Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Heresy of Bridal Mysticism

Perhaps if you are a Christian man (or a discerning Christian woman), you may have shared my common discomfort over particular liturgical (I use this word generously for all ordered worship), lyrical, and theological forms that might be summed up in God as your Lover.

I recall my first face-to-face with this in a book called 'The Divine Romance', given to me by a psuedo-mentor. I remember looking at it on my desk with trepidation. I was hardly a year-old in my following Christ, and this book disturbed me. I tried to read a chapter, but couldn't stomach it. I ended up pawning the book off as a gift to my girlfriend at the time. There was something off-putting about thinking God as a Lover who was looking for me.

Now, I find it interesting that there is a common thread that runs between Bernard of Clairvaux, who pioneered a bridal mysticism recovered from Origen, leading up to our pop-ish Christian industrial-music-complex that pumps out "Jesus is my Boyfriend" type music. The similarity is that God is conceived as the active-male suitor and I (or whomever) is the beloved who is sought after. I have heard this kind of thing in sermons, trying to weaken my knees and turn my soul towards seeking after the God who has given me everything. Now, I'm not saying God is not love, nor am I saying that God has not poured out Himself in sending His Son, giving Himself over to death for oursakes.

What I am saying is that applying the lover label to us individually is to miss what the Bible articulates is a proper use of the marriage bride/bride-groom imagery that is present in the Scripture.

Bernard was a bizarre figure. He is a Cistercian who both sought to make himself a "woman" before the Lord, and also preached steel and blood in advocating and perpetuating the Crusades. Bernard was novel in his self-feminization, though he is not unique in applying a certain kind of eroticism to a man's relation with the Lord. Origen is the fount for this. He suggested that the bridal imagery of Song of Songs belongs to the relationship between God and the individual soul.

This is quite Platonic, given Socrates' discourse on eros in the Symposium. Eros is, according to Plato, the lust and desire that takes the separated, bounded, soul back into the Heavenlies and into the realm of the Forms. This would find its climax (pun intended) in the Neo-Platonists who saw the soul melting back into the One, the Ultimate, behind the penultimate, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

I am not faulting Origen for what we have now, only that it 'origenates' (again, the puns) with him. It was Bernard of Clairvaux who applied a gendered significance to the relationship. For Bernard, the male was the active element and the female was the passive element. To be a 'woman' thus meant to the passive recipient as God entered the bed-chamber of the Heart. Bernard's Augustinian bent only enforced this the more. There's a reason why Bernard has been considered a kind of "proto-Protestant", on account of his insistence on the monergism of God in salvation.

Personally I find the dichotomy of monergism and synergism as a false starter based on bad initial premises. The Reformed were able to maintain them together in their justification-sanctification division, but that division is itself unnatural, if not useful to maintain the Biblical witness. However, Bernard's monergism fit quite well with his self-feminization. He had to be a spiritual woman if he was to be a Christian.

This Bridal Mysticism is heretical and abhorrent. The Biblical imagery points to the Church, not the individual soul, as the Bride of Christ. This is a Corporate marriage, a metaphor of unity, bringing to light the kind of oneness sought, but also the desire behind such a union. It was for joy that Christ endured the pains of death, even death on a cross. It was the joy of His People that Christ died. We can say that Christ loves His people, poured out His life for the World, and yet calls particular people through the work of the Holy Spirit. We ought to maintain all three without collapsing them into each other. I am not the Bride of Christ, though I belong to her.

This Bridal Mysticism is not prevalent in the form I articulated above (though still existing in Roman monks and Protestant ecstatics). However, it has sublimated into a wider Evangelicalism that lacks the rich union language that had previously existed. Thus the sentimental God is the Prince-Charming to sweep me off my feet and love me in the near-erotic. I'm not saying union language prevents this, but actually makes it worse, despite it being more compelling to certain segments. Experiencing a kind of marriage and love-making, certain ecstatic and fanatical women and nuns have run with this teaching to their own sick fantasies. May God correct them.

This kind of Bridal Mysticism, whether deep or popular, is one of those sources of why men find church-meeting to be effete and bizarre. There is only a call to passively swoon and adore God as a Juliet. The fatal blow is if this coupled with a kind of moralizing, which is equally limp-wristed and uninspired. All of the main-line Protestant preaching I have hard has come across as being harangued and inspired by a self-important chattering gossip, sometimes a woman, sometimes a woman disguised in a man's body.

Forgive me if I seem to equate women and femininity with such cretins. God forbid. I only seek to illumine that perhaps Bernard as unleashed a torrent of androgynous spirituality that turns away men and gives women all but formal power; though this is changing as liberalized denominations are being honest with what they believe. I can applaud them for unveiling themselves as they are, even if it is a rejection of the Apostolic faith.

Christ brought a faith that is for both men and women, joined as one. There is no call for Muscular Christianity to suppress the woman, nor is there a call for the abomination we have so prevalent, the devaluing and rejection of the man. Instead, Christ called all to Himself, though there are many roads on that Path. There are womanly and manly roads, there are roads for Jews and Gentile, there are roads for the slave or the free, the employed or the employer. There are roads of quietude; there are roads of robust community. There are roads that lead through the desert; there are roads that lead through the city.

Christians should reject Bridal mysticism and correct those who teach it. Christians should turn away from foolish teachings. If you are a man, teach a robust Gospel to other men, one that does not make one passive before the grace of God. That would be a grace that leaves us in the tomb. Instead, the ministrations of the Holy Spirit make us alive to fulfill our purposes. We are made alive to overcome the spiritual darknesses in our own lives, whether our flesh or the demonic.

Renounce the passivity ascribed to the Bridal-Mystics and the Pop Jesus-Is-My-Lover and take up the Sword of the Spirit!

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