The Flowering of Mysticism: Men and Women in the New Mysticism: 1200-1350 (The Presence of God)

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9780824517434: The Flowering of Mysticism: Men and Women in the New Mysticism: 1200-1350 (The Presence of God)
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The year 1200 marked a dynamic turning point in the history of Christian mysticism. New forms of religious life provided the impetus for a new mysticism whose influence continues today. This book documents the spirited dialogue between men and women that made possible the richness of mysticism in the 13th and 14th centuries.

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About the Author:

Bernard McGinn is the Naomi Shenstone Donnelley Professor Emeritus in the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. He is the author of Anti-Christ, Early Christian Mystics, The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, and The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart. He lives in Chicago.

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(from the author's preface)

When I first conceived the possibility of writing this history of Christian mysticism, I was already convinced from my previous reading and teaching that the year 1200 marked a major turning point in the mysticism of Western Christianity. New styles of religious life, especially the mendicants and the beguines, new forms of mystical expression, as well as the sudden emergence of a more powerful role for women, all pointed to an important shift. My original plan was to devote a volume to the development of mysticism before 1200, a story largely revolving around the contribution of monastics to the foundation and growth of mysticism as a distinct element in Christianity. The second volume was to treat the period between 1200 and roughly 1600, the rich centuries of the flowering of what I have come to call the "new mysticism" of the late medieval and early modern periods. The third volume was to deal with the crisis of mysticism in the seventeenth century, its marginal position in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and its revival in our own time.

Habent sua fata libelli-"Books have their destinies"; so does the writing of books. The richness of the search for deeper and even immediate experience of the presence of God by Christians between the third century and the end of the twelfth century made it impossible for me to do any real justice to the early history of mysticism in a single volume as I had planned. The writing eventually led to two substantial books: The Foundations of Mysticism (1991) and The Growth of Mysticism (1994). Given that modification, I was not surprised when it became clear to me that what was originally conceived of as the second volume of The Presence of God also needed to be split into at least two parts.

...In this volume... the reader will not find Meister Eckhart or his predecessors (among whom Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas must be numbered, at least in some respects). Nor will one find chapters devoted to his followers, such as Henry Suso and John Tauler among the Dominicans, and even the great John Ruusbroec, who, despite his independence of mind, was touched by Eckhart's thought. The important male mystics who lived and wrote between 1300 and 1350 will appear in the next volume, entitled Continuity and Change in Western Mysticism. The fourth volume will overlap chronologically with the present book in its first part, but extend well beyond it through the late medieval and early modern periods.

...The treatment of the women mystics of the later Middle Ages, both in this volume and that to follow, reflects a different perspective from that of many of their recent investigators and supporters. Without the contributions of contemporary feminist scholarship, the history of medieval thought would probably not have come to a deeper appreciation of most of these women, especially those whose stories have been all too easily dismissed as impossible and extreme. Even the women mystics who were authors themselves have left us writings that are often difficult to decipher by historians of theology more habituated to linear, scholastic modes of thinking. Despite the many ways in which I have profited from feminist scholarship on medieval women mystics, however, The Flowering of Mysticism is written not from a feminist perspective but from that of a historical theologian attempting to do justice to the full range of late medieval mysticism. From this perspective it does not seem fruitful, or even possible, to identify a single "women's mysticism" in the later Middle Ages. There are, to be sure, mystical themes and practices that were pioneered by women, and there are significant differences in how women used language to express their sense of the mystery of God. But rarely, if ever, do we find an aspect of the new mysticism that belongs to women alone. Even more significant is the amazing variety that characterized the women, again notwithstanding the many themes they shared in conveying their message about how to attain loving union with God. It seems far more important to celebrate the diversity of the contribution of women than to search for an elusive unity.

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