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Williams, who is Archbishop of Caterbury, exercises his understandable and articulate scholarship in presenting the major personalities and themes in Christian Spirituality throughout history to the Middle ages. He deals not just with the "mystics," but all the major writers and their concept of prayer and discipleship.
This entails laying the backgrounds for each writer-teacher's lifetimes. Williams thus provides a dynamic view of the times and thought in the roiling Roman empire and the troubled west that continued after the Roman Empire continued only in the East after the disastrous invasions that destroyed the western political infrastructure.
Gnostics and Mystics
He draws an especially helpful picture of the Gnostic movement and some of its varieties, analyzing how early Christian writers answered this challenge. We learn that some writers used concepts, terminology and theological ideas similar to the gnostics. Some were careful to avoid these.
These writers all reject the Gnostic claim that the Creator God was an evil secondary God, and that material creation and our bodies and natural lives are inherently evil. They affirm the creation by the One True God, who redeems as he creates. One commonality among those writing in the Gnostic era is to carefully affirm that the Christian faith follows the Jewish in affirming that there is only one God. It is interesting to review the different concepts among these writers of creation and life in regard to moral life and redemption.
Active and Interesting
Williams is astutely able to keep all this material active and interesting. This is not a boring academic fact-guide, but a portrayal of living men and women in the midst of their life-struggles. A bit of our historical heritage and comes alive to us in this well-written and thoughtful book. Williams thinks deeply and the reader feels with him his sympathies and uncertainties as he identifies the personalities and inner struggles as well as the outer struggles in which they were involved.
He never leaves the details flat as simple facts, but attempts to summarize what this may provide applicable to us in our time. The final overall portrait is a life-like drama of real people of various philosophical styles and levels, all of whom took their faith and prayer-life seriously and left for us who follow resources as a legacy to build on, in our attempts to know God better and understand how we might follow him more fully in our own devotions and daily life-service.
See related reviews and articles on this site:
God, Heaven and Human Knowledge
Mystical Insights (Julian of Norwich)
Practicing the Presence of God
Recurring Classic of Western Christian Mysticism
South African Spirituality
St Francis: Conversion and Disappointment
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First written 13 May 2007
Finalized as an article and posted on Thoughts and Resources 29 August 2007
Last edited 17 October 2008
Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.