Mysticism (Gr. μυστικόν), according to the strict meaning of the word, signifies a special knowledge and understanding of the mysteries from which the uninitiated are excluded. "Mysticism," says Cousin, "is the belief that God may be known face to face, without anything intermediate. It is a yielding to the sentiment awakened by the idea of the Infinite, and a summing up of all knowledge and all duty in the contemplation and love of him" (Hist. de let Philos. 1st ser. volume 2, lecon 9, 10). Mysticism, therefore, properly defined, is the science of the supernatural state of the human soul manifested in the body and in the order of visible things by equally supernatural effects. "Mysticism," as one has well said, "despairs of the regular process of science; it believes that we may attain directly, without the aid of the senses or reason, and by an immediate intuition, to the real and absolute principle of all truth, God. It finds God either in nature, and hence a physical and naturalistic mysticism; or in the soul, and hence a moral and metaphysical mysticism." Thus mysticism should be divided into two distinct branches: esoteric, or inner mysticism, and exoteric, or outward mysticism. The first is the study of this supernatural state of the human soul, such as it has been described by saints and mystics. The obscure, unintelligible, and even absurd descriptions given by Mystics of these phenomena, reproduced even by modern theological writers, make mysticism synonymous with quietism (q.v.), and all forms of fanaticism and enthusiasm, etc. Thus, Bretschneider says, "Mysticism is the belief in a continuous, immediate action of God on the soul, produced by special religious exercises, the effect of which is to enlighten, sanctify, and strengthen the soul. It is therefore the faith in an inward light, the neglect of the written revelation, continence, contemplation, etc." Wegscheider considers enthusiasm as a branch of mysticism, differing only in degree from fanaticism: "Omnino mysticismum prae se ferre dicuntur in, qui neglectis aut repudiatis sanae rationis legibus sensibus acrioribus et phantasiae ludibriis in religione describenda et colenda indulgentes immediatam quandam rerum divinarum perceptionem jactant. Mysticismus haud raro abit in fanaticum errorem." According to Hase, the common and principal defect of mysticism is its rejection from the domain of religious life of all human knowledge and general laws, by which indeed it does not lose its intensity of feeling, but its liberty, and, becoming liable to every kind of error, is gradually more inclined to superstition. Under the influence of the strange fancies of the imagination, it leads to enthusiasm; under that of a strong will, to fanaticism; and hinder that of the recognition of a spiritual sphere, apart from the medium of human experimental knowledge, to theosophy. The writers of the rationalistic period give ample evidence of the confusion often made between mysticism and pietism. This error has in modern times been corrected, especially by the efforts of Nitzsch, in his System d. christlichen Lehre. Mysticism, then, in the objective sense, is the divine element imparted to man by external or internal communication (for instance, in the sacraments), and in the subjective sense it is special experience, visions, etc., subject to particular conditions and processes; for although man is by nature susceptible of and intended for the reception of divine communications, yet a certain conduct, sometimes an ascetic self-renouncement, an abstraction of partly the sensual and partly the spiritual identity, is requisite in order to render us capable of receiving and understanding these supernatural communications in this natural state of existence. It follows that, strictly speaking, every religious person, as such, is a Mystic, etc. Says Mill, "Whether in the Vedas, in the Platonists, or in the Hegelians, mysticism is neither more nor less than ascribing objective existence to the subjective creations of our own faculties, to ideas or feelings of the mind; and believing that, by retaining and contemplating those ideas of its own making, it can read in them what takes place in the world' without" (Logic, book 5, chapter 3. § 5). The inner life of religion is always mystical. Mysticism is a one-sided manifestation of this force. Sack also, in his Polemik (page 288), considers true mysticism as the inner portion of the Christian spiritual life, and fanatical mysticism as an exaggeration and a misconception of the reasonable views of the Church. We concede that mysticism in the proper sense, as the immediate life of the very essence of religion, is to be found in the mystery of revelation, and is in so far the very truth of religion. The soul's yearning for the invisible finds the object of its aspiration in a sacramental union with objects of its desire. Jacob's realization of the divine presence at Bethel was as the mystic ladder of communication on which the angels of God passed to and fro between earth and heaven. By a deeper generalization, Solomon saw in the wisdom of God the bond of union that connects the spirit of the universe with the Spirit of God. The religious idea had at that early date its obverse side of mystic impress. In the cognate theology of St. John the Word is the middle term between earth and heaven, and being God from the beginning, he is still the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. Hence the mystic principle is inseparable from true religion, so far as it sets the Invisible before the eye of faith and enables the soul to anticipate the future for which it was created. Hence, also, the less true forms of religion have one and all embodied the mystic principle as involving the very essence of religion. Therapeutic contemplation was the obverse of Mosaic ordinance; the Cabala refined upon the Talmud; and Persian Sufism is as the spirit of which the Koran is the letter. In the Church of the 6th century the pseudoDionysian mysticism was a reaction upon the dogmatic ruling forced upon the Church by heresy; much as the mysticism of the Alombados, or Illuminati, of Spain in the 16th century was called forth by the rigid orthodoxy of the Inquisition, and Jansenistic and Quietistic tenets by Jesuitism. Mysticism has been the most usual form in which the expiring flame of religion has flickered up from its embers.
We must not forget however, that mysticism, as a special and historical religious manifestation, is all exceptional form of the inner religious life, even indicating a certain one-sided tendency in it, from which real mysticism is to be distinguished. If we consider the essence and life of religion in its general manifestation, we find it to appear as a healthy reciprocal action of the objective consciousness of the existence of God and of self-consciousness. Thus we give the name of mysticism to the predominating relation of subjective life to God revealing himself in it, and of pietism to the predominating relation of God in the subjective life. The Mystic aims at becoming absorbed in God by contemplation, the Pietist at imparting the divine character to all his actions. In the former, the consciousness of moral personality is cast in the shade; in the latter, the rest in God, the solemn contemplation of his objective majesty, predominates. Hence the former inclines to pantheism. Where the personality is not simply spiritually sacrificed, but great importance is attached to transcendent contemplation of God, man loses with the clear perception of his own personality that also of the personality of God. The other tendency, on the contrary, inclines to dualism, and even to polytheism, although never degenerating so far where monotheism is recognised. When man reflects in a one-sided, methodical manner on the exhibition of the divine in its subjective action, instead of acting before God with a simple consciousness of God, he is led to a lasting disunion of his consciousness; i.e., to a distinction between the idea of the divine and his life. This partiality, degenerating into morbidness, leads on the one side into mysticism, on the other into pietism. The Mystic loses his clear self- consciousness in obscure, arbitrary, ascetic, and ecstatic conceptions, or rather in a passive experience of the divine; moral piety would be the remedy. Pietism, on the contrary, loses itself in self-made subjective religious laws and self-torments; its natural remedy would be a healthy mysticism. The Mystic loses himself in God, and cherishes the desire to passively suffer God to act in him, instead of giving himself personally over to a personal God, and thus finding himself glorified; while the Pietist loses the inward presence of God because he does not liberate the feeling of his personality from subjective, egotistical limits and religious self- contemplation by subjecting it to the personality of God. Thuss, dogmatically defined, mysticism would be religion with an excessive objective tendency, or religion in the form of a central life of feeling, of immediate thought, of contemplative and intuitive knowledge, which, accompanied by an ascetic tendency, seeks principally to lose itself via negationis in the Deity. Compared with the religious and the ethical element in human life, or with the consciousness of night and that of day time, mysticism is a leaning towards the first form of consciousness. "If we were required to define mysticism," says Stowell, "we should call it the setting up of personal thoughts and feelings as the standard of truth or as the rule of action. By mystical views of the spiritual life we understand such views of that life as are adjusted by this standard or ordered by this rule. The relation of such views to our present theme will be found in the fact that men ascribe this inward standard of truth and rule of action to the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The mystical views may be regarded under different aspects, as (1) speculative, (2) contemplative, (3) imaginative, or (4) practical Speculative mysticism has found its place in the schools of philosophy and of morals; contemplative mysticism has been the resource of the meditative, the tranquil, or the enthusiastic; imaginative mysticism deludes the visionary; practical mysticism misleads the fanatic." For a historical development of mystical views, SEE MYSTICS.