MYSTICAL THEOLOGY AND SOLITUDE

The Bible is the source of Christian mysticism, in the same way as the sutras and Hindu scriptures are the source of Buddhist and Hindu mysticism. William Johnston (1985, p.10) tells about the prophets in the Bible in his book “The Inner Eye of Love” (Mysticism and Religion), that they were mystics in action. Their “inner eye” was awakened, so that they saw not only the glory of God, but also the suffering, the injustice, the sin of the world. Their prophetic role often led to death, but this role, in many cases, was fulfilled through a solitude and a silence and a self-oblation which spoke louder than words and shook the universe.

An example of this we find in the 48th chapter in the book of the prophet Isaiah. Here he reveals the words of God, given him in silence:

Now I am going to reveal new things to you, secrets that you do not know; they have just been created, not long ago, and until today you have heard nothing about them, so that you cannot say, “Yes, I knew about this.” No, you have not heard, you have not known, for a long time your ear has not been attentive (Isaiah 48:6b-8 NJB).

The prophet Isaiah knows that he must listen with his inner ear in order to hear God. Only in silence can the truth and love from God be revealed to him. What is revealed becomes a message to the whole people of God. Isaiah describes it like this:

Lord Yahweh has given me a disciple’s tongue, for me to know how to give a word of comfort to the weary. Morning by morning he makes my ear alert to listen like a disciple. Lord Yahweh has opened my ear and I have not resisted. I have not turned away. (Isaiah 50:4-5 NJB).

The word “mysticism” or “mystica” was introduced into Christianity in the late fifth or early sixth century, by a Syrian monk, Dionysius the Areopagite, via one of his works, “Mystica Theologia”.  Pseudo-Dionysius, as he is often called later, had a profound influence on medieval philosophy and theology. He brought together Greek and Jewish concepts of the apophatic, a term I will return to in chapter 2.3.1. Later, in the nineth century, “Mystica Theologia” was translated into Latin by an Irishman, John Scotus Eriugena. His book was very much welcomed by theologians like Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure etc.

In the 14th century the work of Dionysus was translated into English of that time by an anonymous monk who wrote “The Cloud of Unknowing”.   He also made significant, though small additions to the book. He centered Dionysus’ teaching on love, in the meaning of: It is divine love which guides the soul towards the darkness. Darkness is the “place” of inner silence, where the inner being can be embraced by God’s love.  It is love that leads a person beyond thoughts, images and concepts into the world of silence. The “inner eye” is now the eye of love.  This has a resemblance to the deep human love that draws lovers into a deep close silence where thoughts and words become unnecessary. This human coming together of souls is similar to the mystical loving silence between God and man, about which was written in the Middle Ages, and later in the writings of St. John of the Cross. In his Spiritual Canticle 27:5, he writes:

The sweet and living knowledge is mystical theology, that secret knowledge of God which spiritual persons call contemplation. This knowledge is very delightful because it is knowledge through love.

It is THIS knowledge I seek, this ‘way’ of ‘knowing’ that surpasses all understanding.  Thomas Keating understands this as an existential relationship with Christ, the divine indwelling.  Contemplation was the gate to this union with God.  Later the word acquired other meanings and connotations.  Contemplation, as Bourgeault puts it, is “the total self-surrender, or self-emptying, that Christ showed us through his kenosis (self-emptying), which is reached through two different ways, either through the Kataphatic way (via positiva) or directly through the Apophatic way (via negativa)”. The terms, kataphasis and apophasis, were used by Aristotle, to describe categorical propositions as either affirmation or denial, saying or unsaying. Apophasis refers to the negation and kataphasis to the affirmation.

Do you see this prayer as a way into “knowledge through love”?

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