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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 laboured much to reclaim fallen
women; and a pretended penitent, whose insincerity he had detected,
revenged herself by a slander which almost ruined him.[263] 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 Stäglin, 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 was born at Strassburg about 1300, and entered a Dominican
convent in 1315. After studying at Cologne and Paris, he returned to
Strassburg, where, as a Dominican, he was allowed to officiate as a
priest, although the town was involved in the great interdict of 1324.
In 1339, however, he had to fly to Basel, which was the headquarters
of the revivalist society who called themselves "the Friends of God."
About 1346 he returned to Strassburg, and was devoted in his
ministrations during the "black death" in 1348. He appears to have
been strongly influenced by one of the Friends of God, a mysterious
layman, who has been identified, probably wrongly, with Nicholas of
Basel,[264] 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 is a thinker as well as a preacher. Though in most points his
teaching is identical with that of Eckhart,[265] he treats all
questions in an independent manner, and sometimes, as for instance in
his doctrine about the uncreated ground of the soul,[266] he 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 Neoplatonic doctrine
of its negativity, which led Eckhart into difficulties.[267]

The little book called the _German Theology_, by an unknown author,
also belongs to the school of Eckhart. It is one of the most precious
treasures of devotional literature, and deserves to be better known
than it is in this country. In some ways it is superior to the famous
treatise of à Kempis, _On the Imitation of Christ_, since the
self-centred individualism is less prominent. The author thoroughly
understands Eckhart, but his object is not to view everything _sub
specie oeternitatis_, but 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 taking 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,[268] 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 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, as to the relations 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 centre 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,[269]" one of
which, the right eye, sees into eternity, 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.[270] The passage where this precept
is given shows very plainly that the author, like the other fourteenth
century mystics,[271] was still under the influence of mediæval
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.[272]

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 potentially 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 himself, 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 practise 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 contemplation
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
gradually." "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
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.[273]
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.[274] "Ye are as holy as ye truly will to be holy,"
says Ruysbroek. "With the will one may do 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.[275]"

The process of deification is thus described by Ruysbroek and by
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 _German Theology_ use similar language.

The idea of deification startles and shocks the modern reader. It
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 realisation. 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 _progressus 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 realisation, 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 marvellously 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
Irenæus quotes from some unknown author, "He spoke well who said that
the infinite (_immensum_) Father is _measured_ (_mensuratum_) in the
Son: _mensura enim Patris Filius_.[276]" 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 quoted. Tauler, in an interesting
sermon[277], describes the heady arrogance, disorderly conduct, and
futile idleness of these fanatics, and then gives the following
maxims, by which we may distinguish the false Mysticism from the true.


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Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngeChristian Mysticism → online text (page 14 of 28)