William Ralph Inge.

Christian Mysticism online

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

determinant of becoming, which has not and does not itself become. The
consciousness which varies from moment to moment ... is consciousness
in the former sense. It consists in what may properly be called
phenomena.... The latter consciousness ... constitutes our knowledge"
(_Prolegomena to Ethics_, pp. 72, 73). Analogous is our _moral_
history. But no Christian can believe that our life, mental or moral,
is or ever can be _necessary_ to God in the same sense in which He is
necessary to our existence. For practical religion, the symbol which
we shall find most helpful is that of a progressive transformation of
our nature after the pattern of God revealed in Christ; a process
which has as its end a real union with God, though this end is, from
the nature of things, unrealisable in time. It is, as I have said in
the body of the Lectures, a _progessus ad infinitum_, the consummation
of which we are nevertheless entitled to claim as already ours in a
transcendental sense, in virtue of the eternal purpose of God made
known to us in Christ.


The Mystical Interpretation Of The Song Of Solomon

The headings to the chapters in the Authorised Version give a sort of
authority to the "mystical" interpretation of Solomon's Song, a poem
which was no doubt intended by its author to be simply a romance of
true love. According to our translators, the Lover of the story is
meant for Christ, and the Maiden for the Church. But the tendency of
Catholic Mysticism has been to make the individual soul the bride of
Christ, and to treat the Song of Solomon as symbolic of "spiritual
nuptials" between Him and the individual "contemplative." It is this
latter notion, the growth of which I wish to trace.

Erotic Mysticism is no part of Platonism. That "sensuous love of the
unseen" (as Pater calls it), which the Platonist often seems to aim
at, has more of admiration and less of tenderness than the emotion
which we have now to consider. The notion of a spiritual marriage
between God and the soul seems to have come from the Greek Mysteries,
through the Alexandrian Jews and Gnostics. Representations of
"marriages of gods" were common at the Mysteries, especially at those
of the least reputable kind (cf. Lucian, _Alexander_, 38). In other
instances the ceremony of initiation was made to resemble a marriage,
and the [Greek: mystês] was greeted with the words [Greek: chaire,
nymphie]. And among the Jews of the first century there existed a
system of Mysteries, probably copied from Eleusis. They had their
greater and their lesser Mysteries, and we hear that among their
secret doctrines was "marriage with God." In Philo we find strange and
fantastic speculations on this subject. For instance, he argues that
as the Bible does not mention Abraham, Jacob, and Moses as [Greek:
gnôrizontas tas gynaikas], we are meant to believe that their children
were not born naturally. But he allegorises the women of the
Pentateuch in such a way ([Greek: logô men eisi gynaikes, ergô de
aretai]) that it is difficult to say what he wishes us to believe in a
literal sense. The Valentinian Gnostics seem to have talked much of
"spiritual marriage," and it was from them that Origen got the idea of
elaborating the conception. But, curiously enough, it is Tertullian
who first argues that the body as well as the soul is the bride of
Christ. "If the soul is the bride," he says, "the flesh is the dowry"
(_de Resurr._ 63). Origen, however, really began the mischief in his
homilies and commentary on the Song of Solomon. The prologue of the
commentary in Rufinus commences as follows: "Epithalamium libellus
hic, id est nuptiale carmen, dramatis in modum mihi videtur a Salomone
conscriptus, quem cecinit instar nubentis sponsæ, et erga sponsum suum
qui est sermo Dei cælesti amore flagrantis. Adamavit enim eum _sive
anima_, quæ ad imaginem eius facta est, sive ecclesia." Harnack says
that Gregory of Nyssa exhibits the conception in its purest and most
attractive form in the East, and adds, "We can point to very few Greek
Fathers in whom the figure does not occur." (There is a learned note
on the subject by Louis de Leon, which corroborates this statement of
Harnack. He refers to Chrysostom, Theodoret, Irenæus, Hilary, Cyprian,
Augustine, Tertullian, Ignatius, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril, Leo,
Photius, and Theophylact as calling Christ the bridegroom of souls.)
In the West, we find it in Ambrose, less prominently in Augustine and
Jerome. Dionysius seizes on the phrase of Ignatius, "My love has been
crucified," to justify erotic imagery in devotional writing.

Bernard's homilies on the Song of Solomon gave a great impetus to this
mode of symbolism; but even he says that the Church and not the
individual is the bride of Christ. There is no doubt that the enforced
celibacy and virginity of the monks and nuns led them, consciously or
unconsciously, to transfer to the human person of Christ (and to a
much slighter extent, to the Virgin Mary) a measure of those feelings
which could find no vent in their external lives. We can trace this,
in a wholesome and innocuous form, in the visions of Juliana of
Norwich. Quotations from Ruysbroek's _Spiritual Nuptials_, and from
Suso, bearing on the same point, are given in the body of the
Lectures. Good specimens of devotional poetry of this type might be
selected from Crashaw and Quarles. (A few specimens are included in
Palgrave's _Golden Treasury of Sacred Song_.) Fénelon's language on
the subject is not quite so pleasing; it breathes more of
sentimentality than of reverence. The contemplative, he says, desires
"une simple présence de Dieu purement amoureuse," and speaks to Christ
always "comme l'épouse à l'époux."

The Sufis or Mohammedan mystics use erotic language very freely, and
appear, like true Asiatics, to have attempted to give a sacramental or
symbolic character to the indulgence of their passions. From this
degradation the mystics of the cloister were happily free; but a
morbid element is painfully prominent in the records of many mediæval
saints, whose experiences are classified by Ribet. He enumerates - (1)
"Divine touches," which Scaramelli defines as "real but purely
spiritual sensations, by which the soul feels the intimate presence of
God, and tastes Him with great delight"; (2) "The wound of love," of
which one of his authorities says, "hæc poena tam suavis est quod
nulla sit in hac vita delectatio quæ magis satisfaciat." It is to this
experience that Cant. ii. 5 refers: "Fulcite me floribus, stipate me
malis, quia amore langueo." Sometimes the wound is not purely
spiritual: St. Teresa, as was shown by a post-mortem examination, had
undergone a miraculous "transverberation of the heart": "et pourtant
elle survécut près de vingt ans à cette blessure mortelle"! (3)
Catherine of Siena was betrothed to Christ with a ring, which remained
always on her fingers, though visible to herself alone. Lastly, in the
revelations of St. Gertrude we read: "Feria tertia Paschæ dum
communicatura desideraret a Domino ut per idem sacramentum vivificum
renovare dignaretur in anima eius matrimonium spirituale quod ipsi in
spiritu erat desponsata per fidem et religionem, necnon per virginalis
pudicitiæ integritatem, Dominus blanda serenitate respondit: hoc,
inquiens, indubitanter faciam. Sic inclinatus ad eam blandissimo
affectu eam ad se stringens osculum prædulce animæ eius infixit," etc.

The employment of erotic imagery to express the individual relation
between Christ and the soul is always dangerous; but this objection
does not apply to the statement that "the Church is the bride of
Christ." Even in the Old Testament we find the chosen people so spoken
of (cf. Isa. liv. 5; Jer. iii. 14). Professor Cheyne thinks that the
Canticles were interpreted in this sense, and that this is why the
book gained admission into the Canon. In the New Testament, St. Paul
uses the symbol of marriage in Rom. vii. 1-4; 1 Cor. xi. 3; Eph. v.
23-33. On the last passage Canon Gore says: "The love of Christ - the
removal of obstacles to His love by atoning sacrifice - the act of
spiritual purification - the gradual sanctification - the consummated
union in glory; these are the moments of the Divine process of
redemption, viewed from the side of Christ, which St. Paul specifies."
This use of the "sacrament" of marriage (as a symbol of the mystical
union between Christ and the Church), which alone has the sanction of
the New Testament, is one which, we hope, the Church will always
treasure. The more personal relation also exists, and the fervent
devotion which it elicits must not be condemned; though we are forced
to remember that in our mysteriously constituted minds the highest and
lowest emotions lie very near together, and that those who have chosen
a life of detachment from earthly ties must be especially on their
guard against the "occasional revenges" which the lower nature, when
thwarted, is always plotting against the higher.


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 26 28

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