This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

The sensus mysticus should not be limited to certain of its expressions

Accepting, as we should, the contributions of the Carmelites, we can add that this late development was a kind of compartmentalization of a much broader mystical sense, which had been spoken of since Origen and Clement centuries prior, and which at that time was not only an exegetical procedure but an overall attitude to be cultivated by one who would understand the mysteries, that is to say, the spiritual meanings, laden throughout the Christian religion: scripture, liturgy, prayer.

In the work of St. Gregory of Nyssa alone we find many aspects of the faith acknowledged in their mystical aspect: he speaks of the sacraments as ‘mystical symbols,’ their practice as ‘the mystical practices’; baptism is a ‘mystical kiss’ and one example of the regenerative process of the ‘mystical economy.’

Most often, however, we are reminded that it is Christ who comprises the integral mystery, when mention is made of this ‘mystical table’ or, in the words of Eusebius when describing the eucharist, the ‘mystical liturgy.’

What must be fought against is any attempt to claim for a compartmental development of the mystical sense, however impressive it might be, and reduce the significance of the Christian sensus mysticus to that field alone.

It is just as unjust to claim for Teresa’s mysticism a status as ‘the true mysticism of the Church’ as it would be to claim the same exclusivity for Clement’s ‘mystical sense of Scripture’. The two do not exclude one another and both express the same mystical tact, even if we do not find that tact or sensitivity in the same way in the same people.

What we are working to restore is a comprehensive meaning to the notion of mysticism as that which relates to the true Reality that is at the end of the Christian path and which invites us to move from the exterior to the interior. Mysticism is the on-going, never-ending initiation undergone by the Pilgrim as he journeys inward and throws off, one by one, the layers of exteriority, whether we call them exegetical modes of interpreting scripture, or whether we have in mind the inward ‘mansions’ of the Interior Castle.

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