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The Bampton Lectures, 1899

Considered in Eight Lectures Delivered before the University of Oxford


Dean Of S. Paul's

Methuen & Co. Ltd.
36 Essex Street W.c.

From The Last Will And Testament
Of The Late
Rev. John Bampton
Canon Of Salisbury

- - "I give and bequeath my Lands and Estates to the Chancellor,
Masters, and Scholars of the University of Oxford for ever, to have
and to hold all and singular the said Lands and Estates upon trust,
and to the intents and purposes hereinafter mentioned; that is to say,
I will and appoint that the Vice-Chancellor of the University of
Oxford for the time being shall take and receive all the rents,
issues, and profits thereof, and (after all taxes, reparations, and
necessary deductions made) that he pay all the remainder to the
endowment of eight Divinity Lecture Sermons, to be established for
ever in the said University, and to be performed in the manner

"I direct and appoint that upon the first Tuesday in Easter Term, a
Lecturer be yearly chosen by the Heads of Colleges only, and by no
others, in the room adjoining to the Printing-House, between the hours
of ten in the morning and two in the afternoon, to preach eight
Divinity Lecture Sermons, the year following, at St. Mary's in Oxford,
between the commencement of the last month in Lent Term, and the end
of the third week in Act Term.

"Also I direct and appoint, that the eight Divinity Lecture Sermons
shall be preached upon either of the following Subjects - to confirm
and establish the Christian Faith, and to confute all heretics and
schismatics - upon the Divine authority of the Holy Scriptures - upon
the authority of the writings of the primitive Fathers, as to the
faith and practice of the primitive Church - upon the Divinity of our
Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ - upon the Divinity of the Holy
Ghost - upon the Articles of the Christian Faith, as comprehended in
the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds.

"Also I direct that thirty copies of the eight Divinity Lecture
Sermons shall be always printed within two months after they are
preached; and one copy shall be given to the Chancellor of the
University, and one copy to the head of every College, and one copy to
the Mayor of the City of Oxford, and one copy to be put into the
Bodleian Library; and the expense of printing them shall be paid out
of the revenue of the Land or Estates given for establishing the
Divinity Lecture Sermons; and the Preacher shall not be paid, nor
entitled to the revenue, before they are printed.

"Also I direct and appoint, that no person shall be qualified to
preach the Divinity Lecture Sermons, unless he hath taken the degree
of Master of Arts at least, in one of the two Universities of Oxford
or Cambridge; and that the same person shall never preach the Divinity
Lecture Sermons twice."


The first of the subjects which, according to the will of Canon
Bampton, are prescribed for the Lecturers upon his foundation, is the
confirmation and establishment of the Christian faith. This is the aim
which I have kept in view in preparing this volume; and I should wish
my book to be judged as a contribution to apologetics, rather than as
a historical sketch of Christian Mysticism. I say this because I
decided, after some hesitation, to adopt a historical framework for
the Lectures, and this arrangement may cause my object to be
misunderstood. It seemed to me that the instructiveness of tracing the
development and operation of mystical ideas, in the forms which they
have assumed as active forces in history, outweighed the disadvantage
of appearing to waver between apology and narrative. A series of
historical essays would, of course, have been quite unsuitable in the
University pulpit, and, moreover, I did not approach the subject from
that side. Until I began to prepare the Lectures, about a year and a
half before they were delivered, my study of the mystical writers had
been directed solely by my own intellectual and spiritual needs. I was
attracted to them in the hope of finding in their writings a
philosophy and a rule of life which would satisfy my mind and
conscience. In this I was not disappointed; and thinking that others
might perhaps profit by following the same path, I wished to put
together and publish the results of my thought and reading. In such a
scheme historical details are either out of place or of secondary
value; and I hope this will be remembered by any historians who may
take the trouble to read my book.

The philosophical side of the subject is from my point of view of much
greater importance. I have done my best to acquire an adequate
knowledge of those philosophies, both ancient and modern, which are
most akin to speculative Mysticism, and also to think out my own
position. I hope that I have succeeded in indicating my general
standpoint, and that what I have written may prove fairly consistent
and intelligible; but I have felt keenly the disadvantage of having
missed the systematic training in metaphysics given by the Oxford
school of _Literæ Humaniores_, and also the difficulty (perhaps I
should say the presumption) of addressing metaphysical arguments to an
audience which included several eminent philosophers. I wish also that
I had had time for a more thorough study of Fechner's works; for his
system, so far as I understand it, seems to me to have a great
interest and value as a scheme of philosophical Mysticism which does
not clash with modern science.

I have spoken with a plainness which will probably give offence of the
debased supernaturalism which usurps the name of Mysticism in Roman
Catholic countries. I desire to insult no man's convictions; and it
is for this reason that I have decided not to print my analysis of
Ribet's work (_La Mystique Divine, distinguée des Contrefaçons
diaboliques_. Nouvelle Edition, Paris, 1895, 3 vols.), which I
intended to form an Appendix. It would have opened the eyes of some of
my readers to the irreconcilable antagonism between the Roman Church
and science; but though I translated and summarised my author
faithfully, the result had all the appearance of a malicious travesty.
I have therefore suppressed this Appendix; but with regard to Roman
Catholic "Mysticism" there is no use in mincing matters. Those who
find edification in signs and wonders of this kind, and think that
such "supernatural phenomena," even if they were well authenticated
instead of being ridiculous fables, could possibly establish spiritual
truths, will find little or nothing to please or interest them in
these pages. But those who reverence Nature and Reason, and have no
wish to hear of either of them being "overruled" or "suspended," will,
I hope, agree with me in valuing highly the later developments of
mystical thought in Northern Europe.

There is another class of "mystics" with whom I have but little
sympathy - the dabblers in occultism. "Psychical research" is, no
doubt, a perfectly legitimate science; but when its professors invite
us to watch the breaking down of the middle wall of partition between
matter and spirit, they have, in my opinion, ceased to be scientific,
and are in reality hankering after the beggarly elements of the later

The charge of "pantheistic tendency" will not, I hope, be brought
against me without due consideration. I have tried to show how the
Johannine Logos-doctrine, which is the basis of Christian Mysticism,
differs from Asiatic Pantheism, from Acosmism, and from (one kind of)
evolutionary Idealism. Of course, speculative Mysticism is nearer to
Pantheism than to Deism; but I think it is possible heartily to eschew
Deism without falling into the opposite error.

I have received much help from many kind friends; and though some of
them would not wish to be associated with all of my opinions, I cannot
deny myself the pleasure of thanking them by name. From my mother and
other members of my family, and relations, especially Mr. W.W. How,
Fellow of Merton, I have received many useful suggestions. Three past
or present colleagues have read and criticised parts of my work - the
Rev. H. Rashdall, now Fellow of New College; Mr. H.A. Prichard, now
Fellow of Trinity; and Mr. H.H. Williams, Fellow of Hertford. Mr. G.L.
Dickinson, Fellow of King's College, Cambridge, lent me an unpublished
dissertation on Plotinus. The Rev. C. Bigg, D.D., whose Bampton
Lectures on the Christian Platonists are known all over Europe, did me
the kindness to read the whole of the eight Lectures, and so added to
the great debt which I owe to him for his books. The Rev. J.M. Heald,
formerly Scholar of Trinity, Cambridge, lent me many books from his
fine library, and by inquiring for me at Louvain enabled me to procure
the books on Mysticism which are now studied in Roman Catholic
Universities. The Rev. Dr. Lindsay, who has made a special study of
the German mystics, read my Lectures on that period, and wrote me a
very useful letter upon them. Miss G.H. Warrack of Edinburgh kindly
allowed me to use her modernised version of Julian of Norwich.

I have ventured to say in my last Lecture - and it is my earnest
conviction - that a more general acquaintance with mystical theology
and philosophy is very desirable in the interests of the English
Church at the present time. I am not one of those who think that the
points at issue between Anglo-Catholics and Anglo-Protestants are
trivial: history has always confirmed Aristotle's famous dictum about
parties - [Greek: gignontai ai staseis ou peri mikrôn all' ek mikrôn,
stasiazousi de peri megalôn] - but I do not so far despair of our
Church, or of Christianity, as to doubt that a reconciling principle
must and will be found. Those who do me the honour to read these
Lectures will see to what quarter I look for a mediator. A very short
study would be sufficient to dispel some of the prejudices which still
hang round the name of Mysticism - e.g., that its professors are
unpractical dreamers, and that this type of religion is antagonistic
to the English mind. As a matter of fact, all the great mystics have
been energetic and influential, and their business capacity is
specially noted in a curiously large number of cases. For instance,
Plotinus was often in request as a guardian and trustee; St. Bernard
showed great gifts as an organiser; St. Teresa, as a founder of
convents and administrator, gave evidence of extraordinary practical
ability; even St. Juan of the Cross displayed the same qualities; John
Smith was an excellent bursar of his college; Fénelon ruled his
diocese extremely well; and Madame Guyon surprised those who had
dealings with her by her great aptitude for affairs. Henry More was
offered posts of high responsibility and dignity, but declined them.
The mystic is not as a rule ambitious, but I do not think he often
shows incapacity for practical life, if he consents to mingle in it.
And so far is it from being true that Great Britain has produced but
few mystics, that I am inclined to think the subject might be
adequately studied from English writers alone. On the more
intellectual side we have (without going back to Scotus Erigena) the
Cambridge Platonists, Law and Coleridge; of devotional mystics we have
attractive examples in Hilton and Julian of Norwich; while in verse
the lofty idealism[1] and strong religious bent of our race have
produced a series of poet-mystics such as no other country can rival.
It has not been possible in these Lectures to do justice to George
Herbert, Vaughan "the Silurist," Quarles, Crashaw, and others, who
have all drunk of the same well. Let it suffice to say that the
student who desires to master the history of Mysticism in Britain will
find plenty to occupy his time. But for the religious public in
general the most useful thing would be a judicious selection from the
mystical writers of different times and countries. Those who are more
interested in the practical and devotional than the speculative side
may study with great profit some parts of St. Augustine, the sermons
of Tauler, the _Theologia Germanica_, Hilton's _Scale of Perfection_,
the Life of Henry Suso, St. Francis de Sales and Fénelon, the Sermons
of John Smith and Whichcote's _Aphorisms_, and the later works of
William Law, not forgetting the poets who have been mentioned. I can
think of no course of study more fitting for those who wish to revive
in themselves and others the practical idealism of the primitive
Church, which gained for it its greatest triumphs.

I conclude this Preface with a quotation from William Law on the value
of the mystical writers. "Writers like those I have mentioned," he
says in a letter to Dr. Trapp, "there have been in all ages of the
Church, but as they served not the ends of popular learning, as they
helped no people to figure or preferment in the world, and were
useless to scholastic controversial writers, so they dropt out of
public uses, and were only known, or rather unknown, under the name of
mystical writers, till at last some people have hardly heard of that
very name: though, if a man were to be told what is meant by a
mystical divine, he must be told of something as heavenly, as great,
as desirable, as if he was told what is meant by a real, regenerate,
living member of the mystical body of Christ; for they were thus
called for no other reason than as Moses and the prophets, and the
saints of the Old Testament, may be called the spiritual Israel, or
the true mystical Jews. These writers began their office of teaching
as John the Baptist did, after they had passed through every kind of
mortification and self-denial, every kind of trial and purification,
both inward and outward. They were deeply learned in the mysteries of
the kingdom of God, not through the use of lexicons, or meditating
upon critics, but because they had passed from death unto life. They
highly reverence and excellently direct the true use of everything
that is outward in religion; but, like the Psalmist's king's daughter,
they are all glorious within. They are truly sons of thunder, and sons
of consolation; they break open the whited sepulchres; they awaken the
heart, and show it its filth and rottenness of death: but they leave
it not till the kingdom of heaven is raised up within it. If a man has
no desire but to be of the spirit of the gospel, to obtain all that
renovation of life and spirit which alone can make him to be in Christ
a new creature, it is a great unhappiness to him to be unacquainted
with these writers, or to pass a day without reading something of what
they wrote."


[Footnote 1: It is really time that we took to burning that travesty
of the British character - the John Bull whom our comic papers
represent "guarding his pudding" - instead of Guy Fawkes. Even in the
nineteenth century, amid all the sordid materialism bred of commercial
ascendancy, this country has produced a richer crop of imaginative
literature than any other; and it is significant that, while in
Germany philosophy is falling more and more into the hands of the
empirical school, our own thinkers are nearly all staunch idealists.]



I. General Characteristics of Mysticism

II. The Mystical Element in the Bible

III. Christian Platonism and Speculative Mysticism - (1) In the East

IV. Christian Platonism and Speculative Mysticism - (2) In the West

V. Practical and Devotional Mysticism

VI. Practical and Devotional Mysticism - _continued_

VII. Nature-Mysticism and Symbolism

VIII. Nature-Mysticism - _continued_

APPENDIX A. Definitions of "Mysticism" and "Mystical Theology"

APPENDIX B. The Greek Mysteries and Christian Mysticism

APPENDIX C. The Doctrine of Deification

APPENDIX D. The Mystical Interpretation of the Song of Solomon



[Greek: "Hêmin de apodeikteon hôs ep' eutuchia tê megistê para Theôn
hê toiautê mania didotai hê de dê apodeixis estai deinois men
apistos, sophois de pistê"]

PLATO, _Phædrus_, p. 245.

"_Thoas_. Es spricht kein Gott; es spricht dein eignes Herz.
_Iphigenia_. Sie reden nur durch unser Herz zu uns."

GOETHE, _Iphigenie_.

"Si notre vie est moins qu'une journée
En l'éternel; si l'an qui fait le tour
Chasse nos jours sans espoir de retour;
Si périssable est toute chose née;
Que songes-tu, mon âme emprisonnée?
Pourquoi te plaît l'obscur de notre jour,
Si, pour voler en un plus clair séjour,
Tu as au dos l'aile bien empennée!
Là est le bien que tout esprit désire,
Là, le repos ou tout le monde aspire,
Là est l'amour, là le plaisir encore!
Là, ô mon âme, au plus haut ciel guidée,
Tu y pourras reconnaître l'idée
De la beauté qu'en ce monde j'adore!"



"Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest
what we shall be. We know that, if He shall be manifested, we shall be
like Him; for we shall see Him even as He is." - I JOHN iii. 2, 3.

No word in our language - not even "Socialism" - has been employed more
loosely than "Mysticism." Sometimes it is used as an equivalent for
symbolism or allegorism, sometimes for theosophy or occult science;
and sometimes it merely suggests the mental state of a dreamer, or
vague and fantastic opinions about God and the world. In Roman
Catholic writers, "mystical phenomena" mean supernatural suspensions
of physical law. Even those writers who have made a special study of
the subject, show by their definitions of the word how uncertain is
its connotation.[2] It is therefore necessary that I should make clear
at the outset what I understand by the term, and what aspects of
religious life and thought I intend to deal with in these Lectures.

The history of the _word_ begins in close connexion with the Greek
mysteries.[3] A mystic [Greek: mystês] is one who has been, or is
being, initiated into some esoteric knowledge of Divine things, about
which he must keep his mouth shut ([Greek: myein]); or, possibly, he is
one whose _eyes_ are still shut, one who is not yet an [Greek:
epoptês].[4] The word was taken over, with other technical terms of
the mysteries, by the Neoplatonists, who found in the existing
mysteriosophy a discipline, worship, and rule of life congenial to
their speculative views. But as the tendency towards quietism and
introspection increased among them, another derivation for "Mysticism"
was found - it was explained to mean deliberately shutting the eyes to
all external things.[5] We shall see in the sequel how this later
Neoplatonism passed almost entire into Christianity, and, while
forming the basis of mediæval Mysticism, caused a false association to
cling to the word even down to the Reformation.[6]

The phase of thought or feeling which we call Mysticism has its
origin in that which is the raw material of all religion, and perhaps
of all philosophy and art as well, namely, that dim consciousness of
the _beyond_, which is part of our nature as human beings. Men have
given different names to these "obstinate questionings of sense and
outward things." We may call them, if we will, a sort of higher
instinct, perhaps an anticipation of the evolutionary process; or an
extension of the frontier of consciousness; or, in religious language,
the voice of God speaking to us. Mysticism arises when we try to bring
this higher consciousness into relation with the other contents of our
minds. Religious Mysticism may be defined as the attempt to realise
the presence of the living God in the soul and in nature, or, more
generally, as _the attempt to realise, in thought and feeling, the
immanence of the temporal in the eternal, and of the eternal in the
temporal_. Our consciousness of the beyond is, I say, the raw material
of all religion. But, being itself formless, it cannot be brought
directly into relation with the forms of our thought. Accordingly, it
has to express itself by symbols, which are as it were the flesh and
bones of ideas. It is the tendency of all symbols to petrify or
evaporate, and either process is fatal to them. They soon repudiate
their mystical origin, and forthwith lose their religious content.
Then comes a return to the fresh springs of the inner life - a revival
of spirituality in the midst of formalism or unbelief. This is the
historical function of Mysticism - it appears as an independent active
principle, the spirit of reformations and revivals. But since every
active principle must find for itself appropriate instruments,
Mysticism has developed a speculative and practical system of its
own. As Goethe says, it is "the scholastic of the heart, the dialectic
of the feelings." In this way it becomes possible to consider it as a
type of religion, though it must always be remembered that in becoming
such it has incorporated elements which do not belong to its inmost
being.[7] As a type of religion, then, Mysticism seems to rest on the
following propositions or articles of faith: -

First, _the soul_ (as well as the body) _can see and
perceive_ - [Greek: esti de psychês aisthêsis tis], as Proclus says.
We have an organ or faculty for the discernment of spiritual truth,
which, in its proper sphere, is as much to be trusted as the organs of
sensation in theirs.

The second proposition is that, since we can only know what is akin to
ourselves,[8] _man, in order to know God, must be a partaker of the
Divine nature_. "What we are, that we behold; and what we behold,
that we are," says Ruysbroek. The curious doctrine which we find in
the mystics of the Middle Ages, that there is at "the apex of the
mind" a spark which is consubstantial with the uncreated ground of the
Deity, is thus accounted for. We could not even begin to work out our
own salvation if God were not already working in us. It is always "in
His light" that "we see light." The doctrine has been felt to be a
necessary postulate by most philosophers who hold that knowledge of
God is possible to man. For instance, Krause says, "From finite reason
as finite we might possibly explain the thought of itself, but not the
thought of something that is outside finite reasonable beings, far
less the absolute idea, in its contents infinite, of God. To become
aware of God in knowledge we require certainly to make a freer use of
our finite power of thought, but the thought of God itself is
primarily and essentially an eternal operation of the eternal
revelation of God to the finite mind." But though we are made in the
image of God, our _likeness_ to Him only exists potentially.[9] The
Divine spark already shines within us, but it has to be searched for
in the innermost depths of our personality, and its light diffused
over our whole being.

This brings us to the third proposition - "_Without holiness no man may
see the Lord_"; or, as it is expressed positively in the Sermon on the
Mount, "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God."
Sensuality and selfishness are absolute disqualifications for knowing
"the things of the Spirit of God." These fundamental doctrines are
very clearly laid down in the passage from St. John which I read as
the text of this Lecture. The filial relation to God is already
claimed, but the vision is inseparable from _likeness_ to Him, which
is a hope, not a possession, and is only to be won by "purifying
ourselves, even as He is pure."

There is one more fundamental doctrine which we must not omit.
Purification removes the obstacles to our union with God, but our
guide on the upward path, _the true hierophant of the mysteries of
God, is love_[10]. Love has been defined as "interest in its highest
power";[11] while others have said that "it is of the essence of love
to be disinterested." The contradiction is merely a verbal one. The
two definitions mark different starting-points, but the two "ways of
love" should bring us to the same goal. The possibility of
disinterested love, in the ordinary sense, ought never to have been
called in question. "Love is not love" when it asks for a reward. Nor
is the love of man to God any exception. He who tries to be holy in
order to be happy will assuredly be neither. In the words of the
_Theologia Germanica_, "So long as a man seeketh his own highest good
_because_ it is his, he will never find it." The mystics here are
unanimous, though some, like St. Bernard, doubt whether perfect love

Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngeChristian Mysticism → online text (page 1 of 28)