This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The difficulty of the great mystics

The tradition of the mystical as developed in Origen (as a kind of mode of knowledge) and carried on through the history of the Church in the language used to describe the liturgy itself, took a strange turn in the 16th century, notably in the persons of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. What changed was not so much the use of the term within the liturgy and elsewhere, but rather the associations it carried. St. Teresa for her part was undeniably spiritually sensitive to an incredible degree, but place the text of The Interior Castle next to the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius, or even the relatively late Cloud of Unknowing, and the change is obvious. What is being described is subjective to an extreme, which is to say the exposition deals with things on the psychological and emotional level.

We should stress here that we are not trying to deny the authenticity of St. Teresa’s experiences, nor the value of her writings for those who benefit from them: however, her way of speaking emphasizes psychology almost exclusively, and this is why she spends most of her time describing her own personal experiences, both physical and emotional. This is undoubtedly a style that spoke to people and therefore met a need in the people she reached and still reaches, but it also gave a false impression of Christian mysticism by eclipsing every other possible mode of expressing the mystical way.

So thoroughly was the concept of the mysticism consolidated into the Carmelite method (and language) that it gave the impression, not only to Christians but to men like Guenon as well that this was in fact the precise and comprehensive meaning of the term. This does an injustice to the tradition of the mystical way in Christianity, since it had always constituted the primary way thereof, and susceptible to various modes of expression and development.

Yet because of this ‘narrowing of meaning,’ Guenon was led in his turn to do a great injustice to the Christian faith by assuming that the only path to spiritual realization Christianity had to offer was by means of this psychological-emotional sensitivity. This is patently not the case, but we cannot blame Guenon for arriving at this conclusion.

We would add here that centuries earlier a similar event took place in theology itself, when the Church decided that the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas would by and large be adopted as the official exposition of the Church. Again, we are not trying to devalue Thomism any more than we wish to devalue St. Teresa’s way, but it should be obvious that to reduce Catholic theology to Thomism exclusively has the effect of narrowing future possibilities and severing the Church’s connection with the variety of modes of exposition it possesses in its historical treasury. The effects of Thomism’s epistemology is a primary case of this, which is not harmful if taken as one way of describing one aspect of a reality, but when taken as exhaustive it is disastrous. We suspect that this, in fact, might be connected to the ‘psychologization of spirituality’ we have just pointed out.

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