A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM PRIOR TO THE 20TH CENTURY
THE MYSTICAL ELEMENT IN THE BIBLE
The Old Testament: The Jewish mind and character, as reflected in the Old Testament, was alien to mysticism. The religion of Israel always maintained a rigid notion of individuality, both human and divine. And the Jewish doctrine of ideas was non-Platonic, holding that the world, and the whole course of history, existed from all eternity in the mind of God, but as an unrealized purpose that actualized by degrees as the scroll of events was unfurled. The Jewish mind did not see the world of time and space as any less real than the divine reality; rather its view of the external world was naive realism, in combination with the concept of it as the dominion of an almighty King and Judge. There was no concept of the immanence of Divinity in nature, but instead one of God’s s power over both nature and man; this is evident in the Book of Job, whose final lesson was Job’s modeling of absolute submission to a law outside of us and beyond our comprehension.
The New Testament’s first three gospels are not written in the religious dialect of mysticism for the most part, but they contain all the essentials:
* The vision of God is promised in the Sermon on the Mount, and is promised only to those who are pure in heart;
* The indwelling presence of Christ or the Holy Ghost is taught in several places, most notably in the phrase “the Kingdom of God is within you”;
* The gospels espouse the great moral law which is the cornerstone of mystical (and Christian) ethics—that of gain through loss, of life through death.
The fourth gospel of St. John: this is the charter of Christian mysticism; mysticism pervades all his teaching. For John, God the Father is Love, Light, and Spirit, not only in His qualities but also in His activity. John's doctrine of faith, deeper than that of the prior three gospels, holds that faith is an act of the whole personality -- not the acceptance of a proposition on evidence, still less in the teeth of evidence, but rather a phenomenon that begins with an experiment and ends with an experience: one resolves to live by a proposition as hypothesis by following Christ wherever He leads, notably by transiting from the false isolated self to the larger life of compassion and love which alone makes us persons. One is rewarded with an intense unshakable conviction that is independent of external evidences. John sees mystical illumination and unification as a progressive process (using always the verb ‘know’ and never the substantive, ‘gnosis’), a process in which we receive grace upon grace as we learn more of the fullness of Christ. And he sees the central fact of Christianity as the Incarnation rather than the Cross: that mysterious estrangement, which had laid the world under the dominion of the Prince of darkness, had obscured but not quenched the light which is the prerogative of the righteous. John is acutely aware that our feeling of the contrast between what is and what ought to be is one of the deepest springs of faith in an unseen Reality over and above the one we perceive in terms of space and time. The intense moral dualism of St. John has been felt by many as a discordant note; and though it is not closely connected with his Mysticism, a few words should perhaps be added about it. It has been thought strange that the Logos, who is the life of all things that are, should have to invade His own kingdom to rescue it from its de facto_ ruler, the Prince of darkness; and stranger yet, that the bulk of mankind should seemingly be "children of the devil," born of the flesh, and incapable of salvation. The difficulty exists, but it has been exaggerated. St. John does not touch either the metaphysical problem of the origin of evil, or predestination in the Calvinistic sense.
St. Paul: In treating of St. John, it was necessary to protest against the tendency of some commentators to interpret him simply as a speculative Mystic of the Alexandrian type. But when we turn to St. Paul, we find reason to think that this side of his theology has been very much underestimated, and that the distinctive features of Mysticism are even more marked in him than in St. John. He sees the worldly human mind as incapable of knowing spiritual truths, because they are “spiritually discerned.” The mystery of the wisdom of God is revealed as a man is able to receive it: any man can be illuminated if he has met the conditions of initiated, i.e., if he has love and is cleansed of all defilement of body and spirit. Knowledge, grace and love are the work of the indwelling God, who is thus in a sense the organ as well as the object of the spiritual life. [There seem to have been two conceptions of the operations of the Spirit in St. Paul's time: (a) He comes fitfully, with visible signs, and puts men beside themselves; (b) He is an abiding presence, enlightening, guiding, and strengthening. St. Paul lays weight on the latter view, without repudiating the former.]
Another mystical idea, never absent from the mind of St. Paul, is that the individual Christian must experience personally, the redemptive process of Christ. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ were for him the revelation of the law of redemption through suffering. The victory over sin and death was won for us; but it must also be won in us. "…Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life." And again, "If the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall quicken also your mortal bodies through His Spirit that dwelleth in you."
The law of redemption, which St. Paul considers to have been triumphantly summed up by the death and resurrection of Christ would hardly be proved to be an universal law if the Pauline Christ were only the "heavenly man," as some critics have asserted. St. Paul's teaching about the Person of Christ was really almost identical with the Logos doctrine as we find it in St. John's prologue, and as it was developed by the mystical philosophy of a later period. Not only is His pre-existence "in the form of God" clearly taught, but He is the agent in the creation of the universe, the vital principle upholding and pervading all that exists. And in that bold and difficult passage of the 15thchapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians he speaks of the "reign" of Christ as coextensive with the world's history. When time shall end, and all evil shall be subdued to good, Christ "will deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father," "that God may be all in all.
St. Paul espouses another mystical idea besides that of Christ as the universal source and center of life. He is, we are told, "the Image of the invisible God," and all created beings are, in their several capacities, images of Him. Man is essentially "the image and glory of God" the "perfect man" is he who has come "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." This is our nature, in the Aristotelian sense of completed normal development; but to reach it we have to slay the false self, “the old man,” which is informed by an active maleficent agency, "flesh" which is hostile to "spirit." This latter conception does not at present concern us; what we have to notice is the description of the upward path as an inner transit from the false isolation of the natural man into a state in which it is possible to say, "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.
An additional point is one which may seem to be of subordinate importance, but it will, I think, awaken more interest in the future than it has done in the past. In the 8th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul clearly teaches that the victory of Christ over sin and death is of import, not only to humanity, but to the whole of creation, which now groans and travails in pain together, but which shall one day be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. This recognition of the spirituality of matter, and of the unity of all nature in Christ is a profound contribution to the evolution of Mysticism.
Epistle to the Hebrews: the author, who cannot have been St. Paul, can hardly be called mystical in the sense in which St. Paul was a mystic. The most interesting side of his theology, from the mystical point of view, is the way in which he combines his view of religious ordinances as indicators of higher spiritual truths, with a comprehensive view of history as a progressive realization of a Divine scheme. The keynote of the book is that mankind has been educated partly by ceremonial laws and partly by "promises." Systems of laws and ordinances, of which the Jewish Law is the chief example, have their place in history. They rightly claim obedience until the practical lessons which they can teach have been learned, and until the higher truths which they conceal under the protecting husk of symbolism can be apprehended without disguise. Then their task is done, and mankind is no longer bound by them. In the same way, the "promises" which were made under the old dispensation proved to be only symbols of deeper and more spiritual blessings, which in the moral childhood of humanity would not have appeared desirable; they were (not delusions, but) illusions, "God having prepared some better thing" to take their place. The doctrine is one of profound and far-reaching importance. In this Epistle it is certainly connected with the idealistic thought that all visible things are symbols, and that every truth apprehended by finite intelligences must be only the husk of a deeper truth. We may therefore claim the Epistle to the Hebrews as containing in outline a Christian philosophy of history, based upon a doctrine of symbols which has much in common with some later developments of Mysticism.
CHRISTIAN PLATONISM AND SPECULATIVE MYSTICISM: 1. IN THE EAST
Plato (428/427 BC – 348/347 BC): The choice of the name this Lecture "Christian Platonism and Speculative Mysticism." was a considered one. For admirers of Plato are likely to protest that Plato himself can hardly be called a mystic, and that in any case there is very little resemblance between the philosophy of his Dialogues and the semi-Oriental Mysticism of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. His name is nonetheless merited in the title. The affinity between Christianity and Platonism was very strongly felt throughout the period which we are now to consider. Justin Martyr claims Plato (along with Heraclitus and Socrates) as a Christian before Christ; Athenagoras calls him the best of the forerunners of Christianity, and Clement regards the Gospel as perfected Platonism. The Pagans repeated so persistently the charge that Christ borrowed from Plato what was true in His teaching that Ambrose wrote a treatise to confute them. In the Middle Ages the mystics almost canonized Plato, e.g., Eckha, who speaks of him as "the great priest"). Lastly, in the seventeenth century the English Platonists avowed their intention of bringing back the Church to "her old loving nurse the Platonic philosophy." These English Platonists knew what they were talking of; but for the mediaeval mystics Platonism meant the philosophy of Plotinus adapted by Augustine, or that of Proclus adapted by Dionysius, or the curious blend of Platonic, Aristotelian, and Jewish philosophy which filtered through into the Church by means of the Arabs. Still, there was justice underlying this superficial ignorance. Plato is, after all, the father of European Mysticism. Both the great types of mystics may attribute their worldview to Plato—both those who try to rise through the visible to the invisible, through Nature to God, who find in earthly beauty the truest symbol of the divine, and those who distrust all sensory representations as tending to feed appetites which we ought to starve, who look upon this earth as a place of banishment, upon material things as a veil which hides the divine from us, and who bid us flee away as quickly as may be to the realm of the ideas, the heart's true home. Both may find in the real Plato much congenial teaching: that the highest good is the greatest likeness to God; that the greatest happiness is the vision of God; that we should seek holiness not for the sake of external reward, but because it is the health of the soul, while vice is its disease; that goodness is unity and harmony, while evil is discord and disintegration; that it is our duty and happiness to rise above the visible and transitory to the invisible and permanent. It may also be pleasing to some to trace the fortunes of the positive and negative elements in Plato's teaching--of the humanist and the ascetic who dwelt together in that large mind -- to observe how the world-renouncing element had to grow at the expense of the other until full justice had been done to its claims; and then how the brighter, more truly Hellenic side was able to assert itself under due safeguards, as a precious thing dearly purchased, a treasure reserved for the pure and humble, and still only to be tasted carefully, with reverence and godly deference. There is, of course, no necessity for connecting this development with the name of Plato. The way towards a reconciliation of this and other differences is more clearly indicated in the New Testament; indeed, nothing can strengthen our belief in inspiration so much as to observe how the whole history of thought only helps us to understand St. Paul and St. John better, never to pass beyond their teaching. Still, the traditional connection between Plato and Mysticism is so close that we may, I think, be pardoned for keeping a lamp burning in his honor throughout the present section.
Gnosticism: We have seen how St. Paul speaks of a Gnosis or higher knowledge, which can be taught with safety only to the "perfect" or "fully initiated" and he by no means rejects such expressions as the Pleroma (the totality of the Divine attributes), which were technical terms of speculative theism. St. John, too, in his prologue and elsewhere, brings the Gospel into relation with current speculation and interprets it in philosophical language. The movement known as Gnosticism, both within and outside the Church, was an attempt to complete this reconciliation between speculative and revealed religion, by systematizing the symbols of transcendental mystical thought. In many Gnostic systems the Supreme Being is known as the Monad, the One, the Absolute, the Perfect AEon, Bythos (Depth or Profundity), Proarche (Before the Beginning), He Arche (the Beginning) and the Ineffable Parent. The various emanations of The One are called æons. Within certain variations of Gnosticism, the Monad was the highest god and the creator of lesser gods. In some Gnostic schools a lesser deity known as the Demiurge had a role in the creation of the material world in addition to the role of the Monad; these forms of Gnosticism often viewed the God of the Old Testament as the Demiurge rather than as the Monad.
For both Inge and Underhill, gnosticism was not genuine mysticism, due to a variety of fatal flaws including oscillations between fanatical austerities and scandalous licence and a belief in magic and other absurdities. The Gnostic is “so puffed up," says Irenaeus, "that he believes himself…to have entered within the Divine Pleroma, and to have embraced his guardian angel. On the strength of which he struts about as proud as a cock. These are the self-styled 'spiritual persons,' who say they have already reached perfection." The later Platonism could not graft itself upon any of the Gnostic systems, and the Platonic philosopherPlotinus rejects them as decisively as Origen.
Philo (20 B.C.-A.D. 40): Philo was a deeply mystical Alexandrian Jew who was a contemporary of St. Paul. He and his Therapeutae were genuine mystics of the monastic type. Many of them, however, had not been monks all their life, but were retired men of business who wished to spend their old age in contemplation. These first century monks were not Christians, but rather Hellenised Jews (though Eusebius, Jerome, and the Middle Ages generally thought that they were Christians). Philo's object is to reconcile religion and philosophy--in other words, Moses and Plato. His method is to make Platonism a development of Mosaism and Mosaism an implicit Platonism. The resulting speculative system, however, is exceedingly interesting. God, according to Philo, is unqualified and pure Being; He is emphatically the "I am," and the most general of existences. At the same time He is without qualities, and ineffable. In His inmost nature He is inaccessible. All our knowledge of God is really God dwelling in us: He has breathed into us something of His nature, and is thus the archetype of what is highest in ourselves. He who is truly inspired "may with good reason be called God." This blessed state may, however, be prepared for by mediating methods such as the study of God's laws in nature; it is only the highest class of saints--the souls "born of God"--that are exalted above the need of symbols. It would be easy to show how Philo wavers between two the conceptions of the Divine nature--God as simply transcendent, and God as immanent. But this is one of the things that make him most interesting. His Judaism will not allow him really to believe in a God "without qualities." The Logos dwells with God as His Wisdom (or sometimes he calls Wisdom, figur-atively, the mother of the Logos). He is the "second God," the "Idea of Ideas"; the other Ideas or Powers are the forces which he controls--"the Angels," as he adds, suddenly remembering his Judaism. The Logos is also the mind of God expressing itself in action: the Ideas, therefore, are the content of the mind of God. Here he anticipates Plotinus, but His God is self-conscious, and engages in reasoning. The intelligible world is the Logos acting as Creator. Indeed, Philo calls the intelligible universe "the only and beloved Son of God;” the Son represents the world before God as High Priest and Intercessor. He is the "divine Angel" that guides us; He is the "bread of God," the "dew of the soul," the "convincer of sin": no evil can touch the soul in which He dwells. He is the eternal image of the Father, and we, who are not yet fit to be called sons of God, may call ourselves His sons. Philo's ethical system is that of the later contemplative Mysticism. Knowledge and virtue can be obtained only by renunciation of self. Contemplation is a higher state than activity. "The soul…should shun the whirlpool of life, and not even touch it with the tip of a finger." The highest stage is when a man leaves behind his finite self-consciousness, and sees God face to face, standing in Him henceforth, and knowing Him not by reason, but by clear certainty. Philo makes no attempt to identify the Logos with the Jewish Messiah, and leaves no room for an Incarnation. This system anticipates the greater part of Christian and Pagan Neo-Platonism; it is astonishing that it exercised so little influence on the philosophy of the second century. It was probably regarded as an attempt to evolve Platonism out of the Hebrew Scriptures, and hence interesting only to the Jews, who were at this period becoming more and more unpopular.
St. Clement (c. 160-220): It was about 150 years after Philo that St. Clement of Alexandria sought to present Christianity in the light of a Platonic mysteriosophy.; he tried to do for Christianity what Philo had tried to do for Judaism. His aim is nothing less than to construct a philosophy of religion—what he calls a Gnosis --which shall "initiate" the educated Christian into the higher "mysteries" of his creed. The Logos doctrine, according to which Christ is the universal Reason--the Light that lighteth every man-- here asserts its full rights. Reasoned belief is the superstructure of which faith is the foundation. Knowledge," says Clement, is more than faith: “Faith is a summary knowledge of urgent truths, suitable for people who are in a hurry; but knowledge is scientific faith." "If the Gnostic (the philosophical Christian) had to choose between the knowledge of God and eternal salvation, and it were possible to separate two things so inseparably connected, he would choose without the slightest hesitation the knowledge of God." On the wings of this Gnosis the soul rises above all earthly passions and desires, filled with a calm and disinterested love of God. In this state a man can distinguish truth from falsehood in matters of belief; he can see the connection of the various dogmas, and their harmony with reason; and in reading Scripture he can penetrate beneath the literal to the spiritual meaning. But when Clement speaks of reason or knowledge, he does not mean merely intellectual training. "He who would enter the shrine must be pure," he says, "and purity is to think holy things." And again, "The more a man loves, the more deeply does he penetrate into God." Purity and love, to which he adds diligent study of the Scriptures, are all that is necessary to the highest life, though mental cultivation may be and ought to be a great help. History exhibits a progressive training of mankind by the Logos. "There is one river of truth," he says, "which receives tributaries from every side." All moral evil is caused either by ignorance or by weakness of will. The cure for the one is knowledge, the cure for the other is discipline.
In Clement’s doctrine of God we find that he uses the negative method, which he calls "analysis." The method commonly starts with the assertion that since God is exalted above Being, we cannot say what He is, but only what He is not. Clement apparently objects to saying that God is above Being, but he strips Him of all attributes and qualities till nothing is left but a nameless point; and this, too, he would eliminate, for a point is a numerical unit, and God is above the idea of the Monad.* We shall encounter this argument far too often in our survey of Mysticism, and in writers more logical than Clement, who allowed it to dominate their whole theology and ethics.
Clement gathers up most of the religious and philosophical ideas of his time, and weaves them together into a cultivated and humane system. Especially interesting from the point of view of our present task is the use of mystery-language which we find everywhere in Clement. The Christian revelation is "the Divine (or holy) mysteries," "the Divine secrets," "the secret Word," "the mysteries of the Word.” Jesus Christ is "the Teacher of the Divine mysteries.” The ordinary teaching of the Church is "the lesser mysteries,” while the higher knowledge of the Gnostic (leading to full initiation) is "the great mysteries." Clement borrows verbatim from a Neo-Pythagorean document a whole sentence, to the effect that "it is not lawful to reveal to profane persons the mysteries of the Word"--the "Logos" taking the place of "the Eleusinian goddesses." This attempt to claim the Greek mystery-worship, with its technical language, for Christianity, is very interesting, and it was by no means unfruitful. Among other ideas which seem to come directly from the mysteries is the notion of deification by the gift of immortality. This is, historically, the way in which the doctrine of "deification" found its way into the scheme of Christian Mysticism. The idea of immortality as the attribute constituting Godhead was, of course, as familiar to the Greeks as it was strange to the Jews.
Origen (c. 183-253): Origen supplies some valuable links in the history of Mysticism. He is notable for espousing an esoteric mystery religion for the educated and a mythical religion for the “masses.” Origen follows Clement in his division of the religious life into two classes or stages, those of faith and knowledge. He draws a hard line between them: the "popular, irrational faith" which leads to "somatic Christianity," based on the gospel history, as opposed to the "spiritual Christianity" conferred by Gnosis or Wisdom. Of teaching founded upon the historical narrative, he says, "What better method could be devised to assist the masses?" The Gnostic or Sage no longer needs the crucified Christ: he possesses the "eternal" or "spiritual" Gospel, which "shows clearly all things concerning the Son of God Himself, both the mysteries shown by His words, and the things of which His acts were the symbols." It is not that Origen denies or doubts the truth of the Gospel history, but rather he regards the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as only one manifestation of a universal law, which was really enacted archetypally as universal truths. Origen, like the Neo-Platonists, says that God is above or beyond Being; but he is sounder than Clement on this point, for he attributes self-consciousness and reason to God, who therefore does not require the Second Person in order to come to Himself. Also, since God is not wholly above reason, He can be approached by reason, and not only by ecstatic vision. The Second Person of the Trinity is called by Origen, as by Clement, "the Idea of Ideas." He is the spiritual activity of God, the World-Principle, the One who is the basis of the manifold. Human souls have fallen from their union with the Logos, who became incarnate in order tomodel for them to the state which they have lost. Every spirit will eventually return to the Good, in a universal redemptive process.
Plotinus (A.D. 205-c. 270): Origen’s non-Christian contemporary Plotinus devoted his thought to edifying Greek philosophy with a scheme of idealism that constitutes one of the greatest achievements of the human mind. In the history of Mysticism he holds a more undisputed place than Plato. Some of the most characteristic doctrines of Mysticism, which in Plato are only tentatively suggested, are in Plotinus formed into a compact whole. Among the doctrines which first receive a clear exposition in his writings are 1) his theory of the Absolute, whom he calls the One, or the Good; 2) his theory of the Ideas, which differs from Plato’s in making the real or "intelligible world," the sphere of the Ideas, immanent in the mind of God rather than the latter immanent in the Idea of the Good; and 3) his doctrine of Vision, which attaches an importance to revelation that was new in Greek philosophy.
But his psychology is really the center of his system, and it is here that Christian Mysticism is most indebted to him. The soul is for him the meeting-point of the intelligible and the phenomenal. It is diffused everywhere. Animals and vegetables participate in it; and the earth has a soul which sees and hears. The soul is immaterial and immortal, for it belongs to the The body is in the soul, rather than the soul in the body. The soul creates the body by imposing form on matter, which in itself is No-thing, pure indetermination, and next door to absolute non-existence. Space and time are only forms of our thought. The concepts formed by the soul, by classifying the things of sense, are said to be "Ideas unrolled and separate," that is, they are conceived as separate in space and time, instead of existing all together in eternity. The nature of the soul is triple; it is presented under three forms, which are at the same time the three stages of perfection which it can reach. There is first and lowest the animal and sensual soul, which is closely bound up with the body; then there is the logical, reasoning soul, the distinctively human part; and, lastly, there is the superhuman stage or part, in which a man "thinks himself according to the higher intelligence, with which he has become identified, knowing himself no longer as a man, but as one who has become altogether changed, and has transferred himself into the higher region." The soul is thus "made one with Intelligence without losing herself; so that they two are both one and two." This is exactly Eckhart's doctrine of the “the spark”, if we identify Plotinus' with Eckhart's "God," as we may fairly do. The soul is not altogether incarnate in the body; part of it remains above, in the intelligible world, whither it desires to return in its entirety. The world is an image of the Divine Mind, which is itself a reflection of the One. It is therefore not bad or evil. "What more beautiful image of the Divine could there be," he asks, "than this world, except the world yonder?" And so it is a great mistake to shut our eyes to the world around us, "and all beautiful things." The love of beauty will lead us up a long way--up to the point when the love of the Good is ready to receive us. Only we must not let ourselves be entangled by sensuous beauty. Those who do not quickly rise beyond this first stage, to contemplate "ideal form, the universal mould," share the fate of Hylas; they are engulfed in a swamp, from which they never emerge. The universe resembles a vast chain, of which every being is a link.It may also be compared to rays of light shed abroad from one center. Everything flowed from this centre, and everything desires to flow back towards it. God draws all men and all things towards Himself as a magnet draws iron, with a constant unvarying attraction. This theory of emanation is often sharply contrasted with that of evolution, and is supposed to be discredited by modern science; but that is only true if the emanation is regarded as a process in time, which for the Neoplatonist it is not. In fact, Plotinus uses the word "evolution" to explain the process of nature. The whole universe is one vast organism, and if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it. This is why a "faint movement of sympathy" stirs within us at the sight of any living creature. So Origen says, "As our body, while consisting of many members, is yet held together by one soul, so the universe is to be thought of as an immense living being, which is held together by one soul--the power and the Logos of God." All existence is drawn upwards towards God by a kind of centripetal attraction, which is unconscious in the lower, half conscious in the higher organisms. Christian Neo-Platonism tended to identify the Logos, as the Second Person of the Trinity, with the [Greek: Nous], "Mind" or "Intelligence," of Plotinus, and rightly; but in Plotinus the word Logos has a less exalted position, being practically what we call "law," regarded as a vital force. Plotinus' Trinity are the One or the Good, who is above existence, God as the Absolute; the Intelligence, who occupies the sphere of real existence, organic unit comprehending multiplicity--the One-Many, as he calls it, or, as we might call it, God as thought, God existing in and for Himself; and the Soul, the One and Many, occupying the sphere of appearance or imperfect reality--God as action. Soulless matter, which only exists as a logical abstraction, is arrived at by looking at things "in disconnection, dull and spiritless." It is the sphere of the "merely many," and is zero, as "the One who is not" is Infinity. The Intelligible World is timeless and spaceless, and contains the archetypes of the Sensible World. The Sensible World is our view of the Intelligible World. When we say it does not exist, we mean that we shall not always see it in this form. The "Ideas" are the ultimate form in which things are regarded by Intelligence, or by God. [Greek: Nous] is described as at once [Greek: stasis] and [Greek: kinesis], that is, it is unchanging itself, but the whole cosmic process, which is ever in flux, is eternally present to it as a process. Evil is disintegration. In its essence it is not merely unreal, but unreality as such. It can only appear in conjunction with some low degree of goodness which suggests to Plotinus the fine saying that "vice at its worst is still human, being mixed with something opposite to itself." The "lower virtues," as he calls the duties of the average citizen, are not only purgative, but teach us the principles of measure and rule, which are Divine characteristics. This is immensely important, for it is the point where Platonism and Asiatic Mysticism finally part company. But in Plotinus, as in his Christian imitators, they do not part company. The "marching orders" of the true mystic are those given by God to Moses on Sinai, "See that thou make all things according to the pattern showed thee in the mount." But Plotinus teaches that, as the sensible world is a shadow of the intelligible, so is action a shadow of contemplation, suited to weak-minded persons This is turning the tables on the "man of action" in good earnest; but it is false Platonism and false Mysticism. It leads to the heartless doctrine, quite unworthy of the man, that public calamities are to the wise man only stage tragedies--or even stage comedies. The moral results of this self-centred individualism are exemplified by the mediaeval saint and visionary, Angela of Foligno, who congratulates herself on the deaths of her mother, husband, and children, "who were great obstacles in the way of God." A few words must be said about the doctrine of ecstasy in Plotinus. He describes the conditions under which the vision is granted in exactly the same manner as some of the Christian mystics, e.g. St. Juan of the Cross. "The soul when possessed by intense love of Him divests herself of all form which she has, even of that which is derived from Intelligence; for it is impossible, when in conscious possession of any other attribute, either to behold or to be harmonized with Him. Thus the soul must be neither good nor bad nor aught else, that she may receive Him only, Him alone, she alone." While she is in this state, the One suddenly appears, "with nothing between," "and they are no more two but one; and the soul is no more conscious of the body or of the mind, but knows that she has what she desired, that she is where no deception can come, and that she would not exchange her bliss for all the heaven of heavens." What is the source of this strange aspiration to rise above Reason and Intelligence, which is for Plotinus the highest category of Being, and to come out "on the other side of Being"? Plotinus says himself elsewhere that "he who would rise above Reason, falls outside it"; and yet he regards it as the highest reward of the philosopher-saint to converse with the hypostatized Abstraction who transcends all distinctions. The vision of the One is no part of his philosophy, but is a mischievous accretion. For though the "superessential Absolute" may be a logical necessity, we cannot make it, even in the most transcendental manner, an object of sense, without depriving it of its Absoluteness. What is really apprehended is not the Absolute, but a kind of "form of formlessness," an idea not of the Infinite, but of the Indefinite. It is then impossible to distinguish "the One," who is said to be above all distinctions, from undifferentiated matter, the formless No-thing, which Plotinus puts at the lowest end of the scale.
The Neo-Platonic "vision" can be seen as deriving from two major influences. First, there was the direct influence of Indian philosophy with its focus on the transcendental (we will return to this when addressing Dionysius). Secondly, the blank trance was a real psychological experience, quite different from the "visions" which we have already mentioned. Evidence is abundant; Amiel's Journal give this record the following record of such a trance: "Like a dream which trembles and dies at the first glimmer of dawn, all my past, all my present, dissolve in me, and fall away from my consciousness at the moment when it returns upon myself. I feel myself then stripped and empty, like a convalescent who remembers nothing. My travels, my reading, my studies, my projects, my hopes, have faded from my mind. All my faculties drop away from me like a cloak that one takes off, like the chrysalis case of a larva. I feel myself returning into a more elementary form." But instead of expecting the advent of "the One" while in this state, Amiel feels that "the pleasure of it is deadly, inferior in all respects to the joys of action, to the sweetness of love, to the beauty of enthusiasm, or to the sacred savor of accomplished duty."
Methodius: We find in the Christian Platonist Methodius the interesting doctrine that the indwelling Christ constantly repeats His passion in remembrance, "for not otherwise could the Church continually conceive believers, and bear them anew through the bath of regeneration, unless Christ were repeatedly to die, emptying Himself for the sake of each individual." "Christ must be born mentally in every individual," and each individual saint, by participating in Christ, "is born as a Christ." This is exactly the later language of Eckhart and Tauler. The new features are the great prominence given to immanence--the mystical union as an opus operatum (grace received irrespective of the nature of the receiver, like Baptism), and the individualistic conception of the relation of Christ to the soul.
Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): Gregory defends the historical incarnation in true mystical fashion by an appeal to spiritual experience. "We all believe that the Divine is in everything, pervading and embracing it, and dwelling in it. Why then do men take offence at the dispensation of the mystery taught by the Incarnation of God, who is not, even now, outside of mankind?....If the form of the Divine presence is not now the same, we are as much agreed that God is among us to-day, as that He was in the world then." He argues in another place that all other species of spiritual beings must have had their Incarnations of Christ; a doctrine which was afterwards condemned, but which seems to follow necessarily from the Logos doctrine. These arguments show very clearly that for the Greek theologians, Christ is a cosmic principle, immanent in the world, though not confined by it; and that the scheme of salvation is regarded as part of the constitution of the universe, which is animated and sustained by the same Power who was fully manifested in the Incarnation.
Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite (wrote between 475 and 525): Inge deems it impossible to overestimate the influence of the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius during the next thousand years. A theologian rather than a visionary, Dionysius’ main object is to present Christianity in the guise of a Platonic mysteriosophy, and he uses the technical terms of the mysteries whenever he can. His philosophy is that of his day -- the later Neoplatonism with its strong Oriental affinities. Beginning with the Trinity, he identifies God the Father with the Neoplatonic Monad, and describes Him as "superessential Indetermination," "super-rational Unity," "the Unity which unifies every unity," "superessential Essence," "irrational Mind," "unspoken Word," "the absolute No-thing which is above all existence." He brings in Plato in asserting that "the Good and Beautiful," "are the cause of all things that are; and all things love and aspire to the Good and Beautiful, which are, indeed, the sole objects of their desire." "Since, then, the Absolute Good and Beautiful is honoured by eliminating all qualities from it, the non-existent also must participate in the Good and Beautiful." This kind of assertion shows what is required in grafting Indian acosmicism upon the Platonic doctrine of ideas. Plotinus tried hard to show that his First Person was very different from his lowest category--non-existent "matter"; but if we once allow ourselves to define the Infinite as the Indefinite, the conclusion which he deprecated cannot long be averted. "God is the Being of all that is." Since, then, Being is identical with God or Goodness, evil, as such, does not exist; it only exists by its participation in good. Evil, he says, is not in things which exist; a good tree cannot bear evil fruit; it must, therefore, have another origin. But this is dualism, and must be rejected. Nor is evil in God, nor of God; nor in the angels; nor in the human soul; nor in the brutes; nor in inanimate nature; nor in matter. Having thus hunted evil out of every corner of the universe, he asks--Is evil, then, simply privation of good? But privation is not evil in itself. No; evil must arise from "disorderly and inharmonious motion." As dirt has been defined as matter in the wrong place, so evil is good in the wrong place. It arises by a kind of accident; "all evil is done with the object of gaining some good; no one does evil as evil." Evil in itself is that which is "nohow, nowhere, and no thing"; "God sees evil as good." Students of modern philosophy will recognise a theory which has found influential advocates in our own day: that evil needs only to be supplemented, rearranged, and transmuted, in order to take its place in the universal harmony. All things flow out from God, and all will ultimately return to Him. The first emanation is the Thing in itself which corresponds to the Plotinian, and to the Johannine Logos. He also calls it "Life in itself" and "Wisdom in itself.” Of this he says, "So then the Divine Wisdom in knowing itself will know all things. It will know the material immaterially, and the divided inseparably, and the many as one, knowing all things by the standard of absolute unity." These important speculations are left undeveloped by Dionysius, who merely states them dogmatically. The universe is evolved from the Son, whom he identifies with the "Thing in itself," "Wisdom," or "Life in itself." In creation "the One is said to become multiform." The world is a necessary process of God's being. He created it "as the sun shines," "without premeditation or purpose." The Father is simply One; the Son has also plurality, namely, the words (or reasons) which make existence which theology calls fore-ordinations. But he does not teach that all separate existences will ultimately be merged in the One. The highest Unity gives to all the power of striving, on the one hand, to share in the One; on the other, to persist in their own individuality. And in more than one passage he speaks of God as a Unity comprehending, not abolishing differences. "God is before all things"; "Being is in Him, and He is not in Being." Thus Dionysius tries to safeguard the transcendence of God, and to escape Pantheism. The outflowing process is appropriated by the mind by the positive method--the downward path through finite existences: its conclusion is, "God is All." The return journey is by the negative road, that of ascent to God by abstraction and analysis: its conclusion is, "All is not God." The negative path is the high road of a large school of mystics; I will say more about it presently. The mystic, says Dionysius, "must leave behind all things both in the sensible and in the intelligible worlds, till he enters into the darkness one science that is truly mystical." This "Divine darkness," he says elsewhere, "is the light unapproachable" mentioned by St. Paul, "a deep but dazzling darkness," as Henry Vaughan calls it. It is dark through excess of light.. This doctrine really renders nugatory what he has said about the persistence of distinctions after the restitution of all things; for as "all colours agree in the dark," so, for us, in proportion as we attain to true knowledge, all distinctions are lost in the absolute. The soul is bipartite. The higher portion sees the "Divine images" directly, the lower by means of symbols. The latter are not to be despised, for they are "true impressions of the Divine characters," and necessary steps, which enable us to "mount to the one undivided truth by analogy." This is the way in which we should use the Scriptures. They have a symbolic truth and beauty, which is intelligible only to those who can free themselves from the "puerile myths" (the language is startling in a saint of the Church!) in which they are sometimes embedded. Dionysius has much to say about love, but he uses the word [Greek: eros], which is carefully avoided in the New Testament. He admits that the Scriptures "often use" [Greek: agape], but justifies his preference for the other word by quoting St. Ignatius, who says of Christ, "My Love [Greek: eros] is crucified." Divine Love, he finely says, is "an eternal circle, from goodness, through goodness, and to goodness."
CHRISTIAN PLATONISM AND SPECULATIVE MYSTICISM: 2. IN THE WEST
St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430): At one period of his life Augustine was a diligent student of Plotinus, and his work was significantly influenced by Platonism. The mystical or Neoplatonic element in his theology will be clearly shown in the following extracts. In a few places he comes dangerously near to some of the errors which we found in Dionysius. God is above all that can be said of Him. We must not even call Him ineffable; He is best adored in silence, best known by nescience, best described by negatives. God is absolutely immutable; this is a doctrine on which he often insists, and which pervades all his teaching about predestination. The world pre-existed from all eternity in the mind of God; in the Word of God, by whom all things were made, and who is immutable Truth, all things and events are stored up together unchangeably, and all are one. God sees the time-process not as a process, but gathered up into one harmonious whole. This seems very near to acosmism, but there are other passages which are intended to guard against this error. For instance, in the Confessions he says that "things above are better than things below; but all creation together is better than things above"; that is to say, true reality is something higher than an abstract spirituality. He is fond of speaking of the Beauty of God; and as he identifies beauty with symmetry, it is plain that the formless "Infinite" is for him, as for every true Platonist, the bottom and not the top of the scale of being. Plotinus had perhaps been the first to speak of the Divine nature as the meeting-point of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful; and this conception, which is of great value, appears also in Augustine. There are three grades of beauty, they both say, corporeal, spiritual, and divine, the first being an image of the second, and the second of the third. "Righteousness is the truest beauty," Augustine says more than once. "All that is beautiful comes from the highest Beauty, which is God." This is true Platonism, and points to Mysticism of the symbolic kind, which we must consider later. St. Augustine is on less secure ground when he says that evil is simply the splash of dark colour which gives relief to the picture; and when in other places he speaks of it as simple privation of good. But here again he closely follows Plotinus. St. Augustine was not hostile to the idea of a World-Soul; he regards the universe as a living organism; but he often warns his readers against identifying God and the world, or supposing that God is merely immanent in creation. The Neoplatonic teaching about the relation of individual souls to the World-Soul may have helped him to formulate his own teaching about the mystical union of Christians with Christ. His phrase is that Christ and the Church are "una persona." St. Augustine arranges the ascent of the soul in seven stages. But the higher steps are, as usual, purgation, illumination, and union. This last, which he calls "the vision and contemplation of truth," is "not a step, but the goal of the journey." When we have reached it, we shall understand the wholesomeness of the doctrines with which we were fed, as children with milk; the meaning of such "hard sayings" as the resurrection of the body will become plain to us. Of the blessedness which attends this state he says elsewhere, "I entered, and beheld with the mysterious eye of my soul the light that never changes, above the eye of my soul, above my intelligence. It was something altogether different from any earthly illumination. It was higher than my intelligence because it made me, and I was lower because made by it. He who knows the truth knows that light, and he who knows that light knows eternity. Love knows that light." And again he says, "What is this which flashes in upon me, and thrills my heart without wounding it? I tremble and I burn; I tremble, feeling that I am unlike Him; I burn, feeling that I am like Him." One more point must be mentioned before we leave St. Augustine. In spite of, or rather because of, his Platonism, he had nothing but contempt for the later Neoplatonism, the theurgic and theosophic apparatus of Iamblichus and his friends. I have said nothing yet about the extraordinary development of magic in all its branches, astrology, necromancy, table-rapping, and other kinds of divination, charms and amulets and witchcraft, which brought ridicule upon the last struggles of paganism. These aberrations of Nature-Mysticism will be dealt with in their later developments in my seventh Lecture. St. Augustine, after mentioning some nonsensical incantations of the "abracadabra" kind, says, "A Christian old woman is wiser than these philosophers." In truth, the spirit of Plato lived in, and not outside Christianity, even in the time of Porphyry. And on the cultus of angels and spirits, which was closely connected with theurgic superstition, St. Augustine's judgment is very instructive. "Whom should I find," he asks, "to reconcile me to Thee? Should I approach the angels? With what prayers, with what rites? Many, as I hear, have tried this method, and have come to crave for curious visions, and have been deceived, as they deserved." In spite of St. Augustine's Platonism and the immense influence which he exercised, the Western Church was slow in developing a mystical theology. The Greek Mysticism, based on emanation, was not congenial to the Western mind, and the time of the German, with its philosophy of immanence, was not yet. The tendency of Eastern thinkers is to try to gain a view of reality as a whole, complete and entire: the form under which it most readily pictures it is that of space. The West seeks rather to discover the universal laws which in every part of the universe are working out their fulfillment. The form under which it most readily pictures reality is that of time. Thus Neoplatonism had to undergo certain modifications before it could enter deeply into the religious consciousness of the West.
Erigena (c.800-c.880): The next great name is that of John Scotus Erigena, an English or Irish monk who translated Dionysius into Latin. Erigena is unquestionably one of the most remarkable figures of the Middle Ages. A bold and independent thinker, he made it his aim to elucidate the vague theories of Dionysius, and to present them as a consistent philosophical system worked out by the help of Aristotle and perhaps Boethius. He intends, of course, to keep within the limits permitted to Christian speculation; but in reality he does not allow dogma to fetter him. The Christian Alexandrians were, on the whole, more orthodox than their language; Erigena's language partially veils the real audacity of his speculation. He is a mystic only by his intellectual affinities; the warmth of pious aspiration and love which makes Dionysius, amid all his extravagance, still a religious writer, has cooled entirely in Erigena. He can pray with fervor and eloquence for intellectual enlightenment; but there was nothing of theprophet or saint about him, to judge from his writings. Still, though one might dispute his title to be called either a Christian or a mystic, we must spare a few minutes to this last flower of Neoplatonism, which bloomed so late on our northern islands. God, says Erigena, is called Essence or Being; but, strictly speaking, He is not "Being"; for Being arises in opposition to not-Being, and there is no opposition to the Absolute, or God. Eternity, the abode or nature of God, is homogeneous and without parts, one, simple, and indivisible. "God is the totality of all things which are and are not, which can and cannot be. He is the similarity of the similar, the dissimilarity of the dissimilar, the opposition of opposites, and the contrariety of contraries. All discords are resolved when they are considered as parts of the universal harmony." All things begin from unity and end in unity: the Absolute can contain nothing self-contradictory. And so God cannot be called Goodness, for Goodness is opposed to Badness, and God is above this distinction. Goodness, however is a more comprehensive term than Being. There may be Goodness without Being, but not Being without Goodness; for Evil is the negation of Being. "The Scripture openly pronounces this," says Erigena; "for we read, God saw all things; and not, lo, they were, but, lo, they were very good." All things are, in so far as they are good. "But the things that are not are also called good, and are far better than those which are." Being, in fact, is a defect, "since it separates from the superessential Good." The feeling which prompts this strange expression is that since time and space are themselves one sided appearances, a fixed limit must be set to the amount of goodness and reality which can be represented under these conditions. Erigena therefore thinks that to enter the time-process must be to contract a certain admixture of unreality or evil. In so far as life involves separateness (not distinction), this must be true; but the manifold is only evil when it is discordant and antagonistic to unity. That the many-in-one should appear as the one-in-many, is the effect of the forms of time and space in which it appears; the statement that "the things which are not are far better than those which are," is only true in the sense that the world of appearance is permeated by evil as yet unsubdued, which in the Godhead exists only as something overcome or transmuted. Erigena says that God is above all the categories, including that of relation. It follows that the Persons of the Trinity, which are only "relative names," are fused in the Absolute. We may make statements about God, if we remember that they are only metaphors; but whatever we deny about Him, we deny truly. This is the "negative road" of Dionysius, from whom Erigena borrows a number of uncouth compounds. But we can see that he valued this method mainly as safeguarding the transcendence of God against pantheistic theories of immanence. The religious and practical aspects of the doctrine had little interest for him. The destiny of all things is to "rest and be quiet" in God. But he tries to escape the conclusion that all distinctions must disappear; rather, he says, the return to God raises creatures into a higher state, in which they first attain their true being. All individual types will be preserved in the universal. He borrows an illustration, not a very happy one, from Plotinus. "As iron, when it becomes red-hot, seems to be turned into pure fire, but remains no less iron Creation he regards as a necessary self-realization of God. "God was not," he says, "before He made the universe." The Son is the Idea of the World; "be assured," he says, "that the Word is the nature of all things." The primordial causes or ideas--Goodness, Being, Life, etc., in themselves, which the Father made in the Son--are in a sense the creators of the world, for the order of all things is established according to them. God created the world, not out of nothing, nor out of something, but out of Himself. The creatures have always pre-existed "yonder" in the Word; God has only caused them to be realized in time and space. "Thought and Action are identical in God." "He sees by working and works by seeing." Man is a microcosm. The fivefold division of nature--corporeal, vital, sensitive, rational, intellectual--is all represented in his organization. The corruptible body is an "accident," the consequence of sin. The original body was immortal and incorruptible. This body will one day be restored.
Evil has no substance, and is destined to disappear. "Nothing contrary to the Divine goodness and life and blessedness can be coeternal with them." The world must reach perfec-tion, when all will ultimately be God. "The loss and absence of Christ is the torment of the whole creation, nor do I think that there is any other." There is no "place of punishment" anywhere.
Erigena is an admirable interpreter of the Alexandrians and of Dionysius, but to Inge he emphasizes their most dangerous tendencies. “It is not surprising that his books were condemned; it is more strange that the audacious theories which they repeat from Dionysius were allowed to pass without censure for so long.” Indeed, the freedom of speculation accorded to the mystics forms a remarkable exception to the zeal for exact orthodoxy which characterized the general policy of the early Church. The explanation is that in the East Mysticism has seldom been revolutionary, and has compensated for its speculative audacity by the readiness of its outward conformity. Moreover, the theories of Dionysius about the earthly and heavenly hierarchies were by no means unwelcome to sacerdotalism. In the West things were different. Mysticism there has always been a spirit of reform, generally of revolt. There is much even in Erigena, whose main affinities were with the East, which forecasts the Reformation. He is the father, not only of Western Mysticism and scholasticism, but of rationalism as well.
St. Thomas Aquinas (1226-1274): Inge omits the great scholastic master, but Underhill tells us that as we approach the Golden Age of Mysticism, at its opening stood the dominating intellectual and spiritual power of Church Doctors St. Bonaventura and St. Thomas Aquinas….The intellectual greatness of the Dominican priest, St. Thomas, has obscured his mystical side. But he was a great contemplative and as such was able to interpret to the medieval world the great spiritual tradition of the past and had an immense influence on the mystical schools of the 14th century. Their greatest personalities, in particular Dante and the German Dominincans, are soaked in the spirit of Aquinas and quote his authority at every turn.”
Dante (1265-1321): For mysticism historian Evelyn Underhill, the year 1300 is a vital year in the history of Western European spirituality, in light of the appearance of mystics of the first rank. In Italy, for example, “Dante was forcing human language to express one of the most sublime visions of the Absolute ever crystallized into speech.” He inherits and fuses into one the loving and artistic heart of Franciscan mysticism and the other transcendental vision of the world of the Dominicans that poured into European thought through Aquinas. For one the spiritual world was all love; for the other it was all law; for Dante it was both.
Underhill finds that in the “Paradiso” Dante’s genius apprehends and shows us a beatific vision in which the systems of all great mystics, and many whom the world do not call mystics—of Dionysius, Richard, St. Bernard, Methchild, Aquinas, and countless others-- are incorporated and explained. She sees his “Commedia” as a faithful account of the mystic path or upward ladder of contemplation to the end goal of the Beatific Vision or fulfillment of love. And in his own experience of this blinding vision of Uncreated Light, Dante “resolved Reality’s last paradox,” the unity of the infinite and personal aspects of God.
Meister Eckhart (1260-1327): In the view of Inge and many others, Eckhart was the greatest of all speculative mystics. He was a Dominican monk, prior of Erfurt and vicar of Thuringen, and later vicar-general for Bohemia. He preached a great deal at Cologne about 1325, and before this period had come into close relations with the Beghards and Brethren of the Free Spirit--societies of men and women who, by their implicit faith in the inner light, resembled the Quakers (though many of them were accused of immoral theories and practices). Eckhart’s teaching soon attracted the attention of the Inquisition, and some of his doctrines were formally condemned by the Pope in 1329, immediately after his death.
The aim of Eckhart's religious philosophy is to find a speculative basis for the doctrines of the Church which shall at the same time satisfy the claims of spiritual religion. For Inge, this double object leads him into some inconsistencies: intellectually, he is drawn towards a semi-pantheistic idealism; his heart makes him an Evangelical Christian. But though it is possible to find contradictions in his writings, his transparent intellectual honesty and his great powers of thought, combined with deep devoutness and childlike purity of soul, make him one of the most interesting figures in the history of Christian philosophy. Eckhart wrote in German; that is to say, he wrote for the public desire to be intelligible to the general reader and not for the learned only.
Eckhart was no doubt greatly indebted to Thomas Aquinas, though it would be a great mistake to say, as some have, that all Eckhart can be found in the Summa. For instance, he sets himself in opposition to Thomas about the "spark," which Thomas regarded as a faculty of the soul, while Eckhart, in his later writings, regards as uncreated.
Eckhart distinguishes between "the Godhead" and "God." The former is the abiding potentiality of Being, containing within Himself all distinctions, as yet undeveloped. He therefore cannot be the object of knowledge, nor of worship, being "Darkness" and "Formlessness." The Triune God is evolved from the Godhead. The Son is the Word of the Father, His uttered thought; and the Holy Ghost is "the Flower of the Divine Tree," the mutual love which unites the Father and the Son. Eckhart quotes the words which St. Augustine makes Christ say of Himself: "I am come as a Word from the heart, as a ray from the sun, as heat from the fire, as fragrance from the flower, as a stream from a perennial fountain." He insists that the generation of the Son is a continual process.
The universe is the expression of the whole thought of the Father; it is the language of the Word. "Nature is the lower part of the Godhead;" "Before creation, God was not God." These statements are not as pantheistic as they sound. Eckhart argues that without the Son the Father would not be God, but only undeveloped potentiality of being. Ththree Persons are not merely accidents and modes of the Divine Substance, but are inherent in the Godhead. And so there can never have been a time when the Son was not. But the generation of the Son necessarily involves the creation of an ideal world; for the Son is Reason, and Reason is constituted by a cosmos of ideas. When Eckhart speaks of creation and of the world which had no beginning, he means not the world of phenomena, but rather the world of ideas in the Platonic sense. The ideal world is the complete expression of the thought of God, and is above space and time. He calls it "non-natured nature," as opposed to the world of phenomena. Eckhart's doctrine here differs from that of Plotinus in a very important particular. The Neoplatonists always thought of emanation as a diffusion of rays from a sun, which necessarily decrease in heat and brightness as they recede from the central focus. It follows that the second Person of the Trinity, Intelligence, is subordinate to the First, and the Third to the Second. But with Eckhart there is no subordination. The Son is the pure brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of His Person. "The eternal fountain of things is the Father; the image of things in Him is the Son, and love for this Image is the Holy Ghost."
All created things abide "formless" (as possibilities) in the ground of the Godhead, and all are realized in the Son. The Alexandrian Fathers, in identifying the Logos with the Platonic [Greek: Nous], the bearer of the World-Idea, had found it difficult to avoid subordinating Him to the Father. Eckhart escapes this heresy, but in consequence his view of the world is more pantheistic. For his intelligible world is really God--it is the whole content of the Divine mind. The question has been much debated, whether Eckhart really falls into pantheism or not. The answer seems to depend on what is the obscurest part of his whole system--the relation of the phenomenal world to the world of ideas. He offers the Christian dogma of the Incarnation of the Logos as a kind of explanation of the passage of the "prototypes" into "externality." When God "speaks" His ideas, the phenomenal world arises. This is an incarnation. But the process by which the soul emancipates itself from the phenomenal and returns to the intelligible world, is also called a "begetting of the Son." Thus the whole process is a circular one--from God and back to God again. Time and space, he says, were created with the world. Material things are outside each other, spiritual things in each other. But these statements do not make it clear how Eckhart accounts for the imperfections of the phenomenal world, which he is precluded from explaining, as the Neoplatonists did, by a theory of emanation. Nor can we solve the difficulty by importing modern theories of evolution into his system. The idea of the world-history as a gradual realization of the Divine Personality was foreign to Eckhart's thought. Stoeckl, indeed, tries to father upon him the doctrine that the human mind is a necessary organ of the self-development of God. But this theory cannot be found in Eckhart. The "necessity" which impels God to "beget His Son" is not a physical but a moral necessity. "The good must needs impart itself," he says. The fact is that his view of the world is much nearer to acosmism than to pantheism. "Nothing hinders us so much from the knowledge of God as time and place," he says. He sees in phenomena only the negation of being, and it is not clear how he can also regard them as the abode of the immanent God. It would probably be true to say that, like most mediaeval thinkers, he did not feel himself obliged to give a permanent value to the transitory, and that the world, except as the temporary abode of immortal spirits, interested him but little. His neglect of history, including the earthly life of Christ, is not at all the result of scepticism about the miraculous. It is simply due to the feeling that the Divine process in the "everlasting Now" is a fact of immeasurably greater importance than any occurrence in the external world can be.
When a religious writer is suspected of pantheism, we naturally turn to his treatment of the problem of evil. To the true pantheist all is equally divine, and everything for the best or for the worst, it does not much matter which. Eckhart certainly does not mean to countenance this absurd theory, but there are passages in his writings which logically imply it; and we look in vain for any elucidation, in his doctrine of sin, of the dark places in his doctrine of God. In fact, he adds very little to the Neoplatonic doctrine of the nature of evil. Like Dionysius, he identifies Being with Good, and evil, as such, with not-being. Moral evil is self-will: it is the attempt, on the part of the creature, to be a particular This or That outside of God.
But what is most distinctive in Eckhart's ethics is the new importance which is given to the doctrine of immanence. The human soul is a microcosm, which in a manner contains all things in itself. At the "apex of the mind" there is a Divine "spark," which is so closely akin to God that it is one with Him, and not merely united to Him. In his teaching about this "ground of the soul" Eckhart wavers. His earlier view is that it is created, and only the medium by which God transforms us to Himself. But his later doctrine is that it is uncreated, the immanence of the Being and Nature of God Himself. This view was adopted by Ruysbroek, Suso, and (with modifications by) Tauler, and became one of their chief tenets. This spark is the organ by which our personality holds communion with God and knows Him. It is with reference to it that Eckhart uses the phrase which has so often been quoted to convict him of blasphemous self-deification -- "the eye with which I see God is the same as that with which He sees me." The “uncreated spark" is really the same as the grace of God, which raises us into a Godlike state. But this grace, according to Eckhart (at least in his later period), is God Himself acting like a human faculty in the soul, and transforming it so that "man himself becomes grace." The following is perhaps the most instructive passage: "There is in the soul something which is above the soul, Divine, simple, a pure nothing; rather nameless than named, rather unknown than known. Of this I am accustomed to speak in my discourses. Sometimes I have called it a power, sometimes an uncreated light, and sometimes a Divine spark. It is absolute and free from all names and all forms, just as God is free and absolute in Himself. It is higher than knowledge, higher than love, higher than grace. For in all these there is still distinction. In this power God doth blossom and flourish with all His Godhead, and the Spirit flourisheth in God. In this power the Father bringeth forth His only-begotten Son, as essentially as in Himself; and in this light ariseth the Holy Ghost. This spark rejecteth all creatures, and will have only God, simply as He is in Himself. It rests satisfied neither with the Father, nor with the Son, nor with the Holy Ghost, nor with the three Persons, so far as each existeth in its particular attribute. It is satisfied only with the superessential essence. It is determined to enter into the simple Ground, the still Waste, the Unity where no man dwelleth. Then it is satisfied in the light; then it is one: it is one in itself, as this Ground is a simple stillness, and in itself immovable; and yet by this immobility are all things moved."
It is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure; but our own nature and personality remain intact. It is plain that we could not see God unless our personality remained distinct from the personality of God. Complete fusion is as destructive of the possibility of love and knowledge as complete separation. Eckhart gives to "the highest reason" the primacy among our faculties, and in his earlier period identifies it with "the spark." He asserts the absolute supremacy of reason more strongly than anyone since Erigena, his language resembling that of the Cambridge Platonists. "Reasonable knowledge is eternal life," he says. "How can any external revelation help me," he asks, "unless it be verified by inner experience? The last appeal must always be to the deepest part of my own being, and that is my reason." "The reason," he says, "presses ever upwards. It cannot rest content with goodness or wisdom, nor even with God Himself; it must penetrate to the Ground from whence all goodness and wisdom spring." Thus Eckhart is not content with the knowledge of God which is mediated by Christ, but aspires to penetrate into the "Divine darkness" which underlies the manifestation of the Trinity. In fact, when he speaks of the imitation of Christ, he distinguishes between "the way of the manhood," which has to be followed by all, and "the way of the Godhead," which is for the mystic only. In this overbold aspiration to rise "from the Three to the One," he falls into the error which we have already noticed, and several passages advocate the quietistic self simplification which belongs to this scheme of perfection. There are times he exhorts us to strip off all that comes to us from the senses, and to throw ourselves upon the heart of God, there to rest forever, "hidden from all creatures." But there are many other passages of an opposite tendency. He tells us that "the way of the manhood," which, of course, includes imitation of the active life of Christ, must be trodden first by all; he insists that in the state of union the faculties of the soul will act in a new and higher way, so that the personality is restored, not destroyed; and, lastly, he teaches that contemplation is only the means to a higher activity, and that this is, in fact, its object; "what a man has taken in by contem-plation, that he pours out in love." There is no contradiction in the desire for rest combined with the desire for active service; for rest can only be defined as unimpeded activity; but in Eckhart there is, I think, a real inconsistency. The traditions of his philosophy pointed towards withdrawal from the world and from outward occupations--towards the monkish ideal, in a word; but the modern spirit was already astir within him. He preached in German to the general public, and his favourite themes are the present living operation of the Spirit, and the consecration of life in the world. There is, he shows, no contradiction between the active and the contemplative life; the former belongs to the faculties of the soul, the latter to its essence. In commenting on the story of Martha and Mary, those favourite types of activity and contemplation, he surprises us by putting Martha first. "Mary hath chosen the good part; that is," he says, "she is striving to be as holy as her sister. Mary is still at school: Martha has learnt her lesson. It is better to feed the hungry than to see even such visions as St. Paul saw." He discourages monkish religiosity and external badges of saintliness--"avoid everything peculiar," he says, "in dress, food, and language." "You need not go into a desert and fast; a crowd is often more lonely than a wilderness, and small things harder to do than great." "What is the good of the dead bones of saints?" he asks, in the spirit of a sixteenth century reformer; "the dead can neither give nor take." This double aspect of Eckhart's teaching makes him particularly interesting; he seems to stand on the dividing-line between mediaeval and modern Christianity. Like other mystics, he insists that love, when perfect, is independent of the hope of reward, and he shows great freedom in handling Purgatory, Hell, and Heaven. They are states, not places; separation from God is the misery of hell, and each man is his own judge. "We would spiritualize everything," he says, with special reference to Holy Scripture. In comparing the Mysticism of Eckhart with that of his predecessors, from Dionysius downwards, and of the scho-lastics down to Gerson, we find an obvious change in the disappearance of the long ladders of ascent, the graduated scales of virtues, faculties, and states of mind, which fill so large a place in those systems. These lists are the natural product of the imagination, when it plays upon the theory of emanation. But with Eckhart, as we have seen, the fundamental truth is the immanence of God Himself, not in the faculties, but in the ground of the soul. "God begets His Son in me," he is fond of saying: and there is no doubt that, relying on a verse in the seventeenth chapter of St. John, he regards this "begetting" as analogous to the eternal generation of the Son. This birth of the Son in the soul has a double aspect--the "eternal birth," which is unconscious and inalienable, but which does not confer blessedness, being common to good and bad alike; and the assimilation of the faculties of the soul by the pervading presence of Christ, or in other words by grace. The deification of our nature is therefore a thing to be striven for, and not given complete to start with; but it is important to observe that Eckhart places no intermediaries between man and God. "The Word is very nigh thee," nearer than any object of sense, and any human insti-tutions; sink into thyself, and thou wilt find Him. The heavenly and earthly hierarchies of Dionysius, with the reverence for the priesthood which was built upon them, have no sig-nificance for Eckhart. In this as in other ways, he is a precursor of the Reformation.
Eckhart’s successors, Ruysbroek, Suso, and Tauler, much as they resemble him in their general teaching, differ from him in this, that with none of them is the intellectual, philo-sophical side of primary importance. They added nothing of value to the speculative system of Eckhart; their Mysticism was primarily a religion of the heart or a rule of life. It is this side of Mysticism which is addressed next; this should bring us near to the center of our subject: for a speculative religious system is best known by its fruits.
PRACTICAL AND DEVOTIONAL MYSTICISM
The school of Eckhart in the fourteenth century produced the brightest cluster of names in the history of Mysticism. In Ruysbroek, Suso, Tauler, and the unknown author of the Theologia Germanica, we see introspective mysticism at its best. This must not be understood to mean that they improved upon the philosophical system of Eckhart, or that they are entirely free from the dangerous tendencies which have been found in his works. On the speculative side they added nothing of value, and none of them rivals Eckhart in clearness of intellect. But we find in them an unfaltering conviction that our communion with God must be a fact of experience, and not only a philosophical theory. With the most intense earnestness they set themselves to live through the mysteries of the spiritual life, as the only way to understand and prove them.
John of Ruysbroek (1293-1381): "Doctor ecstaticus," as the Church allowed him to be called, Ruysbroek was prior of the convent of Gruenthal, in the forest of Soignies, where he wrote most of his mystical treatises, under the direct guidance, as he believed, of the Holy Spirit. He was the object of great veneration in the later part of his life. Ruysbroek was not a learned man; though he knew Dionysius, St. Augustine, and Eckhart, and no doubt some of the other mystical writers, he does not write like a scholar or a man of letters. He resembles Suso in being more emotional and less speculative than most of the German school.
Ruysbroek reverts to the mystical tradition partially broken by Eckhart of arranging almost all his topics in divisions often forming a progressive scale. For instance, in the treatise On the Seven Grades of Love, he gives a series called the Ladder of Love: (1) goodwill; (2) voluntary poverty; (3) chastity; (4) humility; (5) desire for the glory of God; (6) divine contemplation, which has three properties--intuition, purity of spirit, and nudity of mind; (7) the ineffable, unnameable transcendence of all knowledge and thought. His chief work Ordo spiritualium nuptiarum, is one of the most complete charts of the mystic's progress which exist. The three stages here are 1) the active life, 2) the internal, elevated, or affective life, to which all are not called, and 3) the contemplative life, to which only a few can attain. The three parts of the soul, sensitive, rational, and spiritual, correspond to these three stages.
The Bridegroom "comes" three times: He came in the flesh; He comes into us by grace; and He will come to judgment. We must "go out to meet Him," by the three virtues of humility, love, and justice: these are the three virtues which support the fabric of the active life. The ground of all the virtues is humility; from which proceed, in order, obedience, renunciation of our own will, patience, gentleness, piety, sympathy, bountifulness, strength and impulse for all virtues, soberness and temperance, chastity. "This is the active life, which is necessary for us all, if we wish to follow Christ, and to reign with Him in His everlasting kingdom." Above the active rises the inner life. This has three parts. Our intellect must be enlightened with supernatural clearness; we must behold the inner coming of the Bridegroom, that is, the eternal truth; we must "go out" from the exterior to the inner life; we must go to meet the Bridegroom, to enjoy union with His Divinity. Finally, the spirit rises from the inner to the contemplative life. "When we rise above ourselves, and in our ascent to God are made so simple that the love which embraces us is occupied only with itself, above the practice of all the virtues, then we are transformed and die in God to ourselves and to all separate individuality." God unites us with Himself in eternal love, which is Himself. "In this embrace and essential unity with God all devout and inward spirits are one with God by living immersion and melting away into Him; they are by grace one and the same thing with Him, because the same essence is in both." "For what we are, that we intently contemplate; and what we contemplate, that we are; for our mind, our life, and our essence are simply lifted up and united to the very truth, which is God. Wherefore in this simple and intent contemplation we are one life and one spirit with God. And this I call the contemplative life. In this highest stage the soul is united to God without means; it sinks into the vast darkness of the Godhead." In this abyss, he says, following his authorities, "the Persons of the Trinity transcend themselves"; "there is only the eternal essence, which is the substance of the Divine Persons, where we are all one and uncreated, according to our prototypes." Here, "so far as distinction of persons goes, there is no more God nor creature"; "we have lost ourselves and been melted away into the unknown darkness." And yet we remain eternally distinct from God. The creature remains a creature, and loses not its creatureliness. We must be conscious of ourselves in God, and conscious of ourselves in ourselves. For eternal life consists in the knowledge of God, and there can be no knowledge without self-consciousness. If we could be blessed without knowing it, a stone, which has no consciousness, might be blessed. Ruysbroek, it is plain, had no qualms in using the old mystical language without qualification. This is the more remarkable, because he was fully aware of the disastrous consequences which follow from the method of negation and self-deification. For Ruysbroek was an earnest reformer of abuses. He spares no one--popes, bishops, monks, and the laity are lashed in vigorous language for their secularity, covetousness, and other faults; but perhaps his sharpest castigation is reserved for the false mystics. There are some, he says, who mistake mere laziness for holy abstraction; others give the rein to "spiritual self-indulgence"; others neglect all religious exercises; others fall into antinomianism, and "think that nothing is forbidden to them"--"they will gratify any appetite which interrupts their contemplation": these are "by far the worst of all." "There is another error," he proceeds, "of those who like to call themselves 'theopaths.' They take every impulse to be Divine, and repudiate all responsibility. Most of them live in inert sloth." As a corrective to these errors, he very rightly says, "Christ must be the rule and pattern of all our lives"; but he does not see that there is a deep inconsistency between the imitation of Christ as the living way to the Father, and the "negative road" which leads to vacancy.
Henry Suso (1295-1365): Henry Suso, whose autobiography is a document of unique importance for the psychology of Mysticism, was intellectually a disciple of Eckhart, whom he understands better than Ruysbroek; but his life and character are more like those of the Spanish mystics, especially St. John of the Cross. The text which is most often in his mouth is, "Where I am, there shall also My servant be,” which he interprets to mean that only those who have embraced to the full the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, can hope to be united to Him in glory. "No cross, no crown," is the law of life which Suso accepts in all the severity of its literal meaning. The story of the terrible penances which he inflicted on himself for part of his life is painful and almost repulsive to read; but they have nothing in common with the ostentatious self-torture of the fakir. Suso's deeply affectionate and poetical temperament, with its strong human loves and sympathies, made the life of the cloister very difficult for him. He accepted it as the highest life, and strove to conform himself to its ideals; and when, after sixteen years of cruel austerities, he felt that his "refractory body" was finally tamed, he discontinued his mortifications, and entered upon a career of active usefulness. In this he had still heavier crosses to carry, for he was persecuted and falsely accused, while the spiritual consolations which had cheered him in his early struggles were often withdrawn. In his old age, shortly before his death in 1365, he published the history of his life, which is one of the most interesting and charming of all autobiographies. Suso's literary gift is very remarkable. Unlike most ecstatic mystics, who declare on each occasion that "tongue cannot utter" their experiences, Suso's store of glowing and vivid language never fails. The hunger and thirst of the soul for God, and the answering love of Christ manifested in the inner man, have never found a more pure and beautiful expression. In the hope of inducing more readers to become acquainted with this gem of mediaeval literature, I will give a few extracts from its pages. "The servitor of the eternal Wisdom," as he calls himself throughout the book, made the first beginning of his perfect conversion to God in his eighteenth year. Before that, he had lived as others live, content to avoid deadly sin; but all the time he had felt a gnawing reproach within him. Then came the temptation to be content with gradual progress, and to "treat himself well." But "the eternal Wisdom" said to him, "He who seeks with tender treatment to conquer a refractory body, wants common sense. If thou art minded to forsake all, do so to good purpose." The stern command was obeyed. Very soon--it is the usual experience of ascetic mystics--he was encouraged by rapturous visions. One such, which came to him on St. Agnes' Day, he thus describes:--"It was without form or mode, but contained within itself the most entrancing delight. His heart was athirst and yet satisfied. It was a breaking forth of the sweetness of eternal life, felt as present in the stillness of contemplation. Whether he was in the body or out of the body, he knew not." It lasted about an hour and a half; but gleams of its light continued to visit him at intervals for some time after. Suso's loving nature, like Augustine's, needed an object of affection. His imagination concentrated itself upon the eternal Wisdom, personified in the Book of Proverbs in female form as a loving mistress, and the thought came often to him, "Truly thou shouldest make trial of thy fortune, whether this high mistress, of whom thou hast heard so much, will become thy love; for in truth thy wild young heart will not remain without a love." Then in a vision he saw her, radiant in form, rich in wisdom, and overflowing with love; it is she who touches the summit of the heavens, and the depths of the abyss, who spreads herself from end to end, mightily and sweetly disposing all things. And she drew nigh to him lovingly, and said to him sweetly, "My son, give me thy heart." At this season there came into his soul a flame of intense fire, which made his heart burn with Divine love. And as a "love token," he cut deep in his breast the name of Jesus, so that the marks of the letters remained all his life, "about the length of a finger-joint." Another time he saw a vision of angels, and besought one of them to show him the manner of God's secret dwelling in the soul. An angel answered, "Cast then a joyous glance into thyself, and see how God plays His play of love with thy loving soul." He looked immediately, and saw that his body over his heart was as clear as crystal, and that in the centre was sitting tranquilly, in lovely form, the eternal Wisdom, beside whom sat, full of heavenly longing, the servitor's own soul, which leaning lovingly towards God's side, and encircled by His arms, lay pressed close to His heart. In another vision he saw "the blessed master Eckhart," who had lately died in disfavor with the rulers of the Church. "He signified to the servitor that he was in exceeding glory, and that his soul was quite transformed, and made Godlike in God." In answer to questions, "the blessed Master" told him that "words cannot tell the manner in which those persons dwell in God who have really detached themselves from the world, and that the way to attain this detachment is to die to self, and to maintain unruffled patience with all men." Very touching is the vision of the Holy Child which came to him in church on Candlemas Day. Kneeling down in front of the Virgin, who appeared to him, "he prayed her to show him the Child, and to suffer him also to kiss it. When she kindly offered it to him, he spread out his arms and received the beloved One. He contemplated its beautiful little eyes, he kissed its tender little mouth, and he gazed again and again at all the infant members of the heavenly treasure. Then, lifting up his eyes, he uttered a cry of amazement that He who bears up the heavens is so great, and yet so small, so beautiful in heaven and so childlike on earth. And as the Divine Infant moved him, so did he act toward it, now singing now weeping, till at last he gave it back to its mother." When at last he was warned by an angel, he says, to discontinue his austerities, "he spent several weeks very pleasantly," often weeping for joy at the thought of the grievous sufferings which he had undergone. But his repose was soon disturbed. One day, as he sat meditating on "life as a warfare," he saw a vision of a comely youth, who vested him in the attire of a knight, saying to him, "Hearken, sir knight! Hitherto thou hast been a squire; now God wills thee to be a knight. And thou shalt have fighting enough!" Suso cried, "Alas, my God! what art Thou about to do unto me? I thought that I had had enough by this time. Show me how much suffering I have before me." The Lord said, "It is better for thee not to know. Nevertheless I will tell thee of three things. Hitherto thou hast stricken thyself. Now I will strike thee, and thou shalt suffer publicly the loss of thy good name. Secondly, where thou shalt look for love and faithfulness, there shalt thou find treachery and suffering. Thirdly, hitherto thou hast floated in Divine sweetness, like a fish in the sea; this will I now withdraw from thee, and thou shalt starve and wither. Thou shalt be forsaken both by God and the world, and whatever thou shalt take in hand to comfort thee shall come to nought." The servitor threw himself on the ground, with arms outstretched to form a cross, and prayed in agony that this great misery might not fall upon him. Then a voice said to him, "Be of good cheer, I will be with thee and aid thee to overcome." The next chapters show how this vision or presentiment was verified. The journeys which he now took exposed him to frequent dangers, both from robbers and from lawless men who hated the monks. One adventure with a murderer is told with delightful simplicity and vividness. Suso remains throughout his life thoroughly human, and, hard as his lot had been, he is in an agony of fear at the prospect of a violent death. The story of the outlaw confessing to the trembling monk how, besides other crimes, he had once pushed into the Rhine a priest who had just heard his confession, and how the wife of the assassin comforted Suso when he was about to drop down from sheer fright, forms a quaint interlude in the saint's memoirs. But a more grievous trial awaited him. Among other pastoral work, he labored much to reclaim fallen women; and a pretended penitent, whose insincerity he had detected, revenged herself by a slander which almost ruined him. Happily, the chiefs of his order, whose verdict he had greatly dreaded, completely exonerated him, after a full investigation, and his last years seem to have been peaceful and happy. The closing chapters of the Life are taken up by some very interesting conversations with his spiritual "daughter," Elizabeth Staeglin, who wished to understand the obscurer doctrines of Mysticism. She asks him about the doctrine of the Trinity, which he expounds on the general lines of Eckhart's theology. She, however, remembers some of the bolder phrases in Eckhart, and says, "But there are some who say that, in order to attain to perfect union, we must divest ourselves of God, and turn only to the inwardly-shining light." "That is false," replies Suso, "if the words are taken in their ordinary sense. But the common belief about God, that He is a great Taskmaster, whose function is to reward and punish, _is_ cast out by perfect love; and in this sense the spiritual man _does_ divest himself of God, as conceived of by the vulgar. Again, in the highest state of union, the soul takes no note of the Persons _separately_; for it is not the Divine Persons taken singly that confer bliss, but the Three in One." Suso here gives a really valuable turn to one of Eckhart's rashest theses. "Where is heaven?" asks his pupil next. "The intellectual where" is the reply, "is the essentially-existing unnameable nothingness. So we must call it, because we can discover no mode of being, under which to conceive of it. But though it seems to us to be no-thing, it deserves to be called something rather than nothing." Suso, we see, follows Dionysius, but with this proviso. The maiden now asks him to give her a figure or image of the self-evolution of the Trinity, and he gives her the figure of concentric circles, such as appear when we throw a stone into a pond. "But," he adds, "this is as unlike the formless truth as a black Moor is unlike the beautiful sun." Soon after, the holy maiden died, and Suso saw her in a vision, radiant and full of heavenly joy, showing him how, guided by his counsels, she had found everlasting bliss. When he came to himself, he said, "Ah, God! blessed is the man who strives after Thee alone! He may well be content to suffer, whose pains Thou rewardest thus. God help us to rejoice in this maiden, and in all His dear friends, and to enjoy His Divine countenance eternally!" So ends Suso's autobiography. His other chief work, a Dialogue between the eternal Wisdom and the Servitor, is a prose poem of great beauty, the tenor of which may be inferred from the above extracts from the Life. Suso believed that the Divine Wisdom had indeed spoken through his pen; and few, I think, will accuse him of arrogance for the words which conclude the Dialogue. "Whosoever will read these writings of mine in a right spirit, can hardly fail to be stirred in his heart's depths, either to fervent love, or to new light, or to longing and thirsting for God, or to detestation and loathing of his sins, or to that spiritual aspiration by which the soul is renewed in grace."
John Tauler (c. 1300-1361): Born at Strassburg about 1300, Tauler entered a Dominican convent in 1315. After studying at Cologne and Paris, he returned to Strassburg, where he officiated as a Dominican priest. In 1339 he went to Basel, which was the headquarters of the revivalist society called "the Friends of God." About 1346 he returned to Strassburg, and was devoted in his ministrations during the "black death" in 1348. He seems to have been strongly influenced by one of the Friends of God, a mysterious layman, and according to some, dated his "conversion" from his acquaintance with this saintly man. Tauler continued to preach to crowded congregations till his death in 1361.
Tauler was a thinker as well as a preacher. Though in most points his teaching is identical with that of Eckhart, he treats all questions in an independ-
ent manner and sometimes differs from his master. There is also a perceptible change in the stress laid upon certain parts of the system, which brings Tauler nearer than Eckhart to the divines of the Reformation. In particular, his sense of sin is too deep for him to be satisfied with the Neo- Platonic doctrine of its negativity, which had led Eckhart into difficulties. A.D.)
The centre of Tauler's mysticism is the doctrine of the visio essentiœ Dei, the blessed contemplation or knowledge of the Divine nature. He takes this doctrine from Thomas Aquinas, but goes further than the latter in believing that the Divine knowledge is attainable in this world also by a perfect man, and should be sought by every means. God dwells within each human being. In order, however, that the transcendent God may appear in man as a second subject, the human, sinful activities must cease. Aid is given in this effort by the light of grace which raises nature far above itself. The way to God is through love; God replies to its highest development by His presence. Tauler gives advice of the most varied character for attaining that height of religion in which the Divine enters into the human subject. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14465c.htm ver batim The Inner Way=his sermons
Theologia Germanica (The German Theology): Written by an unknown author, this little book also belongs to the school of Eckhart. It is one of the most precious pieces of devotional literature, in some ways it is superior to the famous treatise of Thomis a Kempis, On the Imitation of Christ, since in it self-centered individualism is less prominent. The author thoroughly understands Eckhart, but his object is to give a practical religious turn to his master's speculations. His teaching is closely in accordance with that of Tauler, whom he quotes as an authority, and whom he joins in denouncing the followers of the "false light," the erratic mystics of the fourteenth century.
The practical theology of these four German mystics of the fourteenth century--Ruysbroek, Suso, Tauler, and the writer of The German Theology, is so similar that it is possible to consider it in detail without addressing each author separately. It is the crowning achievement of Christian Mysticism before the Reformation; except in the English Platonists of the seventeenth century, we shall not find anywhere a sounder and more complete scheme of doctrine built upon this foundation.
The distinction drawn by Eckhart between the Godhead and God is maintained in The German Theology and by Ruysbroek. The latter, as we have seen does not shrink from following the path of analysis to the end, and says plainly that in the Abyss there is no distinction of Divine and human persons, but only the eternal essence. Tauler also bids us "put out into the deep, and let down our nets"; but his "deep" is in the heart, not in the intellect. "My children, you should not ask about these great high problems," he says; and he prefers not to talk much about them, "for no teacher can teach what he has not lived through himself." Still he speaks, like Dionysius and Eckhart, of the "divine darkness," "the nameless, formless nothing," "the wild waste," and so forth, And he says of God that He is "the Unity in which all multiplicity is transcended," and that in Him are gathered up both becoming and being, eternal rest and eternal motion. In this deepest ground, he says, the Three Persons are implicit, not explicit. The Son is the Form of all forms, to which the "eternal, reasonable form created after God's image" (the Idea of mankind) longs to be conformed. The creation of the world, according to Tauler, is rather consonant with than necessary to the nature of God. The world, before it became actual, existed in its Idea in God, and this ideal world was set forth by means of the Trinity. It is in the Son that the Ideas exist "from all eternity." The Ideas are said to be "living," that is, they work as forms, and after the creation of matter act as universals above and in things. Tauler is careful to show that he is not a pantheist. "God is the Being of all beings," he says; "but He is none of all things." God is all, but all is not God; He far transcends the universe in which He is immanent. We look in vain to Tauler for an explanation of the obscurest point in Eckhart's philosophy: to the relation of the phenomenal to the real. We want clearer evidence that temporal existence is not regarded as something illusory or accidental, an error which may be inconsistent with the theory of immanence as taught by the school of Eckhart, but which is too closely allied with other parts of their scheme.
The indwelling of God in the soul is the real center of Tauler's doctrine, but his psychology is rather intricate and difficult. He speaks of three phases of personal life, the sensuous nature, the reason, and the "third man"--the spiritual life or pure substance of the soul. He speaks also of an "uncreated ground," which is the abyss of the Godhead, but yet "in us," and of a "created ground," which he uses in a double sense, now of the empirical self, which is imperfect and must be purified, and now of the ideal man, as God intended him to be. This latter is "the third man," and is also represented by the "spark" at the "apex of the soul," which is to transform the rest of the soul into its own likeness. The "uncreated ground," in Tauler, works upon us through the medium of the "created ground," and not as in Eckhart, immediately. The "created ground," in this sense, he calls "the Image," which is identical with Eckhart's "spark." It is a creative principle as well as created, like the "Ideas" of Erigena.
The German Theology says that "the soul has two eyes," one of which, the right eye, sees into eternity, while the other sees time and the creatures. The "right eye" is practically the same as Eckhart's "spark" and Tauler's "image." It is significant that the author tells us that we cannot see with both eyes together; the left eye must be shut before we can use the right. The passage where this precept is given shows very plainly that the author, like the other fourteenth century mystics, was still under the influence of mediaeval dualism--the belief that the Divine begins where the earthly leaves off. It is almost the only point in this "golden little treatise," as Henry More calls it, to which exception must be taken. The essence of sin is self-assertion or self-will, and consequent separation from God. Tauler has, perhaps, a deeper sense of sin than any of his predecessors, and he revives the Augustinian (anti-Pelagian) teaching on the miserable state of fallen humanity. Sensuality and pride, the two chief manifestations of self-will, have invaded the whole of our nature. Pride is a sin of the spirit, and the poison has invaded "even the ground"--the "created ground," that is, as the unity of all the faculties. It will be remembered that the Neoplatonic doctrine was that the spiritual part of our nature can take no defilement. Tauler seems to believe that under one aspect the "created ground" is the transparent medium of the Divine light, but in this sense it is only potential- ly the light of our whole body. He will not allow the sinless _apex mentis_ to be identified with the personality. Separation from God is the source of all misery. Therein lies the pain of hell. The human soul can never cease to yearn and thirst after God; "and the greatest pain" of the lost "is that this longing can never be satisfied." In The German Theology, the necessity of rising above the "I" and "mine" is treated as the great saving truth. “When the creature claimeth for its own anything good, it goeth astray." "The more of self and me, the more of sin and wickedness. Be simply and wholly bereft of self." "So long as a man seeketh his own highest good because it is his, he will never find it. For so long as he doeth this, he seeketh him-self, and deemeth that he himself is the highest good." (These last sentences are almost verbally repeated in a sermon by John Smith, the Cambridge Platonist.)
The three stages of the mystic's ascent appear in Tauler's sermons. We have first to practice self-control, till all our lower powers are governed by our highest reason. "Jesus cannot speak in the temple of thy soul till those that sold and bought therein are cast out of it." In this stage we must be under strict rule and discipline. "The old man must be subject to the old law, till Christ be born in him of a truth." Of the second stage he says, "Wilt thou with St. John rest on the loving breast of our Lord Jesus Christ, thou must be transformed into His beauteous image by a constant, earnest con- templation thereof." It is possible that God may will to call thee higher still; then let go all forms and images, and suffer Him to work with thee as His instrument. To some the very door of heaven has been opened--"this happens to some with a convulsion of the mind, to others calmly and grad-ually." "It is not the work of a day nor of a year." "Before it can come to pass, nature must endure many a death, outward and inward."
In the first stage of the "dying life," he says elsewhere, we are much oppressed by the sense of our infirmities, and by the fear of hell. But in the third, "all our griefs and joys are a sympathy with Christ, whose earthly life was a mingled web of grief and joy, and this life oppressed by the sense of our infirmities, and by the fear of hell. But in the third, "all our griefs and joys are a sympathy with Christ, whose earthly life was a mingled web of grief and joy, and this life He has left as a sacred testament to His followers." These last extracts show that the Cross of Christ, and the imitation of His life on earth, have their due prominence in Tauler's teaching. It is, of course, true that for him, as for all mystics, Christ in us is more than Christ for us. But it is unfair to put it in this way, as if the German mystics wished to contrast the two views of redemption, and to exalt one at the expense of the other. Tauler's wish is to give the historical redemption its true significance, by showing that it is an universal as well as a particular fact. When he says, "We should worship Christ's humanity only in union with this divinity," he is giving exactly the same caution which St. Paul expresses in the verse about "knowing Christ after the flesh."
In speaking of the highest of the three stages, passages were quoted which advocate a purely passive state of the will and intellect. This quietistic tendency cannot be denied in the fourteenth century mystics, though it is largely counteracted by maxims of an opposite kind. "God draws us," says Tauler, "in three ways, first, by His creatures; secondly, by His voice in the soul, when an eternal truth mysteriously suggests itself, as happens not infrequently in morning sleep." (This is interesting, being evidently the record of personal experience.) "Thirdly, without resistance or means, when the will is quite subdued." "What is given through means is tasteless; it is seen through a veil, and split up into fragments, and bears with it a certain sting of bitterness." There are other passages in which he is obviously under the influence of Dionysius; as when he speaks of "dying to all distinctions"; in fact, he at times preaches "simplification" in an unqualified form. But, on the other hand, no Christian teachers have made more of the active will than these pupils of Eckhart. "Ye are as holy as ye truly will to be holy," says Ruysbroek. "With the will one may do good everything," we read in Tauler. And against the perversion of the "negative road" he says, "we must lop and prune vices, not nature, which is in itself good and noble." And "Christ Himself never arrived at the 'emptiness' of which these men (the false mystics) talk." Of contemplation he says, "Spiritual enjoyments are the food of the soul, and are only to be taken for nourishment and support to help us in our active work." "Sloth often makes men fain to be excused from their work and set to contemplation. Never trust in a virtue that has not been put into practice." These pupils of Eckhart all led strenuous lives themselves, and were no advocates of pious indolence. Tauler says, "Works of love are more acceptable to God than lofty contemplation," and, "All kinds of skill are gifts of the Holy Ghost." The process of deification is thus described by him and Tauler. Ruysbroek writes: "All men who are exalted above their creatureliness into a contemplative life are one with this Divine glory--yea, are that glory. And they see and feel and find in themselves, by means of this Divine light, that they are the same simple Ground as to their uncreated nature, since the glory shineth forth without measure, after the Divine manner, and abideth within them simply and without mode, according to the simplicity of the essence. Wherefore contemplative men should rise above reason and distinction, beyond their created substance, and gaze perpetually by the aid of their inborn light, and so they become transformed, and one with the same light, by means of which they see, and which they see. Thus they arrive at that eternal image after which they were created, and contemplate God and all things without distinction, in a simple beholding, in Divine glory. This is the loftiest and most profitable contemplation to which men attain in this life." Tauler, in his sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, says: "The kingdom is seated in the inmost recesses of the spirit. When, through all manner of exercises, the outward man has been converted into the inward reasonable man, and thus the two, that is to say, the powers of the senses and the powers of the reason, are gathered up into the very centre of the man's being,--the unseen depths of his spirit, wherein lies the image of God,--and thus he flings himself into the Divine Abyss, in which he dwelt eternally before he was created; then when God finds the man thus firmly down and turned towards Him, the Godhead bends and nakedly descends into the depths of the pure waiting soul, and transforms the created soul, drawing it up into the uncreated essence, so that the spirit becomes one with Him. Could such a man behold himself, he would see himself so noble that he would fancy himself God, and see himself a thousand times nobler than he is in himself, and would perceive all the thoughts and purposes, words and works, and have all the knowledge of all men that ever were." Suso and the author of the German Theology use similar language.
Regarding idea of deification, it is remarkable astonishes us to find that these earnest and humble saints at times express themselves in language which surpasses the arrogance even of the Stoics. We feel that there must be something wrong with a system which ends in obliterating the distinction between the Creator and His creatures. We desire in vain to hear some echo of Job's experience, so different in tone: "I have heard Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee; therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." The proper effect of the vision of God is surely that which Augustine describes in words already quoted: "I tremble, and I burn. I tremble, in that I am unlike Him; I burn, in that I am like Him." Nor is this only the beginner's experience: St. Paul had almost "finished his course" when he called himself the chief of sinners. The joy which uplifts the soul, when it feels the motions of the Holy Spirit, arises from the fact that in such moments "the spirit's true endowments stand out plainly from its false ones"; we then see the "countenance of our genesis," as St. James calls it--the man or woman that God meant us to be, and know that we could _not_ so see it if we were wholly cut off from its real-isation. But the clearer the vision of the ideal, the deeper must be our self-abasement when we turn our eyes to the actual. We must not escape from this sharp and humiliating contrast by mentally annihilating the self, so as to make it impossible to say, "Look on this picture, and on _this_." Such false humility leads straight to its opposite -- extreme arrogance. Moreover,to regard deification as an accomplished fact, involves, as I have said (p. 33), a contradiction. The process of unification with the Infinite must be a pro-gressus ad infinitum. The pessimistic conclusion is escaped by remembering that the highest reality is supra-temporal, and that the destiny which God has designed for us has not merely a contingent realization, but is in a sense already accomplished. There are, in fact, two ways in which we may abdicate our birthright, and surrender the prize of our high calling: we may count ourselves already to have apprehended, which must be a grievous delusion, or we may resign it as unattainable, which is also a delusion. These truths were well known to Tauler and his brother-mystics, who were saints as well as philosophers. If they retained language which appears to us so objectionable, it must have been because they felt that the doctrine of union with God enshrined a truth of great value. And if we remember the great Mystical paradox, "He that will lose his life shall save it," we shall partly understand how they arrived at it. It is quite true that the nearer we approach to God, the wider seems to yawn the gulf that separates us from Him, till at last we feel it to be infinite. But does not this conviction itself bring with it unspeakable comfort? How could we be aware of that infinite distance, if there were not something within us which can span the infinite? How could we feel that God and man are incommensurable, if we had not the witness of a higher self immeasurably above our lower selves? And how blessed is the assurance that this higher self gives us access to a region where we may leave behind not only external troubles and "the provoking of all men," but "the strife of tongues" in our own hearts, the chattering and growling of the "ape and tiger" within us, the recurring smart of old sins repented of, and the dragging weight of innate propensities! In this state the will, desiring nothing save to be conformed to the will of God, and separating itself entirely from all lower aims and wishes, claims the right of an immortal spirit to attach itself to eternal truth alone, having nothing in itself, and yet possessing all things in God. So Tauler says, "Let a man lovingly cast all his thoughts and cares, and his sins too, as it were, on that unknown Will. O dear child! in the midst of all these enmities and dangers, sink thou into thy ground and nothingness. Let the tower with all its bells fall on thee; yea, let all the devils in hell storm out upon thee; let heaven and earth and all the creatures assail thee, all shall but marvelously serve thee; sink thou into thy nothingness, and the better part shall be thine." This hope of a real transformation of our nature by the free gift of God's grace is the only message of comfort for those who are tied and bound by the chain of their sins. The error comes in, as I have said before, when we set before ourselves the idea of God the Father, or of the Absolute, instead of Christ, as the object of imitation. Whenever we find such language as that quoted from Ruysbroek, about "rising above all distinctions," we may be sure that this error has been committed. Mystics of all times would have done well to keep in their minds a very happy phrase which Irenaeus quotes from some unknown author, "He spoke well who said that the infinite Father is _measured_ in the Son." It is to this "measure," not to the immeasureable, that we are bidden to aspire. Eternity is, for Tauler, "the everlasting Now"; but in his popular discourses he uses the ordinary expressions about future reward and punishment, even about hell fire; though his deeper thought is that the hopeless estrangement of the soul from God is the source of all the torments of the lost. Love, says Tauler, is the "beginning, middle, and end of virtue." Its essence is complete self-surrender. We must lose ourselves in the love of God as a drop of water is lost in the ocean.
It only remains to show how Tauler combats the fantastic errors into which some of the German mystics had fallen in his day. The author of the German Theology is equally emphatic in his warnings against the "false light"; and Ruysbroek's denunciation of the Brethren of the Free Spirit has already been noted. Tauler, in an interesting sermon, describes the heady arrogance, disorderly conduct, and futile idleness of these fanatics, and then gives the following maxims, by which we may distinguish false mysticism from the true: "Now let us know how we may escape these snares of the enemy. No one can be free from the observance of the laws of God and the practice of virtue. No one can unite himself to God in emptiness without true love and desire for God. No one can be holy without becoming holy, without good works. No one may leave off doing good works. No one may rest in God without love for God. No one can be exalted to a stage which he has not longed for or felt." Finally, he shows how the example of Christ forbids all the errors which he is combating.
St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380): Catherine of Siena was an Italian mystic who exemplified the Unitive Life in its richest and purest form. At once a politician, teacher and contemplative, she was a great active and a great ecstatic who kept a steady balance between the inner and outer life. With little education and chronic ill health, in the span of a short career she changed the course of history, rejuvenated religion, and wrote a jewel of Italian mystical literature, her Divine Dialogue.
Walter Hilton ( d. 1396): a canon of Thurgarton, Hilton was the author of a mystical treatise called The Scale (or Ladder) of Perfection. The following extracts will show in what manner he used the traditional mystical theology. There are two lives, the active and the contemplative, but in the latter there are many stages. The highest state of contemplation a man cannot enjoy always, "but only by times, when he is visited…and, as I gather from the writings of holy men, the time of it is very short….This part of contemplation God giveth where He will." Visions and revelations, of whatever kind, "are not true contemplation, but merely secondary…..the devil may counterfeit them." The only safeguard against these impostures is to consider whether the visions have helped or hindered us in devotion to God, humility, and other virtues. "In the third stage of contemplation reason is turned into light, and will into love.” Spiritual prayer, by which he means vocal prayer not in set words, belongs to the second part of contemplation. "It is very wasting to the body of him who uses it much, wounding the soul with the blessed sword of love." "The most vicious or carnal man on earth, were he once strongly touched with this sharp sword, would be right sober and grave for a great while after." The highest kind of prayer of all is the prayer of quiet, of which St. Paul speaks, "I will pray with the understanding also." But this is not for all; "a pure heart, indeed, it behoveth him to have who would pray in this manner." We must fix our affections first on the humanity of Christ. Since our eyes cannot bear the unclouded light of the Godhead, "we must live under the shadow of His manhood as long as we are here below." St. Paul tells his converts that he first preached to them of the humanity and passion of Christ, but afterwards of the Godhead, how that Christ is the power and wisdom of God. "Christ is lost, like the piece of money in the parable; but where? In thy house, that is, in thy soul. Thou needest not run to Rome or Jerusalem to seek Him. He sleepeth in thy heart, as He did in the ship; awaken Him with the loud cry of thy desire. Howbeit, I believe that thou sleepest oftener to Him than He to thee." Put away "distracting noises," and thou wilt hear Him. First, however, find the image of sin, which thou bearest about with thee. It is no bodily thing, no real thing--only a lack of light and love. It is a false, inordinate love of thyself, from whence flow all the deadly sins. "Fair and foul is a man's soul--foul without like a beast, fair within like an angel." "But the sensual man doth not bear about the image of sin, but is borne by it." The true light is love of God, the false light is love of the world. But we must pass through darkness to go from one to the other. "The darker the night is, the nearer is the true day." This is the "darkness" and "nothing" spoken of by the mystics, "a rich nothing," when the soul is "at rest as to thoughts of any earthly thing, but very busy about thinking of God." "But the night passeth away; the day dawneth." "Flashes of light shine through the chinks of the walls of Jerusalem; but thou art not there yet." "But now beware of the midday fiend, that feigneth light as if it came from Jerusalem. This light appears between two black rainy clouds, whereof the upper one is presumption and self-exaltation, and the lower a disdaining of one's neighbor. This is not the light of the true sun." This darkness, through which we must pass, is simply the death of self-will and all carnal affections; it is that dying to the world which is the only gate of life. The way in which Hilton conceives the "truly mystical darkness" of Dionysius is very interesting. As a psychical experience, it has its place in the history of the inner life. The soul does enter into darkness, and the darkness is not fully dispelled in this world; "thou art not there yet," as he says. But the psychical experience is in Hilton entirely dissociated from the metaphysical idea of absorption into the Infinite. The chains of Asiatic nihilism are now at last shaken off, easily and, it would seem, unconsciously. The "darkness" is felt to be only the herald of a brighter dawn: "the darker the night, the nearer is the true day." It is, I think, gratifying to observe how our countryman strikes off the fetters of the time-honored Dionysian tradition, the paralyzing creed which blurs all distinctions, and the "negative road" which leads to darkness and not light; and how in consequence his Mysticism is sounder and saner than even that of Eckhart or Tauler. Before leaving Hilton, it may be worthwhile to quote two or three isolated maxims of his, as examples of his wise and pure doctrine. "There are two ways of knowing God--one chiefly by the imagination, the other by the understanding. The understanding is the mistress, and the imagination is the maid." "What is heaven to a reasonable soul? Nought else but Jesus God." "Ask of God nothing but this gift of love, which is the Holy Ghost. For there is no gift of God that is both the giver and the gift, but this gift of love."
Juliana of Norwich (1342-c.1416): Juliana (or Julian) of Norwich received a series of "revelations" in the year 1373, when about thirty years old. She describes with evident truthfulness the manner in which they came. She ardently desired to have a "bodily sight" of her Lord upon the Cross, "like other that were Christ's lovers"; and she prayed that she might have "a grievous sickness almost unto death," to wean her from the world and quicken her spiritual sense. The sickness came, and the vision; for they thought her dying, and held the crucifix before her, till the figure on the Cross changed into the semblance of the living Christ." All this was showed by three parts--that is to say, by bodily sight, and by words formed in my understanding, and by ghostly sight." "But the ghostly sight I cannot nor may not show it as openly nor as fully as I would." Her later visions came to her sometimes during sleep, but most often when she was awake. The most pure and certain were wrought by a "Divine illapse" into the spiritual part of the soul, the mind and understanding, for these the devil cannot counterfeit. Juliana was certainly perfectly honest and perfectly sane. The great charm of her little book is the sunny hopefulness and happiness which shines from every page, and the tender affection for her suffering Lord which mingles with her devotion without ever becoming morbid or irreverent. It is also interesting to see how this untaught maiden (for she shows no traces of book learning) is led by the logic of the heart straight to some of the speculative doctrines which we have found in the philosoph-ical mystics. The brief extracts which follow will illustrate all these statements. The crucified Christ is the one object of her devotion. She refused to listen to "a proffer in my reason," which said, "Look up to heaven to His Father." "Nay, I may not," she replied, "for Thou art my heaven. For I would rather have been in that pain till Doomsday than to come to heaven otherwise than by Him." "Me liked none other heaven than Jesus, which shall be my bliss when I come there." And after describing a vision of the crucifixion, she says, "How might any pain be more than to see Him that is all my life and all my bliss suffer?" Her estimate of the value of means of grace is clear and sound. "In that time the custom of our praying was brought to mind, how we use, for lack of understanding and knowing of love, to make [use of] many means. Then saw I truly that it is more worship to God and more very delight that we faithfully pray to Himself of His goodness, and cleave thereto by His grace, with true understanding and steadfast by love, than if we made [use of] all the means that heart can think. For if we made [use of] all these means, it is too little, and not full worship to God; but in His goodness is all the whole, and there faileth right nought. For this, as I shall say, came into my mind. In the same time we pray to God for [the sake of] His holy flesh and precious blood, His holy passion, His dearworthy death and wounds: and all the blessed kinship, the endless life that we have of all this, is His goodness. And we pray Him for [the sake of] His sweet mother's love, that Him bare; and all the help that we have of her is of His goodness." And yet "God of His goodness hath advanced means to help us, full fair and many; of which the chief and principal mean is the blessed nature that He took of the maid, with all the means that go afore and come after which belong to our redemption and to endless salvation. Wherefore it pleaseth Him that we seek Him and worship Him through means, understanding and knowing that He is the goodness of all. For the goodness of God is the highest prayer, and it cometh down to the lowest part of our need. It quickeneth our soul, and bringeth it on life, and maketh it for to wax in grace and virtue. It is nearest in nature and readiest in grace; for it is the same grace that the soul seeketh, and ever shall seek till we know verily that He hath us all in Himself beclosed." "After this our Lord showed concerning Prayers. In which showing I see two conditions signi-fied by our Lord; one is rightfulness, another is assured trust. But oftentimes our trust is not full; for we are not sure that God heareth us, as we think because of our unworthiness, and because we feel right nought; for we are as barren and dry oftentimes after our prayers as we were before....But our Lord said to me, 'I am the ground of thy beseechings: first, it is My will that thou have it; and then I make thee to wish for it; and then I make thee to beseech it, and thou beseechest it. How then should it be that thou shouldest not have thy beseeching?'... For it is most impossible that we should beseech mercy and grace and not have it. For all things that our good Lord maketh us to beseech, Himself hath ordained them to us from without beginning. Here may we see that our beseeching is not the cause of God's goodness; and that showed He soothfastly in all these sweet words which He saith: 'I am the ground.' And our good Lord willeth that this be known of His lovers in earth; and the more that we know it the more should we beseech, if it be wisely taken; and so is our Lord's meaning. Merry and joyous is our Lord of our prayer, and He looketh for it; and He willeth to have it; because with His grace He would have us like to Himself in condition as we are in kind. Therefore saith He to us 'Pray inwardly, although thou think it has no savour to thee: for it is profitable, though thou feel not, though thou see not, yea, though thou think thou canst not.'" "And also to prayer belongeth thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a true inward knowing, with great reverence and lovely dread turning ourselves with all our mights unto the working that our good Lord stirreth us to, rejoicing and thanking inwardly. And sometimes for plenteousness it breaketh out with voice and saith: Good Lord! great thanks be to Thee: blessed mote Thou be." "Prayer is a right understanding of that fulness of joy that is to come, with great longing and certain trust....Then belongeth it to us to do our diligence, and when we have done it, then shall we yet think that it is nought; and in sooth it is. But if we do as we can, and truly ask for mercy and grace, all that faileth us we shall find in Him. And thus meaneth He where He saith: 'I am the ground of thy beseeching.' And thus in this blessed word, with the Showing, I saw a full overcoming against all our weakness and all our doubtful dreads." Juliana's view of human personality is remarkable, as it reminds us of the Neoplatonic doctrine that there is a higher and a lower self, of which the former is untainted by the sins of the latter. "I saw and understood full surely," she says, "that in every soul that shall be saved there is a godly will that never assented to sin, nor ever shall; which will is so good that it may never work evil, but evermore continually it willeth good, and worketh good in the sight of God....We all have this blessed will whole and safe in our Lord Jesus Christ." This "godly will" or "substance" corresponds to the spark of the German mystics." I saw no difference," she says, "between God and our substance, but, as it were, all God. And yet my understanding took, that our substance is in God--that is to say, that God is God, and our substance a creature in God. Highly ought we to enjoy that God dwelleth in our soul, and much more highly, that our soul dwelleth in God....Thus was my understanding led to know, that our soul is made Trinity, like to the unmade Blessed Trinity, known and loved from without beginning, and in the making oned to the Maker. This sight was full sweet and marvellous to behold, peaceable and restful, sure and delectable." "As anent our substance and our sense-part, both together may rightly be called our soul; and that is because of the oneing that they have in God. The worshipful City that our Lord Jesus sitteth in, it is our sense-soul, in which He is enclosed, and our natural substance is beclosed in Jesus, sitting with the blessed soul of Christ at rest in the Godhead." Our soul cannot reach its full powers until our sense-nature by the virtue of Christ's passion be "brought up to the substance." This fulfilment of the soul "is grounded in nature. That is to say, our reason is grounded in God, which is substantial Naturehood; out of this substantial Nature mercy and grace spring and spread into us, working all things in fulfilling of our joy: these are our ground, in which we have our increase and our fulfilling. For in nature we have our life and our being, and in mercy and grace we have our increase and our fulfilling." In one of her visions she was shown our Lord "scorning the fiend's malice, and noughting his unmight." "For this sight I laught mightily, and that made them to laugh that were about me. But I saw not Christ laugh. After this I fell into graveness, and said, 'I see three things: I see game, scorn, and earnest. I see game, that the fiend is overcome; I see scorn, in that God scorneth him, and he shall be scorned; and I see earnest, in that he is overcome by the blissful passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, that was done in full earnest and with sober travail.'" Alternations of mirth and sadness followed each other many times, "to learn me that it is speedful to some souls to feel on this wise." Once especially she was left to herself, "in heaviness and weariness of my life, and irksomeness of myself, that scarcely I could have pleasureto live....For profit of a man's soul he is sometimes left to himself; although sin is not always the cause; for in that time I sinned not, wherefore I should be so left to myself; for it was so sudden. Also, I deserved not to have this blessed feeling. But freely our Lord giveth when He will, and suffereth us to be in woe sometime. And both is one love."
Her treatment of the problem of evil is very characteristic. "In my folly, often I wondered why the beginning of sin was not letted; but Jesus, in this vision, answered and said, 'Sin is behovable, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.' In this naked word sin our Lord brought to my mind generally all that is not good....But I saw not sin; for I believe it had no manner of substance, nor any part of being, nor might it be known but by the pain that is caused thereof; and this pain...purgeth and maketh us to know ourself, and ask mercy. In these same words ('all shall be well') I saw an high and marvellous privity hid in God." She wondered how "all shall be well," when Holy Church teacheth us to believe that many shall be lost. But "I had no other answer but this, 'I shall save my word in all things, and I shall make all things well.'" "This is the great deed that our Lord God shall do; but what the deed shall be, and how it shall be done, there is no creature beneath Christ that knoweth it, ne shall wit it till it is done." "I saw no wrath but on man's party," she says, "and that forgiveth Hin us. It is the most impossible that may be, that God should be wroth....Our life is all grounded and rooted in love....Suddenly is the soul oned to God, when it is truly peaced in itself; for in Him is found no wrath. And thus I saw, when we be all in peace and love, we find no contrariousness, nor no manner of letting, through that contrariousness which is now in us; nay, our Lord God of His goodness maketh it to us full profitable." No visions of hell were ever showed to her. In place of the hideous details of torture which some of the Romish visionaries describe almost with relish, Juliana merely reports, "To me was showed none harder hell than sin." Again and again she rings the changes on the words which the Lord said to her, "I love thee and thou lovest Me, and our love shall never be disparted in two." "The love wherein He made us was in Him from without beginning; in which love," she concludes, "we have our beginning, and all this shall be seen in God without end."
St. Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510): Underhill perceives St. Catherine as an heroic epitome of the essence of the unitive life: after extolling the balanced wholeness of Catheriene’s inner and outer life, she states that she was, “in fruition and activity, in rest and in work, not only a great active and a great ecstatic, but one of the deepest gazers into the secrets of Eternal Love that the history of Christian mysticism contains. Underhill graces us the dazzling quote in which Catherine shows us the nature of the path she has trodden and the place she has reached:
When the loving kindeness of God calls a soul from the world, He…first gives it an instinct for virtue, and then urges it to perfection, and then by
infused grace leads it to true self-naughting, and at last to true transformation….then of herself she neither works nor speaks nor wills….And in
all things it is God Who rules and guides her, without the mediation of any creature. And the state of this soul is then a feeling of such utter peace
and tranquility that it seems to her that her heart, and her bodily being…is immersed in an ocean of utmost peace; from when she shall never
come forth for anything that can befall her in this life. And she stays immovable, imperturbable, impassible. So much so, that it seems to her in
her human and in her spiritual nature, both within and without, she can feel no other thing but sweetest peace.
St. Teresa de Avila (1515-1582): The Mysticism of the counter-Reformation had its center in Spain. It has been said that "Mysticism is the philosophy of Spain. "This does not mean that idealistic philosophy flourished in the Peninsula, for the Spanish race has never shown any taste for metaphysics. The Mysticism of Spain is psychological; its point of departure is not the notion of Being or of Unity, but the human soul seeking reconcilation with God. We need not be on our guard against pantheism in reading the Spanish mystics; they show no tendency to obliterate the dividing lines of personality, or to deify sinful humanity. The cause of this peculiarity is to be sought partly in the strong individualism of the Span-ish character, and partly in external circumstances. Free thought in Spain was so sternly repressed, that those tendencies of mystical religion which are antagonistic to Catholic discipline were never allowed to display themselves. The Spanish mystics remained orthodox Romanists, sub-servient to their "directors" and "superiors," and indefatigable in making recruits for the cloister. Even so, they did not escape the attention of the Inquisition; and though two among them, St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross, were awarded the badge of sanctity, the fate of Molinos showed how Rome had come to dread even the most submissive mystics. The early part of the sixteenth century was a period of high culture in Spain. The uni-versities of Salamanca and Alcala were famous throughout Europe; the former is said (doubtless with great exaggeration) to have contained at one time fourteen thousand students. But the Inquisition, which had been founded to suppress Jews and Mahometans, was roused to a more baneful activity by the appearance of Protestantism in Spain. Before the end of the sixteenth century, the Spanish people, who up to that time had been second to none in love of liberty and many-sided energy, had been changed into sombre fanatics, sunk in ignorance and superstition, and retaining hardly a trace of their former buoyancy and healthy independence. The first _Index Expurgatorius_ was published in 1546; the burning of Protest-ants began in 1559. Till then, Eckhart, Tauler, Suso, andRuysbroek had circulated freely in Spain. But the Inquisition condemned them all, except Ruysbroek. The same rigour was extended to the Arabian philosophers, and so their speculations influenced Spanish theology much less than might have been expected from the long sojourn of the Moors in the Peninsula. Averroism was known in Spain chiefly through the medium of the Fons Vitae of Ibn Gebirol (Avicebron). Dionysius and the scholastic mystics of the Middle Ages were, of course, allowed to be read. But besides these, the works of Plato and Plotinus were accessible in Latin translations, and were highly valued by some of the Spanish mystics. This statement may surprise those who have identified Spanish Mysticism with Teresa and Juan of the Cross, and who know how little Platonism is to be found in their theology. But these two militant champions of the counter-Reformation numbered among their contemporaries mystics of a different type, whose writings, little known in this country, entitle them to an honourable place in the roll of Christian Platonists. We find in them most of the character-ristic doctrines of Christian Neoplatonism: the radiation of all things from God and their return to God; the immanence of God in all things; the notion of man as a microcosm, vitally connected with all the different orders of creation; the Augustinian doctrine of Christ and His members as "one Christ"; insistence upon disinterested love; and admonitions to close the eye of sense. This last precept, which is neither true Platonism nor true Mysticism, must be set against others in which the universe is said to be a copy of the Divine Ideas, "of which Plotinus has spoken divinely," the creation of Love, which has given form to chaos, and stamped it with the image of the Divine beauty; and in which we are exhorted to rise through the contemplation of nature to God. Juan de Angelis, in his treatise on the spiritual nuptials, quotes freely, not only from Plato, Plotinus, and Virgil, but from Lucretius, Ovid, Tibullus, and Martial.
But this kind of humanism was frowned upon by the Church, in Spain as elsewhere. These were not the weapons with which Lutheranism could be fought successfully. Juan d'Avila was accused before the Inquisition in 1534, and one of his books was placed on the Index of 1559; Louis de Granada had to take refuge in Portugal; Louis de Leon, who had the courage to say that the Song of Solomon is only a pastoral idyll, was sent to a dungeon for five years. Even St. Teresa narrowly escaped imprisonment at Seville; and St. John of the Cross passed nine months in a black hole at Toledo. Persecution, when applied with sufficient ruthlessness, seldom fails of its immediate object. It took only about twelve years to destroy Protestantism in Spain; and the Holy Office was equally successful in binding Mysticism hand and foot. And so we must not expect to find in St. Teresa or St. John any of the characteristic independence of Mysticism. The inner light which they sought was not an illumination of the intellect in its search for truth, but a consuming fire to burn up all earthly passions and desires. Faith presented them with no problems; all such questions had been settled once for all by Holy Church. They were ascetics first and Church Reformers next; neither of them was a typical mystic.
The life of St. Teresa is more interesting than her teaching. She is best known as a visionary, and it is mainly through her visions that she is often regarded as one of the most representative mystics. But these visions do not occupy a very large space in the story of her life. They were frequent during the first two or three years of her convent life, and again between the ages of forty and fifty: there was a long gap between the two periods, and during the last twenty years of her life, when she was actively engaged in founding and visiting religious houses, she saw them no more. This experience was that of many other saints of the cloister. Spiritual consolations seem to be frequently granted to encourage young beginners; then they are withdrawn, and only recovered after a long period of dryness and darkness; but in later life, when the character is fixed, and the imagination less active, the vision fades into the light of common day. In considering St. Teresa's visions, we must remember that she was transparently honest and sincere; that her superiors strongly disliked and suspected, and her enemies ridiculed, her spiritual privileges; that at the same time they brought her great fame and influence; that she was at times haunted by doubts whether she ever really saw them; and, lastly, that her biographers have given them a more grotesque and materialistic character than is justified by her own descriptions. She tells us herself that her reading of St. Augustine's Confessions, at the age of forty-one, was a turning-point in her life. "When I came to his conversion," she says, "and read how he heard the voice in the garden, it was just as if the Lord called me." It was after this that she began again to see visions--or rather to have a sudden sense of the presence of God, with a suspension of all the faculties. In these trances she generally heard Divine "locutions." She says that "the words were very clearly formed, and unmistakable, though not heard by the bodily ear. They are quite unlike the words framed by the imagination, which are muffled.” She describes her visions of Christ very carefully. First He stood beside her while she was in prayer, and she heard and saw Him, "though not with the eyes of the body, nor of the soul." Then by degrees "His sacred humanity was completely manifested to me, as it is painted after the Resurrection." (This last sentence suggests that sacred pictures, lovingly gazed at, may have been the source of some of her visions.) Her superiors tried to persuade her that they were delusions; but she replied, "If they who said this told me that a person who had just finished speaking to me, whom I knew well, was not that person, but they knew that I fancied it, doubtless I should believe them, rather than what I had seen; but if this person left behind him some jewels as pledges of his great love, and I found myself rich having been poor, I could not believe it if I wished. And these jewels I could show them. For all who knew me saw clearly that my soul was changed; the difference was great and palpable." The answer shows that for Teresa the question was not whether the manifestations were "subjective" or "objective," but whether they were sent by God or Satan. One of the best chapters in her autobiography, and perhaps the most interesting from our present point of view, is the allegory under which she describes the different kinds of prayer. The simile is not original--it appears in St. Augustine and others; but it is more fully worked out by St. Teresa, who tells us "it has always been a great delight to me to think of my soul as a garden, and of the Lord as walking in it." So here she says, "Our soul is like a garden, rough and unfruitful, out of which God plucks the weeds, and plants flowers, which we have to water by prayer. There are four ways of doing this--First, by drawing the water from a well; this is the earliest and most laborious process. Secondly, by a water-wheel which has its rim hung round with little buckets. Third, by causing a stream to flow through it. Fourth, by rain from heaven. The first is ordinary prayer, which is often attended by great sweetness and comfort. But sometimes the well is dry. What then? The love of God does not consist in being able to weep, nor yet in delights and tenderness, but in serving with justice, courage, and humility. The other seems to me rather to receive than to give. The second is the prayer of quiet, when the soul understands that God is so near to her that she need not talk aloud to Him." In this stage the Will is absorbed, but the Understanding and Memory are still active. (Teresa, following the scholastic mystics, makes these the three faculties of the soul.) In the third stage God becomes, as it were, the Gardener. "It is a sleep of the faculties, which are not entirely suspended, nor yet do they understand how they work." In the fourth stage, the soul labors not at all; all the faculties are quiescent. As she pondered how she might describe this state, "the Lord said these words to me: She (the soul) unmakes herself, my daughter, to bring herself closer to Me. It is no more she that lives, but I. As she cannot comprehend what she sees, understanding she ceases to understand." Years after she had attained this fourth stage, Teresa experienced what the mystics call "the great dereliction," a sense of ineffable loneliness and desolation, which nevertheless is the path to incomparable happiness. It was accompanied by a kind of catalepsy, with muscular rigidity and cessation of the pulses. These intense joys and sorrows of the spirit are the chief events of Teresa's life for eight or ten years. They are followed by a period of extreme practical activity, when she devoted herself to organizing communities of bare-footed Carmelites, whose austerity and devotion were to revive the glories of primitive Christianity. In this work she showed not only energy, but worldly wisdom and tact in no common degree. Her visions had certainly not impaired her powers as an organiser and ruler of men and women. Her labours continued without intermission till, at the age of sixty-seven, she was struck down by her last illness. "This saint will be no longer wanted," she said, with a sparkle of her old vivacity, when she knew that she was to die. It is not worthwhile to give a detailed account of St. Teresa's mystical theology. Its cardinal points are that the religious life consists in complete conformity to the will of God, so that at last the human will becomes purely "passive" and "at rest"; and the belief in Christ as the sole ground of salvation, on which subject she uses language which is curiously like that of the Lutheran Reformers. Her teaching about passivity and the "prayer of quiet" is identical with that which the Pope afterwards condemned in Molinos; but it is only fair to remember that Teresa was not canonised for her theology, but for her life, and that the Roman Church is not committed to every doctrine which can be found in the writings of her saints. The real character of St. Teresa's piety may be seen best in some of her prayers, such as this which follows:--"O Lord, how utterly different are Thy thoughts from our thoughts! From a soul which is firmly resolved to love Thee alone, and which has surrendered her whole will into Thy hands, Thou demandest only that she should hearken, strive earnestly to serve Thee, and desire only to promote Thine honour. She need seek and choose no path, for Thou doest that for her, and her will follows Thine; while Thou, O Lord, takest care to bring her to fuller perfection." In theory, it may not be easy to reconcile "earnest striving" with complete surrender and abroga-tion of the will, but the logic of the heart does not find them incompatible. Perhaps no one has spoken better on this matter than the Rabbi Gamaliel, of whom it is reported that he prayed, "O Lord, grant that I may do Thy will as if it were my will, that Thou mayest do my will as if it were Thy will." But quietistic Mysticism often puts the matter on a wrong basis. Self-will is to be annihilated, not (as St. Teresa sometimes implies) because our thoughts are so utterly different from God's thoughts that they cannot exist in the same mind, but because self-interest sets up an unnatural antag-onism between them. The will, like the other faculties, only realises itself in its fulness when God worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
St. John of the Cross ( - ): the fellow-workman of St. Teresa in the reform of monasteries, is a still more perfect example of the Spanish type of Mysticism. His fame has never been so great as hers; for while Teresa's character remained human and lovable in the midst of all her austerities, Juan carried self-abnegation to a fanatical extreme, and presents the life of holiness in a grim and repellent aspect. In his disdain of all compromise between the claims of God and the world, he welcomes every kind of suffering, and bids us choose always that which is most painful, difficult, and humiliating. His own life was divided between terrible mortifications and strenuous labour in the foundation of monasteries. Though his books show a tendency to Quietism, his character was one of fiery energy and unresting industry. Houses of "discalced" Carmelites sprang up all over Spain as the result of his labours. These monks and nuns slept upon bare boards, fasted eight months in the year, never ate meat, and wore the same serge dress in winter and summer. In some of these new foundations the Brethren even vied with each other in adding voluntary austerities to this severe rule. It was all part of the campaign against Protestantism. The worldliness and luxury of the Renaissance period were to be atoned for by a return to the purity and devotion of earlier centuries. The older Catholic ideal--the mediaeval type of Christianity--was to be restored in all its completeness in the seventeenth century. This essentially militant character of the movement among the Carmelites must not be lost sight of: the two great Spanish mystics were before all things champions of the counter-Reformation.
The two chief works of St. John are The Ascent of Mount Carmel, and The Dark Night. Both are treatises on quietistic Mysticism of a peculiar type. At the beginning of The Ascent of Mount Carmel he says, "The journey of the soul to the Divine union is called ‘night’ for three reasons: the point of departure is privation of all desire, and complete detachment from the world; the road is by faith, which is like night to the intellect; the goal, which is God, is incomprehensible while we are in this life." The soul in its ascent passes from one realm of darkness to another. First there is the "night of sense," in which the things of earth become dark to her. This must needs be traversed, for "the creatures are only the crumbs that fall from God's table, and none but dogs will turn to pick them up." "One desire only doth God allow--that of obeying Him, and carrying the Cross." All other desires weaken, torment, blind, and pollute the soul. Until we are completely detached from all such, we cannot love God. "When thou dwellest upon anything, thou hast ceased to cast thyself upon the All." "If thou wilt keep anything with the All, thou hast not thy treasure simply in God." "Empty thy spirit of all created things, and thou wilt walk in the Divine light, for God resembles no created thing." Such is the method of traversing the "night of sense." Even at this early stage the forms and symbols of eternity, which others have found in the visible works of God, are discarded as useless. "God has no resemblance to any creature." The dualism or acosmism of mediaeval thought has seldom found a harsher expression. In the night of sense, the understanding and reason are not blind; but in the second night, the night of faith, "all is darkness." "Faith is midnight"; it is the deepest darkness that we have to pass; for in the "third night, the night of memory and will," the dawn is at hand. "Faith" he defines as "the assent of the soul to what we have heard"--as a blind man would receive a statement about the colour of an object. We must be totally blind, "for a partially blind man will not commit himself wholly to his guide." Thus for St. Juan the whole content of revelation is removed from the scope of the reason, and is treated as something communicated from outside. We have, indeed, travelled far from St. Clement's happy confidence in the guidance of reason, and Eckhart's independence of tradition. The soul has three faculties--intellect, memory, and will. The imagination is a link between the sen-sitive and reasoning powers, and comes between the intellect and memory. Of these faculties, "faith blinds the intellect, hope the memory, and love the will." He adds, "to all that is not God"; but "God in this life is like night." He blames those who think it enough to deny themselves "with-out annihilating themselves," and those who "seek for satisfaction in God." This last is "spiritual gluttony." "We ought to seek for bitterness rather than sweetness in God," and "to choose what is most disagreeable, whether proceeding from God or the world." "The way of God consisteth not in ways of devotion or sweetness, though these may be necessary to beginners, but in giving ourselves up to suffer." And so we must fly from all "mys-tical phenomena" (supernatural manifestations to the sight, hearing, and the other senses) "without examining whether they be good or evil." "For bodily sensations bear no proportion to spiritual things"; since the distance "between God and the creature is infinite," "there is no essential likeness or communion between them." Visions are at best "childish toys"; "the fly that touches honey cannot fly," he says; and the probability is that they come from the devil. For "neither the creatures, nor intellectual perceptions, natural or supernatural, can bring us to God, there being no proportion be-tween them. Created things cannot serve as a ladder; they are only a hindrance and a snare." There is something heroic in this sombre interpretation of the maxim of our Lord, "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple." All that he hath--"yea, and his own life also"--intellect, reason, and memory--all that is most Divine in our nature--are cast down in absolute surrender at the feet of Him who "made darkness His secret place, His pavilion round about Him with dark water, and thick clouds to cover Him." In the "third night"--that of memory and will--the soul sinks into a holy inertia and oblivion, in which the flight of time is unfelt, and the mind is unconscious of all particular thoughts. St. John seems here to have brought us to something like the torpor of the Indian Yogi or of the The Ascent of Mount Carmel of Mount Athos. But he does not intend us to regard this state of trance as permanent or final. It is the last watch of the night before the dawn of the supernatural state, in which the human faculties are turned into Divine attributes, and by a complete transformation the soul, which was "at the opposite extreme" to God, "becomes, by participation, God." In this beatific state "one might say, in a sense, that the soul gives God to God, for she gives to God all that she receives of God; and He gives Himself to her. This is the mystical love-gift, wherewith the soul repayeth all her debt." This is the infinite reward of the soul who has refused to be content with anything short of infinity. With what yearning this blessed hope inspired St. Juan, is shown in the follow-ing beautiful prayer, which is a good example of the eloquence, born of intense emotion, which we find here and there in his pages: "O sweetest love of God, too little known; he who has found Thee is at rest; let everything be changed, O God, that we may rest in Thee. Everywhere with Thee, O my God, everywhere all things with Thee; as I wish, O my Love, all for Thee, nothing for me--nothing for me, everything for Thee. All sweetness and delight for Thee, none for me--all bitterness and trouble for me, none for Thee. O my God, how sweet to me Thy presence, who art the supreme Good! I will draw near to Thee in silence, and will uncover Thy feet, that it may please Thee to unite me to Thyself, making my soul Thy bride; I will rejoice in nothing till I am in Thine arms. O Lord, I beseech Thee, leave me not for a moment, because I know not the value of mine own soul."
Such faith, hope, and love were suffered to cast gleams of light upon the saint's gloomy and thorn-strewn path. But nevertheless the text ofwhich we are most often reminded in reading his pages is the verse of Amos: "Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?" It is a terrible view of life and duty--that we are to denude ourselves of everything that makes us citizens of the world--that nothing which is natural is capable of entering into relations with God--that all which is human must die, and have its place taken by supernatural infusion. St. Juan follows to the end the "negative road" of Dionysius, without troubling himself at all with the transcendental metaphysics of Neoplatonism. His nihilism or acosmism is not the result of abstracting from the notion of Being or of unity; its basis is psychological. It is "subjective" religion carried almost to its logical conclusion. The Neoplatonists were led on by the hope of finding a reconciliation between philosophy and positive religion; but no such problems ever presented themselves to the Spaniards. We hear nothing of the relation of the creation to God, or why the con-templation of it should only hinder instead of helping us to know its Maker. The world simply does not exist for St. John; nothing exists save God and human souls. The great human society has no interest for him; he would have us cut ourselves completely adrift from the aims and aspirations of civilised humanity, and, "since nothing but the Infinite can satisfy us," to accept nothing until our nothingness is filled with the Infinite. He does not escape from the quietistic attitude of passive expectancy which belongs to this view of life; and it is only by a glaring inconsistency that he attaches any value to the ecclesiastical symbolism, which rests on a very different basis from that of his teaching. But St. Juan's Mysticism brought him no intellectual emancipation, either for good or evil. Faith with him was the antithesis, not to sight, as in the Bible, but to reason. The sacrifice of reason was part of the crucifixion of the old man. And so he remained in an attitude of complete subservience to Church tradition and authority, and even to his "director," an intermediary who is constantly mentioned by these post-Reformation mystics. Even this unqualified submissiveness did not preserve him from persecution during his lifetime, and suspicion afterwards. His books were only authorised twenty-seven years after his death, which occurred in 1591; and his beatification was delayed till 1674. His orthodoxy was defended largely by references to St. Teresa, who had al-ready been canonised. But it could not be denied that the quietists of the next century might find much support for their controverted doctrines in both writers.
St. John's ideal of saintliness was as much of an anachronism as his scheme of Church reform. But no one ever climbed the rugged peaks of Mount Carmel with more heroic courage and patience. His life shows what tremendous moral force is generated by complete self-surrender to God. And happily neither his failure to read the signs of the times, nor his one-sided and defective grasp of Christian truth, could deprive him of the reward of his life of sacrifice--the reward, I mean, of feeling his fellowship with Christ in suffering. He sold "all that he had" to gain the pearl of great price, and the surrender was not made in vain.
St. Francis de Sales (1567 -1622): The later Roman Catholic mystics did not develop any further the type found in the great Carmelites, St. Teresa and St. John. St. Francis de Sales became a favorite devotional writer with thousands in Spain. He presents the Spanish Mysticism softened and polished into a graceful and winning pietism. The errors of the quietists received some countenance from parts of his writings, but they are neutralized by maxims of a different tendency, borrowed eclectically from other sources.
Jacob Boehme (1574-1624): A giant in the history of Protetant mysticism, Boehme left his mark upon German philosophy as well as upon the history of mysticism. Boehme was born in 1574 or 1575 near Goerlitz, where he afterwards settled as a shoemaker and glover. He began to write in 1612, and in spite of clerical opposition, which silenced him for five years, he produced a number of treatises between that date and his death. Boehme professed to write only what he had "seen" by Divine illumination. His visions are not (with insignificant exceptions) authenticated by any marvellous signs; he simply asserts that he has been allowed to see into the heart of things, and that the very Being of God has been laid open to his spiritual sight. His was that type of mind to which every thought becomes an image, and a logical process is like an animated photograph. "I am myself my own book," he says; and in writing, he tries to transcribe on paper the images which float before his mind's eye. If he fails, it is because he cannot find words to describe what he is seeing. Boehme was an unlearned man; but when he is content to describe his visions in homely German, he is lucid enough. Unfortunately, the scholars who soon gathered round him supplied him with philosophical terms, which he forthwith either personified--for instance the word "Idea" called forth the image of a beautiful maiden--or used in a sense of his own. The study of Paracelsus obscured his style still more, filling his treatises with a bewildering mixture of theosophy and chemistry. The result is certainly that much of his work is almost unreadable; the nuggets of gold have to be dug out from a bed of rugged stone; and we cannot be surprised that the unmystical eighteenth century declared that "Behmen's works would disgrace Bedlam at full moon." But German philosophers have spoken with reverence of "the father of Protestant Mysticism," who "perhaps only wanted learning and the gift of clear expression to become a German Plato"; and Sir Isaac Newton shut himself up for three months to study Boehme, whose teaching on attraction and the laws of motion seemed to him to have great value. For us, he is most interesting as marking the transition from the purely subjective type of Mysticism to Symbolism, or rather as the author of a brilliant attempt to fuse the two into one system. In my brief sketch of Boehme's doctrines I shall illustrate his teaching from the later works of William Law, who is by far its best exponent. Law was an enthusiastic admirer of Boehme, and being, unlike his master, a man of learning and a practised writer, was able to bring order out of the chaos in which Boehme left his speculations. In strength of intellect Law was Boehme's equal, and as a writer of clear and forcible English he has few superiors. Boehme's doctrine of God and the world resembles that of other speculative mystics, but he contributes a new element in the great stress which he lays on antithesis as a law of being. "In Yes and No all things consist," he says. No philosopher since Heraclitus and Empedocles had asserted so strongly that "Strife is the father of all things." Even in the hidden life of the unmanifested Godhead he finds the play of Attraction and Diffusion, the resultant of which is a Desire for manifestation felt in the Godhead. As feeling this desire, the Godhead becomes "Darkness"; the light which illumines the darkness is the Son. The resultant is the Holy Spirit, in whom arise the archetypes of creation. So he explains Body, Soul, and Spirit as thesis, antithesis, and synthesis; and the same formula serves to explain Good, Evil, and Free Will; Angels, Devils, and the World. His view of Evil is not very consistent; but his final doctrine is that the object of the cosmic process is to exhibit the victory of Good over Evil, of Love over Hatred. He at least has the merit of showing that strife is so inwoven with our lives here that we cannot possibly soar above the conflict between Good and Evil. It must be observed that Boehme repudiated the doctrine that there is any evolution of God in time. "I say not that Nature is God," he says: "He Himself is all, and communicates His power to all His works." But the creation of the archetypes was not a temporal act. Like other Protestant mystics, he lays great stress on the indwelling presence of Christ. And, consistently with this belief, he revolts against the Calvinistic doctrine of imputed righteousness, very much as did the Cambridge Platonists a little later. "That man is no Christian," he says, "who doth merely comfort himself with the suffering, death, and satisfaction of Christ, and doth impute it to himself as a gift of favor, remaining himself still a wild beast and unregenerate....If this said sacrifice is to avail for me, it must be wrought in me. The Father must beget His Son in my desire of faith, that my faith's hunger may apprehend Him in His word of promise. Then I put Him on, in His entire process of justification, in my inward ground; and straightway there begins in me the killing of the wrath of the devil, death, and hell, from the inward power of Christ's death. I am inwardly dead, and He is my life; I live in Him, and not in my selfhood. I am an instrument of God, wherewith He doeth what He will."
[Pascal (1623-1662): a brilliant and unhappy genius who fought his way through many psychic storms to the vision of the Absolute.]
George Fox (1624-1690): Fox was an English mystic who, in Underhill’s view had an overwhelming sense of direct relationship with God, that consciousness of the transcendent that is characteristic of the mystic, while also being a great “active.” He founded the Quaker movement, an out-break of mysticism comparable to the 14th Century Friends of God as well as manifesting commonalities with the Continental Quietists and the doctrine of the Catholic contemplatives.
The Cambridge Platonists, notably Benjamin Whichcote (1609-1683) and John Smith (1618-1652): Centered in some of the Cambridge colleges, this group developed and preached a philosophy deeply tinged with mysticism. These men made no secret of their homage to Plato. And let it be noticed that they were students of Plato and Plotinus more than of Dionysius and his successors. Their Platonism is not of the debased Oriental type, and is entirely free from self-absorbed quietism. The via negativa has disappeared as completely in their writings as in those of Boehme; the world is for them as for him the mirror of the Deity; but, being philosophers and not physicists, they are most interested in claiming for religion the whole field of intellectual life. They are fully convinced that there can be no ultimate contradiction between philosophy or science and Christian faith; and this accounts not only for their praise of "reason," but for the happy optimism which appears everywhere in their writings. The luxurious and indolent Restoration clergy, whose lives were shamed by the simplicity and spirituality of the Platonists, invented the word "Latitudinarian" to throw at them, "a long nickname which they have taught their tongues to pronounce as roundly as if it were shorter than it is by four or five syllables"; but they could not deny that their enemies were loyal sons of the Church of England. What the Platonists meant by making reason the seat of authority may be seen by a few quotations from Whichcote and Smith, who for our purpose are, I think, the best representatives of the school. Whichcote answers Tuckney, who had remonstrated with him for "a vein of doctrine, in which reason hath too much given to it in the mysteries of faith";--"Too much" and "too often" on these points! "The Scripture is full of such truths, and I discourse on them too much and too often! Sir, I oppose not rational to spiritual, for spiritual is most rational." Elsewhere he writes, "He that gives reason for what he has said, has done what is fit to be done, and the most that can be done." "Reason is the Divine Governor of man's life; it is the very voice of God." "When the doctrine of the Gospel becomes the reason of our mind, it will be the principle of our life." "It ill becomes us to make our intellectual faculties Gibeonites." How far this teaching differs from the frigid "common-sense" morality prevalent in the eighteenth century, may be judged from the following, which stamps Whichcote as a genuine mystic. "Though liberty of judgment be everyone's right, yet how few there are that make use of this right! For the use of this right doth depend upon self-improvement by meditation, consideration, examination, prayer, and the like. These are things antecedent and prerequisite." John Smith, in a fine passage too long to quote in full, says: "Reason in man being…a light flowing from the Fountain and Father of lights... was to enable man to work out of himself all those notions of God which are the true groundwork of love and obedience to God, and conformity to Him....But since man's fall from God, the inward virtue and vigour of reason is much abated, the soul having suffered a [Greek: pterorryesis], as Plato speaks, a defluvium pennarum....And therefore, besides the truth of natural inscription, God hath provided the truth of Divine revelation....But besides this outward revelation, there is also an inward impression of it...which is in a more special manner attributed to God....God only can so shine upon our glassy understandings, as to beget in them a picture of Himself, and turn the soul like wax or clay to the seal of His own light and love. He that made our souls in His own image and likeness can easily find a way into them. The Word that God speaks, having found a way into the soul, imprints itself there as with the point of a diamond....It is God alone that acquaints the soul with the truths of revelation, and also strengthens and raises the soul to better apprehensions even of natural truth, God being that in the intellectual world which the sun is in the sensible, as some of the ancient Fathers love to speak, and the ancient philosophers too, who meant God by their Intellectus Agens whose proper work they supposed to be not so much to,enlighten the object as the faculty." The Platonists thus lay great stress on the inner light, and identify it with the puri-fied reason. The best exposition of their teaching on this head is in Smith's beautiful sermon on "The True Way or Method of attaining to Divine Knowledge." "Divinity," he says, "is a Divine life rather than a Divine science, to be understood rather by a spiritual sensation than by any verbal description. A good life is the prolepsis of Divine science--the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Divinity is a true efflux from the eternal light, which, like the sunbeams, does not only enlighten, but also heat and enliven; and therefore our Saviour hath in His beatitudes connext purity of heart to the beatific vision." "Systems and models furnish but a poor wan light," compared with that which shines in purified souls. "To seek our divinity merely in books and writings is to seek the living among the dead"; in these, "truth is often not so much enshrined as entombed." "That which enables us to know and understand aright the things of God, must be a living principle of holiness within us. The sun of truth never shines into any unpurged souls....Such as men themselves are, such will God Himself seem to be....Some men have too bad hearts to have good heads....He that will find truth must seek it with a free judgment and a sanctified mind." Smith was well read in mystical theology and aware how much his ideal differed from that of Dionysian Mysticism. His criticism of the via negativa is so admirable that I must quote part of it. "Good men...are content and ready to deny themselves for God. I mean not that they should deny their own reason, as some would have it, for that were to deny a beam of Divine light, and so to deny God, instead of denying ourselves for Him....By self-denial, I mean the soul's quitting all its own interest in itself, and an entire resignation of itself to Him as to all points of service and duty; and thus the soul loses itself in God, and lives in the possession not so much of its own being as of the Divinity, desiring only to be great in God, to glory in His light, and spread itself in His fullness; to be filled always by Him, and to empty itself again into Him; to receive all from Him, and to expend all for Him; and so to live, not as its own, but as God's." Wicked men "maintain a meum and tuum between God and themselves," but the good man is able to make a full surrender of himself, "triumphing in nothing more than in his own nothingness, and in the allness of the Divinity. But, indeed, this his being nothing is the only way to be all things; this his having nothing the truest way of possessing all things....The spirit of religion is always ascending upwards; and, spreading itself through the whole essence of the soul, loosens it from a self-confinement and narrowness, and so renders it more capacious of Divine enjoyment....The spirit of a good man is always drinking in fountain-goodness, and fills itself more and more, till it be filled with all the fullness of God." "It is not a melancholy kind of sitting still, and slothful waiting, that speaks men enlivened by the Spirit and power of God. It is not religion to stifle and smother those active powers and principles which are within us....Good men do not walk up and down the world merely like ghosts and shadows; but they are indeed living men, by a real participation from Him who is indeed a quickening Spirit." "Neither were it an happiness worth the having for a mind, like an hermit sequestered from all things else, to spend an eternity in self-converse and the enjoyment of such a diminutive superficial nothing as itself is....We read in the Gospel of such a question of our Saviour's, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? We may invert it, What do you return within to see? A soul confined within the private and narrow cell of its own particular being? Such a soul deprives itself of all that almighty and essential glory and goodness which shines round about it, which spreads itself throughout the whole universe; I say, it deprives itself of all this, for the enjoying of such a poor, petty, and diminutive thing as itself is, which yet it can never enjoy truly in such retiredness."
The English Platonists are equally sound on the subject of ecstasy. Whichcote says: "He doth not know God at all as He is, nor is he in a good state of religion, who doth not find in himself at times ravishings with sweet and lovely considerations of the Divine perfections." And Smith: "Who can tell the delights of those mysterious converses with the Deity, when reason is turned into sense, and faith becomes vision? The fruit of this knowledge is sweeter than honey and the honeycomb....By the Platonists' leave, this life and knowledge (that of the 'contemplative man') peculiarly belongs to the true and sober Christian. This life is nothing else but an infant-Christ formed in his soul. But we must not mistake: this knowledge is here but in its infancy." While we are here, "our own imaginative powers, which are perpetually attending the best acts of our souls, will be breathing a gross dew upon the pure glass of our understandings." "Heaven is first a temper, then a place," says Whichcote, and Smith says the same about hell. "Heaven is not a thing without us, nor is happiness anything distinct from a true conjunction of the mind with God." "Though we could suppose ourselves to be at truce with heaven, and all Divine displeasure laid asleep; yet would our own sins, if they continue unmortified, make an AEtna or Vesuvius within us." This view of the indissoluble connection between holiness and blessedness, as between sin and damnation, leads Smith to reject strenuously the doctrine of imputed, as opposed to imparted, righteousness. "God does not bid us be warmed and filled," he says,"and deny us those necessities which our starving and hungry souls call for....I doubt sometimes, some of our dogmata and notions about justification may puff us up in far higher and goodlier conceits of ourselves than God hath of us, and that we profanely make the unspotted righteousness of Christ to serve only as a covering wherein to wrap our foul deformities and filthy vices, and when we have done, think ourselves in as good credit and repute with God as we are with ourselves, and that we are become Heaven's darlings as much as we are our own." These extracts will show that the English Platonists breathe a larger air than the later Romish mystics, and teach a religion more definitely Christian than Erigena and Eckhart. I shall now show how this happy result was connected with a more truly spiritual view of the external world than we have met with in the earlier part of our survey. That the laws of nature are the laws of God, that "man, as man, is averse to what is evil and wicked," that "evil is unnatural," and a "contradiction of the law of our being," which is only found in "wicked men and devils," is one of Whichcote's "gallant themes." And Smith sets forth the true principles of Nature-Mysticism in a splendid passage, with which I will conclude this Lecture:-- "God made the universe and all the creatures contained therein as so many glasses wherein He might reflect His own glory. He hath copied forth Himself in the creation; and in this outward world we may read the lovely characters of the Divine goodness, power, and wisdom....But how to find God here, and feelingly to converse with Him, and being affected with the sense of the Divine glory shining out upon the creation, how to pass out of the sensible world into the intellectual, is not so effectually taught by that philosophy which professed it most, as by true religion. That which knits and unites God and the soul together can best teach it how to ascend and descend upon those golden links that unite, as it were, the world to God. That Divine Wisdom, that contrived and beautified this glorious structure, can best explain her own art, and carry up the soul back again in these reflected beams to Him who is the Fountain of them....Good men may easily find every creature pointing out to that Being whose image and superscription it bears, and climb up from those darker resemblances of the Divine wisdom and goodness, shining out in different degrees upon several creatures, till they sweetly repose themselves in the bosom of the Divinity; and while they are thus conversing with this lower world...they find God many times secretly flowing into their souls, and leading them silently out of the court of the temple into the Holy Place....Thus religion, where it is in truth and power, renews the very spirit of our minds, and doth in a manner spiritualise this outward creation to us....It is nothing but a thick mist of pride and self-love that hinders men's eyes from beholding that sun which enlightens them and all things else....A good man is no more solicitous whether this or that good thing be mine, or whether my perfections exceed the measure of this or that particular creature; for whatsoever good he beholds anywhere, he enjoys and delights in it as much as if it were his own, and whatever he beholds in himself, he looks not upon it as his property, but as a common good; for all these beams come from one and the same Fountain and Ocean of light in who loves them all with an universal love.... Thus may a man walk up and down the world as in a garden of spices, and suck a Divine sweetness out of every flower. There is a twofold meaning in every creature, a literal and a mystical, and the one is but the ground of the other; and as the Jews say of their law, so a good man says of everything that his senses offer to him--it speaks to his lower part, but it points out something above to his mind and spirit. It is the drowsy and muddy spirit of superstition which is fain to set some idol at its elbow, something that may jog it and put it in mind of God. Whereas true religion never finds itself out of the infinite sphere of the Divinity...it beholds itself everywhere in the midst of that glorious unbounded Being who is indivisibly everywhere. A good man finds every place he treads upon holy ground; to him the world is God's temple; he is ready to say with Jacob, 'How dreadful is this place! this is none other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven.'"
Miguel de Molinos (1640-1697): Molinos was a Spanish priest who was a more consistent follower of St. Teresa and St John, and who instead of being granted the honors that had been grudgingly and suspiciously bestowed on them, ended his days in prison. A man of saintly character, in 1670 Molinos went to Rome, where at first his piety and learning won him the favor of Pope Innocent XI. In 1675 he published in Italian his Spiritual Guide, a mystical treatise of great interest. Molinos begins by saying that there are two ways to the knowledge of God--meditation or discursive thought, and "pure faith" or contemplation. Contemplation has two stages, active and passive, the latter being the higher. Meditation he also calls the "exterior road"; it is good for beginners, but can never lead to perfection. The "interior road," the goal of which is union with God, consists in complete resignation to the will of God, annihilation of all self-will, and an unruffled tranquility or passivity of soul, until the mystical grace is supernaturally "infused." Then "we shall sink and lose ourselves in the immeasurable sea of God's infinite goodness, and rest there steadfast and immovable." He gives a list of tokens by which we may know that we are called from meditation to contemplation; and enumerates four means, which lead to perfection and inward peace--prayer, obedience, frequent communions, and inner mortification. The best kind of prayer is the prayer of silence; and there are three silences, that of words, that of desires, and that of thought. In the last and highest the mind is a blank, and God alone speaks to the soul. Molinos distinguishes three kinds of contemplative fusion--(1) satiety, when the soul is filled with God and conceives an aversion for all worldly things; (2) an elevation of the soul, born of Divine love and its satiety; and (3) "security." In this state the soul would willingly even go to hell, if it were God's will. "Happy is the state of that soul which has slain and annihilated itself." It lives no longer in itself, for God lives in it. "With all truth we may say that it is deified." Molinos also follows St. John of the Cross in disparaging visions as frequent snares of the devil and in emphasizing the "horrible temptations and torments, worse than any which the martyrs of the early Church underwent," which form part of what St. John called purgative contemplation. Molinus’ book was much read and highly esteemed, both in Italy and Spain. Approval of his method spread to many different places of Europe, and in Rome it grew so much to be the vogue that the nuns, except those who had Jesuits as confessors, began to lay aside their rosaries and other devotions and place their focus on the practice of mental prayer.
Molinos had written with a view to "breaking the fetters" which hindered souls in their upward course. But he thereby also loosened some of the fetters in which the Roman priesthood desired to keep the laity by encouraging quietism, and more generally mental devotions that detracted from zeal for the exterior parts of the religion of that Church such as mass, confession, and processions. In 1685 the Jesuits and Louis XIV brought strong pressure to bear on the Pope, and Molinos was accused of heresy. Sixty-eight propositions were formally condemned, including a justification of
disgraceful vices which Molinos could never have taught. Molinos saved his life by recanting all his errors, but was imprisoned in a dungeon until his death in 1696 or 1697. In 1687 the Inquisition arrested 200 persons for "quietist" opinions.
Madam Guyon (1648-1717): Molinos’ condemnation was followed by a sharp persecution of his followers in Italy, who had become very num-erous; and, in France, Bossuet procured the condemnation and imprisonment of Madame Guyon, a lady of high character and abilities, who was the a contemporary of Molinos and center of a group of quietists. Madame de Guyon’s mysticism is identical with that of Saint Teresa, except that she was no visionary, and that her character was softer and less masculine. Her attractive personality, and the cruel and unjust treatment which she experienced during the greater part of her life, arouse the sympathy of all who read her story. The character of her quietism may be illustrated by one example--the hymn on "The Acquiescence of Pure Love," translated by Cowper:--
"Love! if Thy destined sacrifice am I,
Come, slay thy victim, and prepare Thy fires;
Plunged in Thy depths of mercy, let me die
The death which every soul that loves desires!
"I watch my hours, and see them fleet away;
The time is long that I have languished here;
Yet all my thoughts Thy purposes obey,
With no reluctance, cheerful and sincere.
"To me 'tis equal, whether Love ordain
My life or death, appoint me pain or ease
My soul perceives no real ill in pain;
In ease or health no real good she sees.
"One Good she covets, and that Good alone;
To choose Thy will, from selfish bias free
And to prefer a cottage to a throne,
And grief to comfort, if it pleases Thee.
"That we should bear the cross is Thy command
Die to the world, and live to self no more;
Suffer unmoved beneath the rudest hand,
As pleased when shipwrecked as when safe on shore."
Francois Fenelon (1651-1715): Fenelon was also a victim of the campaign against the quietists, though he was no follower of Molinos. He was drawn into thecontroversy against his will by Bossuet, who requested him to endorse an unscrupulous attack upon Madame Guyon. This made it necessary for Fenelon to define his position, which he did in his famous Maxims of the Saints. The treatise is important for our purposes, since it is an elaborate attempt to determine the limits of true and false Mysticism concerning two great doctrines--"disinterested love" and "passive contem-plation." On the former, Fenelon's teaching may be summarized as follows. Self-interest must be excluded from our love of God, for self-love is the root of all evil. This predominant desire for God's glory need not be always explicit--it need only become so on extraordinary occasions; but it must always be implicit. There are five kinds of love for God: (i.) purely servile--the love of God's gifts apart from Himself; (ii.) the love of mere covetousness, which regards the love of God only as the condition of happiness; (iii.) that of hope, in which the desire for our own welfare is still predominant; (iv.) interested love, which is still mixed with self-regarding motives; (v.) disinterested love. Fenelon mentions here the "three lives" of the mystics, and says that in the purgative life love is mixed with the fear of hell; in the illuminative, with the hope of heaven; while in the highest stage "we are united to God in the peaceable exercise of pure love." "If God were to will to send the souls of the just to hell--so Chrysostom and Clement suggest--souls in the third state would not love Him less. [This "mystic paradox" has been mentioned already. It is developed at length in the Meditations of Diego de Stella. Fenelon says that it is found in Cassian, Gregory of Nazianzus, Augustine, Anselm, "and a great number of saints." It is an unfortunate attempt to improve upon Job's fine saying, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." But unless we form a very unworthy idea of heaven and hell, the proposition is not so much extravagant as self-contradictory.] "Mixed love," however, is not a sin: "the greater part of holy souls never reach perfect disinterestedness in this life." We ought to wish for our salvation, because it is God's will that we should do so. Interested love coincides with resignation, disinterested with holy indifference. "St. Francis de Sales says that the disinterested heart is like wax in the hands of its God." We must continue to co-operate with God's grace, even in the highest stage, and not cease to resist our impulses, as if all came from God. "To speak otherwise is to speak the language of the tempter." (This is, of course, directed against the immoral apathy attributed to Mo-linos.) The only difference between the vigilance of pure and that of interested love, is that the former is simple and peaceable, while the latter has not yet cast out fear. It is false teaching to say that we should hate ourselves; we should be in charity with ourselves as with others. [The doc-trine here con-demned is Manichean, says Fenelon rightly.] Spontaneous, unreflecting good acts proceed from what the mystics call the apex of the soul. "In such acts St. Antony places the most perfect prayer--unconscious prayer." Of prayer he says, "We pray as much as we desire, and we desire as much as we love." Vocal prayer cannot be (as the extreme quietists pretend) useless to contemplative souls; "for Christ has taught us a vocal prayer." He then proceeds to deal with "passive contemplation," and refers again to the "unconscious prayer" of St. Antony. But "pure contemplation is never unintermittent in this life." "Bernard, Teresa, and John say that their periods of pure contemplation lasted not more than half an hour." "Pure contemplation is negative, being occupied with no sensible image, no distinct and nameable idea; it stops only at the purely intellectual and abstract idea of being." Yet this idea includes, "as distinct objects," all the attributes of God--"as the Trinity, the humanity of Christ, and all His mysteries." "To deny this is to annihilate Christianity under pretence of purifying it, and to confound God with _neant_. It is to form a kind of deism which at once falls into atheism, wherein all real idea of God as distinguished from His creatures is rejected." Lastly, it is to advance two impieties--(i.) To suppose that there is or may be on the earth a contemplative who is no longer a traveler, and who no longer needs the way, since he has reached his destination. (ii.) To ignore that Jesus Christ is the way as well as the truth and the life, the finisher as well as the author of our faith. This criticism of the formless vision is excellent, but there is a palpable inconsistency between the definition of "negative contemplation" and the inclusion in it of "all the attributes of God as distinct objects." Contradictions of this sort abound in Fenelon, though in his case, as in many others, we may speak of "noble inconsis-tencies" which do more credit to his heart than discredit to his intellect. We may perhaps see here the dying spasm of the "negative method," which has crossed our path so often in this survey. The image of Jesus Christ, Fenelon continues, is not clearly seen by contemplatives at first, and may be withdrawn while the soul passes through the last furnace of trial; but we can never cease to need Him, "though it is true that the most eminent saints are accustomed to regard Him less as an exterior object than as the interior principle of their lives." They are in error who speak of possessing God in His supreme simplicity, and of no more knowing Christ after the flesh. Contemplation is called passive because it excludes the interested activity of the soul, not because it excludes real action. (Here again Fenelon is rather explaining away than explaining his authorities.) The culmination of the "passive state" is "transformation," in which love is the life of the soul, as it is its being and substance. "Catherine of Genoa said, I find no more me; there is no longer any other I but God." "But it is false to say that transformation is a deification of the real and natural soul, or a hypostatic union, or an unalterable conformity with God." In the passive state we are still liable to mortal sin. (It is characteristic of Fenelon that he contradicts, without rejecting, the substitution-doctrine plainly stated in the sentence from Catherine of Genoa.) In his letter to the Pope, which accompanies the "Explanation of the Maxims," Fenelon thus sums up his distinctions between true and false Mysticism:--
1. The "permanent act" (i.e. an indefectible state of union with God) is to be condemned as "a poisoned source of idleness and internal lethargy."
2. There is an indispensable necessity of the distinct exercise of each virtue.
3. "Perpetual contemplation," making venial sins impossible, and abolishing the distinction of virtues, is impossible.
4. "Passive prayer," if it excludes the co-operation of free-will, is impossible.
5. There can be no "quietude" except the peace of the Holy Ghost, which acts in a manner so uniform that these acts seem, to unscientific persons,
not distinct acts, but a single and permanent unity with God.
6. That the doctrine of pure love may not serve as an asylum for the errors of the Quietists, we assert that hope must always abide, as saith St. Paul.
7. The state of pure love is very rare, and it is intermittent.
In reply to this manifesto, the "Three Prelates" rejoin that Fenelon keeps the name of hope but takes away the thing; that he really preaches indifference to salvation; that he is in danger of regarding contemplation of Christ as a descent from the heights of pure contemplation; that he unaccountably says nothing of the "love of gratitude" to God and our Redeemer; that he "erects the rare and transient experiences of a few saints into a rule of faith." In this controversy about disinterested love, our sympathies are chiefly, but not entirely, with Fenelon. The standpoint of Bossuet is not religious at all. "Pure love," he says almost coarsely, "is opposed to the essence of love, which always desires the enjoyment of its object, as well as to the nature of man, who necessarily desires happiness." Most of us will rather agree with St. Bernard, that love, as such, desires nothing but reciprocation. If the question had been simply whether religion is or is not in its nature mercenary, we should have felt no doubt on which side the truth lay. Self-regarding hopes and schemes may be schoolmasters to bring us to Christ; it seems, indeed, to be part of our education to form them, and then see them shattered one after another, that better and deeper hopes may be constructed of the fragments; but a selfish Christianity is a contradiction in terms. But Fenelon, in his teaching about disinterested love, goes further than this. "A man's self," he says, "is his own greatest cross." "We must therefore become strangers to this self." Resignation is not a remedy; for "resignation suffers in suffering; one is as two persons in resignation; it is only pure love that loves to suffer." This is the thought with which many of us are familiar in James Hinton's Mystery of Pain. It is at bottom Stoical or Buddhistic, in spite of the emotional turn given to it by Fenelon. Logically, it should lead to the destruction of love; for love requires two living factors, and the person who has attained a "holy indifference," who has passed wholly out of self, is as incapable of love as of any other emotion. The attempt "to wind ourselves too high for mortal man" has resulted, as usual, in two opposite errors. We find, on the one hand, some who try to escape the daily sacrifices which life demands, by declaring themselves bankrupt to start with. And, on the other hand, we find men like Fenelon, who are too good Christians to wish to shift their crosses in this way; but who allow their doctrines of "holy indiffer-ence" and "pure love" to impart an excessive sternness to their teaching, and demand from us an impossible degree of detachment and renunciation. The importance attached to the "prayer of quiet" can only be understood when we remember how much mechanical recitation of forms of prayer was enjoined by Romish "directors." It is, of course, possible for the soul to commune with God without words, perhaps even without thoughts; but the recorded prayers of our Blessed Lord will not allow us to regard these ecstatic states as better than vocal prayer, when the latter is offered "with the spirit, and with the understanding also." The quietistic controversy in France was carried on in an atmosphere of political intrigues and private jealousies, which in no way concern us. But the great fact which stands out above the turmoil of calumny and misrepresentation is that the Roman Church, which in sore straits had called in the help of quietistic Mysticism to stem the flood of Protestantism, at length found the alliance too dangerous, and disbanded her irregular troops in spite of their promises to submit to discipline. In Fenelon, Mysticism had a champion eloquent and learned, and not too logical to repudiate with honest conviction consequences which some of his authorities had found it necessary to accept. He remained a loyal and submis-sive son of the Church, as did Molinos; and was, in fact, more guarded in his statements than Bossuet, who in his ignorance of mystical theology often blundered into dangerous admissions. But the Jesuits saw with their usual acumen that Mysticism, even in the most submissive guise, is an independent and turbulent spirit; and by condemning Fenelon as well as Molinos, they crushed it out as a religious movement in the Latin countries.
William Law ( 1686-1761): To the same effect as Boehme, William Law says, "Christ given for us is neither more nor less than Christ given into us. He is in no other sense our full, perfect, and sufficient Atonement, than as His nature and spirit are born and formed in us." Law also insists that the Atonement was the effect, not of the wrath, but of the love of God. "Neither reason nor scripture," he says, "will allow us to bring wrath into God Himself, as a temper of His mind, who is only infinite, unalterable, overflowing Love." "Wrath is atoned when sin is extinguished." This revolt against the forensic theory of the Atonement is very characteristic of Protestant Mysticism. The disparagement of external rites and ordinances, which we have found in s o many mystics, appears in William Law, though he was himself precise in observing all the rules of the English Church. "This pearl of eternity is the Church, a temple of God within thee, the consecrated place of Divine worship, where alone thou canst worship God in spirit and in truth. In spirit, because thy spirit is that alone in thee which can unite and cleave unto God, and receive the working of the Divine Spirit upon thee. In truth, because this adoration in spirit is that truth and reality of which all outward forms and rites, though instituted by God, are only the figure for a time; but this worship is eternal. Accustom thyself to the holy service of this inward temple. In the midst of it is the fountain of living water, of which thou mayst drink and live forever. There the mysteries of thy redemption are celebrated, or rather opened in life and power. There the supper of the Lamb is kept; the bread that came down from heaven, that giveth life to the world, is thy true nourishment: all is done, and known in real experience, in a living sensibility of the work of God on the soul. There the birth, the life, the sufferings, the death, the resurrection and ascension of Christ, are not merely remembered, but inwardly found and enjoyed as the real states of thy soul, which has followed Christ in the regeneration. When once thou art well grounded in this inward worship, thou wilt have learnt to live unto God above time and place. For every day will be Sunday to thee, and wherever thou goest thou wilt have a priest, a church, and an altar along with thee. "In his teaching about faith and love, Law follows the best mystical writers; but none before him, I think, attained to such strong and growing eloquence in setting it forth. "There is but one salvation for all mankind, and the way to it is one; and that is, the desire of the soul turned to God. This desire brings the soul to God, and God into the soul; it unites with God, it co-operates with God, and is one life with God. O my God, just and true, how great is Thy love and mercy to mankind, that heaven is thus everywhere open, and Christ thus the common Saviour to all that turn the desire of their hearts to Thee!" And of love he says: "No creature can have any union or communion with the goodness of the Deity till its life is a spirit of love. This is the one only bond of union betwixt God and His creature." "Love has no by-ends, wills nothing but its own increase: everything is as oil to its flame. The spirit of love does not want to be rewarded, honored, or esteemed; its only desire is to propagate itself, and become the blessing and happiness of everything that wants it." The doctrine of the Divine spark (synteresis) is held by Law, but in a more definitely Christian form than by Eckhart. "If Christ was to raise a new life like His own in every man, then every man must have had originally in the inmost spirit of his life a seed of Christ, or Christ as a seed of heaven, lying there in a state of insensibility, out of which it could not arise but by the mediatorial power of Christ....For what could begin to deny self, if there were not something in man different from self?....The Word of God is the hidden treasure of every human soul, immured under flesh and blood, till as a day-star it arises in our hearts, and changes the son of an earthly Adam into a son of God." Is not this the Platonic doctrine of anamnesis, Christianised in a most beautiful manner? Very characteristic of the later Mysticism is the language which both Boehme and Law use about the future state. "The soul, when it departs from the body," Boehme writes, "needeth not to go far; for where the body dies, there is heaven and hell. God is there, and the devil; yea, each in his own kingdom. There also is Paradise; and the soul needeth only to enter through the deep door in the centre." Law is very emphatic in asserting that heaven and hell are states, not places, and that they are "no foreign, separate, and imposed states, adjudged to us by the will of God." "Damnation," he says, "is the natural, essential state of our own disordered nature, which is impossible, in the nature of the thing, to be anything else but our own hell, both here and hereafter." "There is nothing that is supernatural," he says very finely, "in the whole system of our redemption. Every part of it has its ground in the workings and powers of nature, and all our redemption is only nature set right, or made to be that which it ought to be. There is nothing that is supernatural but God alone....Right and wrong, good and evil, true and false, happiness and misery, are as unchangeable in nature as time and space. Nothing, therefore, can be done to any creature supernaturally, or in a way that is without or contrary to the powers of nature; but everything or creature that is to be helped, that is, to have any good done to it, or any evil taken out of it, can only have it done so far as the powers of nature are able, and rightly directed to effect it." It is difficult to abstain from quoting more passages like this, in which Faith, which had been so long directed only to the unseen and unknown, sheds her bright beams over this earth of ours, and claims all nature for her own. The laws of nature are now recognized as the laws of God, and for that very reason they cannot be broken or arbitrarily suspended. Redemption is a law of life. There will come a time, "the time of the lilies," as Boehme calls it, when all nature will be delivered from bondage. "All the design of Christian redemption," says Law, "is to remove everything that is unheavenly, gross, dark, wrathful, and disordered from every part of this fallen world." No text is oftener in his mouth than the words of St. Paul which I read as the text of this Lecture. That "dim sympathy" of the human spirit with the life of nature which Plotinus felt, but which mediaeval dualism had almost quenched, has now become an intense and happy consciousness of community with all living things, as subjects of one all-embracing and unchanging law, the law of perfect love. Magic and portents, apparitions and visions, the raptures of "infused contemplation" and their dark Nemesis of Satanic delusions, can no more trouble the serenity of him who has learnt to see the same God in nature whom he has found in the holy place of his own heart. It was impossible to separate Law from the "blessed Behmen," whose disciple he was proud to profess himself. The Platonists had no direct influence upon Law, yet, we find so very much in common between the Platonists and William Law: the same exalted type of Mysticism appears in both.
William Blake (1757-1827): Poet, painter, visionary, and—in Underhill’s perception—“God-intoxicated man,” Blake was a Protestant mystic who was influenced by Boehme and who was almost alone among English Protestant mystics in assimilating the Catholic tradition of the personal and inward communion of love, the grace of the contemplative life.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882): An American essayist, philosopher, and poet, Emerson was best remembered for leading the Transcenden-talist movement of the mid-19th century. He first formulated and expressed the philosophy of Transcendentalism in his groundbreaking 1836 essay, Nature. In 1838 he was invited to give a graduation address at Harvard Divinity School, in which Emerson discounted Biblical miracles and proclaimed that, while Jesus was a great man, he was not God: historical Christianity, he said, had turned Jesus into a "demigod, as the Orientals or the Greeks would describe Osiris or Apollo". His comments outraged the establishment and the general Protestant community, and he was denounced as an atheist and a poisoner of young men's minds. The Transcendental group began to publish its flagship journal, The Dial, in 1840, which promoted talented young writers such as Henry David Thoreau. In 1841 Emerson published Essays, his second book, which included the famous essay on "Self-Reliance." This book gained favorable reviews in London and Paris, and more than any of Emerson's contributions to that date laid the groundwork for his international fame. In 1845, Emerson's journals show he was reading the Bhagavad Gita and Henry Thomas Colebrooke's Essays on the Vedas. Emerson was strongly influenced by the Vedas, and much of his writing has strong shades of nondualism. One of the clearest examples of this can be found in his essay "The Over-soul":
We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every
part and particle is equally related, the eternal ONE. And this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-
sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the
world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul.
Emerson's religious views were often considered radical at the time. He believed that all things are connected to God and, therefore, all things are divine. Critics believed that Emerson was removing the central God figure; as Henry Ware, Jr. said, Emerson was in danger of taking away "the Father of the Universe" and leaving "but a company of children in an orphan asylum". Emerson was partly influenced by German philosophy and Biblical criticism. His views, the basis of Transcendentalism, suggested that God does not have to reveal the truth but that the truth could be intuitively experienced directly from nature.
In Inge’s view, Emerson was a great American mystic whose beautiful character was as noble a gift to humanity as his writings, but who was to faulted for having turned his back on the dark side of life--for having shut his eyes to pain, death, and sin. To say that "evil is only good in the making," is to “repeat an ancient and discredited attempt to solve the great enigma,” and to assert that perfect justice is meted out to individuals in their current life is “surely mere dreaming.” Inge also finds fault with Emerson’s affinity “with pantheistic Mysticism of the Oriental type, without seeing, or without caring, whither such speculations logically lead.” "Within man," he tells us, "is the soul of the whole, the wise silence, the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related--the eternal One." For Inge this is genuine Pantheism, and should carry with it the doctrine that all actions are equally good, bad, or indifferent.”
Inge also notes Emerson’s deviation from Christianity in teaching that God, "the Over-Soul," only attains to self-consciousness in man; “this, combined with his denial of degrees in Divine immanence, leads him to a self-deification of an arrogant and shocking kind, such as we find in the Persian Sufis, and in some heretical mystics of the Middle Ages.” Inge asserts that Emerson’s doctrine of deification does not reflect his having travelled up the mystical ladder, instead of only writing about it.
It is far more objectionable than the bold phrases about deification which I quoted… from the fourteenth century mystics; because with them the passage into the Divine glory is the final reward, only to be attained "by all manner of exercises"; while for Emerson it seems to be a state already existing, which we can realise by a mere act of intellectual apprehension. And the phrase, "Man is a part of God,"—as if the Divine Spirit were divided among the organs which express its various activities,--has been condemned by all the
great speculative mystics, from Plotinus downwards.