St Paul was the first great Christian mystic. The New Testament writings best known for their deeply mystical emphasis are Paul's letters and the Gospel of John. Christian mysticism as a system, however, is derived from Neoplatonism through the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite, or Pseudo-Dionysius. The 9th-century Scholastic philosopher John Scotus Erigena translated the works of Pseudo-Dionysius from Greek into Latin and thus introduced the mystical theology of Eastern Christianity into Western Europe, where it was combined with the mysticism of the early Christian prelate and theologian St Augustine of Hippo.
In the Middle Ages mysticism was often associated with monasticism. Some of the most celebrated mystics are found among the monks of both the Eastern Church and the Western Church, particularly the 14th-century Hesychasts of Mount Athos in the former, and SS Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, and John of the Cross in the latter. The French monastery of St Victoire, near Paris, was an important centre of mystical thought in the 12th century. The renowned mystic and Scholastic philosopher St Bonaventure was a disciple of the monks of St Victor. St Francis, who derived his mysticism directly from the New Testament, without reference to Neoplatonism, remains a dominant figure in modern mysticism. Among the mystics of Holland were Jan van Ruysbroeck and Gerhard Groote, the latter a religious reformer and founder of the monastic order known as the Brothers of the Common Life. The 13th-century figure Johannes Eckhart, referred to as Meister Eckhart, is regarded as the foremost mystic of the Germanic tradition.
Other important German mystics are Johannes Tauler and Heinrich Suso, followers of Eckhart and members of a group called the Friends of God. One of this group wrote the German Theology that influenced Martin Luther. Prominent later figures include Thomas á Kempis, generally regarded as the author of The Imitation of Christ. English mystics of the 14th and 15th centuries include Margery Kempe and Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, Juliana of Norwich, and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, an influential treatise on mystic prayer.
A number of the most distinguished Christian mystics have been women, notably St Hildegard, St Catherine of Siena, and St Teresa of Ávila. The 17th-century French mystic Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon introduced into France the mystical doctrine of quietism.
By its pursuit of spiritual freedom, sometimes at the expense of theological formulae and ecclesiastical discipline, mysticism may have contributed to the origin of the Reformation, although it inevitably came into conflict with Protestant, as it had with Roman Catholic, religious authorities. The Counter-Reformation inspired the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola. The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence was a classic French work of the 17th century. The most notable German Protestant mystics of the time were Jakob Boehme, author of Mysterium Magnum (The Great Mystery), and Kaspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig. Mysticism finds expression in the theology of many Protestant denominations and is a salient characteristic of such sects as the Anabaptists and the Quakers.
In New England, the famous Congregational divine, Jonathan Edwards, exhibited a strong mystical tendency, and the religious revivals that began in his time and spread throughout the United States during the 19th century derived much of their peculiar power from the assumption of mystical principles, great emphasis being placed on heightened feeling as a direct intuition of the will of God. Mysticism manifested itself in England in the works of the 17th-century Cambridge Platonists; in those of the devotional writer William Law, author of the Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life; and in the art and poetry of William Blake.
"Mysticism," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2008