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    “See to it no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

    « Violent Mystics? Personal Violence: Part 2 of 4 | My Battle with Depression »

    Violent Mystics? Part 1 of 4

    "Mysticism, viewed from a general perspective, is a reaction against the shallowness of a decadent civilization. It usually culminates when religion is at its lowest, and thus appears superior by comparison. People with an intense desire for spirituality, when civilization appears on the verge of collapse, are attracted toward a philosophy of escape and are repelled by the seeming flaws of the established religion.

    Whereas prophetic religion affirms personality, mysticism denies it. The former believes in life, values history and tries to realize ideals and goals. The latter, however, escapes from the world, rejects the natural life and disregards history."


    This is by no means an exhaustive study. Neither is it a critique or judgment against the people mentioned in this article. These are merely trends and observations I have made during my cursory research concerning Catholic mystics. 


    When I read about the lives of religious saints and those who choose to emulate them (followers, disciples, etc.), a picture was painted of sacrificial, devoted people, consumed by the desire to serve their God/god. Mysticism played heavily into the picture as these religious leaders were supposed to have a very special connection with their God/god. In fact, mysticism is so entwined in the life of a Saint, it would be safe to say they wouldn't be a Saint without mystic experiences.


    A few years ago I read a book called, "The Book of Margery Kempe" which started me down the road of studying the lives and writings of Catholic Saints, as well as the lives and writings of other religious leaders such as Siddhartha Gautama (Buddhism).


    For the purposes of this article, I will only write about the Catholic Saints, but someday I might expand it to include other religions. Mystics (regardless of religion) share a common bond in practices.


    Being sick in bed last weekend, I ended up watching many documentaries on the Inquisition and witchcraft hunts of the Middle Ages. It occurred to me after watching these films, that many mystics were violent. They might write about spiritual violence, be violent to themselves, or incite violence against other people groups. I know this might sound shocking, but bear with me.


    *The writings of these mystics/Saints have been carefully preserved, and you may read some of them for yourself at Sacred Texts. Many church libraries (even Protestant ones) are also beginning to carry them. This website may have all of them: http://www.ccel.org/index/author


    Many mystic writings are quite violent on a spiritual and physical level, begging God to allow them to suffer from illness and pain (http://mariannedorman.homestead.com/JulianofNorwich.html).


    Some even ask for or describe experiences which sound very much like spiritual rape. The writers describe a desire to be on fire, drowned, or consumed in Christ's love (See: God is NOT Like the Ocean Part 1 and Part 2)


    The poem, "Batter My Heart", Holy Sonnet 10 by mystic John Donne, is full of violent imagery (perhaps not so surprising based on the title). In the last line of the poem, Donne asks to be raped by God,


    "Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you

    As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

    That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend

    Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

    I, like an usurp'd town to another due,

    Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;

    Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

    But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.

    Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,

    But am betroth'd unto your enemy;

    Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,

    Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

    Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

    Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me." (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173362)


    St. Theresa of Avila describes in her writings, "Interior Castle", being pinned down by an angel, and having her heart pierced with a golden lance over and over, causing her extreme pain,


    "I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it..." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teresa_of_%C3%81vila)


    That description is highly evocative of a sexual act. There is even a famous statue called, "The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa" by Bernini which...well, draw your own conclusions.




    "Within courtly literature, Hadewijch [a Dutch mystic from the 13th Century] writes a lot of love poetry," said Miller, "and it's always a very combative relationship between God and the soul. She uses images of violence, combat, war, destruction and annihilation -- but it is always very exciting and erotic at the same time, because it is a love relationship.

    Teresa of Avila's writings exhibit this same eroticism, she said. "There is violence within this relationship to God -- a violence that gives Teresa pain not only in her soul, but also physically in her body. She attempts to resist oftentimes, but ultimately she says, well, you can't fight against God, might as well just accept it because it's going to happen anyway." (http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Theologian+links+mystics,+rape.-a078728668) (My emphasis added)


    I will answer "why" the mystics felt they needed this violence in the next part. For now, I want to look at what the Bible says.


    Nowhere in the New Testament does God or Jesus describe His relationship to Christians/believers as violent. Violence was done to Jesus who took our place,

    "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5)


    “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)


    because our own suffering and good deeds would never come close to being enough the needed sacrifice to pay for our sins against a just God,

    "Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself." (Hebrews 9:26)


    "For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul." (Leviticus 17:11)


    "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21)


    Instead, Jesus describes Christians as His friends,

    "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15).


    Paul says Christians are children of God,  

    "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12)


    "For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." (Romans 8:14-17)


    Peter tells us we are special to God,

    "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (1 Peter 2:9).


    "But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him." (1 Thess. 5:8-10)


    Even in the Old Testament, Abraham was called "God's friend" (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23), and God intervened for Lot and his family (Genesis 18-19) , Noah and his family (Genesis 6-9), Daniel (Book of Daniel), David (Books of Samuel, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles), and a host of other righteous people to get them out of violent situations.


    Any scenes of rape in the Bible are definitely NOT highlighted as good, holy, or spiritual. They always have negative consequences (see: Genesis 34, 2 Samuel 13:1-22, and Deuteronomy 22, Galatians 5:19-21, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).


    Many of these writings were born from visions and dreams of Jesus, angels, or the Virgin Mary. The Bible exhorts (tells, commands, not suggests) us to test all things,  

    "Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good" (1 Thess. 5:20-21).  


    "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1)


    (See also: Seeking God's Power, Pragmatism, Christians on Fire?, Never Enough)





    Other Resources:

    On Contemplative Prayer

    Colossians: Human Nature in 3 Easy Chapters

    Set Apart










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    Reader Comments (2)

    ...Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." (Romans 8:14-17)

    Couldn't this be viewed as the need to suffer in order to fully share in His glory?

    May 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterR.L.

    You are the second person to have asked me a similar question. A few verses are addressed in part 2 and I am considering a follow-up post to address other similar verses. Stay tuned!

    May 12, 2013 | Registered CommenterA Christian

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