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This clear and comprehensive anthology, culled from the vast corpus of Christian mystical literature by the renowned theologian and historian Bernard McGinn, presents nearly one hundred selections, from the writings of Origen of Alexandria in the third century to the work of twentieth-century mystics such as Thomas Merton. Uniquely organized by subject rather than by autho This clear and comprehensive anthology, culled from the vast corpus of Christian mystical literature by the renowned theologian and historian Bernard McGinn, presents nearly one hundred selections, from the writings of Origen of Alexandria in the third century to the work of twentieth-century mystics such as Thomas Merton. Uniquely organized by subject rather than by author, The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism explores how human life is transformed through the search for direct contact with God. Part one examines the preparation for encountering God through biblical interpretation and prayer; the second part focuses on the mystics’ actual encounters with God; and part three addresses the implications of the mystical life, showing how mystics have been received over time, and how they practice their faith through private contemplation and public actions. In addition to his illuminating Introduction, Bernard McGinn provides accessible headnotes for each section, as well as numerous biographical sketches and a selected bibliography. Praise for The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism “No one is better equipped than Bernard McGinn to provide a thorough and balanced guide to this vast literature….This is an anthology which deserves to be read not only by those who study Christian history and theology, but by believers who long to deepen their own lives of prayer and service.” -- Anglican Theological Review “Bernard McGinn, a preeminent historian and interpreter of the Christian mystical tradition, has edited this fine collection of mystical writings, organizing them thematically....McGinn offers helpful introductions to each thematic section, author and entry, as well as a brief critical bibliography on mysticism. Published in the Modern Library Classic series, this is a great value.” – Christian Century "No-one is better equipped than Professor McGinn to provide a thorough and balanced guide to this vast literature. A first-class selection, by a first-class scholar." -- Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury “This accessible anthology by the scholarly world’s leading historian of the Western Christian mystical tradition easily outstrips all others in its comprehensiveness, the aptness of its selection of texts, and in the intelligent manner of its organization.” -- Denys Turner, Horace Tracy Pitkin Professor of Historical Theology, Yale Divinity School "An immensely rich anthology, assembled and introduced by our foremost student of mysticism. Both the scholar and the disciple will find God’s plenty here." -- Barbara Newman, Professor of English, Religion, and Classics, John Evans Professor of Latin, Northwestern University "An unusually clear and insightful exposition of major texts selected by one of the greatest scholars in the field of Christian mysticism, based on his vast erudition and uniquely sensitive interpretation. Like his other books, this one too is destined to become a classic.” -- Professor Moshe Idel, Hebrew University, Jerusalem


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This clear and comprehensive anthology, culled from the vast corpus of Christian mystical literature by the renowned theologian and historian Bernard McGinn, presents nearly one hundred selections, from the writings of Origen of Alexandria in the third century to the work of twentieth-century mystics such as Thomas Merton. Uniquely organized by subject rather than by autho This clear and comprehensive anthology, culled from the vast corpus of Christian mystical literature by the renowned theologian and historian Bernard McGinn, presents nearly one hundred selections, from the writings of Origen of Alexandria in the third century to the work of twentieth-century mystics such as Thomas Merton. Uniquely organized by subject rather than by author, The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism explores how human life is transformed through the search for direct contact with God. Part one examines the preparation for encountering God through biblical interpretation and prayer; the second part focuses on the mystics’ actual encounters with God; and part three addresses the implications of the mystical life, showing how mystics have been received over time, and how they practice their faith through private contemplation and public actions. In addition to his illuminating Introduction, Bernard McGinn provides accessible headnotes for each section, as well as numerous biographical sketches and a selected bibliography. Praise for The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism “No one is better equipped than Bernard McGinn to provide a thorough and balanced guide to this vast literature….This is an anthology which deserves to be read not only by those who study Christian history and theology, but by believers who long to deepen their own lives of prayer and service.” -- Anglican Theological Review “Bernard McGinn, a preeminent historian and interpreter of the Christian mystical tradition, has edited this fine collection of mystical writings, organizing them thematically....McGinn offers helpful introductions to each thematic section, author and entry, as well as a brief critical bibliography on mysticism. Published in the Modern Library Classic series, this is a great value.” – Christian Century "No-one is better equipped than Professor McGinn to provide a thorough and balanced guide to this vast literature. A first-class selection, by a first-class scholar." -- Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury “This accessible anthology by the scholarly world’s leading historian of the Western Christian mystical tradition easily outstrips all others in its comprehensiveness, the aptness of its selection of texts, and in the intelligent manner of its organization.” -- Denys Turner, Horace Tracy Pitkin Professor of Historical Theology, Yale Divinity School "An immensely rich anthology, assembled and introduced by our foremost student of mysticism. Both the scholar and the disciple will find God’s plenty here." -- Barbara Newman, Professor of English, Religion, and Classics, John Evans Professor of Latin, Northwestern University "An unusually clear and insightful exposition of major texts selected by one of the greatest scholars in the field of Christian mysticism, based on his vast erudition and uniquely sensitive interpretation. Like his other books, this one too is destined to become a classic.” -- Professor Moshe Idel, Hebrew University, Jerusalem

30 review for The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rick Eng

    Christian mysticism fascinates me: how can one set in words and attempt to describe an almost indescribable experience? How is one able to truly express their ultimate union with God in language? Any attempt to me is an admirable one and here you have a good cross section of writings by well known mystics, theologians and skeptics. The effusiveness of spiritual praises and declarations can be a bit overwhelming and exhausting.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David Withun

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  3. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Green

    My wife and I just finished a conversation wherein we both commented that we think Bernard McGinn is a phenomenal guy. Not just thinker, writer, theologian, etc. From everything we can discern from the little we’ve read from him, we just think he’s got to be a wonderful human being and a fine Christian. The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism (2006) just seems to reinforce this. His writing is clear and flows well while his inclusion of such a diversity of material demonstrates his phenomen My wife and I just finished a conversation wherein we both commented that we think Bernard McGinn is a phenomenal guy. Not just thinker, writer, theologian, etc. From everything we can discern from the little we’ve read from him, we just think he’s got to be a wonderful human being and a fine Christian. The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism (2006) just seems to reinforce this. His writing is clear and flows well while his inclusion of such a diversity of material demonstrates his phenomenal grasp of a wide range of historical figures (I suppose that’s not entirely surprising for a man who works in historical theology). But this is supposed to be more about the book than the man, so I’ve digressed before I’ve even begun. I’ll start the discussion on the book with a quick confession: I haven’t finished reading the thing. Note, it’s an anthology, so I may never read through its entirety. I normally wouldn’t find an anthology particularly noteworthy except for two relevant aspects of it. First, the breadth of the collection is astonishing. Each selection is only about 3 to 7 pages, so they’re not complete texts by any means, but there are probably 90 selections from more than half that many different sources. McGinn’s choices are wide ranging to say the least and extensive. Second, most anthologies of historical texts tend to be organized chronologically, and McGinn comments in his introduction that he has been working on another text organized in this fashion. This book, however, is organized by three major headers (Foundations of Mystical Practice, Aspects of Mystical Consciousness, and Implications of the Mystical Life) and a number of sub-divisions within each. Other anthologies have attempted to collect selections topically, though I often find the choices to be rather arbitrary. McGinn’s work to separate them out into so many different aspects of the discipline and to do so meticulously makes the book’s organization feel far more sensible and understandable than most, allowing one to discern what is most interesting or valuable with little trouble, or if one is more interested in reading directly through the text, the topical organization seems to keep the line of thought and reasoning clear as you move along. In addition, the very last sub-division is one on Contemplation and Action, which is just an excellent reminder and a fine place to end on a topic that can easily degrade into passivity and self-absorption. I like the text. If you’re curious about Christian mysticism, this is a pretty decent place to start. Admittedly, the selections themselves are often complex, but McGinn has chosen a number of very good and modern translations, occasionally editing them himself for clarity, which makes the reading as reachable as possible. And while I may disagree with some of the messages of the texts themselves (I always feel a little uneasy around Meister Eckhart), I’ve little qualms about the collection.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Walter

    This compendium is impressive in both its depth and breadth. For example, one of its strengths is that it features not only the expected (e.g., Teresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart, Ignatius of Loyola, etc.), but also excerpts from lesser known seers (e.g., Francois Fenelon, Marguerite Porete, James of Vitry, etc.). In sum, this is a quite comprehensive survey of the major threads in Christian Mysticism in the past two millenia. Some of it is very heavy going, to be sure, but the brevity of the sele This compendium is impressive in both its depth and breadth. For example, one of its strengths is that it features not only the expected (e.g., Teresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart, Ignatius of Loyola, etc.), but also excerpts from lesser known seers (e.g., Francois Fenelon, Marguerite Porete, James of Vitry, etc.). In sum, this is a quite comprehensive survey of the major threads in Christian Mysticism in the past two millenia. Some of it is very heavy going, to be sure, but the brevity of the selections helps with these (and, of course, disappoints with others that are so compelling). For anyone seeking a tour through this incredible milieu, this book is a great place to start.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Yaholo

    A wonderful collection of writings all through the history of Christianity. While containing many expected works, it is the deep cuts and rare gems which make this collection shine. Even if you feel your library is exhaustive, this collection is still worth a look.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Shannon

    Bernard McGinn, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago Divinity School, is a towering intellect in the field of the history of Christian Mysticism. The author of a multi-volume history of the subject and numerous comparative works, his corpus of writing provides a comprehensive overview of the subject. This volume by contrast provides an excellent introduction, covering key writings that both shaped Christian mysticism and track its development through history. This is a great introducti Bernard McGinn, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago Divinity School, is a towering intellect in the field of the history of Christian Mysticism. The author of a multi-volume history of the subject and numerous comparative works, his corpus of writing provides a comprehensive overview of the subject. This volume by contrast provides an excellent introduction, covering key writings that both shaped Christian mysticism and track its development through history. This is a great introduction by a knowledgeable authority. Highly recommended as a place to get one's bearings in the study of Christian mysticism, as well as for the beauty of the writings he selects.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dominique

    This is a very useful reference text. McGinn's introduction is clear and gives you a good overall picture of mysticism. The key takeaway is that these texts aren't just for the religious. Like all great literature, they also inform on the human condition and therefore have value for all manner of academic fields, philosophy included. I particularly liked the chapter on Julian of Norwich. Fun fact: did you know she is the first woman to write a complete (surviving) work in the English language? R This is a very useful reference text. McGinn's introduction is clear and gives you a good overall picture of mysticism. The key takeaway is that these texts aren't just for the religious. Like all great literature, they also inform on the human condition and therefore have value for all manner of academic fields, philosophy included. I particularly liked the chapter on Julian of Norwich. Fun fact: did you know she is the first woman to write a complete (surviving) work in the English language? Really fascinating.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Willy Marz Thiessam

    A nice selection. One wishes for more after treading it but this work both wets the appetite and satisfies one's desire for theological mysticism. You can't go wrong with this volume. Especially nice was the Archbishop of Canterbury's introduction.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Cook

    Marvelous. I couldn't imagine a more comprehensive selection of authors or works. Many writers whose works were sampled here--Meister Eckhart, Pseudo-Dionysius, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Thomas Merton just to name some--I will certainly be returning to.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dawson

    An excellent overview/introduction on the subject of Christian mysticism.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tamara Murphy

    Of all the required reading for my spiritual direction certification, the mystics challenge me the most. Their ardor and affection for the triune God reveals layers of 21st-century cynicism that cloud my ability to adore God. For example this stunning exclamation from St. John of the Cross “O sweet burn! O delicious wound! O tender hand! O gentle touch That savors of eternal life, And pays every debt! In slaying you have changed death into life” In Thomas Merton, I feel like I’ve found the most helpf Of all the required reading for my spiritual direction certification, the mystics challenge me the most. Their ardor and affection for the triune God reveals layers of 21st-century cynicism that cloud my ability to adore God. For example this stunning exclamation from St. John of the Cross “O sweet burn! O delicious wound! O tender hand! O gentle touch That savors of eternal life, And pays every debt! In slaying you have changed death into life” In Thomas Merton, I feel like I’ve found the most helpful guide in holding together the two ends of one rope - contemplation and obedience (or surrender). “Contemplation is also the response to a call: a call from Him who has no voice, and yet who speaks in everything that is, and who, most of all, speaks in the depths of our own being: for we ourselves are words of his. But we are words that are meant to respond to him, to answer to him, to echo him, and even in some way to contain him and signify him. Contemplation is this echo. It is a deep resonance in the inmost center of our spirit in which our very life loses its separate voice and re-sounds with the majesty and the mercy of the Hidden and Living One. He answers himself in us and this answer is divine life, divine creativity, making all things new. We ourselves become his echo and his answer. It is as if in creating us God asked a question, and in awakening us to contemplation he answered the question, so that the contemplative is at the same time, question and answer.” ( Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation) In Merton’s call to both hold closely our contemplative encounters with God and our desire to share the joy with everyone we meet, I heard a beautiful echo of what I believe to be God’s calling on my life: “At the same time [the contemplative] most earnestly wants everybody else to share his peace and his joy. His contemplation gives him a new outlook on the world of men. He looks about him with a secret and tranquil surmise which he perhaps admits to no one; hoping to find in the faces of other men or to hear in their voices some sign of vocation and potentiality for the same deep happiness and wisdom. He finds himself speaking of God to the men in whom he hopes he has recognized the light of his own peace, the awakening of his own secret: or if he cannot speak to them, he writes for them, and his contemplative life is still imperfect without sharing, without companionship, without communion.” (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation) Among the other highlights from reading this anthology, I appreciated learning the influence of John Cassian on the prayers we use in the daily offices (“O Lord, make haste to help us”) and his teaching emphasis on “puritas cordis” (purity of heart) and “oratio ignita” (fiery prayer). I’m always encouraged by Julian of Norwich, and in this reading it was hearing more about her teaching on the “motherhood of Jesus”. Julian of Norwich provided me with what I’d love to be my own eulogy: “I wanted to live so as to love God better and for longer, and therefore know and love him better in the bliss of heaven...Good Lord, may my ceasing to live be to your glory.” (p. 239) Amen. May it be so!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Derrick Ferree

    "No one is more shy than a contemplative... ...His contemplation gives him new outlook on the world of men. He looks about him with a secret and tranquil surmise which he perhaps admits to no one, hoping to find in the faces of other men or to hear in their voices some sign of vocation and potentiality for the same deep happiness and wisdom." I started reading this book almost four years ago when things got a little weird for me. Reading through it, it was nice to see where I might fit in on my "No one is more shy than a contemplative... ...His contemplation gives him new outlook on the world of men. He looks about him with a secret and tranquil surmise which he perhaps admits to no one, hoping to find in the faces of other men or to hear in their voices some sign of vocation and potentiality for the same deep happiness and wisdom." I started reading this book almost four years ago when things got a little weird for me. Reading through it, it was nice to see where I might fit in on my own spiritual journey. That being said, it's astouding the amount of thought and bickering people put into God and the Christian faith. Sometimes, I feel it is too much, and that it's simpler than people make it. The book is constructed well, and ends close to where I quote. It's a journey through spiritual maturity and even criticism. I think philosophers (without religious attachment) might even find it interesting. How can we touch, experience, hear or be in the presence of God?? This book gives you some good ideas based on the history of the mystics.... Don't call 'em heretics.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Brad

    This is, hands down, the best collection of it's kind that I have ever seen. It gives the good, the bad and the ugly, and doesn't allow the modern namby-pamby view of the ancient "mystics" that is offered by most Christian/New Age authors today. McGinn gives an incredibly rounded topical (rather than chronological) organization of mystical writings throughout the centuries of the Church Age. This volume is not for the faint of heart. If you "like the mystics" in the buffet table way of wanting t This is, hands down, the best collection of it's kind that I have ever seen. It gives the good, the bad and the ugly, and doesn't allow the modern namby-pamby view of the ancient "mystics" that is offered by most Christian/New Age authors today. McGinn gives an incredibly rounded topical (rather than chronological) organization of mystical writings throughout the centuries of the Church Age. This volume is not for the faint of heart. If you "like the mystics" in the buffet table way of wanting to take the relational aspect without the aestheticism McGinn rightly won't have it. The universalism and aestheticism is part of the package and the mystics have little to offer it you don't take the "whole pill." An honest exploration will prove that the pill doesn't offer much either, as it is always, at the end, works based salvation/sanctification. Which is never effective. (Gal. 2:20)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Picks the best sections of works from scores of theologians. Well-organized by themes. The short bibliographies are concise and do a great job of putting the texts into proper perspective so you get a sense of where each mystic got his/her ideas. Would certainly like to own a copy someday. A book I will go back to again and again, I'm sure.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amos Smith

    If I were to recommend where to start when it comes to writings of Christian Mysticism, I would say start with this book. It is the best anthology of Christian mystical writings I know. And it's presented in a clear accessible way. Highly recommended!! -Amos Smith (author of Healing The Divide: Recovering Christianity's Mystic Roots)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    A wonderfully cryptic and strange cover design caught my eye instantly when I saw this book for the first time, even before I became familiar with McGinn as an author and historian. Again, another tome of interesting possibility that sits on my bedside table waiting for me.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Fawn

    I wish there were more writings by hadewijch of antwerp in this, but it covers a lot of ground... and the cover illustration ('christian allegory' by jan provost) is totally almost worth the price of the book alone.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Quin Herron

    An engaging, wide ranging survey of Christian mystical thought and experience, this volume places mysticism in perspective with tradition throughout history as a controversial wellspring of spiritual understanding.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    I think this book will forever be on my "currently reading" shelf for two reasons; it is so good & it is so long. I think this book will forever be on my "currently reading" shelf for two reasons; it is so good & it is so long.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Kotzin

    Haven't actually finished. Need to re-read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

  22. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rick

  24. 4 out of 5

    Diana Gonzalez

  25. 4 out of 5

    Paul Harvey

  26. 5 out of 5

    Will

  27. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  28. 4 out of 5

    Glenn Crabtree

  29. 4 out of 5

    Robert

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ducky

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