There is certainly nothing negative about Christian mystics. These are people who, through a complete gift of God, experience a direct union of their soul with God.
This from New Advent:
Mysticism, according to its etymology, implies a relation to mystery. In philosophy, Mysticism is either a religious tendency and desire of the human soul towards an intimate union with the Divinity, or a system growing out of such a tendency and desire. As a philosophical system, Mysticism considers as the end of philosophy the direct union of the human soul with the Divinity through contemplation and love, and attempts to determine the processes and the means of realizing this end. This contemplation, according to Mysticism, is not based on a merely analogical knowledge of the Infinite, but as a direct and immediate intuition of the Infinite.
It’s generally meant positively in Catholic circles. Yes, mysticism is a very important part of Catholic tradition.
However, the term is sometimes used in what I’d consider a loose way. I often hear Catholics describe visionaries as mystics, for instance. My understanding of a mystic is more along the lines of the New Advent quote–some kind of direct experience of union with God, or literature discussing the possibility of such experience. People who have visions about the end times don’t fit my understanding of mysticism. But perhaps that just reflects my skepticism about such visions.
***A mystic is a person who has experienced mystical experiences or has an understanding of Divine mysteries.
Mystical experiences tend to be experiences felt or experienced beyond the realms of ordinary consciousness. Sometime they are referred to as states of altered consciousness. Such states may involve ineffable awareness of time, space, and physical reality. Mystical experiences often defy physical description, and can best be only hinted at.
Having said that, a mystic is a person who claims to attain, or believes in the possibility of attaining, insight into mysteries transcending ordinary human knowledge, as by direct communication with the Divine or immediate intuition in a state of spiritual ecstasy.
I love the Catholic Mystics. Some are Doctors of the Church, which is a very special and elevated title only given to 35(?) saints now in the history of the Church.
Let me see if I can find a short list…My favorite saints are St. Therese of the Child Jesus and Catherine of Siena. (I never included Therese as a mystic although by the above definition she might be called one because of her insight. ) Catherine was a mystic, both are Doctors. I’m also very fond of St. Gemma Galgani and Blessed Alexandrina
Some mystics of the Church…
St. Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510)
Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
St. John of the Cross (Juan de Yepes) (1542-1591)
Venerable Luis de Lapuente (1554-1624)
St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690)
Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824)
Saint Catherine Labouré (1806-1876)
Saint Faustina (1905-1938)
Saint Pio - Padre Pio (1887-1968)
Mysticism has a very rich tradition within the Church - as others have pointed out.
In fact the best book I’ve ever read on spirituality is a distillation of the writings of a number of mystics within the Church. The title is in my signature.
One of the most popular of the mystics today and we’re coming up on a special day relating to her and her message.
The book is one of my favorites called ***“Divine Mercy in my Soul” *** It is her spiritual diary and she gives an amazing account of her communication with Jesus and the message he wanted to pass on to the world through her.
For those non-Catholics out there, the Sunday after Easter is known as Divine Mercy Sunday and came about as a result of the private revelation of Jesus to St. Faustina. Another Saint, John Paul II brought this feast into being and backed up her diary as authentic and approved by the Church after thorough examination.
Orthodox Christianity (“orthodox” with a small “o,” mostly either Catholic or Orthodox, though I’d put in a plug for some Protestants too) vs. heretical or non-Christian mysticism; and
mysticism in the sense of a disciplined pursuit of union with God vs. various kinds of ecstatic or weird experiences people may claim to have
What you’re describing as “New Age mysticism” falls in the second category under each of those headings. So it has little to do with what I would define as Catholic mysticism. It has more similarity with some of the phenomena that attend Catholic mystics and visionaries. For instance, Catholic saints have been alleged to exhibit what most people would call “paranormal” abilities like levitation, knowledge of things they couldn’t have known by ordinary sensory perception (essentially a form of ESP, and so on). Now no doubt people on this forum will tell you that these apparent similarities are a delusion and that the non-Catholic paranormal phenomena are tricks of the devil, etc., but there are similarities in terms of the phenomena themselves. I would say that any of these things are really mysticism, though.
Then we have genuine mysticism of a non-Christian sort. I see a lot of value in it, particularly when practiced in a disciplined way by Sufi Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. I see the “New Age” as a kind of cheap, popularized, usually very undisciplined version of that. I do think that the great non-Christian mystics have a lot in common with the great Christian mystics. And the Eastern religions all contain warnings against putting much stock in “paranormal” phenomena.
In the prologue of a new book called “The Rite-The Making of an Exorcist” (2009- Random House/Doubleday Inc), journalist Matt Baglio describes an exorcism of a 35 year old woman named ‘Anna’ in Italy in 2005.
“The exorcism had been going on for the better part of an hour, and the strain was beginning to show on everyone. Should he continue?
Suddenly, the woman’s head turned, her eyes fixating on a spot near the far wall. ‘No!’ the demon said in a deep, guttural voice coming from deep within her-
“The one in black is here, the jinx!’
The exorcist felt a momentary ray of hope, knowing from past exorcisms that this was the demon’s code to describe Saint Gemma Galgani.‘And, the little white one from Albania!’ the demon roared.
‘Mother Teresa of Calcutta?’ The exorcist asked.
The demon let fly a string of blasphemies in a rage, then his voice took on a mocking, childlike tone ‘Oh, look at them. Look at them! They are hugging and greeting each other!”
Then, back to a deep guttural rasp ‘Disgusting! Disgusting!’
To the woman lying on the table, the two figures appeared as if in a dream. Saint Gemma was dressed in her traditional black, and looked pretty much as she did in her twenties.
Mysticism and mystical experiences have nothing to do with “paranormal” or “magical” powers. Visions, voices, locutions or powerful dreams are not mystical experiences but esoteric ones. It is true that mystics are more sensitive to higher realities than most people, which means that they are more likely too experience otherworldly, religious ecstasies than others but these do not by themselves constitute “mysticism”.
Mysticism is not about ecstatic experiences, visions, voices etc. That is esotericism, not mysticism.
Many prominent mystics such as Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity did not once have a single vision or paranormal experience. Absolutely zilch.
From a 20th century scholar of mysticism, WT Stace:
“…The word mysticism" is popularly used in a variety of loose and inaccurate ways. Sometimes anything is called “mystical” which is misty, foggy, vague, or sloppy. It is absurd that “mysticism” should be associated with what is “misty” because of the similar sound of the words. And there is nothing misty, foggy, vague, or sloppy about mysticism. A second absurd association is to suppose that mysticism is sort of mystery-mongering. There is, of course, an etymological connection between “mysticism” and “mystery.” But mysticism is not any sort of hocus-pocus such as we commonly associate with claims to be the elucidation of sensational mysteries. Mysticism is not the same as what is commonly called the “occult”…Nor does it include what are commonly called parapsychological phenomena such as telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, precognition. These are not mystical phenomena. It is perhaps true that mystics may sometimes claim to possess such special powers, but even when they do so they are well aware that such powers are not part of, and are to be clearly distinguished from, their mystical experience. (pp.10-11) Finally, it is most important to realize that visions and voices are not mystical phenomena, though here again it seems to be the case that the sort of persons who are mystics may often be the sort of persons who see visions and hear voices…And there are, one must add, good reasons for this. What mystics say is that a genuine mystical experience is nonsensuous. It is formless, shapeless, colorless, odorless, soundless. But a vision is a piece of visual imagery having color and shape. A voice is an auditory image. Visions and voices are sensuous experiences. (pp. 10-12)…”
Here is a record of a genuine mystical experience from St. Catherine of Genoa:
“…I no longer see union, for I know nothing more and can see nothing more than Him alone without me. I do not know where the I is, nor do I seek it, nor do I wish to know or be cognizant of it. I am so plunged and submerged in the source of his infinite love, as if I were quite under water in the sea and could not touch, see, feel anything on any side except water…I see without eyes, and I hear without ears. I feel without feeling and taste without tasting. I know neither form nor measure; for without seeing I yet behold an operation so divine that the words I first used, perfection, purity, and the like, seem to me now mere lies in the presence of truth…Nor can I any longer say, “My God, my all!” Everything is mine, for all that is God’s seem to be wholly mine. I am mute and lost in God…”
- Saint Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510), Italian Catholic mystic (Life, 50)
The central part of this experience was Catherine’s union with God in spirit, above the level of sense-perception: “I see without eyes, and I hear without ears. I feel without feeling and taste without tasting. I know neither form nor measure; for without seeing I yet behold an operation so divine that the words I first used, perfection, purity, and the like, seem to me now mere lies in the presence of truth”.
How can you describe something that is seen without eyes, heard without ears, felt without feeling, tasted without tasting, devoid of any shape or form but so “divine” that while no words can express it adequately you know yourself to be in the “presence of truth”?
That is a mystical experience.
A bat does not have any eyes. While it is surrounded by light, it is unaware of this reality because it is beyond the level of its natural sense perception. Likewise “mystical experiences” are like glimpses of a supra-natural (and by that I mean “beyond nature”) mode of being or perception whereby God allows a person to share in His own blessed existence as a foretaste of heaven.
Silly me lol Of course they do, some bat species have tiny eyes but often very clear-sighted ones whereas others actually have larger ones. I didn’t even mean to say ‘eyes’ [an unfortunate typo] but ‘eyesight’ (ie blindness, which I know isn’t true for bats either). I should have said ‘moles’ some of which are blind. In fact I was thinking more along those lines but for some reason said bats.
Not a big deal. What you were trying to convey was spot on. I think the quote from Saint Catherine of Genoa sums up very well the mystical experience as far as what I have read; something so profound as to be beyond the human intellect; true union with God, not attainable by any human effort and beyond any human explanation.
I would recommend St Catherine of Siena, ‘The Dialogues’ that go into various subjects, including providing us understanding of the nature of the priesthood in ‘Holy Church’.
She explains the walk in perfection – the purgative, illuminative, and unitive…how we may have all three stages within our souls, how the only way we can unite with the Heavenly Father, is the Bridge of the Crucified Lord.
She has a chapter on ‘Tears’ which I think would be a good topic for an in parish spirituality group for Lent…the various levels and stages of tears, from the selfish to purgative to those who cry out to the Lord for the salvation of souls…