This Spirituality/Church History course will be taught by Dr. Eric Parker, and will run from April 12 through June 18. The syllabus is available here.
Protestantism and “mysticism” have often been viewed at odds with one another, but what this class presupposes is, perhaps they’re not. According to Bernard McGinn, the mystical way of Christianity, the search for “a direct and transformative presence of God,” or what the Anglican priest Martin Thornton termed “a habitual awareness” of God’s presence, is a built-in feature of the Faith. This quest as it is expressed in writing characterizes a particular genre of literature that promotes an authentic experience of the divine presence through reading and inward reflection. Martin Luther was known to cast doubt upon his Medieval predecessors who he claimed were in search of a “theology of Glory” that aimed to storm the gates of heaven through the power of contemplative thought.
Yet Luther also promoted the work of German mystics in the tradition of Meister Eckhart. In recent years, Heiko Oberman has argued persuasively that Luther’s most famous doctrines could be stated in terms used by Medieval mystics. Phrases such as “both just and a sinner” (simul iustus et peccator) and “alien righteousness” (iustitia extra nos) were also stated by Luther in mystical terms of “both grieving and in rapture” (simul gemitus et raptus) and “taken outside of oneself” (raptus extra se). In this class we will read Christian mystics from St. Augustine and Dionysius to Bonaventure and Nicholas of Cusa, with a final foray into the mystical theology of Martin Luther in order to discern the way classical Protestant doctrines were originally thought to be transformative and experiential.
The Rev. Dr. Eric Parker (Ph.D. McGill) is the Rector of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Lexington, VA. He is the co-author of Nicholas of Cusa and the Making of the Early Modern World as well as various academic and online articles. He and his wife have three lovely children.