William Ralph Inge.

Christian mysticism, considered in eight lectures delivered before the University of Oxford online

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First Published {Demy 8vo) November i8gg

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" I give and bequeath my Lands and Estates to the

Chancellor, Masters, and Scholars of the University of Oxford
for ever, to have and to hold all and singular the said Lands
and Estates upon trust, and to the intents and purposes here
inafter mentioned ; that is to say, I will and appoint that thfe
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford for the time being
shall take and receive all the rents, issues, and profits thereof,
and (after all taxes, reparations, and necessary deductions
made) that he pay all the remainder to the endowment of
eight Divinity Lecture Sermons, to be established for ever in
the said University, and to be performed in the manner
following :

" I direct and appoint that upon the first Tuesday in Easter
Term, a Lecturer be yearly chosen by the Heads of Colleges
only, and by no others, in the room adjoining to the Printing-
House, between the hours of ten in the morning and two in
the afternoon, to preach eight Divinity Lecture Sermons, the
year following, at St. Mary's in Oxford, between the com-
mencement of the last month in Lent Term, and the end of
the third week in Act Term.


" Also I direct and appoint, that the eight Divinity Lecture
Sermons shall be preached upon either of the following
Subjects — to confirm and establish the Christian Faith, and
to confute all heretics and schismatics — upon the Divine
authority of the Holy Scriptures — upon the authority of the
writings of the primitive Fathers, as to the faith and practice
of the primitive Church — upon the Divinity of our Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ — upon the Divinity of the Holy Ghost —
upon the Articles of the Christian Faith, as comprehended in
me Apostles' and Nicene Creeds.

"Also I direct that thirty copies of the eight Divinity
Lecture Sermons shall be always printed within two months
after they are preached ; and one copy shall be given to the
Chancellor of the University, and one copy to the head of
every College, and one copy to the Mayor of the City of Oxford,
and one copy to be put into the Bodleian Library j and the
expense of printing them shall be paid out of the revenue of
the Land or Estates given for establishing the Divinity Lecture
Sermons ; and the Preacher shall not be paid, nor entitled to
the revenue, before they are printed.

" Also I direct and appoint, that no person shall be qualified
to preach the Divinity Lecture Sermons, unless he hath taken
the degree of Master of Arts at least, in one of the two Uni-
versities of Oxford or Cambridge ; and that the same person
shall never preach the Divinity Lecture Sermons twice."


The first of the subjects which, according to the will of
Canon Bampton, are prescribed for the Lecturers upon
his foundation, is the confirmation and establishment of
the Christian faith. This is the aim which I have
kept in view in preparing this volume ; and I should
wish my book to be judged as a contribution to apolo-
getics, rather than as a historical sketch of Christian
Mysticism. I say this because I decided, after some
hesitation, to adopt a historical framework for the
Lectures, and this arrangement may cause my object
to be misunderstood. It seemed to me that the
instructiveness of tracing the development and opera-
tion of mystical ideas, in the forms which they have
assumed as active forces in history, outweighed the
disadvantage of appearing to waver between apology
and narrative, A series of historical essays would, of
course, have been quite unsuitable in the University
pulpit, and, moreover, I did not approach the subject
from that side. Until I began to prepare the Lectures,
about a year and a half before they were delivered, my
study of the mystical writers had been directed solely
by my own intellectual and spiritual needs. I was
attracted to them in the hope of finding in their
writings a philosophy and a rule of life which would



satisfy my mind and conscience. In this I was not
disappointed ; and thinking that others might perhaps
profit by following the same path, I wished to put
together and publish the results of my thought and
reading. In such a scheme historical details are either
out of place or of secondary value ; and I hope this
will be remembered by any historians who may take
the trouble to read my book.

The philosophical side of the subject is from my
point of view of much greater importance. I have
done my best to acquire an adequate knowledge of
those philosophies, both ancient and modern, which
are most akin to speculative Mysticism, and also to
think out my own position. I hope that I have
succeeded in indicating my general standpoint, and
that what I have written may prove fairly consistent
and intelligible ; but I have felt keenly the disad-
vantage of having missed the systematic training in
metaphysics given by the Oxford school of Litercs
Humaniores, and also the difficulty (perhaps I should
say the presumption) of addressing metaphysical
arguments to an audience which included several
eminent philosophers. I wish also that I had had
time for a more thorough study of Fechner's works ;
for his system, so far as I understand it, seems to me
to have a great interest and value as a scheme of
philosophical Mysticism which does not clash with
modern science.

I have spoken with a plainness which will probably
give offence of the debased supernaturalism which
usurps the name of Mysticism in Roman Catholic
countries. I desire to insult no man's convictions ;


and it is for this reason that I have decided not to
print my analysis of Ribet's work {La Mystique Divine,
distinguee des Contrefagons diaboliques. Nouvelle
Edition, Paris, 1895, 3 vols.), which I intended to
form an Appendix. It would have opened the eyes
of some of my readers to the irreconcilable antagon-
ism between the Roman Church and science ; but
though I translated and summarised my author faith-
fully, the result had all the appearance of a malicious
travesty. I have therefore suppressed this Appendix ;
but with regard to Roman Catholic " Mysticism "
there is no use in mincing matters. Those who find
edification in signs and wonders of this kind, and
think that such " supernatural phenomena," even if
they were well authenticated instead of being ridiculous
fables, could possibly establish spiritual truths, will
find little or nothing to please or interest them in
these pages. But those who reverence Nature and
Reason, and have no wish to hear of either of them
being " overruled " or " suspended," will, I hope, agree
with me in valuing highly the later developments of
mystical thought in Northern Europe.

There is another class of " mystics " with whom I
have but little sympathy — the dabblers in occultism.
u Psychical research " is, no doubt, a perfectly legitimate
science ; but when its professors invite us to watch the
breaking down of the middle wall of partition between
matter and spirit, they have, in my opinion, ceased to
be scientific, and are in reality hankering after the
beggarly elements of the later Neoplatonism.

The charge of " pantheistic tendency " will not, I
hope, be brought against me without due considera-


tion. I have tried to show how the Johannine Logos*
doctrine, which is the basis of Christian Mysticism,
differs from Asiatic Pantheism, from Acosmism, and
from (one kind of) evolutionary Idealism. Of course,
speculative Mysticism is nearer to Pantheism than to
Deism ; but I think it is possible heartily to eschew
Deism without falling into the opposite error.

I have received much help from many kind friends ;
and though some of them would not wish to be as-
sociated with all of my opinions, I cannot deny myself
the pleasure of thanking them by name. From my
mother and other members of my family, and relations,
especially Mr. W. W. How, Fellow of Merton, I
have received many useful suggestions. Three past
or present colleagues have read and criticised parts of
my work — the Rev. H. Rashdall, now Fellow of New
College ; Mr. H. A. Prichard, now Fellow of Trinity ;
and Mr. H. H. Williams, Fellow of Hertford. Mr.
G. L. Dickinson, Fellow of King's College, Cambridge,
lent me an unpublished dissertation on Plotinus. The
Rev. C. Bigg, D.D., whose Bampton Lectures on the
Christian Platonists are known all over Europe, did me
the kindness to read the whole of the eight Lectures,
and so added to the great debt which I owe to him
for his books. The Rev. J. M. Heald, formerly
Scholar of Trinity, Cambridge, lent me many books
from his fine library, and by inquiring for me at
Louvain enabled me to procure the books on Mysti-
cism which are now studied in Roman Catholic
Universities. The Rev. Dr. Lindsay, who has made
a special study of the German mystics, read my
Lectures on that period, and wrote me a very useful


letter upon them. Miss G. H. Warrack of Edinburgh
kindly allowed me to use her modernised version of
Julian of Norwich.

I have ventured to say in my last Lecture — and it is
my earnest conviction — that a more general acquaint-
ance with mystical theology and philosophy is very
desirable in the interests of the English Church at the
present time. I am not one of those who think that
the points at issue between Anglo-Catholics and Anglo-
Protestants are trivial : history has always confirmed
Aristotle's famous dictum about parties — yiyvovrai at
cridaei^ ov irepl fAi/cpobv a\V iic fiLKpoov, araaid^ovcrc 8e
*rrepl fieydXcov — but I do not so far despair of our
Church, or of Christianity, as to doubt that a recon-
ciling principle must and will be found. Those who
do me the honour to read these Lectures will see
to what quarter I look for a mediator. A very short
study would be sufficient to dispel some of the pre-
judices which still hang round the name of Mysticism
— e.g,, that its professors are unpractical dreamers, and
that this type of religion is antagonistic to the English
mind. As a matter of fact, all the great mystics have
been energetic and influential, and their business capa-
city is specially noted in a curiously large number of
cases. For instance, Plotinus was often in request as
a guardian and trustee ; St. Bernard showed great
gifts as an organiser ; St. Teresa, as a founder of
convents and administrator, gave evidence of extra-
ordinary practical ability ; even St. Juan of the Cross
displayed the same qualities ; John Smith was an excel-
lent bursar of his college ; Fenelon ruled his diocese
extremely well ; and Madame Guyon surprised those


who had dealings with her by her great aptitude for
affairs. Henry More was offered posts of high re-
sponsibility and dignity, but declined them. The
mystic is not as a rule ambitious, but I do not think
he often shows incapacity for practical life, if he con-
sents to mingle in it. And so far is it from being
true that Great Britain has produced but few mystics,
that I am inclined to think the subject might be ade-
quately studied from English writers alone. On the
more intellectual side we have (without going back to
Scotus Erigena) the Cambridge Platonists, Law and
Coleridge ; of devotional mystics we have attractive
examples in Hilton and Julian of Norwich ; while in
verse the lofty idealism 1 and strong religious bent of
our race have produced a series of poet-mystics such as
no other country can rival. It has not been possible
in these Lectures to do justice to George Herbert,
Vaughan " the Silurist," Quarles, Crashaw, and others,
who have all drunk of the same well. Let it suffice to
say that the student who desires to master the history
of Mysticism in Britain will find plenty to occupy his
time. But for the religious public in general the most
useful thing would be a judicious selection from the
mystical writers of different times and countries. Those
who are more interested in the practical and devo-
tional than the speculative side may study with great

1 It is really time that we took to burning that travesty of the British
character — the John Bull whom our comic papers represent "guarding his
pudding" — instead of Guy Fawkes. Even in the nineteenth century,
amid all the sordid materialism bred of commercial ascendancy, this
country has produced a richer crop of imaginative literature than any
other ; and it is significant that, while in Germany philosophy is falling
more and more into the hands of the empirical school, our own thinkers
are nearly all staunch idealists.


profit some parts of St. Augustine, the sermons of
Tauler, the Theologia Germanica, Hilton's Scale of
Perfection, the Life of Henry Suso, St. Francis de
Sales and Fenelon, the Sermons of John Smith and
Whichcote's Aphorisms, and the later works of William
Law, not forgetting the poets who have been men-
tioned. I can think of no course of study more fitting
for those who wish to revive in themselves and others
the practical idealism of the primitive Church, which
gained for it its greatest triumphs.

I conclude this Preface with a quotation from
William Law on the value of the mystical writers.
" Writers like those I have mentioned," he says in a
letter to Dr. Trapp, " there have been in all ages of
the Church, but as they served not the ends of popular
learning, as they helped no people to figure or pre-
ferment in the world, and were useless to scholastic
controversial writers, so they dropt out of public uses,
and were only known, or rather unknown, under the
name of mystical writers, till at last some people have
hardly heard of that very name: though, if a man
were to be told what is meant by a mystical divine,
he must be told of something as heavenly, as great, as
desirable, as if he was told what is meant by a real,
regenerate, living member of the mystical body of
Christ ; for they were thus called for no other reason
than as Moses and the prophets, and the saints of
the Old Testament, may be called the spiritual Israel,
or the true mystical Jews. These writers began their
office of teaching as John the Baptist did, after they
had passed through every kind of mortification and
self-denial, every kind of trial and purification, both


inward and outward. They were deeply learned in
the mysteries of the kingdom of God, not through the
use of lexicons, or meditating upon critics, but because
they had passed from death unto life. They highly
reverence and excellently direct the true use of every-
thing that is outward in religion ; but, like the Psalmist's
king's daughter, they are all glorious within. They
are truly sons of thunder, and sons of consolation ;
they break open the whited sepulchres; they awaken
the heart, and show it its filth and rottenness of death :
but they leave it not till the kingdom of heaven is
raised up within it. If a man has no desire but to be
of the spirit of the gospel, to obtain all that renova-
tion of life and spirit which alone can make him to be
in Christ a new creature, it is a great unhappiness to
him to be unacquainted with these writers, or to pass
a day without reading something of what they wrote."



I. General Characteristics of Mysticism 3

II. The Mystical Element in the Bible ..... 39

III. Christian Platonism and Speculative Mysticism — (1) In the

East 77

IV, Christian Platonism and Speculative Mysticism — (2) In the

West 125

V. Practical and Devotional Mysticism 167

VI. Practical and Devotional Mysticism — continued . . . 213

VII. Nature-Mysticism and Symbolism 249

VIII. Nature-Mysticism — continued 299

Appendix A. Definitions of " Mysticism " and " Mystical

Theology" 335

Appendix B. The Greek Mysteries and Christian Mysticism . 349

Appendix C. The Doctrine of Deification 356

Appendix D. The Mystical Interpretation of the Song of Solomon 369 */

Index 373



t<, Rfuv 8k &To8eiKTtov ws iir' evrvxlg- T77 /xeylcrTy irapa deCjv 77 TOia&rr)
fiavia didoTcu' i] 8k 3^ &T68eii;is &rrcu Seivois jxkv d-maros, ao<po1s 8k

7rt<rr ^ ' Plato, Phcedrus, p. 245.

" Thoas. Es spricht kein Gott ; es spricht dein eignes Herz.
Iphigenia. Sie reden nur durch unser Herz zu uns."

Goethe, Iphigenie.

"Si notre vie est moins qu'une journee
En l'&ernel; si l'an qui fait le tour
Chasse nos jours sans espoir de retour;
Si perissable est toute chose n£e;
Que songes-tu, mon ame emprisonn^e ?
Pourquoi te plait l'obscur de notre jour,
Si, pour voler en un plus clair seVjour,
Tu as au dos l'aile bien empenn^e !
La est le bien que tout esprit desire,
La, le repos ou tout le monde aspire,
La est l'amour, la le plaisir encore !
La, 6 mon ame, au plus haut ciel guide^e,
Tu y pourras reconnaitre l'ide^e
De la beaute* qu'en ce monde j'adore ! "

Old Poet.



General Characteristics of Mysticism

" Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest
what we shall be. We know that, if He shall be manifested, we shall be
like Him ; for we shall see Him even as He is." — I John iii. 2, 3.

No word in our language — not even " Socialism " —
has been employed more loosely than " Mysticism."
Sometimes it is used as an equivalent for symbolism or
allegorism, sometimes for theosophy or occult science ;
and sometimes it merely suggests the mental state of
a dreamer, or vague and fantastic opinions about God
and the world. In Roman Catholic writers, " mystical
phenomena" mean supernatural suspensions of phys-
ical law. Even those writers who have made a special
study of the subject, show by their definitions of the
word how uncertain is its connotation. 1 It is therefore
necessary that I should make clear at the outset what I
understand by the term, and what aspects of religious
life and thought I intend to deal with in these

The history of the word begins in close connexion

1 See Appendix A for definitions of Mysticism and Mystical Theo-



with the Greek mysteries. 1 A mystic (/au<7t?7<?) is one
who has been, or is being, initiated into some esoteric
knowledge of Divine things, about which he must keep
his mouth shut (/jlvciv) ; or, possibly, he is one whose
eyes are still shut, one who is not yet an eVoTTT?;?. 2 The
word was taken over, with other technical terms of
the mysteries, by the Neoplatonists, who found in the
existing mysteriosophy a discipline, worship, and rule
of life congenial to their speculative views. But as the
tendency towards quietism and introspection increased
among them, another derivation for " Mysticism " was
found — it was explained to mean deliberately shutting
the eyes to all external things. 3 We shall see in the
sequel how this later Neoplatonism passed almost entire
into Christianity, and, while forming the basis of
mediaeval Mysticism, caused a false association to cling
to the word even down to the Reformation. 4

The phase of thought or feeling which we call

1 See Appendix B for a discussion of the influence of the Greek mysteries
upon Christian Mysticism.

2 Tholuck accepts the former derivation (cf. Suidas, pvarfipia iKk^drjtxav
irapa rb toi>s anotiovTas puueiv rb (rr6/ia /cat /j,t)84vi ravra efyyeicrdcu) ;
Petersen, the latter. There is no doubt that uveitis was opposed to
iiroiTTela, and in this sense denoted incomplete initiation ; but it was also
made to include the whole process. The prevailing use of the adjective
fivariKds is of something seen "through a glass darkly," some knowledge
purposely wrapped up in symbols.

3 So Hesychius says, Mtfcmu, drd ftvu), /jlvoptcs yap rots aiadrjaeis /cai 2£a>
twv aapKLKuv <j>povTi5(av yevbjxevoi, ovtuj tcls Betas apa\a/j.\pei$ ISexovro.
Plotinus and Proclus both use ^w of the "closed eye" of rapt con-

4 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 Chris-
tianity 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.


Mysticism has its origin in that which is the raw
material of all religion, and perhaps of all philosophy
and art as well, namely, that dim consciousness of the
beyond, which is part of our nature as human beings.
Men have given different names to these " obstinate ques-
tionings of sense and outward things." We may call them,
if we will, a sort of higher instinct, perhaps an anticipa-
tion of the evolutionary process ; or an extension of
the frontier of consciousness ; or, in religious language,
the voice of God speaking to us. Mysticism arises
when we try to bring this higher consciousness into
relation with the other contents of our minds. Religious
Mysticism may be defined as the attempt to realise the
presence of the living God in the soul and in nature,
or, more generally, as the attempt to realise, in thought
and feeling, the immanence of the temporal in the eternal,
and of the eternal in the temporal. Our consciousness
of the beyond is, I say, the raw material of all religion.
But, being itself formless, it cannot be brought directly
into relation with the forms of our thought. Accordingly,
it has to express itself by symbols, which are as it were
the flesh and bones of ideas. It is the tendency of all
symbols to petrify or evaporate, and either process is
fatal to them. They soon repudiate their mystical
origin, and forthwith lose their religious content. Then
comes a return to the fresh springs of the inner life —
a revival of spirituality in the midst of formalism or
unbelief. This is the historical function of Mysticism
— it appears as an independent active principle, the
spirit of reformations and revivals. But since every
active principle must find for itself appropriate instru-
ments, Mysticism has developed a speculative and


practical system of its own. As Goethe says, it is
"the scholastic of the heart, the dialectic of the
feelings." In this way it becomes possible to con-
sider it as a type of religion, though it must always
be remembered that in becoming such it has incorpor-
ated elements which do not belong to its inmost being. 1
As a type of religion, then, Mysticism seems to rest on
the following propositions or articles of faith : —

First, the soul (as well as the body) can see and
pe7'ceive — eari Be ^u^? alvOrio-ls ti?, as Proclus says.
We have an organ or faculty for the discernment of
spiritual truth, which, in its proper sphere, is as much
to be trusted as the organs of sensation in theirs.

The second proposition is that, since we can only
know what is akin to ourselves, 2 man, in order to know
God, must be a partaker of the Divine nature. " What

1 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 uniform.

2 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

Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngeChristian mysticism, considered in eight lectures delivered before the University of Oxford → online text (page 1 of 32)