Christian Mysticism
by William Ralph Inge
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 117: See Bigg, Christian Platonists of Alexandria, especially pp. 92, 93.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 130: Matter is [Greek: alogos, skia logou kai ekptosis] Enn. vi. 3. 7; [Greek: eidolon kai phantasma ogkou kai hopostaseos ephesis] Enn. iii. 6. 7. If matter were nothing, it could not desire to be something; it is only no-thing—[Greek: apeiria, aoristia].]

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

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

[Footnote 133: Plotinus guards against this misconception of his meaning, Enn. v. 1. 6, [Greek: ekpodon de emin esto genesis he en chrono].]

[Footnote 134: [Greek: zoe exelittomene], Enn. i. 4. 1.]

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

[Footnote 136: Enn. iv. 5. 3, [Greek: sympathes to zoon tode to pan heauto]; iv. 9. 1, [Greek: hoste emou pathontos synaisthanesthai to pan].]

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

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

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

[Footnote 140: Enn. i. 8. 13, [Greek: eti anthropikon he kakia, memigmene tini enantio].]

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

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

[Footnote 143: Heb. viii. 5.]

[Footnote 144: Enn. iii. 8. 4, [Greek: hotan asthenesosin eis to theorein, skian theorias kai logou ten praxin poiountai]. Cf. Amiel's Journal, p. 4, "action is coarsened thought."]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 156: [Greek: ou monon mathon alla kai pathon ta theia.]]

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

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

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

[Footnote 160: E.g., [Greek: katharsis, photismos, myesis, epopteia, theosis; hierotelestai] and [Greek: mystagogoi] (of the bishops), [Greek: photistikoi] (of the priests), [Greek: kathartikoi] (of the deacons).]

[Footnote 161: [Greek: hyperousios aoristia—hyper noun hynotes—henas henopoios hapases henados—hyperousios ousia kai nous anoetos kai logos arretos—alogia kai anoesia kai anonymia—auto de me on os pases ousias epekeina.]]

[Footnote 162: [Greek: oudemia e monas e trias exagei ten hyper panta krypsioteta tes hyper panta hyperousios hyperouses hypertheotetos.]]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 169: As a specimen of his language, we may quote [Greek: esti de ekstatikos ho theios eros, ouk eon eauton einai tous erastas, alla ton eromenon] (De Div. Nom. iv. 13).]

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 175: The Hon. P. Ramanathan, C.M.G., Attorney-General of Ceylon, The Mystery of Godliness. This interesting essay was brought to my notice by the kindness of the Rev. G.U. Pope, D.D., University Teacher in Tamil and Telugu at Oxford.]

[Footnote 176: Hunt's summary of the philosophy of the Vedanta Sara (Pantheism and Christianity, p. 19) may help to illustrate further this type of thought. "Brahma is called the universal soul, of which all human souls are a part. These are likened to a succession of sheaths, which envelop each other like the coats of an onion. The human soul frees itself by knowledge from the sheath. But what is this knowledge? To know that the human intellect and all its faculties are ignorance and delusion. This is to take away the sheath, and to find that God is all. Whatever is not Brahma is nothing. So long as a man perceives himself to be anything, he is nothing. When he discovers that his supposed individuality is no individuality, then he has knowledge. Man must strive to rid himself of himself as an object of thought. He must be only a subject. As subject he is Brahma, while the objective world is mere phenomenon."]

[Footnote 177: We may compare with them the following maxims, which, enclosed in an outline of Mount Carmel, form the frontispiece to an early edition of St. Juan of the Cross:—

"To enjoy Infinity, do not desire to taste of finite things.

"To arrive at the knowledge of Infinity, do not desire the knowledge of finite things.

"To reach to the possession of Infinity, desire to possess nothing.

"To be included in the being of Infinity, desire to be thyself nothing whatever.

"The moment that thou art resting in a creature, thou art ceasing to advance towards Infinity.

"In order to unite thyself to Infinity, thou must surrender finite things without reserve."

After reading such maxims, we shall probably be inclined to think that "the Infinite" as a name for God might be given up with advantage. There is nothing Divine about a tabula rasa.]

[Footnote 178: Cf. Richard of St. Victor, de Praep. Anim. 83, "ascendat per semetipsum super semetipsum."]

[Footnote 179: The same is true of our attitude towards external nature. We are always trying to rise from the shadow to the substance, from the symbol to the thing symbolised, and so far the followers of the negative road are right; but the life of Mysticism (on this side) consists in the process of spiritualising our impressions; and to regard the process as completed is to lose shadow and substance together.]

[Footnote 180: It may be objected that I have misused the term via negativa, which is merely the line of argument which establishes the transcendence of God, as the "affirmative road" establishes His immanence. I am far from wishing to depreciate a method which when rightly used is a safeguard against Pantheism, but the whole history of mediaeval Mysticism shows how mischievous it is when followed exclusively.]

[Footnote 181: See Vaughan, Hours with the Mystics, vol. i. p. 58.]

[Footnote 182: Seth, Hegelianism and Personality, states this more strongly. He argues that "the ultimate goal of Realism is a thorough-going Pantheism." God is regarded as the summum genus, the ultimate Substance of which all existing things are accidents. The genus inheres in the species, and the species in individuals, as an entity common to all and identical in each, an entity to which individual differences adhere as accidents.]

[Footnote 183: McTaggart, Studies in Hegelian Dialectic, p. 159 sq., argues that Hegel means that the Absolute Idea exists eternally in its full perfection. There can be no real development in time. "Infinite time is a false infinite of endless aggregation." The whole discussion is very instructive and interesting.]

[Footnote 184: So Lasson says well, in his book on Meister Eckhart, "Mysticism views everything from the standpoint of teleology, while Pantheism generally stops at causality."]

[Footnote 185: As, for instance, Leslie Stephen tries to do in his Agnostic's Apology.]

[Footnote 186: The system of Spinoza, based on the canon, "Omnis determinatio est negatio," proceeds by wiping out all dividing lines, which he regards as illusions, in order to reach the ultimate truth of things. This, as Hegel showed, is acosmism rather than Pantheism, and certainly not "atheism." The method of Spinoza should have led him, as the same method led Dionysius, to define God as [Greek: hyperousios aoristia]. He only escapes this conclusion by an inconsistency. See E. Caird, Evolution of Religion, vol. i. pp. 104, 105.]

[Footnote 187: There is a third system which is called pantheistic; but as it has nothing to do with Mysticism, I need not try to determine whether it deserves the name or not. It is that which deifies physical law. Sometimes it is "materialism grown sentimental," as it has been lately described; sometimes it issues in stern Fatalism. This is Stoicism; and high Calvinism is simply Christian Stoicism. It has been called pantheistic, because it admits only one Will in the universe.]


[Greek: "Edizesamen emeouton."]


"La philosophie n'est pas philosophie si elle ne touche a l'abime; mais elle cesse d'etre philosophie si elle y tombe."


"Denn Alles muss in Nichts zerfallen, Wenn es im Sein beharren will."


"Seek no more abroad, say I, House and Home, but turn thine eye Inward, and observe thy breast; There alone dwells solid Rest. Say not that this House is small, Girt up in a narrow wall: In a cleanly sober mind Heaven itself full room doth find. Here content make thine abode With thyself and with thy God. Here in this sweet privacy May'st thou with thyself agree, And keep House in peace, tho' all Th' Universe's fabric fall."


"The One remains, the many change and pass: Heaven's light for ever shines; earth's shadows fly: Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass, Stains the white radiance of Eternity."




"Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?"—1 COR. iii. 16.

We have seen that Mysticism, like most other types of religion, had its cradle in the East. The Christian Platonists, whom we considered in the last Lecture, wrote in Greek, and we had no occasion to mention the Western Churches. But after the Pseudo-Dionysius, the East had little more to contribute to Christian thought. John of Damascus, in the eighth century, half mystic and half scholastic, need not detain us. The Eastern Churches rapidly sank into a deplorably barbarous condition, from which they have never emerged. We may therefore turn away from the Greek-speaking countries, and trace the course of Mysticism in the Latin and Teutonic races.

Scientific Mysticism in the West did not all pass through Dionysius. Victorinus, a Neoplatonic philosopher, was converted to Christianity in his old age, about 360 A.D. The story of his conversion, and the joy which it caused in the Christian community, is told by St. Augustine[188]. He was a deep thinker of the speculative mystical type, but a clumsy and obscure writer, in spite of his rhetorical training. His importance lies in his position as the first Christian Neoplatonist who wrote in Latin.

The Trinitarian doctrine of Victorinus anticipates in a remarkable manner that of the later philosophical mystics. The Father, he says, eternally knows Himself in the Son. The Son is the self-objectification of God, the "forma" of God[189], the utterance of the Absolute. The Father is "cessatio," "silentium," "quies"; but He is also "motus" while the Son is "motio." There is no contradiction between "motus" and "cessatio" since "motus" is not the same as "mutatio." "Movement" belongs to the "being" of God; and this eternal "movement" is the generation of the Son. This eternal generation is exalted above time. All life is now: we live always in the present, not in the past or future; and thus our life is a symbol of eternity, to which all things are for ever present[190]. The generation of the Son is at the same time the creation of the archetypal world; for the Son is the cosmic principle[191], through whom all that potentially is is actualised. He even says that the Father is to the Son as [Greek: ho me on] to [Greek: ho on], thus taking the step which Plotinus wished to avoid, and applying the same expression to the superessential God as to infra-essential matter.[192]

This actualisation is a self-limitation of God,[193] but involves no degradation. Victorinus uses language implying the subordination of the Son, but is strongly opposed to Arianism.

The Holy Ghost is the "bond" (copula) of the Trinity, joining in perfect love the Father and the Son. Victorinus is the first to use this idea, which afterwards became common. It is based on the Neoplatonic triad of status, progressio, regressus ([Greek: mone, proodos, epistrophe]). In another place he symbolises the Holy Ghost as the female principle, the "Mother of Christ" in His eternal life. This metaphor is a relic of Gnosticism, which the Church wisely rejected.

The second Person of the Trinity contains in Himself the archetypes of everything. He is the "elementum," "habitaculum," "habitator," "locus" of the universe. The material world was created for man's probation. All spirits pre-existed, and their partial immersion in an impure material environment is a degradation from which they must aspire to be delivered. But the whole mundane history of a soul is only the realisation of the idea which had existed from all eternity in the mind of God. These doctrines show that Victorinus is involved in a dualistic view of matter, and in a form of predestinarianism; but he has no definite teaching on the relation of sin to the ideal world.

His language about Christ and the Church is mystical in tone. "The Church is Christ," he says; "The resurrection of Christ is our resurrection"; and of the Eucharist, "The body of Christ is life."

We now come to St. Augustine himself, who at one period of his life was a diligent student of Plotinus. It would be hardly justifiable to claim St. Augustine as a mystic, since there are important parts of his teaching which have no affinity to Mysticism; but it touched him on one side, and he remained half a Platonist. His natural sympathy with Mysticism was not destroyed by the vulgar and perverted forms of it with which he was first brought in contact. The Manicheans and Gnostics only taught him to distinguish true Mysticism from false: he soon saw through the pretensions of these sectaries, while he was not ashamed to learn from Plotinus. The mystical or Neoplatonic element in his theology will be clearly shown in the following extracts. In a few places he comes dangerously near to some of the errors which we found in Dionysius.

God is above all that can be said of Him. We must not even call Him ineffable;[194] He is best adored in silence,[195] best known by nescience,[196] best described by negatives.[197] God is absolutely immutable; this is a doctrine on which he often insists, and which pervades all his teaching about predestination. The world pre-existed from all eternity in the mind of God; in the Word of God, by whom all things were made, and who is immutable Truth, all things and events are stored up together unchangeably, and all are one. God sees the time-process not as a process, but gathered up into one harmonious whole. This seems very near to acosmism, but there are other passages which are intended to guard against this error. For instance, in the Confessions[198] he says that "things above are better than things below; but all creation together is better than things above"; that is to say, true reality is something higher than an abstract spirituality.[199]

He is fond of speaking of the Beauty of God; and as he identifies beauty with symmetry,[200] it is plain that the formless "Infinite" is for him, as for every true Platonist, the bottom and not the top of the scale of being. Plotinus had perhaps been the first to speak of the Divine nature as the meeting-point of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful; and this conception, which is of great value, appears also in Augustine. There are three grades of beauty, they both say, corporeal, spiritual, and divine,[201] the first being an image of the second, and the second of the third.[202] "Righteousness is the truest beauty,[203]" Augustine says more than once. "All that is beautiful comes from the highest Beauty, which is God." This is true Platonism, and points to Mysticism of the symbolic kind, which we must consider later. St. Augustine is on less secure ground when he says that evil is simply the splash of dark colour which gives relief to the picture; and when in other places he speaks of it as simple privation of good. But here again he closely follows Plotinus.[204]

St. Augustine was not hostile to the idea of a World-Soul; he regards the universe as a living organism;[205] but he often warns his readers against identifying God and the world, or supposing that God is merely immanent in creation. The Neoplatonic teaching about the relation of individual souls to the World-Soul may have helped him to formulate his own teaching about the mystical union of Christians with Christ. His phrase is that Christ and the Church are "una persona."

St. Augustine arranges the ascent of the soul in seven stages.[206] But the higher steps are, as usual, purgation, illumination, and union. This last, which he calls "the vision and contemplation of truth," is "not a step, but the goal of the journey." When we have reached it, we shall understand the wholesomeness of the doctrines with which we were fed, as children with milk; the meaning of such "hard sayings" as the resurrection of the body will become plain to us. Of the blessedness which attends this state he says elsewhere,[207] "I entered, and beheld with the mysterious eye of my soul the light that never changes, above the eye of my soul, above my intelligence. It was something altogether different from any earthly illumination. It was higher than my intelligence because it made me, and I was lower because made by it. He who knows the truth knows that light, and he who knows that light knows eternity. Love knows that light." And again he says,[208] "What is this which flashes in upon me, and thrills my heart without wounding it? I tremble and I burn; I tremble, feeling that I am unlike Him; I burn, feeling that I am like Him."

One more point must be mentioned before we leave St. Augustine. In spite of, or rather because of, his Platonism, he had nothing but contempt for the later Neoplatonism, the theurgic and theosophic apparatus of Iamblichus and his friends. I have said nothing yet about the extraordinary development of magic in all its branches, astrology, necromancy, table-rapping, and other kinds of divination, charms and amulets and witchcraft, which brought ridicule upon the last struggles of paganism. These aberrations of Nature-Mysticism will be dealt with in their later developments in my seventh Lecture. St. Augustine, after mentioning some nonsensical incantations of the "abracadabra" kind, says, "A Christian old woman is wiser than these philosophers." In truth, the spirit of Plato lived in, and not outside Christianity, even in the time of Porphyry. And on the cultus of angels and spirits, which was closely connected with theurgic superstition, St. Augustine's judgment is very instructive. "Whom should I find," he asks, "to reconcile me to Thee? Should I approach the angels? With what prayers, with what rites? Many, as I hear, have tried this method, and have come to crave for curious visions, and have been deceived, as they deserved.[209]"

In spite of St. Augustine's Platonism and the immense influence which he exercised, the Western Church was slow in developing a mystical theology. The Greek Mysticism, based on emanation, was not congenial to the Western mind, and the time of the German, with its philosophy of immanence, was not yet. The tendency of Eastern thinkers is to try to gain a view of reality as a whole, complete and entire: the form under which it most readily pictures it is that of space. The West seeks rather to discover the universal laws which in every part of the universe are working out their fulfilment. The form under which it most readily pictures reality is that of time.[210] Thus Neoplatonism had to undergo certain modifications before it could enter deeply into the religious consciousness of the West.

The next great name is that of John Scotus Erigena,[211] an English or Irish monk, who in the ninth century translated Dionysius into Latin. Erigena is unquestionably one of the most remarkable figures of the Middle Ages. A bold and independent thinker, he made it his aim to elucidate the vague theories of Dionysius, and to present them as a consistent philosophical system worked out by the help of Aristotle and perhaps Boethius.[212] He intends, of course, to keep within the limits permitted to Christian speculation; but in reality he does not allow dogma to fetter him. The Christian Alexandrians were, on the whole, more orthodox than their language; Erigena's language partially veils the real audacity of his speculation. He is a mystic only by his intellectual affinities;[213] the warmth of pious aspiration and love which makes Dionysius, amid all his extravagance, still a religious writer, has cooled entirely in Erigena. He can pray with fervour and eloquence for intellectual enlightenment; but there was nothing of the prophet or saint about him, to judge from his writings. Still, though one might dispute his title to be called either a Christian or a mystic, we must spare a few minutes to this last flower of Neoplatonism, which bloomed so late on our northern islands.

God, says Erigena, is called Essence or Being; but, strictly speaking, He is not "Being";[214] for Being arises in opposition to not-Being, and there is no opposition to the Absolute, or God. Eternity, the abode or nature of God, is homogeneous and without parts, one, simple, and indivisible. "God is the totality of all things which are and are not, which can and cannot be. He is the similarity of the similar, the dissimilarity of the dissimilar, the opposition of opposites, and the contrariety of contraries. All discords are resolved when they are considered as parts of the universal harmony." All things begin from unity and end in unity: the Absolute can contain nothing self-contradictory. And so God cannot be called Goodness, for Goodness is opposed to Badness, and God is above this distinction. Goodness, however is a more comprehensive term than Being. There may be Goodness without Being, but not Being without Goodness; for Evil is the negation of Being. "The Scripture openly pronounces this," says Erigena; "for we read, God saw all things; and not, lo, they were, but, lo, they were very good." All things are, in so far as they are good. "But the things that are not are also called good, and are far better than those which are." Being, in fact, is a defect, "since it separates from the superessential Good." The feeling which prompts this strange expression is that since time and space are themselves onesided appearances, a fixed limit must be set to the amount of goodness and reality which can be represented under these conditions. Erigena therefore thinks that to enter the time-process must be to contract a certain admixture of unreality or evil. In so far as life involves separateness (not distinction), this must be true; but the manifold is only evil when it is discordant and antagonistic to unity. That the many-in-one should appear as the one-in-many, is the effect of the forms of time and space in which it appears; the statement that "the things which are not are far better than those which are," is only true in the sense that the world of appearance is permeated by evil as yet unsubdued, which in the Godhead exists only as something overcome or transmuted.

Erigena says that God is above all the categories, including that of relation. It follows that the Persons of the Trinity, which are only "relative names," are fused in the Absolute.[215] We may make statements about God, if we remember that they are only metaphors; but whatever we deny about Him, we deny truly.[216] This is the "negative road" of Dionysius, from whom Erigena borrows a number of uncouth compounds. But we can see that he valued this method mainly as safeguarding the transcendence of God against pantheistic theories of immanence. The religious and practical aspects of the doctrine had little interest for him.

The destiny of all things is to "rest and be quiet" in God. But he tries to escape the conclusion that all distinctions must disappear; rather, he says, the return to God raises creatures into a higher state, in which they first attain their true being. All individual types will be preserved in the universal. He borrows an illustration, not a very happy one, from Plotinus. "As iron, when it becomes red-hot, seems to be turned into pure fire, but remains no less iron than before; so when body passes into soul, and rational substances into God, they do not lose their identity, but preserve it in a higher state of being."

Creation he regards as a necessary self-realisation of God. "God was not," he says, "before He made the universe." The Son is the Idea of the World; "be assured," he says, "that the Word is the nature of all things." The primordial causes or ideas—Goodness, Being, Life, etc., in themselves, which the Father made in the Son—are in a sense the creators of the world, for the order of all things is established according to them. God created the world, not out of nothing, nor out of something, but out of Himself.[217] The creatures have always pre-existed "yonder" in the Word; God has only caused them to be realised in time and space.

"Thought and Action are identical in God." "He sees by working and works by seeing."

Man is a microcosm. The fivefold division of nature—corporeal, vital, sensitive, rational, intellectual—is all represented in his organisation. The corruptible body is an "accident," the consequence of sin. The original body was immortal and incorruptible. This body will one day be restored.

Evil has no substance, and is destined to disappear. "Nothing contrary to the Divine goodness and life and blessedness can be coeternal with them." The world must reach perfection, when all will ultimately be God. "The loss and absence of Christ is the torment of the whole creation, nor do I think that there is any other." There is no "place of punishment" anywhere.

Erigena is an admirable interpreter of the Alexandrians and of Dionysius, but he emphasises their most dangerous tendencies. We cannot be surprised that his books were condemned; it is more strange that the audacious theories which they repeat from Dionysius should have been allowed to pass without censure for so long. Indeed, the freedom of speculation accorded to the mystics forms a remarkable exception to the zeal for exact orthodoxy which characterised the general policy of the early Church. The explanation is that in the East Mysticism has seldom been revolutionary, and has compensated for its speculative audacity by the readiness of its outward conformity. Moreover, the theories of Dionysius about the earthly and heavenly hierarchies were by no means unwelcome to sacerdotalism. In the West things were different. Mysticism there has always been a spirit of reform, generally of revolt. There is much even in Erigena, whose main affinities were with the East, which forecasts the Reformation. He is the father, not only of Western Mysticism and scholasticism, but of rationalism as well.[218] But the danger which lurked in his speculations was not at first recognised. His book on predestination was condemned in 855 and 859 for its universalist doctrine,[219] and two hundred years later his Eucharistic doctrine, revived by Berengar, was censured.[220] But it was not till the thirteenth century that a general condemnation was passed upon him. This judgment followed the appearance of a strongly pantheistic or acosmistic school of mystics, chief among whom was Amalric of Bena, a master of theology at Paris about 1200. Amalric is a very interesting figure, for his teaching exhibits all the features which are most characteristic of extravagant Mysticism in the West—its strong belief in Divine immanence, not only in the Church, but in the individual; its uncompromising rationalism, contempt for ecclesiastical forms, and tendency to evolutionary optimism. Among the doctrines attributed to Amalric and his followers are a pantheistic identification of man with God, and a negation of matter; they were said to teach that unconsecrated bread was the body of Christ, and that God spoke through Ovid (a curious choice!), as well as through St. Augustine. They denied the resurrection of the body, and the traditional eschatology, saying that "he who has the knowledge of God in himself has paradise within him." They insisted on a progressive historical revelation—the reign of the Father began with Abraham, that of the Son with Christ, that of the Spirit with themselves. They despised sacraments, believing that the Spirit works without means. They taught that he who lives in love can do no wrong, and were suspected, probably truly, of the licentious conduct which naturally follows from such a doctrine. This antinomianism is no part of true Mysticism; but it is often found in conjunction with mystical speculation among the half-educated. It is the vulgar perversion of Plotinus' doctrine that matter is nothing, and that the highest part of our nature can take no stain.[221] We find evidence of immorality practised "in nomine caritatis" among the Gnostics and Manicheans of the first centuries, and these heresies never really became extinct. The sects of the "Free Spirit," who flourished later in the thirteenth century, had an even worse reputation than the Amalricians. They combined with their Pantheism a Determinism which destroyed all sense of responsibility. On the other hand, the followers of Ortlieb of Strassburg, about the same period, advocated an extreme asceticism based on a dualistic or Manichean view of the world; and they combined with this error an extreme rationalism, teaching that the historical Christ was a mere man; that the Gospel history has only a symbolical truth; that the soul only, without the body, is immortal; and that the Pope and his priests are servants of Satan.

The problem for the Church was how to encourage the warm love and faith of the mystics without giving the rein to these mischievous errors. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries produced several famous writers, who attempted to combine scholasticism and Mysticism.[222] The leaders in this attempt were Bernard,[223] Hugo and Richard of St. Victor, Bonaventura, Albertus Magnus, and (later) Gerson. Their works are not of great value as contributions to religious philosophy, for the Schoolmen were too much afraid of their authorities—Catholic tradition and Aristotle—to probe difficulties to the bottom; and the mystics, who, by making the renewed life of the soul their starting-point, were more independent, were debarred, by their ignorance of Greek, from a first-hand knowledge of their intellectual ancestors. But in the history of Mysticism they hold an important place.[224] Speculation being for them restricted within the limits of Church-dogma, they were obliged to be more psychological and less metaphysical than Dionysius or Erigena. The Victorines insist often on self-knowledge as the way to the knowledge of God and on self-purification as more important than philosophy. "The way to ascend to God," says Hugo, "is to descend into oneself.[225]" "The ascent is through self above self," says Richard; we are to rise on stepping-stones of our dead selves to higher things. "Let him that thirsts to see God clean his mirror, let him make his own spirit bright," says Richard again. The Victorines do not disparage reason, which is the organ by which mankind in general apprehend the things of God; but they regard ecstatic contemplation as a supra-rational state or faculty, which can only be reached per mentis excessum, and in which the naked truth is seen, no longer in a glass darkly.[226]

This highest state, in which "Reason dies in giving birth to Ecstasy, as Rachel died in giving birth to Benjamin," is not on the high road of the spiritual life. It is a rare gift, bestowed by supernatural grace. Richard says that the first stage of contemplation is an expansion of the soul, the second an exaltation, the third an alienation. The first arises from human effort, the second from human effort assisted by Divine grace, the third from Divine grace alone. The predisposing conditions for the third state are devotion (devotio), admiration (admiratio), and joy (exaltatio); but these cannot produce ecstasy, which is a purely supernatural infusion.

This sharp opposition between the natural and the supernatural, which is fully developed first by Richard of St. Victor, is the distinguishing feature of Catholic Mysticism. It is an abandonment of the great aim which the earlier Christian idealists had set before themselves, namely, to find spiritual law in the normal course of nature, and the motions of the Divine Word in the normal processes of mind. St. John's great doctrine of the Logos as a cosmic principle is now dropped. Roman Catholic apologists[227] claim that Mysticism was thus set free from the "idealistic pantheism" of the Neoplatonist, and from the "Gnostic-Manichean dualism" which accompanies it. The world of space and time (they say) is no longer regarded, as it was by the Neoplatonist, as a fainter effluence from an ideal world, nor is human individuality endangered by theories of immanence. Both nature and man regain a sort of independence. We once more tread as free men on solid ground, while occasional "supernatural phenomena" are not wanting to testify to the existence of higher powers.

We have seen that the Logos-doctrine (as understood by St. Clement) is exceptionally liable to perversion; but the remedy of discarding it is worse than the disease. The unscriptural[228] and unphilosophical cleft between natural and supernatural introduces a more intractable dualism than that of Origen. The faculty which, according to this theory, possesses immediate intuition into the things of God is not only irresponsible to reason, but stands in no relation to it. It ushers us into an entirely new world, where the familiar criteria of truth and falsehood are inapplicable. And what it reveals to us is not a truer and deeper view of the actual, but a wholly independent cosmic principle which invades the world of experience as a disturbing force, spasmodically subverting the laws of nature in order to show its power over them.[229] For as soon as the formless intuition of contemplation begins to express itself in symbols, these symbols, when untested by reason, are transformed into hallucinations. The warning of Plotinus, that "he who tries to rise above reason falls outside of it," receives a painful corroboration in such legends as that of St. Christina, who by reason of her extreme saintliness frequently soared over the tops of trees. The consideration of these alleged "mystical phenomena" belongs to objective Mysticism, which I hope to deal with in a later Lecture. Here I will only say that the scholastic-mystical doctrine of "supernatural" interventions, which at first sight seems so attractive, has led in practice to the most barbarous and ridiculous superstitions.[230]

Another good specimen of scholastic Mysticism is the short treatise, De adhaerendo Deo, of Albertus Magnus. It shows very clearly how the "negative road" had become the highway of mediaeval Catholicism, and how little could be hoped for civilisation and progress from the continuance of such teaching. "When St. John says that God is a Spirit," says Albert in the first paragraph of his treatise, "and that He must be worshipped in spirit, he means that the mind must be cleared of all images. When thou prayest, shut thy door—that is, the doors of thy senses ... keep them barred and bolted against all phantasms and images.... Nothing pleases God more than a mind free from all occupations and distractions.... Such a mind is in a manner transformed into God, for it can think of nothing, and understand nothing, and love nothing, except God: other creatures and itself it only sees in God.... He who penetrates into himself, and so transcends himself, ascends truly to God.... He whom I love and desire is above all that is sensible and all that is intelligible; sense and imagination cannot bring us to Him, but only the desire of a pure heart. This brings us into the darkness of the mind, whereby we can ascend to the contemplation even of the mystery of the Trinity.... Do not think about the world, nor about thy friends, nor about the past, present, or future; but consider thyself to be outside the world and alone with God, as if thy soul were already separated from the body, and had no longer any interest in peace or war, or the state of the world. Leave thy body, and fix thy gaze on the uncreated light.... Let nothing come between thee and God.... The soul in contemplation views the world from afar off, just as, when we proceed to God by the way of abstraction, we deny Him, first all bodily and sensible attributes, then intelligible qualities, and, lastly, that being (esse) which keeps Him among created things. This, according to Dionysius, is the best mode of union with God."

Bonaventura resembles Albertus in reverting more decidedly than the Victorines to the Dionysian tradition. He expatiates on the passivity and nakedness of the soul which is necessary in order to enter into the Divine darkness, and elaborates with tiresome pedantry his arbitrary schemes of faculties and stages. However, he gains something by his knowledge of Aristotle, which he uses to correct the Neoplatonic doctrine of God as abstract Unity. "God is 'ideo omnimodum,'" he says finely, "quia summe unum." He is "totum intra omnia et totum extra"—a succinct statement that God is both immanent and transcendent. His proof of the Trinity is original and profound. It is the nature of the Good to impart itself, and so the highest Good must be "summe diffusivum sui," which can only be in hypostatic union.

The last great scholastic mystic is Gerson, who lived from 1363 to 1429. He attempts to reduce Mysticism to an exact science, tabulating and classifying all the teaching of his predecessors. A very brief summary of his system is here given.

Gerson distinguishes symbolical, natural, and mystical theology, confining the last to the method which rests on inner experiences, and proceeds by the negative road. The experiences of the mystic have a greater certainty than any external revelations can possess.

Gerson's psychology may be given in outline as follows: The cognitive power has three faculties: (1) simple intelligence or natural light, an outflow from the highest intelligence, God Himself; (2) the understanding, which is on the frontier between the two worlds; (3) sense-consciousness. To each of these three faculties answers one of the affective faculties: (1) synteresis;[231] (2) understanding, rational desire; (3) sense-affections. To these again correspond three activities: (1) contemplation; (2) meditation;[232] (3) thought.

Mystical theology differs from speculative (i.e. scholastic), in that mystical theology belongs to the affective faculties, not the cognitive; that it does not depend on logic, and is therefore open even to the ignorant; that it is not open to the unbelieving, since it rests upon faith and love; and that it brings peace, whereas speculation breeds unrest.

The "means of mystical theology" are seven: (i.) the call of God; (ii.) certainty that one is called to the contemplative life—all are not so; (iii.) freedom from encumbrances; (iv.) concentration of interests upon God; (v.) perseverance; (vi.) asceticism; but the body must not be maltreated if it is to be a good servant; (vii.) shutting the eye to all sense perceptions.[233]

Such teaching as this is of small value or interest. Mysticism itself becomes arid and formal in the hands of Gerson. The whole movement was doomed to failure, inasmuch as scholasticism was philosophy in chains, and the negative road was Mysticism blindfolded. No fruitful reconciliation between philosophy and piety could be thus achieved. The decay of scholasticism put an end to these attempts at compromise. Henceforward the mystics either discard metaphysics, and develop their theology on the devotional and ascetic side—the course which was followed by the later Catholic mystics; or they copy Erigena in his independent attitude towards tradition.

In this Lecture we are following the line of speculative Mysticism, and we have now to consider the greatest of all speculative mystics, Meister Eckhart, who was born soon after the middle of the thirteenth century.[234] He was a Dominican monk, prior of Erfurt and vicar of Thuringen, and afterwards vicar-general for Bohemia. He preached a great deal at Cologne about 1325; and before this period had come into close relations with the Beghards and Brethren of the Free Spirit—societies of men and women who, by their implicit faith in the inner light, resembled the Quakers, though many of them, as has been said, were accused of immoral theories and practices. His teaching soon attracted the attention of the Inquisition, and some of his doctrines were formally condemned by the Pope in 1329, immediately after his death.

The aim of Eckhart's religious philosophy is to find a speculative basis for the doctrines of the Church, which shall at the same time satisfy the claims of spiritual religion. His aims are purely constructive, and he shows a distaste for polemical controversy. The writers whom he chiefly cites by name are Dionysius, Augustine, Gregory, and Boethius; but he must have read Erigena, and probably Averroes, writers to whom a Catholic could hardly confess his obligations.[235] He also frequently introduces quotations with the words, "A master saith." The "master" is nearly always Thomas Aquinas, to whom Eckhart was no doubt greatly indebted, though it would be a great mistake to say, as some have done, that all Eckhart can be found in the Summa. For instance, he sets himself in opposition to Thomas about the "spark," which Thomas regarded as a faculty of the soul, while Eckhart, in his later writings, says that it is uncreated.[236] His double object leads him into some inconsistencies. Intellectually, he is drawn towards a semi-pantheistic idealism; his heart makes him an Evangelical Christian. But though it is possible to find contradictions in his writings, his transparent intellectual honesty and his great powers of thought, combined with deep devoutness and childlike purity of soul, make him one of the most interesting figures in the history of Christian philosophy.

Eckhart wrote in German; that is to say, he wrote for the public, and not for the learned only. His desire to be intelligible to the general reader led him to adopt an epigrammatic antithetic style, and to omit qualifying phrases. This is one reason why he laid himself open to so many accusations of heresy.[237]

Eckhart distinguishes between "the Godhead" and "God." The Godhead is the abiding potentiality of Being, containing within Himself all distinctions, as yet undeveloped. He therefore cannot be the object of knowledge, nor of worship, being "Darkness" and "Formlessness.[238]" The Triune God is evolved from the Godhead. The Son is the Word of the Father, His uttered thought; and the Holy Ghost is "the Flower of the Divine Tree," the mutual love which unites the Father and the Son. Eckhart quotes the words which St. Augustine makes Christ say of Himself: "I am come as a Word from the heart, as a ray from the sun, as heat from the fire, as fragrance from the flower, as a stream from a perennial fountain." He insists that the generation of the Son is a continual process.

The universe is the expression of the whole thought of the Father; it is the language of the Word. Eckhart loves startling phrases, and says boldly, "Nature is the lower part of the Godhead," and "Before creation, God was not God." These statements are not so crudely pantheistic as they sound. He argues that without the Son the Father would not be God, but only undeveloped potentiality of being. The three Persons are not merely accidents and modes of the Divine Substance, but are inherent in the Godhead.[239] And so there can never have been a time when the Son was not. But the generation of the Son necessarily involves the creation of an ideal world; for the Son is Reason, and Reason is constituted by a cosmos of ideas. When Eckhart speaks of creation and of the world which had no beginning, he means, not the world of phenomena, but the world of ideas, in the Platonic sense. The ideal world is the complete expression of the thought of God, and is above space and time. He calls it "non-natured nature," as opposed to "diu gena-turte nature," the world of phenomena.[240] Eckhart's doctrine here differs from that of Plotinus in a very important particular. The Neoplatonists always thought of emanation as a diffusion of rays from a sun, which necessarily decrease in heat and brightness as they recede from the central focus. It follows that the second Person of the Trinity, the [Greek: Nous] or Intelligence, is subordinate to the First, and the Third to the Second. But with Eckhart there is no subordination. The Son is the pure brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of His Person. "The eternal fountain of things is the Father; the image of things in Him is the Son, and love for this Image is the Holy Ghost." All created things abide "formless" (as possibilities) in the ground of the Godhead, and all are realised in the Son. The Alexandrian Fathers, in identifying the Logos with the Platonic [Greek: Nous], the bearer of the World-Idea, had found it difficult to avoid subordinating Him to the Father. Eckhart escapes this heresy, but in consequence his view of the world is more pantheistic. For his intelligible world is really God—it is the whole content of the Divine mind.[241] The question has been much debated, whether Eckhart really falls into pantheism or not. The answer seems to me to depend on what is the obscurest part of his whole system—the relation of the phenomenal world to the world of ideas. He offers the Christian dogma of the Incarnation of the Logos as a kind of explanation of the passage of the "prototypes" into "externality." When God "speaks" His ideas, the phenomenal world arises. This is an incarnation. But the process by which the soul emancipates itself from the phenomenal and returns to the intelligible world, is also called a "begetting of the Son." Thus the whole process is a circular one—from God and back to God again. Time and space, he says, were created with the world. Material things are outside each other, spiritual things in each other. But these statements do not make it clear how Eckhart accounts for the imperfections of the phenomenal world, which he is precluded from explaining, as the Neoplatonists did, by a theory of emanation. Nor can we solve the difficulty by importing modern theories of evolution into his system. The idea of the world-history as a gradual realisation of the Divine Personality was foreign to Eckhart's thought. Stoeckl, indeed, tries to father upon him the doctrine that the human mind is a necessary organ of the self-development of God. But this theory cannot be found in Eckhart. The "necessity" which impels God to "beget His Son" is not a physical but a moral necessity. "The good must needs impart itself," he says.[242] The fact is that his view of the world is much nearer to acosmism than to pantheism. "Nothing hinders us so much from the knowledge of God as time and place," he says. He sees in phenomena only the negation of being, and it is not clear how he can also regard them as the abode of the immanent God.[243] It would probably be true to say that, like most mediaeval thinkers, he did not feel himself obliged to give a permanent value to the transitory, and that the world, except as the temporary abode of immortal spirits, interested him but little. His neglect of history, including the earthly life of Christ, is not at all the result of scepticism about the miraculous. It is simply due to the feeling that the Divine process in the "everlasting Now" is a fact of immeasurably greater importance than any occurrence in the external world can be.

When a religious writer is suspected of pantheism, we naturally turn to his treatment of the problem of evil. To the true pantheist all is equally divine, and everything for the best or for the worst, it does not much matter which.[244] Eckhart certainly does not mean to countenance this absurd theory, but there are passages in his writings which logically imply it; and we look in vain for any elucidation, in his doctrine of sin, of the dark places in his doctrine of God.[245] In fact, he adds very little to the Neoplatonic doctrine of the nature of evil. Like Dionysius, he identifies Being with Good, and evil, as such, with not-being. Moral evil is self-will: it is the attempt, on the part of the creature, to be a particular This or That outside of God.

But what is most distinctive in Eckhart's ethics is the new importance which is given to the doctrine of immanence. The human soul is a microcosm, which in a manner contains all things in itself. At the "apex of the mind" there is a Divine "spark," which is so closely akin to God that it is one with Him, and not merely united to Him.[246] In his teaching about this "ground of the soul" Eckhart wavers. His earlier view is that it is created, and only the medium by which God transforms us to Himself. But his later doctrine is that it is uncreated, the immanence of the Being and Nature of God Himself. "Diess Fuenkelein, das ist Gott," he says once. This view was adopted by Ruysbroek, Suso, and (with modifications by) Tauler, and became one of their chief tenets.[247] This spark is the organ by which our personality holds communion with God and knows Him. It is with reference to it that Eckhart uses the phrase which has so often been quoted to convict him of blasphemous self-deification—"the eye with which I see God is the same as that with which He sees me.[248]" The "uncreated spark" is really the same as the grace of God, which raises us into a Godlike state. But this grace, according to Eckhart (at least in his later period), is God Himself acting like a human faculty in the soul, and transforming it so that "man himself becomes grace."

The following is perhaps the most instructive passage: "There is in the soul something which is above the soul, Divine, simple, a pure nothing; rather nameless than named, rather unknown than known. Of this I am accustomed to speak in my discourses. Sometimes I have called it a power, sometimes an uncreated light, and sometimes a Divine spark. It is absolute and free from all names and all forms, just as God is free and absolute in Himself. It is higher than knowledge, higher than love, higher than grace. For in all these there is still distinction. In this power God doth blossom and flourish with all His Godhead, and the Spirit flourisheth in God. In this power the Father bringeth forth His only-begotten Son, as essentially as in Himself; and in this light ariseth the Holy Ghost. This spark rejecteth all creatures, and will have only God, simply as He is in Himself. It rests satisfied neither with the Father, nor with the Son, nor with the Holy Ghost, nor with the three Persons, so far as each existeth in its particular attribute. It is satisfied only with the superessential essence. It is determined to enter into the simple Ground, the still Waste, the Unity where no man dwelleth. Then it is satisfied in the light; then it is one: it is one in itself, as this Ground is a simple stillness, and in itself immovable; and yet by this immobility are all things moved."

It is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure; but our own nature and personality remain intact. It is plain that we could not see God unless our personality remained distinct from the personality of God. Complete fusion is as destructive of the possibility of love and knowledge as complete separation[249].

Eckhart gives to "the highest reason[250]" the primacy among our faculties, and in his earlier period identifies it with "the spark." He asserts the absolute supremacy of reason more strongly than anyone since Erigena. His language on this subject resembles that of the Cambridge Platonists. "Reasonable knowledge is eternal life," he says. "How can any external revelation help me," he asks, "unless it be verified by inner experience? The last appeal must always be to the deepest part of my own being, and that is my reason." "The reason," he says, "presses ever upwards. It cannot rest content with goodness or wisdom, nor even with God Himself; it must penetrate to the Ground from whence all goodness and wisdom spring."

Thus Eckhart is not content with the knowledge of God which is mediated by Christ, but aspires to penetrate into the "Divine darkness" which underlies the manifestation of the Trinity. In fact, when he speaks of the imitation of Christ, he distinguishes between "the way of the manhood," which has to be followed by all, and "the way of the Godhead," which is for the mystic only. In this overbold aspiration to rise "from the Three to the One," he falls into the error which we have already noticed, and several passages in his writings advocate the quietistic self-simplification which belongs to this scheme of perfection. There are sentences in which he exhorts us to strip off all that comes to us from the senses, and to throw ourselves upon the heart of God, there to rest for ever, "hidden from all creatures[251]." But there are many other passages of an opposite tendency. He tells us that "the way of the manhood," which, of course, includes imitation of the active life of Christ, must be trodden first by all; he insists that in the state of union the faculties of the soul will act in a new and higher way, so that the personality is restored, not destroyed; and, lastly, he teaches that contemplation is only the means to a higher activity, and that this is, in fact, its object; "what a man has taken in by contemplation, that he pours out in love." There is no contradiction in the desire for rest combined with the desire for active service; for rest can only be defined as unimpeded activity; but in Eckhart there is, I think, a real inconsistency. The traditions of his philosophy pointed towards withdrawal from the world and from outward occupations—towards the monkish ideal, in a word; but the modern spirit was already astir within him. He preached in German to the general public, and his favourite themes are the present living operation of the Spirit, and the consecration of life in the world. There is, he shows, no contradiction between the active and the contemplative life; the former belongs to the faculties of the soul, the latter to its essence. In commenting on the story of Martha and Mary, those favourite types of activity and contemplation[252], he surprises us by putting Martha first. "Mary hath chosen the good part; that is," he says, "she is striving to be as holy as her sister. Mary is still at school: Martha has learnt her lesson. It is better to feed the hungry than to see even such visions as St. Paul saw." "Besser ein Lebemeister als tausend Lesemeister." He discourages monkish religiosity and external badges of saintliness—"avoid everything peculiar," he says, "in dress, food, and language." "You need not go into a desert and fast; a crowd is often more lonely than a wilderness, and small things harder to do than great." "What is the good of the dead bones of saints?" he asks, in the spirit of a sixteenth century reformer; "the dead can neither give nor take[253]." This double aspect of Eckhart's teaching makes him particularly interesting; he seems to stand on the dividing-line between mediaeval and modern Christianity.

Like other mystics, he insists that love, when perfect, is independent of the hope of reward, and he shows great freedom in handling Purgatory, Hell, and Heaven. They are states, not places; separation from God is the misery of hell, and each man is his own judge. "We would spiritualise everything," he says, with especial reference to Holy Scripture.[254]

In comparing the Mysticism of Eckhart with that of his predecessors, from Dionysius downwards, and of the scholastics down to Gerson, we find an obvious change in the disappearance of the long ladders of ascent, the graduated scales of virtues, faculties, and states of mind, which fill so large a place in those systems. These lists are the natural product of the imagination, when it plays upon the theory of emanation. But with Eckhart, as we have seen, the fundamental truth is the immanence of God Himself, not in the faculties, but in the ground of the soul. The "spark of the soul" is for him really "divinae particula aurae." "God begets His Son in me," he is fond of saying: and there is no doubt that, relying on a verse in the seventeenth chapter of St. John, he regards this "begetting" as analogous to the eternal generation of the Son.[255] This birth of the Son in the soul has a double aspect—the "eternal birth," which is unconscious and inalienable,[256] but which does not confer blessedness, being common to good and bad alike; and the assimilation of the faculties of the soul by the pervading presence of Christ, or in other words by grace, "quae lux quaedam deiformis est," as Ruysbroek says. The deification of our nature is therefore a thing to be striven for, and not given complete to start with; but it is important to observe that Eckhart places no intermediaries between man and God. "The Word is very nigh thee," nearer than any object of sense, and any human institutions; sink into thyself, and thou wilt find Him. The heavenly and earthly hierarchies of Dionysius, with the reverence for the priesthood which was built upon them, have no significance for Eckhart. In this as in other ways, he is a precursor of the Reformation.

With Eckhart I end this Lecture on the speculative Mysticism of the Middle Ages. His successors, Ruysbroek, Suso, and Tauler, much as they resemble him in their general teaching, differ from him in this, that with none of them is the intellectual, philosophical side of primary importance. They added nothing of value to the speculative system of Eckhart; their Mysticism was primarily a religion of the heart or a rule of life. It is this side of Mysticism to which I shall next invite your attention. It should bring us near to the centre of our subject: for a speculative religious system is best known by its fruits.


[Footnote 188: Conf. viii. 2-5. The best account of the theology of Victorinus is Gore's article in the Dictionary of Christian Biography.]

[Footnote 189: So Synesius calls the Son [Greek: patros morphe].]

[Footnote 190: "Non enim vivimus praeteritum aut vivimus futurum, sed semper praesenti utimur." "AEternitas semper per praesentiam habet omnia et haec semper."]

[Footnote 191: "Effectus est omnia," Victorinus says plainly.]

[Footnote 192: Victorinus must have got this phrase from some Greek Neoplatonist. It was explained that [Greek: to me on] may be used in four senses, and that it is not intended to identify the two extremes. But the very remarkable passage in Hierotheus (referred to in Lecture III.) shows that the two categories of [Greek: aoristia] cannot be kept apart.]

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse