8. Historical Introduction

A glance at the syllabus for this course shows that we are proceeding in a very chronological manner. There is a reason for that. Mysticism does not come from nowhere. It comes in historical context. Even though mystics claim to have unique experiences, often revelatory, it is also clear that the experiences come in the context of other mystical experiences and their expressions. Eckhart looks back to Pseudo-Dionysius, Tauler to Eckhart, the Theologica Germanica to Tauler, and Luther to the Theologica Germanica. St. Bernard looks to Augustine, Mechthild to Bernard, the Beguines to Mechthild.

The point is that we can identify problems and trends in mysticism. Christian mystics tend to have problems with certain issues, like for example how we can have direct experience of God, and how creation can be related to God. Catholic mystics have these issues, and also tend to focus on devotional mysticism (with some exceptions, of course). The Rhineland mystics have a certain character, which is passed on to the early Protestant mystics. All of this is quite different from Greek mysticism or Jewish mysticism, although we may be able to identify similarities.

This tension, between the uniqueness of the experience and the fact that there seem to be lines of influence, needs explanation and explication. Are both sides of the tension possible?