Copyright
William Ralph Inge.

Christian Mysticism online

. (page 16 of 28)
Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngeChristian Mysticism → online text (page 16 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


mourir.... Une oeuvre ne vieillit qu'en proportion de son
antimysticisme."]

[Footnote 260: So Preger, probably rightly. Noack places his birth
five years later. The chronology of the _Life_ is very loose.]

[Footnote 261: The extreme asceticism which was practised by Suso, and
(though to a less degree) by Tauler, is not enjoined by them as a
necessary part of a holy life. "We are to kill our passions, not our
flesh and blood," as Tauler says.]

[Footnote 262: It would be very interesting to trace the influence of
the chivalric idea on religious Mysticism. Chivalry, the worship of
idealised womanhood, is itself a mystical cult, and its relation to
religious Mysticism appears throughout the "Divine Comedy" and "Vita
Nuova" (see especially the incomparable paragraph which concludes this
latter), and in the sonnet of M. Angelo translated by Wordsworth, "No
mortal object did these eyes behold," etc.]

[Footnote 263: Nothing in the book is more touching than the scene
when the baby, deserted by its mother, Suso's false accuser, is
brought to him. Suso takes the child in his arms, and weeps over it
with affectionate words, while the infant smiles up at him. In spite
of the calumny which he knew was being spread wherever it would most
injure him, he insists on paying for the child's maintenance, rather
than leave it to die from neglect. The Italian mystic Scupoli, the
author of a beautiful devotional work called the _Spiritual Combat_,
was calumniated in a similar manner.]

[Footnote 264: By Schmidt, whose researches formed the basis of
several popular accounts of Tauler's life. Preger and Denifle both
reject the identification of the mysterious stranger with Nicholas;
Denifle doubts his existence altogether. The subject is very fully
discussed by Preger]

[Footnote 265: Tauler was well read in the earlier mystics. He cites
Proclus, Augustine (frequently), Dionysius, Bernard, and the
Victorines; also Aristotle and Aquinas.]

[Footnote 266: Tauler adheres to the doctrine of an "uncreated
ground," but he holds that it must always act upon us through the
medium of the "created ground." He evidently considered Eckhart's
later doctrine as too pantheistic. See below, p. 183.]

[Footnote 267: See p. 155. In my estimate of Tauler's doctrine, I have
made no use of the treatise on _The Imitation of the Poverty of
Christ_, which Noack calls his masterpiece, and the kernel of his
Mysticism. The work is not by Tauler.]

[Footnote 268: See above, p. 170.]

[Footnote 269: This expression is found first, I think, in Richard of
St. Victor; but St. Augustine speaks of "oculus interior atque
intelligibilis" (_De div. quæst._ 46).]

[Footnote 270: But Christ, he says, could see with both eyes at once;
the left in no way hindered the right.]

[Footnote 271: Tauler often uses similar language; as, for instance,
when he says, "The natural light of the reason must be entirely
brought to nothing, if God is to enter with His light."]

[Footnote 272: Stöckl criticises the _Theologia Germanica_ in a very
hostile spirit. He finds it in "pantheism," by which he means
acosmism, and also "Gnostic-Manichean dualism," the latter being his
favourite charge against the Lutherans and their forerunners. He
considers that this latter tendency is more strongly marked in the
_German Theology_ than in the other works of the Eckhartian school, in
that the writer identifies "the false light" with the light of nature,
and selfhood with sin; "devil, sin, Adam, old man, disobedience,
selfhood, individuality, mine, me, nature, self-will, are all the
same; they all represent what is against God and without God."
Accordingly, salvation consists in annihilation of the self, and
substitution for God for it. There is no doubt that the writer of this
treatise is deeply impressed with the belief that the root of sin is
self-will, and that the new birth must be a complete transformation;
but it must be remembered that the language of piety is less guarded
than that of dogmatic disputation, and that the theology of such a
book must be judged by its whole tendency. My own judgment is that,
taken as a whole, it is safer than Tauler or Ruysbroek, and much safer
than Eckhart. The strongly-marked "ethical dualism" is of very much
the same kind as that which we find in St. John's Gospel. Taken as a
theory of the origin and nature of evil, it no doubt does hold out a
hand to Manicheism; but I do not think that the writer meant it to be
so taken, any more than St. John did.]

[Footnote 273: Throughout the fourteenth century, and still more in
the fifteenth, we can trace an increasing prominence given to
subjugation of the _will_ in mystical theology. This change is to be
attributed partly to the influence of the Nominalist science of Duns
Scotus, which gradually gained (at least this point) the ascendancy
over the school of Aquinas. It may be escribed as a transition from
the more speculative Mysticism towards quietism. In the fourteenth
century writings, such as the _Theologia Germanica_, we merely welcome
a new and valuable aspect of the religious life; since the change is
connected with a distrust of reason, and a return to standpoint of
harsh legalism, we cannot regard it as an improvement.]

[Footnote 274: Compare p. 161, for similar teaching in Eckhart
himself.]

[Footnote 275: See the quotation on p. 11, note.]

[Footnote 276: Irenæus, _Contra Har_. iv. 6.]

[Footnote 277: No. 31. on Psalm xci. 13.]

[Footnote 278: Hilton's book has been reprinted from the edition of
1659, with an introduction by the Rev. J.B. Dalgairns. Very little is
known about the author's life, but his book was widely read, and was
"chosen to be the guide of good Christians in the courts of kings and
in the world." The mother of Henry VII. valued it very highly. I have
also used Mr. Guy's edition in my quotations from _The Scale of
Perfection_.]

[Footnote 279: 1 Cor. xiv. 15. This text was also appealed to by the
Quietists of the post-Reformation period.]

[Footnote 280: The texts to which he refers are those which Origen
uses in the same manner. Compare 1 Cor. i. 23, ii. 2, Gal. vi. 14,
with 1 Cor. i. 24.]

[Footnote 281: Julian (born 1343) was probably a Benedictine nun of
Carrow, near Norwich, but lived for the greater part of her life in an
anchorage in the churchyard of St. Julian at Norwich. There is a copy
of her _Revelations_ in the British Museum. Editions by Cressy, 1670;
reprint issued 1843; by Collins, 1877. See, further, in the
_Dictionary of National Biography_. In my quotations from her, I have
used an unpublished version kindly lent me by Miss G.H. Warrack. It is
just so far modernised as to be intelligible to those who are not
familiar with fourteenth century English.]

[Footnote 282: This was a recognised classification. Scaramelli says,
"Le visioni corporce sono favori propri dei principianti, che
incomminciano a camminare nella via dello spirito.... Le visioni
immaginari sono proprie dei principianti e dei proficienti, che non
sono ancor bene purgati.... Le visioni intellectuali sono proprie di
quelli che si trovano gia in istato di perfezione." It comes
originally from St. Augustine (_De Gen. ad litt._ xii. 7, n. 16): "Hæc
sunt tria genera visionum.... Primum ergo appellemus corporale, quia
per corpus percipitur, et corporis sensibus exhibetur. Secundum
spirituale: quidquid enim corpus non est, et tamen aliquid est, iam
recte dicitur spiritus; et utique non est corpus, quamvis corpori
similis sit, imago absentis corporis, nee ille ipse obtutus quo
cernitur. Tertium vero intellectuale, ab intellectu."]

[Footnote 283: That is, "necessary" or "profitable."]




LECTURE VI


"O heart, the equal poise of Love's both parts,
Big alike with wounds and darts,
Live in these conquering leaves, live still the same,
And walk through all tongues one triumphant flame!
Live here, great heart, and love and die and kill,
And bleed, and wound, and yield, and conquer still.
Let this immortal life, where'er it comes,
Walk in a crowd of loves and martyrdoms.
Let mystic deaths wait on it, and wise souls be
The love-slain witnesses of this life of thee.
O sweet incendiary! show here thy art
Upon this carcase of a hard, cold heart;
Let all thy scattered shafts of light, that play
Among the leaves of thy large books of day,
Combined against this breast at once break in,
And take away from me myself and sin;
This glorious robbery shall thy bounty be,
And my best fortunes such fair spoils of me.
O thou undaunted daughter of desires!
By all thy dower of lights and fires,
By all the eagle in thee, all the dove,
By all thy lives and deaths of love,
By thy large draughts of intellectual day,
And by thy thirsts of love more large than they;
By all thy brim-fill'd bowls of fierce desire,
By thy last morning's draught of liquid fire,
By the full kingdom of that final kiss
That seized thy parting soul and seal'd thee His;
By all the heavens thou hast in Him,
Fair sister of the seraphim!
By all of Him we have in Thee,
Leave nothing of myself in me:
Let me so read thy life, that I
Unto all life of mine may die."

CRASHAW, _On St. Teresa_.


"In a dark night,
Burning with ecstasies wherein I fell,
Oh happy plight,
Unheard I left the house wherein I dwell,
The inmates sleeping peacefully and well.

"Secure from sight;
By unknown ways, in unknown robes concealed,
Oh happy plight;
And to no eye revealed,
My home in sleep as in the tomb was sealed.

"Sweet night, in whose blessed fold
No human eye beheld me, and mine eye
None could behold.
Only for Guide had I
His Face whom I desired so ardently."

ST. JUAN OF THE CROSS (translated by Hutchings).



PRACTICAL AND DEVOTIONAL MYSTICISM - _continued_

"Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I
desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the
strength of my heart, and my portion for ever." - Ps. lxxiii. 25, 26.


We have seen that the leaders of the Reformation in Germany thrust
aside speculative Mysticism with impatience. Nor did Christian
Platonism fare much better in the Latin countries. There were students
of Plotinus in Italy in the sixteenth century, who fancied that a
revival of humane letters, and a better acquaintance with philosophy,
were the best means of combating the barbaric enthusiasms of the
North. But these Italian Neoplatonists had, for the most part, no deep
religious feelings, and they did not exhibit in their lives that
severity which the Alexandrian philosophers had practised. And so,
when Rome had need of a Catholic mystical revival to stem the tide of
Protestantism, she could not find what she required among the scholars
and philosophers of the Papal court. The Mysticism of the
counter-Reformation had its centre in Spain.

It has been said that "Mysticism is the philosophy of Spain.[284]"
This does not mean that idealistic philosophy flourished in the
Peninsula, for the Spanish race has never shown any taste for
metaphysics. The Mysticism of Spain is psychological; its point of
departure is not the notion of Being or of Unity, but the human soul
seeking reconcilation with God. We need not be on our guard against
pantheism in reading the Spanish mystics; they show no tendency to
obliterate the dividing lines of personality, or to deify sinful
humanity. The cause of this peculiarity is to be sought partly in the
strong individualism of the Spanish character, and partly in external
circumstances.[285] Free thought in Spain was so sternly repressed,
that those tendencies of mystical religion which are antagonistic to
Catholic discipline were never allowed to display themselves. The
Spanish mystics remained orthodox Romanists, subservient to their
"directors" and "superiors," and indefatigable in making recruits for
the cloister. Even so, they did not escape the attention of the
Inquisition; and though two among them, St. Teresa and St. Juan of the
Cross, were awarded the badge of sanctity, the fate of Molinos showed
how Rome had come to dread even the most submissive mystics.

The early part of the sixteenth century was a period of high culture
in Spain. The universities of Salamanca and Alcala were famous
throughout Europe; the former is said (doubtless with great
exaggeration) to have contained at one time fourteen thousand
students. But the Inquisition, which had been founded to suppress Jews
and Mahometans, was roused to a more baneful activity by the
appearance of Protestantism in Spain. Before the end of the sixteenth
century, the Spanish people, who up to that time had been second to
none in love of liberty and many-sided energy, had been changed into
sombre fanatics, sunk in ignorance and superstition, and retaining
hardly a trace of their former buoyancy and healthy independence.[286]
The first _Index Expurgatorius_ was published in 1546; the burning of
Protestants began in 1559. Till then, Eckhart, Tauler, Suso, and
Ruysbroek had circulated freely in Spain. But the Inquisition
condemned them all, except Ruysbroek. The same rigour was extended to
the Arabian philosophers, and so their speculations influenced Spanish
theology much less than might have been expected from the long sojourn
of the Moors in the Peninsula. Averroism was known in Spain chiefly
through the medium of the _Fons Vitæ_ of Ibn Gebirol (Avicebron).
Dionysius and the scholastic mystics of the Middle Ages were, of
course, allowed to be read. But besides these, the works of Plato and
Plotinus were accessible in Latin translations, and were highly valued
by some of the Spanish mystics. This statement may surprise those who
have identified Spanish Mysticism with Teresa and Juan of the Cross,
and who know how little Platonism is to be found in their theology.
But these two militant champions of the counter-Reformation numbered
among their contemporaries mystics of a different type, whose
writings, little known in this country, entitle them to an honourable
place in the roll of Christian Platonists.

We find in them most of the characteristic doctrines of Christian
Neoplatonism: the radiation of all things from God and their return to
God; the immanence of God in all things;[287] the notion of man as a
microcosm, vitally connected with all the different orders of
creation;[288] the Augustinian doctrine of Christ and His members as
"one Christ";[289] insistence upon disinterested love;[290] and
admonitions to close the eye of sense.[291] This last precept, which,
as I have maintained, is neither true Platonism nor true Mysticism,
must be set against others in which the universe is said to be a copy
of the Divine Ideas, "of which Plotinus has spoken divinely," the
creation of Love, which has given form to chaos, and stamped it with
the image of the Divine beauty; and in which we are exhorted to rise
through the contemplation of nature to God.[292] Juan de Angelis, in
his treatise on the spiritual nuptials, quotes freely, not only from
Plato, Plotinus, and Virgil, but from Lucretius, Ovid, Tibullus, and
Martial.

But this kind of humanism was frowned upon by the Church, in Spain as
elsewhere. These were not the weapons with which Lutheranism could be
fought successfully. Juan d'Avila was accused before the Inquisition
in 1534, and one of his books was placed on the Index of 1559; Louis
de Granada had to take refuge in Portugal; Louis de Leon, who had the
courage to say that the Song of Solomon is only a pastoral idyll, was
sent to a dungeon for five years.[293] Even St. Teresa narrowly
escaped imprisonment at Seville; and St. Juan of the Cross passed nine
months in a black hole at Toledo.

Persecution, when applied with sufficient ruthlessness, seldom fails
of its immediate object. It took only about twelve years to destroy
Protestantism in Spain; and the Holy Office was equally successful in
binding Mysticism hand and foot.[294] And so we must not expect to
find in St. Teresa or St. Juan any of the characteristic independence
of Mysticism. The inner light which they sought was not an
illumination of the intellect in its search for truth, but a consuming
fire to burn up all earthly passions and desires. Faith presented
them with no problems; all such questions had been settled once for
all by Holy Church. They were ascetics first and Church Reformers
next; neither of them was a typical mystic.[295]

The life of St. Teresa[296] is more interesting than her teaching. She
had all the best qualities of her noble Castilian ancestors -
simplicity, straightforwardness, and dauntless courage; and the record
of her self-denying life is enlivened by numerous flashes of humour,
which make her character more lovable. She is best known as a visionary,
and it is mainly through her visions that she is often regarded as one
of the most representative mystics. But these visions do not occupy a
very large space in the story of her life. They were frequent during the
first two or three years of her convent life, and again between the ages
of forty and fifty: there was a long gap between the two periods, and
during the last twenty years of her life, when she was actively engaged
in founding and visiting religious houses, she saw them no more. This
experience was that of many other saints of the cloister. Spiritual
consolations seem to be frequently granted to encourage young
beginners;[297] then they are withdrawn, and only recovered after a long
period of dryness and darkness; but in later life, when the character is
fixed, and the imagination less active, the vision fades into the light
of common day. In considering St. Teresa's visions, we must remember
that she was transparently honest and sincere; that her superiors
strongly disliked and suspected, and her enemies ridiculed, her
spiritual privileges; that at the same time they brought her great fame
and influence; that she was at times haunted by doubts whether she ever
really saw them; and, lastly, that her biographers have given them a
more grotesque and materialistic character than is justified by her own
descriptions.

She tells us herself that her reading of St. Augustine's
_Confessions_, at the age of forty-one, was a turning-point in her
life. "When I came to his conversion," she says, "and read how he
heard the voice in the garden, it was just as if the Lord called me."
It was after this that she began again to see visions - or rather to
have a sudden sense of the presence of God, with a suspension of all
the faculties. In these trances she generally heard Divine
"locutions." She says that "the words were very clearly formed, and
unmistakable, though not heard by the bodily ear. They are quite
unlike the words framed by the imagination, which are muffled" (_cosa
sorda_). She describes her visions of Christ very carefully. First He
stood beside her while she was in prayer, and she heard and saw Him,
"though not with the eyes of the body, nor of the soul." Then by
degrees "His sacred humanity was completely manifested to me, as it is
painted after the Resurrection." (This last sentence suggests that
sacred pictures, lovingly gazed at, may have been the source of some
of her visions.) Her superiors tried to persuade her that they were
delusions; but she replied, "If they who said this told me that a
person who had just finished speaking to me, whom I knew well, was not
that person, but they knew that I fancied it, doubtless I should
believe them, rather than what I had seen; but if this person left
behind him some jewels as pledges of his great love, and I found
myself rich having been poor, I could not believe it if I wished. And
these jewels I could show them. For all who knew me saw clearly that
my soul was changed; the difference was great and palpable." The
answer shows that for Teresa the question was not whether the
manifestations were "subjective" or "objective," but whether they were
sent by God or Satan.

One of the best chapters in her autobiography, and perhaps the most
interesting from our present point of view, is the allegory under
which she describes the different kinds of prayer. The simile is not
original - it appears in St. Augustine and others; but it is more fully
worked out by St. Teresa, who tells us "it has always been a great
delight to me to think of my soul as a garden, and of the Lord as
walking in it." So here she says, "Our soul is like a garden, rough
and unfruitful, out of which God plucks the weeds, and plants flowers,
which we have to water by prayer. There are four ways of doing
this - First, by drawing the water from a well; this is the earliest
and most laborious process. Secondly, by a water-wheel which has its
rim hung round with little buckets. Third, by causing a stream to flow
through it. Fourth, by rain from heaven. The first is ordinary prayer,
which is often attended by great sweetness and comfort. But sometimes
the well is dry. What then? The love of God does not consist in being
able to weep, nor yet in delights and tenderness, but in serving with
justice, courage, and humility. The other seems to me rather to
receive than to give. The second is the prayer of quiet, when the soul
understands that God is so near to her that she need not talk aloud to
Him." In this stage the Will is absorbed, but the Understanding and
Memory are still active. (Teresa, following the scholastic mystics,
makes these the three faculties of the soul.) In the third stage God
becomes, as it were, the Gardener. "It is a sleep of the faculties,
which are not entirely suspended, nor yet do they understand how they
work." In the fourth stage, the soul labours not at all; all the
faculties are quiescent. As she pondered how she might describe this
state, "the Lord said these words to me: She (the soul) unmakes
herself, my daughter, to bring herself closer to Me. It is no more she
that lives, but I. As she cannot comprehend what she sees,
understanding she ceases to understand." Years after she had attained
this fourth stage, Teresa experienced what the mystics call "the great
dereliction," a sense of ineffable loneliness and desolation, which
nevertheless is the path to incomparable happiness. It was accompanied
by a kind of catalepsy, with muscular rigidity and cessation of the
pulses.

These intense joys and sorrows of the spirit are the chief events of
Teresa's life for eight or ten years. They are followed by a period of
extreme practical activity, when she devoted herself to organising
communities of bare-footed Carmelites, whose austerity and devotion
were to revive the glories of primitive Christianity. In this work she
showed not only energy, but worldly wisdom and tact in no common
degree. Her visions had certainly not impaired her powers as an
organiser and ruler of men and women. Her labours continued without
intermission till, at the age of sixty-seven, she was struck down by
her last illness. "This _saint_ will be no longer wanted," she said,
with a sparkle of her old vivacity, when she knew that she was to die.

It is not worth while to give a detailed account of St. Teresa's
mystical theology. Its cardinal points are that the religious life
consists in complete conformity to the will of God, so that at last
the human will becomes purely "passive" and "at rest"; and the belief
in Christ as the sole ground of salvation, on which subject she uses
language which is curiously like that of the Lutheran Reformers. Her
teaching about passivity and the "prayer of quiet" is identical with
that which the Pope afterwards condemned in Molinos; but it is only
fair to remember that Teresa was not canonised for her theology, but
for her life, and that the Roman Church is not committed to every
doctrine which can be found in the writings of her saints. The real
character of St. Teresa's piety may be seen best in some of her
prayers, such as this which follows: -

"O Lord, how utterly different are Thy thoughts from our thoughts!
From a soul which is firmly resolved to love Thee alone, and which has
surrendered her whole will into Thy hands, Thou demandest only that
she should hearken, strive earnestly to serve Thee, and desire only to
promote Thine honour. She need seek and choose no path, for Thou
doest that for her, and her will follows Thine; while Thou, O Lord,
takest care to bring her to fuller perfection."

In theory, it may not be easy to reconcile "earnest striving" with
complete surrender and abrogation of the will, but the logic of the


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngeChristian Mysticism → online text (page 16 of 28)