- Reforming the Monastery: Protestant Theologies of the Religious Life by Greg Peters, and: Mysticism and the Spiritual Quest: A Crosscultural Anthology ed. by Phyllis Zagano
The suppression of monastic orders during the sixteenth-century Reformation gives the impression that monasticism disappeared in Protestant and Reformed churches. There is no doubt that the foremost Reformers, such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli, severely criticized medieval monasticism and rejected monastic vows, particularly chastity. In his book, however, Peters contends that magisterial Reformers did not advocate a total abolition of monastic orders, and a good number of Protestant theologians have argued for a reformed monastic life. Peters offers a survey of the thought of major Reformers in support of a monastic life congruent with the gospel.
The book has the merit of keeping track of the debates in Reformed churches from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. The author includes the Anglican tradition, Lutherans, the American Evangelical churches, and other Reformed churches. Even William Carey, a pioneering Baptist missionary to India, is mentioned. Readers will appreciate the theological and pastoral acumen of the sixteenth-century Reformers, as well as the insights of such modern theologians as Karl Barth (arguably the most important Protestant theologian since Schleiermacher), the Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Henry Newman and Edward Pusey (the leading voices of Tractarianism or the Oxford Movement), and American Evangelical Donald Bloesch.
Unfortunately, Protestant theologies of monasticism examined in this book make little or no reference to mysticism (not even included in the index). Thus, the book fails to account for the connection between mysticism and monasticism and subsequently does not deal with the essence, nature, development, [End Page 344] and fundamental characteristics of Christian mysticism. Historically, in both the Eastern and Western churches, the monastic orders were the nursery of Christian mystical traditions.
Unlike Peters's book, Zagano edited and contributed a chapter to a volume that is devoted entirely to the mystical traditions of major religions in both West and East. The book offers a basic introduction that is useful to beginners interested in the mystical traditions of Hinduism, Chinese religions, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Instructors of world religions will find the book helpful in teaching courses such as Mysticism and Spirituality, or Spirituality: East and West. In addition, readers are offered a selected number of primary texts, encouraging comparative reading of scriptures, mystical poems, and treatises. Zagano's book could be a textbook or recommended volume for undergraduatestudentsandreaderswhoarelookingforaquickandgeneralcross-cultural introduction to mysticism in Eastern and Western faith traditions.
Zagano recognizes that the book is not "a text in comparative religions or in comparative theologies, but rather one that demonstrates the means by which various religions come to an understanding of the spiritual quest and of mysticism within their respective traditions." Experts in various traditions write the introduction to each mystical tradition and to the selected primary texts and mystics, helping to situate mystical authors and their works in their respective historical and cultural milieus. Nonetheless, seasoned scholars of comparative mysticism might find the book lacking in depth and rigor. It is impossible to do an in-depth cross-cultural survey of six major mystical traditions in one book. E.g., the mystical tradition of Christianity that Zagano penned fails to mention a single mystic from the early Eastern churches, who were the first Christian mystical theologians and who wrote important mystical treatises of the Christian tradition. Also, the absence of a serious analysis of the development of each mystical tradition deprives readers of the riches and crises of these traditions.
Both books, despite their shortcomings, will be welcomed by readers interested in the survival of monasticism in Reformed and Protestant theologies, as students of the mystical and spiritual traditions of major world religions are given a quick survey of six traditions. Finally, Peters's book is a valuable contribution to the debate in Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches with...