Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Mysticism, a, form of religious life which consists in an effort to rise above the sphere of finitude, imperfection, and error, and enter into direct communion with the Divine Being. It is often confused with doctrines and tendencies which are utterly foreign and even hostile to its ultimate purpose, such as theosophy and symbolism; the reason is that these things, although not of the essence of mysticism, frequently are conjoined with it. Mysticism is a most important and stable element in most Eastern religions; amongst the various Oriental types Sufism is perhaps the most remarkable and interesting. In the West, mysticism has had to contend with the practical bent inherited from Roman civilisation, which received a fresh impetus from the immigration of the northern races; and here it has had a more varied history, blossoming with renewed vigour, often as a reaction against scepticism or rationalising, under a peaceful ecclesiastical organisation, or in times of political upheaval when the individual was forced back upon himself, and withering in the uncongenial atmosphere of social activity and material progress. To Neo-Platonism, itself strongly impregnated with Oriental modes of thought, is due directly or through circuitous channels the mysticism both of Catholic and Protestant Europe. The works of Dionysius the Areopagite are the link connecting the Neo-Platonists with the mediaeval mystics. Mediaeval mysticism, as handled by such men as St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Hugo of St. Victor, Bonaventura, and Thomas k Kempis, may be regarded as the complement of scholasticism, supplying the devotional element, with its corresponding theory, whilst the schoolmen worked out a system of rational theology on the basis of Church dogma. On the other hand, the German mysticism of the 14th and 15th centuries was a distinct effort to break away from ecclesiastical tradition; the aim of Meister Eckhart (1260-1329) and his followers was not so much to accommodate mysticism to Church doctrine as to reconcile this with their own Pantheistic views. To the school of Eckhart belonged Suso (1295-1366), Tauter (1300-61), in whom mysticism took a curiously practical bent, Rnysbroeck (1293-1381), and the anonymous author of the Deutsche Theologic, which exercised a powerful influence over the mind of Luther. Since the Reformation, mysticism has appeared amongst men professing every shade of religious belief, in a variety of forms which it is impossible to reduce to any common principle. That which has arisen within the Roman Church - represented by St. Theresa (1515-82), St. John of the Cross, and the Spanish and French Quietists - has been marked by a complete absence of speculative tendencies, combined with a genuine spirit of devotion and a somewhat over-imaginative fervour. The mystical theories of Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), the extraordinary shoemaker of Gorlitz, have influenced thinkers of the highest capacity, such as Schelling, Hegel, and Coleridge. The so-called Cambridge Platonists are reckoned among the mystics, and William Law (1686-1701) was a disciple of Boehme; but in England mysticism has seldom found a congenial soil. [Schools and sects alluded to here are discussed in separate articles.]