Converging and Convincing Proof of God: Mystical Encounters with the Absolute
Mysticism should not be confused with emotionalism or what Msgr. Knox famously called enthusiasm in the book with that name
Here, then, is the proof of St. John's experience in the words of Aidan Nichols: "Let us take the most repellent human situations and see what comes of them if we approach them as the hidden presence and invitation of the love of God." The "pure" experiences such as these, epitomized in Catholic mystics such as St. John of the Cross, suggest that God is real.
In one instance, in St. Anselm's famous if controversial ontological argument, we went a slightly different way. The thought of God as that than which nothing greater can be conceived gave birth to the thought of transcendent God's existence and hence suggested its reality outside the mind.
In this particular article, we are not going to go from the things that are made or from thoughts of the mind; rather, we are going to start from what some have called the pati divina, the suffering of things divine, or, in a word, mysticism. It is a sort of gray area between pure thought and experience of the created world.
Mysticism should not be confused with emotionalism or what Msgr. Knox famously called enthusiasm in the book with that name. Nor should mysticism by confused with religious experience in general. It is something different than emotionalism or enthusiasm or religious experience. It is also something other than mystical phenomena: visions, locutions, levitation, bilocation, or even miracles.
The mysticism we have in mind is the apex of religious experience, to the point where it is almost a religious experience of another kind altogether: it is experienced as a form of an encounter, even a union, with God. Many of us are unfamiliar with this intense form of religious experience, though we perhaps achieve a slight feel of it in ordinary religious experiences, as, for example, we experience pathos at the sight of a crucifix or emotion at the recital of a prayer. But what we're talking about is of another order entirely.
We might take as a working definition of mysticism Fr. Frederick Copleston's definition in his famous debate with the agnostic Bertrand Russell. Mysticism is "a loving, but unclear, awareness of some object which irresistibly seems to the experiencer as something transcending the self, something transcending all the normal objects of experience, something which cannot be pictured or conceptualized, but of the reality of which doubt is impossible--at least during the experience."
Our guide in this dichosa ventura, this blessed venture, of mysticism will be St. John of the Cross, the Doctor Mysticus or Mystical Doctor of the Church. The mystical experiences he had, and of which he wrote in his various poems and commentary on them, is the kind of mystical experience that Copleston defined as "pure," since the experience resulted in a tremendously dynamic and constructive response of love and human perfection which indicates its veridicity. St. John of the Cross's character is, moreover, one of unimpeachable purity and integrity, and he exhibited complete normalcy and sanity, despite intense suffering externally and internally, as a result of these encounters.
Now, there are extreme limitations in relying on religious experience, including the mystical experience, to prove that God exists, and these limitations seriously constrain the value of this proof. But these limits do not entirely nullify the proof. Perhaps the limitations make it, in the words of Fr. Copleston, not a "strict proof of the existence of God." Instead, in light of these limits, the best we can do is to propose God's existence as the "best explanation" of the mystical phenomena in the "pure" sense. It is a soft proof because of its limitations.
We might list some of the limitations.
First of all, not every religious or even mystical experience is sound, much less orthodox. Obviously, the religious experience of men and women do not all point the same way or to the same truth. There is, for example, the great divide between East and West, where mystic phenomena is one between non-Being and Being. We also need to sort out the religious crank, the possessed, the deluded, or those who suffer from hallucinations or psychological abnormalities.
Another problem is that mysticism is ...
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