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conspicuous features of the Roman Catholic rule of life are obedience
to the laws of cultus and of doctrine on the one side, and Neoplatonic
Mysticism on the other.... The essence of Mysticism lies in this: when
the influence of God upon the soul is sought and found solely in an
inward experience of the individual; when certain excitements of the
emotions are taken, with no further question, as evidence that the
soul is possessed by God: when at the same time nothing external to
the soul is consciously and clearly perceived and firmly grasped; when
no thoughts that elevate the spiritual life are aroused by the
positive contents of an idea that rules the soul, - then that is the
piety of Mysticism.... Mysticism is not that which is common to all
religion, but a particular species of religion, namely a piety which
feels that which is historical in the positive religion to be
burdensome, and so rejects it."

These extracts from Harnack and Herrmann represent the attitude
towards Mysticism of the Ritschlian school in Germany, of which Kaftan
is another well-known exponent. They are neo-Kantians, whose religion
is an austere moralism, and who seem to regard Christianity as a
primitive Puritanism, spoiled by the Greeks, who brought into it their
intellectualism and their sacramental mysteries. True Christianity,
they say, is faith in the historic Christ. "In the human Jesus," says
Herrmann, "we have met with a fact, the content of which is
incomparably richer than that of any feelings which arise within
ourselves, - a fact, moreover, which makes us so certain of God that,
our reason and conscience being judges, our conviction is only
confirmed that we are in communion with Him." "The mystic's experience
of God is a delusion. If the Christian has learnt how Christ alone has
lifted him above all that he had even been before, he cannot believe
that another man might reach the same end by simply turning inward
upon himself." "The piety of the mystic is such that at the highest
point to which it leads Christ must vanish from the soul along with
all else that is external." This curious view of Christianity quite
fails to explain how "our reason and conscience" can detect the
"incomparable richness" of a revelation altogether unlike "the
feelings which arise within ourselves." It entirely ignores the
Pauline and Johannine doctrine of the mystical union, according to
which Christ is _not_ "external" to the redeemed soul, and most
assuredly can never "vanish" from it. Instead of the "Lo I am with you
alway" of our blessed Lord, we are referred to "history" - that is,
primarily, the four Gospels confirmed by "a fifth," "the united
testimony of the first Christian community" (Harnack, _Christianity
and History_). We are presented with a Christianity without knowledge
(Gnosis), without discipline, without sacraments, resting partly on a
narrative which these very historical critics tear in pieces, each in
his own fashion, and partly on a categorical imperative which is
really the voice of "irreligious moralism," as Pfleiderer calls it.
The words are justified by such a sentence as this from Herrmann:
"Religious faith in God is, rightly understood, just the medium by
which the universal law becomes individualised for the particular man
in his particular place in the world's life, so as to enable him to
recognise its absoluteness as the ground of his self-certainty, and
the ideal drawn in it as his own personal end." Thus the school which
has shown the greatest animus against Mysticism unconsciously
approaches very near to the atheism of Feuerbach. Indeed, what worse
atheism can there be, than such disbelief in the rationality of our
highest thoughts as is expressed in this sentence: "Metaphysics is an
impassioned endeavour to obtain recognition for thoughts, the contents
of which have no other title to be recognised than their value for
us"? As if faith in God had any other meaning than a confidence that
what is of "value for us" is the eternally and universally good and
true! Herrmann's attitude towards reason can only escape atheism by
accepting in preference the crudest dualism, "behind which" (to quote
Pfleiderer again) lies concealed simply "the scepticism of a
disintegrating Nominalism."

24. _Victor Cousin_. "Mysticism is the pretension to know God without
intermediary, and, so to speak, face to face. For Mysticism, whatever
is between God and us hides Him from us." "Mysticism consists in
substituting direct inspiration for indirect, ecstasy for reason,
rapture for philosophy."

25. _R.A. Vaughan_. "Mysticism is that form of error which mistakes
for a Divine manifestation the operations of a merely human faculty."

This poor definition is the only one (except "Mysticism is the romance
of religion") to be found in _Hours with the Mystics_, the solitary
work in English which attempts to give a history of Christian
Mysticism. The book has several conspicuous merits. The range of the
author's reading is remarkable, and he has a wonderful gift of
illustration. But he was not content to trust to the interest of the
subject to make his book popular, and tried to attract readers by
placing it in a most incongruous setting. There is something almost
offensive in telling the story of men like Tauler, Suso, and Juan of
the Cross, in the form of smart conversations at a house-party, and
the jokes cracked at the expense of the benighted "mystics" are not
always in the best taste. Vaughan does not take his subject quite
seriously enough. There is an irritating air of superiority in all his
discussions of the lives and doctrines of the mystics, and his hatred
and contempt for the Roman Church often warp his judgment. His own
philosophical standpoint is by no means clear, and this makes his
treatment of speculative Mysticism less satisfactory than the more
popular parts of the book. It is also a pity that he has neglected the
English representatives of Mysticism; they are quite as interesting in
their way as Madame Guyon, whose story he tells at disproportionate
length. At the same time, I wish to acknowledge considerable
obligations to Vaughan, whose early death probably deprived us of even
better work than the book which made his reputation.

26. _James Hinton_. "Mysticism is an assertion of a means of knowing
that must not be tried by ordinary rules of evidence - the claiming
authority for our own impressions."

Another poor and question-begging definition, on the same lines as the


The Greek Mysteries And Christian Mysticism

The connexion between the Greek Mysteries and Christian Mysticism is
marked not only by the name which the world has agreed to give to that
type of religion (though it must be said that [Greek: mystêria] is not
the commonest name for the Mysteries - [Greek: orgia, teletai, telê]
are all, I think, more frequent), but by the evident desire on the
part of such founders of mystical Christianity as Clement and
Dionysius the Areopagite, to emphasise the resemblance. It is not
without a purpose that these writers, and other Platonising
theologians from the third to the fifth century, transfer to the faith
and practice of the Church almost every term which was associated with
the Eleusinian Mysteries and others like them. For instance, the
sacraments are regularly [Greek: mystêria]; baptism is [Greek:
mystikon loutron] (Gregory of Nyssa); unction, [Greek: chrisma
mystikon] (Athanasius); the elements, [Greek: mystis edôdê] (Gregory
Naz.); and participation in them is [Greek: mystikê metalêpsis].
Baptism, again, is "initiation" [Greek: myêsis]; a baptized person is
[Greek: memyêmenos], [Greek: mystês] or [Greek: symmystês] (Gregory Ny.
and Chrysostom), an unbaptized person is [Greek: amyêtos]. The
celebrant is [Greek: mystêriôn lanthanontôn mystagôgos] (Gregory Ny.);
the administration is [Greek: paradosis], as at Eleusis. The
sacraments are also [Greek: teletê] or [Greek: telê], regular
Mystery-words; as are [Greek: teleiôsis, teleiousthai, teleiopoios],
which are used in the same connexion. Secret formulas (the notion of
secret formulas itself comes from the Mysteries) were [Greek:
aporrêta]. (Whether the words [Greek: phôtismos] and [Greek: sphragis]
in their sacramental meaning come from the Mysteries seems doubtful,
in spite of Hatch, _Hibbert Lectures_, p. 295.) Nor is the language of
the Mysteries applied only to the sacraments. Clement calls purgative
discipline [Greek: ta katharsia], and [Greek: ta mikra mystêria], and
the highest stage in the spiritual life [Greek: epopteia]. He also
uses such language as the following: "O truly sacred mysteries! O
stainless light! My way is lighted with torches, and I survey the
heavens and God! I am become holy while I am being initiated. The Lord
is my hierophant," etc. (_Protr._ xii. 120). Dionysius, as I have
shown in a note on Lecture III., uses the Mystery words frequently,
and gives to the orders of the Christian ministry the names which
distinguished the officiating priests at the Mysteries. The aim of
these writers was to prove that the Church offers a mysteriosophy
which includes all the good elements of the old Mysteries without
their corruptions. The alliance between a Mystery-religion and
speculative Mysticism within the Church was at this time as close as
that between the Neoplatonic philosophy and the revived pagan Mystery
cults. But when we try to determine the amount of direct _influence_
exercised by the later paganism on Christian usages and thought, we
are baffled both by the loss of documents, and by the extreme
difficulty of tracing the pedigree of religious ideas and customs. I
shall here content myself with calling attention to certain features
which were common to the Greek Mysteries and to Alexandrian
Christianity, and which may perhaps claim to be in part a legacy of
the old religion to the new. My object is not at all to throw
discredit upon modes of thought which may have been unfamiliar to
Palestinian Jews. A doctrine or custom is not necessarily un-Christian
because it is "Greek" or "pagan." I know of no stranger perversity
than for men who rest the whole weight of their religion upon
"history," to suppose that our Lord meant to raise an universal
religion on a purely Jewish basis.

The Greek Mysteries were perhaps survivals of an old-world ritual,
based on a primitive kind of Nature-Mysticism. The "public Mysteries,"
of which the festival at Eleusis was the most important, were so
called because the State admitted strangers by initiation to what was
originally a national cult. (There were also private Mysteries,
conducted for profit by itinerant priests [Greek: agyrtai] from the
East, who as a class bore no good reputation.) The main features of
the ritual at Eleusis are known. The festival began at Athens, where
the _mystæ_ collected, and, after a fast of several days, were
"driven" to the sea, or to two salt lakes on the road to Eleusis, for
a purifying bath. This kind of baptism washed away the stains of their
former sins, the worst of which they were obliged to confess before
being admitted to the Mysteries. Then, after sacrifices had been
offered, the company went in procession to Eleusis, where
Mystery-plays were performed in a great hall, large enough to hold
thousands of people, and the votaries were allowed to handle certain
sacred relics. A sacramental meal, in which a mixture of mint,
barley-meal, and water was administered to the initiated, was an
integral part of the festival. The most secret part of the ceremonies
was reserved for the [Greek: epoptai] who had passed through the
ordinary initiation in a previous year. It probably culminated in the
solemn exhibition of a corn-ear, the symbol of Demeter. The obligation
of silence was imposed not so much because there were any secrets to
reveal, but that the holiest sacraments of the Greek religion might
not be profaned by being brought into contact with common life. This
feeling was strengthened by the belief that _words_ are more than
conventional symbols of things. A sacred formula must not be taken in
vain, or divulged to persons who might misuse it.

The evidence is strong that the Mysteries had a real spiritualising
and moralising influence on large numbers of those who were initiated,
and that this influence was increasing under the early empire. The
ceremonies may have been trivial, and even at times ludicrous; but the
discovery had been made that the performance of solemn acts of
devotion in common, after ascetical preparation, and with the aid of
an impressive ritual, is one of the strongest incentives to piety.
Diodorus is not alone in saying (he is speaking of the Samothracian
Mysteries) that "those who have taken part in them are said to become
more pious, more upright, and in every way better than their former

The chief motive force which led to the increased importance of
Mystery-religion in the first centuries of our era, was the desire for
"salvation" ([Greek: sôtêria]), which both with pagans and Christians
was very closely connected with the hope of everlasting life.
Happiness after death was the great promise held out in the Mysteries.
The initiated were secure of blessedness in the next world, while the
uninitiated must expect "to lie in darkness and mire after their
death" (cf. Plato, _Phædrus_, 69).

How was this "salvation" attained or conferred? We find that several
conflicting views were held, which it is impossible to keep rigidly
separate, since the human mind at one time inclines to one of them, at
another time to another.

(a) Salvation is imparted by _revelation_. This makes it to depend
upon _knowledge_; but this knowledge was in the Mysteries conveyed by
the spectacle or drama, not by any intellectual process. Plutarch (_de
Defect. Orac._ 22) says that those who had been initiated could
produce no demonstration or proof of the beliefs which they had
acquired. And Synesius quotes Aristotle as saying that the initiated
do not _learn_ anything, but rather receive impressions ([Greek: ou
mathein ti dein alla pathein]). The old notion that monotheism was
taught as a secret dogma rests on no evidence, and is very unlikely.
There was a good deal of [Greek: theokrasia], as the ancients called
it, and some departures from the current theogonies, but such doctrine
as there was, was much nearer to pantheism than to monotheism. Certain
truths about nature and the facts of life were communicated in the
"greatest mysteries," according to Clement, and Cicero says the same
thing. And sometimes the [Greek: gnôsis sôtêrias] includes knowledge
about the whence and whither of man ([Greek: tines esmen kai ti
gegonamen], Clem. _Exc. ex Theod._ 78). Some of the mystical formulæ
were no doubt susceptible of deep and edifying interpretations,
especially in the direction of an elevated nature-worship.

(b) Salvation was regarded, as in the Oriental religions, as
emancipation from the fetters of human existence. Doctrines of this
kind were taught especially in the Orphic Mysteries, where it was a
secret doctrine ([Greek: aporrêtos logos], Plat. _Phædr._ 62) that
"we men are here in a kind of prison," or in a tomb ([Greek: sêma
tines to sôma einai tês psychês, ôs tethammenês en tô paronti],
Plat. _Crat._ 400). They also believed in transmigration of souls, and
in a [Greek: kuklos tês geneseôs] (rota fati et generationis). The
"Orphic life," or rules of conduct enjoined upon these mystics,
comprised asceticism, and, in particular, abstinence from flesh; and
laid great stress on "following of God" [Greek: epesthai] or
[Greek: akolouthein tô theô] as the goal of moral endeavour. This cult,
however, was tinged with Thracian barbarism; its heaven was a kind of
Valhalla ([Greek: methê aiônios], Plat. _Rep._ ii. 363). Very similar
was the rule of life prescribed by the Pythagorean brotherhood, who
were also vegetarians, and advocates of virginity. Their system of
purgation, followed by initiation, liberated men "from the grievous
woeful circle" ([Greek: kyklou d'exeptan Barypentheos argaleoio] on a
tombstone), and entitled them "to a happy life with the gods." (For
the conception of salvation as deification, see Appendix C.) Whether
these sects taught that our separate individuality must be merged is
uncertain; but among the Gnostics, who had much in common with the
Orphic _mystæ_, the formula, "I am thou, and thou art I," was common
(_Pistis Sophia_; formulæ of the Marcosians; also in an invocation of
Hermes: [Greek: to son onoma emon kai to emon son. egô gar eimi to
eidôlon son]. Rohde, _Psyche_, vol. ii. p. 61). A foretaste of this
deliverance was given by initiation, which conducts the mystic to
_ecstasy_, an [Greek: oligochronios mania] (Galen), in which "animus
ita solutus est et vacuus ut ei plane nihil sit cum corpore" (Cic. _De
Divin._ i. I. 113); which was otherwise conceived as [Greek:
enthousiasmos] ([Greek: enthousiôsês kai ouketi ousês en eautê dianoias],

(c) The imperishable Divine nature is infused by mechanical means.
Sacraments and the like have a magical or miraculous potency. The
Homeric hymn to Demeter insists only on _ritual_ purity as the
condition of salvation, and we hear that people trusted to the mystic
baptism to wash out all their previous sins. Similarly the baptism of
blood, the _taurobolium_, was supposed to secure eternal happiness,
at any rate if death occurred within twenty years after the ceremony;
when that interval had elapsed, it was common to renew the rite. (We
find on inscriptions such phrases as "arcanis perfusionibus in
æternum renatus.") So mechanical was the operation of the Mysteries
supposed to be, that rites were performed for the dead (Plat. _Rep._
364. St. Paul seems to refer to a similar custom in 1 Cor. xv. 29),
and infants were appointed "priests," and thoroughly initiated, that
they might be clean from their "original sin." Among the Gnostics, a
favourite phrase was that initiation releases men "from the fetters of
fate and necessity"; the gods of the intelligible world ([Greek:
theoi noêtoi]) with whom we hold communion in the Mysteries being
above "fate."

(d) Salvation consists of moral regeneration. The efficacy of
initiation without moral reformation naturally appeared doubtful to
serious thinkers. Diogenes is reported to have asked, "What say you?
Will Patæcion the thief be happier in the next world than
Epaminondas, because he has been initiated?" And Philo says, "It often
happens that good men are not initiated, but that robbers, and
murderers, and lewd women are, if they pay money to the initiators and
hierophants." Ovid protests against the immoral doctrine of mechanical
purgation with more than his usual earnestness (_Fasti_, ii. 35): -

"Omne nefas omnemque mali purgamina causam
Credebant nostri tollere posse senes.
Græcia principium moris fuit; ilia nocentes
Impia lustratos ponere facta putat.
A! nimium faciles, qui tristia crimina cædis
Fluminea tolli posse putetis aqua!"

Such passages show that abuses existed, but also that it was felt to
be a scandal if the initiated person failed to exhibit any moral

These different conceptions of the office of the Mysteries cannot, as
I have said, be separated historically. They all reappear in the
history of the Christian sacraments. The main features of the
Mystery-system which passed into Catholicism are the notions of
secrecy, of symbolism, of mystical brotherhood, of sacramental grace,
and, above all, of the three stages in the spiritual life, ascetic
purification, illumination, and [Greek: epopteia] as the crown.

The secrecy observed about creeds and liturgical forms had not much to
do with the development of Mysticism, except by associating sacredness
with obscurity (cf. Strabo, x. 467, [Greek: hê krypsis hê mystikê
semnopoiei to theion, mimoumenê tên physin autou ekpheugousan tên
aisthêsin]), a tendency which also showed itself in the love of
symbolism. This certainly had a great influence, both in the form of
allegorism (cf. Clem. _Strom_, i. 1. 15, [Greek: esti de ha kai
ainixetai moi hê graphê; peirasetai de kai ganthanousa eipein kai
epikryptomenê ekphênai kai deixai siôpôsa]), which Philo calls "the
method of the Greek Mysteries," and in the various kinds of
Nature-Mysticism. The great value of the Mysteries lay in the facilities
which they offered for free symbolical interpretation.

The idea of mystical union by means of a common meal was, as we have
seen, familiar to the Greeks. For instance, Plutarch says (_Non fosse
suav. vivi sec. Epic._ 21), "It is not the wine or the cookery that
delights us at these feasts, but good hope, and the belief that God is
present with us, and that He accepts our service graciously." There
have always been two ideas of sacrifice, alike in savage and civilised
cults - the mystical, in which it is a _communion_, the victim who is
slain and eaten being himself the god, or a symbol of the god; and the
commercial, in which something valuable is offered to the god in the
hope of receiving some benefit in exchange. The Mysteries certainly
encouraged the idea of communion, and made it easier for the Christian
rite to gather up into itself all the religious elements which can be
contained in a sacrament of this kind.

But the scheme of ascent from [Greek: katharsis] to [Greek: myêsis], and
from [Greek: myêsis] to [Greek: epopteia], is the great contribution of
the Mysteries to Christian Mysticism. Purification began, as we have seen,
with confession of sin; it proceeded by means of fasting (with which was
combined [Greek: agneia apo synousias]) and meditation, till the second
stage, that of illumination, was reached. The majority were content with
the partial illumination which belonged to this stage, just as in books of
Roman Catholic divinity "mystical theology" is a summit of perfection to
which "all are not called." The elect advance, after a year's interval at
least, to the full contemplation ([Greek: epopteia]). This highest truth
was conveyed in various ways - by visible symbols dramatically displayed,
by solemn words of mysterious import; by explanations of enigmas and
allegories and dark speeches (cf. Orig. _Cels._ vii. 10), and perhaps
by "visions and revelations." It is plain that this is one of the
cases in which Christianity conquered Hellenism by borrowing from it
all its best elements; and I do not see that a Christian need feel any
reluctance to make this admission.


The Doctrine Of Deification

The conception of salvation as the acquisition by man of Divine
attributes is common to many forms of religious thought. It was widely
diffused in the Roman Empire at the time of the Christian revelation,
and was steadily growing in importance during the first centuries of
our era. The Orphic Mysteries had long taught the doctrine. On
tombstones erected by members of the Orphic brotherhoods we find such
inscriptions as these: "Happy and blessed one! Thou shalt be a god
instead of a mortal" ([Greek: olbie kai makariste theos d' esê anti
brotoio]); "Thou art a god instead of a wretched man" ([Greek: theos
ei eleeinou ex anthrôpou]). It has indeed been said that "deification
was the idea of salvation taught in the Mysteries" (Harnack).

To modern ears the word "deification" sounds not only strange, but
arrogant and shocking. The Western consciousness has always tended to
emphasise the distinctness of individuality, and has been suspicious
of anything that looks like juggling with the rights of persons, human
or Divine. This is especially true of thought in the Latin countries.
_Deus_ has never been a fluid concept like [Greek: theos]. St.
Augustine no doubt gives us the current Alexandrian philosophy in a
Latin dress; but this part of his Platonism never became acclimatised
in the Latin-speaking countries. The Teutonic genius is in this matter
more in sympathy with the Greek; but we are Westerns, while the later
"Greeks" were half Orientals, and there is much in their habits of
thought which is strange and unintelligible to us. Take, for instance,
the apotheosis of the emperors. This was a genuinely Eastern mode of
homage, which to the true European remained either profane or
ridiculous. But Vespasian's last joke, "_Voe! puto Deus fio!_" would
not sound comic in Greek. The associations of the word [Greek: theos]
were not sufficiently venerable to make the idea of deification
([Greek: theopoiêsis]) grotesque. We find, as we should expect, that
this vulgarisation of the word affected even Christians in the

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