This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

The narrowness of contemporary mysticism

Our complaint regarding the modern notion of Christian mysticism is not that is associated with the writings of the 16th century Spanish mystics, St. John and St. Teresa, but that it has become associated almost exclusively with their unique style of exposition. This is problematic because their style and emphasis represents the concerns of a specific ‘spiritual temperament,’ and therefore only meets the needs of individuals with that temperament. There are a variety of temperaments and the mystical way properly understood is adaptable to the needs of that variety, but not when it is presented only from the point of view of one: namely, St. Teresa of Avila, in whom we find detailed descriptions of the psychological effects produced during the soul’s journey toward mystical union. As useful as this approach may be to those who share her temperament and are therefore called to tread in her footsteps, it is useful and potentially alienating to others.

For this reason, our desire has been to rediscover a more comprehensive notion of the mystical way that embraces the spectrum of types and their needs. We seek to rejoin to mysticism as commonly understood the full richness of the term. We have already done this by referring to its historical development in Christianity, and we concluded by pointing out that there is also a mystical theology (Pseudo-Dionysius and his corpus) in addition to the mystical experience (Teresa of Avila and her Interior Castle). While latter has proven profound and invaluable for some, there are still others for whom the Carmelite approach is not conducive, and whose natures require a more intellectual contemplatively.

Nonetheless, what we are driving at might still appear vague to the reader, and for this reason it will be good to outline the mystical way as a whole in order to help us understand the nature of the thing. This should clarify and summarize our discussion, hopefully to the reader’s satisfaction.

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