This unit provides an overview of the history of contemplative and apophatic spirituality from the Desert Mothers and Fathers to the present. An understanding of the apophatic tradition will be developed by introducing key historical exemplars and primary texts. Students will explore the historical contexts while engaging in historical spiritual practices. Topics will include, but not be limited to, the Desert Mothers and Fathers, the beguine mystics, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, various monastic traditions and more contemporary examples. These historical examples will be examined with reference to their relevance to contemporary spiritual seekers.

Unit code: CH8740Z

Unit status: Approved (New unit)

Points: 24.0

Unit level: Postgraduate Foundational

Unit discipline: Church History

Delivery Mode: Intensive

Proposing College: Uniting College for Leadership and Theology

Show when this unit is running

Learning outcomes


Discuss the development of the apophatic and contemplative traditions including key figures and events


Compare and contrast the language and practices used across time to describe and implement the apophatic tradition


Develop and apply a range of hermeneutical methods for reading and utilising contemplative primary texts


Relate the lives and writings of historical contemplative exemplars to contemporary spiritual practice

Unit sequence

A foundational unit in program 3 of the Graduate Certificate in Spirituality and the Graduate Diploma in Spiritual Direction.


The unit engages students through readings, lectures, workshops, group discussions and personal reflection.

Indicative Bibliography

  • Armstrong, Karen. The God of the Philosophers”. In A History of God: From Abraham to the Present: The 4000-Year Quest for God. London: Vintage Books, 1999, 203-247.
  • Double, Samuel. "St Francis”. In Journey to the Heart: Christian Contemplation through the Centuries. Edited by Kim Nataraja. London: Canterbury Press, 2011, pp.170-191.
  • Fox, Matthew. “Emptying: Letting Go of Images and Letting Silence Be Silence”. In Original Blessing: A Primer on Creation Spirituality. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2000, 132-139.
  • Green, Thomas H. The First Blind Guide: John of the Cross and Spiritual Direction. Presence 9.1 (February 2003): 31-37.
  • Harmless, William. Mystics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Hide, Kerrie. Dark Loving, Presence 13.3 (September 2007): 12-18.
  • Lanzetta, Beverley. The Monk Within: Embracing a Sacred Way of Life. Blue Sapphire Books, 2018.
  • Pan Yi Jung, Annie. Transforming Christian Spirituality: Hermeneutical Method and Methodology. Mysterion 12, no. 2 (December 2019): 363-373.
  • Swan, Laura.* The Wisdom of the Beguines: The Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women’s Movement*. New York: Bluebridge, 2014.
  • Wicks, Michaele Barry. Teresa of Jesus: Model and Mentor for Ministry. In Handbook of Spirituality for Ministers, edited by Robert J. Wicks. New York: Paulist Press, 1995, 115-126.


Type Description Word count Weight (%)
Summative Reflection

A summative reflection of the student’s learnings from the experience and content of the unit.

2000 30.0
Critical Review

Critically assess the implications of a specified article.

2000 30.0

Topics exploring the contemporary relevance of historical exemplars of contemplative or apophatic spirituality

2500 40.0

Unit approved for the University of Divinity by Prof Albert Haddad on 20 Oct, 2022

Unit record last updated: 2023-06-14 12:46:24 +1000