In St. John, as in mystical theology generally, the Incarnation, rather than the Cross, is the central fact of Christianity. "The Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us," is for him the supreme dogma. And it follows necessarily from the Logos doctrine, that the Incarnation, and all that followed it, is regarded primarily as a revelation of life and light and truth. "That eternal life, which was with the Father, has been manifested unto us," is part of the opening sentence of the first Epistle. "This is the message which we have heard of Him and announce unto you, that God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all." In coming into the world, Christ "came unto His own." He had, in a sense, only to show to them what was there already: Esaias, long before, had "seen His glory, and spoken of Him." The mysterious estrangement, which had laid the world under the dominion of the Prince of darkness, had obscured but not quenched the light which lighteth every man—the inalienable prerogative of all who derive their being from the Sun of Righteousness. This central Light is Christ, and Christ only. He alone is the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Door, the Living Bread, and the True Vine. He is at once the Revealer and the Revealed, the Guide and the Way, the Enlightener and the Light. No man cometh unto the Father but by Him.
The teaching of this Gospel on the office of the Holy Spirit claims special attention in our present inquiry. The revelation of God in Christ was complete: there can be no question that St. John claims for Christianity the position of the one eternally true revelation. But without the gradual illumination of the Spirit it is partly unintelligible and partly unobserved. The purpose of the Incarnation was to reveal God the Father: "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." In these momentous words (it has been said) "the idea of God receives an abiding embodiment, and the Father is brought for ever within the reach of intelligent devotion." The purpose of the mission of the Comforter is to reveal the Son. He takes the place of the ascended Christ on earth as a living and active principle in the hearts of Christians. His office it is to bring to remembrance the teachings of Christ, and to help mankind gradually to understand them. There were also many things, our Lord said, which could not be said at the time to His disciples, who were unable to bear them. These were left to be communicated to future generations by the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of development had never before received so clear an expression; and few could venture to record it so clearly as St. John, who could not be suspected of contemplating a time when the teachings of the human Christ might be superseded.
Let us now turn to the human side of salvation, and trace the upward path of the Christian life as presented to us in this Gospel. First, then, we have the doctrine of the new birth: "Except a man be born anew (or, from above), he cannot see the kingdom of God." This is further explained as a being born "of water and of the Spirit"—words which are probably meant to remind us of the birth of the world-order out of chaos as described in Genesis, and also to suggest the two ideas of purification and life. (Baptism, as a symbol of purification, was, of course, already familiar to those who first heard the words.) Then we have a doctrine of faith which is deeper than that of the Synoptists. The very expression [Greek: pisteuein eis], "to believe on," common in St. John and rare elsewhere, shows that the word is taking a new meaning. Faith, in St. John, is no longer regarded chiefly as a condition of supernatural favours; or, rather, the mountains which it can remove are no material obstructions. It is an act of the whole personality, a self-dedication to Christ. It must precede knowledge: "If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know of the teaching," is the promise. It is the "credo ut intelligam" of later theology. The objection has been raised that St. John's teaching about faith moves in a vicious circle. His appeal is to the inward witness; and those who cannot hear this inward witness are informed that they must first believe, which is just what they can find no reason for doing. But this criticism misses altogether the drift of St. John's teaching. Faith, for him, is not the acceptance of a proposition upon evidence; still less is it the acceptance of a proposition in the teeth of evidence. It is, in the first instance, the resolution "to stand or fall by the noblest hypothesis"; that is (may we not say?), to follow Christ wherever He may lead us. Faith begins with an experiment, and ends with an experience. "He that believeth in Him hath the witness in himself"; that is the verification which follows the venture. That even the power to make the experiment is given from above; and that the experience is not merely subjective, but an universal law which has had its supreme vindication in history,—these are two facts which we learn afterwards. The converse process, which begins with a critical examination of documents, cannot establish what we really want to know, however strong the evidence may be. In this sense, and in this only, are Tennyson's words true, that "nothing worthy proving can be proven, nor yet disproven."
Faith, thus defined, is hardly distinguishable from that mixture of admiration, hope, and love by which Wordsworth says that we live. Love especially is intimately connected with faith. And as the Christian life is to be considered as, above all things, a state of union with Christ, and of His members with one another, love of the brethren is inseparable from love of God. So intimate is this union, that hatred towards any human being cannot exist in the same heart as love to God. The mystical union is indeed rather a bond between Christ and the Church, and between man and man as members of Christ, than between Christ and individual souls. Our Lord's prayer is "that they all may be one, even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us." The personal relation between the soul and Christ is not to be denied; but it can only be enjoyed when the person has "come to himself" as a member of a body. This involves an inward transit from the false isolated self to the larger life of sympathy and love which alone makes us persons. Those who are thus living according to their true nature are rewarded with an intense unshakeable conviction which makes them independent of external evidences. Like the blind man who was healed, they can say, "One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see." The words "we know" are repeated again and again in the first Epistle, with an emphasis which leaves no room for doubt that the evangelist was willing to throw the main weight of his belief on this inner assurance, and to attribute it without hesitation to the promised presence of the Comforter. We must observe, however, that this knowledge or illumination is progressive. This is proved by the passages already quoted about the work of the Holy Spirit. It is also implied by the words, "This is life eternal, that they should know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." Eternal life is not [Greek: gnosis], knowledge as a possession, but the state of acquiring knowledge ([Greek: hina gignoskosin]). It is significant, I think, that St. John, who is so fond of the verb "to know," never uses the substantive [Greek: gnosis].
The state of progressive unification, in which we receive "grace upon grace," as we learn more and more of the "fulness" of Christ, is called by the evangelist, in the verse just quoted and elsewhere, eternal life. This life is generally spoken of as a present possession rather than a future hope. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life"; "he is passed from death unto life"; "we are in Him that is true, even Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life." The evangelist is constantly trying to transport us into that timeless region in which one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
St. John's Mysticism is thus patent to all; it is stamped upon his very style, and pervades all his teaching. Commentators who are in sympathy with this mode of thought have, as we might expect, made the most of this element in the Fourth Gospel. Indeed, some of them, I cannot but think, have interpreted it so completely in the terms of their own idealism, that they have disregarded or explained away the very important qualifications which distinguish the Johannine theology from some later mystical systems. Fichte, for example, claims St. John as a supporter of his system of subjective idealism (if that is a correct description of it), and is driven to some curious bits of exegesis in his attempt to justify this claim. And Reuss (to give one example of his method) says that St. John cannot have used "the last day" in the ordinary sense, "because mystical theology has nothing to do with such a notion." He means, I suppose, that the mystic, who likes to speak of heaven as a state, and of eternal life as a present possession, has no business to talk about future judgment. I cannot help thinking that this is a very grave mistake. There is no doubt that those who believe space and time to be only forms of our thought, must regard the traditional eschatology as symbolical. We are not concerned to maintain that there will be, literally, a great assize, holden at a date and place which could be announced if we knew it. If that is all that Reuss means, perhaps he is right in saying that "mystical theology has nothing to do with such a notion." But if he means that such expressions as those referred to in St. John, about eternal life as something here and now, imply that judgment is now, and therefore not in the future, he is attributing to the evangelist, and to the whole array of religious thinkers who have used similar expressions, a view which is easy enough to understand, but which is destitute of any value, for it entirely fails to satisfy the religious consciousness. The feeling of the contrast between what ought to be and what is, is one of the deepest springs of faith in the unseen. It can only be ignored by shutting our eyes to half the facts of life. It is easy to say with Browning, "God's in His heaven: all's right with the world," or with Emerson, that justice is not deferred, and that everyone gets exactly his deserts in this life; but it would require a robust confidence or a hard heart to maintain these propositions while standing among the ruins of an Armenian village, or by the deathbed of innocence betrayed. There is no doubt a sense in which it may be said that the ideal is the actual; but only when we have risen in thought to a region above the antitheses of past, present, and future, where "is" denotes, not the moment which passes as we speak, but the everlasting Now in the mind of God. This is not a region in which human thought can live; and the symbolical eschatology of religion supplies us with forms in which it is possible to think. The basis of the belief in future judgment is that deep conviction of the rationality of the world-order, or, in religious language, of the wisdom and justice of God, which we cannot and will not surrender. It is authenticated by an instinctive assurance which is strongest in the strongest minds, and which has nothing to do with any desire for spurious "consolations"; it is a conviction, not merely a hope, and we have every reason to believe that it is part of the Divine element in our nature. This conviction, like other mystical intuitions, is formless: the forms or symbols under which we represent it are the best that we can get. They are, as Plato says, "a raft" on which we may navigate strange seas of thought far out of our depth. We may use them freely, as if they were literally true, only remembering their symbolical character when they bring us into conflict with natural science, or when they tempt us to regard the world of experience as something undivine or unreal.
It is important to insist on this point, because the extreme difficulty (or rather impossibility) of determining the true relations of becoming and being, of time and eternity, is constantly tempting us to adopt some facile solution which really destroys one of the two terms. The danger which besets us if we follow the line of thought natural to speculative Mysticism, is that we may think we have solved the problem in one of two ways, neither of which is a solution at all. Either we may sublimate our notion of spirit to such an extent that our idealism becomes merely a sentimental way of looking at the actual; or, by paring down the other term in the relation, we may fall into that spurious idealism which reduces this world to a vain shadow having no relation to reality. We shall come across a good deal of "acosmistic" philosophy in our survey of Christian Platonism; and the sentimental rationalist is with us in the nineteenth century; but neither of the two has any right to appeal to St. John. Fond as he is of the present tense, he will not allow us to blot from the page either "unborn to-morrow or dead yesterday." We have seen that he records the use by our Lord of the traditional language about future judgment. What is even more important, he asserts in the strongest possible manner, at the outset both of his Gospel and Epistle, the necessity of remembering that the Christian revelation was conveyed by certain historical events. "The Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us, and we have seen His glory." "That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life ... that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you." And again in striking words he lays it down as the test whereby we may distinguish the spirit of truth from Antichrist or the spirit of error, that the latter "confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." The later history of Mysticism shows that this warning was very much needed. The tendency of the mystic is to regard the Gospel history as only one striking manifestation of an universal law. He believes that every Christian who is in the way of salvation recapitulates "the whole process of Christ" (as William Law calls it)—that he has his miraculous birth, inward death, and resurrection; and so the Gospel history becomes for the Gnostic (as Clement calls the Christian philosopher) little more than a dramatisation of the normal psychological experience. "Christ crucified is teaching for babes," says Origen, with startling audacity; and heretical mystics have often fancied that they can rise above the Son to the Father. The Gospel and Epistle of St. John stand like a rock against this fatal error, and in this feature some German critics have rightly discerned their supreme value to mystical theology. "In all life," says Grau, "there is not an abstract unity, but an unity in plurality, an outward and inward, a bodily and spiritual; and life, like love, unites what science and philosophy separate." This co-operation of the sensible and spiritual, of the material and ideal, of the historical and eternal, is maintained throughout by St. John. "His view is mystical," says Grau, "because all life is mystical." It is true that the historical facts hold, for St. John, a subordinate place as evidences. His main proof is, as I have said, experimental. But a spiritual revelation of God without its physical counterpart, an Incarnation, is for him an impossibility, and a Christianity which has cut itself adrift from the Galilean ministry is in his eyes an imposture. In no other writer, I think, do we find so firm a grasp of the "psychophysical" view of life which we all feel to be the true one, if only we could put it in an intelligible form.
There is another feature in St. John's Gospel which shows his affinity to Mysticism, though of a different kind from that which we have been considering. I mean his fondness for using visible things and events as symbols. This objective kind of Mysticism will form the subject of my last two Lectures, and I will here only anticipate so far as to say that the belief which underlies it is that "everything, in being what it is, is symbolic of something more." The Fourth Gospel is steeped in symbolism of this kind. The eight miracles which St. John selects are obviously chosen for their symbolic value; indeed, he seems to regard them mainly as acted parables. His favourite word for miracles is [Greek: semeia], "signs" or "symbols." It is true that he also calls them "works," but this is not to distinguish them as supernatural. All Christ's actions are "works," as parts of His one "work." As evidences of His Divinity, such "works" are inferior to His "words," being symbolic and external. Only those who cannot believe on the evidence of the words and their echo in the heart, may strengthen their weak faith by the miracles. But "blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed." And besides these "signs," we have, in place of the Synoptic parables, a wealth of allegories, in which Christ is symbolised as the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Door of the Sheep, the good Shepherd, the Way, and the true Vine. Wind and water are also made to play their part. Moreover, there is much unobtrusive symbolism in descriptive phrases, as when he says that Nicodemus came by night, that Judas went out into the night, and that blood and water flowed from our Lord's side; and the washing of the disciples' feet was a symbolic act which the disciples were to understand hereafter. Thus all things in the world may remind us of Him who made them, and who is their sustaining life.
In treating of St. John, it was necessary to protest against the tendency of some commentators to interpret him simply as a speculative mystic of the Alexandrian type. But when we turn to St. Paul, we find reason to think that this side of his theology has been very much underestimated, and that the distinctive features of Mysticism are even more marked in him than in St. John. This is not surprising, for our blessed Lord's discourses, in which nearly all the doctrinal teaching of St. John is contained, are for all Christians; they rise above the oppositions which must always divide human thought and human thinkers. In St. Paul, large-minded as he was, and inspired as we believe him to be, we may be allowed to see an example of that particular type which we are considering.
St. Paul states in the clearest manner that Christ appeared to him, and that this revelation was the foundation of his Christianity and apostolic commission. "Neither did I receive the Gospel from man," he says, "nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ." It appears that he did not at first think it necessary to "confer with flesh and blood"—to collect evidence about our Lord's ministry, His death and resurrection; he had "seen" and felt Him, and that was enough. "It was the good pleasure of God to reveal His Son in me," he says simply, using the favourite mystical phraseology. The study of "evidences," in the usual sense of the term in apologetics, he rejects with distrust and contempt. External revelation cannot make a man religious. It can put nothing new into him. If there is nothing answering to it in his mind, it will profit him nothing. Nor can philosophy make a man religious. "Man's wisdom," "the wisdom of the world," is of no avail to find spiritual truth. "God chose the foolish things of the world, to put to shame them that are wise." "The word of the Cross is, to them that are perishing, foolishness." By this language he, of course, does not mean that Christianity is irrational, and therefore to be believed on authority. That would be to lay its foundation upon external evidences, and nothing could be further from the whole bent of his teaching. What he does mean, and say very clearly, is that the carnal mind is disqualified from understanding Divine truths; "it cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned." He who has not raised himself above "the world," that is, the interests and ideals of human society as it organises itself apart from God, and above "the flesh," that is, the things which seem desirable to the "average sensual man," does not possess in himself that element which can be assimilated by Divine grace. The "mystery" of the wisdom of God is necessarily hidden from him. St. Paul uses the word "mystery" in very much the same sense which St. Chrysostom gives to it in the following careful definition: "A mystery is that which is everywhere proclaimed, but which is not understood by those who have not right judgment. It is revealed, not by cleverness, but by the Holy Ghost, as we are able to receive it. And so we may call a mystery a secret ([Greek: aporreton]), for even to the faithful it is not committed in all its fulness and clearness." In St. Paul the word is nearly always found in connexion with words denoting revelation or publication. The preacher of the Gospel is a hierophant, but the Christian mysteries are freely communicated to all who can receive them. For many ages these truths were "hid in God," but now all men may be "illuminated," if they will fulfil the necessary conditions of initiation. These are to "cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit," and to have love, without which all else will be unavailing. But there are degrees of initiation. "We speak wisdom among the perfect," he says (the [Greek: teleioi] are the fully initiated); but the carnal must still be fed with milk. Growth in knowledge, growth in grace, and growth in love, are so frequently mentioned together, that we must understand the apostle to mean that they are almost inseparable. But this knowledge, grace, and love is itself the work of the indwelling God, who is thus in a sense the organ as well as the object of the spiritual life. "The Spirit searcheth all things," he says, "yea, the deep things of God." The man who has the Spirit dwelling in him "has the mind of Christ." "He that is spiritual judgeth all things," and is himself "judged of no man." It is, we must admit frankly, a dangerous claim, and one which may easily be subversive of all discipline. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty"; but such liberty may become a cloak of maliciousness. The fact is that St. Paul had himself trusted in "the Law," and it had led him into grievous error. As usually happens in such cases, his recoil from it was almost violent. He exalts the inner light into an absolute criterion of right and wrong, that no corner of the moral life may remain in bondage to Pharisaism. The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus and the stoning of Stephen were a crushing condemnation of legal and ceremonial righteousness; the law written in the heart of man, or rather spoken there by the living voice of the Holy Spirit, could never so mislead men as to make them think that they were doing God service by condemning and killing the just. Such memories might well lead St. Paul to use language capable of giving encouragement even to fanatical Anabaptists. But it is significant that the boldest claims on behalf of liberty all occur in the earlier Epistles.
The subject of St. Paul's visions and revelations is one of great difficulty. In the Acts we have full accounts of the appearance in the sky which caused, or immediately preceded, his conversion. It is quite clear that St. Paul himself regarded this as an appearance of the same kind as the other Christophanies granted to apostles and "brethren," and of a different kind from such visions as might be seen by any Christian. It was an unique favour, conferring upon him the apostolic prerogatives of an eye-witness. Other passages in the Acts show that during his missionary journeys St. Paul saw visions and heard voices, and that he believed himself to be guided by the "Spirit of Jesus." Lastly, in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians he records that "more than fourteen years ago" he was in an ecstasy, in which he was "caught up into the third heaven," and saw things unutterable. The form in which this experience is narrated suggests a recollection of Rabbinical pseudo-science; the substance of the vision St. Paul will not reveal, nor will he claim its authority for any of his teaching. These recorded experiences are of great psychological interest; but, as I said in my last Lecture, they do not seem to me to belong to the essence of Mysticism.
Another mystical idea, which is never absent from the mind of St. Paul, is that the individual Christian must live through, and experience personally, the redemptive process of Christ. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ were for him the revelation of a law, the law of redemption through suffering. The victory over sin and death was won for us; but it must also be won in us. The process is an universal law, not a mere event in the past. It has been exemplified in history, which is a progressive unfurling or revelation of a great mystery, the meaning of which is now at last made plain in Christ. And it must also appear in each human life. "We were buried with Him," says St. Paul to the Romans, "through baptism into death," "that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life." And again, "If the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall quicken also your mortal bodies through His Spirit that dwelleth in you." And, "If ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above."
The law of redemption, which St. Paul considers to have been triumphantly summed up by the death and resurrection of Christ, would hardly be proved to be an universal law if the Pauline Christ were only the "heavenly man," as some critics have asserted. St. Paul's teaching about the Person of Christ was really almost identical with the Logos doctrine as we find it in St. John's prologue, and as it was developed by the mystical philosophy of a later period. Not only is His pre-existence "in the form of God" clearly taught, but He is the agent in the creation of the universe, the vital principle upholding and pervading all that exists. "The Son," we read in the Epistle to the Colossians, "is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth; all things have been created through Him, and unto Him; and He is before all things, and in Him all things consist" (that is, "hold together," as the margin of the Revised Version explains it). "All things are summed up in Christ," he says to the Ephesians. "Christ is all and in all," we read again in the Colossians. And in that bold and difficult passage of the 15th chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians he speaks of the "reign" of Christ as coextensive with the world's history. When time shall end, and all evil shall be subdued to good, Christ "will deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father," "that God may be all in all." Very important, too, is the verse in which he says that the Israelites in the wilderness "drank of that spiritual rock which followed them, and that rock was Christ." It reminds us of Clement's language about the Son as the Light which broods over all history.
The passage from the Colossians, which I quoted just now, contains another mystical idea besides that of Christ as the universal source and centre of life. He is, we are told, "the Image of the invisible God," and all created beings are, in their several capacities, images of Him. Man is essentially "the image and glory of God"; the "perfect man" is he who has come "to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." This is our nature, in the Aristotelian sense of completed normal development; but to reach it we have to slay the false self, the old man, which is informed by an actively maleficent agency, "flesh" which is hostile to "spirit." This latter conception does not at present concern us; what we have to notice is the description of the upward path as an inner transit from the false isolation of the natural man into a state in which it is possible to say, "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." In the Epistle to the Galatians he uses the favourite mystical phrase, "until Christ be formed in you"; and in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians he employs a most beautiful expression in describing the process, reverting to the figure of the "mirror," dear to Mysticism, which he had already used in the First Epistle: "We all with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory." Other passages, which refer primarily to the future state, are valuable as showing that St. Paul lends no countenance to that abstract idea of eternal life as freedom from all earthly conditions, which has misled so many mystics. Our hope, when the earthly house of our tabernacle is dissolved, is not that we may be unclothed, but that we may be clothed upon with our heavenly habitation. The body of our humiliation is to be changed and glorified, according to the mighty working whereby God is able to subdue all things unto Himself. And therefore our whole spirit and soul and body must be preserved blameless; for the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, not the prison-house of a soul which will one day escape out of its cage and fly away.
St. Paul's conception of Christ as the Life as well as the Light of the world has two consequences besides those which have been already mentioned. In the first place, it is fatal to religious individualism. The close unity which joins us to Christ is not so much a unity of the individual soul with the heavenly Christ, as an organic unity of all men, or, since many refuse their privileges, of all Christians, with their Lord. "We, being many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another." There must be "no schism in the body," but each member must perform its allotted function. St. Augustine is thoroughly in agreement with St. Paul when he speaks of Christ and the Church as "unus Christus." Not that Christ is "divided," so that He cannot be fully present to any individual—that is an error which St. Paul, St. Augustine, and the later mystics all condemn; but as the individual cannot reach his real personality as an isolated unit, he cannot, as an isolated unit, attain to full communion with Christ.
The second point is one which may seem to be of subordinate importance, but it will, I think, awaken more interest in the future than it has done in the past. In the 8th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul clearly teaches that the victory of Christ over sin and death is of import, not only to humanity, but to the whole of creation, which now groans and travails in pain together, but which shall one day be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. This recognition of the spirituality of matter, and of the unity of all nature in Christ, is one which we ought to be thankful to find in the New Testament. It will be my pleasant task, in the last two Lectures of this course, to show how the later school of mystics prized it.
The foregoing analysis of St. Paul's teaching has, I hope, justified the statement that all the essentials of Mysticism are to be found in his Epistles. But there are also two points in which his authority has been claimed for false and mischievous developments of Mysticism. These two points it will be well to consider before leaving the subject.
The first is a contempt for the historical framework of Christianity. We have already seen how strongly St. John warns us against this perversion of spiritual religion. But those numerous sects and individual thinkers who have disregarded this warning, have often appealed to the authority of St. Paul, who in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians says, "Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know Him so no more." Here, they say, is a distinct admission that the worship of the historical Christ, "the man Christ Jesus," is a stage to be passed through and then left behind. There is just this substratum of truth in a very mischievous error, that St. Paul does tell us that he began to teach the Corinthians by giving them in the simplest possible form the story of "Jesus Christ and Him crucified." The "mysteries" of the faith, the "wisdom" which only the "perfect" can understand, were deferred till the converts had learned their first lessons. But if we look at the passage in question, which has shocked and perplexed many good Christians, we shall find that St. Paul is not drawing a contrast between the earthly and the heavenly Christ, bidding us worship the Second Person of the Trinity, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, and to cease to contemplate the Cross on Calvary. He is distinguishing rather between the sensuous presentation of the facts of Christ's life, and a deeper realisation of their import. It should be our aim to "know no man after the flesh"; that is to say, we should try to think of human beings as what they are, immortal spirits, sharers with us of a common life and a common hope, not as what they appear to our eyes. And the same principle applies to our thoughts about Christ. To know Christ after the flesh is to know Him, not as man, but as a man. St. Paul in this verse condemns all religious materialism, whether it take the form of hysterical meditation upon the physical details of the passion, or of an over-curious interest in the manner of the resurrection. There is no trace whatever in St. Paul of any aspiration to rise above Christ to the contemplation of the Absolute—to treat Him as only a step in the ladder. This is an error of false Mysticism; the true mystic follows St. Paul in choosing as his ultimate goal the fulness of Christ, and not the emptiness of the undifferentiated Godhead.
The second point in which St. Paul has been supposed to sanction an exaggerated form of Mysticism, is his extreme disparagement of external religion—of forms and ceremonies and holy days and the like. "One man hath faith to eat all things; but he that is weak eateth herbs." "One man esteemeth one day above another, another esteemeth every day alike." "He that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, and giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks." "Why turn ye back to the weak and beggarly rudiments, whereunto ye desire to be in bondage again? Ye observe days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed labour upon you in vain." "Why do ye subject yourselves to ordinances, handle not, nor taste, nor touch, after the precepts and doctrines of men?" These are strongly-worded passages, and I have no wish to attenuate their significance. Any Christian priest who puts the observance of human ordinances— fast-days, for example—at all on the same level as such duties as charity, generosity, or purity, is teaching, not Christianity, but that debased Judaism against which St. Paul waged an unceasing polemic, and which is one of those dead religions which has to be killed again in almost every generation. But we must not forget that these vigorous denunciations do occur in a polemic against Judaism. They bear the stamp of the time at which they were written perhaps more than any other part of St. Paul's Epistles, except those thoughts which were connected with his belief in the approaching end of the world. St. Paul certainly did not intend his Christian converts to be anarchists in religious matters. There is evidence, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, that his spiritual presentation of Christianity had already been made an excuse for disorderly licence. The usual symptoms of degenerate Mysticism had appeared at Corinth. There were men there who called themselves "spiritual persons" or prophets, and showed an arrogant independence; there were others who wished to start sects of their own; others who carried antinomianism into the sphere of morals; others who prided themselves on various "spiritual gifts." As regards the last class, we are rather surprised at the half-sanction which the apostle gives to what reads like primitive Irvingism; but he was evidently prepared to enforce discipline with a strong hand. Still, it may be fairly said that he trusts mainly to his personal ascendancy, and to his teaching about the organic unity of the Christian body, to preserve or restore due discipline and cohesion. There have been hardly any religious leaders, if we except George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, who have valued ceremonies so little. In this, again, he is a genuine mystic.
Of the other books of the New Testament it is not necessary to say much. The Epistle to the Hebrews cannot be the work of St. Paul. It shows strong traces of Jewish Alexandrianism; indeed, the writer seems to have been well acquainted with the Book of Wisdom and with Philo. Alexandrian idealism is always ready to pass into speculative Mysticism, but the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews can hardly be called mystical in the sense in which St. Paul was a mystic. The most interesting side of his theology, from our present point of view, is the way in which he combines his view of religious ordinances as types and adumbrations of higher spiritual truths, with a comprehensive view of history as a progressive realisation of a Divine scheme. The keynote of the book is that mankind has been educated partly by ceremonial laws and partly by "promises." Systems of laws and ordinances, of which the Jewish Law is the chief example, have their place in history. They rightly claim obedience until the practical lessons which they can teach have been learned, and until the higher truths which they conceal under the protecting husk of symbolism can be apprehended without disguise. Then their task is done, and mankind is no longer bound by them. In the same way, the "promises" which were made under the old dispensation proved to be only symbols of deeper and more spiritual blessings, which in the moral childhood of humanity would not have appeared desirable; they were (not delusions, but) illusions, "God having prepared some better thing" to take their place. The doctrine is one of profound and far-reaching importance. In this Epistle it is certainly connected with the idealistic thought that all visible things are symbols, and that every truth apprehended by finite intelligences must be only the husk of a deeper truth. We may therefore claim the Epistle to the Hebrews as containing in outline a Christian philosophy of history, based upon a doctrine of symbols which has much in common with some later developments of Mysticism.
In the Apocalypse, whoever the author may be, we find little or nothing of the characteristic Johannine Mysticism, and the influence of its vivid allegorical pictures has been less potent in this branch of theology than might perhaps have been expected.
[Footnote 56: In referring thus to the Book of Job, I rest nothing on any theory as to its date. Whenever it was written, it illustrates that view of the relation of man to God with which Mysticism can never be content. But, of course, the antagonism between our personal claims and the laws of the universe must be done justice to before it can be surmounted.]
[Footnote 57: Jer. xxxi. 31-34.]
[Footnote 58: Isa. xxxiii. 14-17.]
[Footnote 59: See Appendix D, on the devotional use of the Song of Solomon.]
[Footnote 60: Leathes, The Witness of St. John to Christ, p. 244.]
[Footnote 61: The punctuation now generally adopted was invented (probably) by the Antiochenes, who were afraid that the words "without Him was not anything made" might, if unqualified, be taken to include the Holy Spirit. Cyril of Alexandria comments on the older punctuation, but explains the verse wrongly. "The Word, as Life by nature, was in the things which have become, mingling Himself by participation in the things that are." Bp. Westcott objects to this, that "the one life is regarded as dispersed." Cyril, however, guards against this misconception ([Greek: ou kata merismon tina kai alloiosin]). He says that created things share in "the one life as they are able." But some of his expressions are objectionable, as they seem to assume a material substratum, animated ab extra by an infusion of the Logos. Augustine's commentary on the verse is based on the well-known passage of Plato's Republic about the "ideal bed." "Arca in opere non est vita; arca in arte vita est. Sic Sapientia Dei, per quam facta sunt omnia, secundum artem continet omnia antequam fabricat omnia. Quae fiunt ... foris corpora sunt, in arte vita sunt." Those who accept the common authorship of the Gospel and the Apocalypse will find a confirmation of the view that [Greek: en] refers to ideal, extra-temporal existence, in Rev. iv. 11: "Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they were ([Greek: esan] is the true reading) and were created." There is also a very interesting passage in Eusebius (Proep. Ev. xi. 19): [Greek: kai outos ara en ho logos kath' hon aei onta ta gignomena egeneto, hosper Herakleitos an axioseie.] This is so near to the words of St. John's prologue as to suggest that the apostle, writing at Ephesus, is here referring deliberately to the lofty doctrine of the great Ephesian idealist, whom Justin claims as a Christian before Christ, and whom Clement quotes several times with respect.]
[Footnote 62: It will be seen that I assume that the first Epistle is the work of the evangelist.]
[Footnote 63: Westcott on John xiv. 26.]
[Footnote 64: Westcott.]
[Footnote 65: Cf. Theologia Germanica, chap. 48: "He who would know before he believeth cometh never to true knowledge.... I speak of a certain truth which it is possible to know by experience, but which ye must believe in before ye know it by experience, else ye will never come to know it truly."]
[Footnote 66: On the second coming of Christ, cf. John v. 25, xxi. 23; I John ii. 28, iii. 2. Scholten goes so far as to expunge v. 25 and 28, 29 as spurious.]
[Footnote 67: The allegation that the Christian persuades himself of a future life because it is the most comfortable belief to hold, seems to me utterly contemptible. Certain views about heaven and hell are no doubt traceable to shallow optimism; but the belief in immortality is in itself rather awful than consoling. Besides, what sane man would wish to be deceived in such a matter?]
[Footnote 68: Henry More brings this charge against the Quakers. There are, he says, many good and wholesome things in their teaching, but they mingle with them a "slighting of the history of Christ, and making a mere allegory of it—tending to the utter overthrow of that warrantable, though more external frame of Christianity, which Scripture itself points out to us" (Mastix, his letter to a Friend, p. 306).]
[Footnote 69: E.g. Strauss and Grau, quoted in Lilienfeld's Thoughts on the Social Science of the Future.]
[Footnote 70: The intense moral dualism of St. John has been felt by many as a discordant note; and though it is not closely connected with his Mysticism, a few words should perhaps be added about it. It has been thought strange that the Logos, who is the life of all things that are, should have to invade His own kingdom to rescue it from its de facto ruler, the Prince of darkness; and stranger yet, that the bulk of mankind should seemingly be "children of the devil," born of the flesh, and incapable of salvation. The difficulty exists, but it has been exaggerated. St. John does not touch either the metaphysical problem of the origin of evil, or predestination in the Calvinistic sense. The vivid contrasts of light and shade in his picture express his judgment on the tragic fate of the Jewish people, The Gospel is not a polemical treatise, but it bears traces of recent conflicts. St. John wishes to show that the rejection of Christ by the Jews was morally inevitable; that their blindness and their ruin followed naturally from their characters and principles. Looking back on the memories of a long life, he desires to trace the operation of uniform laws in dividing the wheat of humanity from the chaff. He is content to observe how [Greek: ethos anthropo daimon], without speculating on the reason why characters differ. In offering these remarks, I am assuming, what seems to me quite certain, that St. John selected from our Lord's discourses those which suited his particular object, and that in the setting and arrangement he allowed himself a certain amount of liberty.]
[Footnote 71: Gal. i. 12.]
[Footnote 72: 1 Cor. xv. shows that he subsequently satisfied himself of the truth of the other Christophanies.]
[Footnote 73: Gal, i. 15, 16.]
[Footnote 74: 1 Cor. i. and ii.]
[Footnote 75: Chrysostom in I Cor., Hom. vii. 2.]
[Footnote 76: See Lightfoot on Col. i. 26.]
[Footnote 77: Eph. iii. 9.]
[Footnote 78: 2 Tim. i. 10 ([Greek: photizein]); cf. Eph. i. 9.]
[Footnote 79: 2 Cor. vii. 1.]
[Footnote 80: In spite of this, he is attacked for this passage in the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies (xvii. 19), where "Simon Magus" is asked, "Can anyone be made wise to teach through a vision?"]
[Footnote 81: Compare a beautiful passage in R.L. Nettleship's Remains: "To live is to die into something more perfect.... God can only make His work to be truly His work, by eternally dying, sacrificing what is dearest to Him."]
[Footnote 82: Col. i. 26, ii. 2, iv. 3; Eph. iii. 2-9. I have allowed myself to quote from these Epistles because I am myself a believer in their genuineness. The Mysticism of St. Paul might be proved from the undisputed Epistles only, but we should then lose some of the most striking illustrations of it.]
[Footnote 83: Rom. vi. 4.]
[Footnote 84: Rom. viii. 11.]
[Footnote 85: St. Paul's mystical language about death and resurrection has given rise to much controversy. On the one hand, we have writers like Matthew Arnold, who tell us that St. Paul unconsciously substitutes an ethical for a physical resurrection—an eternal life here and now for a future reward. On the other, we have writers like Kabisch (Eschatologie des Paulus), who argue that the apostle's whole conception was materialistic, his idea of a "spiritual body" being that of a body composed of very fine atoms (like those of Lucretius' "anima"), which inhabits the earthly body of the Christian like a kernel within its husk, and will one day (at the resurrection) slough off its muddy vesture of decay, and thenceforth exist in a form which can defy the ravages of time. Of the two views, Matthew Arnold's is much the truer, even though it should be proved that St. Paul sometimes pictures the "spiritual body" in the way described. But the key to the problem, in St. Paul as in St. John, is that pyscho-physical theory which demands that the laws of the spiritual world shall have their analogous manifestations in the world of phenomena. Death must, somehow or other, be conquered in the visible as well as in the invisible sphere. The law of life through death must be deemed to pervade every phase of existence. And as a mere prolongation of physical life under the same conditions is impossible, and, moreover, would not fulfil the law in question, we are bound to have recourse to some such symbol as "spiritual body." It will hardly be disputed that the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the whole man has taken a far stronger hold of the religious consciousness of mankind than the Greek doctrine of the immortality of the soul, or that this doctrine is plainly taught by St. Paul. All attempts to turn his eschatology into a rationalistic (Arnold) or a materialistic (Kabisch) theory must therefore be decisively rejected.]
[Footnote 86: Col. iii. 1.]
[Footnote 87: Phil. ii. 6.]
[Footnote 88: Col. i. 15-17.]
[Footnote 89: Eph. i. 10.]
[Footnote 90: Col. iii. 11.]
[Footnote 91: 1 Cor. xv. 24-28.]
[Footnote 92: 1 Cor. x. 4.]
[Footnote 93: 1 Cor. xi. 7.]
[Footnote 94: Eph. iv. 13.]
[Footnote 95: Gal. ii. 20.]
[Footnote 96: Gal. iv. 19.]
[Footnote 97: 2 Cor. iii. 18.]
[Footnote 98: Rom. xii. 5.]
[Footnote 99: 1 Cor. xii. 25.]
[Footnote 100: 1 Cor. ii. 1, 2.]
[Footnote 101: Rom. xiv.]
[Footnote 102: Gal. iv. 9-11.]
[Footnote 103: Col. ii. 20-22.]
[Footnote 104: I have been reminded that great tenderness is due to the "sancta simplicitas" of the "anicula Christiana," whose religion is generally of this type. I should agree, if the "anicula" were not always so ready with her faggot when a John Huss is to be burnt.]
[Footnote 105: 1 Cor. xiv. 37.]
[Footnote 106: There seem to have been two conceptions of the operations of the Spirit in St. Paul's time: (a) He comes fitfully, with visible signs, and puts men beside themselves; (b) He is an abiding presence, enlightening, guiding, and strengthening. St. Paul lays weight on the latter view, without repudiating the former. See H. Gunkel, Die Wirkungen des H. Geistes nach der popul. Anschauung d. apostol. Zeit und d. Lehre der Paulus.]
[Greek: "Dio de dikaios mone pteroutai he tou philosophou dianoia pros gar ekeinois aei esti mneme kata dunamin, pros oisper theos on theios esti. tois de de toioutois aner hupomnemasin orthos chromenos, teleous aei teletas teloumenos, teleos ontos monos gignetai."]
PLATO, Phaedrus, p. 249.
LICHT UND FARBE
"Wohne, du ewiglich Eines, dort bei dem ewiglich Einen! Farbe, du wechselnde, komm' freundlich zum Menschen herab!"
"Nel suo profondo vidi che s'interna, Legato con amore in un volume, Cio che per l'universo si squaderna; Sustanzia ed accidente, e lor costume, Tutti conflati insieme par tal modo, Che cio ch'io dico e un semplice lume."
DANTE, Paradiso, c. 33.
CHRISTIAN PLATONISM AND SPECULATIVE MYSTICISM
I. IN THE EAST
"That was the true Light, which lighteth every man coming into the world."—JOHN i. 9.
"He made darkness His hiding place, His pavilion round about Him; darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies."—Ps. xviii. 11.
I have called this Lecture "Christian Platonism and Speculative Mysticism." Admirers of Plato are likely to protest that Plato himself can hardly be called a mystic, and that in any case there is very little resemblance between the philosophy of his dialogues and the semi-Oriental Mysticism of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. I do not dispute either of these statements; and yet I wish to keep the name of Plato in the title of this Lecture. The affinity between Christianity and Platonism was very strongly felt throughout the period which we are now to consider. Justin Martyr claims Plato (with Heraclitus and Socrates) as a Christian before Christ; Athenagoras calls him the best of the forerunners of Christianity, and Clement regards the Gospel as perfected Platonism. The Pagans repeated so persistently the charge that Christ borrowed from Plato what was true in His teaching, that Ambrose wrote a treatise to confute them. As a rule, the Christians did not deny the resemblance, but explained it by saying that Plato had plagiarised from Moses—a curious notion which we find first in Philo. In the Middle Ages the mystics almost canonised Plato: Eckhart speaks of him, quaintly enough, as "the great priest" (der grosse Pfaffe); and even in Spain, Louis of Granada calls him "divine," and finds in him "the most excellent parts of Christian wisdom." Lastly, in the seventeenth century the English Platonists avowed their intention of bringing back the Church to "her old loving nurse the Platonic philosophy." These English Platonists knew what they were talking of; but for the mediaeval mystics Platonism meant the philosophy of Plotinus adapted by Augustine, or that of Proclus adapted by Dionysius, or the curious blend of Platonic, Aristotelian, and Jewish philosophy which filtered through into the Church by means of the Arabs. Still, there was justice underlying this superficial ignorance. Plato is, after all, the father of European Mysticism. Both the great types of mystics may appeal to him—those who try to rise through the visible to the invisible, through Nature to God, who find in earthly beauty the truest symbol of the heavenly, and in the imagination—the image-making faculty—a raft whereon we may navigate the shoreless ocean of the Infinite; and those who distrust all sensuous representations as tending "to nourish appetites which we ought to starve," who look upon this earth as a place of banishment, upon material things as a veil which hides God's face from us, and who bid us "flee away from hence as quickly as may be," to seek "yonder," in the realm of the ideas, the heart's true home. Both may find in the real Plato much congenial teaching—that the highest good is the greatest likeness to God—that the greatest happiness is the vision of God—that we should seek holiness not for the sake of external reward, but because it is the health of the soul, while vice is its disease—that goodness is unity and harmony, while evil is discord and disintegration—that it is our duty and happiness to rise above the visible and transitory to the invisible and permanent. It may also be a pleasure to some to trace the fortunes of the positive and negative elements in Plato's teaching—of the humanist and the ascetic who dwelt together in that large mind; to observe how the world-renouncing element had to grow at the expense of the other, until full justice had been done to its claims; and then how the brighter, more truly Hellenic side was able to assert itself under due safeguards, as a precious thing dearly purchased, a treasure reserved for the pure and humble, and still only to be tasted carefully, with reverence and godly fear. There is, of course, no necessity for connecting this development with the name of Plato. The way towards a reconciliation of this and other differences is more clearly indicated in the New Testament; indeed, nothing can strengthen our belief in inspiration so much as to observe how the whole history of thought only helps us to understand St. Paul and St. John better, never to pass beyond their teaching. Still, the traditional connexion between Plato and Mysticism is so close that we may, I think, be pardoned for keeping, like Ficinus, a lamp burning in his honour throughout our present task.
It is not my purpose in these Lectures to attempt a historical survey of Christian Mysticism. To attempt this, within the narrow limits of eight Lectures, would oblige me to give a mere skeleton of the subject, which would be of no value, and of very little interest. The aim which I have set before myself is to give a clear presentation of an important type of Christian life and thought, in the hope that it may suggest to us a way towards the solution of some difficulties which at present agitate and divide us. The path is beset with pitfalls on either side, as will be abundantly clear when we consider the startling expressions which Mysticism has often found for itself. But though I have not attempted to give even an outline of the history of Mysticism, I feel that the best and safest way of studying this or any type of religion is to consider it in the light of its historical development, and of the forms which it has actually assumed. And so I have tried to set these Lectures in a historical framework, and, in choosing prominent figures as representatives of the chief kinds of Mysticism, to observe, so far as possible, the chronological order. The present Lecture will carry us down to the Pseudo-Dionysius, the influence of whose writings during the next thousand years can hardly be overestimated. But if we are to understand how a system of speculative Mysticism, of an Asiatic rather than European type, came to be accepted as the work of a convert of St. Paul, and invested with semi-apostolic authority, we must pause for a few minutes to let our eyes rest on the phenomenon called Alexandrianism, which fills a large place in the history of the early Church.
We have seen how St. Paul speaks of a Gnosis or higher knowledge, which can be taught with safety only to the "perfect" or "fully initiated"; and he by no means rejects such expressions as the Pleroma (the totality of the Divine attributes), which were technical terms of speculative theism. St. John, too, in his prologue and other places, brings the Gospel into relation with current speculation, and interprets it in philosophical language. The movement known as Gnosticism, both within and without the Church, was an attempt to complete this reconciliation between speculative and revealed religion, by systematising the symbols of transcendental mystical theosophy. The movement can only be understood as a premature and unsuccessful attempt to achieve what the school of Alexandria afterwards partially succeeded in doing. The anticipations of Neoplatonism among the Gnostics would probably be found to be very numerous, if the victorious party had thought their writings worth preserving. But Gnosticism was rotten before it was ripe. Dogma was still in such a fluid state, that there was nothing to keep speculation within bounds; and the Oriental element, with its insoluble dualism, its fantastic mythology and spiritualism, was too strong for the Hellenic. Gnosticism presents all the features which we shall find to be characteristic of degenerate Mysticism. Not to speak of its oscillations between fanatical austerities and scandalous licence, and its belief in magic and other absurdities, we seem, when we read Irenaeus' description of a Valentinian heretic, to hear the voice of Luther venting his contempt upon some "Geisterer" of the sixteenth century, such as Carlstadt or Sebastian Frank. "The fellow is so puffed up," says Irenaeus, "that he believes himself to be neither in heaven nor on earth, but to have entered within the Divine Pleroma, and to have embraced his guardian angel. On the strength of which he struts about as proud as a cock. These are the self-styled 'spiritual persons,' who say they have already reached perfection." The later Platonism could not even graft itself upon any of these Gnostic systems, and Plotinus rejects them as decisively as Origen.
Still closer is the approximation to later speculation which we find in Philo, who was a contemporary of St. Paul. Philo and his Therapeutae were genuine mystics of the monastic type. Many of them, however, had not been monks all their life, but were retired men of business, who wished to spend their old age in contemplation, as many still do in India. They were, of course, not Christians, but Hellenised Jews, though Eusebius, Jerome, and the Middle Ages generally thought that they were Christians, and were well pleased to find monks in the first century.
Philo's object is to reconcile religion and philosophy—in other words, Moses and Plato. His method is to make Platonism a development of Mosaism, and Mosaism an implicit Platonism. The claims of orthodoxy are satisfied by saying, rather audaciously, "All this is Moses' doctrine, not mine." His chief instrument in this difficult task is allegorism, which in his hands is a bad specimen of that pseudo-science which has done so much to darken counsel in biblical exegesis. His speculative system, however, is exceedingly interesting.
God, according to Philo, is unqualified and pure Being, but not superessential. He is emphatically [Greek: ho on], the "I am," and the most general ([Greek: to genikotaton]) of existences. At the same time He is without qualities ([Greek: apoios]), and ineffable ([Greek: arretos]). In His inmost nature He is inaccessible; as it was said to Moses, "Thou shalt see what is behind Me, but My face shall not be seen." It is best to contemplate God in silence, since we can compare Him to nothing that we know. All our knowledge of God is really God dwelling in us. He has breathed into us something of His nature, and is thus the archetype of what is highest in ourselves. He who is truly inspired "may with good reason be called God." This blessed state may, however, be prepared for by such mediating agencies as the study of God's laws in nature; and it is only the highest class of saints—the souls "born of God"—that are exalted above the need of symbols. It would be easy to show how Philo wavers between two conceptions of the Divine nature—God as simply transcendent, and God as immanent. But this is one of the things that make him most interesting. His Judaism will not allow him really to believe in a God "without qualities."
The Logos dwells with God as His Wisdom (or sometimes he calls Wisdom, figuratively, the mother of the Logos). He is the "second God," the "Idea of Ideas"; the other Ideas or Powers are the forces which he controls—"the Angels," as he adds, suddenly remembering his Judaism. The Logos is also the mind of God expressing itself in act: the Ideas, therefore, are the content of the mind of God. Here he anticipates Plotinus; but he does not reduce God to a logical point. His God is self-conscious, and reasons. By the agency of the Logos the worlds were made: the intelligible world, the [Greek: kosmos noetos], is the Logos acting as Creator. Indeed, Philo calls the intelligible universe "the only and beloved Son of God"; just as Erigena says, "Be assured that the Word is the Nature of all things." The Son represents the world before God as High Priest, Intercessor, and Paraclete. He is the "divine Angel" that guides us; He is the "bread of God," the "dew of the soul," the "convincer of sin": no evil can touch the soul in which He dwells: He is the eternal image of the Father, and we, who are not yet fit to be called sons of God, may call ourselves His sons.
Philo's ethical system is that of the later contemplative Mysticism. Knowledge and virtue can be obtained only by renunciation of self. Contemplation is a higher state than activity. "The soul should cut off its right hand." "It should shun the whirlpool of life, and not even touch it with the tip of a finger." The highest stage is when a man leaves behind his finite self-consciousness, and sees God face to face, standing in Him from henceforward, and knowing Him not by reason, but by clear certainty. Philo makes no attempt to identify the Logos with the Jewish Messiah, and leaves no room for an Incarnation.
This remarkable system anticipates the greater part of Christian and Pagan Neoplatonism. The astonishing thing is that Philo's work exercised so little influence on the philosophy of the second century. It was probably regarded as an attempt to evolve Platonism out of the Pentateuch, and, as such, interesting only to the Jews, who were at this period becoming more and more unpopular. The same prejudice may possibly have impaired the influence of Numenius, another semi-mystical thinker, who in the age of the Antonines evolved a kind of Trinity, consisting of God, whom he also calls Mind; the Son, the maker of the world, whom he does not call the Logos; and the world, the "grandson," as he calls it. His Jewish affinities are shown by his calling Plato "an Atticising Moses."
It was about one hundred and fifty years after Philo that St. Clement of Alexandria tried to do for Christianity what Philo had tried to do for Judaism. His aim is nothing less than to construct a philosophy of religion—a Gnosis, "knowledge," he calls it—which shall "initiate" the educated Christian into the higher "mysteries" of his creed. The Logos doctrine, according to which Christ is the universal Reason, the Light that lighteth every man, here asserts its full rights. Reasoned belief is the superstructure of which faith is the foundation.
"Knowledge," says Clement, "is more than faith." "Faith is a summary knowledge of urgent truths, suitable for people who are in a hurry; but knowledge is scientific faith." "If the Gnostic (the philosophical Christian) had to choose between the knowledge of God and eternal salvation, and it were possible to separate two things so inseparably connected, he would choose without the slightest hesitation the knowledge of God." On the wings of this "knowledge" the soul rises above all earthly passions and desires, filled with a calm disinterested love of God. In this state a man can distinguish truth from falsehood, pure gold from base metal, in matters of belief; he can see the connexion of the various dogmas, and their harmony with reason; and in reading Scripture he can penetrate beneath the literal to the spiritual meaning. But when Clement speaks of reason or knowledge, he does not mean merely intellectual training. "He who would enter the shrine must be pure," he says, "and purity is to think holy things." And again, "The more a man loves, the more deeply does he penetrate into God." Purity and love, to which he adds diligent study of the Scriptures, are all that is necessary to the highest life, though mental cultivation may be and ought to be a great help.
History exhibits a progressive training of mankind by the Logos. "There is one river of truth," he says, "which receives tributaries from every side."
All moral evil is caused either by ignorance or by weakness of will. The cure for the one is knowledge, the cure for the other is discipline.
In his doctrine of God we find that he has fallen a victim to the unfortunate negative method, which he calls "analysis." It is the method which starts with the assertion that since God is exalted above Being, we cannot say what He is, but only what He is not. Clement apparently objects to saying that God is above Being, but he strips Him of all attributes and qualities till nothing is left but a nameless point; and this, too, he would eliminate, for a point is a numerical unit, and God is above the idea of the Monad. We shall encounter this argument far too often in our survey of Mysticism, and in writers more logical than Clement, who allowed it to dominate their whole theology and ethics.
The Son is the Consciousness of God. The Father only sees the world as reflected in the Son. This bold and perhaps dangerous doctrine seems to be Clement's own.
Clement was not a deep or consistent thinker, and the task which he has set himself is clearly beyond his strength. But he gathers up most of the religious and philosophical ideas of his time, and weaves them together into a system which is permeated by his cultivated, humane, and genial personality.
Especially interesting from the point of view of our present task is the use of mystery-language which we find everywhere in Clement. The Christian revelation is "the Divine (or holy) mysteries," "the Divine secrets," "the secret Word," "the mysteries of the Word"; Jesus Christ is "the Teacher of the Divine mysteries"; the ordinary teaching of the Church is "the lesser mysteries"; the higher knowledge of the Gnostic, leading to full initiation ([Greek: epopteia]) "the great mysteries." He borrows verbatim from a Neopythagorean document a whole sentence, to the effect that "it is not lawful to reveal to profane persons the mysteries of the Word"—the "Logos" taking the place of "the Eleusinian goddesses." This evident wish to claim the Greek mystery-worship, with its technical language, for Christianity, is very interesting, and the attempt was by no means unfruitful. Among other ideas which seem to come direct from the mysteries is the notion of deification by the gift of immortality. Clement says categorically, [Greek: to me phtheiresthai theiotetos metechein esti]. This is, historically, the way in which the doctrine of "deification" found its way into the scheme of Christian Mysticism. The idea of immortality as the attribute constituting Godhead was, of course, as familiar to the Greeks as it was strange to the Jews.
Origen supplies some valuable links in the history of speculative Mysticism, but his mind was less inclined to mystical modes of thought than was Clement's. I can here only touch upon a few points which bear directly upon our subject.
Origen follows Clement in his division of the religious life into two classes or stages, those of faith and knowledge. He draws too hard a line between them, and speaks with a professorial arrogance of the "popular, irrational faith" which leads to "somatic Christianity," as opposed to the "spiritual Christianity" conferred by Gnosis or Wisdom. He makes it only too clear that by "somatic Christianity" he means that faith which is based on the gospel history. Of teaching founded upon the historical narrative, he says, "What better method could be devised to assist the masses?" The Gnostic or Sage no longer needs the crucified Christ. The "eternal" or "spiritual" Gospel, which is his possession, "shows clearly all things concerning the Son of God Himself, both the mysteries shown by His words, and the things of which His acts were the symbols." It is not that he denies or doubts the truth of the Gospel history, but he feels that events which only happened once can be of no importance, and regards the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as only one manifestation of an universal law, which was really enacted, not in this fleeting world of shadows, but in the eternal counsels of the Most High. He considers that those who are thoroughly convinced of the universal truths revealed by the Incarnation and Atonement, need trouble themselves no more about their particular manifestations in time.
Origen, like the Neoplatonists, says that God is above or beyond Being; but he is sounder than Clement on this point, for he attributes self-consciousness and reason to God, who therefore does not require the Second Person in order to come to Himself. Also, since God is not wholly above reason, He can be approached by reason, and not only by ecstatic vision.
The Second Person of the Trinity is called by Origen, as by Clement, "the Idea of Ideas." He is the spiritual activity of God, the World-Principle, the One who is the basis of the manifold. Human souls have fallen through sin from their union with the Logos, who became incarnate in order to restore them to the state which they have lost.
Everything spiritual is indestructible; and therefore every spirit must at last return to the Good. For the Good alone exists; evil has no existence, no substance. This is a doctrine which we shall meet with again. Man, he expressly asserts, cannot be consubstantial with God, for man can change, while God is immutable. He does not see, apparently, that, from the point of view of the Platonist, his universalism makes man's freedom to change an illusion, as belonging to time only and not to eternity.
While Origen was working out his great system of ecclesiastical dogmatic, his younger contemporary Plotinus, outside the Christian pale, was laying the coping-stone on the edifice of Greek philosophy by a scheme of idealism which must always remain one of the greatest achievements of the human mind. In the history of Mysticism he holds a more undisputed place than Plato; for some of the most characteristic doctrines of Mysticism, which in Plato are only thrown out tentatively, are in Plotinus welded into a compact whole. Among the doctrines which first receive a clear exposition in his writings are, his theory of the Absolute, whom he calls the One, or the Good; and his theory of the Ideas, which differs from Plato's; for Plato represents the mind of the World-Artist as immanent in the Idea of the Good, while Plotinus makes the Ideas immanent in the universal mind; in other words, the real world (which he calls the "intelligible world," the sphere of the Ideas) is in the mind of God. He also, in his doctrine of Vision, attaches an importance to revelation which was new in Greek philosophy. But his psychology is really the centre of his system, and it is here that the Christian Church and Christian Mysticism, in particular, is most indebted to him.
The soul is with him the meeting-point of the intelligible and the phenomenal. It is diffused everywhere. Animals and vegetables participate in it; and the earth has a soul which sees and hears. The soul is immaterial and immortal, for it belongs to the world of real existence, and nothing that is can cease to be. The body is in the soul, rather than the soul in the body. The soul creates the body by imposing form on matter, which in itself is No-thing, pure indetermination, and next door to absolute non-existence. Space and time are only forms of our thought. The concepts formed by the soul, by classifying the things of sense, are said to be "Ideas unrolled and separate," that is, they are conceived as separate in space and time, instead of existing all together in eternity. The nature of the soul is triple; it is presented under three forms, which are at the same time the three stages of perfection which it can reach. There is first and lowest the animal and sensual soul, which is closely bound up with the body; then there is the logical, reasoning soul, the distinctively human part; and, lastly, there is the superhuman stage or part, in which a man "thinks himself according to the higher intelligence, with which he has become identified, knowing himself no longer as a man, but as one who has become altogether changed, and has transferred himself into the higher region." The soul is thus "made one with Intelligence without losing herself; so that they two are both one and two." This is exactly Eckhart's doctrine of the funkelein, if we identify Plotinus' [Greek: Nous] with Eckhart's "God," as we may fairly do. The soul is not altogether incarnate in the body; part of it remains above, in the intelligible world, whither it desires to return in its entirety.
The world is an image of the Divine Mind, which is itself a reflection of the One. It is therefore not bad or evil. "What more beautiful image of the Divine could there be," he asks, "than this world, except the world yonder?" And so it is a great mistake to shut our eyes to the world around us, "and all beautiful things." The love of beauty will lead us up a long way—up to the point when the love of the Good is ready to receive us. Only we must not let ourselves be entangled by sensuous beauty. Those who do not quickly rise beyond this first stage, to contemplate "ideal form, the universal mould," share the fate of Hylas; they are engulfed in a swamp, from which they never emerge.
The universe resembles a vast chain, of which every being is a link. It may also be compared to rays of light shed abroad from one centre. Everything flowed from this centre, and everything desires to flow back towards it. God draws all men and all things towards Himself as a magnet draws iron, with a constant unvarying attraction. This theory of emanation is often sharply contrasted with that of evolution, and is supposed to be discredited by modern science; but that is only true if the emanation is regarded as a process in time, which for the Neoplatonist it is not. In fact, Plotinus uses the word "evolution" to explain the process of nature.
The whole universe is one vast organism, and if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it. This is why a "faint movement of sympathy" stirs within us at the sight of any living creature. So Origen says, "As our body, while consisting of many members, is yet held together by one soul, so the universe is to be thought of as an immense living being, which is held together by one soul—the power and the Logos of God." All existence is drawn upwards towards God by a kind of centripetal attraction, which is unconscious in the lower, half conscious in the higher organisms.
Christian Neoplatonism tended to identify the Logos, as the Second Person of the Trinity, with the [Greek: Nous], "Mind" or "Intelligence," of Plotinus, and rightly; but in Plotinus the word Logos has a less exalted position, being practically what we call "law," regarded as a vital force.
Plotinus' Trinity are the One or the Good, who is above existence, God as the Absolute; the Intelligence, who occupies the sphere of real existence, organic unity comprehending multiplicity—the One-Many, as he calls it, or, as we might call it, God as thought, God existing in and for Himself; and the Soul, the One and Many, occupying the sphere of appearance or imperfect reality—God as action. Soulless matter, which only exists as a logical abstraction, is arrived at by looking at things "in disconnexion, dull and spiritless." It is the sphere of the "merely many," and is zero, as "the One who is not" is Infinity.
The Intelligible World is timeless and spaceless, and contains the archetypes of the Sensible World. The Sensible World is our view of the Intelligible World. When we say it does not exist, we mean that we shall not always see it in this form. The "Ideas" are the ultimate form in which things are regarded by Intelligence, or by God. [Greek: Nous] is described as at once [Greek: stasis] and [Greek: kinesis], that is, it is unchanging itself, but the whole cosmic process, which is ever in flux, is eternally present to it as a process.
Evil is disintegration. In its essence it is not merely unreal, but unreality as such. It can only appear in conjunction with some low degree of goodness which suggests to Plotinus the fine saying that "vice at its worst is still human, being mixed with something opposite to itself."
The "lower virtues," as he calls the duties of the average citizen, are not only purgative, but teach us the principles of measure and rule, which are Divine characteristics. This is immensely important, for it is the point where Platonism and Asiatic Mysticism finally part company.
But in Plotinus, as in his Christian imitators, they do not part 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." 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. 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. The moral results of this self-centred individualism are exemplified by the mediaeval 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." 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 tes 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. 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. In Amiel's Journal 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."
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: moetos]) 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. 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. 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. 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, 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 mediaeval 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; 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."
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 God."
The date and nationality of Dionysius are still matters of dispute. 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—having been written in the first century. And the mediaeval Church was ready to believe that this strange semi-pantheistic Mysticism dropped from the lips of St. Paul.
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. 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." 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." 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 me 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. 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.