Along with writing the first autobiography in the English language, Margery Kempe travelled the world from her hometown of Lynn, Norfolk in the Fifteenth century. Upon the death of her father the mayor, Margery took over control of her own money, a practice she maintained throughout her life. After a moving vision of Christ, Margery felt compelled to travel the world to follow her faith. Her travels took her on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, through Rome, and down to Spain. Her unique character combined fits of tearful praying and a firm reliance upon the kindness of strangers. She was consistently met with kindness, generosity, and hospitality from those she encountered on her trips, most of whom couldn't understand her language.
Richard Rolle Early 14th c. English Mystic
This medieval English mystic led the life of a secluded hermit against the wishes of his Yorkshire family, and throughout his life he continued to follow faithfully his inner guide. Rolle found a disciple in another recluse, a nun named Margaret Kirkeby, and to her he addressed most of his treatises. Rolle believed living as a hermit would allow the contemplative life he so highly desired. His most famous The Fire of Love treatise delves into his thoughts on the nature of love, the love of God, and the transformation of prayer and meditation into song. After his death he was hailed a saint, though never canonized. His tomb became a place for healing: to even light a candle there was said to be enough to cure any ailment.
Julian of Norwich Late 14th c. English Mystic
Although not much is known of her personal life, Julian of Norwich earned the title of First English Woman of Letters though her writings. She expanded upon her Book of Shewings, or Revelations, after years of reflection. Both versions aided in the emergence of the English vernacular and proliferation of the culture.
Her solitary life as an Anchoress was full of prayer and reflection on her religious experiences. She also ministered to others, including her fellow mystic Margery Kempe. Julian's writings show an ever hopeful and uplifted mindset, even through the upheavals of plague, competing Popes, and the Hundred Years War of that century. She consistently focused on the love and grace of God.
Meister Eckhart Late 13th - Early 14th c. German Mystic
Meister Eckhart was a learned man who received a doctorate in Theology from Paris and was prominent in the German religious community. He wrote in both Latin and his native German, and the German works especially make use of poetic, inspiring and imaginative metaphors similar to images used in the East. His thoughts reflect a psychological dimension of spirituality and an interest in the metaphysical. Famous for his sermons, he offered a methodology for pursuing a mystical path which led to God. Eckhart's use of the German vernacular helped spread his message among the common people as Latin could not.
A 1329 Papal Bull labeled him a heretic and led to the suppression of his works for many years. Ironically, transcripts of his trial have been used to establish his authorship of important works discovered in the last two centuries.
William Wordsworth (1770-1850) William Wordsworth was already questioning the strict religion of his grandparents at four years old. His younger sister Dorothy's attachment to nature always had a deep effect on him, and as he grew his poetry expanded. At Cambridge he came to view the compulsory chapel trips as hollow mockery of piety, and proceeded to travel the world rather than accept a position in the Church. Through his marriage to childhood friend Mary Hutchinson, his confidence and creativity in his writing flourished, and he found a greater purpose after the shipwrecked death of his brother, John. He found peace in the notions of God manifested through nature, and John's death prompted ever greater introspection and reexamination. He committed himself to the Anglican Church because he found it the most comprehensive, inclusive, and tolerant, and believed that it served as a morally good and unifying force for England. Nature cannot be improved: beauty is there to be seen by the discerning eye and feeling heart.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) Just as America was developing as a country, Emerson came into his own. He encouraged his fellow Americans to embrace knowledge from the classics of European and Asian thought. After his young wife died, he travelled the world to talk with the great thinkers of the time, attempting to answer his growing religious questions. He came to espouse the belief that freedom is the essence of Christianity, and greatly identified with the rise of Transcendentalism. He constantly wrote to his Aunt, with whom he discussed the intellectual topics of Homer and Hindu mythology, and became a touring lecturer with an assembly of forums called the American Lyceum. Emerson resisted the claims of sole authority by Christianity, instead declaring that the Unity of the human soul resides at the heart of all religions and turned to studying culture, history, and the human prospect. His spirituality was greatly influenced by the other traditions he studied, especially Asian, and he pressed the idea of the Deity as individual spirituality and absolute truth, absolute goodness. He promoted the deep moral, spiritual, ideational coherence to all human history, and is remembered as greatly inspirational to those fathers of American Pragmatism philosophical thought such as Nietzche, James, and Dewey.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) Born to a Jeffersonian Rationalist, but greatly influenced by the Quakers' ideas of an inner light, Whitman came to be one of the great poets of America. Though he left school early and held a variety of odd jobs at publishers and schools throughout his life, he always subscribed to the idea of a reliance on the inspired voice of the Self, regardless of various churches' doctrines. This appreciation for self-reliance and symbolic perception, influenced by the Quakers, Transcendentalism, and Harmonialism, led to his greatest poetic work: Leaves of Grass, for which he compiled 7 editions over 26 years. Whitman was an innovative poet, and wrote increasingly political poetry in an attempt to counter America's disunity and fragmentation and strongly promoted democracy. He had a profound effect on people, and acolytes in Bolton, England created a church around his religious teachings.
Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) After excelling under her father's strict tutoring throughout her childhood, then attending a Ladies' Seminary, Margaret Fuller became one of the most intellectual writers of her day. She translated a work of Goethe, wrote and edited for the Dial, and became a foreign correspondent for the Tribune in Rome. She profoundly identified with Goethe's struggle with the conflict of passion and intellect, and was greatly influenced by the Harvard Romantics, such as Wordsworth and Emerson. She believed in the spirit within and the creative power to reshape the world. The idea that each soul moves through stages, like plants, on its journey through life, towards death and perfection in heaven. Heavily involved in self exploration, she saw life as a pilgrimage to overcome worldliness, and found comfort and reassurance in nature. Fuller sought peace and union with God through mystic song, and held emotions as of greater importance in life than did the Transcendentalists. She believed in a God of the human heart. Fuller died in a shipwreck fleeing home from the French occupation of Rome.
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) Bernard is best known for his beginning of the monastic reform movement that grew into the widespread network of Cistercian monasteries, and his often extreme views about others of his day. As he grew, he studied poetry and literature in order to better understand the Bible. He preached of Mary as an intercessor for man as the Queen of Heaven, and defended the rights of the Church against infringement by political rulers. The pope sent him to preach for the Second Crusade around Western Europe, and he placed the cross into the hands of both Conrad III of Germany and Frederick Barbarossa. However, when it failed responsibility was put at Bernard's feet. He had supported the crusade with his miracles, and he wrote an apology to the pope for the sins of the participants and the failure of the mission. Bernard expanded upon Alslem of Canterbury's work in changing ritual Christianity of the Early Middle Ages into a new, more personal faith with an emphasis on Mary and Christ as a model. Bernard was given the title of Doctor of the Church,and the first Cistercian to be canonized (1174).
Erasmus (1466-1536) Called the Prince of Humanists, Erasmus was a classical scholar who used humanist techniques to work on texts, including creating important new Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament. The issues he raised in these versions would greatly influence the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. He criticized several popular contemporary Christian beliefs, and committed himself to reforming the Church's clerical abuses from within, but maintained the Catholic belief in free will. His refusal to take a firm side angered the extremists. His somewhat monastic education formulated his personal religious views, in which he placed great importance in a personal relationship with God, but found the strict methods and harsh rules of the system to be confining and unnecessary. His efforts have earned him the name of the crowning glory of Christian humanists.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) *I might have already done him, but I don't think it had much of religion in it... feel free to add this in: As a poet, journalist, and humanist, Whitman was very controversial in his time, especially Leaves of Grass, his compilation work of poetry that he continually updated throughout his life. Often called the father of free verse, his work has greatly influenced the American canon and, containing both, he was part of the transition between Transcendentalism and realism. He embraced all religions and faiths as equal and worthy of respect. However, though he accepted all faiths he claimed none as his own.
William Blake (1757-1827) Although hardly recognized within his own life, Blake is now considered an important figure of poetry and the visual arts of the Romantic Age, even called the greatest artist Britain has ever produced. He embraced imagination as the body of God and human existence, and though he held the Bible dear he rejected the established Church of England. Blake felt that orthodox Christianity suppressed natural desires and earthly joy. He viewed Jesus as the vital relationship between divinity and humanity, a supremely creative being above logic, dogma, and morality. Philosophical and mystical undercurrents abound in his work, and he did not reject religion as a whole; he created his own belief system from the Bible and Greek mythology. He believed the body was an extension of the soul, abhorred self-denial, and saw the concept of in as a trap of suppression. Liberty and equality, and the spirit of life were supremely important to Blake. He saw God in each of us, not separate or distinct. Men forgot that all deities reside in the human breast.
Plato (428-7 BC- 348-7 BC) Plato connected a line of important classical philosophers as the student of Socrates and the subsequent teacher of Aristotle. He founded the first institution of higher learning in the western world- the Academy in Athens- and laid the foundations of western philosophy and science. Some say he received his name Plato from the breadth of his eloquence, or the width of his forehead. Another legend regarding bees landing on his infant lips indicates the sweetness of style he would be known for in philosophy. Plato described the material world as merely an image or copy of the unseen world of forms, which can only be perceived by reason. He espouses the beliefs that good character is a gift from the gods, art is divinely inspired and that the soul is immortal, and derides those who think something has to be tangible to be real. One of his more well known theories revolves around the tripartite class system of the workers, the guardians, and the philosopher kings. A total of thirty-six dialogues and thirteen letters are attributed to Plato, though some are disputed by modern scholars. His influence on the western world and its philosophies, sciences, history, and religions is truly incalculable.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430) Augustine's early years found him highly educated in Carthage, but spiritually wandering through Manichaeism, hedonism, and skepticism and having several concubines, a son, and a brief engagement. Augustine reportedly said, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet. However, he again found Christianity. Reading of St. Anthony of the Desert inspired him to quit his intellectual job and dedicate his life to God and the priesthood. He gave away his entire inheritance save his house, which he turned into a monastery. He preached tirelessly, and his writings became very influential in the development of western Christianity. He believed that the Grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom and framed the concepts of original sin and just war. Though his other writings negated much of his own writings on sin, the Church still latched onto the notion and it became a major tenant of Catholicism. Augustine is a Father of Reformation through his teachings on salvation and Divine Grace, and among the Eastern Orthodox Church he is referred to as St. Augustine the Blessed. As the Roman Empire disintegrated, Augustine framed the Church as a spiritual City of God, separate from the Earthly City, which had a great influence on medieval thought. His theories on teaching and learning styles would also leave an easily discernible mark on the development of education. At the end of his life, Vandals besieged the city. Augustine prayed for the library and books to be spared from their fire and plundering, and lo and behold, though they pillaged everything else in the city, Augustine's cathedral and library remained safe after his death.
Augustine of Canterbury (early third of 6th c 604) As a Benedictine abbot in Rome, Augustine was chosen to lead an expedition to convert the pagan Britons by Gregory the Great. He there became the first Archbishop of Canterbury and Apostle to the English. Upon arrival he quickly converted King Aethelbert of Kent, whose Christian wife no doubt helped, and received lands for a new monastery just outside the city of Canterbury. The missionary also established a school in the city. Augustine introduced a more active missionary style and made great strides with the common people, though he could not convince the older Celtic bishops of the island to change in favor of the more aggressive Roman Catholic Church and its systems. These Celtic Christians were the descendants of those converted and sent in the first Roman missionary mission in the 4th century. They refused to give up their beliefs in the Gospel of John and pantheism, though Augustine and his more aggressive Catholic ideals forced them farther north and west. Augustine succeeded in establishing two more Roman Catholic bishoprics in Britain before his death, as well as maneuvering his Archbishopric directly under the pope and away from Frankish control. His efforts in Britain would maintain a direct and immense influence on the development of Christianity in England.
Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) Jacob Boehme is one of the original thinkers of the Lutheran tradition. He was a German Christian and a mystic, though he worked in trades all his life. He had no formal education but read the Bible and visionary works. He traveled, married, and became a master shoemaker in Gorlitz. He had many mystical experiences throughout his youth, including one in 1600 of sunlight in a pewter dish that showed him the spiritual structure of the world, the relationship between God and man and good and evil. Although he encountered criticism, rebuke, calls of heretic, and exile from the important pastors of his region, Boehme wrote and distributed several books (including Aurora, The Way to Christ). Scandals and complaints exiled him to Dresden, though he quickly returned to his family. After his death, his chief rival's own son published the entirety of his writings.
Boehme contemplated the nature of sin, evil, and redemption. Though he claimed the Fall from Grace was necessary to evolution, he never thought God saw evil as necessary. Instead, he believed God needed conflict in order for creation to evolve into a new state of redeemed harmony. To him, Mary was blessed among women by her humility, not qualifications, and was no longer a virgin after Christ's birth; Jesus grew as human in her as he must grow in us. Boehme also supported the belief that free will is God's most important gift to humanity; man can seek divine grace out of choice and retain his individuality. His work greatly influenced the Christian thinking of his time and after.
Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) This French post-impressionist painter has been called by Matisse and Picasso the father of us all. Cezanne laid the foundations for the transition into a new 20th century view of art.
As the son of a successful banker, he had the luxury of financial security and was able to pursue his dreams of painting after years of study, college, and law school. Devoutly Roman Catholic, Cezanne placed religious images throughout his work. When I judge art, I take my painting and put it next to a God-made object like a tree or flower. If it clashes, it is not art.
Cezanne constantly attempted to find an authentic observation of the world and represent it accurately in paint. He preferred to work in increasing isolation in Provence and favored still life's, portraits, landscapes as well as studies of bathers. His art was never well received in Aix, and the Paris Salon rejected all but one of his submissions for exhibition, and his first solo exhibition was not until 895. He devoted himself entirely to his craft, and later died of pneumonia from working through a downpour.
John Chrysostom (349-407) This archbishop of Constantinople was famous for his eloquence and because of it he received his surname (Greek, meaning golden mouthed). He routinely denounced the abuse of authority from both ecclesiastical and political leaders, and wrote his own Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. He has been known throughout history as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs and a Doctor of the Church.
John's early education lent him a love of Greek language and literature, as well as theology. He lived as a hermit for years, always standing, barely sleeping, and memorizing the Bible, until poor health required him to return to civilization. He founded hospitals and preached to the common people, emphasizing charitable giving, and spoke against abuse of wealth and property. His straightforward style gave him great popularity with the masses, but his denunciations brought him enemies in the upper ranks.
When a series of events forced him ironically into the Archbishopric, John refused to host the lavish celebrations expected. Along with his reforms, this made him even less popular with the clergy and wealthy citizens. Enmity with the Patriarch of Alexandria and the Empress brought an alliance against him and ultimately led to his banishment. Even after, his letters retained great influence with the people until and beyond his death. John Chrysostom's influence can be seen throughout the Catholic catechism, and he is a very important theologian in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
Clement of Alexandria (150-215) Clement was a theologian and the Head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria in North Africa. Clement united Christian doctrine with Greek philosophical tradition and is considered one of the great early Church Fathers. He traveled throughout the Mediterranean area and wrote his Great Trilogy: the Protrepticus (Exhortation to the Greeks), the Paedagogus (Instructor), and the Stromata (Miscellanies). These reflected on the religious basis of Christian morality and individual cases of conduct. Clement worked with philosophy, law, and the Gospel to bring truth, and he emphasized philosophy and knowledge as essential to faith. He greatly stressed fulfillment of obligations, condemned the misuse (rather than the possession) of riches, and believed union with God was deepened through liturgy and ecclesiastical tradition.
Origen, another greatly influential thinker and theologian studied under Clement and succeeded him in his post.
St. Paul (5-67) A zealous Jew, Saul became Paul after his famous encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus that temporarily blinded him and led to his conversion as a follower of Christ. Named the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul has had the most significant influence on Western Christian thinking of all the New Testament writers. He claimed Jesus gave him the Gospel through a special revelation, and thought his regular beatings and imprisonments showed the truth of his preaching and teachings as well as bringing him closer to Jesus through shared similar experience. He created the philosophy of a New Covenant established through Jesus' death and resurrection, and emphasized salvation through faith alone.
Paul led three long expeditions around the Mediterranean to spread the Church and God's message revealed through Christ Jesus. He worked miracles to evangelize, helped those who were in need, and gave example of how Christian love should be lived. His provocative preaching led to many troubles throughout the years and it is widely believed he was beheaded following imprisonment in a Roman prison.
Paul's writings reflect his fundamental belief that through Jesus' death and resurrection, God has redeemed him and all Christians from sin, a philosophy that became the foundation of Atonement Theology.