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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

There are definitions of mysticism which place the subject outside the limits of this work. Harnack says: ‘Mysticism is Catholic piety in general, so far as this piety is not merely ecclesiastical obedience, that is, fides implicita .… If Protestantism is not at some time yet, so far as it means anything at all, to become entirely Mystical, it will never be possible to make Mysticism Protestant without flying in the face of history and Catholicism’ ( History of Dogma , Eng. translation, London, 1894-99, vi. 98 ff.). E. Lehmann asserts that ‘the aim of mysticism … is and always has been quiescence and emptiness of soul, darkened consciousness, and the suspension of natural understanding. All this eventually ends in conventual practices and the technics of the confessional’ ( Mysticism in Heathendom and Christendom , London, 1910, p. 235). But Christian mysticism cannot be identified with either its scholastic or its ecclesiastical forms; even Lehmann, in his sympathetic account of Santa Teresa, ‘the greatest saint of mysticism,’ significantly describes her thoughts as ‘almost Protestant.… Union with God did not mean union in a pantheistic sense, but rather a transformation of the soul through love, leading up to a condition of perfect acquiescence to the will of God’ ( op. cit. p. 234). Harnack also acknowledges that ‘that Mysticism cannot certainly be banished which at one time is called Quietism, at another time “Spurious Mysticism”; for the Church continually gives impulses towards the origination of this kind of Christianity, and can itself in no way avoid training it, up to a certain point’ ( op. cit. vii. 100). That mysticism degenerated into fanaticism which has no warrant in apostolic teaching is indisputable; it is, for this reason, essential that the false mysticism should be distinguished from the true. ‘It was always the Ultra’s, who, by making an appeal to them, brought discredit upon the “Church” Mystics’ (Harnack, op. cit. vi. 105 n.[Note: . note.]).

Mysticism and historical religion are sometimes regarded as mutually exclusive alternatives. S. W. Fresenius, having expounded Luther’s teaching in his de Libertate Christiana , says: ‘that is historical religion as the Reformers understood it, but it is not Mysticism’ ( Mystik und geschichtliche Religion , Göttingen, 1912, p. 94). There may, however, be a mystical element in Christianity, although it does not rest upon a mystical basis. Christianity is a historical religion founded on facts, apart from which the experience of Christian believers is inexplicable; that experience is mystical in proportion as the soul has direct personal intercourse with God through Christ. But this is not to affirm that every Christian realizes the mystical implications of his own experience. From Apostolic Christianity it is impossible to exclude the mysticism which has been defined as ‘the type of religion which puts the emphasis on immediate awareness of relation with God, on direct and intimate consciousness of the Divine Presence. It is religion in its most acute, intense, and living stage’ (Rufus Jones, Studies in Mystical Religion , London, 1909, p. xv).

The result of the contact of Christianity with non-Christian philosophies was the intrusion of non-Christian elements into Christian mysticism. But its corruptions ought not to be identified with its essence. The mysticism which Harnack condemns had its origin in the philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite (4th cent.): ‘The mystical and pietistic devotion of to-day, even in the Protestant Church, draws its nourishment from writings whose connection with those of the pseudo-Areopagitic can still be traced through its various intermediate stages’ ( op. cit. i. 361). But Christian mysticism differs essentially from the ‘Platonic mysteriosophy’ of Dionysius with its pantheistic tendency and its exclusive insistence on the via negativa (W. R. Inge, Christian Mysticism , London, 1899, p. 105). The mystical element in the Christian religion is found in the earliest stages of its history. Divine revelation could not possibly ‘leave untouched the mystical yearnings of mankind.… Not only in John, but also in Paul, there are plentiful traces of Mysticism’ (S. M. Deutsch, ‘Theologie, mystische,’ in PRE [Note: RE Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche.]3 xix. [1907] 635; cf. Expository Times xix. [1907-08] 304). To some of these traces attention must now be directed; it will then be necessary to inquire how far the apostles had the mind of Christ.

1. Pauline mysticism. -Inge has shown that the mystical element in St. Paul’s theology has been under-estimated; that ‘all the essentials of mysticism are to be found in his Epistles,’ and that his authority has been wrongly claimed for two false and mischievous developments of mysticism, namely, ‘contempt for the historical framework of Christianity,’ and ‘extreme disparagement of external religion-of forms and ceremonies and holy days and the like’ ( op. cit. p. 69 ff.). Von Hügel finds ‘in St. Paul not only a deeply mystical element, but mysticism of the noblest, indeed the most daringly speculative, world-embracing type’ ( The Mystical Element of Religion , London, 1908, i. 35). Referring to St. Paul as an ecstatic mystic, this able Roman Catholic interpreter of mysticism supplies a salutary test for such experiences: ‘Visions and voices are to be accepted by the mind only in proportion as they convey some spiritual truth of importance to it or to others, and as they actually help it to become more humble, true, and loving’ ( op. cit. ii. 47). Inge says: ‘These recorded experiences are of great psychological interest; but … they do not seem to me to belong to the essence of Mysticism’ ( op. cit. p. 63 f.).

The most important elements of St. Paul’s mysticism are derived from his experience of fellowship with the living Christ. W. K. Fleming gives a useful summary of ‘the special points with regard to which Mysticism gains its inspiration and direction from St. Paul’ ( Mysticism in Christianity , London, 1913, p. 30 ff.). The subject is more extensively and most luminously treated by Miss Underhill ( The Mystic Way , London, 1913, ch. iii.), though the technical phraseology of the great mystics is, at times, too rigidly applied to the Apostle’s spiritual experiences. Rufus Jones holds that the term ‘mystic’ more properly belongs to St. Paul than to St. John, because ‘Paul’s Christianity takes its rise in an inward experience, and from beginning to end the stress is upon Christ inwardly experienced and re-lived’ ( op. cit. p. 16). St. Paul’s explanation of his initiation into the spiritual life is: ‘It was the good pleasure of God to reveal his Son in me’ ( Galatians 1:15 f.). In his doctrine of mystical union with Christ he gives pregnant expression to his own consciousness of oneness with Christ: ‘when he came to analyze his own feelings, and to dissect this idea of oneness , it was natural to him to see in it certain stages, corresponding to those great acts of Christ, to see in it something corresponding to death, something corresponding to burial …, and something corresponding to resurrection’ (Sanday-Headlam, International Critical Commentary , ‘Romans’5, 1902, p. 162, note on  Romans 6:1-14). Appealing from Kant and Ritschl and Herrmann to Luther and his doctrine of the unio mystica , Söderblom argues that ‘the mystical union … is a genuine constituent of evangelical Christianity, inasmuch as its mysticism is inseparably bound up with the essentials of every Christian life, that is to say, with the forgiveness of sins and with justification’ ( Religion und Geisteskultur , vi. [1912] 298 ff.; cf. Expository Times xxiv. [1912-13] 117). Another truth which St. Paul put in the forefront of his teaching finds its highest expression in his great hymn in praise of Love (1 Corinthians 13), for therein he ‘declares the conditions, and sets the standard, to which the whole of Christian mysticism has since striven to conform’ (Underhill, op. cit. p. 205), Finally, as Moberly has impressively said, ‘the real truth of Christian Mysticism is, in fact, the doctrine, or rather the experience, of the Holy Ghost.’ Mysticism is ‘the realization of the Spirit of Holiness, the Spirit of the Creator of Heaven and Earth, in, and as, the climax of human personality’ ( Atonement and Personality , London, 1901, p. 312). In this doctrine the key to St. Paul’s mysticism is found, for if Christ is to dwell in our hearts through faith we need to pray that we may be ‘strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man’ ( Ephesians 3:16).

2. Johannine mysticism. -‘The greatest monument of most genuine appreciation of St. Paul’s mysticism … is the Gospel and the Epistles of St. John’ (Deissmann, St. Paul , Eng. translation, London, 1912, p. 133). The two apostles agree in giving prominence to the mystic idea of the believer’s oneness with Christ, to the pre-eminence of Love, and to the Holy Spirit as the Source of knowledge of the things of God, the Giver and Sustainer of spiritual life, and the witness to the Divine sonship of believers. St. John’s chief contributions to the mystical element in religion are (1) that by his insistence on a historical revelation in time ‘he counterpoises the strong mystical tendency in succeeding ages to regard the Gospel story as a kind of drama,’ as though the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ took place within the soul; ‘Yet he views what he holds as historical under so mystical an aspect, that it would be right to say that for him all life is sacramental; above all, the Life of lives’ (Fleming, op. cit. p. 38); (2) that, by his use of symbols in the expression of mystical thought, he so treats the words and works of Christ as to ensure that ‘all things in the world may remind us of Him who made them, and who is their sustaining life’ (Inge, op. cit. p. 59).

3. Mysticism of other NT writers. -The mystical element in the remaining NT Epistles is of minor importance. In the Epistle to the Hebrews visible things are regarded as symbols of invisible realities of the spiritual world; the mystic conception of life as an exile and a pilgrimage also has a place ( Hebrews 11:13 ff;  Hebrews 13:14; cf.  1 Peter 1:17;  1 Peter 2:11). ‘St. Peter, who shares the Johannine conception as to the “incorruptible seed,” echoes the thought of both St. John and St. Paul as to the timelessness of the redemptive process’ (Fleming, op. cit. p. 44).

As regards the mystical element in the writings of apostolic men before the close of the 1st cent. it is sufficient to say that the judgment of Rufus Jones as to the Church Fathers in general applies especially to this early period: ‘The Fathers were not “mystics” in the ordinary sense of the word. Their type of religion was mainly objective and historical, rather than subjective and inward’ ( op. cit. p. 80).

4. Christ ‘the true mystic.’ -When Moberly asserts that ‘it is Christ who is the true mystic,’ he is referring to the disproportionate emphasis which mystics of various schools (ascetic, contemplative, symbolic, etc.) have laid upon their own aspect of truth, and he claims that ‘one and all the exaggerations find their full correction in the Person of the Incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ; for all the exaggerations are partial lights from the full splendour of the presence of His Spirit, which is the ideal meaning of Christian personality.’ To those who hesitate to speak of Christ as the true mystic, Moberly says: ‘If the mode of expression be preferred, it is He who alone has realized all that mysticism and mystics have aimed at.… In Him this perfect realization evidently means a harmony, a sanity, a fitly proportioned completeness.… In being the ideal of mysticism, it is also the ideal of general, and of practical, and of all , Christian experience’ ( op. cit. p. 314). When the Synoptic narratives are read in this light, the main elements of mysticism are found therein. Miss Underhill is more ambitious, and strives to show that the characteristic experiences of great mystics, as, e.g. , Suso and Teresa, ‘are found in a heightened form in the life of their Master’ ( op. cit. p. 77). This involves some straining of the records and the anachronistic application to our Lord’s experiences of mediaeval phraseology. But it remains true that although ‘the first three Gospels are not written in the religious dialect of Mysticism,’ yet in the earliest accounts of the teaching of Christ ‘the vision of God is promised … only to those who are pure in heart,’ the inwardness of the blessings of His Kingdom is emphasized, and He identifies Himself with the least of His brethren. In the Synoptists is also found ‘the law of gain through loss, of life through death,-which is the corner-stone of mystical (and, many have said, of Christian) ethics’ (Inge, op. cit. p. 44).

Of mysticism which is impatient of the historical facts which are the foundation of the Christian religion and has no need of Christ as Mediator, the apostolic writers know nothing. P. T. Forsyth, who has no sympathy with mysticism of this type (cf. Expository Times v. [1893-94] 401 ff.), has, nevertheless, said: ‘We need more mystic souls and mystic hours. But the true mysticism is not raptly dwelling in the mystery of God, it is really living on His miracle.… And the only mysticism with a lease of life is that which surrounds the moral miracle which makes Christianity in the end evangelical or nothing. It is the mysticism of the cross’ ( The Principle of Authority , London, 1912, p. 465). Christian mysticism, as understood by the apostles, is also the mysticism of the Spirit. ‘The Christianity which is content to remain “non-mystical” is impoverished at the very centre of its being. All Christians profess belief in the Holy Ghost. Had only all Christians understood, and lived up to, their belief, they would all have been mystics’ (Moberly, op. cit. p. 316).

Literature.-In addition to the works mentioned in the article, see H. Hering, Die Mystik Luthers im Zusammenhange seiner Theologie , Leipzig, 1879; M. Reischle, Ein Wort zur Controverse über die Mystik , Freiburg i. B., 1886; G. Klepl, Zur Umbildung des religiösen Denkens , Leipzig, 1908; P. Mehlhorn, ‘Christliche Mystik,’ in RGG [Note: GG Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart.]iv. [Tübingen, 1912-13] 600 ff.; G. Lasch, ‘Mystik und Protestantismus,’ in Religion und Geisteskultur , v. [Göttingen, 1911] 34 ff.; N. Söderblom, Religionsproblemetinom Katolicism och Protestantism , Stockholm, 1910; W. Herrmann, The Communion of the Christian with God , Eng. translation2, London, 1906; W. Major Scott, Aspects of Christian Mysticism , do., 1907; J. M. Campbell, Paul the Mystic , do., 1907; E. C. Gregory, An Introduction to Christian Mysticism 2, do., 1908; H. B. Workman, Christian Thought to the Reformation , do., 1911; W. T. Davison, The Indwelling Spirit , do., 1911; F. von Hügel, Eternal Life , Edinburgh, 1912; A. Seth Pringle-Pattison, ‘Mysticism,’ in Encyclopaedia Britannica 11 xix. 123 ff.; O. C. Quick, ‘The Value of Mysticism in Religions Faith and Practice,’ in Journal of Theological Studies xiii. [1911-12] 161 ff., and ‘Mysticism: its Meaning and Danger,’ in ib. xiv. [1912-13] 1 ff.; H. Kelly, The Meaning of Mysticism , in ib. xiii. 481.

J. G. Tasker.

Webster's Dictionary [2]

(1): ( n.) Obscurity of doctrine.

(2): ( n.) The doctrine of the Mystics, who professed a pure, sublime, and wholly disinterested devotion, and maintained that they had direct intercourse with the divine Spirit, and aquired a knowledge of God and of spiritual things unattainable by the natural intellect, and such as can not be analyzed or explained.

(3): ( n.) The doctrine that the ultimate elements or principles of knowledge or belief are gained by an act or process akin to feeling or faith.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [3]

(Gr. Μυστικόν ), according to the strict meaning of the word, signifies a special knowledge and understanding of the mysteries from which the uninitiated are excluded. "Mysticism," says Cousin, "is the belief that God may be known face to face, without anything intermediate. It is a yielding to the sentiment awakened by the idea of the Infinite, and a summing up of all knowledge and all duty in the contemplation and love of him" (Hist. De Let Philos. 1st ser. volume 2, lecon 9, 10). Mysticism, therefore, properly defined, is the science of the supernatural state of the human soul manifested in the body and in the order of visible things by equally supernatural effects. "Mysticism," as one has well said, "despairs of the regular process of science; it believes that we may attain directly, without the aid of the senses or reason, and by an immediate intuition, to the real and absolute principle of all truth, God. It finds God either in nature, and hence a Physical and Naturalistic mysticism; or in the soul, and hence a moral and metaphysical mysticism." Thus mysticism should be divided into two distinct branches: esoteric, or inner mysticism, and exoteric, or outward mysticism. The first is the study of this supernatural state of the human soul, such as it has been described by saints and mystics. The obscure, unintelligible, and even absurd descriptions given by Mystics of these phenomena, reproduced even by modern theological writers, make mysticism synonymous with quietism (q.v.), and all forms of fanaticism and enthusiasm, etc.

Thus, Bretschneider says, "Mysticism is the belief in a continuous, immediate action of God on the soul, produced by special religious exercises, the effect of which is to enlighten, sanctify, and strengthen the soul. It is therefore the faith in an inward light, the neglect of the written revelation, continence, contemplation, etc." Wegscheider considers enthusiasm as a branch of mysticism, differing only in degree from fanaticism: "Omnino mysticismum prae se ferre dicuntur in, qui neglectis aut repudiatis sanae rationis legibus sensibus acrioribus et phantasiae ludibriis in religione describenda et colenda indulgentes immediatam quandam rerum divinarum perceptionem jactant. Mysticismus haud raro abit in fanaticum errorem." According to Hase, the common and principal defect of mysticism is its rejection from the domain of religious life of all human knowledge and general laws, by which indeed it does not lose its intensity of feeling, but its liberty, and, becoming liable to every kind of error, is gradually more inclined to superstition. Under the influence of the strange fancies of the imagination, it leads to enthusiasm; under that of a strong will, to fanaticism; and hinder that of the recognition of a spiritual sphere, apart from the medium of human experimental knowledge, to theosophy. The writers of the rationalistic period give ample evidence of the confusion often made between mysticism and pietism.

This error has in modern times been corrected, especially by the efforts of Nitzsch, in his System d. christlichen Lehre. Mysticism, then, in the objective sense, is the divine element imparted to man by external or internal communication (for instance, in the sacraments), and in the subjective sense it is special experience, visions, etc., subject to particular conditions and processes; for although man is by nature susceptible of and intended for the reception of divine communications, yet a certain conduct, sometimes an ascetic self-renouncement, an abstraction of partly the sensual and partly the spiritual identity, is requisite in order to render us capable of receiving and understanding these supernatural communications in this natural state of existence. It follows that, strictly speaking, every religious person, as such, is a Mystic, etc. Says Mill, "Whether in the Vedas, in the Platonists, or in the Hegelians, mysticism is neither more nor less than ascribing objective existence to the subjective creations of our own faculties, to ideas or feelings of the mind; and believing that, by retaining and contemplating those ideas of its own making, it can read in them what takes place in the world' without" (Logic, book 5, chapter 3. § 5).

The inner life of religion is always mystical. Mysticism is a one-sided manifestation of this force. Sack also, in his Polemik (page 288), considers true mysticism as the inner portion of the Christian spiritual life, and fanatical mysticism as an exaggeration and a misconception of the reasonable views of the Church. We concede that mysticism in the proper sense, as the immediate life of the very essence of religion, is to be found in the mystery of revelation, and is in so far the very truth of religion. The soul's yearning for the invisible finds the object of its aspiration in a sacramental union with objects of its desire. Jacob's realization of the divine presence at Bethel was as the mystic ladder of communication on which the angels of God passed to and fro between earth and heaven. By a deeper generalization, Solomon saw in the wisdom of God the bond of union that connects the spirit of the universe with the Spirit of God. The religious idea had at that early date its obverse side of mystic impress. In the cognate theology of St. John the Word is the middle term between earth and heaven, and being God from the beginning, he is still the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. Hence the mystic principle is inseparable from true religion, so far as it sets the Invisible before the eye of faith and enables the soul to anticipate the future for which it was created. Hence, also, the less true forms of religion have one and all embodied the mystic principle as involving the very essence of religion. Therapeutic contemplation was the obverse of Mosaic ordinance; the Cabala refined upon the Talmud; and Persian Sufism is as the spirit of which the Koran is the letter. In the Church of the 6th century the pseudoDionysian mysticism was a reaction upon the dogmatic ruling forced upon the Church by heresy; much as the mysticism of the Alombados, or Illuminati, of Spain in the 16th century was called forth by the rigid orthodoxy of the Inquisition, and Jansenistic and Quietistic tenets by Jesuitism. Mysticism has been the most usual form in which the expiring flame of religion has flickered up from its embers.

We must not forget however, that mysticism, as a special and historical religious manifestation, is all exceptional form of the inner religious life, even indicating a certain one-sided tendency in it, from which real mysticism is to be distinguished. If we consider the essence and life of religion in its general manifestation, we find it to appear as a healthy reciprocal action of the objective consciousness of the existence of God and of self-consciousness. Thus we give the name of mysticism to the predominating relation of subjective life to God revealing himself in it, and of pietism to the predominating relation of God in the subjective life. The Mystic aims at becoming absorbed in God by contemplation, the Pietist at imparting the divine character to all his actions. In the former, the consciousness of moral personality is cast in the shade; in the latter, the rest in God, the solemn contemplation of his objective majesty, predominates. Hence the former inclines to pantheism. Where the personality is not simply spiritually sacrificed, but great importance is attached to transcendent contemplation of God, man loses with the clear perception of his own personality that also of the personality of God.

The other tendency, on the contrary, inclines to dualism, and even to polytheism, although never degenerating so far where monotheism is recognised. When man reflects in a one-sided, methodical manner on the exhibition of the divine in its subjective action, instead of acting before God with a simple consciousness of God, he is led to a lasting disunion of his consciousness; i.e., to a distinction between the idea of the divine and his life. This partiality, degenerating into morbidness, leads on the one side into mysticism, on the other into pietism. The Mystic loses his clear self- consciousness in obscure, arbitrary, ascetic, and ecstatic conceptions, or rather in a passive experience of the divine; moral piety would be the remedy. Pietism, on the contrary, loses itself in self-made subjective religious laws and self-torments; its natural remedy would be a healthy mysticism. The Mystic loses himself in God, and cherishes the desire to passively suffer God to act in him, instead of giving himself personally over to a personal God, and thus finding himself glorified; while the Pietist loses the inward presence of God because he does not liberate the feeling of his personality from subjective, egotistical limits and religious self- contemplation by subjecting it to the personality of God. Thuss, dogmatically defined, mysticism would be religion with an excessive objective tendency, or religion in the form of a central life of feeling, of immediate thought, of contemplative and intuitive knowledge, which, accompanied by an ascetic tendency, seeks principally to lose itself via negationis in the Deity. Compared with the religious and the ethical element in human life, or with the consciousness of night and that of day time, mysticism is a leaning towards the first form of consciousness. "If we were required to define mysticism," says Stowell, "we should call it the setting up of personal thoughts and feelings as the standard of truth or as the rule of action. By mystical views of the spiritual life we understand such views of that life as are adjusted by this standard or ordered by this rule. The relation of such views to our present theme will be found in the fact that men ascribe this inward standard of truth and rule of action to the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The mystical views may be regarded under different aspects, as (1) speculative, (2) contemplative, (3) imaginative, or (4) practical Speculative mysticism has found its place in the schools of philosophy and of morals; contemplative mysticism has been the resource of the meditative, the tranquil, or the enthusiastic; imaginative mysticism deludes the visionary; practical mysticism misleads the fanatic." For a historical development of mystical views, (See Mystics).

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [4]

A state of mind and feeling induced by direct communion with the unseen, and by indulging in which the subject of it estranges himself more and more from those who live wholly in the outside world, so that he cannot communicate with them and they cannot understand him.