In Mystics in Spite of Themselves, R.A. Herrera takes an in depth look at four atypical saints and the tumultuous times in which they lived. Exploring the lives of St. Augustine (354-430), Gregory the Great (540-604), Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), and Ramon Llull (1233-1315), Herrera brings to life the cultural backdrop of these mystics and discusses the sorts of challenges they faced while living among the world, be it the burdens of work, ill health or their simple yearning for a different kind of life. He concludes thus, that each of these mystical saints proved it possible to be involved in the world (as opposed to the solitude of monastic life) without being immersed in it. They demonstrated the means by which one could be engaged in earthly particulars while also keeping the mind and heart set on higher things. As Herrera expertly shows, Augustine, Gregory, Anselm, and Llull each powerfully impacted their own world and the history of spirituality.
Most people think that mystics pursue lives of solitude, sequestering themselves away from society in order to dwell solely on God without distraction. In fact, says R. A. Herrera, few who actively engage the world are found among the mystics. However, in Mystics in Spite of Themselves, he examines the lives of four prominent and historically relevant men who broke that rule: Augustine (354430), Gregory (540604), Anselm (10331109), and Ramon Llull (12331315). Though separated from the hermitage, desert, or cell that they may have craved, they are still rightly called mystics. / Herrera brings to life the tumultuous times in which these men lived, and explores what kind of challenges they faced the burdens of work, ill health, and the longing for a different kind of life. Nevertheless, these four men were thinkers and writers who had a powerful impact on their worlds as well as on the history of spirituality. They proved it was possible to be involved in the world without being immersed in it, to be engaged in earthly particulars while also keeping their minds and hearts on higher things.
R. A. Herrera is emeritus professor of philosophy at Seton Hall Divinity School. Among his many writings are Donoso Cortes: Cassandra of the Age and Reasons for Our Rhymes: An Inquiry into the Philosophy of History.
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