Essay Assignment on Mysticism and Spirituality



Catherine Bumpus, MA

Lecturer In Theology



Lecture Notes:

PART 2 – Defining Spirituality


Mysticism and Spirituality

Mysticism: multiple meanings:

  1. approach to faith emphasizing relational, spiritual, experiential aspects of faith rather than intellectual
  2. approach to faith emphasizing inner experience, perhaps to the point of actively rejecting intellectual approaches
  3. specific schools of Spirituality in the 14th Century, including:

– the “English Mystics” (e.g. Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton)

– the “German Mystics” (e.g. Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler)



Definition of Mysticism as an approach to faith emphasizing relational, spiritual, experiential aspects of faith, the inner experience of faith =

is encompassed in the definition of Spirituality



Types of Spirituality

Factors Which Shape Spirituality


Factors important in shaping Spirituality:

theology (beliefs and values; dogma and ethics)

– personal issues

– denominational issues

– attitudes to the world, culture, and history











Types of Spirituality

Theological Variables


There are variations in the set of beliefs and values (the theology) of different Christians that can give rise to different Spiritualities


– veneration of Mary among Catholics and the Orthodox

– different views of the sacraments

– “doors” or “windows” to the real presence of God in the world, to the divine presence within creation, vs.

– “tokens” and “placeholders” to remind us of the presence of God’s grace





Types of Spirituality

Theological Variables


Examples (continued):

– different emphases on redemption

– salvation through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross

– salvation through the Incarnation, the assumption, the “taking-on” of part of the created order by God


Types of Spirituality

Historical Variables


History defines the “horizons” of a Christian and the available resources for Spirituality


– availability of the Bible

– ability to read



Types of Spirituality

Personal Variables


Personal variables that influence types of Spirituality might be subdivided into:

– aesthetic (appreciation of, responsiveness to beauty)

– psychological

– sociological


Aesthetic sensibilities: Examples: different views on what is the “beautiful” language, music, architecture for the worship of God lead to different types of Spirituality



Psychological differences:


– verbal thinking. Spiritualities might include spoken devotions, sermons

– visual thinking. Spiritualities might images, pictures, art, icons (as in the Orthodox church)



Sociological differences:

– includes differences in gender, race, class. Examples:

– Gender: different ways of talking about God. Julian of Norwich (1342- after 1416) envisioned Christ in terms of motherhood. Feminist theology.

– Race: spirituality in Black Holiness Churches

– Class: 20th century New York City office workers versus monks in medieval France. Differences in aesthetic taste and literacy


Types of Spirituality

Denominational Variables



– church is a visible institution grounded in divine reality (a “sacrament”)

– includes a corporate sense of Christian community (“Body of Christ”)

– includes a corporate sense of Church authority

– strongly liturgical

– lex orandi, lex credendi. The way you pray and worship determines the way you believe

– strongly sacramental

– emphasizes the “sacramental economy” the idea that the benefits of Christ’s saving work are communicated through the sacraments

– sacrament of the Eucharist dominates the regular liturgical life of the Church, making present now the body and blood of Christ

– emphasizes role of saints and the Virgin Mary as intercessors for the living and the dead

– veneration of Mary: Hail Mary, Rosary

– prayers to the saints: novena: 9 days of prayer invoking a particular patron saint for a cause




– strong sense of historical continuity with the early church

– emphasis on the writings of the early Church fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, John of Damascus

– strong sense of tradition as a living resource for the present

– emphasis on salvation through the Incarnation and “deification.” God became human so that we might someday become divine




– use of Icons as “windows of perception” allowing a glimpse of divine reality (made possible through the Incarnation)

– emphasis on the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me (a sinner)”

– high regard of monastic life

– most bishops are former monks

– Mt. Athos: ancient Orthodox monastery high on Mount Athos, a peninsula stretching out into the Aegean Sea



Evangelical Protestantism

– emphasis on the Bible

– spiritualities often involve public and private readings of the Bible

– emphasis on salvation through the death of Jesus on the cross

– for example: Lutheranism and the “theology of the cross” versus a “theology of glory”

– emphasis on the need for personal conversion, sometimes to the point of emphasizing a need to be “born again”

– emphasis on converting others to Christ



– strongly liturgical

– lex orandi, lex credendi. The way you pray and worship determines the way you believe

– sacramental

– “doors” or “windows” to the real presence of God in the world, to the divine presence within creation

– emphasis on the Incarnation, the “taking-on” of part of the created order by God

– emphasis on the goodness of creation and the physical world (follows from sacramental view of the world and emphasis on the Incarnation)



Types of Spirituality

Attitudes to the World, Culture, and History


Four ways to view the relationship between Christianity and culture:

– 1. Christ against culture

– 2. Christ and culture in paradox

– 3. Christ above culture, the transformer of culture

– 4. Christ of culture


the “extremes:” Christ against culture versus Christ of culture

more “centrist:” Christ and culture in paradox, Christ above culture



Types of Spirituality

Attitudes to the World, Culture, and History


Christ Against Culture

The world is a hostile environment for Christ belief and practice. We should renounce the world. The Kingdom of God is in conflict with the secular world

– monastic spirituality of “contempt for the world”

– formation of alternative Christian communities among the Radical Reformers (e.g. Amish)



Christ and Culture in Paradox

The world is sometimes in direct conflict with Christian belief and practice, and sometimes not

An authentic Christian life therefore

– involves a tension between the world and faith

– at times it must involve a struggle against the world



Christ above Culture, the Transformer of Culture

culture is not perfect or evil, but can be elevated and transformed through the faith and work of believers

the world and creation is good, but imperfect, awaiting fulfillment

often involves spiritualities emphasizing a sacramental view of the nature and the Incarnation




Christ of Culture

a strongly positive understanding of the relationship between faith and secular culture


– “Imperial Theology” when Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire: Rome was the New Jerusalem, divinely ordained to govern the world

– 19th Century German Protestant Liberalism. Human history and civilization are being divinely guided towards perfection