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The spiritual guide in late antiquity and the middle ages: a comparative study

Bates, Sandra Annette (1999) The spiritual guide in late antiquity and the middle ages: a comparative study. Masters thesis, Durham University.



This thesis analyses the idea of the spiritual guide in the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The guides are found in both human/earthly and divine/celestial forms and are treated in the following sequence: living, deceased masters, angels, a higher self and a personified active intellect. The chapters thus follow a logical sequence from the concrete to the abstract. In terms of methodology, this comparative study identifies an exemplum or model present in the mystical traditions of these three religions within a specific historical and geographical context. I argue that the spiritual guide is experiential and, therefore, is manifest in different forms and through my analysis I prove how and why these forms are manifest in one tradition rather than in another. As all these guides, save the living spiritual guide, are both immanent and transcendent they can be contacted through various mental and physical practices. Therefore, comparisons with Hindu and Buddhist meditation and yoga have been included where relevant. Examples from the lives and works of the Desert Fathers, Byzantine monastics, and the Franciscan St. Bonaventure illustrate the human spiritual guide in the Christian tradition. Sources from the various strands of Judaism - orthodox rabbinical, mystical, ethical and pietistic represent the Jewish spiritual guide. In Islam, the living guide is especially well documented in the lives and works of two mystics: ibn 'Arabī and Rūmī. For the deceased spiritual guide, I have compared and contrasted the imam of the Shī'a, the sheikh of the Naqshbandi Sufis, the Gnostic Christ and the 'Rabbi from Beyond' in the Kabbalah. The significant angelic guides: - Metatron, the angel as Kavod and Shekinah, the angelic Christ and the angel Sophia - are drawn from diverse sources. These are the Enoch books, the Hekhalot literature, the Zohar and Hasidic literature, the Gnostic scriptures and Byzantine art; and the poetry/poetic prose of ibn 'Arabī and Rūzbehān. The Arabs were instrumental in introducing the idea of the spiritual guide as the higher self and the active intellect in their translations, such as al-Bīrūnī and al-Kindī, and their interpretations of Indian and Greek philosophy. In historical terms, the Muslim conquest of Indian and Central Asia, Spain and the Maghreb provided the crossroads for the interchange of ideas and the meeting place for Islamic and Jewish mysticism. Examples of the higher self, visualised in yoga, are, therefore, found in the works of Rubrā, ibn 'Arabī and Abulafia. The active intellect, arising from a misrepresentation of Aristotle's De Anima 3 (5), appears as an external spiritual guide in Islamic and Jewish mysticism, through Avicenna and others, but was rejected by Christian Medieval Scholastics. One such was Thomas Aquinas, who insisted that the active intellect formed a unity with the other powers within the soul. The spiritual guide is, therefore, an important theme in the study of mysticism, which I have traced in many sources extant in different languages and disciplines and, in its various forms, it both united and divided religious traditions.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Letters
Thesis Date:1999
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:13 Sep 2012 15:54

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