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Parent page: Apostasy
Mysticism as replacement for spiritual gifts
Not only are the mystics wholly alone in their private and incommunicable inner clouds of darkness, but also when they compare notes, we can never find out where they stand. Of the post-scholastic mystics we are told that "the accounts given by these various seers are impossible to reconcile with each other," and that "the value of all these revelations varies according to the intellectual power of the recipient. . . . Delusions," furthermore, "are always exceedingly common in such cases, even in real mystics of holy life, and may occur in the case of saints who have insisted that all their words came from God." We must not deny that they are real, holy revelations, according to our Catholic authority, "simply because they are mistaken or even absurd."22 But if that is so, what have we got? The Dominicans, Benedictines, Carmelites, and Jesuits all hold radically different opinions as to who, if anyone, has beheld the beatific vision; St. John of the Cross, one of the greatest mystics, will have nothing to do with visions and locutions, which he ascribes to bodily weakness, while other doctors of the soul urge such experience upon their disciples as the culmination of the Mystic Way. Such mystic revelations, we are reliably informed, "are commoner in women than in men, and are more frequent in persons of feeble intellect." 23 Finally there is the confession so often met with in the great mystics, that, in the words of Gregory the Great, "it is impossible in this life to see God as He is—that is reserved for Heaven."24 What you get instead is such vague expressions as those which Rufus Jones has reverently collected: one mystic feels "an overbrimming sense of presence," another is "inclosed in a warm lucent bubble of livingness," another "hires sunshine for leaden hours," and so forth.25 Plainly the mystics are in a class by themselves, with their big, vague, inexpressible, self-induced, hotly pursued moments of indefinable and incommunicable union with something whose nature totally escapes them. They are a bona fide historical phenomenon, but not necessarily a Christian one. They are a fascinating society, but as unlike the prophets, ancient and modern, as humans can be.
When revelation ceased from the church, an intellectual substitute was ready to hand in the culture and learning of the schools; the same schools also came forward with a "spiritual" offering which the church gladly accepted. That was mysticism. Few if any scholars will deny that Neoplatonism is the source of Christian mystic theology, Catholic and Protestant, and none will deny that it is a key representative of a universal pagan world mysticism. The gospel lies wholly outside this historical current. It has been restored in these latter days by direct revelation, and has flourished in the earth for over one hundred years, without ever having to draw upon the dubious resources of mysticism. One alone among all the churches in the world since the days of the ancient Apostles has been able to resist the blandishments and dispense with even the occasional services of this useful but highly unreliable discipline. Here we have another most convincing test and vindication of the prophets.
- Hugh W. Nibley, The World and the Prophets, 3rd edition, (Vol. 3 of Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987), Chapter 12, references silently removed—consult original for citations.
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