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mystics; but it has been said truly that "it is easier to know man in
general than a man in particular.[374]" The sage who "sits in the
centre" of his being, and there "enjoys bright day,[375]" does not
really know human beings as persons.

It will be interesting to compare the steps in the ladder of
perfection, as described by Wordsworth, with the schemes of
Neoplatonism and introspective Mysticism. The three stages of the
mystical ascent have been already explained. We find that Wordsworth,
too, had his purgative, disciplinary stage. He began by deliberately
crushing, not only the ardent passions to which he tells us that he
was naturally prone, but all ambition and love of money, determining
to confine himself to "such objects as excite no morbid passions, no
disquietude, no vengeance, and no hatred," and found his reward in a
settled state of calm serenity, in which all the thoughts flow like a
clear fountain, and have forgotten how to hate and how to
despise.[376]

Wordsworth is careful to inculcate several safeguards for those who
would proceed to the contemplative life. First, there must be
strenuous aspiration to reach that infinitude which is our being's
heart and home; we must press forward, urged by "hope that can never
die, effort, and expectation, and desire, and something evermore about
to be.[377]" The mind which is set upon the unchanging will not
"praise a cloud,[378]" but will "crave objects that endure." In the
spirit of true Platonism, as contrasted with its later aberrations,
Wordsworth will have no blurred outlines. He tries always to see in
Nature distinction without separation; his principle is the exact
antithesis of Hume's atheistic dictum, that "things are conjoined, but
not connected.[379]" The importance of this caution has been fully
demonstrated in the course of our inquiry. Then, too, he knows that to
imperfect man reason is a crown "still to be courted, never to be
won." Delusions may affect "even the very faculty of sight," whether a
man "look forth," or "dive into himself.[380]" Again, he bids us seek
for real, and not fanciful analogies; no "loose types of things
through all degrees"; no mythology; and no arbitrary symbolism. The
symbolic value of natural objects is not that they remind us of
something that they are not, but that they help us to understand
something that they in part are. They are not intended to transport us
away from this earth into the clouds. "This earth is the world of all
of us," he says boldly, "in which we find our happiness or not at
all.[381]" Lastly, and this is perhaps the most important of all, he
recognises that the still small voice of God breathes not out of
nature alone, nor out of the soul alone, but from the contact of the
soul with nature. It is the marriage of the intellect of man to "this
goodly universe, in love and holy passion," which produces these
raptures. "Intellect" includes Imagination, which is but another name
for Reason in her most exalted mood;[382] these must assist the eye of
sense.

Such is the discipline, and such are the counsels, by which the
priest of Nature must prepare himself to approach her mysteries. And
what are the truths which contemplation revealed to him?

The first step on the way that leads to God was the sense of the
_boundless_, growing out of musings on the finite; and with it the
conviction that the Infinite and Eternal alone can be our being's
heart and home - "we feel that we are greater than we know.[383]" Then
came to him -


"The sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thoughts,
And rolls through all things.[384]"


The worldliness and artificiality which set us out of tune with all
this is worse than paganism.[385] Then this "higher Pantheism"
developed into the sense of an all-pervading Personality, "a soul that
is the eternity of thought." And with this heightened consciousness of
the nature of God came also a deeper knowledge of his own personality,
a knowledge which he describes in true mystical language as a "sinking
into self from thought to thought." This may continue till man can at
last "breathe in worlds to which the heaven of heavens is but a
veil," and perceive "the forms whose kingdom is where time and space
are not." These last lines describe a state analogous to the [Greek:
opsis] of the Neoplatonists, and the _excessus mentis_ of the Catholic
mystics. At this advanced stage the priest of Nature may surrender
himself to ecstasy without mistrust. Of such minds he says -


"The highest bliss
That flesh can know is theirs - the consciousness
Of whom they are, habitually infused
Through every image and through every thought,
And all affections by communion raised
From earth to heaven, from human to divine;...
Thence cheerfulness for acts of daily life,
Emotions which best foresight need not fear,
Most worthy then of trust when most intense.[386]"


There are many other places where he describes this "bliss ineffable,"
when "all his thoughts were steeped in feeling," as he listened to the
song which every form of creature sings "as it looks towards the
uncreated with a countenance of adoration and an eye of love,[387]"
that blessed mood -


"In which the affections gently lead us on, -
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame,
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.[388]"


Is it not plain that the poet of Nature amid the Cumberland hills, the
Spanish ascetic in his cell, and the Platonic philosopher in his
library or lecture-room, have been climbing the same mountain from
different sides? The paths are different, but the prospect from the
summit is the same. It is idle to speak of collusion or insanity in
the face of so great a cloud of witnesses divided by every
circumstance of date, nationality, creed, education, and environment.
The Carmelite friar had no interest in confirming the testimony of the
Alexandrian professor; and no one has yet had the temerity to question
the sanity of Wordsworth, or of Tennyson, whose description of the
Vision in his "Ancient Sage" is now known to be a record of personal
experience. These explorers of the high places of the spiritual life
have only one thing in common - they have observed the conditions laid
down once for all for the mystic in the 24th Psalm, "Who shall ascend
into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His holy place? He
that hath clean hands and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his
soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing
from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation." The
"land which is very far off" is always visible to those who have
climbed the holy mountain. It may be scaled by the path of prayer and
mortification, or by the path of devout study of God's handiwork in
Nature (and under this head I would wish to include not only the way
traced out by Wordsworth, but that hitherto less trodden road which
should lead the physicist to God); and, lastly, by the path of
consecrated life in the great world, which, as it is the most exposed
to temptations, is perhaps on that account the most blessed of the
three.[389]

It has been said of Wordsworth, as it has been said of other mystics,
that he averts his eyes "from half of human fate." Religious writers
have explained that the neglected half is that which lies beneath the
shadow of the Cross. The existence of positive evil in the world, as a
great fact, and the consequent need of redemption, is, in the opinion
of many, too little recognised by Wordsworth, and by Mysticism in
general. This objection has been urged both from the scientific and
from the religious side. It is held by many students of Nature that
her laws affirm a Pessimism and not an Optimism. "Red in tooth and
claw with ravine," she shrieks against the creed that her Maker is a
God of love. The only morality which she inculcates is that of a tiger
in the jungle, or at best that of a wolf-pack. "It is not strange
(says Lotze) that no nature-religions have raised their adherents to
any high pitch of morality or culture.[390]" The answer to this is
that Nature includes man as well as the brutes, and the merciful and
moral man as well as the savage. Physical science, at any rate, can
exclude nothing from the domain of Nature. And the Christian may say
with all reverence that Nature includes, or rather is included by,
Christ, the Word of God, by whom it was made. And the Word was made
flesh to teach us that vicarious suffering, which we see to be the law
of Nature, is a law of God, a thing not foreign to His own life, and
therefore for all alike a condition of perfection, not a _reductio ad
absurdum_ of existence. The _reductio ad absurdum_ is not of Nature,
but of selfish individualism, which suffers shipwreck alike in
objective and in subjective religion. It is precisely because the
shadow of the Cross lies across the world, that we can watch Nature at
work with "admiration, hope, and love," instead of with horror and
disgust.

The religious objection amounts to little more than that Mysticism has
not succeeded in solving the problem of evil, which no philosophy has
ever attacked with even apparent success. It is, however, with some
reason that this difficulty has been pressed against the mystics; for
they are bound by their principles to attempt some solution, and their
tendency has been to attenuate the positive character of evil to a
somewhat dangerous degree. But if we sift the charges often brought
by religious writers against Mysticism, we shall generally find that
there lies at the bottom of their disapproval a residuum of mediæval
dualism, which wishes to see in Christ the conquering invader of a
hostile kingdom. In practice, at any rate, the great mystics have not
taken lightly the struggle with the law of sin in our members, or
tried to "heal slightly" the wounds of the soul.[391]

It is quite true that the later mystics have been cheerful and
optimistic. But those who have found a kingdom in their own minds, and
who have enough strength of character "to live by reason and not by
opinion," as Whichcote says (in a maxim which was anticipated by that
arch-enemy of Mysticism - Epicurus), are likely to be happier than
other men. And, moreover, Wordsworth teaches us that almost, if not
quite, every evil may be so transmuted by the "faculty which abides
within the soul," that those "interpositions which would hide and
darken" may "become contingencies of pomp, and serve to exalt her
native brightness"; even as the moon, "rising behind a thick and lofty
grove, turns the dusky veil into a substance glorious as her own." So
the happy warrior is made "more compassionate" by the scenes of horror
which he is compelled to witness. Whether this healing and purifying
effect of sorrow points the way to a solution of the problem of evil
or not, it is a high and noble faith, the one and only consolation
which we feel not to be a mockery when we are in great trouble.

These charges, then, do not seem to form a grave indictment against
the type of Mysticism of which Wordsworth is the best representative.
But he _does_ fall short of the ideal held up by St. John for the
Christian mystic, in that his love and sympathy for inanimate Nature
were (at any rate in his poetry) deeper than for humanity. And if
there is any accusation which may justly be brought against the higher
order of mystics (as opposed to representatives of aberrant types), I
think it is this: that they have sought and found God in their own
souls and in Nature, but not so often in the souls of other men and
women: theirs has been a lonely religion. The grand old maxim, "Vides
fratrem, vides Dominum tuum," has been remembered by them only in acts
of charity. But in reality the love of human beings must be the
shortest road to the vision of God. Love, as St. John teaches us, is
the great hierophant of the Christian mysteries. It gives wings to
contemplation and lightens the darkness which hides the face of God.
When our emotions are deeply stirred, even Nature speaks to us with
voices unheard before; while the man who is without human affection is
either quite unmoved by her influences, or misreads all her lessons.

The spiritualising power of human love is the redeeming principle in
many sordid lives. Teutonic civilisation, which derives half of its
restless energy from ideals which are essentially anti-Christian, and
tastes which are radically barbarous, is prevented from sinking into
moral materialism by its high standard of domestic life. The sweet
influences of the home deprive even mammon-worship of half its
grossness and of some fraction of its evil. As a schoolmaster to bring
men and women to Christ, natural affection is without a rival. It is
in the truest sense a symbol of our union with Him from whom every
family in heaven and earth is named. It is needless to labour a thesis
on which nearly all are agreed; but it may be worth pointing out that,
though St. Paul felt the unique value of Christian marriage as a
symbol of the mystical union of Christ and the Church, this truth was
for the most part lost sight of by the mediæval mystics, who as monks
and priests were, of course, cut off from domestic life. The romances
of true love which the Old Testament contains were treated as
prophecies wrapped up in riddling language, or as models for ecstatic
contemplation. Wordsworth, though his own home was a happy one, does
not supply this link in the mystical chain. The most noteworthy
attempt to do so is to be found in the poetry of Robert Browning,
whose Mysticism is in this way complementary to that of
Wordsworth.[392] He resembles Wordsworth in always trying "to see the
infinite in things," but considers that "little else (than the
development of a soul) is worth study." This is not exactly a return
to subjective Mysticism, for Browning is as well aware as Goethe that
if "a talent grows best in solitude," a character is perfected only
"in the stream of the world." With him the friction of active life,
and especially the experience of human love, are necessary to realise
the Divine in man. Quite in the spirit of St. John he asks, "How can
that course be safe, which from the first produces carelessness to
human love?" "Do not cut yourself from human weal ... there are
strange punishments for such" as do so.[393] Solitude is the death of
all but the strongest virtue, and in Browning's view it also deprives
us of the strongest inner witness to the existence of a loving Father
in heaven. For he who "finds love full in his nature" cannot doubt
that in this, as in all else, the Creator must far surpass the
creature.[394] Since, then, in knowing love we learn to know God, and
since the object of life is to know God (this, the mystic's minor
premiss, is taken for granted by Browning), it follows that love is
the meaning of life; and he who finds it not "loses what he lived for,
and eternally must lose it.[395]" "The mightiness of love is curled"
inextricably round all power and beauty in the world. The worst fate
that can befall us is to lead "a ghastly smooth life, dead at
heart.[396]" Especially interesting is the passage where he chooses or
chances upon Eckhart's image of the "spark" in the centre of the soul,
and gives it a new turn in accordance with his own Mysticism -


"It would not be because my eye grew dim
Thou could'st not find the love there, thanks to Him
Who never is dishonoured in the spark
He gave us from His fire of fires, and bade
Remember whence it sprang, nor be afraid
While that burns on, though all the rest grow dark.[397]"


Our language has no separate words to distinguish Christian love
([Greek: agapê] - _caritas_) from sexual love ([Greek: erôs] - _amor_);
"charity" has not established itself in its wider meaning. Perhaps this
is not to be regretted - at any rate Browning's poems could hardly be
translated into any language in which this distinction exists. But let
us not forget that the _ascetic_ element is as strong in Browning as in
Wordsworth. Love, he seems to indicate, is no exception to the rule that
our joys may be "three parts pain," for "where pain ends gain ends
too.[398]"


"Not yet on thee
Shall burst the future, as successive zones
Of several wonder open on some spirit
Flying secure and glad from heaven to heaven;
But thou shalt painfully attain to joy,
While hope and fear and love shall keep thee man.[399]"


He even carries this law into the future life, and will have none of a
"joy which is crystallised for ever." Felt imperfection is a proof of
a higher birthright:[400] if we have arrived at the completion of our
nature as men, then "begins anew a tendency to God." This faith in
unending progress as the law of life is very characteristic of our own
age.[401] It assumes a questionable shape sometimes; but Browning's
trust in real success through apparent disappointments - a trust even
_based_ on the consciousness of present failure - is certainly one of
the noblest parts of his religious philosophy.

I have decided to end my survey of Christian Mysticism with these two
English poets. It would hardly be appropriate, in this place, to
discuss Carlyle's doctrine of symbols, as the "clothing" of religious
and other kinds of truth. His philosophy is wanting in some of the
essential features of Mysticism, and can hardly be called Christian
without stretching the word too far. And Emerson, when he deals with
religion, is a very unsafe guide. The great American mystic, whose
beautiful character was as noble a gift to humanity as his writings,
is more liable than any of those whom we have described to the
reproach of having turned his back on the dark side of life. Partly
from a fastidiousness which could not bear even to hear of bodily
ailments, partly from the natural optimism of the dweller in a new
country, and partly because he made a principle of maintaining an
unruffled cheerfulness and serenity, he shut his eyes to pain, death,
and sin, even more resolutely than did Goethe. The optimism which is
built on this foundation has no message of comfort for the stricken
heart. To say that "evil is only good in the making," is to repeat an
ancient and discredited attempt to solve the great enigma. And to
assert that perfect justice is meted out to individuals in this world,
is surely mere dreaming. Moreover, we can hardly acquit him of playing
with pantheistic Mysticism of the Oriental type, without seeing, or
without caring, whither such speculations logically lead. "Within
man," he tells us, "is the soul of the whole, the wise silence, the
universal beauty, to which every part and particle is _equally_
related - the eternal One." This is genuine Pantheism, and should carry
with it the doctrine that all actions are equally good, bad, or
indifferent. Emerson says that his wife kept him from antinomianism;
but this is giving up the defence of his philosophy. He also differs
from Christianity, and agrees with many Hegelians, in teaching that
God, "the Over-Soul," only attains to self-consciousness in man; and
this, combined with his denial of _degrees_ in Divine immanence, leads
him to a self-deification of an arrogant and shocking kind, such as we
find in the Persian Sufis, and in some heretical mystics of the Middle
Ages. "I, the imperfect, adore my own Perfect. I am receptive of the
great soul. I become a transparent eyeball. I am nothing. I see all.
The currents of the universal Being circulate through me. I am part of
God"; and much more to the same effect. This is not the language of
those who have travelled up the mystical ladder, instead of only
writing about it. It is far more objectionable than the bold phrases
about deification which I quoted in my fifth Lecture from the
fourteenth century mystics; because with them the passage into the
Divine glory is the final reward, only to be attained "by all manner
of exercises"; while for Emerson it seems to be a state already
existing, which we can realise by a mere act of intellectual
apprehension. And the phrase, "Man is a part of God," - as if the
Divine Spirit were _divided_ among the organs which express its
various activities, - has been condemned by all the great speculative
mystics, from Plotinus downwards. Emerson is perhaps at his best when
he applies his idealism to love and friendship. The spiritualising and
illuminating influence of pure comradeship has never been better or
more religiously set forth. And though it is necessary to be on our
guard against the very dangerous tendency of some of his teaching, we
shall find much to learn from the brave and serene philosopher whose
first maxim was, "Come out into the azure; love the day," and who
during his whole life fixed his thoughts steadily on whatsoever things
are pure, lovely, noble, and of good report.

The constructive task which lies before the next century is, if I may
say so without presumption, to spiritualise science, as morality and
art have already been spiritualised. The vision of God should appear
to us as a triple star of truth, beauty, and goodness.[402] These are
the three objects of all human aspiration; and our hearts will never
be at peace till all three alike rest in God. Beauty is the chief
mediator between the good and the true;[403] and this is why the great
poets have been also prophets. But Science at present lags behind; she
has not found her God; and to this is largely due the "unrest of the
age." Much has already been done in the right direction by divines,
philosophers, and physicists, and more still, perhaps, by the great
poets, who have striven earnestly to see the spiritual background
which lies behind the abstractions of materialistic science. But much
yet remains to be done. We may agree with Hinton that "Positivism
bears a new Platonism in its bosom"; but the child has not yet come to
the birth.[404]

Meanwhile, the special work assigned to the Church of England would
seem to be the development of a _Johannine_ Christianity, which shall
be both Catholic and Evangelical without being either Roman or
Protestant. It has been abundantly proved that neither Romanism nor
Protestantism, regarded as alternatives, possesses enough of the truth
to satisfy the religious needs of the present day. But is it not
probable that, as the theology of the Fourth Gospel acted as a
reconciling principle between the opposing sections in the early
Church, so it may be found to contain the teaching which is most
needed by both parties in our own communion? In St. John and St. Paul
we find all the principles of a sound and sober Christian Mysticism;
and it is to these "fresh springs" of the spiritual life that we must
turn, if the Church is to renew her youth.

I attempted in my second Lecture to analyse the main elements of
Christian Mysticism as found in St. Paul and St. John. But since in
the later Lectures I have been obliged to draw from less pure sources,
and since, moreover, I am most anxious not to leave the impression
that I have been advocating a vague spirituality tempered by
rationalism, I will try in a few words to define my position
apologetically, though I am well aware that it is a hazardous and
difficult task.

The principle, "Cuique in sua arte credendum est," applies to those
who have been eminent for personal holiness as much as to the leaders
in any other branch of excellence. Even in dealing with arts which
are akin to each other, we do not invite poets to judge of music, or
sculptors of architecture. We need not then be disturbed if we
occasionally find men illustrious in other fields, who are as
insensible to religion as to poetry. Our reverence for the character
and genius of Charles Darwin need not induce us to lay aside either
our Shakespeare or our New Testament.[405] The men to whom we
naturally turn as our best authorities in spiritual matters, are those
who seem to have been endowed with an "anima naturaliter Christiana,"
and who have devoted their whole lives to the service of God and the
imitation of Christ.

Now it will be found that these men of acknowledged and pre-eminent
saintliness agree very closely in what they tell us about God. They


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Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngeChristian Mysticism → online text (page 23 of 28)