The Roots of Christian Mysticism
Stefan G Reynolds
This course is for those who would like to discover the inner depths of the Christian tradition and its mystical dimension.
This course is for those who would like to discover the inner depths of the Christian tradition and its mystical dimension. By focusing on key mystics, this course introduces you to the rich stream of Christian mysticism and how it takes shape in different times. It spans 2000 years and is a journey in time. The First Term covers the period from Jesus to St Bernard of Clairvaux in the 11th century. You can see the full list of mystics covered below. Please watch the introduction where Laurence Freeman OSB talks more about The Roots of Christian Mysticism course.
The entire course is divided into 3 terms and each term consists of 8 Lessons. It is self-paced but each lesson will probably require 2.5 hours of your time to reflect on the material and listen to the audio visual links. However, if you resonant strongly with a particular mystic you may find yourself spending much more time and researching more deeply. Once you have registered on the course you can access the material for an unlimited period of time so that you can truly study at your own pace.
Each lesson focuses on a mystic, and we learn about the times they lived in, their life witness and their spirituality. Each lesson also has extracts from their writings and inspirations to help us in our spiritual practice. There is also a bibliography, audio and visual recordings to allow you to explore further. This course is not just an intellectual exercise but a journey from the mind to the heart – a spiritual journey of discovery.
So we invite you to meditate at the beginning of each lesson and to experience this contemplative dimension of faith. If you are new to meditation, each lesson begins with a short video which introduces you to the practice and we hope you find that helpful.
What is mysticism?
You will be able to watch a 30 minute talk by Prof Bernard McGinn, the preeminent scholar in the field giving a panoramic view of the mystical which sets the scene for the course.
Laurence Freeman OSB introduces the roots of Christian mysticism
What you will discover in this course:
– Lesson 1
The study of Christian mysticism starts with Christ. In this lesson we will learn how Jesus was shaped by the wisdom tradition of the Jewish people. We will learn about his life, his mission and teaching and his relationship with God as his heavenly father.
– Lesson 2
St Paul and St John
The epistles of St Paul are the oldest books of the New Testament and the earliest documentary witness to the experience of Christ in the early church. St John’s Gospel and the letters in his name were written a generation after those of St Paul but they contain the same mystical message. We will look at the spirituality they taught through their relationship with Jesus.
– Lesson 3
Clement of Alexandria and Origen
Clement of Alexandria and his follower Origen were central to this search for an integral Christian gnosis – the knowing of God. They were both among the great intellectuals of their time. Each endeavored to make sense of his faith using the philosophy of his era and so to explain it to an educated audience. They brought Christianity into the Academy, putting it intellectually on a par with the philosophies of the time. The lesson looks at their lives, their wisdom and spirituality.
– Lesson 4
The Desert Fathers and Mothers
The Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 4th century taught a non-cultural, non-intellectual and in many ways non-social expression of the faith, modelled on Jesus’ time in the desert. They avoided the company of the world – and often even of each other. Learn about the Way of the Desert and the path of complete openness to God.
– Lesson 5
St Augustine of Hippo
Augustine wrote a spiritual autobiography, long theological treatises, and innumerable sermons and letters. he lived into the decline of the Roman Empire in the West (from 354-430) and became the key intellectual authority through the Middle Ages and at the time of the Reformation. Learn about Augustine’s teaching on themes such as happiness and self awareness- themes which are still being debated today.
– Lesson 6
The Cappadocian Family and the Jesus Prayer
Cappadocia was a rugged region of Pontus, now central Turkey. The Cappadocians supported an ‘engaged monasticism’ that ran schools, hospitals and served the local community. Led by St Basil the Great, they adopted the way of praying used by the Desert Fathers and Mothers and the prayer phrase “Oh God come to my aid, Lord make haste to help me”, was adapted in the east into what became known as ‘the Jesus Prayer’.
– Lesson 7
The Rule of St Benedict, written close to fifteen hundred years ago, has been lived by millions of men, women and children over many centuries. Benedict’s continuing legacy is the perennial relevance of the Rule. It is still lived today. This short text is considered by many to be – after the Bible – the most influential book in the history of Western Europe.
– Lesson 8
St Bernard of Clairvaux
St Bernard of Clairvaux has been called ‘the last of the Fathers’ in that he still belonged completely to the monastic milieu, before theology moved into the universities. But he is also seen as ‘the founder of medieval spirituality’, in that his mysticism marks a shift from philosophy to personal experience, and from reflection on the Divine nature to a focus on – and devotion to – the human nature of Christ.
“The first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer. We have instead to believe – not just mentally but with the whole of our being (that makes belief into faith) that he is with us, and we in him.”John Main, OSB
“It helped me to focus on the spiritual implications of subject matter which I had previously encountered only in an academic context. I need to ponder on more of the recommended reading (especially Bernard McGinn) than I have managed as the course progressed.”
– E. Long
“Being in a state of doubt, I find it hard to meditate/contemplate on religion. On the other hand, reading about the mystics gives me some space to let go of doctrines and institutional religion. In that sense the course was inspirational and gave me much needed grip/support on my spiritual journey so far.”
“It inspired me more to consider the ancient mystics as my teachers. I am quite excited about how even the language of the desert fathers and mothers is timeless. I feel a yearning to learn more! Thank you!”
– Kathleen C.
What’s Included with the Course:
Peer Discussion Groups
Expand your perspective by engaging in peer discussions around learning objectives, or start your own topic.
Searchable Global Network
Search our global network of meditators and find local groups to support you in your spiritual journey.
Get access to our vast and ever-growing resource library to supplement your practice at every stage.
About Stefan G Reynolds
Dr Stefan Gillow Reynolds is Retreat Director at Mount Melleray Abbey in Ireland. He is a Benedictine Oblate of The World Community for Christian Meditation. He has a Theology Doctorate from London University and is the author of ‘Living with the Mind of Christ: Mindfulness in Christian Spirituality’ (DLT, 2016) and ‘The Wisdom of Love in the Song of Songs’ (Hikari, 2018).