Part 4: Mystics Old and New: Love, Power, and the Glory
For all their pious words and actions, for all the physical good they have done for others, what the mystics really wanted was to be God (See: Seeking God's Power? and Never Enough). They wanted His power, His love, His pain, His perfection (sinless nature), and His glory for themselves.
As established in Parts 1 and 2, Christian mystics nearly always asked God for suffering, trials, illness, or pain. If they didn't directly ask, they gloried in the sufferings that naturally come to all people in life. They did this because they believed pain/suffering would purify a soul and make it holy.
The mystics sought pain and suffering, or at least found meaning in pain and suffering, in their belief that it was pleasing to God; a sacrifice for Him. They believed that patience and long-suffering through such trials purified an individual to make them more disciplined, pleasing, and holy for God.
What they thought they attained through suffering was the co-redemption of sins with Christ. In other words, they believed their sufferings (like Christ's) helped achieve salvation for others. (see Part 2)
The mystics performed good works by helping the poor like Jesus did out of love for God, but they ultimately believed they were achieving or helping achieve salvation/redemption for others. This was the same to them as winning souls to Christ, for Christ, with their version of love as the motive.
They wrote they had reached the pinnacles of love through their self-sacrifice and God's grace in order to feel and do such compassionate works,
"Therefore, in the third degree [of love] the soul is glorified; in the fourth she is humbled for God's sake...and though in the third she is in a way almost in the likeness of God, nevertheless in the fourth she starts to empty herself, taking the form of a servant...
He that is in the fourth degree can truly say: 'I live yet not I, Christ liveth in me' He who ascends to this degree of charity is truly in the state of love that can say: 'I am made all things to all men that I might save all'... (Richard of St. Victor, 76, Harvey) (See: 1 Corinthians 9:22)
Contrast this to the Bible, which does not describe "ecstasies", four levels of love, or describe good works as the pinnacle of Christian living. The mystics put great emphasis on works of compassion (good deeds), and this is noble and Biblical. But they seem to forget that Jesus did not come to just do good works (see: Idolatry of Charity).
He did not come to start a revolution, He did not come to establish social justice. He came to set the record straight, as it were, teaching, preaching, and chastising the Pharisees for adding to and subtracting from God's Law (the Old Testament). Most of all He came to fulfill that law, culminating in His death and most importantly, His resurrection.
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matt. 5:17)
"Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours...Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now." (St. Theresa of Avila, 183, Harvey)
This statement is almost 100% true. God does use Christians to show His love to the world, but God is not reliant on people. His power (thankfully) does not rest solely with people. He can move, create, destroy, and reveal without the help of anyone.
One thing that left me scratching my head was why the mystics were found of equating God's perfect love with sex? Part 2 highlights a lot more of this mindset, as well as the "Brides of Christ" resource, but here is another example,
"All lovemaking (as distinct from 'having sex') is Christ meeting Christ. Love beds are altars. People are temples encountering temples, the holy of holies receiving the holy of holies. Wings of cherubim and seraphim beat to the groans and passions of human lovers, for the cosmic powers are there eager to enhance the celebration." (Matthew Fox, 178-179, Harvey)
Understanding occultic, New Age, and Tantric concepts of magical sex helps put this into perspective, but these descriptions have nothing to do with the Bible. (See: All About Love and You and On Lust, Obsession and Self-Sacrifice)
Because of their asceticism and alleged perfection, mystics were (and still are) believed to perform healings, miracles, and special prayers to further reveal God's (and their) perfect love and salvation for others.
Many of these have already been addressed in Part 1, but a few miracles include: stigmata, healings, a Saint's body not decomposing after death (incorruptibility), mystical knowledge, subsisting on just the Eucharist, levitation, speaking in tongues, ecstasies (http://www.miraclesofthesaints.com/). (See: On Spiritual Manifestations)
But mystics wanted more. They wanted to be God, to even give God birth, to have power equal to God's,
"God gives birth to the Son as you, as me, as each one of us. As many beings--as many gods in God. In my soul, God not only gives birth to me as his son, he gives birth to me as himself, and himself as me...I have won back what has always been mine. Here, in my own soul, the greatest of all miracles has taken place--God has returned to God!" (Meister Eckhart, 92, Harvey)
"It was a waking dream--that he became pregnant with Nothing like a woman with child, and in that Nothing God was born; he was the fruit of nothing. God was born in the Nothing..." (Meister Eckhart, 95, Harvey)
"You have gifted me with power from yourself, eternal Father, and my understanding with your wisdom--such wisdom as is proper to your only-begotten Son." (St. Catherine of Sienna, 121, Harvey)
If you think you have pain equal to God's, perfection equal to God's, love equal to God's, and power equal to God's, it follows you deserve glory equal to God's.
It is an established historical fact that mystics were and still are glorified. A great many of them have become designated Saints post-mortem, and during their lifetimes most were sought out for counsel, healings, prayer, and teaching.
Their every word was hung upon as if it were gospel, and indeed many Catholic teachings come not from Scripture, but from the teachings of the mystics. Mystics have achieved an immortality of legacy, lasting to this day as Saint cults. Body parts, clothing, and personal items are still revered relics of Saints and mystics, as believers imbue them with miraculous powers.
"Then Father Seraphim took me firmly by the shoulders and said: 'We are both in the Spirit of God now, my son. Why don't you look at me?' I replied: 'I cannot look, Batiushka, because your eyes are flashing like lightening.
Your face has become brighter than the sun, and my eyes ache with pain.' Father Seraphim said: 'Don't be alarmed, Your Godliness! Now you yourself have become as bright as I am. You are now in the fullness of the Spirit of God yourself; otherwise you would not be able to see me as I am.' (N.A. Motovilov, 155-156, Harvey)
This is exactly how Jesus is described in His full glory in both Daniel and Revelation,
"His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude...So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless." (Daniel 10:6, 8)
"I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead." (Revelation 1:12-17)
It is almost comical, if it weren't so sad, that the priest has to comfort "God" Motovilov by saying, "Don't be alarmed", and it is interesting to note that those who saw Jesus in this form "fell at His feet as though dead".
If the mystics were really interested in God's glory instead of their own, why did they write/dictate oodles of pages detailing all the great stuff they did for God or how enlightened they were to have ecstasies (a kind of possession)?
"God is the Light of Light, my savior is the sun, the Virgin is the moon, and I am their secret joy. Know that God becomes a child, lies in the virgin's womb so I can grow like him, and gather me to the Godhead...I must be the Virgin and give birth to God..." (Angelus Silesius, 138-139, Harvey)
I cannot emphasize enough that these mystics tried to be Jesus. They wanted to (try) share His pain in order to gain His perfection, and reveal His (their) love for the world. They craved His power and eventually attained His immortal glory in this life. (See: Prayers to and for the Dead)
"In the great Christian mystics...we can read the words of those who...staked their lives not merely on following some version of Christ's teaching but on the same almost intolerable pressures, vicissitudes, and passions as he had so as to be "Christed" with him. For them, Christ was more than a teacher or sage or even Divine image; he was the pioneer of a wholly new kind of human being." (xxviii, Harvey)
Herein lies the problem. This is a different gospel than the one Jesus preached. It isn't unusual for people to want to be God. That is Original Sin. But Jesus came exactly because people cannot be God. We cannot reach God on our own.
Jesus did not come to teach us how to be united to God, He came to reconcile us and God. He came to pay the penalty, not through His suffering, but because He remained sinless throughout His life. No other human can do that. Jesus was not merely human, but also divine. No other human can pay the penalty of another's sins. This is the essence of the Gospels.
"As it is written: 'There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.'” (Romans 3:10-12)
"All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." (Isaiah 64:6)
"This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:22-26)
Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes (Romans 10:4).
Righteousness comes through faith in Christ. Not self-sacrifice, though that is part of the Christian walk; not love for others, though that is part of the Christian walk; Not in being unified with God, though we should be like-minded. There are no levels or degrees in Christianity (see: Elitism).
If suffering could redeem a person, then what about Job? He suffered more than possibly any other Biblical person, and yet God tells Job that he is not God, nor is Job on his way to becoming God,
"Do you have an arm like God's, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at every proud man and bring him low, look at every proud man and humble him, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you." (Job 40:9-14)
If suffering can redeem a person and make them more perfect or holy, why did Paul respond in horror when the people of Lystra bowed before him, thinking him a deity?
"In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them." (Acts 14:8-15)
Note too, that Paul's emphasis was not on healing the man, but bringing Good news.
Andrew Harvey, editor of "Teachings of the Christian Mystics" is a proud Hindu-Christian mystic who advocates ecumenism and Sacred Activism among other things (http://www.andrewharvey.net/biography.php).
He writes in "Teachings",
"Unless humankind discovers this fire [of Divine love], and uses it to burn away everything that blocks the changes that must comes in order to transform the planet into the mirror of divine beauty it is meant to be, it will die out and take most of nature with it" (xxii, Harvey)
"At the core of Christ's enterprise is an experience of this fire and the revolutionary passion of charity that blazes from it. This passion, as Christ knew and lived it, cannot rest until it has burnt down all the divisions that separate one human heart from another and so from reality...no dogma, however hallowed, that keeps oppression of any kind alive can withstand the onslaught of its flame" (xxii, Harvey)
What is more frightening than an excited mystic like Harvey, are the same words coming from the Christian front. "Radical" (David Platt), "The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical" (Shane Claiborne), "Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption" (Katie Davis), "One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are" (Ann Voskamp), etc.
(consequently, the two instances in Scripture in which God appears as fire-Moses and burning bush and Pentecost-the miracle was that God did NOT consume the righteous. But Hebrews 12:29 which references Deut. 4:24 says God is a consuming fire to the unrighteous. See: http://www.gotquestions.org/consuming-fire.html)
While Harvey is no Christian, and his words hearken back to the burnings of "heretics" in medieval times (see Part 3), at least he is honest enough to admit these concepts are not found in Scripture, something Christian authors who write similar words do not admit.
Henri Nouwen, Annie Dillard, Brennan Manning, Donald S. Whitney, Sarah Ban Breathnach, Richard Foster, nearly anything from NavPress, Eugene Peterson, and Dallas Willard are just a few modern Christian mystics. Those Christian authors are also promoting (having read themselves) the works of ancient Catholic mystics (see Violent Mystics? Part 1 and 3).
Don't be taken by the emotive language in these books (see: "Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus" Critique). Harvey writes with enthusiasm, but fails to prove his points. He clearly believes what he writes, but never tells readers why. On the very first page of the Introduction of "Teachings of the Christian Mystics", Harvey makes grand claims (as do the Christian authors) that without these mystical experiences,
"the spiritual life of the West will continue to be a superficial, narcissistic, and sometimes lethal mixture of a watered-down or fanatical pseudo-Christianity, hardly understood "eastern" metaphysics, and regressive occultism-and the great radical potential of such a renaissance will go unlived and unenacted, with disastrous consequences of every human being and for all of nature" (xxi, Harvey).
Talk about manipulation. According to Harvey, if people don't start practicing mysticism, they will (continue) to be selfish and shallow, and all of humanity and nature will be destroyed. It is laughable that Harvey accuses non-mystics of being narcissistic when their own writings reveal just how special mystics think they are, to the point of being God!
I'm not even sure what he means by "fanatical pseudo-Christianity" when the man purports to only believe in the Jesus described in the apocryphal book, The Gospel of Thomas. Not sure what he means by "regressive occultism" either, or why he thinks most people practice it.
Whatever he means, I'm curious who made him judge of the earth to determine that people really are as selfish and shallow as he claims? Or what divine knowledge he has that the world is on it's way out. But there we have it, again. Mystics want to be God, as Harvey unabashedly points out.
Mystics have always wanted both the divine and the "uninitiated" to see them suffer, to believe in their purity, goodness, and irrepressible love, and to acknowledge them as wise, powerful, even holy. Some may still kneel to pray to Saints, but not every knee will bow to them at the end of all things,
"Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:9-11)
"Teachings of the Christian Mystics" by Andrew Harvey, 1998, Shambhala Boston & London.
"Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages" by Ursula King, 2001, HiddenSpring.