And so the plot thickens and the mystery continues. As I have been self-educating on this subject of Church History, a couple of questions have caught my curiosity, and this also pertains to Christian Mystics. As I have said, as I studied the Mystics I saw a need for knowledge of the history. It all ties together.
Question #1.) Why have none of my Protestant churches educated me on early church history, especially those first 200 years when transition from the Apostles, who actually walked with Christ, was changing to those who had only walked with the Apostles, and then to those who had not even had that privilege. In my humble opinion, this would be an extremely important time period of the evolution of the church. After all, if these early church fathers changed things from what Christ had started, then why? And would Christ have been in agreement with such a change? And how does the church of that first 200 years compare to what I experience today? (Hhmmm.)
And if this is as important as I think it is, then why haven’t I been taught of it? Are they trying to hide something? I’m not saying our preachers never mention the early church and give an impression of teaching the subject, but in my experience, very little details have ever been given. Is it a subject only for Bible College? I think not. It’s too important! It’s foundational! It reveals if we have been faithful to the early church fathers, OR NOT.
Question #2.) The main church history book I was using, was written by a Catholic Priest, but it was supposed to cover from Pentecost to the year 2000. Well, it sort of did, and it sort of did not. As I searched other sources I began to notice 3 names not mentioned in my book. Upon further examination, I discover these 3 Bishops were of “major” importance during those first 200 years! Why would such important Bishops fail to be mentioned by this Catholic Priest? Was not the church one church at that time? Would they not be a part of the history leading to the Roman Catholic Church? How do you miss speaking of : Bishop Clement of Rome, Bishop Ignatius of Antioch, and Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna? Three major players! Again, is someone trying to hide something? A personal agenda? A personal bias?
Well, I don’t know yet, but I have bought more books and am studying like crazy. One book is aprox 1,350 pages long! Thank God for Amazon! But we need to look at our first Mystic! Believe me, more will be said on these other guys when I have a little better handle on this. Little by little it is coming. I’m like a spiritual hound dog on a hot trail! I’m a Retriever trying to “bring back” (fetch) something hidden in time, but not lost!
Our first Mystic I have chosen is a man known as, “Origen”. He lived aprox A.D. 185-254, and he is an amazing story. But I want to give you a juicy part first, so you will want to know him. In Origen, I see the heart of a Christian Mystic. We ask our self, “Just what makes a Christian Mystic?” I’m looking for the “simple” answer to that, and I think, without knowing it, Origen may have expressed it when he was explaining the 3 different levels of meaning to scripture.
Origen was the first Christian translator of the Old Testament Book: “Song of Song” (Solomon). He used it to explain these three different levels of meaning to any given scripture. He explained, on the first level the Song of Songs is simply a wedding poem showing the intimate love between a rustic bride and a royal bridegroom. On the second level it represents Christ’s love for his church. On the third, mystical, level it expresses the deep yearning of the soul to be made one with the divine Word. (WOW!)
My simple understanding of a C.M. is someone who is totally in love with Christ, the church, and his Word! Origen’s example of level 3 is such an expression of such a person. The Mystic is a Mary, not a Martha. But most Mystics also believed their private contemplations in solitude should also lead to godly actions in public. Most Mystics were not hermits hiding in a cave somewhere. They may have had their cave moments, and trips into the desert, but those deep places with God were meant to also bear fruit in the physical world of hurting mankind.
Mystics have a deep love for all things Spirit, and as such they often lived ascetic lives which simply means “self-denial for spiritual reasons”. Fasting would be an example of such. Putting a brother before yourself. Keeping things simple, to be non-materialistic. (Of course, there are different levels of such things.) One might think of our Lord’s words when he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24 NLT)
Asceticism is sometimes referred to as spiritual training, or to be a spiritual athlete. Christian Mystics pursued such paths, but again, the training was supposed to also bear fruit that would bring glory to God, hence, not just a hermit sitting in a cave. I believe the goal was to be more like Christ.
How far down this road a person must go to be considered a Christian Mystic would be hard to define. I’m sure in most of our lives it is a growing process. Most of us do not leave everything behind, become a monk and run for that mark, but if we are a C.M. in our heart, we can still get there, even with all the responsibilities of family and work. We can still fall so in love with our Lord, that everything we do, even washing the dishes becomes an act of worship to God. There is so much to say here, but I must control myself, so here are some quick facts on Origen, and if you want to know more, it can be found.
He was born to Christian parents in Alexandria, Egypt. His father was beheaded during the persecution under Roman Emperor Lucius Severus (193-211), when Origen was about twelve. The beginnings of Christian Mysticism began second century, in North Africa, of which Alexandria was a city of, and part of the thriving culture of Rome. An important Catechetical school was developed there, and Origen became a student of Clement of Alexandria. It should be noted this teacher was also influenced by Greek philosophy; Platonist in orientation. What effect that had on scripture, I’m not sure, but Origen eventually became the head of the school.
Origen became a great teacher, wrote a lot of stuff, and was sometimes described as a “Master Mystic”. He learned Hebrew and became a translator of Hebrew scripture, such as Song of Songs. He also traveled about preaching and teaching. He had a great influence on church doctrine in his day. About 250 A.D., he was imprisoned and tortured. He survived and was released in 251, but was so weakened physically that he died shortly thereafter, in 254. There is much more to his story and material he wrote to be read if you so desire to research.
I don’t know how many Christian Mystics we will look at, or which ones, but Origen has been our first, and don’t forget his teaching concerning that third level: The deep yearning of the soul to be made one with the divine Word. May we all aspire to such things.
Until the next time…