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Soul Recreation: Spiritual Marriage and Ravishment in the Contemplative-Mystical Piety of Isaac Ambrose

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ABSTRACT Tom Schwanda Soul Recreation: Spiritual Marriage and Ravishment in the Contemplative-Mystical Piety of Isaac Ambrose This thesis examines the theology and piety of Isaac Ambrose (1604-1664), a moderate Lancashire Puritan minister. More specifically it raises the question about the nature of his spiritual practices and whether they reflect what Bernard McGinn calls the “mystical element” of Christianity? This research is distinctive since Ambrose has never been the primary focus of research. There are six chapters to this thesis. Chapter 1 examines the definition of three key terms: “mysticism”, “Puritanism”, and “Puritan mysticism” and then substitutes “contemplative-mystical piety” for McGinn’s mystical element since this language is more familiar to the Reformed community. A review of the literature reveals the prevalence of contemplative-mystical piety within mainstream Puritanism. Chapter 2 explores the biblical and theological foundations of union with Christ, which the Puritans often called spiritual marriage. Contrary to common perception, the Puritans encouraged intimacy and sexual enjoyment in their godly marriage that they often perceived as a reciprocal relationship with their spiritual marriage. The third chapter creates a contemplative biography of Ambrose through his diary entries and examines his relationship with God and his neighbor through his annual retreats, the struggles of his soul, serving as a physician of the soul, times of public fasting and worship, and the significance of specific places or environment to his piety. Chapter 4 narrows the focus to Ambrose’s teaching on meditation and contemplation. The influence of Bernard of Clairvaux is clearly evident as Ambrose contemplatively looks at Jesus throughout all the manifestations of Jesus’ life. The fifth chapter considers Ambrose’s use of ravishment and examines the nature, dynamics and benefits of this ambiguous term of delight and enjoyment. The final chapter moves from the seventeenth-century to the present and inquires whether Ambrose’s contemplative-mystical piety can guide contemporary Reformed Christians. That requires an examination into the resistance of Karl Barth as well as the more receptive possibility of retrieval through Herman Bavinck. This work concludes with seven principles from Ambrose to encourage those who are members of the Reformed tradition.

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