became an important component of monasticism.

Philo of Alexandria was a Jewish Hellenistic philosopher who was important for connecting the Hebrew Scriptures to Greek thought, and thereby to Greek Christians, who struggled to understand their connection to Jewish history. In particular, Philo taught that allegorical interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures provides access to the real meanings of the texts. Philo also taught the need to bring together the contemplative focus of the Stoics and Essenes with the active lives of virtue and community worship found in Platonism and the Therapeutae. Using terms reminiscent of the Platonists, Philo described the intellectual component of faith as a sort of spiritual ecstasy in which our nous (mind) is suspended and God's Spirit takes its place. Philo's ideas influenced the Alexandrian Christians, Clement and Origen and through them, Gregory of Nyssa.

New Testament[edit]

The Christian scriptures, insofar as they are the founding narrative of the Christian church, provide many key stories and concepts that become important for Christian mystics in all later generations: practices such as the Eucharist, baptism and the Lord's Prayer all become activities that take on importance for both their ritual and symbolic values. Other scriptural narratives present scenes that become the focus of meditation: the Crucifixion of Jesus and his appearances after his Resurrection are two of the most central to Christian theology; but Jesus' conception, in which the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary, and his Transfiguration, in which he is briefly revealed in his heavenly glory, also become important images for meditation. Moreover, many of the Christian texts build off of Jewish spiritual foundations, such as the importance of chokhmah (wisdom, which in Greek becomes knowledge, gnosis), the belief in shekhinah (God's veiled presence in our midst; this becomes mystery), and a post-exilic emphasis on poverty.[1]

But different writers present different images and ideas. The Synoptic Gospels (in spite of their many differences) introduce several important ideas, two of which are related to Greco-Judaic notions of knowledge/gnosis by virtue of being mental acts: purity of heart, in which we will to see in God's light; and repentance, which involves allowing God to judge and then transform us. Another key idea presented by the Synoptics is the desert, which is used as a metaphor for the place where we meet God in the poverty of our spirit.[2]

The Gospel of John focuses on God's glory in his use of light imagery and in his presentation of the Cross as a moment of exaltation; he also sees the Cross as the example of agape love, a love which is not so much an emotion as a willingness to serve and care for others. But in stressing love, John shifts the goal of spiritual growth away from knowledge/gnosis, which he presents more in terms of Stoic ideas about the role of reason as being the underlying principle of the universe and as the spiritual principle within all people. Although John does not follow up on the Stoic notion that this principle makes union with the divine possible for humanity, it is an idea that later Christian writers develop. Later generations will also shift back and forth between whether to follow the Synoptics in stressing knowledge or John in stressing love.[3]

In his letters, Paul also focuses on mental activities, but not in the same way as the Synoptics, which equate renewing the mind with repentance. Instead, Paul sees the renewal of our minds as happening as we contemplate the scandal of the Cross, which then opens us to grace and to the movement of the Holy Spirit into our hearts. Like John, Paul is less interested in knowledge, preferring to emphasize the hiddenness, the "mystery" of God's plan as revealed through Christ. But Paul's discussion of the Cross differs from John's in being less about how it reveals God's glory and more about how it becomes the stumbling block that turns our minds back to God. Paul also describes the Christian life as that of an athlete, demanding practice and training for the sake of the prize; later writers will see in this image a call to ascetical practices.[4]


  1. ^ Holmes p.14-16
  2. ^ Holmes p.17
  3. ^ Holmes pp.19-20
  4. ^ Holmes pp.18-19

Greek philosophical influences[edit]

Apostolic Fathers[edit]

The texts attributed to the Apostolic Fathers, the earliest post-Biblical texts we have, share several key themes, particularly the call to unity in the face of persecution and internal divisions, the reality of the charisms, especially prophecy, visions and Christian gnosis, which is understood as "a gift of the Holy Spirit that enables us to know Christ" through meditating on the scriptures and on the Cross of Christ.[1] (This understanding of gnosis is not the same as that developed by the Gnostics, who focused on esoteric knowledge that is available only to a few people but that allows them to free themselves from the evil world.[2]) These authors also discuss the notion of the "two ways", that is, the way of life and the way of death; this idea has biblical roots, being found in both the Sermon on the Mount and the Torah. The two ways are then related to the notion of purity of heart, which is developed by contrasting it against the divided or duplicitous heart and by linking it to the need for asceticism, which keeps the heart whole/pure.[3] The threat of martyrdom led many writers to develop it along theological lines, seeing it not as an evil but as an opportunity to truly die for the sake of God.[4]


  1. ^ Healey p.2
  2. ^ Healey p.8-9; Holmes pp.20-21
  3. ^ Healey pp. 3-4; Holmes p. 21
  4. ^ Healey pp.4-6

Alexandrian School[edit]

The Cappadocian Fathers[edit]

Monasticism[edit]

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite[edit]

Reaction to Mysticism[edit]

Ancient West[edit]

The Middle Ages[edit]

Heroic Age (500–1000)[edit]

The High Middle Ages (1000–1300)[edit]

The Schoolmen
Popular piety
The Friars

The Late Middle Ages (1300–1500)[edit]

Rhineland mysticism
English mysticism
Fifteenth-Century Pietism

Byzantine Spirituality[edit]

Sinaitic Monasticism
Studite Monasticism

The Modern Period[edit]

Spanish mystics
Italy
France
England
Classical Protestantism
Radical Protestantism
Pietism
Sparks?
Contemporary (??)

References[edit]