William Edelen: Christian Mysticism

Towards the Mystery

Trying to read biblical material factually and literally is the ultimate in biblical illiteracy. The bible is saturated with mysticism and mythological continuity, or diffusion. The Hebrew scholar Rabbi Barnett Joseph, in a lecture on Aspects of Jewish Mysticism made the statement that “the bible is the world’s greatest classic of mysticism.”

Moses, the prophets, Jesus, Paul the author of John, ALL were mystics. The Psalmist of the Old Testament declared “You are gods… all of you.” (The Hebrew word here for “gods” is “Elohim,” which literally translates God.)

Space, of course, precludes documenting the thousands of passages from the Old Testament that are pure mysticism, but for those of you wanting to pursue this subject, I suggest you read the great work by Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. The two major schools of Jewish mysticism were the Cabbalah (Kabbalah, Traditiion) and the Hasidists (Chassidists) pious.

The New Testament is mysticism from beginning to the end. Buddhism and Christianity were both founded by mystics. Words attributed to Jesus have him quoting the psalmist in John 10;34, “I said, you are Gods.”

When asked as to where was the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus replied “within you”… The author of John has Jesus saying: “I and the Father are One…” and “to have seen me is to have seen God,” all pure mysticism. The Sermon on the Mount is all mysticism: “take no thought…”consider the lilies”… “resist not evil.” When Jesus was asked why he spoke in parables, he replied: “Because it is given to you to know the MYSTERIES.”

Knowledge of the “MYSTERIES” is always a major, pervading theme in mysticism. If the Kingdom of God is within you, as Jesus said, then all of those millions who pray “thy Kingdom come” are asking for inward union with God in the true mystics sense. Jesus was explicit that the “Kingdom” was “not here, nor there” but “within” us all. “I said… you are Gods.”

St. Paul was not only a mystic himself but a teacher of mystical doctrine. Paul was familiar with Greek philosophy, as well as the mystery religions of Greece, and the mystical Essenes in Palestine. He combined all of these to throw himself totally into a mystic relationship with “the God within” and the “Christ within.” Paul followed the same, identical mystical formulas of the Mystery religions of Greece: 1) rites of baptism, 2) a formula for salvation, 3) a vision of the Diety, 4) union with the Diety, 5) eating the sacred meal that effects communion with the Diety. And Paul writes of a God who is “above all, and through all, and in you all.”

The Gospel of John has been called the classic study of a visionary mystic combined with imaginative poetry. He opens his Gospel with the mystic Logos, the Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Among mystics since the time of Heraclitus, Logos has meant the immanence of the higher Spirit in human life, the Divinity of the soul… the presence of God in our consciousness. The 17th chapter of the Gospel of John is a recreation of the final rites of the Greek mystery religions. It is as true a statement of mysticism as any in the literature of the world. This has been called “The Charter of Christian Mysticism” by the scholar Hugo Rahner, Professor of Church History, University of Innsbruck, whose special field is early Christianity.

For those of you who want to do serious reading on this subject, I commend The Mysteries (papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, edited by Joseph Campbell, Princeton University Press, the Bollingen series). It is a compilation of 13 scholarly papers delivered at the annual Eranos meetings in Switzerland.

Christian mysticism grew with its roots in the New Testament. Theological and philosophical giants within the Christian tradition have been total mystics, from the Roman Catholic Meister Eckhart to the Protestant Jacob Boehme.

I hope that my series on MYSTICISM, with this final essay, has introduced you to a profoundly vast dimension of the subject.

The true mystic has insight into depths of truth that are unplumbed by the discursive intellect.
-William James


Thank you, great article. Christianity is reverent and alive if one listens to the call from inside. The dull habit of preaching, giving sermons, patronizing, condemning or judging others as insufficient is the ego talking about Christ, not the religion of Christ.

Loved this post. I think more people are waking up to the fact that the Bible truly is a mystical book through and through. Thousands of individual scriptures cannot be explained literally. In fact, when one reads the Bible through esoteric lenses, it makes much more sense! A viable roadmap for the soul actually manifest. When we interpret the scriptures literally, one gets a bunch of confusion. Thanks again for this awesome post.