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labyrinths of natural and supernatural science. The age was impatient to
enter on the inheritance from which humanity had long been debarred; the
methods of experimental science seemed tame and slow; and so we find,
especially in Germany, an extraordinary outburst of Nature-Mysticism -
astrology, white magic, alchemy, necromancy, and what not - such as
Christianity had not witnessed before. These pseudo-sciences (with which
was mingled much real progress in medicine, natural history, and kindred
sciences) were divided under three provinces or "vincula" - those of the
Spiritual World, which were mainly magical invocations, diagrams, and
signs; those of the Celestial World, which were taught by astrology; and
those of the Elemental World, which consisted in the sympathetic
influence of material objects upon each other. These secrets (it was
held) are all discoverable by man; for man is a microcosm, or epitome of
the universe, and there is nothing in it with which he cannot claim an
affinity. In knowing himself, he knows both God and all the other works
that God has made.

The subject of Nature-Mysticism is a fascinating one; but I must here
confine myself to its religious aspects. An attempt was soon made, by
Valentine Weigel (1533-1588), Lutheran pastor at Tschopau, to bring
together the new objective Mysticism - freed from its superstitious
elements - and the traditional subjective Mysticism which the Middle
Ages had handed down from Dionysius and the Neoplatonists. Weigel's
cosmology is based on that of Paracelsus; and his psychology also
reminds us of him. Man is a microcosm, and his nature has three
parts - the outward material body, the astral spirit, and the immortal
soul, which bears the image of God. The three faculties of the soul
correspond to these three parts; they are sense, reason (_Vernunft_),
and understanding (_Verstand_). These are the "three eyes" by which we
get knowledge. The sense perceives material things; the reason,
natural science and art; the understanding, which he also calls the
spark, sees the invisible and Divine. He follows the scholastic
mystics in distinguishing between natural and supernatural knowledge,
but his method of distinguishing them is, I think, original. Natural
knowledge, he says, is not conveyed by the object; it is the
percipient subject which creates knowledge out of itself. The object
merely provokes the consciousness into activity. In natural knowledge
the subject is "active, not passive"; all that appears to come from
without is really evolved from within. In supernatural knowledge the
opposite is the case. The eye of the "understanding," which sees the
Divine, is the spark in the centre of the soul where lies the Divine
image. In this kind of cognition the subject must be absolutely
passive; its thoughts must be as still as if it were dead. Just as in
natural knowledge the object does not co-operate, so in supernatural
knowledge the subject does not co-operate. Yet this supernatural
knowledge does not come from without. The Spirit and Word of God are
_within_ us. God is Himself the eye and the light in the soul, as well
as the object which the eye sees by this light. Supernatural knowledge
flows from within outwards, and in this way resembles natural
knowledge. But since God is both the eye that sees and the object
which it sees, it is not we who know God, so much as God who knows
Himself in us. Our inner man is a mere instrument of God.

Thus Weigel, who begins with Paracelsus, leaves off somewhere near
Eckhart - and Eckhart in his boldest mood. But his chief concern is to
attack the Bibliolaters (_Buchstabentheologen_) in the Lutheran
Church, and to protest against the unethical dogma of imputed
righteousness. We need not follow him into either of these
controversies, which give a kind of accidental colouring to his
theology. Speculative Mysticism, which is always the foe of formalism
and dryness in religion, attacks them in whatever forms it finds them;
and so, when we try to penetrate the essence of Mysticism by
investigating its historical manifestations, we must always consider
what was the system which in each case it was trying to purify and
spiritualise. Weigel's Mysticism moves in the atmosphere of Lutheran
dogmatics. But it also marks a stage in the general development of
Christian Mysticism, by giving a positive value to scientific and
natural knowledge as part of the self-evolution of the human soul.
"Study nature," he says, "physics, alchemy, magic, etc.; for _it is
all in you, and you become what you have learnt_." It is true that his
religious attitude is rigidly quietistic; but this position is so
inconsistent with the activity which he enjoins on the "reason," that
he may claim the credit of having exhibited the contradiction between
the positive and negative methods in a clear light; and to prove a
contradiction is always the first step towards solving it.

A more notable effort in the same direction was that of Jacob Böhme,
who, though he had studied Weigel, brought to his task a philosophical
genius which was all his own.

Böhme was born in 1575 near Görlitz, where he afterwards settled as a
shoemaker and glover. He began to write in 1612, and in spite of
clerical opposition, which silenced him for five years, he produced a
number of treatises between that date and his death in 1624.

Böhme professed to write only what he had "seen" by Divine
illumination. His visions are not (with insignificant exceptions)
authenticated by any marvellous signs; he simply asserts that he has
been allowed to see into the heart of things, and that the very Being
of God has been laid open to his spiritual sight.[348] His was that
type of mind to which every thought becomes an image, and a logical
process is like an animated photograph. "I am myself my own book," he
says; and in writing, he tries to transcribe on paper the images which
float before his mind's eye. If he fails, it is because he cannot find
words to describe what he is seeing. Böhme was an unlearned man; but
when he is content to describe his visions in homely German, he is
lucid enough. Unfortunately, the scholars who soon gathered round him
supplied him with philosophical terms, which he forthwith either
personified - for instance the word "Idea" called forth the image of a
beautiful maiden - or used in a sense of his own. The study of
Paracelsus obscured his style still more, filling his treatises with a
bewildering mixture of theosophy and chemistry. The result is
certainly that much of his work is almost unreadable; the nuggets of
gold have to be dug out from a bed of rugged stone; and we cannot be
surprised that the unmystical eighteenth century declared that
"Behmen's works would disgrace Bedlam at full moon.[349]" But German
philosophers have spoken with reverence of "the father of Protestant
Mysticism," who "perhaps only wanted learning and the gift of clear
expression to become a German Plato"; and Sir Isaac Newton shut
himself up for three months to study Böhme, whose teaching on
attraction and the laws of motion seemed to him to have great

For us, he is most interesting as marking the transition from the
purely subjective type of Mysticism to Symbolism, or rather as the
author of a brilliant attempt to fuse the two into one system. In my
brief sketch of Böhme's doctrines I shall illustrate his teaching from
the later works of William Law, who is by far its best exponent. Law
was an enthusiastic admirer of Böhme, and being, unlike his master, a
man of learning and a practised writer, was able to bring order out
of the chaos in which Böhme left his speculations. In strength of
intellect Law was Böhme's equal, and as a writer of clear and forcible
English he has few superiors.

Böhme's doctrine of God and the world resembles that of other
speculative mystics, but he contributes a new element in the great
stress which he lays on _antithesis_ as a law of being. "In Yes and No
all things consist," he says. No philosopher since Heraclitus and
Empedocles had asserted so strongly that "Strife is the father of all
things." Even in the hidden life of the unmanifested Godhead he finds
the play of Attraction and Diffusion, the resultant of which is a
Desire for manifestation felt in the Godhead. As feeling this desire,
the Godhead becomes "Darkness"; the light which illumines the darkness
is the Son. The resultant is the Holy Spirit, in whom arise the
archetypes of creation. So he explains Body, Soul, and Spirit as
thesis, antithesis, and synthesis; and the same formula serves to
explain Good, Evil, and Free Will; Angels, Devils, and the World. His
view of Evil is not very consistent; but his final doctrine is that
the object of the cosmic process is to exhibit the victory of Good
over Evil, of Love over Hatred.[351] He at least has the merit of
showing that strife is so inwoven with our lives here that we cannot
possibly soar above the conflict between Good and Evil. It must be
observed that Böhme repudiated the doctrine that there is any
evolution of God in time. "I say not that Nature is God," he says:
"He Himself is all, and communicates His power to all His works." But
the creation of the archetypes was not a temporal act.

Like other Protestant mystics, he lays great stress on the indwelling
presence of Christ. And, consistently with this belief, he revolts
against the Calvinistic doctrine of imputed righteousness, very much
as did the Cambridge Platonists a little later. "That man is no
Christian," he says, "who doth merely comfort himself with the
suffering, death, and satisfaction of Christ, and doth impute it to
himself as a gift of favour, remaining himself still a wild beast and
unregenerate.... If this said sacrifice is to avail for me, it must be
wrought _in_ me. The Father must beget His Son in my desire of faith,
that my faith's hunger may apprehend Him in His word of promise. Then
I put Him on, in His entire process of justification, in my inward
ground; and straightway there begins in me the killing of the wrath of
the devil, death, and hell, from the inward power of Christ's death. I
am inwardly dead, and He is my life; I live in Him, and not in my
selfhood. I am an instrument of God, wherewith He doeth what He will."
To the same effect William Law says, "Christ given _for_ us is neither
more nor less than Christ given _into_ us. He is in no other sense our
full, perfect, and sufficient Atonement, than as His nature and spirit
are born and formed in us." Law also insists that the Atonement was
the effect, not of the wrath, but of the love of God. "Neither reason
nor scripture," he says, "will allow us to bring wrath into God
Himself, as a temper of His mind, who is only infinite, unalterable,
overflowing Love." "Wrath is atoned when sin is extinguished." This
revolt against the forensic theory of the Atonement is very
characteristic of Protestant Mysticism.[352]

The disparagement of external rites and ordinances, which we have
found in so many mystics, appears in William Law, though he was
himself precise in observing all the rules of the English Church.
"This pearl of eternity is the Church, a temple of God _within_ thee,
the consecrated place of Divine worship, where alone thou canst
worship God in spirit and in truth. In _spirit_, because thy spirit is
that alone in thee which can unite and cleave unto God, and receive
the working of the Divine Spirit upon thee. In _truth_, because this
adoration in spirit is that truth and reality of which all outward
forms and rites, though instituted by God, are only the figure for a
time; but this worship is eternal. Accustom thyself to the holy
service of this inward temple. In the midst of it is the fountain of
living water, of which thou mayst drink and live for ever. There the
mysteries of thy redemption are celebrated, or rather opened in life
and power. There the supper of the Lamb is kept; the bread that came
down from heaven, that giveth life to the world, is thy true
nourishment: all is done, and known in real experience, in a living
sensibility of the work of God on the soul. There the birth, the life,
the sufferings, the death, the resurrection and ascension of Christ,
are not merely remembered, but inwardly found and enjoyed as the real
states of thy soul, which has followed Christ in the regeneration.
When once thou art well grounded in this inward worship, thou wilt
have learnt to live unto God above time and place. For every day will
be Sunday to thee, and wherever thou goest thou wilt have a priest, a
church, and an altar along with thee.[353]"

In his teaching about faith and love, Law follows the best mystical
writers; but none before him, I think, attained to such strong and
growing eloquence in setting it forth. "There is but one salvation for
all mankind, and the way to it is one; and that is, the desire of the
soul turned to God. This desire brings the soul to God, and God into
the soul; it unites with God, it co-operates with God, and is one life
with God. O my God, just and true, how great is Thy love and mercy to
mankind, that heaven is thus everywhere open, and Christ thus the
common Saviour to all that turn the desire of their hearts to Thee!"
And of love he says: "No creature can have any union or communion with
the goodness of the Deity till its life is a spirit of love. This is
the one only bond of union betwixt God and His creature." "Love has no
by-ends, wills nothing but its own increase: everything is as oil to
its flame. The spirit of love does not want to be rewarded, honoured,
or esteemed; its only desire is to propagate itself, and become the
blessing and happiness of everything that wants it."

The doctrine of the Divine spark (_synteresis_) is held by Law, but in
a more definitely Christian form than by Eckhart. "If Christ was to
raise a new life like His own in every man, then every man must have
had originally in the inmost spirit of his life a seed of Christ, or
Christ as a seed of heaven, lying there in a state of insensibility,
out of which it could not arise but by the mediatorial power of
Christ.... For what could begin to deny self, if there were not
something in man different from self?... The Word of God is the hidden
treasure of every human soul, immured under flesh and blood, till as a
day-star it arises in our hearts, and changes the son of an earthly
Adam into a son of God." Is not this the Platonic doctrine of
_anamnesis_, Christianised in a most beautiful manner?

Very characteristic of the later Mysticism is the language which both
Böhme and Law use about the future state. "The soul, when it departs
from the body," Böhme writes, "needeth not to go far; for where the
body dies, there is heaven and hell. God is there, and the devil; yea,
each in his own kingdom. There also is Paradise; and the soul needeth
only to enter through the deep door in the centre." Law is very
emphatic in asserting that heaven and hell are states, not places, and
that they are "no foreign, separate, and imposed states, adjudged to
us by the will of God." "Damnation," he says, "is the natural,
essential state of our own disordered nature, which is impossible, in
the nature of the thing, to be anything else but our own hell, both
here and hereafter." "There is nothing that is supernatural," he says
very finely, "in the whole system of our redemption. Every part of it
has its ground in the workings and powers of nature, and all our
redemption is only nature set right, or made to be that which it
ought to be.[354] There is nothing that is supernatural but God
alone.... Right and wrong, good and evil, true and false, happiness
and misery, are as unchangeable in nature as time and space. Nothing,
therefore, can be done to any creature supernaturally, or in a way
that is without or contrary to the powers of nature; but every thing
or creature that is to be helped, that is, to have any good done to
it, or any evil taken out of it, can only have it done so far as the
powers of nature are able, and rightly directed to effect it.[355]"

It is difficult to abstain from quoting more passages like this, in
which Faith, which had been so long directed only to the unseen and
unknown, sheds her bright beams over this earth of ours, and claims
all nature for her own. The laws of nature are now recognised as the
laws of God, and for that very reason they cannot be broken or
arbitrarily suspended. Redemption is a law of life. There will come a
time[356], "the time of the lilies," as Böhme calls it, when all
nature will be delivered from bondage. "All the design of Christian
redemption," says Law, "is to remove everything that is unheavenly,
gross, dark, wrathful, and disordered from every part of this fallen
world." No text is oftener in his mouth than the words of St. Paul
which I read as the text of this Lecture. That "dim sympathy" of the
human spirit with the life of nature which Plotinus felt, but which
mediæval dualism had almost quenched, has now become an intense and
happy consciousness of community with all living things, as subjects
of one all-embracing and unchanging law, the law of perfect love.
Magic and portents, apparitions and visions, the raptures of "infused
contemplation" and their dark Nemesis of Satanic delusions, can no
more trouble the serenity of him who has learnt to see the same God in
nature whom he has found in the holy place of his own heart.

It was impossible to separate Law from the "blessed Behmen," whose
disciple he was proud to profess himself. But in putting them together
I have been obliged to depart from the chronological order, for the
Cambridge Platonists, as they are usually called, come between. This,
however, need cause no confusion, for the Platonists had no direct
influence upon Law. Law, Nonjuror as well as mystic, remained a High
Churchman by sympathy, and hated Rationalism; while the Platonists
sprang from an Evangelical school, were never tired of extolling
Reason, and regarded Böhme as a fanciful "enthusiast.[357]" And yet,
we find so very much in common between the Platonists and William Law,
that these party differences seem merely superficial. The same exalted
type of Mysticism appears in both.

The group of philosophical divines, who had their centre in some of
the Cambridge colleges towards the middle of the seventeenth century,
furnishes one of the most interesting and important chapters in the
history of our Church. Never since the time of the early Greek Fathers
had any orthodox communion produced thinkers so independent and yet so
thoroughly loyal to the Church. And seldom has the Christian temper
found a nobler expression than in the lives and writings of such men
as Whichcote and John Smith.[358]

These men made no secret of their homage to Plato. And let it be
noticed that they were students of Plato and Plotinus more than of
Dionysius and his successors. Their Platonism is not of the debased
Oriental type, and is entirely free from self-absorbed quietism. The
_via negativa_ has disappeared as completely in their writings as in
those of Böhme; the world is for them as for him the mirror of the
Deity; but, being philosophers and not physicists, they are most
interested in claiming for religion the whole field of _intellectual_
life. They are fully convinced that there can be no ultimate
contradiction between philosophy or science and Christian faith; and
this accounts not only for their praise of "reason," but for the happy
optimism which appears everywhere in their writings. The luxurious and
indolent Restoration clergy, whose lives were shamed by the simplicity
and spirituality of the Platonists, invented the word "Latitudinarian"
to throw at them, "a long nickname which they have taught their
tongues to pronounce as roundly as if it were shorter than it is by
four or five syllables"; but they could not deny that their enemies were
loyal sons of the Church of England.[359] What the Platonists meant
by making reason the seat of authority may be seen by a few
quotations from Whichcote and Smith, who for our purpose are, I think,
the best representatives of the school. Whichcote answers Tuckney, who
had remonstrated with him for "a vein of doctrine, in which reason
hath too much given to it in the mysteries of faith"; - "Too much" and
"too often" on these points! "The Scripture is full of such truths,
and I discourse on them too much and too often! Sir, I oppose not
rational to spiritual, for spiritual is most rational." Elsewhere he
writes, "He that gives reason for what he has said, has done what is
fit to be done, and the most that can be done." "Reason is the Divine
Governor of man's life; it is the very voice of God." "When the
doctrine of the Gospel becomes the reason of our mind, it will be the
principle of our life." "It ill becomes us to make our intellectual
faculties Gibeonites.[360]" How far this teaching differs from the
frigid "common-sense" morality prevalent in the eighteenth century,
may be judged from the following, which stamps Whichcote as a genuine
mystic. "Though liberty of judgment be everyone's right, yet how few
there are that make use of this right! For the use of this right doth
depend upon self-improvement by meditation, consideration,
examination, prayer, and the like. These are things antecedent and
prerequisite." John Smith, in a fine passage too long to quote in
full, says: "Reason in man being _lumen de lumine_, a light flowing
from the Fountain and Father of lights ... was to enable man to work
out of himself all those notions of God which are the true groundwork
of love and obedience to God, and conformity to Him.... But since
man's fall from God, the inward virtue and vigour of reason is much
abated, the soul having suffered a [Greek: pterorryêsis], as Plato
speaks, a _defluvium pennarum_.... And therefore, besides the truth of
natural inscription, God hath provided the truth of Divine
revelation.... But besides this outward revelation, there is also an
inward impression of it ... which is in a more special manner
attributed to God.... God only can so shine upon our glassy
understandings, as to beget in them a picture of Himself, and turn the
soul like wax or clay to the seal of His own light and love. He that
made our souls in His own image and likeness can easily find a way
into them. The Word that God speaks, having found a way into the soul,
imprints itself there as with the point of a diamond.... It is God
alone that acquaints the soul with the truths of revelation, and also
strengthens and raises the soul to better apprehensions even of
natural truth, God being that in the intellectual world which the sun
is in the sensible, as some of the ancient Fathers love to speak, and
the ancient philosophers too, who meant God by their _Intellectus
Agens_[361] whose proper work they supposed to be not so much to
enlighten the object as the faculty."

The Platonists thus lay great stress on the inner light, and identify
it with the purified reason. The best exposition of their teaching on
this head is in Smith's beautiful sermon on "The True Way or Method of
attaining to Divine Knowledge." "Divinity," he says, "is a Divine life
rather than a Divine science, to be understood rather by a spiritual
sensation than by any verbal description. A good life is the
_prolepsis_ of Divine science - the fear of the Lord is the beginning
of wisdom. Divinity is a true efflux from the eternal light, which,
like the sunbeams, does not only enlighten, but also heat and enliven;
and therefore our Saviour hath in His beatitudes connext purity of
heart to the beatific vision." "Systems and models furnish but a poor
wan light," compared with that which shines in purified souls. "To
seek our divinity merely in books and writings is to seek the living
among the dead"; in these, "truth is often not so much enshrined as
entombed." "That which enables us to know and understand aright the
things of God, must be a living principle of holiness within us. The
sun of truth never shines into any unpurged souls.... Such as men
themselves are, such will God Himself seem to be.... Some men have too
bad hearts to have good heads.... He that will find truth must seek it
with a free judgment and a sanctified mind."

Smith was well read in mystical theology, and was aware how much his
ideal differed from that of Dionysian Mysticism. His criticism of the
_via negativa_ is so admirable that I must quote part of it. "Good men
... are content and ready to deny themselves for God. I mean not that
they should deny their own reason, as some would have it, for that
were to deny a beam of Divine light, and so to deny God, instead of

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