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on March 12, 2009
_Mystics of the Church_, first published in 1925, by mystical writer Evelyn Underhill is a fascinating and detailed study of the mystics of the Christian church. Evelyn Underhill (1875 - 1941) was an English Anglo-Catholic writer who introduced to the Anglican world various medieval Catholic mystics. This book offers a good introduction to the mystics of the church, those fearless explorers who sought a unitive experience with God. Further, this book examines the role of mysticism throughout Christian history particularly in its relationship to the Christian church. As such, this book provides an excellent survey of the Christian mystics, their lives, and the development of their mystical experiences.
This book begins with an "Introduction" in which Underhill lays out the case for mysticism. Underhill notes the importance of the words "mystic" and "mysticism" in various books dealing with religious experience. Further, Underhill explains how these words came to be used in a pejorative sense to refer to such things as "superstition". However, as Underhill notes the true definition of mysticism is "according to its historical and psychological definitions, is the direct intuition or experience of God; and a mystic is a person who has, to a greater or less degree, such an experience - one whose religion and life are centered, not merely on an accepted belief or practice, but on that which he regards as first-hand personal knowledge." Underhill explains the role of the Christian mystic and the corporate role of the church in the life of the mystic. Underhill also explains the Christocentric nature of the Christian mystic and relates this to such things as "illumination" and the "mystic union". The second chapter of this book is entitled "Mysticism in the Bible" and examines the role in particular of St. Paul. This chapter in particular notes the fact that the epistles of St. Paul are among the oldest books of the New Testament. Further, Underhill explains how St. Paul relates to the Hebrew prophets. The third chapter in this book is entitled "Mysticism in the Early Church". This chapter considers the following figures of early Christianity, Cassian, St. Augustine, and Dionysius the Areopagite. In particular, we see the value of the Greek Fathers, the Egyptian solitiaries, and the role of NeoPlatonism in the philosophies of St. Augustine and Dionysius the Areopagite. The fourth chapter of this book is entitled "The Early Middle Ages". This chapter considers the role of such figures as St. Hildegarde, Helfde, Richard of St. Victor, and St. Bernard. St. Hildegarde was an important female mystic, Helfde was a convent for nuns, and Richard of St. Victor and St. Bernard were important male mystics. The fifth chapter is entitled "Franciscan Mysticism" and considers the role of St. Francis of Assisi and the school of mystics that developed out of his teachings. This chapter considers the role of the following individuals, St. Francis, the spiritual Franciscans, Jacopone da Todi, and Angela of Foigno. The sixth chapter is entitled "English Mediaeval Mystics" and considers the role of mysticism among the English mediaeval mystics. This chapter considers the cases of Richard Rolle, the classic mystical tract "The Cloud of Unknowing", Walter Hilton, and Julian of Norwich. The seventh chapter is entitled "German and Flemish Mysticism". This chapter considers mysticism among the following individuals, Eckhart, The Friends of God, the "Theologia Germanica", Tauler, Suso, and Ruysbroeck. The eighth chapter is entitled "The Two Catherines". This chapter considers the two great Catholic saints named Catherine, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Catherine of Genoa. Underhill notes that St. Catherine of Siena was born to a period of great degradation and was the child of a a prosperous householder, while St. Catherine of Genoa was born into different circumstances than her namesake but herself became a great saint. The eighth chapter is entitled "Spanish Mysticism", this chapter considers in particular that form of mysticism that arose out of the teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a soldier whose order was known for its military type discipline. This chapter considers the following individuals, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Peter of Alcantara, St. Teresa, and St. John of the Cross. The tenth chapter is entitled "French Seventeenth Century Mysticism". This chapter considers the following individuals who were important for French mysticism, Madame Acarie, Pierre de Berulle, St. Francois de Sales, St. Chantal, Marie de l'Incarnation, Pascal, Brother Lawrence, Fenelon, and the Quietists. The eleventh chapter is entitled "Some Protestant Mystics" and notes the influence of mysticism on certain Protestants. In particular, this chapter notes the fact that while Luther and Calvin could not properly be classified as mystics (although Luther, who was heavily influenced by the "Theologia Germanica", more so than Calvin), that certain Protestants developed a tendency towards mysticism. This chapter considers the following individuals Boehme, Angelus Silesius, the mystical poets and Cambridge Platonists, Fox and the Quakers, William Law, and Henry Martyn. The twelfth chapter is entitled "Conclusion: Modern Mystics". This chapter considers the role of the following individuals Giosue Borsi and "A Soldier's Confidences With God", J. W. Rowntree, Lucie-Christine, Charles de Foucauld, and Sadhu Sundar Singh (the Indian mystic who adopted Christianity).
This book offers a fascinating survey of the mystics who have played such an important role in the development and history of Christianity. The role of the mystics is important in their relationship to the Christian church. While some may see mysticism as an heretical tendency, it should be noted that the mystics themselves were not heretics but sincerely accepted the orthodox version of Christianity and sought to abide within the Christian church.