Bernard McGinn (Author),

Mysticism in the Golden Age of Spain (1500-1650)

Mysticism in the Golden Age of Spain (1500-1650) provides the single most thorough history of the influence of Spain on Christian mysticism during the Reformation. Serious church scholars and students of church history and mysticism…

  • Imprint: Crossroad
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  • Title: Mysticism in the Golden Age of Spain (1500-1650)
  • Page Count: 500
  • Available Formats: Trade-paper (9780824501723), Cloth (9780824500900)
  • Trim Size: 6 x 9
  • Publication Date: 01/11/2017
  • BISAC 2 : RELIGION / Mysticism
  • BISAC 3: RELIGION / Christianity/History
  • Original language: English
  • Retail US: Trade-paper (49.95), Cloth (74.95)
  • Retail Canada: Trade-paper (), Cloth ()
  • Retail Canada: 100,95

Bernard McGinn (Author)

Bernard McGinn is the Naomi Shenstone Donnelley Professor emeritus at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, where he taught for thirty-four years before retiring in 2003. McGinn has written extensively on the history of apocalyptic traditions, and especially on spirituality and mysticism. His major project is the multi-volume history of Western Christian mysticism under the general title of The Presence of God. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as a Fellow of the Medieval Academy. McGinn has also served as President of a number of learned societies, such as the Medieval Academy and the American Society of Church History.

  1. Over the years I have had the difficult but rewarding task of reviewing six volumes of the most authoritative, commanding, synoptic, single-authored history of the Western mystical tradition in any language. Bernard McGinn wisely divides the sixth volume of his series—which comprises both a “monastic layer” and the new vernacular mysticisms—into three fascicles: the first on mysticism in the Reformation, the second and present volume on Spain’s Golden Age of mysticism, and a soon to be published tome on the seventeenth-century French mystics. The final, seventh volume will center on crises and renewal in mysticism—especially the Quietist controversy, the Enlightenment, papal condemnations, and twentieth-century renewal. Contradicting widely held views, M. views Ignatius as a reformer of sorts, but less concerned with reforming church institutions than with transforming believers, ministering to the poor, and educating youth. However, he did boldly write that if the pope were to reform himself, his household, and the cardinals of Rome, everything else would subsequently fall into place. Also, in contradistinction to popular conceptions, M. underscores Ignatius’s profound mystical life and uses the term “apostolic mysticism” to bring together the trinitarian, christocentric, ecclesial, priestly, and other aspects of Ignatius’s mysticism. (The relative absence of the Holy Spirit in Ignatius’s writings is due perhaps to the Inquisition’s suspicions of the Alumbrados, a phenomenon M. treats with precision.) Also salient is the paradox of a milieu marked not only by an Inquisitional suspicion of interior spirituality but also by the bitter conflicts between and within the religious orders that produced many mystical geniuses. M. rightly emphasizes that Ignatius’s spiritual “tear” diary is one of the purest examples of direct reporting of mystical experiences in Christian history and that the Spiritual Exercises is one of this history’s most significant works. Although the Exercises do not say much about service to others, they are a powerful means of effecting conversion through the interiorization of the Christian life with an emphasis on discernment and finding God’s will. But Ignatius’s Constitutions do shift the focus away from one’s personal salvation to the perspective of apostolic love and service to all. I was surprised to learn that Jesuit General Edward Mercurian forbade Jesuits from teaching affective prayer and the prayer of quiet. Mercurian’s gross misunderstanding of Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises presupposed that intellectual meditation was more Ignatian. His view contributed to the popular but incorrect notion that the Jesuits opposed contemplative prayer whereas they were often mystics and guided many into the deepest levels of mystical prayer. M. focuses on Teresa of Avila as an ecstatic and also as an apostolic mystic. She developed a theology that fused contemplation and action as the distinction of the highest stage of union with God. Teresa may be unparalleled in the Christian tradition for the precision of her descriptions of the psychosomatic effects that resulted from her life of prayer. One example: she distinguished between the “spirit” aspect of her being, which was always in contact with the Trinity and Christ (the contemplative Mary), and the “soul” aspect that permitted her to undertake vigorous apostolic activity (the active Martha). Teresa understood mystical “experience” as knowing something in a vital and holistic manner, analogous to the way experienced drivers instinctively drive their cars. Although she preferred an experienced and learned confessor for herself and her nuns, lacking that, a learned one with a “certain something” would do just fine. Teresa rejected the naïve understanding of the deepest form of union as one characterized by ecstasies, raptures, delights, and other secondary mystical phenomena. It was rather in deeds done for one’s own spiritual growth and the good of others. Yet, is not Christian mysticism a charism without which the deepest love of God and neighbor is impossible? Because of her unusual vow of obedience to her friend and director Jerónimo Gracián, Teresa described their relationship as a spiritual marriage. Moreover, she was much less influenced by John of the Cross and more by Augustine on whose Confessions she modeled many of her works. She tested everything she wrote by the biblical witness and her learned theological advisers to become the first woman to write with the Inquisition in mind. Her shrewd outmaneuvering of their toxic masculinity and that of ecclesiastics and secular bureaucrats is impressive. M. rightly dismisses the view that Teresa’s illnesses, diabolical attacks, and ecstasies were the expressions of some degenerative pathology. Instead, they were the side effects of the transformation of her consciousness from the selfish ego of Dona Therese to Teresa of Jesus, the apostolic mystic. She also insisted that even in the highest stages of mystical prayer one should practice a non-discursive presence of Christ, find oneself in him, and savor the mysteries of his life through a simple gaze—analogous to Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises that teach the exercitant to render the Christian mysteries transparent. M. stresses that to understand the somewhat austere “all and nothing” mentality of John of the Cross, it is imperative to read his works in the context of the awesome descriptions of the deepening of loving union with God described in his masterpiece on mystical marriage, The Living Flame of Love—a work to be read before attempting his more intimidating work, The Ascent of Mount Carmel—The Dark Night. The hollowing- out process described in the Ascent—Night must be understood in terms of the being-filled-with-God process described in The Living Flame. John’s goal: a union with God such that a person may reach out divinely to the enjoyment of all earthly and heavenly things, with a general freedom of spirit in them all. Remarkable is the fact that John’s cruel imprisonment unlocked his creativity. Often overlooked, the nine romances, prison poems in imitation of contemporary ballads, are perhaps the best source for the doctrine that underlies his teaching. They indicate that his mysticism is rooted in the fundamental doctrines of Trinity, creation, Incarnation, and theological anthropology. M. underscores that it is unnecessary to choose between John the poet and John the commentator because his poetry and commentary are two sides of the same coin. Still, they remain secondary, fallible instruments for the inexpressible communication of love. I agree with M. that John held a Scotistic view of the Incarnation, namely, that the Father intended the Son’s incarnation as the goal and purpose of his creative love and not because of sin. Since creation is beautiful when seen from God’s perspective, its true beauty and meaning can be appreciated only by those who have rejected the beauty of creatures taken in themselves. M. correctly contends that John’s mystical life was the confirmation of what was taught by Scripture and the church and not exotic experience. M. likewise maintains that it is incorrect to accuse him (or any genuine Christian mystic) of basically altering the relation between experience and doctrine, or being primarily concerned with some form of mystical experimentation. Rather than causing sweetness and delight, God’s loving inflow into the soul— which John calls both “infused contemplation” and “mystical theology”—instead produces pain and suffering only because of the soul’s weakness and sinfulness. When the mystic has attained psychosomatic integration, his soul is like a perfectly clean window through which light passes, making it seem as if the light and the window are one. John also wrote that the soul no longer wants a vision of God’s back, which Moses saw, but desires the vision of his face, the essential communication of the divinity to the spark of the soul. This transforming union between the two natures and the communication of the divine to the human is such that even though neither change their being, both appear to be God. John teaches that once persons arrive at perfect union with God they should not become involved in exterior works that might be of the slightest hindrance to the attentiveness of love for God, even though the work be of great service to God. In short, John clearly views bridal sleep, contemplative love, as an apostolic activity. I concur with M. that John seems to teach that grace must cancel or, perhaps better said, suspend nature if it is to have the ability eventually to restore the harmony of the human person. Some kind of annihilation of the current state of the created soul is the only way to guarantee its restoration through the grace of spiritual marriage. I prefer to employ Rahner’s theory of sublation because human nature as obediential potency is open to even the Word becoming flesh and taking human nature to its highest level. I appreciate M.’s rejection of any form of reductionism in studying the mystics. For example, although he stresses that in every respect the dark night is an objective theological category, it nonetheless has an effect in the subject’s consciousness and is therefore open to psychological investigation. Thus, while both depression and the dark night are similar experiences of loss of identity, from the standpoint of prognosis they differ. M. highlights Tomás de Jesus’s definition of “Christian contemplation as a simple gaze at truth that proceeds from love and charity” (374) and views him as the first to define “acquired contemplation.” He explained it as a sincere and loving knowledge of the triune God and his effects gained by our own efforts and thus open to all Christians. Thus, Tomás is a representative of the new science of mysticism. The fascinating Augustinian mystic Luis de León emphasized the role of both earthly and heavenly music in lifting the soul to God. His strongly somatic view of union and his cosmic mystical poems earn him a well-deserved place in the pantheon of great mystics. The “loving anxiousness” of the Portuguese mystic Joana de Jesus deserves mentioning both because of her creative approach to “recollection” and her emphasis on “loving anxiousness.” When meditating on the passion, her christocentric love resulted in a constricting anxiousness and a disquieting, desirous yearning so excessive that she felt herself dying. The term recollection (recogimiento) is central to the understanding of sixteenthcentury Spanish mysticism. It is a physical withdrawal of the individual to a quiet and secret place, but at the same time is both a gathering within of the powers of the soul and a contemplation of God in the profoundest and most intimate part of the soul. Interior affective prayer “thinks nothing” (ne pensar nada) but requires labor and technique— a form of recollection in which the soul enters into itself (“the secret place”) and rests in God’s presence, which affectively and effectively raises soul above all that is not God. Nothing must be admitted other than the soul’s essential substance, so that it alone may occupy itself in pure, naked, and unitive love. Yet Francisco de Osuna and others distanced themselves from “abandonment” (dejamiento), a proto-quietism with similarities to recogimiento. I have long disputed with some scholars that one must distinguish between a mystic and a visionary. Given the political, didactic, and localized message that visionaries receive from their apparitions—as well as their lack of interest in personal and social transformation—such people are not mystics. Of course, there were many mystics who had transformative visions. M.’s synthetic-analytic prowess in delineating mystics in their historical context accounts for his volumes being definitive. If a manuscript dealing with the Western mystical tradition that I am requested to evaluate contains no evidence of M.’s work, I rarely suggest that it be published. Finally, without denying the fecundity of others in the Christian mystical tradition, I can easily understand why Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross are often held to be the mystical teachers against whom all others are to be measured.
    --Harvey D. Egan, SJ Boston College

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