Second Person Mystics: Introduction

Christian mystics trust in a personal Divinity who manifests in all interpersonal relationships. These mystics experience the divine as a reality that features subjectivity, consciousness, and intentionality. For them, the divine Unknown and Uncaused Source of everything became embodied in Jesus Christ. Trusting in Christ’s eternal Presence, contemplative Christians enter an active I-Thou relationship with the transcendent and personal reality we call God. We come to feel deeply known and understood and we learn to surrender our self-centered ego preoccupations. Mystics report that as this surrender deepens, we become illumined with the eternal and universal qualities of Christ. In Jesus Christ, the First Person becomes accessible in our interpersonal relationships because there is an inter-Personal dimension in God.

Some of the well-known Christian mystics who focused on the Second Person include St. Augustine (354-430), St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226), St. Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582), and Henri Nouwen (1932-1996).

Let’s take a closer look at some of these Second Person Mystics:

St. Augustine (354-429)

The Nicean and Chalcedon Counsels (4th and 5th centuries) established the view and faith that Jesus of Nazareth is a fully human person, but he is also the embodiment of the eternal Word (Greek: Logos) in history and on earth. As a person, Jesus is subject to all the time and space limitations of existence,...

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Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167)

Aelred was a Cistercian monk who lived in Yorkshire, England, traveled to Rome, studied with St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and wrote a lovely book called Spiritual Friendship. Aelred highlights Jesus’s fundamental message, that God is Love (capitalized to indicate that this limitless Love of God is the ultimate source of all instances of love). Aelred...

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St. Francis of Assisi (1430–1516)

St. Francis, often called the patron saint of ecology, founded the creation-centered Franciscan Order. He is known for having received the stigmata near the end of his life – literal wounds in the palms of his hands that symbolize and commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus. St. Francis focused on the historical, embodied Second Person of...

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Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)

Teresa of Avila was a Carmelite nun and a brilliant spiritual director, writer and reformer who lived in Spain in the 16th century. St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross founded the Discalced Carmelites, an order that sought to reform the Carmelites by deepening their contemplative practice. Her autobiography and her book, Interior Castle,...

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Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)

Henri Nouwen was a Roman Catholic priest from Holland whose bishop assigned him the parish of the whole world. While living in the U.S. and Canada for most of his adult life, Henri served as a pastoral counselor, a spiritual director, a university professor, and a chaplain to communities for the handicapped. A sought-after preacher...

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