The End of Europe's Middle Ages


Mysticism is a tradition based on the belief that the mystical experience is a key aspect of religious life. The mystical experience is essentially a mental state in which the individual acquires a sense of union with God. The pursuit of this state is common to many religions and is often achieved after a long period of ascetic practice and intense contemplation. The development of Christian mysticism was influenced by gnosticism. From gnosticism, it inherited the tradition of ascetism and monasticism, which gave mysticism an emphasis on contemplation and neoplatonism, particularly the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite.

During the later Middle Ages, mysticism became a popular form of religious expression mainly as result of the Plague and the decadence of the Church. It was perceived to be a way of renewing Christianity, deepening spirituality, and strengthening faith. Dominant medieval figures, including Bernard of Clairvaux, Meister Eckhart, and Thomas á Kempis, encouraged practices that might result in the mystical experience. The later figures, particularly Eckhart and Kempis de-emphasized traditional religious practices such as reliance on the sacraments and adherence to the Commandments in favour of more individualized guides to conduct that resulted from the mystic union with God.

Return to The Church

The End of Europe's Middle Ages / Applied History Research Group / University of Calgary
Copyright © 1997, The Applied History Research Group