Those with whom I wish to argue in your presence, my God, are those who grant the correctness of all these things which your truth argues in my inner mind. Those who deny them may bark as much as they like and by their shouting discredit themselves.
Augustine (Confessions XII.xvi.23 p 257)
What is mysticism and how is this related to Christianity?
Augustine has found god in his inner mind. This is the mystical experience sought by all mystics. This is opposed to an alternative way to understand God: through His revealed Words in the Scriptures. Augustine was a mystics. Mysticism is from the Greek μυω, meaning “to conceal.” There could not be two more diametrical opposed concepts concerning the knowledge of God: the mystic believes he must find the hidden god in his mind and the Christian must find the God of revelation through the spoken or written Word of God. Once the believer finds God through the Word of God he then is sealed with the Holy Spirit of God that was missing from his unregenerate state.
The mystic believes god is hidden or hides himself. Man has to search after god being rewarded because of his diligence to the task. Augustine’s form of mysticism is from Neoplatonism among whom, Plotinus the author of the Enneads is the foremost of these philosophers.
The One does not desire us, so as to be around us, but we desire it, so that we are around it. (Enneads VI.9.8.15-20)
This is opposed to the Christian God who looks down from heaven, loves man and provides a way for man to reach Him through his Word. Jesus is called the Word of God because he is the personification of this attempt to communicate with man.
One of the earliest forms of mysticism comes from the Eleusinian Mysteries. This mystery religion held secret annual initiation ceremonies in honor of the cults of the goddesses Demeter and Persephone. The Eleusinian Mysteries — perhaps begun as early as 1600 B.C and ending after the fall of the Roman Empire — were cause for a major festival in the Greek and Roman empires. Neoplatonism developed a modern version of this mysticism. The Enneads refer to the mysteries which are probably an allusion to the Eleusinian initiation.
Mysticism is the search for God or an ultimate spiritual truth through direct experience, intuition, or insight. To practice of mysticism one develops the senses that nurture those experiences. Mysticism is not limited to Christianity; the goal of Buddhism is the attainment of Nirvana to have union with Mahamudra, the goal of Hinduism is the liberation from the cycle of Karma by experiencing the ultimate reality, Jainism and Sikhism also practices this liberation from the cycle of Karma, Judaism and Islam have their forms of mysticism.
The mystic believes God is inherent in each individual. The mystic looks into his own mind to see the god who was there but just hidden. How does this compare with the Scripture?
The Scripture represents God as desperately reaching out to man but men are not seeking God.
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
2 God looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
3 Every one of them has turned aside;
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.
The Scripture describes the natural man as distracted from the revelation of God. He not only does not seek after the things of God but he practices corruption in opposition to the will of God. It is God who intrudes on the world of man. Whether through the natural revelation of the created universe or through the witness of the prophets and/or the law given by the prophet Moses, it is God who initiates contact with man.
21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen,
The Law and the Prophets are communicated through the words which are rational and discursive. The prophets may have a direct vision of God, but the vision is rational and meant to communicate in ways which are known through discursive thought. In any case, once the prophet communicates his vision to his reader through written words, the knowledge of God must be discursive, rational and capable of being understood.
The mystical vision is often nondiscursive and irrational. The mystic often describes his vision as apophatic, or incapable of being expressed. This is different from the revelation of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:14. Paul explains he visited the third heaven and heard unspeakable words which are unlawful for a man to speak. First Paul heard words which are possible to spoken but are unlawful to speak. The meaning of unspeakable is not the apophatic definition, the definition of the impossibility to express the words. The meaning of “unspeakable” is the words are unlawful to speak because God forbids it.
In both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, meditation and contemplation are routinely practiced. Often individuals or communities would live austere lives in contemplative prayer. These communities would become known as Christian monastics. They consist of Christian mystics who live lives of seclusion while contemplating union with God. Eastern Christianity has a tradition of mystical experience, prayer and dogmatism.
Catholicism prays the Lectio Divina, a form of prayer that centers on scripture reading but promotes mystical theology. The Lectio Divina has four steps: read, meditate, pray and contemplate. The last step of contemplate is not based on discursive thought or understanding the literal reading of Scripture. Contemplative prayer is silence. In this silence, the practitioner believes the Father is speaking to us through the Son, and somehow we share in Jesus’ prayer to God.
This silence is similar to the final stage of contemplation in Platonism. The Platonist sees God directly without the aid of either noetic or discursive thought. Augustine too would use Scripture in the same manner and practice his own form of contemplation. From these practices, Augustine is considered by many to be the Father of Christian mysticism by merging Neoplatonic thought with Christianity.