January 26, 2013
Mystical Theology and the Truth about Humanity
Last year, the International Theological Commission released a document entitled Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria. The commission distinguishes scientific theology from mystical theology, and recognizes a kind of secondary role for mystical theology in theological research. In doing this, the commission is bringing back into the theological discussion a kind of contemplative knowing that modern thinkers have often held in disdain. There is after all a prejudice against prayer living in the abstract idealism which drives mainstream culture to nihilism. The Commission is inviting us to consider that the mystical knowledge given in contemplation is no anachronistic or sentimental exercise. On the contrary, the life of the Church suggests that it is the only way forward toward what is genuinely human and fully alive in this world.
What is mystical theology? Although it is reflected in the teachings of the Church and shines out whenever the Holy Bible is prayerfully read, this wisdom is not something accomplished or obtained primarily by intellectual effort or psychological feat. Mystical wisdom is primarily a gift, something produced by the “object” of Christian prayer, an “object” who cannot really be reduced to an object at all – for God is ineffable mystery, a mystery of relationship, of love so full of meaning that any reverent effort to seek meaning in Him always falls into the silence of humble adoration. Mystical wisdom is a living awareness of God’s presence in which one is made more and more vulnerable to the inexhaustible riches of his love.
Mystical theology is, in this sense, a kind of knowing that only love knows. This loving awareness is a participation in the kind of knowing with which the Son knows the Father from all eternity. This interpersonal, relational, “I-Thou” knowing is intrinsic to Christian faith. It is its directional element – the reason for which we believe. To give us this wisdom is why the Father sent the Son into the world – it is this wisdom that saves humanity.
The Mystery of God revealed by Word of the Father is paradoxically more transcendent and more immanent than any deity conceived in the human heart or produced by the driving forces of human history. This Divine “Subject” is the most unique “Thou” in the world because He is Trinity: One Uncreated Nature and Three Divine Persons whose life is constituted in the unseen glory of their eternal mutual love and knowledge which by their ineffable nature They share. Everything that “is” comes from being known in this eternal love the Three Persons exchange with one another and beyond what is known in this love nothing exists.
This mystery of love holds my human “I” and every human “I” in existence not only in this present life which is subject to death but in the possibility of new life which the full love and knowledge of which this present life cannot hold. This is not simply a question of my own individualized “self,” alienated by sin from every other “self” as it is, but most especially of the ecclesial “I.”
It is in the Body of Christ that new life establishes humanity in true communion with one another in Him. Here, in this new life, each individual “self” has the opportunity to go beyond itself, to give itself in love and only in this self-gift can the human person discover the truth. This truth is not reducible to facts or results - but it is the only thing that ultimately makes sense out of the facts and results of our lives together. This truth which the Church proposes not only by its teaching but by its very life in the world is the same as that to which all branches of human knowledge are ultimately ordered if they are ultimately to be any kind of knowledge at all.
What is this truth? We are each and everyone love by an exceeding love. It is by this love alone that our dignity and destiny is implicated in God in whose image and likeness we have been fashioned and restored. It is in the Church that the alienation we suffer from one another and from God is over come. God Himself is the animating principle of life for the immaculate Bride He summoned into existence and purified by His blood. Through her life in the world, a new life that comes from Him, He communicates the glory of His love to all creation.
Christian mystical prayer beholds with the eyes of the Bride He who has revealed Himself as “Bridegroom.” Mystical theology is a kind of knowing or beholding or attending to this Ineffable Mystery in faith that only the bond of grace in the Church, Christ’s mystical body, makes possible. It is only out of this ecclesial reality that any scientific theology finds the basis from which to proceed. In no other religion does the object of belief, study, and contemplation coincide in such saving truth.