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Mystic Union: An Essay in the Phenomenology of Mysticism.

Since the rise of logical positivism and linguistic analysis earlier this century, mysticism and religious experience, especially in their Christian forms, have often fared badly at the hands of English-speaking philosophers. However, new philosophical studies, more carefully rooted in the primary texts of the Christian mystical tradition, have now begun to appear. Among them, Pike here offers one of the most important and fully developed defenses of the possibility of phenomenologically theistic mystical states.

In Part 1, Pike attempts to "provide phenomenological analyses of several states of union as ... described and explained in the classical primary literature of the Christian mystical tradition" (xiii), not only "to achieve clarity for its own sake," but also "to provide some hedge against the possibility that the subtleties of the Christian mystical literature might go undiscovered and thus unappreciated in the philosophical discussion of mysticism now in progress" (170). And so he examines in detail: three classic contemplative states (prayer of quiet, prayer of full union, and rapture) described by St. Teresa; some variants on such states, including the occasional blossoming of full union or rapture into the experience of "union without distinction"; the traditional doctrine of "spiritual senses"; and the "bridal" and "nursing" imagery found in many of the primary texts. He quotes from Augustine, Bernard, Angela of Foligno, Julian of Norwich, Suso, Teresa, John of the Cross, Francis de Sales, and many others. One may quibble with his exegesis in places, or question the heavy reliance on excerpts anthologized by Poulain and Farges, but overall Pike makes a convincing case that Christian mysticism comes in a variety of phenomenally distinct forms.

In Part 2 Pike argues against modern attempts by Stace and others to collapse all mystical experiences (or at least those not classed as "extrovertive") into states of "undifferentiated unity," which Christian mystics only interpret theistically, under pressure from religious authorities. Pike contends, on the contrary, that the primary sources describe, and provide evidence for, a range of phenomenologically distinct states of mystic union, including not only states of apparent "union without distinction," but also others which seem clearly to be phenomenologically "dualistic" and even "theistic." In fact, he maintains that, given the reported phenomenological ancestry of experiences of "undifferentiated unity" among representative Christian mystics (by whom states of the sort Stace describes are usually experienced as intensifications of phenomenologically dualistic mystical experiences), these "undifferentiated unity" experiences can themselves be counted as phenomenologically theistic.

Does this prove that such states really are what Christian mystics take them to be, i.e. experiences of God? Pike does not press such a conclusion here. But this reader, for one, will be interested to see where the philosophical discussion goes from here.
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Author:Payne, Steven
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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