The Metaphysics of Mysticsm

a Commentary on the Mystical Philosophy of St. John of the Cross

By

Geoffrey K. Mondello

Dedicated to Mary, Mother of God

Download entire Manuscript (free) in Download Manuscript in PDF Format  PDF format or   Download Manuscript in Microsoft Word FormatMicrosoft Word 

Home
Preface to the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
Foreword to the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
An Introduction to the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Mystical Tradition and St. John of the Cross
The Presuppositions of the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Role of the Will in the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Role of Understanding in the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Role of Memory in the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Metaphysics of the Dark Night of the Soul
The Metaphysics of the Night of the Spirit
The Problem of Induction as Pseudo-Problematic
Prolepsis: Objections to the Mystical Experience
Being, Becoming, and Eternity
A Biography of St. John of the Cross
Epilogue to the Metaphysics of Mysticism

© Copyright 2011-2017 by Geoffrey K. Mondello. All rights reserved
author@johnofthecross.com


 

Preface to the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross

The Search for Coherence

 

If there is one unifying feature that appears to bind the great diversity of philosophic thought as it has occurred throughout history, it may well be found in the search for coherence. While the passionate and resolute pursuit of truth is certainly more exalted, it has for some time suffered rather badly, and for good reason has been denigrated as the pure impulse behind every philosophical system. The dispassionate search for coherence, on the other hand, has been, and is likely to remain, fundamental to all good philosophy. It is no less the driving force behind the great Platonic Dialogues, or Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics, than Kant’s abstruse Critique of Pure Reason or Hegel’s involuted Logic. On every philosophical frontier we essentially encounter problematics that demand explanation because they confront us as facts. What is more, these intractable, often vexing elements of experience do not always readily lend themselves to understanding, or if they do, it is sometimes upon terms not entirely of our own making. Such occurrences invite inquiry, challenge us to coherently respond to them, and even in the face of indifference resolutely refuse to be turned aside. They defy us, and therefore challenge us. By their persistent recurrence, they effectively demand of us accountability; demand, in fact, to be coherently incorporated into that philosophic purview toward which all inquiry inexorably moves as toward a universal comprehending every fact.

However elusive this pursuit may be, the impulse which motivates us to exact from experience the epistemological tribute which coherence demands, remains the same always and everywhere: the pursuit of understanding. To leave unexplained – or worse yet – to ignore any recurrent element in experience simply because it proves either inconvenient or recalcitrant, is not merely bad philosophy; it is contradictory to the philosophic impulse itself, an impulse which not merely derives from, but thrives within, the fertile matrix of inquiry.

If this indeed is so, it is particularly apropos of a study of arguably the single greatest – certainly the most voluble and articulate – figure in the Western tradition of mysticism, St. John of the Cross (1542-1591). Mystical experience, despite its many cultural and often conflicting interpretations, remains undeniably a fact of experience. This alone is sufficient warrant for examination. Its credentials lie in the repeated, which is to say, the historical experiences of men and women, and philosophy essentially demands no more of the subject of its review.

It is, however, equally clear that such an investigation suffers a regrettably persistent, if popular handicap: the general consensus seems to be, prior to any real critical reflection on the matter, that in and of itself mysticism is something entirely and irredeemably irrational, and inasmuch as it is beyond reason it is beyond the legitimate scope of rational inquiry altogether. Indeed, apart from the possibility of what appear to be otherwise solipsistic utterances meaningful only among the mystics themselves, it really has nothing to recommend itself to the type of inquiry to which other and decidedly less refractory experiences legitimately lend themselves. This is to be much mistaken. It is precisely this fundamental and pervasive misconception about mysticism that remains, I think, the chief obstacle to a study of mystical philosophy in its own right, the credibility of which, as a consequence, has suffered unnecessarily.

But there is more to the problem we confront at the outset than simply this. Semantics has played no small part in contributing to the confusion that surrounds the very term itself. As William James astutely observed:

“The words “mysticism” and “mystical” are often used as terms of mere reproach, to throw at any opinion which we regard as vague and vast and sentimental, and without a base in either facts or logic. For some writers a “mystic” is any person who believes in thought-transference, or spirit return. Employed in this way the word has little value.” 1

As a consequence, the term “mysticism” has come to acquire a kind of pseudo-metaphysical connotation, or perhaps better yet, an esoteric pathos of the most reprehensible sort – evoking, as it does, a type of vague intellectual empathy to which nothing in any sense coherent and meaningful corresponds. This essential misunderstanding of mysticism, however, is quickly dispelled upon a close examination of the works of St. John of the Cross: immediately we confront facticity and discern logic; facticity and logic so compelling, in fact, that a philosophy of mysticism may well offer a unique contribution to epistemology itself. To wit, In Part II of our commentary we shall examine, among other things, the possibility of a type of experience in which the redoubtable Problem of Induction – first introduced by the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume – and a thorn in the side of philosophy ever since – fails to obtain. This of itself would be no small recompense for our efforts given the magnitude of this problem to which philosophy, in one form or another, has attempted to respond since the publication of Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding in 1740. In short, we find reason in the mystical philosophy of St. John of the Cross, coherence and logic. Indeed, we find that, externally considered, the mystical experience is a profoundly rational experience – and it is this discovery, sweeping aside many long-borne misconceptions about mysticism which, if justification at all is required, suffices to justify an epistemology of mysticism.

To be sure, there are central elements in the mystical experience essentially inaccessible to reason. St. Thomas Aquinas perhaps summed it up best in the terse statement, “In finem nostrae cognitionis Deum tamquam ignotum cognoscimus.” 2   It is this unknowing, this first and most fundamental principle of the metaphysics of mysticism which, in our examination, we shall find to assume profoundly rational dimensions in the mystical philosophy of St. John of the Cross.

Geoffrey K. Mondello

_______________________________________

1 Varieties of Religious Experience, Lect. 16
2 We know God as unknown

Foreword

Download entire Manuscript (free) in Download Manuscript in PDF Format  PDF format or   Download Manuscript in Microsoft Word FormatMicrosoft Word 

Home
Preface to the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
Foreword to the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
An Introduction to the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Mystical Tradition and St. John of the Cross
The Presuppositions of the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Role of the Will in the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Role of Understanding in the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Role of Memory in the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Metaphysics of the Dark Night of the Soul
The Metaphysics of the Night of the Spirit
The Problem of Induction as Pseudo-Problematic
Prolepsis: Objections to the Mystical Experience
Being, Becoming, and Eternity
A Biography of St. John of the Cross
Epilogue to the Metaphysics of Mysticism

© Copyright 2011-2017 by Geoffrey K. Mondello. All rights reserved
author@johnofthecross.com