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p. 715. Monastic and mystical Christianitylocked

  • Linda Woodhead


‘Monastic and mystical Christianity’ looks at the development of a form of Christianity that locates authority in the spiritual experience of each individual. Mystical Christianity focuses not just on God the Father and Son, but more on the Spirit which lies beyond name and form. Mystical Christianity appears at the very start of Christian history and has been appropriated by Church Christianity through monasticism, an extremely important development of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths. Biblical Christianity has opened itself to the Mystical tendency in other ways, including in radical Reformation churches, the Holiness movement, and most successfully in modern Pentecostal and Charismatic forms of Christianity, which combine Word and Spirit.

Whereas Church Christianity locates authority in the church, and biblical Christianity locates it in scripture, the mystical type of Christianity locates it in the spiritual experience of each individual. It focuses not just on God the Father and Son, but more on the Spirit which lies beyond name and form. Its institutional forms are varied, and unlike the Church and biblical types, it considers religious institutions valuable only insofar as they help individuals find God. It is in the human heart that the divine is made known, not in sacraments or scriptures.

Like the Church type of Christianity, the mystical type appears at the very start of Christian history. In Paul’s writings it is often hard to separate the two varieties. Some early forms of Christianity which were later condemned as heretical and gnostic fall into the mystical category, as do some of the ‘Church fathers’ whose writing was later accepted as orthodox. Because of its focus on the inner rather than the external, and on the Spirit’s availability to all, the mystical type of Christianity can be threatening to Church and biblical Christianity. By the same token, it often acts as a fertilizing influence within the other types of Christianity, both of which have appropriated and institutionalized it at various points in their history.

p. 72The most important way in which Church Christianity has appropriated the mystical tendency has been in monasticism. Strictly speaking, monastic Christianity is not a type of Christianity at all, but a label for institutional arrangements within which men and women devote themselves wholly to the spiritual life. Monasticism has been extremely important in the development of both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox forms of Christianity. Although biblical Christianity repudiated monasticism, it opened itself to the mystical tendency in other ways, including in radical Reformation churches, the Holiness movement, and—most successfully of all—in modern Pentecostal and Charismatic forms of Christianity which combine Word and Spirit.

Early Christian mysticism

Mysticism is not unique to Christianity, but Christianity supplied it with some distinctive ingredients. Jesus himself offers a mystical, internalized interpretation of Jewish religion, and there are mystical tendencies in the Jewish scriptures, as when God speaks about the ‘new covenant’ He will establish with Israel: ‘I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts … and no longer shall each man teach his neighbour … for they shall all know me’ (Jeremiah 31:33–4). Far from being bound by externals of religion, Jesus claims that the Law exists to serve humanity rather than the other way round, and has harsh words for those who use it to bind and condemn others. He criticizes the Jewish Temple and rituals, suggesting that his own life, and human life in general, is more important than religious institutions.

Paul also develops what some scholars have called a ‘Christ-mysticism’. ‘It is no longer I who live,’ he says, ‘but Christ who lives in me.’ In his more radical moments, Paul says that all baptized Christians live in mystical union with the risen Christ. In his more cautious moods, however, he draws back from the egalitarian implications of such mysticism and the view that p. 73everyone can claim the mind of Christ by using images of hierarchy to limit its potential. Christ, he says, is the ‘head’ of the church which is his ‘body’, and some Christians stand in closer relation to the head than others. The Letter to the Ephesians, which was inspired by the Pauline tradition if not actually written by Paul, cautions: ‘Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.’ Despite such precautions, however, Paul’s theology was easily appropriated by mystical forms of Christianity, including the highly successful church of Marcion in the 2nd century which was later condemned by Church Christianity as heretical. As a consequence, it took some time for Paul’s letters to be accepted into the official canon of New Testament scripture.

Mystical currents were present in Graeco-Roman as well as Jewish culture: in so-called ‘mystery cults’, in Persian and Far Eastern influences, and in the tradition of thought flowing from the philosopher Plato. The latter spoke of a higher and more real spiritual world and imagined the soul floating free of bodily limitations to inhabit a world of immaterial ideas. Some or all of these influences came together in the 1st and 2nd centuries to produce the many different sorts of religious, spiritual, and philosophical groups and teachings that were lumped together by their opponents as ‘gnostic’. So relentless was Church Christianity’s attack on them that for many centuries our knowledge of gnosticism came chiefly from the criticisms of orthodox writers like Irenaeus of Lyons (c.130–c.200) and Hippolytus (c.170–236). In older scholarship, gnosticism was often characterized in terms of its claim to possess a secret knowledge (‘gnosis’), a dualistic outlook which opposed the material world to a higher spiritual one, a complicated cosmological myth of origins, belief in a divine redeemer figure who descends from the heavens, and a tendency towards renunciation of the world and the body. Now it is clearer that not all forms shared all these elements. The writings associated with Valentinian and Sethian forms of gnosticism, for example, develop detailed p. 74cosmologies, whilst other works, like the Gospel of Thomas, have no cosmological interest at all.

There was undoubtedly a similar variety in the nature of the communities which produced these scriptures. Some may have taken the form of organized and centralized ‘churches’ whilst others would have been more reminiscent of the schools of philosophy that were still common in the Graeco-Roman world. Rather than rallying around scriptures, rituals, or sacraments, members of such schools—often female as well as male—would be encouraged to think for themselves and debate with one another. In the Gospel of Thomas, for example, Jesus endorses the authority of women, rejects attempts to turn him into a figure of unique authority, instructs people that the truth is already within and around them, and encourages a view of the spiritual quest as an individual rather than group pursuit.

Early monasticism

As the Church type of Christianity developed, became more successful, and associated itself with the Roman Empire, it became less attractive to those who sought a less worldly spiritual life. One response was literally to walk out on mainstream society and enter an uninhabited, unsocialized place—the desert. We first hear of Christians journeying to the desert in significant numbers at the end of the 3rd century. Though they shared an ascetic desire to conquer the body and its passions in order to focus single-mindedly on the things of the Spirit, they were diverse in other ways. Some wished to live the spiritual life in isolation, whilst others joined growing communities of spiritual seekers. Both kinds helped lay the foundations of Christian monasticism.

We know about these early monastics from a number of sources, including a collection of ‘The Sayings of the Desert Fathers’. These were men and women who ventured into the Egyptian desert. Though they lived in solitude they consulted with more p. 75experienced elders (‘abbas’, fathers), and shared wisdom. Their aim was ambitious: to attain the state of perfection that had been lost by Adam and Eve at the Fall and restored by Jesus. They sought to turn themselves into ‘spiritual bodies’ like Christ at his transfiguration and resurrection. In this state of perfection, the human spirit was believed to be united with God’s Spirit, mind and senses calmed so that perception was sharp and clear, and the body in a state of such perfect equilibrium that it was able to survive with hardly any food or sleep.

Box 8 Extracts from the ‘Sayings of the Desert Fathers’

The abbot Allois said, ‘Unless a man shall say in his heart, “I alone and God are in this world,” he shall not find quiet.’ He said again, ‘If a man willed it, in one day up till evening he might come to the measure of divinity.’

There came to the abbot Joseph the abbot Lot, and said to him, ‘Father, according to my strength I keep a modest rule of prayer and fasting and meditation and quiet, and according to my strength I purge my imagination: what more must I do?’ The old man, rising, held up his hands against the sky, and his fingers became like ten torches of fire, and he said, ‘If thou wilt, thou shalt be made wholly a flame.’

Instead of exalting the achievements of the lonely hero of the faith, however, the desert fathers continually teach the importance of love, humility, and a sense of humour. Only by humbling him- or herself can a person hope to approach the perfection of the God-man. Increasingly, however, we hear of men and women who sought to lay hold of divine power by extraordinary feats of endurance. In the Eastern deserts, particularly Syria, a number of ascetics became celebrities of their day. Some stood for so long with their arms outstretched that their limbs atrophied. Others exposed themselves to the heat of the sun until they were near the p. 76point of death. The most famous of all, Simeon Stylites (388–459), lived atop of a pillar for almost 40 years, giving counsel to the crowds of curious visitors who travelled to see him.

The asceticism of the desert also found more philosophical forms of expression. Intellectually, asceticism looked back to the work of the pioneering Christian theologian, Origen (185–254), who gave Christianity systematic expression by drawing on Platonic categories of thought. Origen told a cosmic myth of origins in which human beings are originally spiritual but ‘fall’ into their bodies. The Christian life is a struggle to rise above these bodies and their desires to return to one’s spiritual origins. Such ideas influenced the most important theorists of early Christian monasticism, most notably Evagrius (345–399) and John Cassian (360–435). This tradition of asceticism pushed to the very margin of what Church Christianity in the West would tolerate as orthodox.

Box 9 Extract from Origen, De Principiis

Before the ages minds were all pure … But the devil, who was one of them, since he possessed free-will, desired to resist God, and God drove him away. With him revolted all the other powers. Some sinned deeply and became demons, others less and became angels; others still less and became archangels … But there remained some souls who had not sinned so greatly as to become demons, nor on the other hand so very lightly as to become angels. God therefore made the present world and bound the soul to the body as a punishment.

We also hear of more social or ‘coenobitic’ forms of monasticism, including that established by Pachomius (c.290–346). Members of these loose communities sheltered together for protection, not least from the bandits, criminals, vagabonds, and tax evaders who haunted the desert and sometimes posed as ascetics. An early p. 77church or oratory (place of prayer) might be built as the centre of one of these monastic complexes, with monks’ cells scattered around. Some communities supported themselves by manufacturing goods that could be sold in nearby cities. This form of monasticism laid the foundation for much that would follow.

Not all early monastic communities were established in the desert. Following the model and inspiration of the schools of Hellenistic philosophy, some wealthy Christians also established monastic communities on their own land and under their control. Augustine of Hippo and Basil of Caesarea (329–379) are two of the best known. Both helped establish the view that social monasticism was preferable to more individualistic forms of asceticism, a view that would later be endorsed by Church Christianity, especially in the West.

Monasticism and orthodoxy

At first, mysticism and monasticism posed a threat to the developing tradition of Church Christianity. As well as criticizing the worldly tendencies of the Church, they aspired to divinize and perfect the human—an ideal that Church Christianity reserved for the God-man himself. The growing fame of the mystics threatened to divert attention from the Church based in Rome and Constantinople, and undermine its credibility. If the ascetics were seen as the new martyrs—witnessing to Christ through their suffering—they made an uncomfortable contrast with a church that was now in alliance with the very empire that had created the Christian martyrs in the first place.

The solution that gradually presented itself was for the Catholic Church to co-opt the monastic movement and bring it under its own control. One of the key moves was made by Athanasius of Alexandria, who harnessed the energy and prestige of monasticism for the Catholic Church. Part of the strategy was to ordain male ascetics and offer them places of responsibility within the Church. p. 78Women ascetics were incorporated through the establishment of orders of female virgins under the control of bishops. Athanasius also wrote a highly influential Life of Anthony, a celebration of one of the most revered desert fathers, whom he depicted as a stalwart champion of the brand of anti-Arian orthodoxy upheld by Athanasius and ratified by the Council of Nicaea.

This takeover of asceticism by Church Christianity had profound consequences for both. As it came under ecclesiastical control, mystical Christianity lost some of its freedom and became more identified with the defence of orthodoxy than with experimentation in the spiritual life. In both West and East, the line dividing clergy from monks became increasingly blurred as higher clergy were drawn from monastic ranks—the origin of the continuing, though different, practices of clerical celibacy in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The Churches also began to model their liturgies on monastic practice. At the same time, monasticism adopted the scriptural, sacramental, and clerical tendencies of Church Christianity.

But the mystical impulse—and its more radical tendencies—did not disappear. In some circumstances monasticism was still able to retain considerable scope, especially in the East. Here, to a much greater extent than in the West, monasteries retained independence and were never organized into centralized religious ‘orders’ under the control of a single abbot, and sometimes under a bishop as well. What is more, the eremetical tradition—the tradition of the solitary hermit seeking wisdom in unmediated communion with God—continued to exercise more influence in East than West. In Eastern theology, where Augustine’s pessimistic view of humankind had less purchase, the ideal of theosis, ‘deification’ or ‘divinization’, continued to be presented as the goal of the Christian life. Whereas the West tended to venerate saints only after they were dead and buried, in the East the tradition of the living mystic and holy man or woman continued unbroken.

Box 10 Extract from ‘The Revelations of St Seraphim of Sarov’ (1759–1833)

A dialogue between Seraphim and a seeker:

‘I don’t understand how one can be certain of being in the spirit of God. How should I be able to recognize for certain this manifestation in myself?’ . . .

‘My friend, we are both at this moment in the Spirit of God … Why won’t you look at me?’

‘I can’t look at you … Your eyes shine like lightning; your face has become more dazzling than the sun, and it hurts my eyes to look at you.’

‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said, ‘at this very moment you’ve become as bright as I have. You also are present in the fullness of the Spirit of God; otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to see me as you do see me.’

p. 79Even in the East, however, there was a tendency for the individualistic inclination of mysticism to be curbed and brought under the Church’s control. The orthodox mystical theologians like Maximus the Confessor (580–662), Simeon the New Theologian (949–1022), and Gregory Palamas (1296–1359), refused to separate mysticism from full participation in the Church’s liturgy and sacraments. They believed that the individual should not seek to be caught up in a mystical union of ‘the alone with the Alone’, but should seek God in the body of Christ made present in icons, sacraments, and the worshipping community of the Church. Thus Church and mystical types of Christianity became closely bound together.

Monastic development in the West

In the West monasticism flourished throughout the medieval period, and provided a home for a great deal of the mystical p. 80tendency in that region. Even though monasteries and religious orders retained considerable independence, their energies flowed into the wider Catholic Church, and the mystical impetus gave rise to many of its most important new movements and initiatives.

A key step in the development of Western monasticism was the widespread adoption of Benedict’s Rule (c.547) as a charter for the organization of the monastic life. The rule gave unity to monasticism as it spread across Europe, and shaped it according to a common framework. It disciplines monks so thoroughly that it leaves much less room for the exercise of individual will and the development of a personal spirituality than earlier, less regulated forms of monasticism. Benedict envisaged the monastic life as one of silence, stability, renunciation of desire, and rigorous discipline. Most of a monk’s time was taken up with the constant round of monastic offices—the eight worship services that punctuated the day—and the rest of the time with work. The theology of Augustine and the practice of Western monasticism went hand in hand. By suppressing his own corrupted will, the monk could be brought into conformity with the will of God mediated by the abbot, the monastery, the Rule, and the Church.

Box 11 Extract from the ‘Rule of St Benedict’

In all things let all follow the Rule as their guide: and let no one diverge from it without good reason. Let no one in the monastery follow his own inclinations, and let no one boldly presume to dispute with the abbot … If anyone so presume, let him be subject to the discipline of the Rule. The abbot, for his part, should do everything in the fear of the Lord and in observance of the Rule; knowing he will surely have to give account to God for all his decisions.

p. 81The 11th and 12th centuries witnessed a new burst of enthusiasm for the monastic life. A reform of Benedictine monasticism in the 10th century was followed by the foundation of many new orders. Some, like the highly successful Cistercian order, sought a return to severe asceticism. Others, like the Carthusians, shared this ideal but revived aspects of the eremetical tradition. Women as well as men were caught up in the medieval enthusiasm for monasticism, often against the wishes of families, monasteries, and the church. It is in this period that the monastic complex achieved its characteristic architectural form in the West with a church at its heart, accommodation on its south side, and a cloister connecting its main parts (Figure 14).

14. The ground plan of a monastery

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p. 82Despite these reforms, the controlled, ordered, and cloistered life of the monastery proved unable to contain the spiritual energies of the medieval period. In the 13th century large numbers of devout Christian men and women sought an alternative context in which to live dedicated Christian lives. The very solidity and stability which had once commended monasticism now seemed to be weighing it down. The fact that the monastery cloistered itself from the world counted against it in the eyes of those who wished to take the gospel into the world. As towns and cities grew, and with them new and very visible human problems and juxtapositions of wealth and poverty, the monastery was becoming less relevant to Europe’s most pressing social and spiritual needs.

Both the problem and the response were articulated in terms of a new ideal: the via apostolica (apostolic life). Its model was Jesus and his followers: constantly on the road, bearing no money or possessions, carrying the gospel to all members of society. Inspired by this ideal, some Christians took to the road on their own initiative—to the growing concern of the Church authorities. Since they had no formal authorization from Rome, a good number of these wandering ascetics—such as the Waldenses—ended up being branded heretical. Others were more careful to seek and win Rome’s approval, and once again the Church was astute enough to see the advantages of taking a new spiritual initiative under its wing.

The most important outcome was the legitimation of new urban-based, mobile, mendicant (begging) orders, first the Augustinian canons, then the Franciscan and Dominican friars, and finally the Jesuit order (the ‘Society of Jesus’, founded by Ignatius of Loyola in 1540). As discussed in Chapter 3, the mendicant orders would later play a decisive role in evangelization not only in Europe but overseas. Though many women shared the apostolic impulse, their options were more limited, for it was not thought suitable for them to be independent, mobile, and mendicant, or to preach. They were left with three main options: p. 83to remain within the home, to join a nunnery, or to enter into one of the growing number of semi-monastic communities which remained loyal to the Church but did not belong to a recognized order. Some of the latter were known as ‘beguines’, and were formally condemned by the Council of Vienna in 1311–13, but survived in parts of continental Europe for centuries after this.

Medieval mysticism

The mystical tradition inspired some of the greatest spiritual writings of the medieval period, and it brings us the first female voices recorded at any length in the Christian tradition. Some of the most prominent figures, like Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179), belonged to women’s religious orders and received their education within the convent. Others, like Julian of Norwich (c.1342–c.1416), were hermits, and still others like Mechtild of Magdeburg (c.1207–82) and Hadewijch (13th century) belonged to communities of lay women. A handful, like Teresa of Avila (1515–82), founded their own orders in the face of considerable opposition from the Church.

Whilst remaining loyal to the Catholic Church, particularly its sacramental emphasis, many women mystics sought a close, personal experience of the living God. They found it in various different ways: in intense experiences of communion with Jesus, in transports of delight, in experiences of inner abandonment and darkness, and in union with the divine. Some, like Mechtild, used the sacraments as a point of direct contact with Jesus and imagined themselves as brides receiving the heavenly bridegroom. Others, like Teresa, favoured a form of contemplation that moved beyond images altogether and in which the self merged with the divine in an experience that could not be described in words. It was also possible to use mystical experiences as the basis for profound theological exploration, as when Julian developed a trinitarian theology on the basis of the ‘showings’ that God vouchsafed to her. To this rich variety was added the work of male p. 84mystical writers, many of whom were in close contact with women mystics and their communities, sometimes as spiritual advisers and scribes. They include Meister Eckhart (1260–1328), Johannes Tauler (1300–61), Jan van Ruysbroeck (1293–1381), and Gerhard Groote (1340–84). They too existed on the fringes of the ecclesiastical establishment.

The medieval Church’s attitude was ambivalent. It could hardly deny the biblical hope that ‘your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams and your young men will see visions’, but it viewed claims to unmediated contact with God with great scepticism, and condemned any suggestion that the mystic could enter into union with God or dispense with clerical mediation. Some of Eckhart’s propositions were condemned on these grounds, and the beguine Margeret Porete, author of the Mirror of Simple Souls, was burnt at the stake in 1310. Inquisitors were quick to accuse mystics of belonging to suspect movements of spiritual enthusiasm such as the Brethren of the Free Spirit. Before long, accusations of witchcraft were levelled at some women—and a few men—who were accused of using sacred things to further their own malevolent designs. In reality, however, there is little evidence that either mysticism or magic ever took shape in large-scale organized movements—other than in the imagination of the heresy-hunters.

Mysticism in early Protestantism

The mystical tendency was also evident in early Protestantism. In the 12th century Joachim of Fiore (c.1135–1202) had foretold an age of the Spirit in which viri spirituales (spiritual men) would inaugurate a new era of love, freedom, and peace. Such hopes had intensified in the centuries that followed, and some saw in Luther the fulfilment of Joachim’s prophecy. They had reasonable grounds for doing so. Not only had the young Luther been influenced by the German mystical tradition, but his early protests against the Catholic Church seemed to indicate his desire to p. 85abolish a religion of externals in order to replace it with a more inward and spiritual form of Christianity. After all, it was Luther who argued that the inner conviction of grace in the heart of the believer was more important than external works, and Luther who announced the ‘priesthood of all believers’.

Such hopes were dashed, however, when Luther and Calvin actually came to power. Far from leading the churches that took their name in a mystical direction, they retained the defining features of Church Christianity. Even Zwingli (1484–1531), the early Reformer who had seemed to go far in the direction of a fully spiritual Christianity, pulled back from the full implications of his position. Supporters of the Reformation who had hoped for a different outcome were forced to create their own, more radical, forms of Protestantism. Some of these conformed to the biblical type of Christianity, whilst others located authority in the Spirit rather than the Word and conformed to the mystical type. Of the latter, the most notorious were those experiments that tried to bring about dramatic social change here and now—often in the ‘apocalyptic’ expectation that this would precipitate God’s rule on earth. Thomas Müntzer (c.1489–1525) became a leader of the German peasants’ rebellion of 1525, and the town of Münster became a centre of apocalyptic expectation and social experimentation. Both initiatives were crushed by the combined forces of Church and State, with both Catholic and Protestant Church Christianity united in their violent opposition to what had occurred.

Though ‘Müntzer and Münster’ became shorthand for the dangers inherent in mystical Christianity, apocalyptic activism was the exception rather than the norm. The mystical tendency in Protestantism gave rise to many different versions of Christian community, few of which engaged in direct political action, but some of which constituted at least an implicit threat to the existing forms of religious and political power. Luther’s disillusioned colleague Karlstadt (c.1480–1541), for example, p. 86rejected the Church type of Protestantism in favour of voluntary, egalitarian groups of lay people led by spiritually enlightened souls elected by the whole congregation. Others, like Kaspar von Schwenkfeld (1489–1561) and Sebastian Franck (c.1499–c.1542), had no interest in establishing new churches as they thought that spiritual seekers should form their own small groups for mutual edification and support. The latter idea helped inspire Pietism, a reforming movement within the Lutheran churches which became widely influential in Prussia in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and whose political quietism and charitable activism eventually won it State support. Pietism, in turn, had a direct influence on John Wesley (1703–91) and his brother Charles (1707–88). The Wesleys were the founders of Methodism, a reform movement in the Church of England which eventually became independent, and which combined Church, biblical and mystical elements.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a new style of poetic mysticism fused Christian and Romantic impulses. Its most celebrated writers are the English poet and visionary William Blake (1757–1827) and the Transcendentalists in America. One of its distinguishing features is its sense that God is found within the deepest human desires, longings, and sensual experiences rather than in renunciation. It was usually regarded as having placed itself beyond the bounds of orthodoxy and the church.

Box 12 William Blake, ‘The Garden of Love’, from Songs of Experience

I went to the Garden of Love,

And saw what I never had seen;

A Chapel was built in the midst,

Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,

And ‘Thou shalt not’ writ over the door;

So I turned to the Garden of Love,

That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,

And tombstones where flowers should be;

And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,

And binding with briars my joys & desires.

p. 87One of the few mystical groups which succeeded in founding an independent, unified, and influential religious institution which exists to this day was the Society of Friends, or ‘Quakers’. Its English founder, George Fox (1624–91), rejected existing forms of Christianity in his quest for a pure, inward, spiritual religion based on direct experience of Christ in the heart of the individual. Fox spoke of the light of Christ that illuminates each individual directly, and believed that those who know the indwelling presence of Christ have no need of external channels of grace. He therefore removed all sacraments, ritual, liturgy, priests, and scriptures from worship. Friends gather not in ‘churches’ but in ‘Meeting Houses’, and in worship they sit together in silence unless and until someone is moved by the Spirit to speak. Quakerism survived by combining a pure and formless mysticism with some biblical and Christological elements, a simple and sustainable organizational form, and a radical social conscience.


The mystical tendency in Christianity is as old as the religion itself, and its inspiration can be traced back to Jesus and Paul. This is the most disorganized and unruly type of Christianity, for it does not recognize the overriding authority of church or Bible. Rather than form its own enduring organizational forms, it tends to shelter within the ambit of other forms of Christian institution, to give rise to small loosely organized communities, and to inspire p. 88solitary spiritual pilgrims. Even though it is characteristic of mystical Christianity to insist on the radical implications of Christianity’s boundary-crossing between human and divine, it can be very threatening to Church and biblical types of Christianity when it does so, and they are likely to insist that the marrying of human and divine is unique to Christ alone. Yet the mystical type continues to be a quiet power at the heart of Christianity, breaking through existing forms and inspiring new ones—as in the Charismatic upsurge discussed in the next chapter.