The mystical theology of Jessie Penn-Lewis (1861-1927)
This thesis examines the life and mystical theology of Jessie Penn-Lewis (1861-1927). While Penn-Lewis has been the subject of historical research, particularly by scholars of the evangelical movement of the late 19'h century, yet her theology has not received adequate assessment from the academic community. Therefore, this thesis undertakes an analysis of the mystical theology of Jessie Penn-Lewis whereby I demonstrate that Penn- Lewis was part of the classical mystical tradition, over and against the Quietism operative within the Keswick Conventions of her day. Following a brief summary of her life, international ministry, and mystical writings, I show that Penn-Lewis's mystical path engaged suffering in the soul's ascent to union with the Divine and this separated her from the Quietists who insisted upon the one-act of passivity in reaching the highest mystical states. I trace the Quietism within the early Keswick Conventions to a mishandling of the Prayer of Simple Regard by Quietists such as Madame Guyon and Thomas Upham. Upham's reshaping of Guyon's Quietism was readily assimilated by leaders within the early Keswick Conventions, excluding Mrs. Jessie Penn-Lewis who could not tolerate the passivity and absorption of the will demanded by Quietism. Penn- Lewis's mystical theology, also called Cross Theology, was nurtured by the Romantic mood of the day, and was thus rooted in personal religious experiences, including the experience of suffering. In this way Cross Theology combines the apophatic tradition of Bonaventure with an experience of suffering, in the soul's ascent, such that Cross Theology opposes the shallow mysticism of Keswick's Quietists who rejected effort and suffering in the path toward the unitive state. Penn-Lewis'ร mysticism also advances and the social ramifications of women's union with Christ. According to Penn-Lewis, women who are united with Christ bear the fruits and responsibilities of the highest mystical state, just as men. Cross Theology therefore had social consequences manifest in women’s equal service beside men in Christian work. Penn-Lewis's mysticism was central to her ministry, her interpretation of scripture and her activism on behalf of women. Thus, Penn-Lewis was a Protestant mystic whose mysticism gave shape to an egalitarian agenda that challenged the gender bias of the Church at the turn of the century.