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company. The "marching orders" of the true mystic are those given by
God to Moses on Sinai, "See that thou make all things according to the
pattern showed thee in the mount.[143]" But Plotinus teaches that, as
the sensible world is a shadow of the intelligible, so is action a
shadow of contemplation, suited to weak-minded persons.[144] This is
turning the tables on the "man of action" in good earnest; but it is
false Platonism and false Mysticism. It leads to the heartless
doctrine, quite unworthy of the man, that public calamities are to the
wise man only stage tragedies - or even stage comedies.[145] The moral
results of this self-centred individualism are exemplified by the
mediæval saint and visionary, Angela of Foligno, who congratulates
herself on the deaths of her mother, husband, and children, "who were
great obstacles in the way of God."

A few words must be said about the doctrine of ecstasy in Plotinus. He
describes the conditions under which the vision is granted in exactly
the same manner as some of the Christian mystics, e.g. St. Juan of the
Cross. "The soul when possessed by intense love of Him divests herself
of all form which she has, even of that which is derived from
Intelligence; for it is impossible, when in conscious possession of
any other attribute, either to behold or to be harmonised with Him.
Thus the soul must be neither good nor bad nor aught else, that she
may receive Him only, Him alone, she alone.[146]" While she is in this
state, the One suddenly appears, "with nothing between," "and they are
no more two but one; and the soul is no more conscious of the body or
of the mind, but knows that she has what she desired, that she is
where no deception can come, and that she would not exchange her bliss
for all the heaven of heavens."

What is the source of this strange aspiration to rise above Reason and
Intelligence, which is for Plotinus the highest category of Being, and
to come out "on the other side of Being" [Greek: epekeina tês
ousias]? Plotinus says himself elsewhere that "he who would rise above
Reason, falls outside it"; and yet he regards it as the highest
reward of the philosopher-saint to converse with the hypostatised
Abstraction who transcends all distinctions. The vision of the One is
no part of his philosophy, but is a mischievous accretion. For though
the "superessential Absolute" may be a logical necessity, we cannot
make it, even in the most transcendental manner, an object of sense,
without depriving it of its Absoluteness. What is really apprehended
is not the Absolute, but a kind of "form of formlessness," an idea not
of the Infinite, but of the Indefinite.[147] It is then impossible to
distinguish "the One," who is said to be above all distinctions, from
undifferentiated matter, the formless No-thing, which Plotinus puts at
the lowest end of the scale.

I believe that the Neoplatonic "vision" owes its place in the system
to two very different causes. First, there was the direct influence of
Oriental philosophy of the Indian type, which tries to reach the
universal by wiping out all the boundary-lines of the particular, and
to gain infinity by reducing self and the world to zero. Of this we
shall say more when we come to Dionysius. And, secondly, the blank
trance was a real psychical experience, quite different from the
"visions" which we have already mentioned. Evidence is abundant; but I
will content myself with one quotation.[148] In Amiel's _Journal_[149]
we have the following record of such a trance: "Like a dream which
trembles and dies at the first glimmer of dawn, all my past, all my
present, dissolve in me, and fall away from my consciousness at the
moment when it returns upon myself. I feel myself then stripped and
empty, like a convalescent who remembers nothing. My travels, my
reading, my studies, my projects, my hopes, have faded from my mind.
All my faculties drop away from me like a cloak that one takes off,
like the chrysalis case of a larva. I feel myself returning into a
more elementary form." But Amiel, instead of expecting the advent of
"the One" while in this state, feels that "the pleasure of it is
deadly, inferior in all respects to the joys of action, to the
sweetness of love, to the beauty of enthusiasm, or to the sacred
savour of accomplished duty.[149]"

We may now return to the Christian Platonists. We find in Methodius
the interesting doctrine that the indwelling Christ constantly repeats
His passion in remembrance, "for not otherwise could the Church
continually conceive believers, and bear them anew through the bath of
regeneration, unless Christ were repeatedly to die, emptying Himself
for the sake of each individual." "Christ must be born mentally
([Greek: moêtôs]) in every individual," and each individual saint,
by participating in Christ, "is born as a Christ." This is exactly the
language of Eckhart and Tauler, and it is first clearly heard in the
mouth of Methodius.[150] The new features are the great prominence
given to _immanence_ - the mystical union as an _opus operatum_, and
the individualistic conception of the relation of Christ to the soul.

Of the Greek Fathers who followed Athanasius, I have only room to
mention Gregory of Nyssa, who defends the historical incarnation in
true mystical fashion by an appeal to spiritual experience. "We all
believe that the Divine is in everything, pervading and embracing it,
and dwelling in it. Why then do men take offence at the dispensation
of the mystery taught by the Incarnation of God, who is not, even now,
outside of mankind?... If the _form_ of the Divine presence is not now
the same, we are as much agreed that God is among us to-day, as that
He was in the world then." He argues in another place that all other
species of spiritual beings must have had their Incarnations of
Christ; a doctrine which was afterwards condemned, but which seems to
follow necessarily from the Logos doctrine. These arguments show very
clearly that for the Greek theologians Christ is a cosmic principle,
immanent in the world, though not confined by it; and that the scheme
of salvation is regarded as part of the constitution of the universe,
which is animated and sustained by the same Power who was fully
manifested in the Incarnation.

The question has been much debated, whether the influence of Persian
and Indian thought can be traced in Neoplatonism, or whether that
system was purely Greek.[151] It is a quite hopeless task to try to
disentangle the various strands of thought which make up the web of
Alexandrianism. But there is no doubt that the philosophers of Asia
were held in reverence at this period. Origen, in justifying an
esoteric mystery-religion for the educated, and a mythical religion
for the vulgar, appeals to the example of the "Persians and Indians."
And Philostratus, in his life of Apollonius of Tyana, says, or makes
his hero say, that while all wish to live in the presence of God, "the
Indians alone succeed in doing so." And certainly there are parts of
Plotinus, and still more of his successors, which strongly suggest
Asiatic influences.[152] When we turn from Alexandria to Syria, we
find Orientalism more rampant. Speculation among the Syrian monks of
the third, fourth, and fifth centuries was perhaps more unfettered
and more audacious than in any other branch of Christendom at any
period. Our knowledge of their theories is very limited, but one
strange specimen has survived in the book of Hierotheus,[153] which
the canonised Dionysius praises in glowing terms as an inspired
oracle - indeed, he professes that his own object in writing was merely
to popularise the teaching of his master. The book purports to be the
work of Hierotheus, a holy man converted by St. Paul, and an
instructor of the real Dionysius the Areopagite. A strong case has
been made out for believing the real author to be a Syrian mystic,
named Stephen bar Sudaili, who lived late in the fifth century. If
this theory is correct, the date of Dionysius will have to be moved
somewhat later than it has been the custom to fix it. The book of the
holy Hierotheus on "the hidden mysteries of the Divinity" has been but
recently discovered, and only a summary of it has as yet been made
public. But it is of great interest and importance for our subject,
because the author has no fear of being accused of Pantheism or any
other heresy, but develops his particular form of Mysticism to its
logical conclusions with unexampled boldness. He will show us better
even than his pupil Dionysius whither the method of "analysis" really
leads us.

The system of Hierotheus is not exactly Pantheism, but Pan-Nihilism.
Everything is an emanation from the Chaos of bare indetermination
which he calls God, and everything will return thither. There are
three periods of existence - (1) the present world, which is evil, and
is characterised by motion; (2) the progressive union with Christ, who
is all and in all - this is the period of rest; (3) the period of
fusion of all things in the Absolute. The three Persons of the
Trinity, he dares to say, will then be swallowed up, and even the
devils are thrown into the same melting-pot. Consistently with
mystical principles, these three world-periods are also phases in the
development of individual souls. In the first stage the mind aspires
towards its first principles; in the second it becomes Christ, the
universal Mind; in the third its personality is wholly merged. The
greater part of the book is taken up with the adventures of the Mind
in climbing the ladder of perfection; it is a kind of theosophical
romance, much more elaborate and fantastic than the "revelations" of
mediæval mystics. The author professes to have himself enjoyed the
ecstatic union more than once, and his method of preparing for it is
that of the Quietists: "To me it seems right to speak without words,
and understand without knowledge, that which is above words and
knowledge; this I apprehend to be nothing but the mysterious silence
and mystical quiet which destroys consciousness and dissolves forms.
Seek, therefore, silently and mystically, that perfect and primitive
union with the Arch-Good."

We cannot follow the "ascent of the Mind" through its various
transmutations. At one stage it is crucified, "with the soul on the
right and the body on the left"; it is buried for three days; it
descends into Hades;[154] then it ascends again, till it reaches
Paradise, and is united to the tree of life: then it descends below
all essences, and sees a formless luminous essence, and marvels that
it is _the same essence_ that it has seen on high. Now it comprehends
the truth, that God is consubstantial with the Universe, and that
there are no real distinctions anywhere. So it ceases to wander. "All
these doctrines," concludes the seer, "which are unknown even to
angels, have I disclosed to thee, my son" (Dionysius, probably).
"Know, then, that all nature will be confused with the Father - that
nothing will perish or be destroyed, but all will return, be
sanctified, united, and confused. Thus God will be all in all.[155]"

There can be no difficulty in classifying this Syrian philosophy of
religion. It is the ancient religion of the Brahmins, masquerading in
clothes borrowed from Jewish allegorists, half-Christian Gnostics,
Manicheans, Platonising Christians, and pagan Neoplatonists. We will
now see what St. Dionysius makes of this system, which he accepts as
from the hand of one who has "not only learned, but felt the things of

The date and nationality of Dionysius are still matters of
dispute.[157] Mysticism changes so little that it is impossible to
determine the question by internal evidence, and for our purposes it
is not of great importance. The author was a monk, perhaps a Syrian
monk: he probably perpetrated a deliberate fraud - a pious fraud, in
his own opinion - by suppressing his own individuality, and fathering
his books on St. Paul's Athenian convert. The success of the imposture
is amazing, even in that uncritical age, and gives much food for
reflection. The sixth century saw nothing impossible in a book
full of the later Neoplatonic theories - those of Proclus rather
than Plotinus[158] - having been written in the first century.
And the mediæval Church was ready to believe that this strange
semi-pantheistic Mysticism dropped from the lips of St. Paul.[159]

Dionysius is a theologian, not a visionary like his master Hierotheus.
His main object is to present Christianity in the guise of a Platonic
mysteriosophy, and he uses the technical terms of the mysteries
whenever he can.[160] His philosophy is that of his day - the later
Neoplatonism, with its strong Oriental affinities.

Beginning with the Trinity, he identifies God the Father with the
Neoplatonic Monad, and describes Him as "superessential
Indetermination," "super-rational Unity," "the Unity which unifies
every unity," "superessential Essence," "irrational Mind," "unspoken
Word," "the absolute No-thing which is above all existence.[161]"
Even now he is not satisfied with the tortures to which he has
subjected the Greek language. "No monad or triad," he says, "can
express the all-transcending hiddenness of the all-transcending
super-essentially super-existing super-Deity.[162]" But even in the
midst of this barbarous jargon he does not quite forget his Plato.
"The Good and Beautiful," he says, "are the cause of all things that
are; and all things love and aspire to the Good and Beautiful, which
are, indeed, the sole objects of their desire." "Since, then, the
Absolute Good and Beautiful is honoured by eliminating all qualities
from it, the non-existent also ([Greek: to mê on]) must
participate in the Good and Beautiful." This pathetic absurdity shows
what we are driven to if we try to graft Indian nihilism upon the
Platonic doctrine of ideas. Plotinus tried hard to show that his First
Person was very different from his lowest category - non-existent
"matter"; but if we once allow ourselves to define the Infinite as the
Indefinite, the conclusion which he deprecated cannot long be averted.

"God is the Being of all that is." Since, then, Being is identical
with God or Goodness, evil, as such, does not exist; it only exists by
its participation in good. Evil, he says, is not in things which
exist; a good tree cannot bear evil fruit; it must, therefore, have
another origin. But this is dualism, and must be rejected.[163] Nor
is evil in God, nor of God; nor in the angels; nor in the human soul;
nor in the brutes; nor in inanimate nature; nor in matter. Having thus
hunted evil out of every corner of the universe, he asks - Is evil,
then, simply privation of good? But privation is not evil in itself.
No; evil must arise from "disorderly and inharmonious motion." As dirt
has been defined as matter in the wrong place, so evil is good in the
wrong place. It arises by a kind of accident; "all evil is done with
the object of gaining some good; no one does evil as evil." Evil in
itself is that which is "nohow, nowhere, and no thing"; "God sees evil
as good." Students of modern philosophy will recognise a theory which
has found influential advocates in our own day: that evil needs only
to be supplemented, rearranged, and transmuted, in order to take its
place in the universal harmony.[164]

All things flow out from God, and all will ultimately return to Him. The
first emanation is the Thing in itself ([Greek: auto to einai]), which
corresponds to the Plotinian [Greek: Nous], and to the Johannine Logos.
He also calls it "Life in itself" and "Wisdom in itself" ([Greek:
autozôê, autosophia]). Of this he says, "So then the Divine Wisdom in
knowing itself will know all things. It will know the material
immaterially, and the divided inseparably, and the many as one ([Greek:
heniaiôs]), knowing all things by the standard of absolute unity." These
important speculations are left undeveloped by Dionysius, who merely
states them dogmatically. The universe is evolved from the Son, whom he
identifies with the "Thing in itself," "Wisdom," or "Life in itself." In
creation "the One is said to become multiform." The world is a necessary
process of God's being. He created it "as the sun shines," "without
premeditation or purpose." The Father is simply One; the Son has also
plurality, namely, the words (or reasons) which make existence ([Greek:
tous ousiopoious logous]), which theology calls fore-ordinations
([Greek: proorismous]). But he does not teach that all separate
existences will ultimately be merged in the One. The highest Unity gives
to all the power of striving, on the one hand, to share in the One; on
the other, to persist in their own individuality. And in more than one
passage he speaks of God as a Unity comprehending, not abolishing
differences.[165] "God is before all things"; "Being is in Him, and He
is not in Being." Thus Dionysius tries to safeguard the transcendence of
God, and to escape Pantheism. The outflowing process is appropriated by
the mind by the _positive_ method - the downward path through finite
existences: its conclusion is, "God is All." The return journey is by
the _negative_ road, that of ascent to God by abstraction and analysis:
its conclusion is, "All is not God.[166]" The negative path is the high
road of a large school of mystics; I will say more about it presently.
The mystic, says Dionysius, "must leave behind all things both in the
sensible and in the intelligible worlds, till he enters into the
darkness of nescience that is truly mystical." This "Divine darkness,"
he says elsewhere, "is the light unapproachable" mentioned by St. Paul,
"a deep but dazzling darkness," as Henry Vaughan calls it. It is dark
through excess of light[167]. This doctrine really renders nugatory what
he has said about the persistence of distinctions after the restitution
of all things; for as "all colours agree in the dark," so, for us, in
proportion as we attain to true knowledge, all distinctions are lost in
the absolute.

The soul is bipartite. The higher portion sees the "Divine images"
directly, the lower by means of symbols. The latter are not to be
despised, for they are "true impressions of the Divine characters,"
and necessary steps, which enable us to "mount to the one undivided
truth by analogy." This is the way in which we should use the
Scriptures. They have a symbolic truth and beauty, which is
intelligible only to those who can free themselves from the "puerile
myths[168]" (the language is startling in a saint of the Church!) in
which they are sometimes embedded.

Dionysius has much to say about love[169], but he uses the word
[Greek: erôs], which is carefully avoided in the New Testament. He
admits that the Scriptures "often use" [Greek: agapê], but justifies
his preference for the other word by quoting St. Ignatius, who says of
Christ, "My Love [Greek: erôs] is crucified.[170]" Divine Love, he
finely says, is "an eternal circle, from goodness, through goodness,
and to goodness."

The mediæval mystics were steeped in Dionysius, though his system
received from them certain modifications under the influence of
Aristotelianism. He is therefore, for us, a very important figure; and
there are two parts of his scheme which, I think, require fuller
consideration than has been given them in this very slight sketch. I
mean the "negative road" to God, and the pantheistic tendency.

The theory that we can approach God only by analysis or abstraction has
already been briefly commented on. It is no invention of Dionysius.
Plotinus uses similar language, though his view of God as the fulness of
all _life_ prevented him from following the negative path with
thoroughness. But in Proclus we find the phrases, afterwards so common,
about "sinking into the Divine Ground," "forsaking the manifold for the
One," and so forth. Basilides, long before, evidently carried the
doctrine to its extremity: "We must not even call God ineffable," he
says, "since this is to make an assertion about Him; He is above every
name that is named.[171]" It was a commonplace of Christian instruction
to say that "in Divine matters there is great wisdom in confessing our
ignorance" - this phrase occurs in Cyril's catechism.[172] But confessing
our ignorance is a very different thing from refusing to make any
positive statements about God. It is true that all our language about
God must be inadequate and symbolic; but that is no reason for
discarding all symbols, as if we could in that way know God as He knows
Himself. At the bottom, the doctrine that God can be described only by
negatives is neither Christian nor Greek, but belongs to the old
religion of India. Let me try to state the argument and its consequence
in a clear form. Since God is the Infinite, and the Infinite is the
antithesis of the finite, every attribute which can be affirmed of a
finite being may be safely denied of God. Hence God can only be
_described_ by negatives; He can only be _discovered_ by stripping off
all the qualities and attributes which veil Him; He can only be
_reached_ by divesting ourselves of all the distinctions of personality,
and sinking or rising into our "uncreated nothingness"; and He can only
be _imitated_ by aiming at an abstract spirituality, the passionless
"apathy" of an universal which is nothing in particular. Thus we see
that the whole of those developments of Mysticism which despise symbols,
and hope to see God by shutting the eye of sense, hang together. They
all follow from the false notion of God as the abstract Unity
transcending, or rather excluding, all distinctions. Of course, it is
not intended to _exclude_ distinctions, but to rise above them; but the
process of abstraction, or subtraction, as it really is, can never lead
us to "the One.[173]" The only possible unification with such an
Infinite is the [Greek: atermôn nêgretos hupnos] of Nirvana.[174] Nearly
all that repels us in mediæval religious life - its "other-worldliness"
and passive hostility to civilisation - the emptiness of its ideal
life - its maltreatment of the body - its disparagement of family
life - the respect which it paid to indolent contemplation - springs from
this one root. But since no one who remains a Christian can exhibit the
results of this theory in their purest form, I shall take the liberty of
quoting a few sentences from a pamphlet written by a native Indian judge
who I believe is still living. His object is to explain and commend to
Western readers the mystical philosophy of his own country:[175] - "He
who in perfect rest rises from the body and attains the highest light,
comes forth in his own proper form. This is the immortal soul. The
ascent is by the ladder of one's thoughts. To know God, one must first
know one's own spirit in its purity, unspotted by thought. The soul is
hidden behind the veil of thought, and only when thought is worn off,
becomes visible to itself. This stage is called knowledge of the soul.
Next is realised knowledge of God, who rises from the bosom of the soul.
This is the end of progress; differentiation between self and others has
ceased. All the world of thought and senses is melted into an ocean
without waves or current. This dissolution of the world is also known as
the death of the sinful or worldly 'I,' which veils the true Ego. Then
the formless Being of the Deity is seen in the regions of pure
consciousness beyond the veil of thought. Consciousness is wholly
distinct from thought and senses; it knows them; they do not know it.
The only proof is an appeal to spiritual experience." In the highest
stage one is absolutely inert, "knowing nothing in particular.[176]"

Most of this would have been accepted as precious truth by the
mediæval Church mystics.[177] The words nakedness, darkness,
nothingness, passivity, apathy, and the like, fill their pages. We
shall find that this time-honoured phraseology was adhered to long
after the grave moral dangers which beset this type of Mysticism had
been recognised. Tauler, for instance, who lays the axe to the root of
the tree by saying, "Christ never arrived at the emptiness of which
these men talk," repeats the old jargon for pages together. German
Mysticism really rested on another basis, and when Luther had the
courage to break with ecclesiastical tradition, the _via negativa_
rapidly disappeared within the sphere of his influence.

But it held sway for a long time - so long that we cannot complain if
many have said, "This is the essence of Mysticism." Mysticism is such
a vague word, that one must not quarrel with any "private
interpretation" of it; but we must point out that this limitation

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