Christianity in the Crucible of East-West Dialogue


Chapter 5: What Kind of Dialogue?


Let me try to illustrate the problems that exist in contemporary East-West dialogue by looking at some of the ambiguities that exist in Buddhist-Catholic dialogue. Here I give myself leave to exaggerate a bit and poke a little fun.

Two Catholics and two Buddhists plan to have a dialogue. The first Catholic and the first Buddhist arrive early. The Catholic is a Western post-modernist who feels that the Church is a roadblock on the way to interreligious cooperation in confronting pressing world problems, and it has treated him poorly, to boot. He finds no justification for metaphysics, and considers Christian doctrine a mythological projection of the inner quest for enlightenment, and all philosophical and theological languages as skillful means pointing to that transcendent experience.

The Buddhist has grown up Catholic, and is a Western post-modernist who feels that the Church is a roadblock on the way to interreligious cooperation in confronting pressing world problems, and it has treated him poorly, to boot. He finds no justification for metaphysics, and considers Christian doctrine a mythological projection of the inner quest for enlightenment, and all philosophical and theological languages as skillful means pointing to this transcendent experience.

They get along famously. Dialogue, they feel, will be a piece of cake. Then the second Catholic arrives. He still believes in a personal God, and in all the doctrines enunciated in the Nicene Creed. And he also thinks that metaphysics is a way to gain deep insight into reality, and he happens to mention these things. There is a profound silence. The first Buddhist and the first Catholic are dumbfounded. Here they are faced with a throwback to the classical era that has been definitively destroyed by our new historical mentality. Here is a Catholic fundamentalist who actually expects to approach the table of dialogue encumbered by all these outmoded beliefs. They want to have a Buddhist-Christian dialogue, but not that kind. In fact, they really want to have a conversation between a certain kind of Buddhism and a certain kind of Christianity without really having to deal with things they outgrew long ago.

In the meantime, the second Buddhist, who is a Tibetan monk just off a three-year retreat in the mountains, has arrived and is struggling to figure out what is really going on. As soon as it is polite, the first Buddhist and the first Christian go off to continue their conversation. The second Catholic and the second Buddhist sit down, and discover they have all sorts of interesting things to say to each other ranging from metaphysics and scholastic-style debate, to the question of the existence of God.

Fun aside, it is important to be clear about what kind of dialogue we are having, and what its presuppositions are. First, we will look at some of these presuppositions from the Catholic side, and then at just what kind of dialogue we are aiming at here.

Catholic Pluralism

There is a de facto, or existential, pluralism that exists today in contemporary Catholic philosophy and theology. No one can become an expert in all the various specialties that make up these disciplines. No one has the time to keep up in all these fields. Thus, we could say that there is a pluralism that will not be overcome. But it is quite another matter to go from a recognition of this existential pluralism and embrace a de jure or a theoretical pluralism that says that not only do different philosophies and theologies have different starting points and different ways of expressing themselves, but they can never be brought into relationship with each other. It is hard to see how such a theoretical pluralism is compatible with Christian faith, and the oneness of God as truth.

There are certainly different conceptual pathways to express the same reality. For example, the Eastern and Western Christian churches have different theologies, liturgies and ecclesiologies, but we cannot say that these differences are irreducible in principle - which is quite a different question than asking whether they should be reduced in practice so that the entire Church, for example, would have the same liturgy.

Let me test your patience with a simple example. There are certain words or phrases in Spanish or French, for example, that do not translate readily into English. They have been born out of a particular history and culture, and a long process of linguistic formation, and so they do not readily find English equivalents. But this is not the same as saying that they are untranslatable in principle. The word untranslatable can have two distinct meanings. It can have an existential sense in which a line of Spanish poetry cannot be translated into a line of English poetry of equal size and equal beauty because of a variety of concrete circumstances such as the particular historical and emotional resonances of the words, their sound and length, the lack of poetic genius of the translator, and so forth.

But it is quite another matter to say that these Spanish words are intrinsically or essentially untranslatable, or mediate some reality inaccessible to English speakers, or don’t mediate reality at all beyond the words, themselves, and so are unique and are unable to be rendered into any other language.

Another example will build on the first. A Biblical exegete is immersed in New Testament Greek, and discovers valuable things that we can all benefit from, but we don’t need to be left with the impression that because we are not Greek scholars there are certain essential dimensions of the Scriptures that remain closed to us. There is a form of anti-conceptualism which fractures theology into a group of specialties that cannot in principle truly communicate with each other. Each scholar is locked in his or her own little world.

The transcendental Thomism of Rahner uses a very different vocabulary from the Thomism of Gilson, but in substance they can talk to each other. They each weave a distinctive web of concepts, but each web looks out upon a different aspect of the same reality. But there has to be something beyond these webs of concepts that allows us to tell when they are true and when they are false. Philosophy and theology cannot survive the attempt to embrace mutually contradictory positions. Catholic faith has always expressed itself in concepts with the assumption that they mediate some knowledge of the Christian mysteries themselves. We may, and should, have contextual theologies, theologies that grow out of a particular time and place and are preoccupied with pressing social issues. Thus, we have a liberation theology, or a black or Asian theology, or a feminist or ecological theology, and each weaves its distinctive web of concepts, and in this sense is unique. But again, the purpose of the concepts are to be windows on the Christian mysteries. There can be no masculine theology that in principle is inaccessible to women, or Asian theology that in principle is closed to South Americans. Here we come back to the basic theme of the relationship between concepts and things we have been seeing over and over again.

Christian Philosophy

This new era of Catholic pluralism has two faces. On the positive side there is a refreshing and vitalizing contact with the world in which we live. On the negative side there is a loss of a common conceptual language, and a synthetic or integrative view of theology as a whole. But with the collapse of the old philosophical and theological framework at the time of the Council we need to ask ourselves if we only gained in terms of a broader, more ecumenical and contemporary outlook, and didn’t lose anything. Isn’t it possible that the underlying assumption of the previous age that we somehow shared a common faith that we were trying to articulate has become overshadowed?

Let’s see what that means from the point of view of philosophy. There has been a tremendous explosion in interest and expertise in philosophies and theologies from far beyond the borders of the Catholic Church. This interest is a valuable compensation for the narrow parochialism that so often marred Catholic life before the Council. But is every philosophy compatible with faith, or equally baptizable? Just because Plato and Aristotle made their way into the Church – with a great deal of trauma and deep structural changes – does that mean that all sorts of contemporary philosophies are capable of that journey? Can we, for example, take various forms of post-modern philosophies stemming from Heiddeger or Wittgenstein or Whitehead and create new theologies out of them? We can certainly make use of the insights they provide, but there will come a point when we need to make a judgment of whether these new postmodern inspired Catholic philosophies and theologies are compatible with the faith. Thomas Guarino, in a carefully crafted article, "Postmodernity and Five Fundamental Theological Issues" which reviewed this question, concluded: "Without a foundationalist ontology of some sort, there is no possibility for logically sustaining the stability of textual meaning or a referential sense of truth which appears to be an essential principle for a traditional understanding of doctrine."1

Even asking the question about the compatibility with faith of various modern philosophies and theologies can be read in certain circles as a reactionary desire to return to the safe but narrow and, indeed, even sterile confines of neo-scholasticism. It does not have to be. It can simply raise the larger question of whether we are proposing new ways to understand the Christian faith that stretches back through the centuries to the medieval theologians and the Fathers, and to the early Church and Jesus, Himself, or are we proposing a radical departure from this faith for various epistemological or metaphysical reasons that supposedly tell us that we cannot know the divine mysteries by faith, and therefore, hardly need to worry about the continuity of our faith with those who have gone before us? Actually, this issue extends far beyond the use of modern and post-modern philosophy, and can be seen in analogous ways in the dialogues with Eastern religions, depth psychology, the modern sciences, etc., as we have been seeing.

This raises the question of whether we can talk of a Christian philosophy. If we mean by this a philosophy that is particularly Christian because it receives its principles, method and conclusions from Christian faith, then the answer is no. Such a philosophy would no longer be a philosophy at all, for if philosophy is to be anything, it has to be the free creative exercise of the intellect which tackles the deepest questions that face all human beings regardless of their religious convictions. Thomas Aquinas, for example, never suggests that Aristotle or Avicenna were not philosophers because they were not Christians.

But our inquiry has to go beyond this necessary assertion. The real question is whether Christian faith, itself, implies certain philosophical positions. Again, it is not a question of it containing a ready-made philosophy which it dispenses to those who believe, but rather, whether believing in the central mysteries of Christianity like the Trinity and Incarnation imply certain philosophical positions. I think that it does, both in terms of a realist epistemology, however much we need to nuance our ability to know, and a certain view of God and God’s relationship to the universe, and especially to us.

Therefore, whatever philosophy that during the course of the history of Christianity, was taken into the Church, was also modified and developed so that it would be in line with these implied positions. This was often a long and arduous process, as witnessed with Greek philosophy in the early centuries of the Church, and in the Middle Ages. If this appropriation and transformation of a philosophy was so difficult, why did the Church do it at all? It is simply because we need to think about our faith as deeply as possible, and this demands the best philosophy we can get. It might be objected that I am contradicting myself. On one hand, I propose philosophy as the free exercise of the mind, but on the other, I say that faith implies certain philosophical positions. Doesn’t the latter make the former impossible? I don’t think so. By faith we assent to the divine mysteries, which we would believe transcend what reason can fathom, but do not contradict it. Faith can be a nourishing context in which philosophy can grow, and even be guided without losing its essential nature or method. We need to distinguish between the essential nature of things – in this case philosophy – and the existential context in which they are lived out, which here is inside the Christian community of faith.

As thinking Christians we need to cultivate a radical openness to good philosophy wherever we find it, but we don’t philosophize in a vacuum. We philosophize in the context of the faith, a faith that has a definite content, a content which is, in principle in some limited degree, knowable to us on the pain of there being no faith. However transcendent the mysteries of Christianity are, they are in principle revealable, for if they were not, there could be no Christianity at all. Both the content of the faith and its implicit epistemology sets up a dialectic with any philosophy. If we give philosophy the absolute right to judge faith, then our faith will change with the prevailing philosophical fashions and might disappear altogether. From a Christian perspective this is unacceptable. Faith has a definite content which creates its own philosophical context which, in turn, makes demands on any philosophy we may care to use.

The Nature of Theology

The rapid transition from the old narrow neo-scholasticism to a contemporary Catholic theology colored by its reactions to the past has left important issues unexamined. The old theology, for example, however much it asserted the supernatural character of faith, and repeated with St. Thomas that our theological knowledge did not end in concepts, but in the Christian mysteries, themselves, and even gave a nod to the piety of theologians, rarely came to grips with the nature of theology, itself. Instead, it accepted the truths of faith like the axioms of geometry, and then proceeded to act as if reason, alone, was adequate to develop the science of theology. Modern reaction theology, in contrast, rightly criticized the conceptualism of the past, but then it sometimes proceeds to act as if the renewal of theology is to come about solely through the better use of reason in the form of exegesis, history, more contemporary forms of philosophy, and so forth. But the underlying question of the nature of theology still remains unexamined. In some way theology must make living contact with the Christian mysteries, themselves. It has to be a way of Christian knowing that operates by faith and is guided by love. Contemporary Catholic theology has to rediscover how a certain kind of knowledge by connaturality is at the heart of both faith and theology.

Theology is meant to be a deep reflection on the Christian mysteries in order to understand them in themselves and in their relationships to each other. As such, it demands the forceful and disciplined use of the human mind through the use of philosophy, history, linguistics, psychology, etc. These disciplines provide different lights that can help us see into the meaning of Christian revelation. The deficiencies of the neo-scholasticism of the manuals vividly points to what happens when we fail to truly think and truly enrich and stimulate our thinking with the best of the sciences. But the reaction to this narrow conceptualism has been an openness that sometimes fails to recognize its legitimate limits and begins to lead to a loss of the faith, itself. Theology is not philosophy or history or psychology. The historical method, in and by itself, will not lead to the Christ of faith. Various forms of modern and post-modern philosophies, or even Eastern religions, cannot become the ultimate norms by which we interpret the Christian mysteries. There has to be more to theology than the various disciplines we make use of in it. It has to have something distinctive in itself, or otherwise it will simply be history or psychology applied to religious themes.

What makes theology different is that it is rooted in and ultimately sees by means of the light of faith. The lights of these other disciplines are taken up and employed in a new way by the light of faith in order to explore the Christian mysteries. We can sum up the question before us like this: what is the distinctive nature of theology? It has a distinctive nature, or else it is identical to philosophy, or history, etc., and then is no longer theology.

Someone once asked Karl Rahner what he thought his most important writings were. He responded that it was not this or that book, but certain ideas that were very important to him. Along with his transcendental theology, itself, he singled out what he called "the logic of the concrete individual knowledge in Ignatius Loyola," which we saw before, and which is an answer that one could hardly have anticipated. And he goes on to comment, "Such matters are important, I believe; they are new to a certain extent and really could have consequences for questions and groups of problems, even where people do not yet see this so clearly."2 Even Jesuit theologians "propose some sort of essential and rational theory of knowledge as the only possible one and didn’t realize that Ignatius had taught them something entirely different." They didn’t "fertilize their theology" with this kind of knowledge.3

There is more to what he is saying than first meets the eye. I believe he is pointing to the issues that surround the question of what kind of knowledge faith is. In traditional theology it was accepted that the act of faith was a supernatural act that took place under the impetus of grace so that the assent of faith was not simply the result of affirming a conclusion made evident by human reason. But the implications of this for doing theology were rarely brought out. Again, it was as if it were simply enough to say this, and then act as if theology was a matter of the rational elaboration of the propositions accepted by faith. What was overlooked was that the light of faith that was seen to be operative in the initial act of faith had to remain operative throughout the entire process of doing theology. In short, as theologians theoretically asserted, the light of faith allowed us to make contact with the Christian mysteries, themselves, and elevates the disciplines of reason so that they could be employed by this light of faith to explore these mysteries. This was not a common topic of meditation in an era when theology wanted to show how rational and reasonable it was.

Rahner’s concrete knowledge of the individual, or Maritain’s first act of freedom, are particular instances of what could be called the kinds of knowing that operate by faith which embrace on the personal level the act of faith, itself, the doing of theology, and Christian mystical experience, and on the ecclesial level, biblical inspiration, canonicity and doctrinal development and the exercise of the magisterium. None of these forms of knowing can be truly or adequately understood as purely rational forms of knowing, and therefore, equivalent in their own way to the human disciplines of history or philosophy or psychology. These kinds of knowing by faith do not operate solely in a rational mode, but by a mysterious connaturality which involves the heart as well as the mind. It would take us too far afield to examine this issue. I have done that elsewhere in The Inner Nature of Faith. But we have to note that these kinds of supernatural knowing find natural analogues in the arts and poetry, and have interesting affinities with the kind of connatural knowing found in Eastern forms of meditation.

The old neo-scholasticism was cast in a narrow, rational mold. The propositions accepted by faith were accepted much like the postulates of geometry, and the real work of theology was seen in their logical development. Modern Catholic theology has broadened the base upon which it does theological work, but we can certainly wonder if it has truly broken with the old rationalistic forms. Does it not now appear to practice theology after the models and patterns of the human sciences that it is employing?

The exercise of human reason, as vital as it is in theological activity, is not ultimately adequate to explain faith and our reflections on our faith. Faith allows us to come into a living contact with the Christian mysteries which, after all is said and done, are persons, and love is essential for this. This contact is not broken so that we can begin the properly rational work of theological collaboration, but rather, it guides the process of theological reflection, itself. Even on a purely natural plane we cannot imagine the creative process taking place in an orderly consciousness where clear ideas are laid out in rows, and their manipulation takes place by the rules of formal logic. Creativity emerges out of the depths of the soul, and ideas are born out of the rich fertile matrix of the unconscious. In an analogous way in theology, it must remain in intimate contact with the Christian mysteries, and it is faith animated by love that allows us to do so. There is, in this sense, a theological instinct that guides and inspires the theologian, not in the sense of supplying in some miraculous way for the necessary process of reflection, or for the effort that we need to master the human disciplines employed, but by directing theological activities to this or that aspect of the mystery we are considering, and helping us find a way to penetrate within that mystery.

Two Kinds of Mysticism

There are two kinds, or fundamental categories, of mystical experience. One is a relational mysticism of love, and the other, a nondual mysticism, or mysticism of the Self. Both are to be found in different ways and in different proportions in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. In Christianity the mysticism of love predominates, but the mysticism of the Self is not unknown, as Meister Eckhart witnesses. In Sufism a case can be made that both currents strongly exist there. In Hinduism we are faced with different varieties of the mysticism of the Self like those found in the Uphanishads and the Yoga Sutras, but there is also a devotional mysticism of bhakti expressed by someone like Ramanuja. In Buddhism we are confronted not so much with a mysticism of the Self, but what could be called a mysticism of the No-Self, but still within the broader family of nondual mysticism. But here, too, there are also strong devotional currents.

Given this testimony of the world’s religions we can wonder if there is not something in our very natures that leads us to express ourselves in these two ways. We might try to characterize these two forms of mysticism by saying that in the one love predominates, while in the other, wisdom. But this immediately calls for clarification. Christian love mysticism, for example, has a strong element of wisdom, while nondual mysticisms can have a strong element of love. We could call the one personal, and the other impersonal. But however we try to categorize them, they form a useful way in which to focus on the drama that we have seen played out in the previous chapters.

What, for example, is the source of the fascination that Catholics deeply involved in Eastern religions like the Catholic Sanbo Kyodan Zen teachers, or Abhishiktananda, have for nondual mystical experience? At first glance we might think that they would be attracted to the devotional side of Hindu and Buddhist mysticism. But this appears not to be the case. It is almost as if nondual mysticism, because it is mostly lacking in the Christian tradition, attracts them in order to supply that lack. Further, it is entirely possible that in their minds Christian love mysticism is looked upon as a mostly conceptual path, and therefore lacking the depth they find in nondual Hinduism or Buddhism. This would fit the historical situation from which they emerged, which was dominated by an over-conceptual theology and philosophy, and a loss of the Christian mystical and metaphysical traditions, as we saw.

Louis Gardet

Let’s look at these two fundamental forms of mysticism more concretely. Louis Gardet, for example, in L’experience de soi contrasts what he calls two great lines of Islamic mysticism, the one a mysticism of love, and the other a mysticism of the Self. The first expresses itself under the heading of tajalli, or the irradiation of the divine in the heart of the faithful. It is a wahdat-al-shuhud, a "unity of the testimonial presence."4 This is not a unity of substance, "but of the intentional order by an act of will, an act of love." This unity of love is found in Hasan Basri and Rabi‘a al-‘Adawiyya, and culminates in Hallaj.

But another later current appears under the heading of wahdat al-wujud, a unity of being, or more precisely, a unity of the act of existence. This is a union of substance in which the human subject disappears and, as Gardet remarks, such a fana, or disappearance, of the human subject, is how a mysticism of the Self would appear in a monotheistic climate.5 It is this kind of mysticism that has become predominate among the Sufi schools and which seems to have originated with Abu Yazid al-Bistami, and with whom it took a form that was close to the Hindu Vedanta, a point we will return to in a moment: "Then I considered my essence. I was, me, He."6

Gardet feels that Hallaj had a sense of the difference between these two kinds of mysticism which was, to Gardet’s mind, a rare occurrence, for those who are inclined to the mysticism of the Self see love mysticism as a preliminary stage of it, while those who are devoted to a love mysticism, even though they might experience touches of the mysticism of the Self, allow it to be lost in that love experience. If Hallaj recognized these two currents, Ibn ‘Arabi was to reproach him for a certain duality in his mysticism, and Ibn ‘Arabi, himself, pursued a mysticism of the Self most of all.7

R.C. Zaehner

R.C. Zaehner comes to similar conclusions about these two forms of mysticism in his Hindu and Muslim Mysticism, and does so following his own distinctive path. He will distinguish four kinds of mystical experience, that of the Upanishads, the Yogic, the Buddhist, and bhakti. But for our purposes we can see the first three as forms of the mysticism of the Self. He demonstrates in considerable detail that both these fundamental forms of mysticism exist in both Hindu mysticism and Sufism. In the Upanishads, for example, we find the strong nondual assertions: I am Brahman. I am That, which are to be taken up by Sankara in his advaita, or nondualism.8 But we also begin to see certain theistic comments in the Upanishads that begin to develop into a love mysticism in the Bhagavad-gita. This beginning of bhakti will be taken up and developed by Ramanuja who, like Hallaj, will distinguish it from nondual mysticism and make it clear that the soul’s realization of itself prepares it to enter into a personal relationship with God.9 Hinduism, therefore, moves from a world where the mysticism of the Self predominates to one in which a love mysticism begins to emerge. And Zaehner traces an opposite course for Muslim mysticism which he characterizes as originally theistic but developing in the direction of nonduality. He puts forth a detailed argument in favor of Abu Yazid al-Bistami, having been influenced by the Vedanta through his teacher Abu Ali al-Sindi who Zaehner takes to be an Indian convert to Islam.10

So Zaehner outlines a position roughly equivalent to Gardet. For Hindu mysticism, for example, the eternity of the soul is a given, and its whole thrust is to liberate this soul from space and time. But in the actual experience of this liberation, the immortality of the soul comes to be equated with the immortality of the immortal Being, and its being is identified with that Being.11 And Zaehner goes on to quote Martin Buber’s Between Man and Man who, himself, experienced this undivided unity which seemed like a unity with the Godhead, but who later reflected and felt that it was the attainment of a "original pre-biographical unity," "an undifferentiable unity of myself without form or content,"12 but in final analysis, still an individual soul and not the soul of the All.13

Jan van Ruusbroec

Jan van Ruusbroec (1293-1381) was an important Flemish Christian mystic, and it would make an interesting comparison to look at his writings and those of Meister Eckhart, and perhaps find in them concrete examples of the two fundamental forms of mysticism that we have been talking about. Eckhart’s name pops up over and over again when it is a question of Buddhists or Christians deeply involved in Buddhist practice looking for parallels to Buddhism within Christianity. The fundamental reason for this is that there are strong elements of the mysticism of the Self in Meister Eckhart. Ruusbroec, on the other hand, represents what could be called the mainstream of Catholic mysticism, that is, a relational love mysticism. But our comparison can be even more pointed because Ruusbroec was familiar with the contemplative movements of his day, including those influenced by Marguerite Porete and Meister Eckhart and his disciples. And he was a severe critic of the natural contemplation, or mysticism of the Self that he felt they both embodied.

It is difficult, however, to uncover the essential nucleus of Ruusbroec’s thought, for it is wrapped in the common intolerance of his times towards heretics and non-Christians. Two points, however, can be made, drawing on the study of Ruusbroec’s natural mysticism by Paul Mommaers in the book he wrote with Jean van Bragt, Mysticism Buddhist and Christian: Encounters with Jan van Ruusbroec. On the one hand, Ruusbroec shows penetrating metaphysical insight into the nature of this natural mysticism, and yet on the other, he severely criticizes it as being incomplete, and therefore a danger to the Christian mystical life of love. Put in another way, this natural mysticism is good because it is a good of nature, but in itself it has limits, or as Ruusbroec says: "However high the eagle soars, it cannot fly above itself."14 But the real problem he sees in it is that it can close off its practitioners from the currents of love and grace that are meant to carry them to God.

He describes this natural contemplation as a "sitting-still (een stille sitten) without any practice within or without in emptiness (ledicheit) …"15 And it leads to an experience of the soul’s essence "as to its origin and its natural rest."16 The essence of the soul is experienced as suspended in God. "It is immobile and is higher than the supreme heaven and deeper than the bottom of the sea and wider than the whole world… and it is a natural reign of God and the end of all the soul’s activity."17 In this way people given to this natural contemplation can have a genuine experience of God, and of creatures in God. "They feel nothing save the simplicity of their essence, hanging in the essence of God."18

Ruusbroec’s characterization of this natural contemplation remarkably foreshadows the theory of natural mysticism, or mysticism of the Self that Jacques Maritain was to develop in the 20th century and which will capture our attention in a little while. But Ruusbroec vehemently criticizes it, not so much in itself, but as a practice for those whom he feels are called to a Christian mysticism of love. This natural contemplation leads, he believes, to an excessive sense of self-sufficiency, and a certain blindness on the part of the contemplative to the Christian contemplative path, and finally to incorrect formulations of the relationship between human nature and the divine. It is as if they are caught up in this natural mysticism and it blinds them to its limits and even makes them feel excused from the Christian devotional path. Ruusbroec feels that they have experienced their own essence and mistake that experience for God.19 Perhaps a more nuanced way of looking at it would be to say they have experienced God in their own essence, and yet they have done it through emptiness, and there is no way to distinguish in that emptiness between God and the soul. Any statements that stem from this experience but are uttered in an ontological mode then appear erroneous because they identify the substance of the soul with the substance of God.

We are now ready to explore the possibility of a dialogue not between Christian mysticism and enlightenment, but Christian metaphysics and enlightenment.

What conclusion should we come to from the fact of these two quite different kinds of mysticism? First of all, it misses the point to try to extract some sort of common essence or use some sort of many paths, one summit, kind of approach. There is an underlying "pluralism" built into religions East and West that can’t be eliminated. They naturally tend to roughly sort themselves according to a metaphysical, or cosmic, or impersonal mysticism of the self, or nonduality, or whatever terminology you might like to use, on the one hand, and a love, or interpersonal, or relational, or theistic mysticism on the other. But this kind of sorting takes place within each of them, as well. How many pure advaitans in the way the West imagines advaita are there actually in India compared to theistic Hindus?

To apply our distinction between the essential and the existential once again, it is an essentialistic analysis that distinguishes a metaphysical mysticism from a relational one. But from an existential point of view, it is hard to see how they can exist without each other. From a Christian perspective the very pursuit of enlightenment can be seen as a "sacrament" of the working of grace. If someone is leaving everything, even the most personal of interior goods, to try to reach the All, how could Christians imagine that this could not be a response to grace, and thus the very interior practices involved a means of reaching a deeper union with God? This is not, of course, to say that this nondual mysticism in itself in its structure and goal is a relational love mysticism. But God calls all people to divine union, and this calling can inspire these kinds of heroic quests which can be means of grace without minimizing or relativizing the differences between the two paths. What I want to do next is explore the contours of a metaphysical dialogue between East and West.



  1. Guarino, Thomas. "Postmodernity and Five Fundamental Theological Issues," p. 660.
  2. Rahner, Karl. Karl Rahner in Dialogue, p. 195.
  3. Ibid., p. 196.
  4. Gardet, Louis. L’experience de soi. p. 214.
  5. Ibid., p. 216.
  6. Ibid., p. 218.
  7. Ibid., p. 223.
  8. Zaenher, R.C. Hindu and Muslim Mysticism. p. 8.
  9. Ibid, p. 15.
  10. Ibid., pp. 93ff.
  11. Ibid., p. 17.
  12. Ibid., p. 18.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Mommaers, Paul. Mysticism Buddhist and Christian: Encounters with Jan van Ruusbroec. p. 219.
  15. Ibid., p. 220.
  16. Ibid., p. 224.
  17. Ibid., p. 225.
  18. Ibid., p. 230.
  19. Ibid., p. 262.





Chapter 6