Copyright
William Ralph Inge.

Christian Mysticism online

. (page 27 of 28)
Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngeChristian Mysticism → online text (page 27 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Greek-speaking countries. Not only were the "barbarous people" of
Galatia and Malta ready to find "theophanies" in the visits of
apostles, or any other strangers who seemed to have unusual powers,
but the philosophers (except the "godless Epicureans") agreed in
calling the highest faculty of the soul Divine, and in speaking of
"the God who dwells within us." There is a remarkable passage of
Origen (quoted by Harnack) which shows how elastic the word [Greek:
theos] was in the current dialect of the educated. "In another sense
God is said to be an immortal, rational, moral Being. In this sense
every gentle ([Greek: asteia]) soul is God. But God is otherwise
defined as the self-existing immortal Being. In this sense the souls
that are enclosed in wise men are not gods." Clement, too, speaks of
the soul as "training itself to be God." Even more remarkable than
such language (of which many other examples might be given) is the
frequently recurring accusation that bishops, teachers, martyrs,
philosophers, etc., are venerated with Divine or semi-Divine honours.
These charges are brought by Christians against pagans, by pagans
against Christians, and by rival Christians against each other. Even
the Epicureans habitually spoke of their founder Epicurus as "a god."
If we try to analyse the concept of [Greek: theos], thus loosely and
widely used, we find that the prominent idea was that exemption from
the doom of death was the prerogative of a Divine Being (cf. 1 Tim.
vi. 16, "Who _only_ hath immortality"), and that therefore the gift of
immortality is itself a deification. This notion is distinctly adopted
by several Christian writers. Theophilus says (_ad Autol._ ii. 27)
"that man, by keeping the commandments of God, may receive from him
immortality as a reward ([Greek: misthon]), _and become God._" And
Clement (_Strom._ v. 10. 63) says, "To be imperishable ([Greek: to mê
phtheiresthai]) is to share in Divinity." To the same effect
Hippolytus (_Philos._ x. 34) says, "Thy body shall be immortal and
incorruptible as well as thy soul. For _thou hast become God_. All the
things that follow upon the Divine nature God has promised to supply
to thee, for _thou wast deified in being born to immortality_." With
regard to later times, Harnack says that "after Theophilus, Irenæus,
Hippolytus, and Origen, the idea of deification is found in all the
Fathers of the ancient Church, and that in a primary position. We have
it in Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Apollinaris, Ephraem Syrus,
Epiphanius, and others, as also in Cyril, Sophronius, and late Greek
and Russian theologians. In proof of it, Ps. lxxxii. 6 ('I said, Ye
are gods') is very often quoted." He quotes from Athanasius, "He
became man that we might be deified"; and from Pseudo-Hippolytus, "If,
then, man has become immortal, he will be God."

This notion grew within the Church as chiliastic and apocalyptic
Christianity faded away. A favourite phrase was that the Incarnation,
etc., "abolished death," and brought mankind into a state of
"incorruption" ([Greek: aphtharsia]) This transformation of human
nature, which is also spoken of as [Greek: theopoiêsis] is the
highest work of the Logos. Athanasius makes it clear that what he
contemplates is no pantheistic merging of the personality in the
Deity, but rather a renovation after the original type.

But the process of deification may be conceived of in two ways: (a)
as essentialisation, (b) as substitution. The former may perhaps be
called the more philosophical conception, the latter the more
religious. The former lays stress on the high calling of man, and his
potential greatness as the image of God; the latter, on his present
misery and alienation, and his need of redemption. The former was the
teaching of the Neoplatonic philosophy, in which the human mind was
the throne of the Godhead; the latter was the doctrine of the
Mysteries, in which salvation was conceived of realistically as
something imparted or infused.

The notion that salvation or deification consists in realising our
true nature, was supported by the favourite doctrine that like only
can know like. "If the soul were not essentially Godlike ([Greek:
theoeidês]), it could never know God." This doctrine might seem to
lead to the heretical conclusion that man is [Greek: omoousios tô
Patri] in the same sense as Christ. This conclusion, however, was
strongly repudiated both by Clement and Origen. The former (_Strom._
xvi. 74) says that men are _not_ [Greek: meros theou kai tô theô
omoousioi]; and Origen (_in Joh._ xiii. 25) says it is very impious to
assert that we are [Greek: omoousioi] with "the unbegotten nature."
But for those who thought of Christ mainly as the Divine Logos or
universal Reason, the line was not very easy to draw. Methodius says
that every believer must, through participation in Christ, be born as
a Christ, - a view which, if pressed logically (as it ought not to be),
implies either that our nature is at bottom identical with that of
Christ, or that the life of Christ is substituted for our own. The
difficulty as to whether the human soul is, strictly speaking, "divinæ
particula auræ," is met by Proclus in the ingenious and interesting
passage quoted p. 34; "There are," he says, "three sorts of _wholes_,
(1) in which the whole is anterior to the parts, (2) in which the
whole is composed of the parts, (3) which knits into one stuff the
parts and the whole ([Greek: hê tois holois ta merê sunyphainousa])."
This is also the doctrine of Plotinus, and of Augustine. God is not
split up among His creatures, nor are they essential to Him in the
same way as He is to them. Erigena's doctrine of deification is
expressed (not very clearly) in the following sentence (_De Div. Nat._
iii. 9): "Est igitur participatio divinæ essentiæ assumptio.
Assumptio vero eius divinæ sapientiæ fusio quæ est omnium substantia
et essentia, et quæcumque in eis naturaliter intelliguntur."
According to Eckhart, the _Wesen_ of God transforms the soul into
itself by means of the "spark" or "apex of the soul" (equivalent to
Plotinus' [Greek: kentron psychês], _Enn._ vi. 9. 8), which is "so
akin to God that it is one with God, and not merely united to Him."

The history of this doctrine of the spark, and of the closely
connected word _synteresis_, is interesting. The word "spark" occurs
in this connexion as early as Tatian, who says (_Or._ 13): "In the
beginning the spirit was a constant companion of the soul, but forsook
it because the soul would not follow it; yet it retained, as it were,
a spark of its power," etc. See also Tertullian, _De Anima_, 41. The
curious word _synteresis_ (often misspelt _sinderesis_), which plays a
considerable part in mediæval mystical treatises, occurs first in
Jerome (on _Ezech._ i.): "Quartamque ponunt quam Græci vocant [Greek:
syntêrêsin], quæ scintilla conscientiæ in Cain quoque pectore non
exstinguitur, et qua victi voluptatibus vel furore nos peccare
sentimus.... In Scripturis [eam] interdum vocari legimus Spiritum."
Cf. Rom. viii. 26; 2 Cor. ii. 11. Then we find it in Alexander of
Hales, and in Bonaventura, who (_Itinerare_, c. I) defines it as "apex
mentis seu scintilla"; and more precisely (_Breviloquium, Pars_ 2, c.
11): "Benignissimus Deus quadruplex contulit ei adiutorium, scilicet
duplex naturæ et duplex gratiæ. Duplicem enim indidit rectitudinem
ipsi naturæ, videlicet unam ad recte iudicandum, et hæc est rectitudo
conscientiæ, aliam ad recte volendum, et hæc est synteresis, cuius est
remurmurare contra malum et stimulare ad bonum." Hermann of Fritslar
speaks of it as a power or faculty in the soul, wherein God works
immediately, "without means and without intermission." Ruysbroek
defines it as the natural will towards good implanted in us all, but
weakened by sin. Giseler says: "This spark was created with the soul
in all men, and is a clear light in them, and strives in every way
against sin, and impels steadily to virtue, and presses ever back to
the source from which it sprang." It has, says Lasson, a double
meaning in mystical theology, (a) the ground of the soul; (b) the
highest ethical faculty. In Thomas Aquinas it is distinguished from
"intellectus principiorum," the former being the highest activity of
the moral sense, the latter of the intellect. In Gerson, "synteresis"
is the highest of the affective faculties, the organ of which is the
intelligence (an emanation from the highest intelligence, which is God
Himself), and the activity of which is contemplation. Speaking
generally, the earlier scholastic mystics regard it as a remnant of
the sinless state before the fall, while for Eckhart and his school it
is the core of the soul.

There is another expression which must be considered in connexion with
the mediæval doctrine of deification. This is the _intellectus agens_,
or [Greek: nous poiêtikos], which began its long history in
Aristotle (_De Anima_, iii. 5). Aristotle there distinguishes two forms
of Reason, which are related to each other as form and matter. Reason
_becomes_ all things, for the matter of anything is potentially the
whole class to which it belongs; but Reason also _makes_ all things,
that is to say, it communicates to things those categories by which
they become objects of thought. This higher Reason is separate and
impassible ([Greek: chôristos kai amigês kai apathês]); it is
eternal and immortal; while the passive reason perishes with the body.
The creative Reason is immanent both in the human mind and in the
external world; and thus only is it possible for the mind to know
things. Unfortunately, Aristotle says very little more about his
[Greek: nous poiêtikos], and does not explain how the two Reasons
are related to each other, thereby leaving the problem for his
successors to work out. The most fruitful attempt to form a consistent
theory, on an idealistic basis, out of the ambiguous and perhaps
irreconcilable statements in the _De Anima_, was made by Alexander of
Aphrodisias (about 200 A.D.), who taught that the Active Reason "is
not a part or faculty of our soul, but comes to us from without" - it
is, in fact, identified with the Spirit of God working in us. Whether
Aristotle would have accepted this interpretation of his theory may be
doubted; but the commentary of Alexander of Aphrodisias was translated
into Arabic, and this view of the Active Reason became the basis of
the philosophy of Averroes. Averroes teaches that it is possible for
the passive reason to unite itself with the Active Reason, and that
this union may be attained or prepared for by ascetic purification and
study. But he denies that the passive reason is perishable, not
wishing entirely to depersonalise man. Herein he follows, he says,
Themistius, whose views he tries to combine with those of Alexander.
Avicenna introduces a celestial hierarchy, in which the higher
intelligences shed their light upon the lower, till they reach the
Active Reason, which lies nearest to man, "a quo, ut ipse dicit,
effluunt species intelligibiles in animas nostras" (Aquinas). The
doctrine of "monopsychism" was, of course, condemned by the Church.
Aquinas makes both the Active and Passive Reason parts of the human
soul. Eckhart, as I have said in the fourth Lecture, at one period of
his teaching expressly identifies the "intellectus agens" with the
"spark," in reference to which he says that "here God's ground is my
ground, and my ground God's ground." This doctrine of the Divinity of
the ground of the soul is very like the Cabbalistic doctrine of the
Neschamah, and the Neoplatonic doctrine of [Greek: Nous] (cf.
Stöckl, vol. ii. p. 1007). Eckhart was condemned for saying, "aliquid
est in anima quod est increatum et increabile; si tota anima esset
talis, esset increata et increabilis. Hoc est intellectus." Eckhart
certainly says explicitly that "as fire turns all that it touches into
itself, so the birth of the Son of God in the soul turns us into God,
so that God no longer knows anything in us but His Son." Man thus
becomes "filius naturalis Dei," instead of only "filius adoptivus." We
have seen that Eckhart, towards the end of his life, inclined more and
more to separate the spark, the organ of Divine contemplation, from
the reason. This is, of course, an approximation to the _other_ view
of deification - that of substitution or miraculous infusion from
_without_, unless we see in it a tendency to divorce the personality
from the reason. Ruysbroek states his doctrine of the Divine spark
very clearly: "The unity of our spirit in God exists in two ways,
essentially and actively. The essential existence of the soul, _quæ
secundum æternam ideam in Deo nos sumus, itemque quam in nobis
habemus, medii ac discriminis expers est_. Spiritus Deum in nuda
natura essentialiter possidet, et spiritum Deus. Vivit namque in Deo
et Deus in ipso; et _secundum supremam sui partem_ Dei claritatem
suscipere absque medio idoneus est; quin etiam per æterni exemplaris
sui claritudinem _essentialiter ac personaliter in ipso lucentis,
secundum supremam vivacitatis suæ portionem, in divinam sese demittit
ac demergit essentiam_, ibidemque perseveranter secundum ideam manendo
æternam suam possidet beatitudinem; rursusque cum creaturis omnibus
per æternam Verbi generationem inde emanans, in esse suo creato
constituitur." The "natural union," though it is the first cause of
all holiness and blessedness, does not make us holy and blessed, being
common to good and bad alike. "Similitude" to God is the work of
grace, "quæ lux quædam deiformis est." We cannot lose the "unitas,"
but we can lose the "similitudo quæ est gratia." The highest part of
the soul is capable of receiving a perfect and immediate impression of
the Divine essence; by this "apex mentis" we may "sink into the Divine
essence, and by a new (continuous) creation return to our created
being according to the idea of God." The question whether the "ground
of the soul" is created or not is obviously a form of the question
which we are now discussing. Giseler, as I have said, holds that it
was created with the soul. Sterngassen says: "That which God has in
eternity in uncreated wise, that has the soul in time in created
wise." But the author of the _Treatise on Love_, which belongs to this
period, speaks of the spark as "the Active Reason, _which is God_."
And again, "This is the _Uncreated_ in the soul of which Master
Eckhart speaks." Suso seems to imply that he believed the ground of
the soul to be uncreated, an emanation of the Divine nature; and
Tauler uses similar language. Ruysbroek, in the last chapter of the
_Spiritual Nuptials_, says that contemplative men "see that they are
_the same simple ground as to their uncreated nature_, and are one
with the same light by which they see, and which they see." The later
German mystics taught that the Divine essence is the material
substratum of the world, the creative will of God having, so to speak,
_alienated_ for the purpose a portion of His own essence. If, then,
the created form is broken through, God Himself becomes the ground of
the soul. Even Augustine countenances some such notion when he says,
"From a good man, or from a good angel, take away 'man' or 'angel,'
and you find God." But one of the chief differences between the older
and later Mysticism is that the former regarded union with God as
achieved through the faculties of the soul, the latter as inherent in
its essence. The doctrine of _immanence_, more and more emphasised,
tended to encourage the belief that the Divine element in the soul is
not merely something potential, something which the faculties may
acquire, but is immanent and basal. Tauler mentions both views, and
prefers the latter. Some hesitation may be traced in the _Theologia
Germanica_ on this point (p. 109, "Golden Treasury" edition): "The
true light is that eternal Light which is God; _or else_ it is a
created light, but yet Divine, which is called grace." Our Cambridge
Platonists naturally revived this Platonic doctrine of deification,
much to the dissatisfaction of some of their contemporaries. Tuckney
speaks of their teaching as "a kind of moral divinity minted only with
a little tincture of Christ added. Nay, _a Platonic faith unites to
God!_" Notwithstanding such protests, the Platonists persisted that
all true happiness consists in a participation of God; and that "we
cannot enjoy God by any external conjunction with Him."

The question was naturally raised, "If man by putting on Christ's life
can get nothing more than he has already, what good will it do him?"
The answer in the _Theologia Germanica_ is as follows: "This life is
not chosen in order to serve any end, or to get anything by it, but
for love of its nobleness, and because God loveth and esteemeth it so
greatly." It is plain that any view which regards man as essentially
Divine has to face great difficulties when it comes to deal with
theodicy.

The other view of deification, that of a _substitution_ of the Divine
Will, or Life, or Spirit, for the human, cannot in history be sharply
distinguished from the theories which have just been mentioned. But
the idea of substitution is naturally most congenial to those who feel
strongly "the corruption of man's heart," and the need of deliverance,
not only from our ghostly enemies, but from the tyranny of self. Such
men feel that there must be a _real_ change, affecting the very depths
of our personality. Righteousness must be imparted, not merely
imputed. And there is a death to be died as well as a life to be
lived. The old man must die before the new man, which is "not I but
Christ," can be born in us. The "birth of God (or Christ) in the soul"
is a favourite doctrine of the later German mystics. Passages from the
fourteenth century writers have been quoted in my fourth and fifth
Lectures. The following from Giseler may be added: "God will be born,
not in the Reason, not in the Will, but in the most inward part of the
essence, and all the faculties of the soul become aware thereof.
Thereby the soul passes into mere passivity, and lets God work." They
all insist on an immediate, substantial, personal indwelling, which is
beyond what Aquinas and the Schoolmen taught. The Lutheran Church
condemns those who teach that only the gifts of God, and not God
Himself, dwell in the believer; and the English Platonists, as we have
seen, insist that "an infant Christ" is really born in the soul. The
German mystics are equally emphatic about the annihilation of the old
man, which is the condition of this indwelling Divine life. In
quietistic (Nominalist) Mysticism the usual phrase was that the will
(or, better, "self-will") must be utterly destroyed, so that the
Divine Will may take its place. But Crashaw's "leave nothing of myself
in me," represents the aspiration of the later Catholic Mysticism
generally. St. Juan of the Cross says, "The soul must lose entirely
its human knowledge and human feelings, in order to receive Divine
knowledge and Divine feelings"; it will then live "as it were outside
itself," in a state "more proper to the future than to the present
life." It is easy to see how dangerous such teaching may be to weak
heads. A typical example, at a much earlier date, is that of Mechthild
of Hackeborn (about 1240). It was she who said, "My soul swims in the
Godhead like a fish in water!" and who believed that, in answer to her
prayers, God had so united Himself with her that she saw with His
eyes, and heard with His ears, and spoke with His mouth. Many similar
examples might be found among the mediæval mystics.

Between the two ideas of essentialisation and of substitution comes
that of gradual _transformation_, which, again, cannot in history be
separated from the other two. It has the obvious advantage of not
regarding deification as an _opus operatum_, but as a process, as a
hope rather than a fact. A favourite maxim with mystics who thought
thus, was that "love changes the lover into the beloved." Louis of
Granada often recurs to this thought.

The best mystics rightly see in the doctrine of the Divinity of Christ
the best safeguard against the extravagances to which the notion of
deification easily leads. Particularly instructive here are the
warnings which are repeated again and again in the _Theologia
Germanica_. "The false light dreameth itself to be God, and taketh to
itself what belongeth to God as God is in eternity without the
creature. Now, God in eternity is without contradiction, suffering,
and grief, and nothing can hurt or vex Him. But with God when He is
made man it is otherwise." "Therefore the false light thinketh and
declareth itself to be above all works, words, customs, laws, and
order, and above that life which Christ led in the body which He
possessed in His holy human nature. So likewise it professeth to
remain unmoved by any of the creature's works; whether they be good or
evil, against God or not, is all alike to it; and it keepeth itself
apart from all things, like God in eternity; and all that belongeth to
God and to no creature it taketh to itself, and vainly dreameth that
this belongeth to it." "It doth not set up to be Christ, but the
eternal God. And this is because Christ's life is distasteful and
burdensome to nature, therefore it will have nothing to do with it;
but to be God in eternity and not man, or to be Christ as He was after
His resurrection, is all easy and pleasant and comfortable to nature,
and so it holdeth it to be best."

These three views of the manner in which we may hope to become
"partakers of the Divine nature," are all aspects of the truth. If we
believe that we were made in the image of God, then in becoming like
Him we are realising our true idea, and entering upon the heritage
which is ours already by the will of God. On the other hand, if we
believe that we have fallen very far from original righteousness, and
have no power of ourselves to help ourselves, then we must believe in
a deliverance from _outside_, an acquisition of a righteousness not
our own, which is either imparted or imputed to us. And, thirdly, if
we are to hope for a real change in our relations to God, there must
be a real change _in_ our personality, - a progressive transmutation,
which without breach of continuity will bring us to be something
different from what we were. The three views are not mutually
exclusive. As Vatke says, "The influence of Divine grace does not
differ from the immanent development of the deepest Divine germ of
life in man, only that it here stands over-against man regarded as a
finite and separate being - as something external to himself. If the
Divine image is the true nature of man, and if it only possesses
reality in virtue of its identity with its type or with the Logos,
then there can be no true self-determination in man which is not at
the same time a self-determination of the type in its image." We
cannot draw a sharp line between the operations of our own personality
and those of God in us. Personality escapes from all attempts to limit
and define it. It is a concept which stretches into the infinite, and
therefore can only be represented to thought symbolically. The
personality must not be identified with the "spark," the "Active
Reason," or whatever we like to call the highest part of our nature.
Nor must we identify it with the changing _Moi_ (as Fénelon calls it).
The personality, as I have said in Lecture I. (p. 33), is both the
end - the ideal self, and the changing _Moi_, and yet neither. If
either thesis is held divorced from its antithesis, the thought ceases
to be mystical. The two ideals of self-assertion and self-sacrifice
are both true and right, and both, separately, unattainable. They are
opposites which are really necessary to each other. I have quoted from
Vatke's attempt to reconcile grace and free-will: another extract from
a writer of the same school may perhaps be helpful. "In the growth of
our experience," says Green, "an animal organism, which has its
history in time, gradually becomes the vehicle of an eternally
complete consciousness. What we call our mental history is not a
history of this consciousness, which in itself can have no history,
but a history of the process by which the animal organism becomes its
vehicle. 'Our consciousness' may mean either of two things: either a
function of the animal organism, which is being made, gradually and
with interruptions, a vehicle of the eternal consciousness; or that
eternal consciousness itself, as making the animal organism its
vehicle and subject to certain limitations in so doing, but retaining
its essential characteristic as independent of time, as the


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 27

Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngeChristian Mysticism → online text (page 27 of 28)