As with other major religions of the world, Christianity has a rich body of literature dealing with Divine Light and ecstasy. The material in the Hebrew Bible (referred to as the Old Testament by Christians) has been dealt with already in the section on Judaism, so it does not need to be repeated here. Like the "Old Testament," the Christian New Testament has several references that identify God as Light. The early theologians of the church also make such references. By far and large, however, the greatest number of references to Divine Light and ecstasy are made by the Christian mystics.

The Christian tradition as a whole focuses on the birth, life, death, and resurrection of a man named Jesus. Jesus was born a Jew, probably in Nazareth, around 4 BC (tradition would say 0). The story of Jesus is told in the New Testament which, together with the Old Testament, forms the Christian Bible. Jesus is said to have cured the sick, and preached the love of God; of one's self; one's neighbour -- even one's enemies. The New Testament tells us that Jesus is the Christ, i.e., the Messiah; he is also referred to as the Son of God, and King of the Jews.

These last two mentioned titles likely got him into trouble with both Jewish and Roman authorities. Jewish religious leaders would have objected to any claim to divinity by a human, and the Romans would have considered anyone who was referred to as King an insurrectionist -- only the Roman emperor could make such a claim. Exactly who wanted Jesus dead the most is a matter of historical debate, but at any rate he was crucified for what he said and for what others said about him. He died on the cross, and according to tradition was resurrected from the dead.

This fundamental belief in Jesus' triumph over death leads Christians to believe that Jesus was and is indeed the Son of God, and has the power to grant anyone eternal life. Although sects differ as to exactly what an individual needs to do to accomplish this, we find here a radical departure from the Jewish tradition of the day: non-Jews are now encouraged to enter the fold. Further, Christians-to-be do so not by following Jewish tradition, but by seeking salvation from Jesus.

Extending itself beyond its Judaic roots helps explain why Christianity was able to spread so widely -- everyone was now eligible to become a member. In spite of persecution by Roman authorities for the first few centuries of its existence, sometimes severe persecution, the new faith persisted. A change of fortune came in the early 4th century when the Roman emperor Constantine declared Christianity a religion to be tolerated in the empire. Christianity was henceforth able to exist and thrive even after the fall of Rome.

In 589, the church experienced a major split. The Western (now Catholic) church maintained that God's Holy Spirit emanated from both the Father and the Son, all operating within a single Trinity of Godhead. The Eastern (Orthodox) church accepted the Trinity, but rejected the concept of the emanation of the Spirit from the Son. Another dispute involved the veneration of icons, a practice that the Western church regarded as idolatry. The Eastern church responded that icons are for the illiterate as books are for those who can read. At any rate reconciliation was not forthcoming, and the two branched off to become the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches.

Another major split came in the 16th century with the Protestant Reformation. Protestants reject the primacy of the Pope as head of the church, encourage a direct personal relationship between humans and God, and tend to emphasize familiarity with the Bible as opposed to participation in the sacraments. Protestant churches are many and varied, but as a group constitute one of the three great branches of Christianity.

Today, Christianity has the largest number of adherents of any religion in the world. Christian churches predominate in Europe, and in North and South America.

Christian mysticism has its roots in the Bible, although such references are not extensive. It also exists, albeit infrequently, with the Church Fathers. Traditionally, Christian mysticism as a category begins with Pseudo-Dionysius, a monk of the Eastern church whose writings date from about 500. The great volumes of Christian mysticism are found in medieval Europe, especially in the Catholic tradition, but also in Eastern Orthodoxy. Mystical encounters in Protestantism are quite extensive as far as joy in Christ is concerned, and occasional references to the Divine Light can also be found.


Divine Encounters


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