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Mysticism falls asunder into two classes.

The question which divides them is this - In the higher stages of the
spiritual life, shall we learn most of the nature of God by close,
sympathetic, reverent observation of the world around us, including
our fellow-men, or by sinking into the depths of our inner
consciousness, and aspiring after direct and constant communion with
God? Each method may claim the support of weighty names. The former,
which will form the subject of my seventh and eighth Lectures, is very
happily described by Charles Kingsley in an early letter.[43] "The
great Mysticism," he says, "is the belief which is becoming every day
stronger with me, that all symmetrical natural objects ... are types
of some spiritual truth or existence.... Everything seems to be full
of God's reflex if we could but see it.... Oh, to see, if but for a
moment, the whole harmony of the great system! to hear once the music
which the whole universe makes as it performs His bidding! When I feel
that sense of the mystery that is around me, I feel a gush of
enthusiasm towards God, which seems its inseparable effect."

On the other side stand the majority of the earlier mystics. Believing
that God is "closer to us than breathing, and nearer than hands and
feet," they are impatient of any intermediaries. "We need not search
for His footprints in Nature, when we can behold His face in
ourselves,[44]" is their answer to St. Augustine's fine expression
that all things bright and beautiful in the world are "footprints of
the uncreated Wisdom.[45]" Coleridge has expressed their feeling in
his "Ode to Dejection" -

"It were a vain endeavour,
Though I should gaze for ever
On that green light that lingers in the West;
I may not hope from outward forms to win
The passion and the life whose fountains are within."

"Grace works from within outwards," says Ruysbroek, "for God is nearer
to us than our own faculties. Hence it cannot come from images and
sensible forms." "If thou wishest to search out the deep things of
God," says Richard of St. Victor, "search out the depths of thine own

The truth is that there are two movements, - a _systole_ and _diastole_
of the spiritual life, - an expansion and a concentration. The tendency
has generally been to emphasise one at the expense of the other; but
they must work together, for each is helpless without the other. As
Shakespeare says[46] -

"Nor doth the eye itself,
That most pure spirit of sense, behold itself,
Not going from itself, but eye to eye opposed,
Salutes each other with each other's form:
For speculation turns not to itself
Till it hath travelled, and is mirrored there,
Where it may see itself."

Nature is dumb, and our own hearts are dumb, until they are allowed to
speak to each other. Then both will speak to us of God.

Speculative Mysticism has occupied itself largely with these two great
subjects - the immanence of God in nature, and the relation of human
personality to Divine. A few words must be said, before I conclude, on
both these matters.

The Unity of all existence is a fundamental doctrine of Mysticism. God
is in all, and all is in God. "His centre is everywhere, and His
circumference nowhere," as St. Bonaventura puts it. It is often argued
that this doctrine leads direct to Pantheism, and that speculative
Mysticism is always and necessarily pantheistic. This is, of course,
a question of primary importance. It is in the hope of dealing with it
adequately that I have selected three writers who have been frequently
called pantheists, for discussion in these Lectures. I mean Dionysius
the Areopagite, Scotus Erigena, and Eckhart. But it would be
impossible even to indicate my line of argument in the few minutes
left me this morning.

The mystics are much inclined to adopt, in a modified form, the old
notion of an _anima mundi_. When Erigena says, "Be well assured that
the Word - the second Person of the Trinity - is the Nature of all
things," he means that the Logos is a cosmic principle, the
Personality of which the universe is the external expression or

We are not now concerned with cosmological speculations, but the
bearing of this theory on human personality is obvious. If the Son of
God is regarded as an all-embracing and all-pervading cosmic
principle, the "mystic union" of the believer with Christ becomes
something much closer than an ethical harmony of two mutually
exclusive wills. The question which exercises the mystics is not
whether such a thing as fusion of personalities is possible, but
whether, when the soul has attained union with its Lord, it is any
longer conscious of a life distinct from that of the Word. We shall
find that some of the best mystics went astray on this point. They
teach a real _substitution_ of the Divine for human nature, thus
depersonalising man, and running into great danger of a perilous
arrogance. The mistake is a fatal one even from the speculative side,
for it is only on the analogy of human personality that we can
conceive of the perfect personality of God; and without personality
the universe falls to pieces. Personality is not only the strictest
unity of which we have any experience; it is the fact which creates
the postulate of unity on which all philosophy is based.

But it is possible to save personality without regarding the human
spirit as a monad, independent and sharply separated from other
spirits. Distinction, not separation, is the mark of personality; but
it is separation, not distinction, that forbids union. The error,
according to the mystic's psychology, is in regarding consciousness of
self as the measure of personality. The depths of personality are
unfathomable, as Heraclitus already knew;[48] the light of
consciousness only plays on the surface of the waters. Jean Paul
Richter is a true exponent of this characteristic doctrine when he
says, "We attribute far too small dimensions to the rich empire of
ourself, if we omit from it the unconscious region which resembles a
great dark continent. The world which our memory peoples only
reveals, in its revolution, a few luminous points at a time, while its
immense and teeming mass remains in shade.... We daily see the
conscious passing into unconsciousness; and take no notice of the bass
accompaniment which our fingers continue to play, while our attention
is directed to fresh musical effects.[49]" So far is it from being
true that the self of our immediate consciousness is our true
personality, that we can only attain personality, as spiritual and
rational beings, by passing beyond the limits which mark us off as
separate individuals. Separate individuality, we may say, is the bar
which prevents us from realising our true privileges as persons.[50]
And so the mystic interprets very literally that maxim of our Lord, in
which many have found the fundamental secret of Christianity: "He that
will save his life - his soul, his personality - shall lose it; and he
that will lose his life for My sake shall find it." The false self
must die - nay, must "die daily," for the process is gradual, and there
is no limit to it. It is a process of infinite _expansion_ - of
realising new correspondences, new sympathies and affinities with the
not-ourselves, which affinities condition, and in conditioning
constitute, our true life as persons. The paradox is offensive only
to formal logic. As a matter of experience, no one, I imagine, would
maintain that the man who has practically realised, to the fullest
possible extent, the common life which he draws from his Creator, and
shares with all other created beings, - so realised it, I mean, as to
draw from that consciousness all the influences which can play upon
him from outside, - has thereby dissipated and lost his personality,
and become less of a person than another who has built a wall round
his individuality, and lived, as Plato says, the life of a

We may arrive at the same conclusion by analysing that unconditioned
sense of duty which we call _conscience_. This moral sense cannot be a
fixed code implanted in our consciousness, for then we could not
explain either the variations of moral opinion, or the feeling of
_obligation_ (as distinguished from necessity) which impels us to obey
it. It cannot be the product of the existing moral code of society,
for then we could not explain either the genesis of that public
opinion or the persistent revolt against its limitations which we
find in the greatest minds. The only hypothesis which explains the
facts is that in conscience we feel the motions of the universal
Reason which strives to convert the human organism into an organ of
itself, a belief which is expressed in religious language by saying
that it is God who worketh in us both to will and to do of His good

If it be further asked, Which is our personality, the shifting _moi_
(as Fénelon calls it), or the ideal self, the end or the developing
states? we must answer that it is both and neither, and that the root
of mystical religion is in the conviction that it is at once both and
neither.[52] The _moi_ strives to realise its end, but the end being
an infinite one, no process can reach it. Those who have "counted
themselves to have apprehended" have thereby left the mystical faith;
and those who from the notion of a _progressus ad infinitum_ come to
the pessimistic conclusion, are equally false to the mystical creed,
which teaches us that we are already potentially what God intends us
to become. The command, "Be ye perfect," is, like all Divine commands,
at the same time a promise.

It is stating the same paradox in another form to say that we can only
achieve inner _unity_ by transcending mere individuality. The
independent, impervious self shows its unreality by being inwardly
discordant. It is of no use to enlarge the circumference of our life,
if the fixed centre is always the _ego_. There are, if I may press the
metaphor, other circles with other centres, in which we are vitally
involved. And thus sympathy, or love, which is sympathy in its
highest power, is the great _atoner_, within as well as without. The
old Pythagorean maxim, that "a man must be _one_,[53]" is echoed by
all the mystics. He must be one as God is one, and the world is one;
for man is a microcosm, a living mirror of the universe. Here, once
more, we have a characteristic mystical doctrine, which is perhaps
worked out most fully in the "_Fons Vitæ_" of Avicebron (Ibn Gebirol),
a work which had great influence in the Middle Ages. The doctrine
justifies the use of _analogy_ in matters of religion, and is of great
importance. One might almost dare to say that all conclusions about
the world above us which are _not_ based on the analogy of our own
mental experiences, are either false or meaningless.

The idea of man as a microcosm was developed in two ways. Plotinus
said that "every man is double," meaning that one side of his soul is
in contact with the intelligible, the other with the sensible world.
He is careful to explain that the doctrine of Divine Immanence does
not mean that God _divides_ Himself among the many individuals, but
that they partake of Him according to their degrees of receptivity, so
that each one is potentially in possession of all the fulness of God.
Proclus tries to explain how this can be. "There are three sorts of
_Wholes_ - the first, anterior to the parts; the second, composed of
the parts; the third, knitting into one stuff the parts and the
whole.[54]" In this third sense the whole resides in the parts, as
well as the parts in the whole. St. Augustine states the same doctrine
in clearer language.[55] It will be seen at once how this doctrine
encourages that class of Mysticism which bids us "sink into the depths
of our own souls" in order to find God.

The other development of the theory that man is a microcosm is not
less important and interesting. It is a favourite doctrine of the
mystics that man, in his individual life, recapitulates the spiritual
history of the race, in much the same way in which embryologists tell
us that the unborn infant recapitulates the whole process of physical
evolution. It follows that the Incarnation, the central fact of human
history, must have its analogue in the experience of the individual.
We shall find that this doctrine of the birth of an infant Christ in
the soul is one of immense importance in the systems of Eckhart,
Tauler, and our Cambridge Platonists. It is a somewhat perilous
doctrine, as we shall see; but it is one which, I venture to think,
has a future as well as a past, for the progress of modern science has
greatly strengthened the analogies on which it rests. I shall show in
my next Lecture how strongly St. Paul felt its value.

This brief introduction will, I hope, have indicated the main
characteristics of mystical theology and religion. It is a type which
is as repulsive to some minds as it is attractive to others.
Coleridge has said that everyone is born a Platonist or an
Aristotelian, and one might perhaps adapt the epigram by saying that
everyone is naturally either a mystic or a legalist. The
classification does, indeed, seem to correspond to a deep difference
in human characters; it is doubtful whether a man could be found
anywhere whom one could trust to hold the scales evenly between - let
us say - Fénelon and Bossuet. The cleavage is much the same as that
which causes the eternal strife between tradition and illumination,
between priest and prophet, which has produced the deepest tragedies
in human history, and will probably continue to do so while the world
lasts. The legalist - with his conception of God as the righteous Judge
dispensing rewards and punishments, the "Great Taskmaster" in whose
vineyard we are ordered to labour; of the Gospel as "the new law," and
of the sanction of duty as a "categorical imperative" - will never find
it easy to sympathise with those whose favourite words are St. John's
triad - light, life, and love, and who find these the most suitable
names to express what they know of the nature of God. But those to
whom the Fourth Gospel is the brightest jewel in the Bible, and who
can enter into the real spirit of St. Paul's teaching, will, I hope,
be able to take some interest in the historical development of ideas
which in their Christian form are certainly built upon those parts of
the New Testament.


[Footnote 2: See Appendix A for definitions of Mysticism and Mystical

[Footnote 3: See Appendix B for a discussion of the influence of the
Greek mysteries upon Christian Mysticism.]

[Footnote 4: Tholuck accepts the former derivation (cf. Suidas,
[Greek: mystêria eklêthêsan para to tous akouontas myein to stoma
kai mêdeni tauta exêgeisthai]); Petersen, the latter. There is no
doubt that [Greek: myêsis] was opposed to [Greek: epopteia], and in
this sense denoted _incomplete_ initiation; but it was also made to
include the whole process. The prevailing use of the adjective [Greek:
mystikos] is of something seen "through a glass darkly," some
knowledge purposely wrapped up in symbols.]

[Footnote 5: So Hesychius says, [Greek: Mystai, apo myô, myontes gar
tas aisthêseis kai exô tôn sarkikôn phrontidôn genomenoi, outô tas
theias analampseis edechonto.] Plotinus and Proclus both use [Greek:
myô] of the "closed eye" of rapt contemplation.]

[Footnote 6: I cannot agree with Lasson (in his book on Meister
Eckhart) that "the connexion with the Greek mysteries throws no light
on the subject." No writer had more influence upon the growth of
Mysticism in the Church than Dionysius the Areopagite, whose main
object is to present Christianity in the light of a Platonic
mysteriosophy. The same purpose is evident in Clement, and in other
Christian Platonists between Clement and Dionysius. See Appendix B.]

[Footnote 7: It should also be borne in mind that every historical
example of a mystical movement may be expected to exhibit
characteristics which are determined by the particular forms of
religious deadness in opposition to which it arises. I think that it
is generally easy to separate these secondary, accidental
characteristics from those which are primary and integral, and that we
shall then find that the underlying substance, which may be regarded
as the essence of Mysticism as a type of religion, is strikingly

[Footnote 8: The analogy used by Plotinus (_Ennead_ i. 6. 9) was often
quoted and imitated: "Even as the eye could not behold the sun unless
it were itself sunlike, so neither could the soul behold God if it
were not Godlike." Lotze (_Microcosmus_, and cf. _Metaphysics_, 1st
ed., p. 109) falls foul of Plotinus for this argument. "The reality of
the external world is utterly severed from our senses. It is vain to
call the eye sunlike, as if it needed a special occult power to copy
what it has itself produced: fruitless are all mystic efforts to
restore to the intuitions of sense, by means of a secret identity of
mind with things, a reality outside ourselves." Whether the subjective
idealism of this sentence is consistent with the subsequent dogmatic
assertion that "nature is animated throughout," it is not my province
to determine. The latter doctrine is held by a large school of
mystics: the acosmistic tendency of the former has had only too much
attraction for mystics of another school.]

[Footnote 9: This distinction is drawn by Origen, and accepted by all
the mystical writers.]

[Footnote 10: Faith goes so closely hand in hand with love that the
mystics seldom try to separate them, and indeed they need not be
separated. William Law's account of their operation is characteristic.
"When the seed of the new birth, called the inward man, has faith
awakened in it, its faith is not a notion, but a real strong essential
hunger, an attracting or magnetic desire of Christ, which as it
proceeds from a seed of the Divine nature in us, so it attracts and
unites with its like: it lays hold on Christ, puts on the Divine
nature, and in a living and real manner grows powerful over all our
sins, and effectually works out our salvation" (_Grounds and Reasons
of Christian Regeneration_).]

[Footnote 11: R.L. Nettleship, _Remains_.]

[Footnote 12: "Nescio si a quoquam homine quartus (gradus) in hac vita
perfecte apprehenditur, ut se scilicet diligat homo tantum propter
Deum. Asserant hoc si qui experti sunt: mihi (fateor) impossibile
videtur" (_De diligendo Deo_, xv.; _Epist_. xi. 8).]

[Footnote 13: From a sermon by Smith, the Cambridge Platonist.
Plotinus, too, says well, [Greek: ei tis allo eidos êdonês peri ton
spoudaion bion zêtei, ou ton spoudaion bion zêtei] (_Ennead_ i. 4.

[Footnote 14: From Smith's sermons.]

[Footnote 15: Pindar's [Greek: genoio oios essi mathôn] is a fine
mystical maxim. (_Pyth._ 2. 131.)]

[Footnote 16: Strictly, the unitive road (_via_) leads to the
contemplative life (_vita_). Cf. Benedict, xiv., _De Servorum Dei
beatific_., iii. 26, "Perfecta hæc mystica unio reperitur regulariter
in perfecto contemplativo qui in vita purgativa et illuminativa, id
est meditativa, et contemplativa diu versatus, ex speciali Dei favore
ad infusam contemplativam evectus est." On the three ways, Suarez
says, "Distinguere solent mystici tres vias, purgativam,
illuminativam, et unitivam." Molinos was quite a heterodox mystic in
teaching that there is but a "unica via, scilicet interna," and this
proposition was condemned by a Bull of Innocent XI.]

[Footnote 17: In Plotinus the civic virtues _precede_ the cathartic;
but they are not, as with some perverse mystics, considered to lie
_outside_ the path of ascent.]

[Footnote 18: Tauler is careful to put social service on its true
basis. "One can spin," he says, "another can make shoes; and all these
are gifts of the Holy Ghost. I tell you, if I were not a priest, I
should esteem it a great gift that I was able to make shoes, and would
try to make them so well as to be a pattern to all." In a later
Lecture I shall revert to the charge of indolent neglect of duties, so
often preferred against the mystics.]

[Footnote 19: R.L. Nettleship, _Remains_.]

[Footnote 20: In a Roman Catholic manual I find: "Non raro sub nomine
theologiæ mysticæ intelligitur etiam ascesis, sed immerito. Nam
ascesis consuetas tantum et tritas perfectionis semitas ostendit,
mystica autem adhuc excellentiorem viam demonstrat." This is to
identify "mystical theology" with the higher rungs of the ladder. It
has been used in this curious manner from the Middle Ages. Ribet says,
"La mystique, comme science spéciale, fait partie de la théologie
ascétique"; that part, namely, "dans lequel l'homme est réduit à la
passivité par l'action souveraine de Dieu." "L'ascèse" is defined as
"l'ascension de l'âme vers Dieu."]

[Footnote 21: Cf. Professor W. Wallace's collected _Lectures and
Essays_, p. 276.]

[Footnote 22: See Appendix C on the Doctrine of Deification.]

[Footnote 23: So Fénelon, after asserting the truth of mystical
"transformation," adds: "It is false to say that transformation is a
deification of the real and natural soul, or a hypostatic union, or an
unalterable conformity with God."]

[Footnote 24: _Life of Tennyson_, vol. i. p. 320. The curious
experience, that the repetition of his own name induced a kind of
trance, is used by the poet in his beautiful mystical poem, "The
Ancient Sage." It would, indeed, have been equally easy to illustrate
this topic from Wordsworth's prose and Tennyson's poetry.]

[Footnote 25: See the very interesting note in Harnack, _History of
Dogma_, vol. i. p. 53.]

[Footnote 26: The Abbé Migne says truly, "Ceux qui traitent les
mystiques de visionnaires seraient fort étonnés de voir quel peu de
cas ils font des visions en elles-mémes." And St. Bonaventura says of
visions, "Nec faciunt sanctum nec ostendunt: alioquin Balaam sanctus
esset, _et asina_, quæ vidit Angelum."]

[Footnote 27: The following passage from St. Francis de Sales is much
to the same effect as those referred to in the text: "Les philosophes
mesmes ont recogneu certaines espèces d'extases naturelles faictes par
la véhémente application de l'esprit à la considération des choses
relevées. Une marque de la bonne et sainete extase est qu'elle ne se
prend ny attache jamais tant à l'entendement qu'à la volonté, laquelle
elle esmeut, eschauffe, et remplit d'une puissante affection envers
Dieu; de manière que si l'extase est plus belle que bonne, plus
lumineuse qu'affective, elle est grandement douteuse et digne de

[Footnote 28: Some of my readers may find satisfaction in the
following passage of Jeremy Taylor: "Indeed, when persons have long
been softened with the continual droppings of religion, and their
spirits made timorous and apt for impression by the assiduity of
prayer, and the continual dyings of mortification - the fancy, which is
a very great instrument of devotion, is kept continually warm, and in
a disposition and aptitude to take fire, and to flame out in great
ascents; and when they suffer transportations beyond the burdens and
support of reason, they suffer they know not what, and call it what
they please." Henry More, too, says that those who would "make their
whole nature desolate of all animal figurations whatever," find only
"a waste, silent solitude, and one uniform parchedness and vacuity.
And yet, while a man fancies himself thus wholly Divine, he is not
aware how he is even then held down by his animal nature; and that it
is nothing but the stillness and fixedness of melancholy that thus
abuses him, instead of the true Divine principle."]

[Footnote 29: Plato, _Phædrus_, 244, 245; Ion, 534.]

[Footnote 30: Lacordaire, _Conférences_, xxxvii.]

[Footnote 31: Compare, too, the vigorous words of Henry More, the most
mystical of the group: "He that misbelieves and lays aside clear and
cautious reason in things that fall under the discussion of reason,
upon the pretence of hankering after some higher principle (which, a
thousand to one, proves but the infatuation of melancholy, and a
superstitious hallucination), is as ridiculous as if he would not use
his natural eyes about their proper object till the presence of some
supernatural light, or till he had got a pair of spectacles made of
the crystalline heaven, or of the _cælum empyreum_, to hang upon his
nose for him to look through."]

[Footnote 32: There is, of course, a sense in which any strong feeling
lifts us "above reason." But this is using "reason" in a loose

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