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"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.

The _Imitation of Christ_ has been so often spoken of as the finest
flower of Christian Mysticism, that it is impossible to omit all
reference to it in these Lectures. And yet it is not, properly
speaking, a mystical treatise. It is the ripe fruit of mediæval
Christianity as concentrated in the life of the cloister, the last and
best legacy, in this kind, of a system which was already decaying; but
we find in it hardly a trace of that independence which made Eckhart a
pioneer of modern philosophy, and the fourteenth century mystics
forerunners of the Reformation. Thomas à Kempis preaches a
Christianity of the _heart_; but he does not exhibit the
distinguishing characteristics of Mysticism. The title by which the
book is known is really the title of the first section only, and it
does not quite accurately describe the contents of the book.
Throughout the treatise we feel that we are reading a defence of the
recluse and his scheme of life. Self-denial, renunciation of the
world, prayer and meditation, utter humility and purity, are the road
to a higher joy, a deeper peace, than anything which the world can
give us. There are many sentences which remind us of the Roman Stoics,
whose main object was by detachment from the world to render
themselves invulnerable. Not that Thomas à Kempis shrinks from bearing
the Cross. The Cross of Christ is always before him, and herein he is
superior to those mystics who speak only of the Incarnation. But the
monk of the fifteenth century was perhaps more thrown back upon
himself than his predecessors in the fourteenth. The monasteries were
no longer such homes of learning and centres of activity as they had
been. It was no longer evident that the religious orders were a
benefit to civilisation. That indifference to human interests, which
we feel to be a weak spot in mediæval thought generally, and in the
Neoplatonists to whom mediæval thought was so much indebted, reaches
its climax in Thomas à Kempis. Not only does he distrust and disparage
all philosophy, from Plato to Thomas Aquinas, but he shuns society and
conversation as occasions of sin, and quotes with approval the pitiful
epigram of Seneca, "Whenever I have gone among men, I have returned
home less of a man." It is, after all, the life of the "shell-fish,"
as Plato calls it, which he considers the best. The book cannot safely
be taken as a guide to the Christian life as a whole. What we do find
in it, set forth with incomparable beauty and unstudied dignity, are
the Christian graces of humility, simplicity, and purity of heart.

It is very significant that the mystics, who had undermined
sacerdotalism, and in many other ways prepared the Reformation, were
shouldered aside when the secession from Rome had to be organised. The
Lutheran Church was built by other hands. And yet the mystics of
Luther's generation, Carlstadt and Sebastian Frank, are far from
deserving the contemptuous epithets which Luther showered upon them.
Carlstadt endeavoured to deepen the Lutheran notion of faith by
bringing it into closer connexion with the love of God to man and of
man to God; Sebastian Frank developed the speculative system of
Eckhart and Tauler in an original and interesting manner. But
speculative Mysticism is a powerful solvent, and Protestant Churches
are too ready to fall to pieces even without it. "I will not even
answer such men as Frank," said Luther in 1545; "I despise them too
much. If my nose does not deceive me, he is an enthusiast or
spiritualist, who is content with nothing but Spirit, spirit, spirit,
and cares not at all for Bible, Sacrament, or Preaching." The teaching
which the sixteenth century spurned so contemptuously was almost
identical with that of Eckhart and Tauler, whose names were still
revered. But it was not wanted just then. It was not till the next
generation, when superstitious veneration for the letter of Scripture
was bringing back some of the evils of the unreformed faith, that
Mysticism in the person of Valentine Weigel was able to resume its
true task in the deepening and spiritualising of religion in Germany.

But instead of following any further the course of mystical theology
in Germany, I wish to turn for a few minutes to our own country. I am
the more ready to do so, because I have come across the statement,
repeated in many books, that England has been a barren field for
mystics. It is assumed that the English character is alien to
Mysticism - that we have no sympathy, as a nation, for this kind of
religion. Some writers hint that it is because we are too practical,
and have too much common sense. The facts do not bear out this view.
There is no race, I think, in which there is a richer vein of
idealism, and a deeper sense of the mystery of life, than our own. In
a later Lecture I hope to illustrate this statement from our national
poetry. Here I wish to insist that even the Mysticism of the cloister,
which is the least satisfying to the energetic and independent spirit
of our countrymen, might be thoroughly and adequately studied from the
works of English mystics alone. I will give two examples of this
mediæval type. Both of them lived before the Reformation, near the end
of the fourteenth century; but in them, as in Tauler, we find very few
traces of Romish error.

Walter Hilton or Hylton[278], a canon of Thurgarton, was the author of
a mystical treatise, called _The Scale (or Ladder) of Perfection_. The
following extracts, which are given as far as possible in his own
words, will show in what manner he used the traditional mystical

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"; and 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," he says finely, "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[279]." 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[280].

"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
neighbour. 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-honoured Dionysian tradition, the paralysing 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
worth while 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."

My other example of English Mysticism in the Middle Ages is Julian or
Juliana of Norwich,[281] to whom were granted a series of
"revelations" in the year 1373, she being then about thirty years old.
She describes with evident truthfulness the manner in which the
visions came to her. 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.[282]" "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
philosophical 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 liever 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 very 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 signified 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 pleasure
to 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,[283] 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 thing 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

"I saw no wrath but on man's party," she says, "and that forgiveth He
in 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."


[Footnote 257: The indebtedness of the fourteenth century mystics to
Eckhart is now generally recognised, at any rate in Germany; but
before Pfeiffer's work his name had been allowed to fall into most
undeserved obscurity. This was not the fault of his scholars, who, in
spite of the Papal condemnation of his writings, speak of Eckhart with
the utmost reverence, as the "great," "sublime," or "holy" master.]

[Footnote 258: "Vir ut ferunt devotus sed parum litteratus," says the
Abbé Trithême (_ap._ Gessner, _Biblioth._). "Rusbrochius cum idiota
esset" (_Dyon. Carth._ Serm. i.). Compare Rousselot, _Les Mystiques
Espagnols_, p. 493.]

[Footnote 259: Maeterlinck, Ruysbroek's latest interpreter, is far too
complimentary to the intellectual endowments of his fellow-countryman.
"Ce moine possédait un des plus sages, des plus exacts, et des plus
subtils organes philosophiques qui aient jamais existé." He thinks it
marvellous that "il sait, à son insu, le platonisme de la Grèce, le
soufisme de la Perse, le brahmanisme de I'Inde et le bouddhisme de
Thibet," etc. In reality, Ruysbroek gets all his philosophy from
Eckhart, and his manner of expounding it shows no abnormal acuteness.
But Maeterlinck's essay in _Le Trésor des Humbles_ contains some good
things - e.g. "Les verités mystiques ne peuvent ni vieillir ni

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