'Nobody has ever seen God': the denial of the possibility of mystical experiences in eighth- and eleventh-century Byzantium



In scholarly treatments of Byzantine mysticism the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries are given short shrift. Authors deal at length with the seventh-century authors John Climacus, Maximus the Confessor and Thalassius the Libyan and then immediately proceed to a discussion of the oeuvre of Symeon the New Theologian who flourished in the late tenth and early eleventh century. There is, of course, a simple reason for this approach. In the intervening years no mystical literature was produced in Byzantium. This raises the question: how can we account for this yawning gap? Two explanations are possible: either there was no interest in mysticism, or mysticism was actively rejected. This article argues that the latter explanation is correct. It analyses texts that rule out the possibility of mystical experiences and implicitly accuse mystics of heresy.


Byzantine mysticismJohn ClimacusMaximus the ConfessorSymeon the New Theologian
  • Year: 2017
  • Volume: 11
  • Page/Article: 65-73
  • DOI: 10.18573/j.2018.10453
  • Published on 28 Mar 2018
  • Peer Reviewed