Copyright
William Ralph Inge.

Christian Mysticism online

. (page 9 of 28)
Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngeChristian Mysticism → online text (page 9 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


excludes the whole army of symbolists, a school which, in Europe at
least, has shown more vitality than introspective Mysticism. I regard
the _via negativa_ in metaphysics, religion, and ethics as the great
accident of Christian Mysticism. The break-up of the ancient
civilisation, with the losses and miseries which it brought upon
humanity, and the chaos of brutal barbarism in which Europe weltered
for some centuries, caused a widespread pessimism and world-weariness
which is foreign to the temper of Europe, and which gave way to
energetic and full-blooded activity in the Renaissance and
Reformation. Asiatic Mysticism is the natural refuge of men who have
lost faith in civilisation, but will not give up faith in God. "Let us
fly hence to our dear country!" We hear the words already in
Plotinus - nay, even in Plato. The sun still shone in heaven, but on
earth he was eclipsed. Mysticism cuts too deep to allow us to live
comfortably on the surface of life; and so all "the heavy and the
weary weight of all this unintelligible world" pressed upon men and
women till they were fain to throw it off, and seek peace in an
invisible world of which they could not see even a shadow round about
them.

But I do not think that the negative road is a pure error. There is a
negative side in religion, both in thought and practice. We are first
impelled to seek the Infinite by the limitations of the finite, which
appear to the soul as bonds and prison walls. It is natural first to
think of the Infinite as that in which these barriers are done away.
And in practice we must die daily, if our inward man is to be daily
renewed. We must die to our lower self, not once only but continually,
so that we may rise on stepping stones of many dead selves to higher
things.[178] We must die to our first superficial views of the world
around us, nay, even to our first views of God and religion, unless
the childlike in our faith is by arrest of growth to become the
childish. All the good things of life have first to be renounced, and
then given back to us, before they can be really ours. It was
necessary that these truths should be not only taught, but lived
through. The individual has generally to pass through the quagmire of
the "everlasting No," before he can set his feet on firm ground; and
the Christian races, it seems, were obliged to go through the same
experience. Moreover, there is a sense in which all moral effort aims
at destroying the conditions of its own existence, and so ends
logically in self-negation. Our highest aim as regards ourselves is to
eradicate, not only sin, but temptation. We do not feel that we have
won the victory until we no longer wish to offend. But a being who was
entirely free from temptation would be either more or less than a
man - "either a beast or a God," as Aristotle says.[179] There is,
therefore, a half truth in the theory that the goal of earthly
striving is negation and absorption. But it at once becomes false if
we forget that it is a goal which cannot be reached in time, and which
is achieved, not by good and evil neutralising each other, but by
death being swallowed up in victory. If morality ceases to be moral
when it has achieved its goal, it must pass into something which
includes as well as transcends it - a condition which is certainly not
fulfilled by contemplative passivity.[180]

These thoughts should save us from regarding the saints of the
cloister with impatience or contempt. The limitations incidental to
their place in history do not prevent them from being glorious
pioneers among the high passes of the spiritual life, who have scaled
heights which those who talk glibly about "the mistake of asceticism"
have seldom even seen afar off.

We must next consider briefly the charge of Pantheism, which has been
flung rather indiscriminately at nearly all speculative mystics, from
Plotinus to Emerson. Dionysius, naturally enough, has been freely
charged with it. The word is so loosely and thoughtlessly used, even
by writers of repute, that I hope I may be pardoned if I try to
distinguish (so far as can be done in a few words) between the various
systems which have been called pantheistic.

True Pantheism must mean the identification of God with the totality
of existence, the doctrine that the universe is the complete and only
expression of the nature and life of God, who on this theory is only
immanent and not transcendent. On this view, everything in the world
belongs to the Being of God, who is manifested equally in everything.
Whatever is real is perfect; reality and perfection are the same
thing. Here again we must go to India for a perfect example. "The
learned behold God alike in the reverend Brahmin, in the ox and in the
elephant, in the dog and in him who eateth the flesh of dogs.[181]" So
Pope says that God is "as full, as perfect, in a hair as heart." The
Persian Sufis were deeply involved in this error, which leads to all
manner of absurdities and even immoralities. It is inconsistent with
any belief in _purpose_, either in the whole or in the parts. Evil,
therefore, cannot exist for the sake of a higher good: it must be
itself good. It is easy to see how this view of the world may pass
into pessimism or nihilism; for if everything is equally real and
equally Divine, it makes no difference, except to our tempers, whether
we call it everything or nothing, good or bad.

None of the writers with whom we have to deal can fairly be charged
with this error, which is subversive of the very foundations of true
religion. Eckhart, carried away by his love of paradox, allows himself
occasionally to make statements which, if logically developed, would
come perilously near to it; and Emerson's philosophy is more seriously
compromised in this direction. Dionysius is in no such danger, for the
simple reason that he stands too near to Plato. The pantheistic
tendency of mediæval Realism requires a few words of explanation,
especially as I have placed the name of Plato at the head of this
Lecture. Plato's doctrine of ideas aimed at establishing the
transcendence of the highest Idea - that of God. But the mediæval
doctrine of ideas, as held by the extreme Realists, sought to find
room in the _summum genus_ for a harmonious coexistence of all
things. It thus tended towards Pantheism;[182] while the Aristotelian
Realists maintained the substantial character of individuals outside
the Being of God. "This view," says Eicken, "which quite inverted the
historical and logical relation of the Platonic and Aristotelian
philosophies, was maintained till the close of the Middle Ages."

We may also call pantheistic any system which regards the cosmic
process as a real _becoming_ of God. According to this theory, God
comes to Himself, attains full self-consciousness, in the highest of
His creatures, which are, as it were, the organs of His self-unfolding
Personality. This is not a philosophy which commends itself specially
to speculative mystics, because it involves the belief that _time_ is
an ultimate reality. If in the cosmic process, which takes place in
time, God becomes something which He was not before, it cannot be said
that He is exalted above time, or that a thousand years are to Him as
one day. I shall say in my fourth Lecture that this view cannot justly
be attributed to Eckhart. Students of Hegel are not agreed whether it
is or is not part of their master's teaching.[183]

The idea of _will_ as a world-principle - not in Schopenhauer's sense
of a blind force impelling from within, but as the determination of a
conscious Mind - lifts us at once out of Pantheism.[184] It sets up the
distinction between what is and what ought to be, which Pantheism
cannot find room for, and at the same time implies that the cosmic
process is already complete in the consciousness of God, which cannot
be held if He is subordinated to the category of time.

God is more than the All, as being the perfect Personality, whose Will
is manifested in creation under necessarily imperfect conditions. He
is also in a sense less than the All, since pain, weakness, and sin,
though known to Him as infinite Mind, can hardly be felt by Him as
infinite Perfection. The function of evil in the economy of the
universe is an inscrutable mystery, about which speculative Mysticism
merely asserts that the solution cannot be that of the Manicheans. It
is only the Agnostic[185] who will here offer the dilemma of Dualism
or Pantheism, and try to force the mystic to accept the second
alternative.

There are two other views of the universe which have been called
pantheistic, but incorrectly.

The first is that properly called _Acosmism_, which we have
encountered as Orientalised Platonism. Plato's theory of ideas was
popularised into a doctrine of two separate worlds, related to each
other as shadow and substance. The intelligible world, which is in the
mind of God, alone exists; and thus, by denying reality to the visible
world, we get a kind of idealistic Pantheism. But the notion of God as
abstract Unity, which, as we have seen, was held by the later
Neoplatonists and their Christian followers, seems to make a real
world impossible; for bare Unity cannot create, and the metaphor of
the sun shedding his rays explains nothing. Accordingly the
"intelligible world," the sphere of reality, drops out, and we are
left with only the infra-real world and the supra-real One. So we are
landed in nihilism or Asiatic Mysticism[186].

The second is the belief in the _immanence_ of a God who is also
transcendent. This should be called _Panentheism_, a useful word
coined by Krause, and not Pantheism. In its true form it is an
integral part of Christian philosophy, and, indeed, of all rational
theology. But in proportion as the indwelling of God, or of Christ, or
the Holy Spirit in the heart of man, is regarded as an _opus
operatum_, or as complete _substitution_ of the Divine for the human,
we are in danger of a self-deification which resembles the maddest
phase of Pantheism[187].

Pantheism, as I understand the word, is a pitfall for Mysticism to
avoid, not an error involved in its first principles. But we need not
quarrel with those who have said that speculative Mysticism is the
Christian form of Pantheism. For there is much truth in Amiel's
dictum, that "Christianity, if it is to triumph over Pantheism, must
absorb it." Those are no true friends to the cause of religion who
would base it entirely upon dogmatic supernaturalism. The passion for
facts which are objective, isolated, and past, often prevents us from
seeing facts which are eternal and spiritual. We cry, "Lo here," and
"Lo there," and forget that the kingdom of God is within us and
amongst us. The great service rendered by the speculative mystics to
the Christian Church lies in their recognition of those truths which
Pantheism grasps only to destroy.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 107: The mention of Heraclitus is very interesting. It shows
that the Christians had already recognised their affinity with the
great speculative mystic of Ephesus, whose fragments supply many
mottoes for essays on Mysticism. The identification of the Heraclitean
[Greek: nous-logos] with the Johannine Logos appears also in Euseb.
_Præp. Ev_. xi. 19, quoted above.]

[Footnote 108: [Greek: ho panta aristos Platôn - oion pheothoroumenos],
he calls him.]

[Footnote 109: "Mysticism finds in Plato all its texts," says Emerson
truly.]

[Footnote 110: The doctrine of reserve in religious teaching, which
some have thought dishonest, rests on the self-evident proposition
that it takes two to tell the truth - one to speak, and one to hear.]

[Footnote 111: "Man kann den Gnosticismus des zweiten Jahrhunderts als
theologisch-transcendente Mystik, und die eigentliche Mystik als
substantiell-immanente Gnosis bezeichnen" (Noack).]

[Footnote 112: See Conybeare's interesting account of the Therapeutæ
in his edition of Philo, _On the Contemplative Life_, and his
refutation of the theory of Lucius, Zeller, etc., that the Therapeutæ
belong to the end of the third century.]

[Footnote 113: _Stoical_ influence is also strong in Philo.]

[Footnote 114: The Jewish writer Aristobulus (about 160 B.C.) is said
to have used the same argument in an exposition of the Pentateuch
addressed to Ptolemy Philometor.]

[Footnote 115: Compare Philo's own account (_in Flaceum_) of the
anti-Semitic outrages at Alexandria.]

[Footnote 116: There is a very explicit identification of Christ with
[Greek: Nous] in the second book of the _Miscellanies_: "He says, Whoso
hath ears to hear, let him hear. And who is 'He'? Let Epicharmus
answer: [Greek: Nous hora]," etc.]

[Footnote 117: See Bigg, _Christian Platonists of Alexandria_,
especially pp. 92, 93.]

[Footnote 118: [Greek: Pistis] is here used in the familiar sense
(which falls far short of the Johannine) of assent to particular
dogmas. [Greek: Gnôsis] welds these together into a consistent
whole, and at the same time confers a more immediate apprehension of
truth.]

[Footnote 119: [Greek: askêsis] or [Greek: praxis].]

[Footnote 120: _Strom_, v. 10. 63.]

[Footnote 121: See, further, Appendices B and C.]

[Footnote 122: In Origen, [Greek: sophia] is a higher term than
[Greek: gnôsis].]

[Footnote 123: The Greek word is [Greek: ainigmata] "riddles." On the
whole subject see Harnack, _History of Dogma_, vol. ii. p. 342.]

[Footnote 124: God, he says (_Tom. in Matth_. xiii. 569), is not the
absolutely unlimited; for then He could not have self-consciousness:
His omnipotence is limited by His goodness and wisdom (cf. _Cels_. iii.
493).]

[Footnote 125: I hope it is not necessary to apologise for devoting a
few pages to Plotinus in a work on Christian Mysticism. Every treatise
on religious thought in the early centuries of our era must take
account of the parallel developments of religious philosophy in the
old and the new religions, which illustrate and explain each other.]

[Footnote 126: _Enn_. i. 8. 14, [Greek: ouden estin ho amoiron esti
psychês].]

[Footnote 127: _Enn_. iii. 2. 7; iv. 7. 14.]

[Footnote 128: _Enn_. iv. 4. 26.]

[Footnote 129: _Enn_. iv. 1. 1.]

[Footnote 130: Matter is [Greek: alogos, skia logou kai ekptôsis]
_Enn_. vi. 3. 7; [Greek: eidôlon kai phantasma ogkou kai hopostaseôs
ephesis] _Enn_. iii. 6. 7. If matter were _nothing_, it could not
desire to be something; it is only no-thing - [Greek: apeiria,
aoristia].]

[Footnote 131: These three stages correspond to the three stages in
the mystical ladder which appear in nearly all the Christian mystics.]

[Footnote 132: The passages in which Plotinus (following Plato) bids
us mount by means of the beauty of the external world, do not
contradict those other passages in which he bids us "turn from things
without to look within" (_Enn_. iv. 8. 1). Remembering that postulate
of all Mysticism, that we only know a thing by _becoming_ it, we see
that we can only know the world by finding it in ourselves, that is,
by cherishing those "best hours of the mind" (as Bacon says) when we
are lifted above ourselves into union with the world-spirit.]

[Footnote 133: Plotinus guards against this misconception of his
meaning, _Enn_. v. 1. 6, [Greek: ekpodôn de êmin estô genesis hê en
chronô].]

[Footnote 134: [Greek: zôê exelittomenê], _Enn_. i. 4. 1.]

[Footnote 135: See especially _Enn_. iv. 4. 32, 45.]

[Footnote 136: _Enn_. iv. 5. 3, [Greek: sympathes to zôon tode to
pan heautô]; iv. 9. 1, [Greek: hôste emou pathontos synaisthanesthai
to pan].]

[Footnote 137: _Enn_. iv. 5. 2, [Greek: sympatheia amydra].]

[Footnote 138: See Bigg, _Neoplatonism_, pp. 203, 204. He shows that
with the Stoics, who were Pantheists, the Logos was regarded as a
first cause; while with the Neoplatonists, who were Theists and
Transcendentalists, it was a secondary cause. In Plotinus, the
Intelligence ([Greek: Nous]) is "King" (_Enn_. v. 3. 3), and "the
law of Being" (_Enn_. v. 9. 5). But the Johannine Logos is both
immanent and transcendent. When Erigena says, "Certius cognoscas
verbum Naturam omnium esse," he gives a true but incomplete account of
the Nature of the Second Person of the Trinity.]

[Footnote 139: See especially the interesting passage, _Enn_. i. 8.
3.]

[Footnote 140: _Enn_. i. 8. 13, [Greek: eti anthrôpikon hê kakia,
memigmenê tini enantiô].]

[Footnote 141: The "civil virtues" are the four cardinal virtues.
Plotinus says that justice is mainly "minding one's business" [Greek:
oikeiopagia]. "The purifying virtues" deliver us from sin; but [Greek:
hê spoudê ouk exô hamartias einai, alla theon einai].]

[Footnote 142: Compare Hegel's criticism of Schelling, in the latter's
Asiatic period, "This so-called wisdom, instead of being yielded up to
the influence of Divinity _by its contempt of all proportion and
definiteness_, does really nothing but give full play to accident and
caprice. Nothing was ever produced by such a process better than mere
dreams" (_Vorrede zur Phänomenologie_, p. 6).]

[Footnote 143: Heb. viii. 5.]

[Footnote 144: _Enn_. iii. 8. 4, [Greek: hotan asthenêsôsin eis to
theôrein, skian theôrias kai logou tên praxin poiountai]. Cf. Amiel's
_Journal_, p. 4, "action is coarsened thought."]

[Footnote 145: _Enn_. iii. 2. 15, [Greek: hypokriseis] and [Greek:
paignion]; and see iv. 3. 32, on love of family and country.]

[Footnote 146: _Enn_. vi. 7. 34.]

[Footnote 147: It would be an easy and rather amusing task to
illustrate these and other aberrations of speculative Mysticism from
Herbert Spencer's philosophy. E.g., he says that, though we cannot
know the Absolute, we may have "an indefinite consciousness of it."
"It is impossible to give to this consciousness any qualitative or
quantitative expression whatever," and yet it is quite certain that we
have it. Herbert Spencer's Absolute is, in fact, _matter without
form_. This would seem to identify it rather with the all but
non-existing "matter" of Plotinus (see Bigg, _Neoplatonism_, p. 199),
than with the superessential "One"; but the later Neoplatonists found
themselves compelled to call _both_ extremes [Greek: to mê on].
Plotinus struggles hard against this conclusion, which threatens to
make shipwreck of his Platonism. "Hierotheus," whose sympathies are
really with Indian nihilism, welcomes it.]

[Footnote 148: The following advice to directors, quoted by Ribet, may
be added: "Director valde attendat ad personas languidæ valetudinis.
Si tales personæ a Deo in quamdam quietis orationem eleventur,
contingit ut in omnibus exterioribus sensibus certum defectum ac
speciem quamdam deliquii experiantur cum magna interna suavitate, quod
extasim aut raptum esse facillime putant. Cum Dei Spiritui resistere
nolint, deliquio illi totas se tradunt, et per multas horas, cum
gravissimo valetudinis præiudicio in tali mentis stupiditate
persistunt." Genuine ecstasy, according to these authorities, seldom
lasted more than half an hour, though one Spanish writer speaks of an
hour.]

[Footnote 149: Mrs. Humphry Ward's translation, p. 72.]

[Footnote 150: But we should not forget that the author of the
_Epistle to Diognetus_ speaks of the Logos as [Greek: pantote neos en
hagiôn kardiais gennômenos]. In St. Augustine we find it in a rather
surprisingly bold form; cf. _in Joh. tract._ 21, n. 8: "Gratulemur et
grates agamus non solum nos Christianos factos esse, sed Christum ...
Admiramini, gaudete: Christus facti sumus." But this is really quite
different from saying, "Ego Christus factus sum."]

[Footnote 151: "Greek" must here be taken to include the Hellenised
Jews. Those who are best qualified to speak on Jewish philosophy
believe that it exercised a strong influence at Alexandria.]

[Footnote 152: Proclus used to say that a philosopher ought to show no
exclusiveness in his worship, but to be the hierophant of the whole
world. This eclecticism was not confined to cultus.]

[Footnote 153: This account of "Hierotheus" is, of course, taken from
Frothingham's most interesting monograph.]

[Footnote 154: So Ruysbroek says, "We must not remain on the top of
the ladder, but must descend."]

[Footnote 155: Another description of the process of [Greek: haplôsis]
may be found in the curious work of Ibn Tophail, translated by Ockley,
and much valued by the Quakers, _The Improvement of Human Reason,
exhibited in the Life of Hai Ebn Tophail, newly translated by Simon
Ockley_, 1708.]

[Footnote 156: [Greek: ou monon mathôn alla kai pathôn ta theia.]]

[Footnote 157: See Harnack, vol. iv. pp. 282, 283. Frothingham's
theory necessitates a later date for Dionysius than that which Harnack
believes to be most probable; the latter is in favour of placing him
in the second half of the fourth century. The writings of Dionysius
are quoted not much later than 500.]

[Footnote 158: E.g., he agrees with Iamblichus and Proclus (in
opposition to Plotinus) that "the One" is exalted above "Goodness."]

[Footnote 159: At the present time the more pious opinion among
Romanists seems to be that the writings are genuine; but Schram admits
that "there is a dispute" about their date, and some Roman Catholic
writers frankly give them up.]

[Footnote 160: E.g., [Greek: katharsis, phôtismos, myêsis, epopteia,
theôsis; hierotelestai] and [Greek: mystagôgoi] (of the bishops),
[Greek: phôtistikoi] (of the priests), [Greek: kathartikoi] (of the
deacons).]

[Footnote 161: [Greek: hyperousios aoristia - hyper noun
hynotês - henas henopoios hapasês henados - hyperousios ousia kai nous
anoêtos kai logos arrêtos - alogia kai anoêsia kai anônymia - auto de
mê on ôs pasês ousias epekeina.]]

[Footnote 162: [Greek: oudemia ê monas ê trias exagei tên hyper
panta krypsiotêta tês hyper panta hyperousiôs hyperousês
hypertheotêtos.]]

[Footnote 163: [Greek: monas estai pasês dyados archê] is stated by
Dionysius as an axiom.]

[Footnote 164: See especially Bradley's _Appearance and Reality_, some
chapters of which show a certain sympathy with Oriental speculative
Mysticism. The theory set forth in the text must not be confounded
with true pantheism, to which every phenomenon is equally Divine as it
stands. See below, at the end of this Lecture.]

[Footnote 165: See _De Div. Nom._ iv. 8; xi. 3.]

[Footnote 166: Dionysius distinguishes _three_ movements of the human
mind - the _circular_, wherein the soul returns in upon itself; the
_oblique_, which includes all knowledge acquired by reasoning,
research, etc.; and the _direct_, in which we rise to higher truths by
using outward things as symbols. The last two he regards as inferior
to the "circular" movement, which he also calls "simplification"
[Greek: haplôsis].]

[Footnote 167: The highest stage (he says) is to reach [Greek: ton
hyperphôton gnophon kai di' ablepsias kai agnôsias idein kai gnônai].]

[Footnote 168: [Greek: tolmôsa theoplasia] and [Greek: paidariôdês
phantasia] are phrases which he applies to Old Testament narratives.]

[Footnote 169: As a specimen of his language, we may quote [Greek:
esti de ekstatikos ho theios erôs, ouk eôn eautôn einai tous erastas,
alla tôn erômenôn] (_De Div. Nom_. iv. 13).]

[Footnote 170: I am inclined to agree with Dr. Bigg (_Bampton
Lectures_, Introduction, pp. viii, ix), that Dionysius and the later
mystics are right in their interpretation of this passage. Bishop
Lightfoot and some other good scholars take it to mean, "My earthly
affections are crucified." See the discussion in Lightfoot's edition
of Ignatius, and in Bigg's Introduction. I am not aware how the
vindicators of "Dionysius" explain the curious fact that he had read
Ignatius!]

[Footnote 171: See Harnack, vol. iii. pp. 242, 243. St. Augustine
accepts this statement, which he repeats word for word.]

[Footnote 172: Compare also Hooker: "Of Thee our fittest eloquence is
silence, while we confess without confessing that Thy glory is
unsearchable and beyond our reach."]

[Footnote 173: Unity is a characteristic or simple condition of real
being, but it is not in itself a principle of being, so that "the One"
could exist substantially by itself. To personify the barest of
abstractions, call it God, and then try to imitate it, would seem too
absurd a fallacy to have misled any one, if history did not show that
it has had a long and vigorous life.]

[Footnote 174: Cf. Sir W. Hamilton (_Discussions_, p. 21): "By
abstraction we annihilate the object, and by abstraction we annihilate
the subject of consciousness. But what remains? Nothing. When we
attempt to conceive it as reality, we hypostatise the zero."]

[Footnote 175: The Hon. P. Ramanathan, C.M.G., Attorney-General of



Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngeChristian Mysticism → online text (page 9 of 28)