Third Person Mystics: Introduction

The Third Person of the Holy Trinity – the Holy Spirit – is named Ruach in the Hebrew tradition and Hagios Pneuma by Orthodox Greek Christians. For Christian mystics, the Spirit is the ever-fresh, living presence of God who stirs within us and who gathers us into community. The Holy Spirit’s presence within and among us is recognized by what St. Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In Christian scripture, the paradigmatic appearance of the Holy Spirit occurs in the Book of Acts (2:1-13).

Some of the well-known Christian mystics who focused on the Third Person include the Cappadocians (4th century), John Scotus Eriugena (810-877), Symeon the Theologian (949-1022), William of St. Thierry (1085-1148), Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), John Ruusbroec (1293-1381), Julian of Norwich (1342-1423), and Thomas Merton (1915-1968).

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

The Cappadocians (4th century)

The Cappadocian Fathers were three influential 4th century preachers and writers who helped to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity and who were particularly influential in contributing to our understanding of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity. Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus lived in what is now...

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John Scottus Eriugena (810-877 CE)

Four hundred years after Pseudo Dionysius the role of the Holy Spirit was explored from yet other interesting dimensions by the Irish scholar and mystic John Scottus Eriugena. Eriugena studied the works of the Cappadocians, Pseudo-Dionysius and his own Irish forebears such as St. Patrick (390-460) and St. Columbanus (543-615; founder of Iona). Eriugena felt...

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Two Orthodox Masters: Symeon the Theologian (C.E. 949-1022, CE), Gregory Palamas (1296-1359, CE)

Two mystical theologians who are honored by both the Latin and Orthodox churches are the Greek abbot Symeon the Theologian (C.E. 949-1022), and Gregory Palamas (C.E. 1296-1359). Both writers fall within the Eastern tradition that emphasizes the possibility of deification, divinization, and a complete communion with God. The well-known formula to which both Symeon and...

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William of St. Thierry (1085-1148, CE)

William of St. Thierry once abbot of the Benedictine monastery of St. Thierry in France, was a student and friend of the great Cistercian St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). William meditated deeply on the writings of St. Augustine, Gregory the Great, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and John Scottus Eriugena. Following the latter’s work William sculpted...

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John Ruusbroec (1293-1381)

John Ruusbroec was a Flemish priest and mystic. His great work, The Spiritual Espousals, is divided into three books that integrate the contemplative and active aspects of our lives. Living in a monastic environment, Ruusbroec loved solitude, and would often walk slowly onto the grounds of the cloister and into the surrounding forest, meditating and...

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Julian of Norwich (1342-1423)

Julian of Norwich was an English visionary, an extraordinarily brave and creative woman, a spiritual counselor, and author who lived mostly in solitude. She was an anchoress, a holy woman associated with and supported by a parsonage. Julian lived alone in a small room in Conisford near the church of St. Julian and St. Edward,...

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Thomas Merton (1915-1968)

Finally, we consider Thomas Merton’s view of the Holy Spirit and his unique integration of Christian and Zen language for the Third Person of the Trinity. Merton was a Trappist monk who lived at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. He wrote and published his best-selling autobiography, Seven Storey Mountain in 1948--the mountain being the Mountain of...

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