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Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality

by davesandel on January 18th, 2012

Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality, by Bradley P. Holt, First Edition, 1993 (Revised in 2005).  This review and outline is of the first edition.

150 pages

Thoughts on Thirsty for God:

Like the author, I have discovered that drinking a glass or bottle of water often perks me up more than I expected.  Rather than a nap or snack, water is just exactly what I need.  Also like the author, I’ve approached my spirituality from many directions.  He has spent time in Africa, I’ve spent time in the Moonies, traveling from side to side in the US and in London.  Hart has taught young people at a Lutheran school; I’ve been taught at a Lutheran school and been a campus minister at a secular school.  I sense in Hart what I hope for in myself: an openness to many different ways of experiencing God.

This book is essentially a brief historical survey of spirituality as expressed in the Christian church since its beginning.  Hart accomplishes two goals with this, the major book of his life so far: he sets out thoughtfully what he thinks makes Christian spirituality unique and invaluable, and he introduces newbies like me to many of the men and women who have endeared themselves to him by their writing.  As I kept reading, I felt warmly surrounded by both Hart’s good nature and his cloud of witnesses.  His implicit invitation to join these men and women in developing my own spirituality was gentle and persuasive, and I find myself accepting it.

But there’s a catch, covered in all its irony by Jeremiah’s comment (Jeremiah 20:7, New Jerusalem Bible): “You have seduced me, Yahweh, and I was seduced.”  Jeremiah goes on to say, “I am a laughing-stock all day long, they all make fun of me.”  As I read more and more of the writing of these folks from past centuries, God seems to become more “real,” and the world as I have always seen it a little less so.  This is something that not everyone understands.

Which is a little disconcerting, and I begin to feel some of Jeremiah’s craziness and mood swings.  Jeremiah can move from rejoicing in the wisdom of God to wishing he were never born in the very next verse: “Sing to Yahweh, praise Yahweh, for he has delivered the soul of one in need from the clutches of evil doers.  A curse on the day I was born!  May the day my mother bore me be unblessed” (Jeremiah 20:13-14).

Well, so be it.  For Jeremiah, and for Hart, and I think for me, the seduction is complete.  Given just a single stab of God’s unknowable but endless love, there is no turning back.  Taste the living water, rest, and share.

Quotes (with occasional clarifying comments)

Chapter 1. Spirituality and Christianity

Spirituality is a trans-religious word.  From a Christian perspective (God created the world good and later became flesh), spirit is a dimension of reality comparable with physical existence.  Spirituality, then has  wholistic and “down-to-earth” meaning.

The word “spirituality” has been used for centuries by the Catholic church.  Only in the last half of the twentieth century did it become a word used much by Protestants.  The ecumenical spirit of Vatican II made this possible.

The global Christian tradition informs everyone involved.  Westerners have no corner on spirituality, to say the least.  No does any particular age.

So we must avoid ethno-centrism AND “chrono-centrism,” juding all previous ages as particular to our own.

Christian expansion into the world can be seen in four main stages:

1) a time of expansion to three continents – Asia, Africa and Europe (30-500 A.D.

2) a withdrawal and separation based on political/doctrinal events.  Christianity indigenized in Europe and reduced in Asia/Africa (500-1500 A.D.)

3) a new expansion, this time from Europe to all six other continents (1500-1900’s), through emigration and missionaries

4) now Christians in many places other than Europe are evangelizing, as well as seeking ways to make Christianity their own rather than a European covering of their cultures

Author’s own perspective: Bradley Holt is a Lutheran, educated at Lutheran seminary and Yale.  He sees great value in Orthodox and Catholic, sees Jesus Christ/gospel/Bible as normative.  Wife and three kids, American with Scandinavian heritage, spent 10 years teaching in Africa, now professor at Augsburg College with two special interests: history of Christian spirituality and non-western churches.  From 2012 Augsburg College website: “My class REL 425 both experiences and studies the spiritual practices that keep us mindful of God: prayer, meditation, examen, lectio divina, service to the neighbor, worship in a congregation, spiritual direction, fasting, keeping a spiritual journal, walking the labyrinth, etc.”

Chapter 2. Four Relationships in the Bible

These four relationships constitute spirituality:

1) Our relationships to God

Welcome God’s love and love God, receiving God’s love and allowing it to change our habits, thoughts and feelings; and thus returning the love to God who started it.

The Old and New Testaments show the delicate balance of what can be known of God and what is beyond human understanding

2) Our relationships to self

The Bible calls us to love ourselves.  It does not define the self, but describes the relations people have with God, others, and creation.  For example, Psalm 139 is a meditation on God’s relation to the self.

Human being is seen in the Bible as someone made in the image and likeness of God, with great dignity and value who is also a fallen person, subject to sin and evil.

The Bible describes human bondage and promises freedom.  Integration and healing of self involves explicit biblical teachings as redemption, liberation, forgiveness and resurrection.

3) Our relationships to others

The Bible calls us to love others.  Caring for the poor, standing up for those who are being unjustly.

Different kinds of love for different situations.  Those with whom we share the faith, families, and friends.  Spiritual friends/companions are important in our spiritual growth.

4) Our relationships to creation

The Bible calls us to care for the earth.  Christian spiritual has not always given proper attention to the natural world.  Influential Gnostic or neo-Platonic ideas see the world as uncomfortable, as a prison.

World can mean 1) the created world that God called good, 2) humanity (as in John 3:16), and/or 3) human evil.  (Jesus tells us to live in the world, but not be of the world.)

St. Francis and C.S. Lewis are two strong voices for loving the world.  Loving means to care for the world, to integrate this into our spirituality.

Chapter 3. The Beginnings of a Global Community (30-400 A.D.)

First followers of Jesus were Jews, a sect which called itself the Nazareans.  But the Nazareans were rejected by the Jews and after A.D. 70 excluded from synagogue worship by a curse on Christians inserted into the synagogue liturgy.

After the separation, the Judaism of today is the offspring of the rabbinic movement, which emerged at about the same time as Christianity.  Jews interpreted the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) by means of a later collection of their own literature called the Talmud.

Christians interpreted the Hebrew Bible by means of their own later collection, called the New Testament.

Gospel attracted many non-Jewish “god-fearers,” partly because they could be “Jewish” without being circumcised.  This meant Christianity emerged from being a sect within an ethnic group into a religion accessible to all peoples, in principle transcultural and practiced in a wide variety of cultures, both within and outside the Roman empire.

After much misunderstanding and persecution, in 313 Constantine declared Christianity legal and eventually made it the official state religion of Rome.  By the 400’s Christians were a reigning majority with wealth, status and power.

During the first six hundred years of Christianity, worship and sacraments, charisms (special gifts from God), witness unto death (martyrdom), spiritual disciplines, monasticism and mysticism began and developed.

1) Worship and sacraments

Worship practices and sacraments were mostly inherited from Jews – prayer, psalms, Scripture reading, sermons and singing.   They added the weekly meal of bread and wine,  adopted from the Passover meal and which became the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.  This became the center of Christian worship.  And the communal aspect of spirituality, the social aspect of the “body of Christ” seemed to be emphasized in Christianity at its beginning.  Baptism was an initiation into the community.

Baptism often was postponed, because early theology sometimes taught that in the “new” life forgiveness was no longer available, since the new life was to be perfect and without sin.

One Roman preacher named Hermas tried to resolve this anxiety in his book The Shepherd.  But infant baptism or baptism upon conversion only began en masse after ritual confession before the congregation was established for baptized believers.

2) Charisms

Charismatic refers to gifts given to individual Christians for the common good, both ordinary – washing feet, sharing food – and extraordinary – healing, prophecy, tongues.  A glowing picture in Acts, a troubled picture in 1 Corinthians 12-14 of charisms in a local congregation.

Syriac Odes to Solomon (100 A.D.) express a charismatic spirituality full of praise and love for God.  Syriac Christianity used feminine symbols more frequently than did Greek or Latin.  God’s breasts flowing with milk: from the 19th Ode: “The Son is the cup, and the Father is he who was milked; and the Holy Spirit is she who milked Him/because his breasts were full and it was undesirable that his milk should be released without purpose, the Holy Spirit opened her bosom and mixed the milk of the two breasts of the Father … The Virgin took the milk, received conception and gave birth/And she loved with salvation, and guarded with kindness, and declared with greatness.”

Holy Spirit is associated with the charismatic gifts.  Holy Spirit is the more feminine side of God.  In Old Testament and many other places, God is referred to in both male and female ways.

Larger groups required more organization and less spontaneity as the church grew, so the communal expression of charismatic gifts gradually disappeared.  See The Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles about 60 A.D., the oldest known liturgical manual and catechism for Christians, which was nearly included in the New Testament but eventually not accepted.

These gifts continued to be practiced on the margins, however, and were rediscovered in a big way by Pentecostals in the twentieth century.  Pentecostal churches are now and have been for decades the one growing segment of Christian churches.

Montanus (157 A.D.) emerged with a new prophecy of the return of Christ, the Parousia and established a rigorous set of ethical norms.  With two female partners, Maximilla and Priscilla, they encouraged a return to the norms of the church begun by the apostles after Jesus’ resurrection, including the use of spiritual gifts.  Tertullian became a Montanist, attracted by the moral rigor.  The Montanists were condemned as heretics by the larger church.

3) Martyrs, witnessed unto death

Martyrs are honored for holding the faith as being of higher value than physical life.  Root meaning of martyr is “witness.”  The “martyr complex” suggests mental unsoundness and a need for inappropriate attention.  A true martyr, one who is willing to give one’s life as a testimony to truth, continues to be admired as healthy and even heroic.  It depends on what you mean by “truth,” of course.

Jesus was the first “Christian” martyr, of course, followed by many of his apostles.  Paul is thought to have been martyred in Rome about 64 A.D.

Ignatius of Antioch (Syria), in the earliest group of writings after the New Testament writings (160-220 A.D.) writes, like Paul, to six churches and one bishop (Polycarp) along the way while he travels.

The world is mostly an enemy, from this point of view.  Another early martyr is Perpetua, who died about 200 A.D. in Carthage.  Her account describes martyrdom as it was, not with poetic rhapsodies.  She and Ignatius both assertively refused to evade holy execution, hardly a passive act.  It fits into our understanding of civil disobedience, taken to an extreme.

4) Mysticism

Disciplines which involve exercise in virtue and avoidance of vice have long characterized the Christian life.  Together these disciplines are called ascesis, or asceticism.  The basic idea is that of athletic training in preparation for a contest, or in the Vineyard founder John Wimber’s words, a “power moment.”

Old Testament records the 10 commands, but also many other ascetic rules for certain situatioins: abstaining from food, alcohol, haircuts or sex, for example.  Jesus calls on his followers to fast, give alms, avoid sexual lust, deny themselves and take up the cross.

Celibacy was recommended by Paul, but only because he believed time was short before the return of Christ.  Later writers (influenced by the world-weary Greek and Roman culture) called for celibacy for very different reasons, namely that the body is evil and sex is evil.  This left behind the Jewish and early Christian doctrine that creation is good, and the door was opened for vilifying women as the object of the stifled sexual desire of celibate men.

Two criteria for a healthy ascetic practice: 1) does it affirm the goodness of creation and motivate the person to better service, to give up something good for something better? and 2) is human effort the result of (not the cause for) the grace of God – do I run in freedom and knowledge of God’s love or am in bondage to earn what cannot be earned, or am I punishing myself to atone for something (sin) that Christ has already forgiven?

Tertullian (160?-225) – from Africa, a lawyer in Carthage near Tunis wrote in Latin

He argued that it is necessary to separate from the world, leave the pagan (“world, flesh, devil”) world of Carthage, A.D. 200, and substitute pleasures of Christian virtue for Roman blood-lust and nakedness.  But he ignores the small, daily pleasures of life.

He laid foundation for Latin doctrinal theology.  Forged new terms: Old Testament, New Testament, Trinity, and person (to describe each member of trinity).

He believed there was no forgiveness of sin after baptism, widows and widowers should not remarry.  Missed generosity of God in forgiveness, the wonder of the good creation, the need for authentic contexualizing for different cultures.

Origen (185-254) – wrote in Greek, from Africa, head of school in Alexandria after Clement

Origen is known as the first Christian “systematic theologian” – he developed a system to understand world and God from Christian point of view.  He started with Greek philosophical systems of Plato and Plotinus (neo-Platonism), asking within that context, how can one understand the Christian Scriptures?

His Hexapla set six different Biblical texts side by side to compare them.  But even so philosophy controlled his thought more than Bible study.

Each person pre-existed human life, fell away from God.  Goal of human life is to return to God; all humans will so return.  Origen was one of the first universalists.  This led to his condemnation as a heretic in 553 A.D.

Spiritual teaching focused on martyrdom, prayer and Scripture.

There are three stages in Christian life: moral, natural, contemplative.  Moral – behavior, reflected in Proverbs.  Natural – intellectual, observational activity, reflected in Ecclesiastes.  Contemplative – resulting in spiritual union with God (theoria), reflected in Song of Songs.

(from Shannon, Seeking the Face of God) the word contemplative has its root in the Latin word templum, which means “temple.”  The root of templum is tempus, generally translated as “time” but primarily meaning a “division or section of time.”  For the Romans a templum was a space in the sky or on the earth that was sectioned off for the augurs to read omens, a sacred spot marked off from other space.  Generally in this spot the augurs would examine the entrails of birds.  In other words, the temple was the place where certain sacred persons looked “inside animals, inside things” to find divine meanings and purposes.  Looking attentively at the “insides” of things might well be a way of describing contemplation.  It is looking at ourselves, looking at reality from the “inside.”  Going deeply enough we find that of themselves they are – nothing.  They ARE only because we ultimately find a Source which is their Origin and the Ground in which they find their identity and their uniqueness.  And that Source which is their Origin and Ground is God.

Latin Christians translated the Greek word “theoria” as “contemplatio

Later names for these stages of spiritual growth were “purgative, illuminative, and unitive stages.”

Origen influenced Gregory of Nyssa, Pseduo-Dionysius, and was a precursor of Eastern-Western monasticism.

Ephrem (306?-373) – wrote in Syriac (a later development of Aramaic, the language of Jesus.  Used in Middle East.  Much less familiar to American scholars.)

Syriac spirituality is more closely related to Judaism, Semitic culture… extremely ascetic.  Anchorites (hermits) in Syrian desert and thought up bizarre ways to mortify their bodies… Simon Stylites lived on a pillar for decades, until he died.  Living in logs, not bathing, falling on their faces.

Ephrem was a deacon in Nisibis, in today’s southeastern Turkey.  In last year of his life he arranged for 300 beds for homeless and dying, personally serving them.

Advocated celibacy in order to be married to the Bridegroom.

Later apophatic tradition (with a focus on NOT knowing, rather than what we DO know) – see Dionysius below – reflects Ephrem’s insistence on identifying points around a circle of knowledge, within which the center can only be known by inference.  “Something of its nature (God) can be inferred by joining up the various points around the circumference.”  It is only once someone is in the presence of God that they can begin to properly understand God and there “contemplate” God.  Wikipedia: “Whereas with rational thought one uses logic to understand, one does the opposite with God.”

Influenced Basil of Caesarea.  Much of Eastern spirituality is founded on 2 Peter 1:4.  Theosis, divinization: Ephrem’s words: “The Son has made beautiful the servant’s deformity, and he has become a god, just as he desired.”   (more of Ephrem’s poetry, p. 37-38)

Extreme asceticism leads to despising God’s good gifts of creation – our bodies & world around us.

Legalistic asceticism leads to despising God’s grace in favor of personal merit.

Biblical asceticism leads to healthy sense of being able to say no to a good thing for the sake of a better or higher one; it gives self-confidence while enabling people to serve others.

Athanasius (296?-373) bishop of Alexandria, described life of Antony in Life of Antony.  Athanasius accepted Nicene belief that Jesus was divine and suffered five exiles from opponents who disagreed with him.  He met Antony during exile.

Antony (250-353) desert father in Egypt

Sold all he had, gave it to the poor, entered into training with others

Dwelt in a tomb, nearly dead himself, rescued by Christ

Moved and lived deeper and deeper in the desert (believed to be dwelling place for Satan and demons).

Antony’s life exhibits discipline, tenderness, service.  He forged a new style of solitary Christian spirituality, which came to be called the monastic life.

Syncletica said: “It is possible to be a solitary in one’s mind while living in a crowd, and it is possible for one who is a solitary to live in the crowd of his own thoughts.”

Communal monasticism, as opposed to individual or anchorite type, was implemented first by Pachomius in the Egyptian desert, then especially by Basil of Caesarea in East, and Benedict of Nursia in West.

Basil of Caesarea (330-379)

Basil wrote two monastic rules.  Emphasized thanksgiving, spiritual gifts, importance of obedience in attacking self-will.  Defended Trinitarian doctrine.  Full divinity of the Holy Spirit and important to final acceptance of Nicene Creed at Constantinople in 381.

He was influenced by Origen and selected some of his writings for his Philokalia, the first collection of spiritual writings ( “philokalia” means love of beauty, “philosophy” means love of wisdom).  This is not the same as another Philokalia compiled in 18th century.

Worked with Gregory of Nyssa (his brother) and Gregory of Nazianzus (his friend).  Three are known as Cappadocian Fathers.  Basil was organizer, Gregory of Nyssa was thinker, Gregory Nazianzen was speaker/writer.  Influenced by their sister Macrina.

Evagrius of Pontus (345?-399)

He provides link between Cappadocians and later writers, especially monks.

He was influenced by Origen and later condemned with Origen.  “It is striking that heretical writers were so influential in medieval Christian spirituality.” (p. 41)

Evagrius analyzed eight dangers to Christian: gluttony, lust, avarice, dejection, anger, despondency (akedia, or accidie”), vainglory and pride.  Later John Cassian pared them down to seven: they became the “seven deadly sins.”

Apatheia (passionlessness or freedom from passion) is healthy functioning of soul’s powers.  Goal of prayer is stripping of the mind, a pure consciousness of God without images or thoughts.

SIN CATEGORIES, mostly taken from Wikipedia:

Evagrius in Greek (200’s) (8)                  John Cassian in Latin 400’s                  Seven “Deadly Sins” (Pope Gregory I -590 A.D.

gastrimargia (gluttony)                  gula (gluttony)                                    gula (gluttony) VS TEMPERANCE

porneia (prostitution, fornication)                  fornicatio (fornication, lust)                  luxuria (lechery, lust) VS CHASTITY

philargyria (avarice)                  avaritia (greed)                                    avaratia (avarice, greed) VS CHARITY

acedia (dejection)                  acedia (listlessness)                                    acedia (discouragement) VS DILIGENCE

orgē (wrath)                  ira (wrath)                                                      ira (wrath) VS PATIENCE

lypē (envy)                  tristitia (sorrow, despair)                  invidia (envy) VS KINDNESS

kenodoxia (boasting)                  vanagloria (vanity, boasting)                  XXXXX

hubris (“self-esteem”)                  superbia (hubris, pride)                  superbia (pride, vanity, boasting) VS HUMILITY

later socordia (sloth) replaced acedia (discouragement).  Modern Catholic Catechism lists this as pigritia seu acedia (sloth, discouragement)

Dante uses this later list in Divine Comedy (1308-1321)

John Cassian (360-432)

took Evagrius’ teachings to the West.

Founded monastery in Marseilles, wrote Conferences which reflected teaching of Egyptian monks, especially Evagrius.  These readings were canonized by Benedict for reading by Monks.

from Wikipedia: The Desert ascetics of Egypt followed a three-step path to mysticism: PurgatioIlluminatio, and Unitio. These stages correspond to the three ways of later Catholic theology.

During the first level, Purgatio (in Greek, Catharsis), young monks struggled through prayer and ascetic practices to gain control of “the flesh”—specifically by purging their gluttony, their lust and their desire for possessions. This period of purgation, which often took many years, was intended to teach young monks that whatever strength they had to resist these desires (grace) came directly from the Holy Spirit. As the monks underwent this stage of their spiritual education, they identified with Christ’s temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:1–11Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13), so that by the end of the Purgatio, they could trust peacefully in the Lord for all their needs.

At this point, the Illuminatio (theoria in Greek) commenced. During this period the monks practiced the paths to holiness as revealed in the Gospel, identifying strongly with the Christ who taught the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5–7). Many monks took in visitors and students and tended the poor as much as their resources allowed. The monks continued their life of humility in the Spirit of God; the stoic acceptance of suffering was intended to make them capable of taking on heroic or difficult responsibilities for the local Christian community. Many monks died never having moved past this period.

The final stage was the Unitio (theosis in Greek), a period in which the soul of the monk was meant to bond with the Spirit of God in a union often described as the marriage of the Song of Solomon (also called the “Song of Songs” or the “Canticle of Canticles”). To find the solitude and peace that this level of mystical awareness demanded, elderly monks often fled into the deep desert or into remote forests, identifying with the transfigured Christ, who remained hidden from his disciples both during his life and often after his resurrection.

The spiritual traditions of John Cassian had an immeasurable effect on Western Europe. Many different western spiritualities, from that of Saint Benedict to that of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, owe their basic ideas to John Cassian. In particular, the Institutes had a direct influence on organization of monasteries described in the Rule of St. Benedict; Benedict also recommended that ordered selections of the Conferences be read to monks under his Rule. Moreover, the monastic institutions Cassian inspired kept learning and culture alive during the Early Middle Ages, and were often the only institutions that cared for the sick and poor. His works are excerpted in the Philokalia (Greekfor “love of the beautiful”), the Eastern Orthodox compendium on mystical Christian prayer.

Modern thinkers are beholden to John Cassian’s thinking, although perhaps in ways the saint would not have expected. Michel Foucault was fascinated by the rigorous way Cassian defined and struggled against the “flesh.” Perhaps because of investigations like these, Cassian’s thought and writings are enjoying a recent popularity even in non-religious circles.

Benedict (480-547)

Founded the communal Benedictine Order after personal experiments with solitary solitude.

Incorporated physical labor with prayer, saying that to work is to pray and to pray is to work (ora et labora).  Following Jewish (Psalm 119:164) and Egyptian desert (John Cassian) customs, he instituted daily fixed-hour prayer eight times a day, interspersed with work, eating and sleeping in moderation. These times were:

Matins (during the night, at midnight perhaps) also called Vigils or Nocturns or Night Office

Lauds (at dawn or at 3 a.m.) also called Dawn Prayer

Prime (added by Benedict, at first hour, approx. 6 a.m.) also called Early Morning Prayer

Terce (at third hour, approx. 9 a.m.) also called Mid-Morning Prayer

Sext (at sixth hour, approx. 12 Noon) also called Midday Prayer

None (at ninth hour, approx. 3 p.m.) also called Mid-Afternoon Prayer

Vespers (at “light of the lamps,” usually 6 p.m.) also called Evening Prayer           

Compline (usually 9 p.m.) also called Night Prayer, often begins overnight “Great Silence”

Prescribed lectio divina, or sacred reading, for four hours each day.  Reading Scriptures and early Christian writers, meditate on them in silence or while working (six hours daily).

Praised silence as a virtue

Poverty, chastity and obedience (vows which make possible a life in community) were NOT defined in Benedict’s rule, but they do reflect his influence.

The Abbot (leader of monastery) carries a heavy responsibility in Benedict’s plan.  Obedience to the abbot was an important part of the rule.

St. Patrick (389?-461?) – the Celtic Christian tradition

Celts came from central Europe and settled in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, western France -outside Roman empire, which allowed preservation of their language, culture and religion (led by druids).  Patrick “converted the women powerful in Celtic society and founded monasteries all over Ireland.”

Church was headed by abbots (leaders of monasteries), not bishops (leaders of churches).

Anamchara or soul friend was an important part of their spirituality  One need not be alone.  (James 5:16)

Strict adherence to asceticism.  Examples: reciting all 150 Psalms in a day, stand praying in ice water.

Distinctive feature: private confession with fixed penances, which would later spread to all of the western church. Confession to a priest became required practice after Lateran Council of 1215.  At Council of Trent, mid 1500’s, it was defined as one of seven sacraments.  Amended after Vatican II to eliminate quantitative approach, renamed Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Self-exile became another form of asceticism, leaving home like Abraham … pilgrimage … led to spread of Christianity in northern Europe.

St. Columba, founded monastery at Iona 632, Book of Kells.  Remains a retreat center and center for ecumenical Christian community.  Author has made retreat there.

Mystics “tend to see the whole world as charged with divine glory”

Augustine (354-430)

author of Confessions, a narrative of Christian growth, brand-new concept.  He communicated the mystical sense of being in the hands of forces greater than himself.

Story of Antony in Egypt led Augustine to his final break with his old life.

Mother Monica who prayed for him, and father Patricius, a non-Christian.

He was initially attracted to Manichaeism: evil world, good spirit God.  Later he departed from that belief.

Augustine was taught by Bishop Ambrose in Milan that he does not have to commit intellectual suicide to believe the Bible.

Sex was positive focus of his life (lived with concubine) and then after conversion, became anathema: view of women, sexual intercourse … sexual desire is transmitter of “original sin”.  Parents’ sexual lust made every birth impure.  His attitude was adopted, with great harm, by the Christian culture as a whole.

Grace of God restored fall of humanity by means of Jesus’ death on the cross, mediated through the Sacraments.  This was in contrast with Eastern perspective of theosis (becoming one with God) and resurrection.

After his conversion he was forcibly ordained a priest and later a bishop (of Hippo).  In conflict with Pelagius he championed the grace of god against human effort as means of salvation.

Split with Donatists (strict adherents of purification movement, inheritors of the cult of martyrs).  He enforced his split not just with words but also with force – soldiers.  This split in the North African church led to church disappearance after Arab conquest in seventh century.

Augustine’s intellectual achievements, positive and negative: 1) bound together Platonist philosophy with biblical faith 2) combined four centuries of Greek/Latin insights into orthodox vision of truth 3) expressed faith as narrative walk from unbelief to belief  4) his own bad conscience, unhealthy sexuality and emphasis on original sin left a “legacy of gloom and misogyny on much of Western spirituality” and 5) his final word was adoration of the grace of God.

Dionysius the Areopagite (500) known as Pseudo-Dionysius

Formulated of three stages standard in all Western mysticism: purgative (cleansing), illuminative (God shining) and unitive (oneness with God).

Worldview is triadic and hierarchical.  He invented the Greek word hierarchy.  Everything in the universe is seen to be in threes, with carefully described levels from top to bottom.

His apophatic theology, a theology “beyond words and images” keeps us from limiting and distancing God by stripping ourselves of those words and images.

This stripping away takes us into “divine darkness”.  His poetry: “The mysteries of God’s word lie simple, absolute and unchangeable in the brilliant darkness of a hidden silence … Amid the wholly unsensed and unseen they completely fill our sightless minds with treasures beyond all beauty.” (p. 48)

This process is called the via negativa, the negative way.  “One of the striking features of the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius is the combination of a highly intellectual discussion of God with an absolute denial of the power of the intellect to know God.” (p. 49)

Affective side of apophatic theology is a spirituality that requires a state of utter passivity on the part of the mystic.  This leads to an ecstasy of love in which the human is fused with God.  (continued in writing of Meister Eckhart and others).

Opposite of apophatic is kataphatic, an ACTIVE attempt to contemplate or know God by using imagination and emotions.  For example, calling forth images from the Scriptures, as in Ignatius’ Exercises.  Or using dialogue or theophostic prayer, “imagining” God’s response to a journal entry or statement that I make.  Dionysius and others think this is very useful at the beginning of the spiritual way, then should be replaced by the apophatic way.

Apophatic spirituality is also called “infused” contemplation as opposed to acquired or natural contemplation, which involves acquiring knowledge of God through mental processes like imagination and reasoning.

In early centuries Christianity developed in a number of cultures, including Ethiopia, Britain, India and Syria.  Greco-Roman synthesis was dominant, however.

Chapter 4. The European Era (400-1500 A.D.)

Dark Ages followed by high scholasticism

Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox official separation 1054.

Fourth Crusade (1202) left bitterness “beyond measure” when Roman Catholics sacked the Eastern capital, Constaninople.


Each of the ancient cities of the apostles: Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Alexandria, Rome and later Constantinople, had their own patriarch.  But the patriarch of Rome, the only patriarch in the West (west if the Mediterranean Sea is the center), gradually claimed unique authority over the others.  They did not agree to his rule, and tension mounted.


325            Nicea

381            Constantinople

431            Ephesus

451            Chalcedon

553            Constantinople II

680-1            Constaninople III

787            Nicea II

After 787 Roman councils were not recognized by Eastern Orthodox church.

In 600’s Muslims (in control of East) pressured the end of Christian evangelism or display.

1453 – Constantinople fell to Muslim Turks, cathedral became a mosque, city renamed Istanbul

400-700’s emergence of the Jesus Prayer (pray continually)

4 elements of Jesus prayer: devotion to the holy name Jesus, appeal for divine mercy, discipline of repetition, quest for inner silence (hesuchia): imageless, nondiscursive prayer, an apophatic experience

Icons: worship is a kataphatic experience, a “right brain” prayer, using images rather than discursive language

700-800’s Iconoclastic Controversies, theological and political disputes, especially about incarnation, the divinity of Jesus.  In 787 the seventh ecumenical council approved the use of icons

Mary = theotokos (Bearer of God)

In Eastern Orthodox Christian spirituality, the Jesus prayer (apophatic) and icons (kataphatic) balance and complement each other.

Gregory Palamas 1296-1359 monk at Athos, archbishop of Thessalonika, prolific writer

Greatest defender of Hesychia, which means stillness or silence, refers going apart to the desert for solitude.

Theosis – “God became man so that man might become God.”  Process called theosis, the result is theoria.

Palamas meant that the main axis of the faith is not human sin and divine redemption on the cross, but human mortality and divine victory in the Resurrection.

Humans may know the “Energies of God” but not the “Essence of God.”

We may have a vision of God in this life before death, though not perfect.

Urged importance of body and postures in prayer.

Union with God attained by God’s grace, vision of God requires hard work, easier for solitary monks than the married.  Gifts of the process of theosis are the gift of prayer and the gift of tears (a constant flow of joyful tears).

There are positive passions as well as negative ones.  Apatheia does not refer to a denial of the body, but the transformation of body and soul together.  It seems similar to Buddhist ideas of detachment and mindfulness.

Transfiguration of Jesus was the revelatory event that showed the present and future kingdom of God.  Kingdom is present for those given the gift of seeing it, but will be perfected after death.


Focused on sin as enemy of mankind and the cross of Jesus as its solution (as compared to East’s emphasis on death as the enemy and the resurrection as the victory

Anselm of Canterbury 1033-1109

Systematic theology, teaching of atonement by satisfaction of God’s grace

Philosophical theology, ontological argument for existence of God

Prayers and Meditations

Bernard of Clairvaux 1090-1153

Reformed monastic tradition, returning to simple rule of Benedict

Recruited participants in 2nd Crusade, 1146, very powerful – virtual pope

“On Loving God”: 1) self loving only self, 2) then loving neighbor and God for itself, 3) loving God for God’s sake and 4) loving itself for God’s sake.  This is found only fleetingly on earth but will be constant state of the dead after resurrection of the body.

Jesus’ humanity is important to Bernard

Self-knowledge is humility

Gerard Groote late 1300’s Netherlands

ideals of 12th century monasticism: called devotio moderna, became a monastic order called Windesheim Congregation and a group of over a hundred houses in Holland Germany of the Sisters of the Common Life and Brothers of the Common Life.

Their spirituality focused on the imitation of Christ, following the way of the Cross.  Knowledge of self, denial of self, contempt of the world.  The book, probably written by Thomas a Kempis, asks for strong Eucharistic piety and constant meditation, even in the midst of work.

Sees no value in the intellectual life: “vanity of vanitiews, all is vanity except to have God and serve Him alone”

Mendicant (begging) orders were founded in 1200’s: Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites and Augustinians.  Called for service to and in the world, rather than staying in the monastery.  Their home base was now called the “house” rather than monastery.

Dominic Guzman (1170?-1221)

saw need for better preaching, founded an “Order of Preachers” commonly called Dominicans

became one of the best educated groups in Europe, spirituality focused on the piety of learning

study/preaching became more important than poverty or obedience.  Begging abandoned as impractical, and how could a preacher be obedient rather than independent?

Great Dominican scholars Albert the Great (1200-1280) and his student Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas (1225-74)

Aquinas became the most influential theologian in the Roman Catholic church

Incorporated the philosophy of Aristotle into Augustinian tradition

Christian life is friendship between humans and God.  Charity is measure of all vows, practices and steps.

It is said he stopped writing his Summa Theologica  for the sake of a life of prayer and meditation

Alan de La Roche, another Dominican, introduced the rosary.  A rosary is 150 beads in a circle with a crucifix attached.

praying the Rosary involves repeating the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Doxology, and meditating on the 15 sacred mysteries, or important events in the lives of Mary and Jesus.  There are 5 Joyful Mysteries relating to Jesus’ birth, 5 Sorrowful Mysteries concerning Jesus’ suffering, and 5 Glorious Mysteries recounting the resurrection of Jesus and honoring of Mary.

In praying the Rosary the mind operates on two levels: repetition is simply a way of centering the attention, while the mysteries are imaginatively relived.

After Vatican II its use, especially public use, became less prominent.  A few Protestants advocate its use

Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

founder of the Franciscans, the Friars Minor (little brothers) and associated with Clare of Assisi (1193-1253), founder of the Second Order for women, or the Poor Clares.

worldly youth given love for lepers and desire to rebuild the church, fell in love with “Lady Poverty”, found freedom from possessions so exhilarating that he determined to own nothing of his own.

Visited the Holy Land and preached to Muslim leader Saracens during a Crusade

1224, praying on Mt. La Verna, received answer to his prayer for identification with Jesus in the form of the stigmata, the wounds of the crucified Jesus, in his flesh

Canticle to the Sun addresses all things in creation, even death, as his brothers and sister.

Legends of preaching to the birds, his friendship with the wolf.

He brought together experiencing the pains of the crucified Jesus with the happy, carefree humility that trusted the father of birds and flowers to provide his needs.

A third Franciscan order for lay people was added later

One of the greatest Franciscans was St. Bonaventure (1217-74), minister general of the order.

Affective mystics, exemplified by Bernard of Clairvaux (see above), who concentrated on images from Song of Songs relating to marriage with Christ the Bridegroom.

Intellectual mystics:

Hildegard of Bingen (1109-79), Rhine abbess who included visual art in reports of her visions

Mechtild of Magdeburg (d. 1300?)

Joachim of Fiore (1135-1202), developed a distinctive apocalyptic spirituality

Henry Suso (1295-1366), a Dominican follower of Eckhart

Catherine of Siena (1347-80), concerned to reform the church, influential with the pope

Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510), called the “theologian of purgatory”

Walter Hilton (d. 1396)

Richard Rolle (1300-49)

Unknown author of The Cloud of Unknowing, with Hilton and Rolle, all Englishmen

Meister Eckhart (1260?-1328?), a Dominican who influenced John Tauler (1300?-1361) and many others

“vague expressions” in his German sermons led to considerable confusion

Some Franciscan enemies brought charges related to neo-platonism: pantheism (that God is the world and the world is God), making no distinction between God and the soul in mystical union, and the denial of God’s freedom in creation.  Some of his statements were condemned as heretical.

These charges are hotly disputed by adherents of “creation spirituality”

Eckhart was influenced by Celtic and Eastern spirituality, served communities of women called Beguines.  Beguines couldn’t afford the dowry required to enter a monastery, so they created their own communities and lived by their own rule.  Mechtild of Magdeburg influenced Eckhart a great deal.

Pseudo-Dionysius influenced Eckhart’s doctrine of God

Jan van Ruysbroeck (1293-1381) drew together the 2 strands, affective and intellectual

Influenced by Pseudo-Dionysius, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux and Meister Eckhart

Served 26 years as secular priest, then withdrew with 3 others to a forest near Brussels to write (in vernacular Flemish)

wrote The Spiritual Espousals, where he reworks the purgative-illuminative-unitive progression of growth to become the 1) active, 2) interior or yearning, and 3) the God-seeing or contemplative life.

The Sparkling Stone he calls wayfarers on these three steps the 1) faithful servants, 2) the secret friends and 3) the hidden sons of God.

Spiritual life 1) begins with conversion, person uses free will to turn to God and begin the way back to God, ending in a life of service and virtue. 2) To this is added a cleansing of the imagination and all clinging to the world.  In this stage one begins to know union with God without the aid of grace, works or sacraments.  3) This union with God becomes more permanent.  Person is at rest, in “fruition” or “delectation”.  Person is still active.  Ruysbroeck calls this highest life the “common” life, both contemplation and service, given to all people in common as God gives to all in common.

A favorite metaphor, fluid: one is melted by the heat of the Holy Spirit and flows out to all types of persons

Holiness in union means discarding all things opposed:

Intellectually, approach God with a bare mind, aware that “where understanding remains without, desire and love enter within”

Volitionally, abandon one’s will to God’s will.  Align all affections Godward, cling to nothing in the world. And die to oneself, “melt” and flow into God.

“Friends of God” retain something of their own self, “and so are not consumed and burnt to naught in the unity of love, the sons experience a simple, deathlike passing over into a state devoid of form.”

“All our powers then fail us and we fall down in open contemplation.  All become one and one becomes all in the loving embrace of the threefold Unity.  When we experience this Unity, we become one being, one life, and one blessedness with God.”

Ruysbroeck usually has a light and joyful tone.  Difficult to read, however.  Far from morbid, always pointing to joy, peace, rest and enjoyment in God.

Awareness of sins remains on the periphery of his vision.

He maps the terrain of the spirit, which includes highly subjective features, in an objective tone.

Relationship to creation seems to be negative, a hindrance to union with God

Julian of Norwich (1353-1416?)

Unknown for long centuries, suddenly prominent in late 20th century

She wrote one book in two versions, a Short Text and Long Text, commonly known as Revelations (or Showings) of Divine Love.

When she was 30 ½ years old she was on the point of death after having prayed that she should share in the sufferings of Christ on the cross.  She was given sixteen visions or “showings,” and she recorded them soon after in the Short Text.

For the next twenty years she pondered her experience, in the meantime becoming an anchoress in a small cell attached to the wall of the church of St Julian of Norwich.

She was well-read in church literature, but she regarded herself as unlettered.  She wrote in English at the time Chaucer was the first male published writer in English.  She was the first female.

Visited by many, including Margery of Kempe, who also lived in Norwich but made many holy pilgrimages across Europe and Asia and wrote the first autobiography in the English language.  Her visit to Julian of Norwich was in the manner of these pilgrimages.

Julian described Jesus in many ways, including as “our mother”.  She wrote of the mysteries of god, humanity, sin and redemption, especially of how to understand the presence of sin in a world created good by a good Creator.  She does this by pondering the images and narrative of one of her showings.

In the end Julian writes that God says sin was “behovely” or necessary in order to rouse humanity to love.  She regards sin as the worst experience of man, while God continues to love this sinner through everything. “In his great courtesy he removes all our blame and beholds us with pity and care as innocent and charming children (ch. 29).

“This making of amends is more pleasing and honoring to God than ever was the sin of Adam harmful; the two cannot be compared.  Jesus says, ‘Since I have made well that which is most harmful, it is my will that you also know that I shall make well all that is less.’ (ch. 29)

T.S. Eliot quoted Julian in his Quartets: Sin is necessary, Jesus tells Julian. But in spite of sin, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” (ch. 27).

Chapter 5. Protestant and Catholic Reform (1500-1600 A.D.)

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

God’s righteousness is a free gift, not a human achievement … we are set free from the law of penances, pilgrimages and monasteries in order to love our neighbor in the ordinary deeds of daily life.

Luther did not want to leave the Roman Catholic church and heritage, only reform it.  He decided to keep most of the mass, vestments, calendar and architecture of the church.

But he introduced the vernacular Bible (which he translated and which was printed in some quantity on the new Gutenberg press), hymn singing, reform of Confession.  He oversaw the end of celibacy, worship of relics and pilgrimages for merit.

Like Augustine, Luther focused on sin, forgiveness and the cross, with little attention to healing, transformation or resurrection.  His low expectation for change in the Christian life has led to large numbers of “lukewarm” Lutherans.  He believed love of self was opposite to love of God and neighbor, rather than complementary.

Most important is his emphasis on grace and freedom in Christ.

Johann Arndt (1555-1621)He became the “prince” of Orthodox Lutheran theologians.  4 volumes of True Christianity were a wake-up call to Lutherans, promoting genuine spiritual renewal through daily rebirth.  With his younger friend Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), he laid the foundations for Lutheran Pietism of the late 1600’s.

Jacob Boehme (1575-1624)

Lutheran influence on mystical writers and seekers down to the present day.  At the time his writings were condemned as unorthodox.

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

Contemporary of Luther in Switzerland

Began the Reformed branch of Protestantism, went much further than Luther in rejecting Catholic tradition.  Both believed in sola scriptura, Scripture only, but Zwingli placed no emphasis on liturgy or sacraments (no lectionary, vestments, musical instruments, visual art in church.  Eucharist only 4 times a year.

Outward discipleship is “of the world” and distraction from more important inward discipleship.

Bible-based rationalism, to overcome human ignorance, influenced many, including the Puritans of New England.  More radical than Calvin’s strand of reform.

John Calvin (1509-64)

Justification is gift of God to the ones who are chosen.  Be secure in the comfort of knowing your relationship with God is secure.  God has made his choices already in the final judgment.

Humans are joined with Christ in baptism and grow in that union throughout life.  “Mystical union” does not come through 3 stages but is given to all Christians by faith.

Calvin emphasized sanctification more than Luther and placed more emphasis on the spiritual disciplines, while Luther valued his freedom from those practices.

Calvin focused on community as well as individual, discussed God as both Father and as Mother of Christians.  This original emphasis on community has kept alive better than in some other denominations the concept of public responsibility for Christians.

Menno Simons (1496?-1561)

Founder of the Mennonites, one of many Anabaptist (re-baptizer) groups at that time.  Baptism of believers by immersion.  Political, social and economic teachings often threatened governments.

Amish were the Mennonites who took the church discipline most seriously.

Expectation of personal discipleship, separation from fashions of the world, strict moral code enforced by close community, pacifism, simple life-style and direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Thomas Cramer and the Anglicans

first author of  a Book of Common Prayer in 1549 (re-worked many times since).  Anglican church (Church of England) eventually incorporated both Catholic and Protestant and became a bridge between Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions.

Thus Anglicans (Episcopals in US) want to include as many views as possible within their communion, agree not be exclusive about theology or ethics, but be united in one form of worship.  Worship (the Book of Common Prayer) is the basis of their unity.

A common liturgy, praying the Psalms, much devotional poetry: George Herbert (1593-1633) and John Donne (1571-1631).  Other authors Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), William Law and John Keble.

Three strands of early Anglicanism in 1700 and 1800’s: 1) liberal, or broad church emphasizing role of human intellect, 2) evangelical or low church emphasizing teachings of Protestant reformers, preaching and living singing and 3) catholic or high church emphasizing role of bishops and sacraments, early church fathers and continuity with Roman Catholicism.

Council of Trent (1545-1563)

Catholic “reformation” was mostly defensive but led to improvements in education for priests, outlawing abuses by bishops.  Rejection of Protestantism (and vice-versa) continued for 400 years, until Vatican II (1962-1965).

Ignatius of Loyola (1491?-1556)

Founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), now the largest single Catholic order in the world

Wrote Spiritual Exercises, actually a manual for a retreat director.  It directs the retreatant to spend 30 days (4 “weeks”), with daily meetings with a spiritual director, 4 to 5 hour of daily prayer, participate in the mass, and kept silence.

Paradoxical feature is their appeal to the emotions to accomplish purpose while remaining very rational.  Use imagination to reconstruct biblical scenes, in which the retreatants participate and feels the motion of their hearts.  Much individual freedom within a clear and fixed pathway.

Daily examen (examination of conscience) is important discipline in the Exercises.

Jesuits did not always live in community, but often alone, in order to work in the world.

Only book Ignatius recommends in the Exercises besides the Bible is The Imitation of Christ.

Jesuit order has become known for the highest standards of scholarship.

Spiritual direction became a Jesuit specialty, growing out of the emphasis on retreats.

Ideal of travel for service led to much missionary work: e.g. Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) in China and Roberto de Nobili (1577-1656) in India.

After Ignatius’s death, Jesuits became more political and even became spies.  The order was suppressed in 1774 but re-established in 1814 without the political intrigue.

Mother Teresa of Jesus (1515-1582), known as Teresa of Avila

Carmelite reformer (Carmelites were founded on Mt. Carmel in Israel in 1100’s).  New Carmelite order named “discalced” or shoeless

Founded many new houses of nuns, invited John of the Cross to assist her and protected him as best she could

Wrote The Interior Castle  and Life, which are both devotional classics which use metaphors and experiences of daily life to explain her meanings.  Much emphasis on prayer, and how to pray.  She was selected as the first female doctor of the Catholic Church.

John of the Cross (1542-1591)

Carmelite reformer, imprisoned for eight months in tiny cell, composed poetry, escaped and elected again to responsible posts in reform branch, spoke out again, stripped of all his offices, became ill and died at age of 49

Selected as a doctor of the Catholic church: main works The Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Dark Night (of the Soul), The Spiritual Canticle and The Living Flame of Love.  Prose is sometimes dense and repetitive, but his poetry escapes the bonds of earth, among the best ever written in the Spanish language:  I abandoned and forgot myself/Laying my face on my Beloved;/All things ceased; I went out from myself,/Leaving my cares/Forgotten among the lilies

Dark night metaphor is used in at least two ways: to describe the inability of the intellect to grasp God, and to describe the experience of the soul on its journey to the mountaintop, to union with God, a classic expression to the experience of lostness, confusion, drought and panic that is often part of the spiritual path.

Chapter 6. The “Modern” Era (1600-1900 A.D.)

Enlightenment thinking makes westerners secularists, separating spirituality from the “real world;” science is the arbiter of that real world.  We are still optimistic about technological progress; and we are still individualists.  But there are many who no longer think those paradigms fit their experience.

After reformation, many Protestant movements went through three periods of development: 1) a confessional period when denominations defined and defended themselves against others, 2) a Pietist period, calling for more attention to the needs and emotions of ordinary people, and 3) the rationalist period, or Enlightenment, which brought the critique of an autonomous reason to bear on both the Bible and church practice.

Rationalism reduced the role of religion to teaching universal ethical norms and so had little emphasis on personal relations to Giod or the death and resurrection of Jesus.


Puritan movement in the Church of England began in the 1500’s … Jonathan Edwards in the 1700s was “the last Puritan.”

Central idea was personal faith, conviction, and self-scrutiny.  Nothing could be accepted that was imposed from the outside.

Sabbath day replaced the Catholic church calendar.  Advent and Lent were discarded.  Christianity demanded the whole of personal and social life.

John Bunyan (1628-88) wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while in prison (for being a Puritan).  It is an allegory of Christian life, as Christian heads for the Celestial City and travels through Vanity Fair, the Slough of Despond, and the Delectable Mountains, facing all of the seven deadly sins and several others besides.


Contemporaries of Puritans, often in conflict with them.  Called themselves the Society of Friends, and still do.

George Fox (1624-9) founder of Quakers.  Worship depended on individuals to wait in silence for the inspiration of the Spirit, and to hear what others were led to say.

Reputation and witness for peace and fair dealing with all peoples.  First Christians to publicly oppose slavery.  John Woolman (1720-72) wrote Journal deriding slavery.  It is still widely read.

Spirituality is simple and wholistic: social justice ations are not separate from listening to the Spirit.


Church reform begun in Germany by Philip Jacob Spener (1635-1705) under the influence of Arndt (see earlier).  He published a program, Pia Desideria (Pious Hopes) of church reform and organized groups to accomplish it.  Called for mid-week Bible studies, lay activism, sermons that edified rather than criticized other churches, and training of pastors in pastoral care.

August Herman Francke (1663-1727), professor of theology at Halle, also founded orphanages, schools and a library.  Trained some of the first Protestant missionaries to leave Europe.

Dark side of movement was growing anti-intellectualism, tendency to feel self-righteous, legalism that made all pleasure something “worldly.”  The film Babette’s Feast affectionately shows Danish pietists overcoming their opposition to the pleasures of taste at a sumptuous banquet prepared by a French Roman Catholic.


Emerged in the 1700s in England and New England, at the same time as rationalism developed.  Evangelicalism shared many of rationalism’s assumptions, including an inquiring practical bent.

Emphasis on preaching for repentance, expectation of a changed life after conversion and room for expressions of emotion not always tolerated in earlier denominations.

Anglican branch of evangelicals represented by John Newton (1725-1807), author of “Amazing Grace,” long-time pastor after conversion as a slave-boat captain.  Early rising for prayer, Bible reading, family gathering for prayers.  Also William Wilberforce (1759-1833), whose voice led to abolition of slave trade in early 1800s. Also Henry Venn (1799-1873), general secretary of the Church Mission Society, advocating indigenous Christian churches.  Appointed the first African bishop in the Anglican Church.


John (1703-91) and Charles (1707-88) Wesley formed a group for Christian life and prison visitation while at Oxford.  Ridiculed as “Methodists” because of their daily time schedules and other strict requirements.

Wesleyan spirituality came to be known as the spirituality of the “warm heart,” referring to the inner warmth, sometimes suddenly just THERE, of God’s love, forgiveness and affirmation.

Like George Whitefield in America, John Wesley began preaching outside churches because he wasn’t welcome in them.  He preached many times daily, across the country, sometimes against drinking gin, sometimes for pursuing sanctification and Christian perfection.

The Wesleys remained members of the Church of England, but after their death followers formed a separate denomination called the Methodists, as well as smaller holiness groups like the Salvation Army and Church of the Nazarene.

French Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction

Francis de Sales (15;67-1622) wrote Introduction to the Devout Life.  Still in print.  Teaching is optimistic in tone and very serious.

Cardinal Pierre de Berulle 91575-1629), called the founder of the French school of spirituality, influenced by de Sales, Ruysbroeck, and Teresa of Avila.  Incarnation and Eucharistic presence of Christ are central.  Tends to be pessimistic about human nature and severe in ascetic practice.

Lawrence of the Resurrection, also named Nicholas Harmon (1611-91) was a lay brother in Discalced Carmelites (brought from Teresa’s Spain by de Berulle).  He worked in the kitchen of the monastery.  Before he died he was interviewed by his superior, who published the interview along with some letters found after his death as The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.

Popular piety was greatly influenced by the French focus on the “Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.”  This represented the love of Jesus and his mother for the faithful and emphasized their humanity.  The Jesuits adopted this new devotion, at the same time it seemed too emotional to many church leaders.

Quietism taught such an abandonment to God that all things became indifferent to the soul, including the soul’s own salvation and thus, ultimately, the soul’s relation to God.  Therefore the love of God paradoxically produces indifference to God.  The view was condemned.

Mme. Guyon (1468-1717) and her advisor Francois Fenelon (1651-1715) believed and taught these ideas.  Fenelon was in charge of King Louis XIV’s grandsons, and introduced Mme. Guyon to these circles.  She was criticized and spent four years in the Bastille; Fenelon was forced into obscurity.  Both wrote books that are still widely read for instruction and spiritual direction.

Jansenists condemned the Quietists and concentrated on the active working out of one’s salvation.  Their emphasis on pre-destination eventually led to their condemnation also.  Jesuits, strong defenders of free will, vigorously opposed them.

Blaise Pascal (1623-62) emerged from Jansenist background.  With Kierkegaard he is seen as founder of existential movement, although neither shares the views of 20th century existentialists.

Pascal gathered fragments of ideas for a rational defense of Christian faith, which was published after his death at 39 as Pensees.  “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55)

Lonely Danish voice, could not identify with the intellectuals (Hegel) or with the Pietists (the Lutheran folk church in Denmark).  He wrote forty books in fifteen years, attacking reigning philosophical and theological orthodoxies and setting out his own new philosophy (existentialism) as well as writing “edifying discourses” for the individual believer.

The philosophies were written pseudonymously, under a variety of names, with marvelous literary and philosophical skill.  In Either/Or he writes from the point of view of his first stage of life, the aesthetic, viewing life in terms of pain and pleasure only.  Then he continues into the moral stage, when the categories become right and wrong.  Finally he writes of a religious stage, which takes the holy as primary but includes aesthetic and moral within itself.

Kierkegaard’s stages are very different from the traditional stages of purgative, illuminative and unitive … no explicit discussion of union with God but rather trusting God without evidence, which Kierkegaard compares to floating over 50,000 fathoms of water.

His edifying discourses call on readers to ponder short passages of Scripture.  One of his most famous discourses is titled Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.

Kierkegaard scathingly wrote of grace taken for granted, what Bonhoeffer later called “cheap” grace, in a system where everyone assumed themselves to be Christian.  Kierkegaard on the other hand, said he was NOT a Christian, that this title was too high for him to claim.

Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (1749-1809) and Macarius of Corinth (1731-1805) compiled a newe collection called the Philokalia (love of beauty) in 1782 while under the rule of Muslim Turks.  It has only recently become available in English.

An anonymous writer wrote a much shorter and more available book The Way of a Pilgrim, which tells the story of a man who wants to learn to pray without ceasing.  On his travels he encounters an old man who teaches him to pray the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

This book, and its prayer, is interestingly portrayed by J. D. Salinger in his short story, “Franny.”

Chapter 7. The Twentieth Century

Restoration Movement has led Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ to attempt to free the church of denominationalism and to worship as the earliest Christians worshipped.

Holiness movement in England was immediate antecedent to Pentecostalism.


Identified Wesley’s “second blessing” with baptism in/with the Holy Spirit, the outward sign of which was speaking in tongues followed by the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12, among them prophecy and healing.

Store-front church on Asuza St in Los Angeles, 1906, saw revival led by black evangelist William Seymour (1870-1922).  This movement spread with lightning speed to several continents.  Today it is the fastest growing segment of Christianity on all continents.

In 1960s and 70s large numbers of Protestants and Catholics and some Orthodox Christians experienced the same “charismatic” gifts as the Pentecostals.  This movement had its greatest success in the Roman Catholic church, where it was blessed by Pope Paul VI after Vatican II.

As a whole the movement has not made care for the poor or advocacy for oppressed a major theme.  Thus it might have met the real thirst for American Christians for an emotional and experiential faith, but it did not challenge their social or political involvement.

These people have become a hidden part of their denominations that is longing for more instruction in spirituality than the church has given.


Luther’s associate, Philip Melanchthon, tried to reconcile Lutherans with others.

Today the Evangelical Alliance, World Missionary Foundation, Faith and Order movement, Life and Work Conferences, World Council of Churches (1948) and others focus on bringing churches together.

The community of Taizé in France is a special example of Protestant/Catholic cooperation in a monastery, worship services for thousands of young people, and world outreach.

Christians in Asia and Africa are now evangelizing, ecumenically for the most part, in Europe and the United States.

Liberation theology

Gustavo Guierrez (b. 1928) is a strong proponent.  A main work: We Drink From Our Own Wells.

Latin America gave birth to liberation theology, a theology from the perspective of the poor, from the “bottom up”.  Special marks of liberation spirituality are conversion, gratuitous grace from God, joy in suffering and martyrdom, spiritual childhood, and community as the proper context for solitude.

Challenge for North Americans is twofold: 1) Is our spirituality so individualized and psychologized that it excludes issues of justice?  And 2) are we prepared to share power with groups that have been disempowered, either within our own society or in the two-thirds world?


Archbishop Bakoe Wa Ilunga, Paths of Liberation: A Third World Spirituality (Catholic in Zaire)

Opponents of apartheid: Alan Paton, Cry the Beloved Country, Beyers Naude, John de Gruchy, Cry Justice!

Desmond Tuto (b. 1931), archibishop of Johannesburg, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Namibian Lutheran pastor Zephania Kameeta, a book of prayers Why, O Lord?

William Wade Harris (1866-1929), from Liberia, called to be a prophet while imprisoned.  From 1913 to 1915, he discarded all Western clothing when released and walked back and forth across the Ivory Coast, preaching for the people to abandon their old gods and be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  More than 100,000 people responded

Other African prophets: Garrick Braide in Nigeria, Simon Kimbangu in Zaire

African Christianity offers 1) sense of the presence of God in all things, experience of the Spirit of God for power to meet the challenges of life, 3) strong emphasis on the community, and 4) eagerness to celebrate the glory of God in music and dance.


Kosuke Koyama (1929-2009), based in Thailand, phD from Princeton, wrote Waterbuffalo Theology, Three Mile an Hour God, No Handle on the Cross, Mt. Fuli and Mt. Sinai (his theological autobiography)

A. J. Appasamy has developed a Christian spirituality in the bhakti tradition of Hinduism (this is the path of devotion, which along with knowledge and moral achievement are ways to salvation in Hinduism.

Mother Teresa, Albanian nun (1910-1997) combines a fearless confrontation with traditional customs and government authorities with a savvy ability to get things done.  She attends daily mass every day and insists her helpers do the same.

Emergence of Christian church in China

Minjun theology of Korea

Christian dialogue with Buddhism in Japan

Quests for indigenization in southern Pacific islands, such as Papua New Guinea


Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) and her influential spiritual director, Baron Fridrich von Hugel, a modernist Roman Catholic lay theologian living in England.  Wrote Mysticism (1911) and Worship (1936).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) wrote The Cost of Discipleship, rebuking the cheap grace in his native German state Lutheran church and Life Together, an instructional, devotional book about his leadership of an underground seminary at Finkenwalde during the Nazi regime.  Bonhoeffer conspired to assassinate Hitler, was imprisoned and executed a few weeks before the end of World War II.

North America

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was born in France to American mother and New Zealand father, both artists.  Mom died when he was six, Dad died when he was 15.  After a free-spirited life marked by grief, Merton came to New York at command of his maternal grandparents after getting a girl pregnant in England.  He was drawn to Catholic church, was baptized and applied for novitiate with Franciscans, who turned him down upon hearing about his past.  The Cistercians accepted him, however, and he began his life at Gethsemani Monastery in Kentucky in 1941.  He wrote his autobiography at the command of his superior and The Seven Storey Mountain became a huge bestseller.  Merton writes some analysis and history, but mostly devotional writing that is every bit as powerful as any of the mystical writings from the last 2000 years.

Merton spent many years studying Eastern religion and wrote several books bringing Eastern thought and practice together with Christian thought and practice.  On his first long trip away from Gethsemani since he came in 1941, he spoke at a conference in Bangkok and died there, electrocuted in his room by a faulty electric fan.

Merton was enthusiastic about the writings of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, and later even more about Julian of Norwich and her Revelations of Divine Love.

Native-American Christians bring traditional reverence for “all one’s relatives” (all living creatures and even all things in nature) and honored roles for women to the Christian table of spiritual life.

African-American population is overwhelmingly Christian, with a nourishing spirituality of endurance, liberation and celebration, stronger after the suffering of slavery and then discrimination.

James Cone, books on black liberation theology and spirituality

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), Letter from a Birmingham Jail and Strength to Love, taught many the value of civil disobedience.

Influence of psychology on American spirituality

We seek self-fulfillment, self-realization and mental health through our spiritualities, more than anyone else ever has.  This is both a positive “contextualizing” of the Gospel in the US, marked by a focus on healing (MacNutt, Linns, Kelsey, etc), especially inner healing and Jungian integration … and can produce a self-absorption that is blind to social justice and ecological balance.  Listening to our worldwide neighbors helps us to avoid that self-absorption.

New consciousness among women, resulting in writers who wish to remain within the Christian tradition and criticize it from within, and those who have left Christianity behind as just too patriarchal.

Dialogue between 12-step groups and Christian spirituality

AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) was founded in 1930s by Bill W. and Dr. Bob (William Wilson 1895-1971 and Robert Smith 1879-1950), who were deeply influenced by the Oxford Group, later known as Moral Rearmament.

12 steps, based on the 8 principles of the Oxford Group:

1. Admittance of powerlessness

2. Belief in a power greater than ourselves

3. Decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understand him

4. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

5. Admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs

6. Become entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character

7. Humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings

8. Make a list of all persons we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all

9. Make direct amends wherever possible, except if to do so would injure them or others

10. Continue to take personal inventory and promptly admit it if we’re wrong

11. Through prayer and meditation seek to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry it out

12. Carry this message and spiritual awakening to others, and practice these principles in all our affairs

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) his serenity prayer written in 1937 (probably): (shorter version adopted by AA)

God, grant me the grace to accept with serenity the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference, living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, and accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.  Allow me to take as you did this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it to be, trusting that you will make all things right, if I surrender to your will, that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you forever in the next.  AMEN.

Creation-centered spirituality, developed by Matthew Fox (b. 1940).

Fox is a Dominican priest forbidden to teach in 1988 by current Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger).  He was welcomed into Anglican community, where he started the University of Creation Spirituality.  He also operates a successful program for education of inner-city teenagers in Oakland, California.

He distinguishes between the creation theme and the fall/redemption theme of Christianity and judges only the first to be valid.

The fourteen themes of creation spirituality include the creative Word of god, original blessing (instead of original sin), celebration of all beings, the unknown unnamable God who is a non-God, the divinization and deification of humanity, spirituality as a spiral growth process, compassion and justice, Jesus as a reminder of what it means to be God’s child, and an affirmation of pleasure – laughter, newness and joy.  He affirms panentheism, the view that all things are in God, and realized eschatology, which he defines as eternal life beginning now.

Especially critical of Augustine, Luther and Calvin, he writes “We have often ben fed introverted, anti-artistic, anti-intellectual, apolitical, sentimental, dualistic, ascetic and in many ways masochistic spirituality parading as Christian spirituality.”

Fox especially likes Meister Eckhart, and finds creation spirituality in Benedict, Pelagius, Hildegard, Francis, Thomas, Mechtild, Julian, John of the Cross, George Fox, Rosemary Ruether, and Jon Sobrino.

But how can he separate creation and redemption so absolutely?  These are themes that belong together.  It is a central point of Christian praise and spiritual energy that God has forgiven our sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus, which Fox seems to reject.

Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster have been very helpful to the author.

Chapter 8. Where Do We Go From Here?

Root metaphors of Christian spirituality (all help give shape to experience; each needs the others.  None is adequate by itself.

Rescue, redemption or justification – rescue from sin and death, redemption from slavery as result of purchase, courtroom announcement of innocence on the basis of another’s interceding.  God takes the initiative … we remain in need of this initiative all of our lives and rely on God’s love to save, redeem, liberate and justify.  Lutheran and Reformed traditions put these metaphors in the center.

Growth, unification and healing – gradual process as model of maturing (growth).  Or we are divided as selves and Christian life is matter of being put back together again with ourselves and with God (unification).  Healing can be metaphor and reality: mystics, including Augustine, and Pentecostals use these images.  Augustine uses them as metaphor, Pentacostalists as experience.

Walking, journey, climbing, and homing – living life through time, traveling, returning home, “I am the Way,” Jesus said.  Progress is made toward God and we are able to look back over one’s path.  Problem: it seems to imply a possible accomplishment that could be a temptation to pride in one’s worthiness.

Death and resurrection – metaphors for Christian falling away and repentance, sin and forgiveness, despair and hope.  Death and resurrection of Jesus are seen as the type, or the powerful first instance of this pattern.  Luther spoke of daily baptism in these terms,  referring to Roman 6:1-11.  The Exodus story, the cycle of Israel’s departure from God and return, also fits here.

Battle – put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6) … the battle between parts of me in Romans 7, many mystical battles with evil (Antony in the desert, etc)

Thirst and hunger – suggest human need for the divine.  We are not self-sufficient, much as we would like to think we are.

Unity in diversity: can one even speak of Christianity as a single religion?  There is serious tension between, for example, the social activism of liberal theology and the quiet mysticism of Asian Christian mystics using Hindu or Buddhist methods.

What are the criteria for deciding whether a given spirituality is authentically Christian and worthy to be emulated outside its own culture?  This criteria should 1) reflect the Scriptures, 2) give a central role to Jesus as the Christ, 3) value faith, hope, and love, 4) be understandable within its culture, and 5) challenge the idols of that culture.

Can the Christian church learn from non-Christian movements and religions to enhance its own spirituality?  Has God given wisdom to other religious traditions?  How can Christians value and learn from them without diluting the integrity of their own tradition?

The focus of Christian spirituality must be Trinitarian.  Creator God, Jesus as incarnate redeemer, servant, healer and friend, the Holy Spirit as bringer of spiritual gifts and Presence.

God’s passionate love must be preserved as the basis of our spirituality against a constant tendency to make spirituality into a meritorious work.

Three blind spots are obvious in the Christian tradition: acceptance of inappropriate social norms about women that Jesus would not have approved, the exploitation of creation and neglect of justice for the poor, and the negation of a proper self-love that nourishes and has patience and forgiveness for oneself.

Our thirst for God reflects a chronic dehydration, but God is longing to give us drink.

At the end of each chapter, Dr. Holt invites his readers to practice one or two spiritual disciplines.  These are 1) silence and meditation, 2) prayer and pondering, 3) communal worship and fasting, 4) the Jesus Prayer and icons, 5) the Lord’s Prayer and the examen, 6) journaling and spiritual direction, 7) simple living and writing a letter (to a politician), and 8) volunteer service and vocation.

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