In the sense of literary themes, Cristóbal Cuevas comprehends the two classic disciplines in the way of perfection: the ascetic one, and the mystic one. The first one focuses on gaining self-control and moral purification through spiritual exercises, which can be something positive (practice of virtues) and negative (a rupture with everything that has to do with an ethical disorder).
Mysticism, in its strict meaning, refers to a religious and psychological attitude by which the person enjoys some involvement in the divine life; mysticism’s main trait is the ability to experiment divinity in a direct way with no intermediaries. In the mysticism’s chronological evolution there are usually four time periods. In the first place we have what people have called an initial or import period, from the origins till 1500.
The influence of the Arabic and Jewish mystics, which was slowly absorbed throughout the centuries when the three cultures used to cohabitate, is considered by some authors as crucial. Knowledgeable scholar, H. Hatzfeld, considers Raimundo Lulio as the link between Muslim and Christian mysticism. Others talk about a Germanic influence; by the end of the Middle Ages, great mystic figures risen in some of those countries: Eckhart, Tauler, Ruysbroeck, Thomas de Kempis; the Contemptus Mundi (written by this last author and translated in Zaragoza, 1490) might be the most read book among our spiritual figures during the XV century and the early XVI century. All of these influences were inspired by the modern devotion, a spiritual form characterized by a type of mercy which is intimate, methodical and affective, whose origin comes from the Netherlands. It’s also important to remember the influence of medieval Patristic.
The second period, from 1500 to 1560, is known as the assimilation period and it’s marked by the influence of cardinal Cisneros, which motivated the editing of spiritual authors: La Vita Christi by Eiximenis (Granada, 1496), the play with the same name written by Ludolfo de Sajonia (Alcalá, 1502–1503), Flos Sanctorum by Jacobo de Vorágine (Toledo, 1511), etc. The most representative authors in this period are Hernando de Zárate, Alonso de Orozco (15001591), Francisco de Osuna, Bernardino de Laredo, san Pedro de Alcántara, fray Alonso of Madrid, san Ignacio of Loyola and his Spiritual exercises (1548),–Juan de Avila (1500–1549), whose comment about Audi Filia (1556) finishes this period.
Sáinz Rodríguez considers Fray Luis of Granada, the one who truly marks a transition between that period and the next one. This is how we enter into the third period, from 1560 till 1600, named by the critic as the period of contribution and national production. The main peculiarity of this period is that the authors not only talk about mysticism, they actually practice it and honor the doctrine in its original, Spanish form. Its core is formed by the two Carmelite saints: Therese of Jesús (along with her disciples) and John of the Cross.
Finally, Sáinz Rodríguez talks to us about a fourth period named doctrinal compilation or decadence, from 1600 forward.