Now and then through the history of the church a great light appears, a prophet who calls the church back to its missional vocation. These reformers are lovers of God, mystics whose lives are utterly given to the divine vision. Yet as Jesus noted, a prophet is often without honor among her own people. In the case of Phoebe Palmer (1807–1874), honor was lost posthumously, for within a few decades after her death her name all but disappeared. Palmer's sanctification theology was separated from its apophatic spiritual moorings, even as her memory was lost. Throughout most of the twentieth century her name was virtually unknown among Methodists. To this day the Mother of the Holiness Movement still awaits her place of recognition as a Christian mystic equal to Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, or Therèse of Lisieux.
This book locates Palmer's life and thought within the great Christian mystical traditions, identifying her importance within Methodism and the church universal. It also presents a Wesleyan theological framework for understanding and valuing Christian mysticism, while connecting it with the larger mystical traditions in Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox communions.
While Palmer was a powerful revivalist in her own day, in many ways she could be the patron saint for contemporary Methodists who are drawn to the new monasticism and who long for the renewal of the church. Saint Phoebe is precisely the one who can help Methodists envision new forms of Christian community, mission, and witness in a postmodern world.