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The Metaphysics of Mysticism - A Commentary on the Mystical Philosophy of St. John of the Cross

The Metaphysics of Mysticism - A Commentary on the Mystical Philosophy of St. John of the Cross

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Published by: Peter Pio on Dec 29, 2009
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 1
The Metaphysics of Mysticism
A Commentary on the Mystical Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
ByGeoffrey K. Mondello
“In finem nostrae cognitionis Deum tamquam ignotum cognoscimus”
*
 Saint Thomas Aquinas
Dedication: to Mary, Mother of God
 
 2
 A Brief Note to the Reader
 
M
ysticism is a phenomenon fraught with nuances, both linguistic and metaphysical.
The Metaphysics
, consequently, as a
 philosophic
work, presumes to address issues of a nature lessthan congenial to the universe of ordinary discourse. Philosophy, to be sure, demands a rigorouslanguage, a syntax, if you will, that is subtly antagonistic to the fluid and sometimes extremelyvolatile concepts intrinsic to the phenomenon of the mystical experience. The austere languagethat philosophy arrogates to itself is sometimes too rigid a probe to uncover, reveal, the subtleand often delicate complexities that inevitably arise in a careful examination of mysticism; hencea sometimes involuted terminology will be encountered in our fragile attempt to render
 
linguistic
 what merely
verges
on becoming
intelligible
. I have, to the best of my ability, limited thisproliferation of abstruse language applied to an already abstruse subject. I have attempted tokeep neologisms to a minimal, but have not blenched from employing them when my ownlinguistic resources are exhausted. Notwithstanding the difficulties inevitably encountered inlanguage, I have endeavored in this work not simply to clarify what is obscure, but to addresswhat is unique and compelling in this type of experience, an experience that has challengedphilosophy for something more than a parenthetical account, an account, more often than not,much too eager to either dismiss this phenomenon, or to relegate it to psychology through itsown failure to provide it with an adequate epistemological framework. Philosophy, in a word,has not yet coherently responded to this challenge. I am not satisfied that I have done so to theextent required, and many readers will no doubt concur with my assessment. Nevertheless it is abeginning of sorts, and if it provokes more questions than it answers it will at least have servedto rehabilitate the philosophical arrogance that has been too ready to dismiss what it findsuncongenial. Hence the impetus of this work.
What this Book is, and what it is not
A
lthough this book is subtitled a “
Commentary
on the Mystical Philosophy of St. John of theCross” it will become immediately evident to the reader that, both in scope and purpose, it is a
 
 3
commentary structured around some very specific epistemological issues. In particular, it isconcerned with exploring the possibility of articulating a coherent
theory of knowledge
that isimplicit, or perhaps better yet, latent, in the writings of St. John. I say
latent 
because the theoryitself is really rather an aside to the very practical issues raised by St. John in the writing of hisseveral treatises on mystical experience. Anyone who has read St. John will undoubtedly agreethat his approach to the subject is more programmatic than analytical, at least in anycontemporary sense. As such, the aperture, if you will, of our focus must go beyond the hard andfast boundaries that might otherwise define our expectations of a commentary dealing strictlywith the theological complexities that inevitably arise upon a close reading of St. John of theCross.In one sense, of course, the works of St. John are a commentary unto themselves, and while thismay simplify matters in one respect, it considerably complicates them in another. The verse byverse interpretation which St. John himself offers is, obviously, the first and most apparent level,a level where St. John provides us with an often detailed explication of the meaning behind hisextremely subtle poetic utterances. This meaning, both in scope and intention, is purelytheological. Our own purposes within this book, however, are not: they are, by and large,
epistemological
. And this is where the issue becomes a bit more complex.A commentary of the type proposed, it seemed to me, must take this first level of meaningfundamentally rooted in
theology
, to the next and less apparent level of meaning radicated in
epistemology
; in other words, one that specifically emerges from an epistemological criticism of the first level. In this sense it is a striving for what might be called hypo-textual meaning, ameaning always latent within, but often suppressed by, the complexities of the text itself. At thesame time it is also a striving for contextual coherence. In any critical encounter betweenmysticism and epistemology, it is the demand for coherence, and not credence, which inevitablypredominates. The often attenuated and sometimes conflicting principles that have largelybecome part and parcel of mystical theology remain no more than mere speculations untilcoherence is demonstrated to obtain not merely between the principles themselves within theirown legitimate province (theology), but more importantly, between these principles and thecanons of reason to which epistemology presumes to hold them accountable. Questions likely to

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