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The Roots of Christian Mysticism

Friends, the following is an excerpt from a book titled The Roots of Christian Mysticism by Olivier Clément. This book was very helpful for me as I was exploring the Orthodox Church and Tradition some twenty years ago and I continue to find it a wonderful synthesis of spiritual and patristic wisdom that I return to again and again. -Fr John

The ancient Greeks, to symbolize a true meeting, used to use a split ring whose two separate halves were joined together again. In Christ the world is joined together again in symbol, in a profusion of symbols. The invisible part appears in the visible: the visible draws its meaning from the invisible. Each symbolizes the other in the 'house of the world', of which God is the 'eccentric centre', being radically transcendent. God transcends the intelligible as well as the visible, but through the incarnation of the Logos he penetrates them both, transfigures and unites them. The world is a vast incarnation which the fall of the human race tries to contradict. The diabolos, the opposite of the symbolon, is continually trying to keep apart the separated halves of the ring; but they come together in Christ. Christian symbolism expresses nothing less than the union in Christ of the divine and the human - of which the cosmos becomes the dialogue - displaying the circulation in Christ of glory between 'earth' and 'heaven', between the visible and the invisible.

God's love for humanity wraps the spiritual in the perceptible, the super-essential in the essence. It gives form . . . to what is formless and, through a variety of symbols, it multiplies and shapes Simplicity that has no shape.

-Dionysius the Areopagite

The world is one . . . for the spiritual world in its totality is manifested in the totality of the perceptible world, mystically expressed in symbolic pictures for those who have eyes to see. And the perceptible world in its entirety is secretly fathomable by the spiritual world in its entirety, when it has been simplified and amalgamated by means of the spiritual realities. The former is embodied in the latter through the realities; the latter in the former through the symbols. The operation of the two is one.

-Maximus the Confessor

The divine apostle says: 'Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature . . . has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made' (Romans 1.20). If the invisible things are seen by means of the visible, the visible things are perceived in a far greater measure through the invisible by those who devote themselves to contemplation. For the symbolic contemplation of spiritual things by means of the visible is nothing other than the understanding in the Spirit of visible things by means of the invisible.

-Maximus the Confessor

So everything is symbolic: all creatures, however lowly, and their relationships, their balance, in which life springs unceasingly from death. The purity of matter, that point of transparency at the heart of things, reaches its perfection in Mary's fruitful virginity. Alongside the utilitarian use of objects, or rather by means of it, one must learn to contemplate the flowering of heavenly realities in them. There is not only the horizontal concatenation of cause and effect. Each created object when contemplated 'vertically' expands to infinite horizons. Only this 'vertical' knowledge can clarify the scientific quest and limit and guide its technical power. Homo faber (Man the Maker) suffocates himself and suffocates the world if he is not in the first-place homo celebrans (Man the Worshipper).

-Olivier Clément

The Roots of Christian Mysticism.

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