Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

Have there been important Christian mystics?

Since Late Antiquity many Christian men and women have been known for their profound experiential insight into the divine mystery. Some of these mystics have been theologians, authors of important treatises on various aspects of the Christian faith. But more importantly, theirs is a legacy of wonder and even bewilderment at the ways God relates to attentive human beings. Some of the best-known Christian women have been mystics.

Accounts of Christian mysticism typically begin with the sixth-century Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, whose Greek writings laid the foundations of mystical thinking and provided a lexicon that subsequent authors would use for many centuries. Most of the great mystics lived during the high and late Middle Ages, though a number lived during Renaissance and early modern times as well. Hugh (c. 1096-1141) and Richard (d. 1173) of St. Victor, leaders of the Victorine School of Paris, believed that creation manifested the mind of God and was thus the beginning of a path to contemplation. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a visionary Benedictine nun whose extensive writings and musical compositions have enjoyed remarkable popularity of late, thanks to fine new translations and CD recordings. Mechtild of Magdeburg (c. 1210-80), a member of a lay sisterhood called the Beguines, recorded her revelatory visions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as did her younger contemporary Gertrude (1256-1302). Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1327) was a German Dominican whose teaching on divine-human intimacy evoked accusations of pantheism and heresy. His spiritual descendants Henry Suso (c. 1295-1366) and Johann Tauler (c. 1300-61) sought to clarify Eckhart by connecting him to the officially acceptable thought of Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274). Other famous mystics, far too numerous to mention individually even briefly, included Catherine of Siena (c. 1340-80), Jan van Ruysbroeck (1293-1381), Juliana of Norwich (c. 1342-1413), Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), Teresa of Avila (1515-82), and John of the Cross (1542-91).


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