The way forward on the “Spirit,” can take various paths, the way I am going to approach this—to start off—is to take a look at the some of the first charismatics, the Mystics of the Medieval period. There is a movement afoot, amongst both academics and the populace, both Protestant and Catholic, which is finding depth of spirituality within the Mystical Tradition. This “depth” is in contrast to the mathematical rationalism that has so defined Western Christianity for centuries; logic, naked truth, the kernel not the husk, certainty, precision these are all hallmarks of a spirituality that just does not meet the inner longings of most. This is true of both today, as sure as it was six hundred years ago; in the medieval period, early, scholasticism had taken root through folks like Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, et al. Without getting into the details, this was a discipline, both methodological and conceptual, that indeed emphasized mathematical certainty relative to approaching and articulating God. This was a discipline that had nothing subjective, no relationality inherent to its spectre, thus this spawned a reaction, it drove some of its very children into a tradition that had already developed in the Patristic past—The Mystical Tradition.
Jean Gerson was one of these “scholastics” who had enough of it, he offered a contrast/comparison between the scholastic/mystical traditions whose sentiment will serve us well at alerting us to what features shape mysticism. Steven Ozment provides a good summary on Gerson’s points:
In his magisterial study, On Mystical Theology, Gerson (1363-1429), chancellor of the University of Paris and an accomplished spiritual writer, contrasted the different approaches to God and religion in scholastic and mystical theology. The work was both a summary of the temperamental differences that historically divided the scholastic and spiritual traditions and an eloquent statement of the latter’s superiority. Scholastic and mystical theologians were seen to differ, first of all, in their basic sources. Scholastics derived their information about God and religion from God’s “outward effects”; they studied the Bible and church history and read theological commentaries. Mystical theologians, by contrast, found their basic sources in records of God’s “internal effects,” that is, in evidence of divine presence in the recorded history and tradition of the heart. A second difference cited by Gerson was that scholastics relied on reason and distrusted the emotions, while mystical theologians trusted the affections—provided they had been disciplined by true doctrine—and believed that the reasons of the heart were closer to God than the speculations of the mind. Third, while scholastics strove to behold God as the highest truth, mystical theologians sought to embrace him as the highest good. A fourth difference lay in the mystical theologian’s belief that love could reach farther than reason and help the mind transcend its natural limitations; following the pes amoris, the pes cognitionis was able to enter regions otherwise inaccessible to it. Gerson compared this to the way fire caused water to boil over; heated by love, the mind bounded to new heights.
Gerson drew two further contrasts between scholastic and mystical theology. He described the mystical way to God as the more democratic: “even young girls and simple people [idiotae]” could become experts in mystical theology, where love and personal experience, not formal university training, were the essential requirements. Finally, Gerson presented the mystical way as intrinsically more self-fulfilling, since love gave both the heart and the mind a satisfaction beyond any that the mere technical knowledge of scholastic theologians could provide. (Steven Ozment, “The Age of Reform,” 73-4)
There is a lot provided here. Let me just draw a couple of distinctions. Unlike Charismatics of today, this tradition, as underscored by Gerson and Ozment, was that an “engaged mind” was still important. There was also the presupposition that the contemplative life was not driven in abstraction from “thoughtful” informing voices within the life and history of the church, but just the opposite. In other words, unlike charismatics of today, who have the pietistic past behind them, being a Mystic, in the tradition that Gerson was in, was presupposed by the fact that there was a deep contemplative knowledge of both scripture and Christian writers informing and shaping their mystical contemplation.
While there is indeed dissimilarity between Mystics and Charismatics of today, there is some similarity as well. We will have to pick up on this later, by the way Gerson had great impact on Luther, and I think some of the points noted above provide some interesting insight in that direction.