Eros, Agape en die Neoplatonistiese liefdesnumineuse in die mistieke spiritualiteit van Nederlandse piëtistiese vroue, 1750-1850


  • Andries Raath Navorsingsgenoot, Departement Filosofie, Universiteit van die Vrystaat


Eros, Agape and the Neo-Platonic feeling of numinous love in the mystical spirituality of Dutch pietistic women, 1750-1850

Rudolf Otto’s use of the word “numinous” as standing for that aspect of deity, which transcends or eludes comprehension in rational or ethical terms, has been widely received as a welcome contribution to the theological vocabulary. However, Otto’s views on “the Holy” as an a priori category of the mind and as the universal expression of the numinous, is open to debate. As the touchstone for understanding religious experience, mysticism represents direct inner realization of transcendental reality or the Divine; it expresses the numinous as the immediate spiritual intuition of truth believed to transcend reason – the deep linking (or uniting) of the soul with God through contemplative or ecstatic illumination in metaphors representing two forms of Love: Eros and Agape. Dionysius the Areopagite (probably from the fifth century AD), conflated the classic Platonic view on transcendence in his Phaedrus with the early Christian theocentric view of Agape. Dionysius fused the erotic egocentric desire of the soul to ascend to authentic and true beauty when seeing the beauty of the beloved with the early Patristic notion of Agape. The lover’s spiritual longing for the beloved, and the path through the beloved into the transcendence of the self and other is clearly a Platonic theme embedded deeply in Plato’s dialogues, but it is also visible in the forms of love mysticism we find later in Christian mysticism. Christian mysticism is profoundly indebted to Platonism and Neo-Platonic influence transmitted into Christianity through Dionysius the Areopagite, and later through a host of mystical authors in Medieval Christianity. Christianity’s indebtedness to the apophatic confluence of Eros and Agape culminates in the view that there is something in human beings that draws us higher, that pulls us inward, which is expressed in the Platonic tradition of love as the erotic ascent of the lover toward the divine beloved. Christian authors expressed this ascent as the culmination of the inner desire of the soul to be united with God. The fusion of the lover and the beloved is dependent, however loosely in some authors, on the Platonist tradition that our minds are defeated when we try to draw close to God; only love can take the final step, drawing us into the dark mystery of God as he is in himself. The numinous feeling associated with the mystical union of lover and beloved in medieval mystical spirituality and finding expression in the mystical ego-texts of Pietistic women of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, manifests itself in two aspects: the attractive power of uniting with the divine, and the dark erotic transcendence of the union itself. The mystical experience of Eros and Agape surfacing in Christian mystical texts of pietistic women defies Otto’s description of the numinous as the universal experience of the Holy and demands revision.




How to Cite

Raath, A. (2023). Eros, Agape en die Neoplatonistiese liefdesnumineuse in die mistieke spiritualiteit van Nederlandse piëtistiese vroue, 1750-1850. Tydskrif Vir Christelike Wetenskap | Journal for Christian Scholarship, 58(3&4), 149 - 175. Retrieved from

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