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Philip L. Reynolds, Candler School of Theology of Emory University

Unknowing: Contemplation, Rapture, and Ways of Negation in Medieval Theology

Reynolds’s project will explore Christian mystical theology in the western tradition, focusing on the most formative patristic sources (Augustine, Gregory, and ps.-Dionysius) and on selected writings from the central Middle Ages: William of Saint-Thierry, Mechtild of Magdeburg, Bonaventure, Margaret Porette, Meister Eckhart, the Sister Catherine treatise, and The Cloud of Unknowing. Rather than predicating the study on the notion of mysticism or mystics, which Reynolds considers too problematic, he defines mystical theology abstractly as a discourse that posits three phases: (1) a dedication to achieving an ultimate goal that is blocked by acknowledgement that the goal radically transcends human comprehension; (2) letting go (negation); and (3) affirmative assimilation to the goal as a result of letting go: an assimilation that many medieval authors construe as an anticipation of ultimate beatitude. Reynolds’s paradigm does not pretend to describe a specific practice or experience or way of life, and it has been realized in widely diverse ways. His method enables both discernment of common underlying features and articulation of diversity and contrasts.