Dishiliu jie lü Ou Tianzhujiao Huaren xuezhe yantaohui 第十六届旅欧天主教华人学者研讨会

16th Symposium for Chinese Catholic Scholars in Europe

“Jidutu de miqi chuantong yu Zhongguo wenhua zhong de shenmizhuyi sixiang” 基督徒的密契传统与中国文化中的神秘主义思想  / The Christian Mystical Tradition and Mystical Thought in Chinese Culture” 

7–9 November 2023, Poissy, France

Zbigniew Wesołowski SVD (Wei Siqi 魏思齊):

Lecture “John Wu’s (Wu Jingxiong 吳經熊, 1899–1986) Understanding of Mysticism – Beyond East and West”

吴经熊 (1899–1986) 对密契传统的理解——超越东西方

Organizer: Li Madou Study Centre (Macerata, Italy)


The article was written in English, but presented in Chinese. In John Wu’s understanding of mysticism, he distinguished between two types of mysticism: the Christian (supernatural) and the natural one in Chinese tradition. John Wu saw himself as a special kind of Christian/Catholic mystic. He was also a teacher of Christian mysticism. His entire course on Christian mysticism in 1950, which he had taught at the School of Religion affiliated to the University of Hawaiʻi, was based on the Psalm 23 (the Good Shepherd) in accordance with the classical three-stage understanding of mystical growth: purification, illumination and mystical union.

In his book The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love, a large number of Christian mystics and spiritual writers from antiquity, the Middle Ages and the present day were quoted alongside St. John of the Cross and Thérèse of Lisieux as well as, for example, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. John Wu saw in the first three Beatitudes, i.e., poverty in spirit, meekness, and mourning as sorrowful cleansing of the soul), the purgative way – in his wording “the budding of love.” The following two Beatitudes (justice and mercifulness as charity towards others) are the illuminative way, in his formulation “the flowering of love.” The last three Beatitudes (purity of heart which sees God, peacemakers who are the children of God, and all those who suffer persecution for justice as the way to being an heir of the kingdom of heaven) correspond to the unitive way, in John Wu’s terminology “the ripening of love.”

It is no wonder that his The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love is accordingly divided into three parts: “Part One: The Budding of Love” (pp. 31-89), “Part Two: The Flowering of Love” (pp. 91-137), and “Part Three: The Ripening of Love” (pp. 139-221).

As for Chinese natural mysticism, we look at this quote: “In fact, the West has something to learn from the East, for, on the whole, the East has gone farther in its natural contemplation than the West has in its supernatural contemplation” (Beyond East and West, 1951, p. 350). Therefore, “[…] nothing human can be greater than these [three religions, i.e., Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism], but Christianity is divine” (Beyond East and West, 1951, p. 12). Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism were John Wu’s pedagogues, teachers and educators, but Christian faith, understood by John Wu as a pure gift from God and as the “ultimate concern” of his life, demanded from him complete devotion. Thus, after his conversion to Catholicism, he had only “one teacher, the Christ” (Matthew 23:10). In his thoughts on natural mysticism in China, John Wu emphasized the Daoist tradition and especially that of Chan Buddhism.