Just as it’s so important to have a good commentary on the Bible to enhance your enjoyment of (and spiritual nurture by) scripture, so it’s also important to supplement your reading of the great mystics with scholarly books that provide insight into the theological and cultural backstories that inform the essential mystical writings of the Christian tradition. With this in mind, here are four authors that I think every student of mysticism ought to know: their writings provide a wealth of information that will make your energize and illuminate your experience of reading the writings of the mystics themselves.
- Grace M. Jantzen (d. 2006) was professor of religion, culture and gender at Manchester University in England. Her books include Power, Gender and Christian Mysticism and Julian of Norwich: Mystic and Theologian.
- Andrew Louth is professor of Patristics and Byzantine Studies at Durham University, also in England. His books include The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys and The Wilderness of God.
- Bernard McGinn is Naomi Shenstone Donnelley Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology and of the History of Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His books include Early Christian Mystics: The Divine Vision of the Spiritual Masters (co-authored with his wife, Patricia Ferris McGinn), The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart, and a multi-volume history of mysticism called The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism.
- Denys Turner is the Horace Tracy Pitkin professor of Historical Theology at Yale. His books include Eros and Allegory: Medieval Exegesis of the Song of Songs and The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism.
As is all too often the case, some of the books by these wonderful authors are already out of print, but amazon.com, abebooks.com or half.com often have used copies available (let me get on my favorite soapbox again: if you are interested in reading the mystics or reading books about mysticism, buy the books! The more that books by and about the mystics sell, they will stay in print longer and more new ones will get published. But if we don’t buy these books, they’ll disappear).