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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? Violence Against Others: Part 3 of 4 | Violent Mystics? Part 1 of 4 »

    Violent Mystics? Personal Violence: Part 2 of 4

    Part 2: Personal Violence

    Please see the bottom of this article for cited sources.


    Disclaimer: These articles are not intended to bash, demean, or criticize the lives or actions of those featured in these articles. These articles are for educational purposes and the author hopes they have remained as objective as possible.

    Some basic beliefs and practices set mystics apart from other followers of any particular religion. The main goal was/is to be united as one being with the god of that religion. In order to do that, one must present a worthy self-sacrifice, made pure through personal suffering. Suffering is seen as a gift from God.

    "Like all gifts, it depends on how we receive it [suffering]. And that is why we need a pure heart to see the hand of God, to feel the hand of God, to recognize the gift of God in our suffering. He allows us to share in his suffering and to make up for the sins of the world." -Mother Theresa


    Among mystics, there is a very strong desire to be "one" with god/God/Christ (in the case of Christians). It goes beyond the Biblical mandate for Christians to align their wills and lives to Jesus' teachings, instead seeking to be a literal "bride of Christ" What the Catholic mystics wanted was to literally be united-become one literal being-with Jesus. A misinterpretation of Song of Solomon in which the lovers are claimed to be Jesus and His betrothed was commonly used as a basis for this idea, "I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine" (Song of Sol. 6:3)

    A great resource which utilizes the writings of the mystics and the concept of  "Brides of Christ" is the dissertation, "Marrying Jesus: Brides and the Bridegroom in Medieval Women's Religious Literature".


    Catholic mystics strongly believed that suffering purified one's soul. Even the more recently canonized Saint Mother Theresa was famous (or infamous) for denying pain medication to the sick and dying, believing she did them a favor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_Teresa).


    It is no secret that a great many mystics employed ascetic methods in an effort to discipline their body, mind, and soul. Aside from the fact these extreme methods are not prescribed in the Bible, they center around doing violence to one's self. Self-flagellation, the act of whipping oneself, and self-mutilation was employed by Maria Maddalena and too many others to name (http://www.badnewsaboutchristianity.com/gfj_sadomasochism.htm).

    I highly recommend this source, but it comes with a warning. The images and descriptions nearly all come from classical art, biographies, and quotes from the writings of Catholic mystics, but they are graphic. The mystics/Saints are about half-way down the page.


    Henry Suso, a disciple of Meister Eckhart, would purposefully under-dress in winter to suffer cold, as well as wearing garments studded with sharpened nails, and St. Hedwig also slept on bare boards, went barefoot in winter, and wore an iron girdle. Margery Kempe was "spiritually" prone to physically violent spasms and convulsions, and/or uncontrollable torrents of "divine" tears. 


    Extreme fasting was employed by Francis of Assisi to emulate Jesus, including Alexandrina da Costa who was claimed to have been sustained on just the daily Eucharist (a thumb-sized wafer and a sip of wine) for twelve years and Therese Neumann who allegedly did it for 40 years.  


    Appearances of a stigmata (the five wounds of Christ in the hands, feet, and side) appeared on St. Francis of Assisi, Gemma Galgai, and St. Catherine of Sienna among others. Julian of Norwich was an anchoress, voluntarily living in a cell and claiming she was God's (voluntarily) prisoner.


    As opposed to the title of the book, "Imitation of Christ" by Thomas a Kempis, we cannot walk the same road Jesus did. If we could, there would be no need for Him. None of the ascetic practices mentioned above are highlighted in Scripture. Paul writes about his trials in 2 Corinthians 11-12 as a comparison to the boasts and claims of false prophets plaguing Corinth. He makes it clear he is not bragging, nor did he voluntarily undergo or ask for those hardships.


    It doesn't make anyone holier or more spiritual to purposefully harm their own God-created body for Him. The New Testament describes gifts of the Holy Spirit (see: On Spiritual Manifestations, and 1 Corinthians 14),  but they do not include so-called ecstasies, levitation, or stigmata.


    "Each of Frenken's mystics was trapped within their own history of abuse and psychological disturbance...Each, because of their unique behaviors became sanctified by their contemporaries who saw their perversities as privileged expressions of divinity. Each, for their contemporaries and posterity, became the same as artists/shamans/ priests...Borderline mystics frequently engaged in flagellation/scarification/self-mutilation ---these are usually seen as self-destructive but I would suggest that they are examples of self-medication in search of divine experience.

    Margery Kempe's public falling to her knees and prolonged crying distinguished her sacredness, as did her visions of Jesus' toes -- they served to assure her "specialness" as she escaped from her husband and family through arduous spiritual journeys. The production of pain, bleeding, religious symbol scarification, self-flagellation and wearing body-injuring garments all served the mystics' purpose of achieving unity with the divine as a substitute for childhood psychic abuse, of merging with an idealized Mother and as a defense against normal sexual emotions.

    There is a highly sexualized content to this self­ medication -- self-destruction of one's body allows a redirecting of sexual feelings into a more preferred divine experience. Thus, Catherine of Siena's bleeding/puss-drinking/ecstasy-with-Jesus or Christina of Retters' vaginal burning are also sexualized self-medication....

    ...Whatever ecstasy they may have achieved was short-lived because it never addressed a resolution of childhood trauma. They were never at one with their own divinity -- they never even achieved any prolonged oneness with Jesus. Mystics' lives, self-torture and suffering were their chosen methods to minimize their childhood trauma by achieving some sense of divine unity." (http://www.primal-page.com/atlas.htm)


    I want to point out that many mystics went through prolonged times of "spiritual darkness". It is now known that Mother Theresa struggled much with this, as well as the anonymous author of "Cloud of Unknowing". For all their spiritual highs, mystics experienced a great many spiritual lows.


    Perhaps the Christian mystics based their beliefs about suffering on these Bible verses,

    "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything....Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him." (James 1:2-4 and 12)


    Or James 5:7-11,  

    "Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

    10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy."


    Context is everything. The entire, brief book of James (only 5 chapters) was written specifically to Jewish Christians who were suffering persecution (http://www.gotquestions.org/Book-of-James.html). The letter of James is believed to have been written right after the stoning of Stephan (Acts 7:54-60), which sparked a torrent of violence and abuse against Christians in that area (Acts 8:1-3).


    When James writes about patience and long-suffering during trials, sufferings, and tribulations, he was not telling Christians to ask for/invite more suffering. He was not telling Christians that the act of suffering purifies one's soul. He was reminding them to love their enemies (Matt 5:43-48). He was reminding them that this world is only temporary (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). He was reminding them that God still saw how they were being mistreated, that He did love them, and that He would judge their enemies  (Romans 12:19; Deut. 32:35).


    1 Peter also addresses suffering,

    " In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:6-9)


    A quick look at my Bible's concordance showed that the instances in which the term "suffering" and it's derivatives was used, mostly revolved around Christ's sufferings, not ours. Never did it say or infer that suffering purifies, else the animals slaughtered in the Old Testament would have been purified, and not the people of Israel.


    If suffering trials and tribulations does not purify us, what does? According to Scripture (again, I looked in my Bible's concordance) actions or obedience to God's word purifies,

    "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart." (1 Peter 1:22)


    Innocence/one's purpose/intentions of the heart may be pure, but the only thing that purifies Christians is faith in the salvation of Jesus' atoning sacrifice on the cross,

    "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption." (1 Corinthians 1:30)


    "This righteousness is given through faith in[h] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

     25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[i] 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— 26 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)


    "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God." (1 Peter 1:18-21)


    There is no Bible verse to support the notion that our personal suffering brings about redemption/salvation for others.


    Long story short, what this whole blog is all about, is that there is no other Biblical way to God. If you call yourself a Christian, a Christ-follower, you need to know that the Bible has your answers. Not mystics, not teachers, not authors, not pastors, not elders, not communities, not traditions, not institutions, not me, not this blog. Those things are tools, not the Way.

    "The Bible’s claim is that within its many books, God has revealed Himself to people. This is important and a unique feature to Christianity. No other religion believes that their god has revealed themselves for humanity.

    They all try to get “up” to God through various means (meditation, good works, rituals, etc.), while Christianity believes that God came down (and not just with Jesus. Many O.T. stories have this consistent theme such as Moses and the burning bush)."  (Does the Old Testament Still Apply?)   


    The next part of this series will look at the violence mystics did toward others and the mindset behind it.


    See also: A Gift for the One Who Has Everything


    Sources (in order of appearance):





    http://books.google.com/books?id=jyTZE5YlAW0C&pg=PA79&lpg=PA79&dq=mystics+and+self+mutilation&source=bl&ots=etbZopnpxD&sig=7dR1yx-Kj-DZRrlzBs1MsZSnHkU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=8RqHUcfAM6K1ywHB-4GYCA&ved=0CG0Q6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=mystics%20and%20self%20mutilation&f=false (pgs 79 and 81-84)





    Other Resources:

    The Myth of Mother Theresa

    Mother Theresa's Crisis of Faith

    Mystics of the Christian Tradition



    I highly recommend this source, but it comes with a warning. The images and descriptions nearly all come from classical art, biographies, and quotes from the writings of Catholic mystics, but they are graphic. The mystics/Saints are about half-way down the page.

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