Religion:Pauline mysticism

From HandWiki

Pauline mysticism is mysticism associated with Pauline Christianity. Pauline mysticism shows distinct differences from mystical theology.

Pauline mysticism centres on the mystery of Christ in the believer and the believer in Christ, who is believed to be the one and only mediator between man and God, whereas Mystical theology allows for people from all religions to partake in a journey towards obtaining oneness with the divine and shows secret paths to seekers on how to obtain such oneness.

Definition of Christ the Messiah

This Handbook of Jonathan Hill, defines Christ and Messiah, on pages 533 and 535 as:

Christ the Greek translation of messiah. From an early stage, Christians believed that Jesus was the Christ, a belief that gave them their name. The word Christ soon came to apply to Christ rather like a name, although it was really a title.

Messiah meaning "annointed one", a figure described in some Jewish scriptures, associated with the coming kingdom of God. Different groups had different expectations of the Messiah - some believed he would be a warrior-king, others a sort of priest. The first Christians believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Christ is the Greek equivant of messiah

The mystical teachings of Paul

A survey of the mysticism of Paul the apostle explains that there are different types of Mysticism. Paul's mysticism is not of the kind that attempts a contact with the cosmic or super-natural. It is of a different kind. This mysticism is not a God-Contact- Mysticism. It is a Christ-Mediation-Mysticism, in which man cannot achieve a union with God directly, but may enter into a union with Christ, who is both man and God. This contact is made not by magical rites, sacraments or any works on our part, but by a literal co-experiencing of Christ's death and resurrection. Pauline mysticism and Gnostic or Hellenistic Christian mysticism have been considered to be in direct contrast with one another.

As per the Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology with regards to the views of Albert Schweitzer, Schweitzer did not believe that Paul represents an appropriation of Hellenistic or Greek ideas into Christianity. Pauline mysticism is not about “being one with God or being in God” (Schweitzer, 1930, 3) and sonship to God is not conceived as “an immediate mystical relation to God, but as mediated and effected by means of a mystical union with Christ”.

Paul does not commend any kind of “God-mysticism”, but rather saw human beings to enter into relation with God by means of a “Christ-mysticism”, and it is this mysticism which is central to Paul's message.

The fundamental thought of Pauline mysticism runs thus: in the mystery of "I am in Christ; in Him I know myself as a being who is raised above this sensuous, sinful, and transient world and already belongs to the transcendent; in Him I am assured of resurrection; in Him I am a Child of God."

Another feature of Paul’s mysticism is that the Christian is “conceived as having died and risen again with Him”, thus, the believer has been set free from sin and the Law and now possesses the Spirit of Christ and is thus assured of resurrection.

According to Albert Schweitzer, the Christ-mysticism experienced by Christians is reckoned by Paul to be a kind of co-experiencing of Christ’s death and resurrection: And as for redemption, it is accomplished by Jesus’ resurrection. The perishable world is a stage on which angels of heaven and demons do battle. Jesus also becomes a Messianic King with command over angels who is able to defeat all who oppose God.

Paul emphasizes justification by faith alone (Sola fide) in the Epistle to the Romans. Christ’s death is portrayed as a sin offering, which erases sin and makes God’s forgiveness possible. This “righteousness by faith” is also individualistic and detached from participation in the mystical Body of Christ, and it does not lead to an ethical theory:

Paul arrives at the idea of a faith which rejects not only the works of the Law, but works in general. Yet, ethics are not absent from the thought of Paul, but rather they are re-conceived. By participating in Christ’s death and resurrection, the believer becomes a new creation. In principle the believer is no longer able to sin. However, this participation proceeds gradually making ethics necessary. “It is only in so far as a man is purified and liberated from the world that he becomes capable of truly ethical action”. Paul describes ethical action in many ways, including sanctification, giving up the service of sin, and living for God. Love is seen as the highest manifestation of this ethical life.

For Schweitzer there is nothing Hellenistic about belief in the coming Kingdom of God, Jesus as Messiah, the atoning death, the resurrection, and the saving effect of baptism. Yet, as Paul worked with these ideas, they became more susceptible to Hellenistic influences. After Paul, Christian thought became increasingly Hellenized, reaching its culmination within the New Testament in the Gospel according to John. The mysticism found in the John’s account of Jesus is a Hellenization of Paul’s mysticism. Schweitzer concluded that the Hellenistic interpretations of Christianity that followed after Paul are inferior. The mysticism of Hellenized Christianity is simpler and less profound than the mysticism of Paul the Apostle.

Paul is seen as the architect of this "cross centred" theology, referred to Jesus as "Christ" and stressing his messianic role. His resurrection is seen as the prototype for the future resurrection of all of humanity. St. Paul had often been criticized for directing attention away from the life and teachings of Jesus to a more mystical religion revolving around the godlike Christ, one focused upon his saving death. It had also been pointed out that his concept is almost entirely absent from the speeches of the disciples as described in the book of Acts.

Redemption is seen as an act of ascent, not mystical experience.

According to David Wells, the type of Christian spirituality that became increasingly popular in this postmodern age, is distinctly different from "Agape faith". In his book Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World

In the Pauline message, salvation is given and never forged or manufactured. In line with the description of Agape faith, Pauline mysticism is not a works based mysticism, but emphasizes the grace of God in Christ Jesus that becomes available to the believer by faith.

The wisdom revealed through the mystical teachings of the Apostle Paul, as well as the Soteriology, Christology, Redemption theology and interpretation of Scripture for Pauline mysticism differs significantly from Sophia (wisdom) and the mysticism associated therewith. Sophia (wisdom), also known as Christian Theosophy, is a central term in Hellenistic philosophy and religion, Platonism, Gnosticism, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Esoteric Christianity (see main article Sophia (wisdom)).

Reactive Spirituality versus Proactive Mysticism

In a chapter “Mysticism and Morality,” contained in his book A Man in Christ, Scottish preacher and Professor James S. Stewart (1896-1990) pointed out that Gustav Adolf Deissmann categorized mysticism to be of two types: acting, and reacting. The two different models have been called proactive mysticism, and reactive spirituality. Reactive spirituality is of grace, an “experience in which the action of God . . . produces a reaction towards God.”[1]

In this kind of mysticism God initiates and man responds. On the other hand, proactive mysticism is of works, a mystic communion resulting from the mystic’s “own action, from which a reaction follows on the part of Deity.” In other words, by engaging intentional mystical practices, man initiates, then God responds. Though disagreeing with labeling the apostle’s theology of the spiritual life “Christian mysticism,” Stewart’s distinction helps differentiate between Paul’s reactive spirituality, and proactive mysticism. Of this distinction Professor Stewart wrote:

Much religion has been made of the latter kind [i.e., proactive mysticism]. Man’s action has been regarded as the primary thing. The soul has endeavoured to ascend towards God. Spiritual exercises [e.g., spiritual disciplines] have been made the ladder for the ascent. But all this savors of the religion of works as contrasted with the religion of grace. Paul’s attitude was different. His mysticism was essentially of the reacting kind. Christ, not Paul, held the initiative. Union with the eternal was not a human achievement: it was the gift of God. It came, not by any spiritual exercises [e.g., spiritual disciplines], but by God’s self-revelation, God’s self-impartation. The words “It pleased God to reveal His Son in me,” which remind us that the Damascus experience itself was the foundation of the apostle’s mysticism, are Paul’s emphatic way of saying that God’s action always holds priority: His servant simply reacts to the action of God.[2]

Stewart then concludes by stating that Paul’s spirituality was “all of grace; and it is well to be reminded by the apostle that union with Christ is not something we have to achieve by effort, but something we have to accept by faith.”[3]

In separating Christianity from the mystery religions, David Rightmire also observes that the apostle, “viewed communion with God as an act of divine grace, coming not by any spiritual exercises, but by God’s self-revelation (Gal. 1:16).” In other words, spirituality based upon reaction to revelation is of a different sort than spirituality conjured up through the practices and disciplines of the mystical way. The former is initiated by God, and based upon “faith,” while the latter is initiated by man, and based upon “works.”

The contemplative spirituality promoted by and amongst evangelicals today belongs to the acting, or proactive, category of mysticism. Spiritual directors advise using various spiritual disciplines or techniques—solitude and silence, fasting, walking prayer labyrinths, Taizé worship, spiritual retreats, lectio divina (reading sacred things), journaling, religious pilgrimages, and so on—to initiate intimacy and revelatory encounters with God. But as Professors Stewart and Rightmire pointed out, Paul did not embrace such a works model of spirituality. If practices (i.e., means of grace) are engaged in to promote spiritual growth, then they ought to find precedent in the revealed Word of God (i.e., prayer, Scripture reading and study, singing spiritual songs, witnessing, fellowshipping with the saints, and observing the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Table). If methods of spiritual growth are not sourced in the Bible, but are of human invention, then Paul’s question to the Galatians seems appropriate. He asked them, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). Paul’s paradigm of spirituality focused upon grace. He gave no advice for experiencing spirituality via works of the mystic way.

See also


  1. James S. Stewart, A Man in Christ; the vital elements of St. Paul’s religion (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1935); p. 163.
  2. Stewart (1935); p. 164
  3. Stewart (1935); p. 164