Christian Spirituality: A Historical Sketch

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There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later. Lane sets out on a project that is over-ambitious and over-eagerly titled, but he ends up with a survey that is playful and interesting. It doesn't pass as a survey of the history of Christian spirituality, but it does give worthwhile highlights. It begins by touching on the ancient eastern tradition of Origen, his influence on Evagrius, their influence on Pseudo-Dionysius and Cassian, and the continued influence as far ahead as Aquinas.

A Historical Overview of Spirituality

This Platonic tradition, though not of orthodox creed, emphasized apatheia towards the active life and anaesthesia in the contemplative life. Benedict's Rule then emphasized a spirituality that arose in community. The Dominicans and Franciscans in the 13th century reawakened active service of the poor as a form of spiritual exercise. Details of daily life were said to contribute to spiritual life to exaggerated degrees, leading to the exaltation of relics and legends of saints.

Lane then interrupts to classify mystical visions into corporeal, imaginative, and intellectual visions. Ignatius of Loyola proposed meeting God among the activities of daily life, finding God in everything. Essential to this is discerning God's will, which he divides into two weeks. The Dominicans and Franciscans in the 13th century reawakened active service of the poor as a form of spiritual exercise.

Details of daily life were said to contribute to spiritual life to exaggerated degrees, leading to the exaltation of relics and legends of saints. Lane then interrupts to classify mystical visions into corporeal, imaginative, and intellectual visions. Ignatius of Loyola proposed meeting God among the activities of daily life, finding God in everything.

Essential to this is discerning God's will, which he divides into two weeks. The first week discerns good from evil; the second discerns between various good options. Finally, Lane uses T. When all is said and done, it feels as though Lane has given us a brief sketch of a few key figures in the history of Christian mysticism, although he has missed several and avoided the non-Christian figures which have nonetheless wielded a significant influence on the history of the Christian tradition. It is less of the summary as which it poses, and more a quick indication of some of the key figures with which such an investigation might begin.

Nonetheless, because of Lane's simple presentation and easy writing style, the book is worth the read as an introduction.

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Well, the transformational goal is very clear in the life and ministry of Christ. He is out to change people for good, he is out to forgive their sins, to heal their brokenness, to liberate the oppressed, he portrays himself as a doctor of the soul, he is planting seeds that will bear fruit and we see transformed lives all around him from Zacchaeus the tax collector to Mary Magdalene out of whom he has sent numerous demons, to humble fisherman who turn into eloquent missionaries and people who can debate the smartest minds in the temple; transforming lives —the work of Christ.

He does not get bogged down too long in things that are peripheral to the central calling of his life. It is a wonderful thing to see this. Well, this is the spirituality of the people of the Bible and we will be drawing on this as the community of faith all our lives, it must be central. Now, I wanted to say something to you about what happened after Jesus rose and the apostles all died about A. With the passing of the apostles and the completion of the writings that eventually became the New Testament, the people of God moved into uncharted territory.

One by one the original eyewitnesses of the resurrection passed away and a second generation of believers moved to center stage. They were like those the Apostle Paul had described. They had never met Jesus Christ in the body, yet they also had a meaningful relationship with him. Though you have not seen him, you love him, observed Peter, and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy; this is what he says in 1 Peter 1: So even after Jesus ascended up into heaven, relationship with the resurrected Christ was still possible and it was still transforming lives and so those who were changed by their encounter with Jesus went out on a mission to change the world.

And by the beginnings of the fourth century the churches gains were so great that the Roman authorities reluctantly approved the new religion and the era of massive persecutions finally came to an end. But before we go any further there, I wanted to just explain to you what we are trying to do in this chapter.


It is the diversity of these voices past and present that is really what we mean by together with all the saints we can grasp how rich is the love of Christ. And so we want to just acknowledge the fact that the Christian faith is divided up into many groups. You may know the story that in the first thousand years or so of the Christian faith there was basically one main church, but then there was a division in about A. And then you may know that in the western church, the Catholic church, years later there was a split in that side and the Protestant church and the Roman Catholic church divided amid a great deal of conflict and that division between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics has not been healed.

And so today we have three kinds of Christians in the world, we have the eastern Orthodox tradition with its hundreds of millions of Christians, we have the Catholic Church with its hundreds and hundreds of millions of Christians and we have the Protestant kinds of Christians. And within the Protestant group within that third wing of Christianity we have countless denominations but here is the point. We do not need to agree with everything our brothers and sisters from these different traditions believe. We can be very clear on the matters where we disagree and at the same time we can learn things from them, we can benefit from them as we read prayerfully and wisely and select the good things and set aside the things that are not so helpful.

19 Mysticism A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness

That is what we are engaged in this historical overview of Christian spirituality because we want to include all the resources that are available to us. Now, if you take the heritage of the past. If you look at all the resources that we have from the past, it is possible to kind of see three types of spiritualities emerging. One group I have called the mystics.

And what I mean by the mystics are those who focus upon their relationship with God, that give priority to cultivating that experience of encounter with him that is so intense that they tend to, some degree, sometimes to neglect the other aspects of their lives. Another group I called the monks. And the monks tend to be the people who gather in community to pursue the spiritual disciplines for the purifying of their souls to the glory of God.

And then there is another group I have called the mission-focus believers. The mission-focus people are the ones who are involved in relief work and helping people in emergencies and crises. A wonderful tradition but there tend to be these three kinds — the mystics, the monks and the mission-focused believers, and as you can see their priorities tend to correspond respectively to the relational, the transformational or the vocational goals of Christian spirituality.

After Christ ascended, until the Roman emperor legalized Christianity, that was a period of the first three-hundred years of the church, and during that time there were tremendous periodic waves of persecution against the church and in that time of persecution many Christians died for their faith. They were martyrs for their faith. Their martyrdom and the testimony they bore for Christ before they were burned at the stake or eaten by lions or tortured to death in various ways, and these were men and women alike, some of them remarkably young and heroic. This was the deepest kind of spirituality; the spirituality that was valued the most in the early church was the spirituality of the martyr.

We have some writings even today that have been preserved by these people, perhaps one of the most famous being Polycarp of Smyrna, Polycarp of the modern day city of Izmir in Turkey. It tells the story of how he willingly went to his death to be eaten by wild animals because of his love for Christ. The tradition of the martyrs continues to inspire us with the challenge to give our all for Christ and to not be afraid of pain or death if that is what it calls for to be faithful to him. So when you come across the stories of the martyrs like Polycarp of Smyrna, know that they are part of the cloud of witnesses and that they remind us of something very, very important.

Now, once the emperor Constantine of Rome legalized Christianity the persecutions stopped and there were no martyrs anymore. And so the early Christians began to live in a much more comfortable and welcoming society and they began to discover how difficult it was to maintain a strong spiritual life in this atmosphere that was so comfortable and ordinary and peaceful.

Well the answer that many came to was that they would retreat from the cities and practice rigorous spiritual disciplines out in the deserts of Egypt. And they were led in this direction out into the desert by a great man by the name of Anthony, Anthony of Egypt. There was a book written about Anthony that we still have today about this Saint Anthony. These people kind of replaced the martyrs, the real heroes of the faith.

And they went out into the desert, the practiced fasting, they lived very simply, the minimum, and they prayed and they engaged in spiritual warfare praying. They had a spiritual authority to them; so many people would come out to them for counsel and to listen to their spiritual wisdom. But these desert fathers would, at least initially, live all by themselves and the name for those people who lived all by themselves, in relative isolation, the name is hermits.

And as you know the business of being a hermit is a bit dangerous because you need other human beings to keep you emotionally and psychologically balanced, and so gradually, over time, the church decided that it would actually be healthier if these real God-seeking and desert fathers, these hermits, could gather together in some kind of a community where they would interact with one another and stay more emotionally and socially healthy.

The person that helped them make that transition was more than anybody else Benedict, Benedict of Nursia in Italy. He established the Benedictine Order, he established the sort of basic house rules by which you set up a monastery and his influence has been huge. But this group leaves us with this reminder that sometimes we have to draw away from the ways of the world in order to be radicle followers of Jesus Christ. We cannot get too involved, we are pilgrims, not citizens and this is part of the inspirational legacy of the desert fathers.

And yet, as they came to understand that you cannot do this in total isolation, it is reminder to us that Christian spirituality is not just about me and God, but it must be about me in community with God. There is a communal dimension. We have to be relating well to others if we hope to relate well to God. Our ability to connect with God and our ability to connect with others are very much related. Well, our story moves us quickly into the Middle Ages and there we run into a new group of people called the mystics.

What can I say about the mystics? The mystics are people who seek God through special spiritual experiences. And it is interesting that this movement of mysticism included quite a few women. Women like Hildegard of Bingen and Catherine of Siena and Julian of Norwich and the Spanish saint Teresa of Avila and you wonder how come so many women were involved in this tradition of mysticism. I think part of the answer is that the society did not allow the women to get very involved in public life.

They could not govern countries very often or go off to war or learn at the university, they were isolated. In their isolation, in the limitations that were imposed upon them they turned toward cultivating a deep and meaningful and very rich relationship with God. Their works have come down to us as a great example of a deep connection with God. His book The Imitation of Christ is probably the book most read after the Bible of all the books in the Christian tradition. One of the things that these monks and these mystics really got hold of, some of them very deeply was a deep and passionate love for God.

You come across, for example, from this era the work of Brother Lawrence, he lived a little later on but he was a simple man who just worked cleaning pots and pans in the dining room of the place where he lived with others.

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His book of The Practice of the Presence of God was his explanation of how you can do everything during the day without losing a sense of God being with you and being your communication partner. And one of the very significant things about the reformation was that it said basically, we are going to do spirituality differently. We are going to approach things differently. We are not going to seek God by withdrawing from the world the way the monks did, but we are going to go out into the world, we are going to get outside the monasteries and we are going to live for God in that area.

Christian Spirituality

Well, it was a wonderful thing to say that spirituality was not just for the clergy, not just for the monks and the nuns, but spirituality was for everyone. This was a huge thing, this was a great gain. And the other thing that the reformers did was to say we are going to provide the Bible for you. We are going to teach you how to read it and we are going to translate into a language you can understand and we are going to enable you to connect directly with God through his powerful word. So the reformers introduced a new Bible-centered emphasis in Christian spirituality.

It was a wonderful step forward.

Christian Spirituality: A Historical Sketch Christian Spirituality: A Historical Sketch
Christian Spirituality: A Historical Sketch Christian Spirituality: A Historical Sketch
Christian Spirituality: A Historical Sketch Christian Spirituality: A Historical Sketch
Christian Spirituality: A Historical Sketch Christian Spirituality: A Historical Sketch
Christian Spirituality: A Historical Sketch Christian Spirituality: A Historical Sketch
Christian Spirituality: A Historical Sketch Christian Spirituality: A Historical Sketch

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