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Mysticism and Experience

  • Grace M. Jantzen (a1)

Extract

The definition of mysticism has shifted, in modern thinking, from a patristic emphasis on the objective content of experience to the modern emphasis on the subjective psychological states or feelings of the individual. Post Kantian Idealism and Romanticism was involved in this shift to a far larger extent than is usually recognized. An important conductor of the subjectivist view of mysticism to modern philosophers of religion was William James, even though in other respects he repudiated Romantic and especially Idealist categories of thought. In this article I wish first to explore William James' understanding of mysticism and religious experience, and then to measure that understanding against the accounts of two actual mystics, Bernard of Clairvaux and Julian of Norwich, who, for all their differences, may be taken as paradigms of the Christian mystical tradition. I shall argue that judging from these two cases, James' position is misguided and inadequate. Since James' account has been of enormous influence in subsequent thinking about mysticism, it follows that if his understanding of mysticism is inadequate, so is much of the work that rests upon it.

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page 295 note 1 See for example O'Hear, Anthony, Experience, Explanation and Faith (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), ch. 2; and Mackie, J. L., The Miracle of Theism (Oxford University Press, 1982), ch. 10, to name only two.

page 296 note 1 Cf. Earle, William James, ‘James, William’, in Edwards, Paul (ed)., The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (London and New York: Macmillan, 1967), vol. IV, pp. 240–9.

page 296 note 2 Cf. Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (New York and London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1907), pp. 231–2.

page 296 note 3 Principles of Psychology (New York, 1890), vol. 1, p. 145.

page 296 note 4 Pragmatism, pp. 9–12; cf.A Pluralistic Universe (New York and London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1909), Lecture 1.

page 296 note 5 Principles of Psychology, vol. 1, p. 162; cf. Bird, Graham, William James (London and New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1886), p. 176.

page 296 note 6 Pragmatism, p. 109.

page 297 note 1 See James', William ‘Introduction’ in his (ed.), The Literary Remains of the Late Henry James (Boston, 1885).

page 297 note 2 Perry, Ralph Barton, The Thought and Character of William James, 2 vols. (London and Boston: Oxford University Press, 1935), vol. 1, p. 140.

page 297 note 3 Cf. A Pluralistic Universe, Lecture III; Essays in Radical Empiricism (London and New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1912), pp. 276–7, etc.

page 298 note 1 Pragmatism, pp. 151–5.

page 299 note 1 The Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 391.

page 299 note 2 Ibid. p. 367.

page 299 note 3 Ibid. pp. 367–8.

page 300 note 1 For a recent treatment of this, see Lash, Nicholas, Easter in Ordinary: Reflections on Human Experience and the Knowledge of God (London: SCM, 1988), pp. 18104.

page 300 note 2 Ibid. p. 50.

page 301 note 1 Ibid. p. 85.

page 301 note 2 Ibid. p. 96.

page 301 note 3 Ibid. p. 117.

page 301 note 4 Ibid. p. 13.

page 301 note 5 Ibid. p. 37.

page 301 note 6 Ibid. p. 62.

page 301 note 7 Ibid. p. 67.

page 302 note 1 Another famous example of this approach is Huxley, Aldous, The Doors of Perception (London: Chatto and Windus, 1954).

page 303 note 1 Gilson, Etienne, The Mystical Theology of St Bernard, ch. 3.

page 303 note 2 Gilson, , p. 24.

page 303 note 3 Bernard, , On Loving God, ch. 1.

page 303 note 4 Ibid. x. 27.

page 303 note 5 Sermons on the Song of Songs, 3. 1.1.

page 304 note 1 37.2; cf. Leclercq, Jean, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, ch. 7.

page 304 note 2 Gilson, ch. 4.

page 304 note 3 Sermons on the Song of Songs, 31–33, etc.

page 304 note 4 Ibid. 33. IV. 6.

page 304 note 5 Ibid. 31. II. 4.

page 304 note 6 Ibid.

page 304 note 7 Ibid. 31. III. 6.

page 305 note 1 Ibid. 31. III. 7.

page 305 note 2 Ibid. 32. I. 2.

page 306 note 1 Gilson, , p. 94; cf. Sermons on the Song of Songs, 3. I. 1.

page 306 note 2 Gilson, , p. 93.

page 306 note 3 Matt. 5.8.

page 306 note 4 Sermons on the Song of Songs, I. I. 2.

page 307 note 1 Cf. Origen, , The Prologue to the Commentary on the Song of Songs (New York: Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press and London: SPCK, 1979), pp. 231236; see also the Introduction by Greer, Rowan A., pp. 1728;Louth, Andrew, The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition, ch. IV;Daniélou, Jean, Origen (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1955), pp. 293309;Trigg, Joseph Wilson, Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third Century Church (Atlanta, Georgia: John Knox Press, 1983), pp. 201–5.

page 308 note 1 Julian of Norwich, Showings, p. 129.

page 309 note 1 Ibid. p. 136.

page 309 note 2 Ibid. p. 131.

page 309 note 3 Ibid. p. 193.

page 309 note 4 Ibid. p. 130.

page 309 note 5 Ibid. pp. 130–5.

page 310 note 1 Ibid. p. 133, p. 190.

page 310 note 2 Ibid. p. 178.

page 310 note 3 Ibid. p. 178.

page 310 note 4 For a further explanation of these prayers in their context see my Julian of Norwich, Mystic and Theologian (London:SPCK, 1987), ch. 4.

page 311 note 1 Ibid. p. 180.

page 311 note 2 Ibid. p. 181.

page 311 note 3 Julian of Norwich, ch. 5.

page 311 note 4 Ibid. p. 135; cf. Tugwell, Simon, ‘Julian of Norwich’, in his Ways of Imperfection (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1984).

page 311 note 5 Ibid. p. 135.

page 311 note 6 Ibid. p. 191.

page 312 note 1 Cf. my Julian of Norwich, ch. 2.

page 312 note 2 Julia Gatta is importantly correct in her presentation of Julian's writing as intended for the spiritual direction of her readers, not merely as autobiography. See her Three Spiritual Directors for our Time (Cambridge, MA.: Cowley Publications, 1987).

page 313 note 1 Ibid. p. 342.

Mysticism and Experience

  • Grace M. Jantzen (a1)

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