Article

Christian Mysticism

Constant J. Mews

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online April 2013 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0129
Christian Mysticism

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy
  • Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400)
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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This introductory survey offers an initial overview of some of the main branches of Christian mysticism in the medieval period, broadly conceived as 500–1450. Mysticism is itself a highly contested term. Some use it to denote a personal experience of God. Others apply it to the literary articulation of religious experience, and as induction into a way of life that sees its goal as the vision of God. Mystical theology has developed in different ways within the various branches of orthodox Christianity as much as that of the Latin West. It can be argued that mysticism is a fundamental characteristic of Christianity as formulated within Eastern forms of orthodoxy, going back to the founding fathers in the Greek and Syriac world. By contrast, mysticism in the Latin West has often been seen as a particular branch of spiritual discourse and experience, distinct from the analytic forms of theology that developed in the 12th century. In the later medieval period, mystical writing in the West was increasingly formulated in vernacular languages, often by women. The development of such discourse in the vernacular, frequently invoking images and concepts quite distinct from those of normal scholastic exegesis, encouraged a perspective on mysticism as a minority pursuit within a religious milieu, often challenging the perspectives of orthodoxy. Even if has been an established tradition of linking vernacular mystical writing to other forms of vernacular literature, it also needs to be situated as a response to the Latin intellectual tradition, as well as to currents of thought emanating from Antiquity. While the major focus here is on Christian mysticism, Jewish and Islamic mysticism was also important in both Spain and the Middle East. Christian mysticism was unusual, however, in being promoted between the 13th and 15th centuries by women as much as by men, often operating outside the academy. Since the 1990s, there has been a strong growth of interest in these female mystics, not just in the medieval period, but in the 16th century and later (and thus beyond the scope of the present bibliographical survey). This article confines itself to core texts relevant to Eastern and Western branches of the medieval mystical tradition and to English-language translations and discussions of major medieval mystical writings. Certain authors are identified simply by the most recent translation, with secondary literature offering an opportunity to pursue original critical editions. Within each section, authors are presented in a broadly chronological sequence.

Article.  13815 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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