Christian mysticism

A correspondent asked me to comment on the"Christian Mysticism" entry in Microsoft's Encarta encyclopaedia and this was my reply

As I started to read the article you sent me I began thinking "this has all the inspirational appeal of an encyclopaedia". So, I wasn't surprised when I got to the end credits and found where it had come from! I don't claim to be an expert on the mystics, but I know enough to recognise that this entry is not accurate. Margery Kempe was a strange and fascinating woman, but was never significant enough to be described as a "prominent figure", as Encarta suggests. Before I read this piece I had never seen anyone cast doubt on Thomas a Kempis' authorship of "The Imitation of Christ". To add to the oddities of this entry, it feminises Julian's name to Juliana, demonstrating a misunderstanding of who she was (We do not know her true name. She was named Julian by later generations because her cell was at the church of St Julian). Having recognised those discrepancies I wonder about the reliability of the rest of the piece.

You balked at the encyclopedia's comment that Paul was "the first great Christian mystic" but it depends what the writer defines as "mystic". The trouble is that the article is not much more than a list of names and does little to help convey what mysticism is or does. In my understanding a mystic is one who seeks God in mystery, rather than in dogma, and whose search for truth is based on an open heart, an open mind, and a keen awareness of the spiritual dimension. A mystic is prepared to be surprised and to have treasured prejudices overturned by fresh revelation. Mystics seek life, rather than accuracy, and are happy to find themselves at the edge of understanding and experience - where mystery forms most of their horizon.

This article contains a strange mixture of names, sects and personalities of whom some may qualify better as eccentrics than as mystics. But, despite my negative comments, I think the article could be useful as a list to guide further searches through library bookshelves.

© Derrick Phillips - 1996