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Later Christian Mysticism

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  • Tom Saunders
    I have been reading a good primer for early Christian Mystics, called Early Christian Mystics, by McGinn and McGinn, Crossroads, 2003. Some of the things
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 3, 2005
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      I have been reading a good 'primer' for early Christian Mystics, called "Early Christian Mystics," by McGinn and McGinn, Crossroads, 2003. Some of the things documented are statements from Origen, Gregory the Great, (560's), Dionysius, (500's), and others, all about spiritual transcendence. The emphasis is on the use of scripture for transcendence, and other very " Gospel of Phillip' kinds of things.

      John the Scot, "Eriugena," (800's) is quoted p.197., "Even a stone or a piece of wood, properly understood, is a light." Of those I have mentioned, is a tendency to embrace the ideas we know are akin to Thomas, and Origen's "Song of Songs." My interest in these mystics is to try and figure out how much of the Thomasine tradition survived the years after 330. Or, if there was a move toward Thomasine like transcendence with regular scripture, including some of the ideas of the Gospel of John.

      John the Scot, seemed to have followed some of the ideas of Dionysius in that they both held, "God is the essence of all things, the converse is not true, all things are not God." They aligned the idea of the 'light' and Word, as coessential. This is harder to do in the NHL because it is not that clear how serious some of the ideas in GJohn can be taken, by a Thomasine. The idea of the 'Word' being the allegorical equal to 'light' is not that clear. John the Scot does make it clear that the "Word as Creative Wisdom, is the cause of causes."

      Heracleon's use of the Gospel of John, does not make it seem like a competitive text in the sense of providing an instrument for the knowledge to transcend to higher understandings, or as Gregory puts it, "mystical ascent." As Origen puts it, " The scribe of the gospel is the one who knows how, after studying the narrative of events, to ascend to the spiritual realities without stumbling." (Commentary on Matthew) All the mystics I have mentioned held to this idea of the scripture, as a tool of spiritual transcendence.

      It is not clear at all that post Origen Sages had Thomas, Phillip, or any related texts. It could be that Thomas is a tool to teach monadism through descending, and the GJohn is a tool to explain ascension. Maybe.

      Jesus Wisdom, as the Word, would certainly be thought of as a 'cause of causes,' and Thomas fits the bill. It also fulfills Clement's assertion about the parables being the key to the great mysteries. The Gjohn can't be what Clement is talking about here, with almost no parables to it. But, if you have Luke, and Matthew, you have Thomas if you know what is missing, like stones and split wood.

      Pervasive in the texts of most of these mystics is the idea of the 'bridal chamber' union with the Holy Spirit, and " the essence of all things is nothing else but the knowledge of all in divine Wisdom." (Periphysian, Scot) This seems to me to have a lot of insight at looking at scripture as an instrument of contemplation and meditation, like Thomas.

      Accept, I think Thomas would be seen by a Pythagorean as a descending instrument, as a tool of meditation. I do not think it is meant to use as many or some of the more complex analogies or allegories used in what is thought to be Pythagorean. The post Origen mystics seemed to all hold with the idea of the trinity or three fold path sort of thing.

      William of St. Thierry, is said to have followed this lineage, (Origen, Gregory, Gregory of Nyssa) and explains the bridal chamber as spiritual love, as divine understanding. He wrote, "Exposition on the Song of Songs."

      He talks about three stages of transcendence also but not as the trinity, exactly. He states, there are those moved by faith, (hylics, my insertion), At the second stage the intellectual soul becomes aware of the God within, (I'd call this the good old splinther, and psychic stage), and the third stage where souls are 'perfect' because they are led by the 'Spirit.' "They are called 'spirituals' insofar as they are the clothing of the Holy Spirit." This is a "Bingo" on a good old Thomasine kind of a Gnostic Transcendence, and wearing the 'garment.'

      From Origen to William, who lived around 1120+, we can see a lineage of those who knew about the Alexandrian teachings. Origen's father, Leonides was beheaded as a martyr, and Origen's mother hid his clothes so he to would not go off and get himself killed, so the story goes, about year 202, Alexandria. This appears to be about the time that Origen became active.

      Origen was the inventor of the idea that the Logos was a tool to lift or ascend the soul to the bonding with the Holy Spirit, according to McGinn. (Ibid. p. 25) He learned to use the idea of ascension as a primary pedagogical instrument, instead of the descending tool that is Thomas. Otherwise, I think we are looking at the same kind of Christian mysticism, in Thomas, put into the GJohn, Matthew, and Song of Songs package, by Origen. Like everyone else, from Alexandria, Origen never mentions Thomas.

      If Origen based his ideas of transcendence on ascension, then probably Thomas to him was a primary instrument where he learned the ideas associated with the instrument of descending. I am speaking of the idea of using monadism and meditation. Ascension and descending are ideas associated with Pythagorean legend, and some of the Solomon type creation schemes. I take this to be the same concept as Phillip talks about in regard to pneuma (spirit) and breathing, in the respect that we are looking at a monadic polarity.

      McGinn's book is like I said a good primer. I have never had any formal study of these mystics, and I am sure that some of you may see other things that might give more insight as using Thomas as an instrument.

      Tom Saunders
      Platter, OK

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