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soul appears in Plotinus and Augustine, and the word _scintilla_ had
been used of this faculty before Eckhart. The "synteresis" of
Alexander of Hales, Bonaventura, Albertus Magnus, and Thomas Aquinas,
was substantially the same. But there is this difference, that while
the earlier writers regard this resemblance to God as only a
_residue_, Eckhart regards it as the true _Wesen_ of the soul, into
which all its faculties may be transformed.]

[Footnote 247: The following passage from Amiel (p. 44 of English
edition) is an admirable commentary on the mystical doctrine of
immanence: - "The centre of life is neither in thought nor in feeling
nor in will, nor even in consciousness, so far as it thinks, feels, or
wishes. For moral truth may have been penetrated and possessed in all
these ways, and escape us still. Deeper even than consciousness, there
is our being itself, our very substance, our nature. Only those truths
which have entered into this last region, which have become ourselves,
become spontaneous and involuntary, instinctive and unconscious, are
really our life - that is to say, something more than our property. So
long as we are able to distinguish any space whatever between the
truth and us, we remain outside it. The thought, the feeling, the
desire, the consciousness of life, are not yet quite life. But peace
and repose can nowhere be found except in life and in eternal life,
and the eternal life is the Divine life, is God. To become Divine is,
then, the aim of life: then only can truth be said to be ours beyond
the possibility of loss, because it is no longer outside of us, nor
even in us, but we are it, and it is we; we ourselves are a truth, a
will, a work of God. Liberty has become nature; the creature is one
with its Creator - one through love."]

[Footnote 248: No better exposition of the religious aspect of
Eckhart's doctrine of immanence can be found than in Principal Caird's
_Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion_, pp. 244, 245, as the
following extract will show: "There is therefore a sense in which we
can say that the world of finite intelligence, though distinct from
God, is still, in its ideal nature, one with Him. That which God
creates, and by which He reveals the hidden treasures of His wisdom
and love, is still not foreign to His own infinite life, but one with
it. In the knowledge of the minds that know Him, in the self-surrender
of the hearts that love Him, it is no paradox to affirm that He knows
and loves Himself. As He is the origin and inspiration of every true
thought and pure affection, of every experience in which we forget and
rise above ourselves, so is He also of all these the end. If in one
point of view religion is the work of man, in another it is the work
of God. Its true significance is not apprehended till we pass beyond
its origin in time and in the experience of a finite spirit, to see in
it the revelation of the mind of God Himself. In the language of
Scripture, 'It is God that worketh in us to will and to do of His good
pleasure: all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself.'"]

[Footnote 249: Eckhart sees this (cf. Preger, vol. i. p. 421):
"Personality in Eckhart is neither the faculties, nor the form
(_Bild_), nor the essence, nor the nature of the Godhead, but it is
rather the spirit which rises out of the essence, and is born by the
irradiation of the form in the essence, which mingles itself with our
nature and works by its means." The obscurity of this conception is
not made any less by the distinction which Eckhart draws between the
outer and inner consciousness in the personality. The outer
consciousness is bound up with the earthly life; to it all images must
come through sense; but in this way it can have no image of itself.
But the higher consciousness is supra-temporal. The potential ground
of the soul is and remains sinless; but the personality is also united
to the bodily nature; its guilt is that it inclines to its sinful
nature instead of to God.]

[Footnote 250: Eckhart distinguishes the _intellectus agens_ (_diu
wirkende Vernunft_) from the passive (_lîdende_) intellect. The office
of the former is to present perceptions to the latter, set out under
the forms of time and space. In his Strassburg period, the spark or
_Ganster_, the _intellectus agens, diu oberste Vernunft_, and
_synteresis_, seem to be identical; but later he says, "The active
intellect cannot give what it has not got. It cannot see two ideas
together, but only one after another. But if God works in the place of
the active intellect, He begets (in the mind) many ideas in one
point." Thus the "spark" becomes supra-rational and uncreated - the
Divine essence itself.]

[Footnote 251: The following sentence, for instance, is in the worst
manner of Dionysius: "Thou shalt love God as He is, a non-God, a
non-Spirit, a non-Person, a non-Form: He is absolute bare Unity." This
is Eckhart's theory of the Absolute ("the Godhead") as distinguished
from God. In these moods he wishes, like the Asiatic mystics, to sink
in the bottomless sea of the Infinite. He also aspires to absolute
[Greek: apatheia] (_Abgeschiedenheit_). "Is he sick? He is as fain to
be sick as well. If a friend should die - in the name of God. If an eye
should be knocked out - in the name of God." The soul has returned to
its pre-natal condition, having rid itself of all "creatureliness."]

[Footnote 252: Many passages might be quoted. The ordinary conclusion
is that Mary chose the better part, because activity is confined to
this life, while contemplation lasts for ever. Augustine treats the
story of Leah and Rachel in the same way (_Contra Faust. Manich_.
xxii. 52): "Lia interpretatur Laborans, Rachel autem Visum principium,
sive Verbum ex quo videtur principium. Actio ergo humanæ mortalisque
vitæ ... ipsa est Lia prior uxor Jacob; ac per hoc et infirmis oculis
fuisse commemoratur. Spes vero æternæ contemplationis Dei, habens
certam et delectabilem intelligentiam veritatis, ipsa est Rachel, unde
etiam dicitur bona facie et pulcra specie," etc.]

[Footnote 253: Moreover, he is never tired of insisting that the
_Will_ is everything. "If your will is right, you cannot go wrong," he
says. "With the will I can do everything." "Love resides in the
will - the more will, the more love." "There is nothing evil but the
evil will, of which sin is the appearance." "The value of human life
depends entirely on the aim which it sets before itself." This
over-insistence on purity of intention as the end, as well as the
beginning, of virtue, is no doubt connected with Eckhart's denial of
reality and importance to the world of time; he tries to show that it
does not logically lead to Antinomianism. His doctrine that good works
have no value in themselves differs from those of Abelard and Bernard,
which have a superficial resemblance to it. Eckhart really regards the
Catholic doctrine of good works much as St. Paul treated the Pharisaic
legalism; but he is as unconscious of the widening gulf which had
already opened between Teutonic and Latin Christianity, as of the
discredit which his own writings were to help to bring upon the
monkish view of life.]

[Footnote 254: As an example of his free handling of the Old
Testament, I may quote, "Do not suppose that when God made heaven and
earth and all things, He made one thing to-day and another to-morrow.
Moses says so, of course, but he knew better; he only wrote that for
the sake of the populace, who could not have understood otherwise. God
merely _willed_ and the world _was_."]

[Footnote 255: E.g. "Da der vatter seynen sun in mir gebirt, da byn
ich der selb sun und nitt eyn ander."]

[Footnote 256: So Hermann of Fritslar says that the soul has two
faces, the one turned towards this world, the other immediately to
God. In the latter God flows and shines eternally, whether man is
conscious of it or not. It is therefore according to man's nature as
possessed of this Divine ground, to seek God, his original; and even
in hell the suffering there has its source in hopeless contradiction
of this indestructible tendency. See Vaughan, vol. i. p. 256; and the
same teaching in Tauler, p. 185.]


[Greek: "Ho thronos tês theiotêtos ho nous estin êmôn."]


"Thou comest not, thou goest not;
Thou wert not, wilt not be;
Eternity is but a thought
By which we think of Thee."


"Werd als ein Kind, werd taub und blind,
Dein eignes Icht muss werden nicht:
All Icht, all Nicht treib ferne nur;
Lass Statt, lass Zeit, auch Bild lass weit,
Geh ohne Weg den schmalen Steg,
So kommst du auf der Wüste Spur.
O Seele mein, aus Gott geh ein,
Sink als ein Icht in Gottes Nicht,
Sink in die ungegründte Fluth.
Flich ich von Dir, du kommst zu mir,
Verlass ich mich, so find ich Dich,
O überwesentliches Gut!"

_Mediæval German Hymn_.

"Quid cælo dabimus? quantum est quo veneat omne?
Impendendus homo est, Deus esse ut possit in ipso."



"We all, with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the
Lord, are transformed into the same image, from glory to glory." - 2
COR. iii. 18.

The school of Eckhart[257] in the fourteenth century produced the
brightest cluster of names in the history of Mysticism. In Ruysbroek,
Suso, Tauler, and the 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. Suso and Tauler both passed through deep waters; the
history of their inner lives is a record of heroic struggle and
suffering. The personality of the men is part of their message, a
statement which could hardly be made of Dionysius or Erigena, perhaps
not of Eckhart himself.

John of Ruysbroek, "doctor ecstaticus," as the Church allowed him to
be called, was born in 1293, and died in 1381. He was prior of the
convent of Grünthal, 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, or a clear
thinker.[258] He knew Dionysius, St. Augustine, and Eckhart, and was
no doubt acquainted with some of the other mystical writers; but 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

Ruysbroek reverts to the mystical tradition, partially broken by
Eckhart, of arranging almost all his topics in three or seven
divisions, often forming a progressive scale. For instance, in the
treatise "On the Seven Grades of Love," we have the following series,
which he calls 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. This arbitrary schematism
is the weakest part of Ruysbroek's writings, which contain many deep
thoughts. His chief work, _Ordo spiritualium nuptiarum_, is one of the
most complete charts of the mystic's progress which exist. The three
stages are here the active life (_vita actuosa_), the internal,
elevated, or affective life, to which all are not called, and 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 motto of the active life is the text, "_Ecce sponsus
venit; exite obviam ei_." 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; thence
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.[259]

Henry Suso, whose autobiography is a document of unique importance
for the psychology of Mysticism, was born in 1295[260]. Intellectually
he is 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. Juan 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 mediæval 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.[261] 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 disfavour 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,[262] 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

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.

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Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngeChristian Mysticism → online text (page 13 of 28)