For us, he is most interesting as marking the transition from the purely subjective type of Mysticism to Symbolism, or rather as the author of a brilliant attempt to fuse the two into one system. In my brief sketch of Boehme's doctrines I shall illustrate his teaching from the later works of William Law, who is by far its best exponent. Law was an enthusiastic admirer of Boehme, and being, unlike his master, a man of learning and a practised writer, was able to bring order out of the chaos in which Boehme left his speculations. In strength of intellect Law was Boehme's equal, and as a writer of clear and forcible English he has few superiors.
Boehme's doctrine of God and the world resembles that of other speculative mystics, but he contributes a new element in the great stress which he lays on antithesis as a law of being. "In Yes and No all things consist," he says. No philosopher since Heraclitus and Empedocles had asserted so strongly that "Strife is the father of all things." Even in the hidden life of the unmanifested Godhead he finds the play of Attraction and Diffusion, the resultant of which is a Desire for manifestation felt in the Godhead. As feeling this desire, the Godhead becomes "Darkness"; the light which illumines the darkness is the Son. The resultant is the Holy Spirit, in whom arise the archetypes of creation. So he explains Body, Soul, and Spirit as thesis, antithesis, and synthesis; and the same formula serves to explain Good, Evil, and Free Will; Angels, Devils, and the World. His view of Evil is not very consistent; but his final doctrine is that the object of the cosmic process is to exhibit the victory of Good over Evil, of Love over Hatred. He at least has the merit of showing that strife is so inwoven with our lives here that we cannot possibly soar above the conflict between Good and Evil. It must be observed that Boehme repudiated the doctrine that there is any evolution of God in time. "I say not that Nature is God," he says: "He Himself is all, and communicates His power to all His works." But the creation of the archetypes was not a temporal act.
Like other Protestant mystics, he lays great stress on the indwelling presence of Christ. And, consistently with this belief, he revolts against the Calvinistic doctrine of imputed righteousness, very much as did the Cambridge Platonists a little later. "That man is no Christian," he says, "who doth merely comfort himself with the suffering, death, and satisfaction of Christ, and doth impute it to himself as a gift of favour, remaining himself still a wild beast and unregenerate.... If this said sacrifice is to avail for me, it must be wrought in me. The Father must beget His Son in my desire of faith, that my faith's hunger may apprehend Him in His word of promise. Then I put Him on, in His entire process of justification, in my inward ground; and straightway there begins in me the killing of the wrath of the devil, death, and hell, from the inward power of Christ's death. I am inwardly dead, and He is my life; I live in Him, and not in my selfhood. I am an instrument of God, wherewith He doeth what He will." To the same effect William Law says, "Christ given for us is neither more nor less than Christ given into us. He is in no other sense our full, perfect, and sufficient Atonement, than as His nature and spirit are born and formed in us." Law also insists that the Atonement was the effect, not of the wrath, but of the love of God. "Neither reason nor scripture," he says, "will allow us to bring wrath into God Himself, as a temper of His mind, who is only infinite, unalterable, overflowing Love." "Wrath is atoned when sin is extinguished." This revolt against the forensic theory of the Atonement is very characteristic of Protestant Mysticism.
The disparagement of external rites and ordinances, which we have found in so many mystics, appears in William Law, though he was himself precise in observing all the rules of the English Church. "This pearl of eternity is the Church, a temple of God within thee, the consecrated place of Divine worship, where alone thou canst worship God in spirit and in truth. In spirit, because thy spirit is that alone in thee which can unite and cleave unto God, and receive the working of the Divine Spirit upon thee. In truth, because this adoration in spirit is that truth and reality of which all outward forms and rites, though instituted by God, are only the figure for a time; but this worship is eternal. Accustom thyself to the holy service of this inward temple. In the midst of it is the fountain of living water, of which thou mayst drink and live for ever. There the mysteries of thy redemption are celebrated, or rather opened in life and power. There the supper of the Lamb is kept; the bread that came down from heaven, that giveth life to the world, is thy true nourishment: all is done, and known in real experience, in a living sensibility of the work of God on the soul. There the birth, the life, the sufferings, the death, the resurrection and ascension of Christ, are not merely remembered, but inwardly found and enjoyed as the real states of thy soul, which has followed Christ in the regeneration. When once thou art well grounded in this inward worship, thou wilt have learnt to live unto God above time and place. For every day will be Sunday to thee, and wherever thou goest thou wilt have a priest, a church, and an altar along with thee."
In his teaching about faith and love, Law follows the best mystical writers; but none before him, I think, attained to such strong and growing eloquence in setting it forth. "There is but one salvation for all mankind, and the way to it is one; and that is, the desire of the soul turned to God. This desire brings the soul to God, and God into the soul; it unites with God, it co-operates with God, and is one life with God. O my God, just and true, how great is Thy love and mercy to mankind, that heaven is thus everywhere open, and Christ thus the common Saviour to all that turn the desire of their hearts to Thee!" And of love he says: "No creature can have any union or communion with the goodness of the Deity till its life is a spirit of love. This is the one only bond of union betwixt God and His creature." "Love has no by-ends, wills nothing but its own increase: everything is as oil to its flame. The spirit of love does not want to be rewarded, honoured, or esteemed; its only desire is to propagate itself, and become the blessing and happiness of everything that wants it."
The doctrine of the Divine spark (synteresis) is held by Law, but in a more definitely Christian form than by Eckhart. "If Christ was to raise a new life like His own in every man, then every man must have had originally in the inmost spirit of his life a seed of Christ, or Christ as a seed of heaven, lying there in a state of insensibility, out of which it could not arise but by the mediatorial power of Christ.... For what could begin to deny self, if there were not something in man different from self?... The Word of God is the hidden treasure of every human soul, immured under flesh and blood, till as a day-star it arises in our hearts, and changes the son of an earthly Adam into a son of God." Is not this the Platonic doctrine of anamnesis, Christianised in a most beautiful manner?
Very characteristic of the later Mysticism is the language which both Boehme and Law use about the future state. "The soul, when it departs from the body," Boehme writes, "needeth not to go far; for where the body dies, there is heaven and hell. God is there, and the devil; yea, each in his own kingdom. There also is Paradise; and the soul needeth only to enter through the deep door in the centre." Law is very emphatic in asserting that heaven and hell are states, not places, and that they are "no foreign, separate, and imposed states, adjudged to us by the will of God." "Damnation," he says, "is the natural, essential state of our own disordered nature, which is impossible, in the nature of the thing, to be anything else but our own hell, both here and hereafter." "There is nothing that is supernatural," he says very finely, "in the whole system of our redemption. Every part of it has its ground in the workings and powers of nature, and all our redemption is only nature set right, or made to be that which it ought to be. There is nothing that is supernatural but God alone.... Right and wrong, good and evil, true and false, happiness and misery, are as unchangeable in nature as time and space. Nothing, therefore, can be done to any creature supernaturally, or in a way that is without or contrary to the powers of nature; but every thing or creature that is to be helped, that is, to have any good done to it, or any evil taken out of it, can only have it done so far as the powers of nature are able, and rightly directed to effect it."
It is difficult to abstain from quoting more passages like this, in which Faith, which had been so long directed only to the unseen and unknown, sheds her bright beams over this earth of ours, and claims all nature for her own. The laws of nature are now recognised as the laws of God, and for that very reason they cannot be broken or arbitrarily suspended. Redemption is a law of life. There will come a time, "the time of the lilies," as Boehme calls it, when all nature will be delivered from bondage. "All the design of Christian redemption," says Law, "is to remove everything that is unheavenly, gross, dark, wrathful, and disordered from every part of this fallen world." No text is oftener in his mouth than the words of St. Paul which I read as the text of this Lecture. That "dim sympathy" of the human spirit with the life of nature which Plotinus felt, but which mediaeval dualism had almost quenched, has now become an intense and happy consciousness of community with all living things, as subjects of one all-embracing and unchanging law, the law of perfect love. Magic and portents, apparitions and visions, the raptures of "infused contemplation" and their dark Nemesis of Satanic delusions, can no more trouble the serenity of him who has learnt to see the same God in nature whom he has found in the holy place of his own heart.
It was impossible to separate Law from the "blessed Behmen," whose disciple he was proud to profess himself. But in putting them together I have been obliged to depart from the chronological order, for the Cambridge Platonists, as they are usually called, come between. This, however, need cause no confusion, for the Platonists had no direct influence upon Law. Law, Nonjuror as well as mystic, remained a High Churchman by sympathy, and hated Rationalism; while the Platonists sprang from an Evangelical school, were never tired of extolling Reason, and regarded Boehme as a fanciful "enthusiast." And yet, we find so very much in common between the Platonists and William Law, that these party differences seem merely superficial. The same exalted type of Mysticism appears in both.
The group of philosophical divines, who had their centre in some of the Cambridge colleges towards the middle of the seventeenth century, furnishes one of the most interesting and important chapters in the history of our Church. Never since the time of the early Greek Fathers had any orthodox communion produced thinkers so independent and yet so thoroughly loyal to the Church. And seldom has the Christian temper found a nobler expression than in the lives and writings of such men as Whichcote and John Smith.
These men made no secret of their homage to Plato. And let it be noticed that they were students of Plato and Plotinus more than of Dionysius and his successors. Their Platonism is not of the debased Oriental type, and is entirely free from self-absorbed quietism. The via negativa has disappeared as completely in their writings as in those of Boehme; the world is for them as for him the mirror of the Deity; but, being philosophers and not physicists, they are most interested in claiming for religion the whole field of intellectual life. They are fully convinced that there can be no ultimate contradiction between philosophy or science and Christian faith; and this accounts not only for their praise of "reason," but for the happy optimism which appears everywhere in their writings. The luxurious and indolent Restoration clergy, whose lives were shamed by the simplicity and spirituality of the Platonists, invented the word "Latitudinarian" to throw at them, "a long nickname which they have taught their tongues to pronounce as roundly as if it were shorter than it is by four or five syllables"; but they could not deny that their enemies were loyal sons of the Church of England. What the Platonists meant by making reason the seat of authority may be seen by a few quotations from Whichcote and Smith, who for our purpose are, I think, the best representatives of the school. Whichcote answers Tuckney, who had remonstrated with him for "a vein of doctrine, in which reason hath too much given to it in the mysteries of faith";—"Too much" and "too often" on these points! "The Scripture is full of such truths, and I discourse on them too much and too often! Sir, I oppose not rational to spiritual, for spiritual is most rational." Elsewhere he writes, "He that gives reason for what he has said, has done what is fit to be done, and the most that can be done." "Reason is the Divine Governor of man's life; it is the very voice of God." "When the doctrine of the Gospel becomes the reason of our mind, it will be the principle of our life." "It ill becomes us to make our intellectual faculties Gibeonites." How far this teaching differs from the frigid "common-sense" morality prevalent in the eighteenth century, may be judged from the following, which stamps Whichcote as a genuine mystic. "Though liberty of judgment be everyone's right, yet how few there are that make use of this right! For the use of this right doth depend upon self-improvement by meditation, consideration, examination, prayer, and the like. These are things antecedent and prerequisite." John Smith, in a fine passage too long to quote in full, says: "Reason in man being lumen de lumine, a light flowing from the Fountain and Father of lights ... was to enable man to work out of himself all those notions of God which are the true groundwork of love and obedience to God, and conformity to Him.... But since man's fall from God, the inward virtue and vigour of reason is much abated, the soul having suffered a [Greek: pterorryesis], as Plato speaks, a defluvium pennarum.... And therefore, besides the truth of natural inscription, God hath provided the truth of Divine revelation.... But besides this outward revelation, there is also an inward impression of it ... which is in a more special manner attributed to God.... God only can so shine upon our glassy understandings, as to beget in them a picture of Himself, and turn the soul like wax or clay to the seal of His own light and love. He that made our souls in His own image and likeness can easily find a way into them. The Word that God speaks, having found a way into the soul, imprints itself there as with the point of a diamond.... It is God alone that acquaints the soul with the truths of revelation, and also strengthens and raises the soul to better apprehensions even of natural truth, God being that in the intellectual world which the sun is in the sensible, as some of the ancient Fathers love to speak, and the ancient philosophers too, who meant God by their Intellectus Agens whose proper work they supposed to be not so much to enlighten the object as the faculty."
The Platonists thus lay great stress on the inner light, and identify it with the purified reason. The best exposition of their teaching on this head is in Smith's beautiful sermon on "The True Way or Method of attaining to Divine Knowledge." "Divinity," he says, "is a Divine life rather than a Divine science, to be understood rather by a spiritual sensation than by any verbal description. A good life is the prolepsis of Divine science—the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Divinity is a true efflux from the eternal light, which, like the sunbeams, does not only enlighten, but also heat and enliven; and therefore our Saviour hath in His beatitudes connext purity of heart to the beatific vision." "Systems and models furnish but a poor wan light," compared with that which shines in purified souls. "To seek our divinity merely in books and writings is to seek the living among the dead"; in these, "truth is often not so much enshrined as entombed." "That which enables us to know and understand aright the things of God, must be a living principle of holiness within us. The sun of truth never shines into any unpurged souls.... Such as men themselves are, such will God Himself seem to be.... Some men have too bad hearts to have good heads.... He that will find truth must seek it with a free judgment and a sanctified mind."
Smith was well read in mystical theology, and was aware how much his ideal differed from that of Dionysian Mysticism. His criticism of the via negativa is so admirable that I must quote part of it. "Good men ... are content and ready to deny themselves for God. I mean not that they should deny their own reason, as some would have it, for that were to deny a beam of Divine light, and so to deny God, instead of denying ourselves for Him.... By self-denial, I mean the soul's quitting all its own interest in itself, and an entire resignation of itself to Him as to all points of service and duty; and thus the soul loses itself in God, and lives in the possession not so much of its own being as of the Divinity, desiring only to be great in God, to glory in His light, and spread itself in His fulness; to be filled always by Him, and to empty itself again into Him; to receive all from Him, and to expend all for Him; and so to live, not as its own, but as God's." Wicked men "maintain a meum and tuum between God and themselves," but the good man is able to make a full surrender of himself, "triumphing in nothing more than in his own nothingness, and in the allness of the Divinity. But, indeed, this his being nothing is the only way to be all things; this his having nothing the truest way of possessing all things.... The spirit of religion is always ascending upwards; and, spreading itself through the whole essence of the soul, loosens it from a self-confinement and narrowness, and so renders it more capacious of Divine enjoyment.... The spirit of a good man is always drinking in fountain-goodness, and fills itself more and more, till it be filled with all the fulness of God." "It is not a melancholy kind of sitting still, and slothful waiting, that speaks men enlivened by the Spirit and power of God. It is not religion to stifle and smother those active powers and principles which are within us.... Good men do not walk up and down the world merely like ghosts and shadows; but they are indeed living men, by a real participation from Him who is indeed a quickening Spirit."
"Neither were it an happiness worth the having for a mind, like an hermit sequestered from all things else, to spend an eternity in self-converse and the enjoyment of such a diminutive superficial nothing as itself is.... We read in the Gospel of such a question of our Saviour's, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? We may invert it, What do you return within to see? A soul confined within the private and narrow cell of its own particular being? Such a soul deprives itself of all that almighty and essential glory and goodness which shines round about it, which spreads itself throughout the whole universe; I say, it deprives itself of all this, for the enjoying of such a poor, petty, and diminutive thing as itself is, which yet it can never enjoy truly in such retiredness."
The English Platonists are equally sound on the subject of ecstasy. Whichcote says: "He doth not know God at all as He is, nor is he in a good state of religion, who doth not find in himself at times ravishings with sweet and lovely considerations of the Divine perfections." And Smith: "Who can tell the delights of those mysterious converses with the Deity, when reason is turned into sense, and faith becomes vision? The fruit of this knowledge is sweeter than honey and the honeycomb.... By the Platonists' leave, this life and knowledge (that of the 'contemplative man') peculiarly belongs to the true and sober Christian. This life is nothing else but an infant-Christ formed in his soul. But we must not mistake: this knowledge is here but in its infancy." While we are here, "our own imaginative powers, which are perpetually attending the best acts of our souls, will be breathing a gross dew upon the pure glass of our understandings."
"Heaven is first a temper, then a place," says Whichcote, and Smith says the same about hell. "Heaven is not a thing without us, nor is happiness anything distinct from a true conjunction of the mind with God." "Though we could suppose ourselves to be at truce with heaven, and all Divine displeasure laid asleep; yet would our own sins, if they continue unmortified, make an AEtna or Vesuvius within us." This view of the indissoluble connexion between holiness and blessedness, as between sin and damnation, leads Smith to reject strenuously the doctrine of imputed, as opposed to imparted, righteousness. "God does not bid us be warmed and filled," he says, "and deny us those necessities which our starving and hungry souls call for.... I doubt sometimes, some of our dogmata and notions about justification may puff us up in far higher and goodlier conceits of ourselves than God hath of us, and that we profanely make the unspotted righteousness of Christ to serve only as a covering wherein to wrap our foul deformities and filthy vices, and when we have done, think ourselves in as good credit and repute with God as we are with ourselves, and that we are become Heaven's darlings as much as we are our own."
These extracts will show that the English Platonists breathe a larger air than the later Romish mystics, and teach a religion more definitely Christian than Erigena and Eckhart. I shall now show how this happy result was connected with a more truly spiritual view of the external world than we have met with in the earlier part of our survey. That the laws of nature are the laws of God, that "man, as man, is averse to what is evil and wicked," that "evil is unnatural," and a "contradiction of the law of our being," which is only found in "wicked men and devils," is one of Whichcote's "gallant themes." And Smith sets forth the true principles of Nature-Mysticism in a splendid passage, with which I will conclude this Lecture:—
"God made the universe and all the creatures contained therein as so many glasses wherein He might reflect His own glory. He hath copied forth Himself in the creation; and in this outward world we may read the lovely characters of the Divine goodness, power, and wisdom.... But how to find God here, and feelingly to converse with Him, and being affected with the sense of the Divine glory shining out upon the creation, how to pass out of the sensible world into the intellectual, is not so effectually taught by that philosophy which professed it most, as by true religion. That which knits and unites God and the soul together can best teach it how to ascend and descend upon those golden links that unite, as it were, the world to God. That Divine Wisdom, that contrived and beautified this glorious structure, can best explain her own art, and carry up the soul back again in these reflected beams to Him who is the Fountain of them.... Good men may easily find every creature pointing out to that Being whose image and superscription it bears, and climb up from those darker resemblances of the Divine wisdom and goodness, shining out in different degrees upon several creatures, till they sweetly repose themselves in the bosom of the Divinity; and while they are thus conversing with this lower world ... they find God many times secretly flowing into their souls, and leading them silently out of the court of the temple into the Holy Place.... Thus religion, where it is in truth and power, renews the very spirit of our minds, and doth in a manner spiritualise this outward creation to us.... It is nothing but a thick mist of pride and self-love that hinders men's eyes from beholding that sun which enlightens them and all things else.... A good man is no more solicitous whether this or that good thing be mine, or whether my perfections exceed the measure of this or that particular creature; for whatsoever good he beholds anywhere, he enjoys and delights in it as much as if it were his own, and whatever he beholds in himself, he looks not upon it as his property, but as a common good; for all these beams come from one and the same Fountain and Ocean of light in whom he loves them all with an universal love.... Thus may a man walk up and down the world as in a garden of spices, and suck a Divine sweetness out of every flower. There is a twofold meaning in every creature, a literal and a mystical, and the one is but the ground of the other; and as the Jews say of their law, so a good man says of everything that his senses offer to him—it speaks to his lower part, but it points out something above to his mind and spirit. It is the drowsy and muddy spirit of superstition which is fain to set some idol at its elbow, something that may jog it and put it in mind of God. Whereas true religion never finds itself out of the infinite sphere of the Divinity ... it beholds itself everywhere in the midst of that glorious unbounded Being who is indivisibly everywhere. A good man finds every place he treads upon holy ground; to him the world is God's temple; he is ready to say with Jacob, 'How dreadful is this place! this is none other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven.'"
[Footnote 316: In R.L. Nettleship's Remains.]
[Footnote 317: In addition to passages quoted elsewhere, the following sentence from Luthardt is a good statement of the symbolic theory: "Nature is a world of symbolism, a rich hieroglyphic book: everything visible conceals an invisible mystery, and the last mystery of all is God." Goethe's "Alles vergaengliche ist nur ein Gleichniss" would be better without the "nur," from our point of view.]
[Footnote 318: Recejac, Essai sur les Fondements de la Connaissance Mystique.]
[Footnote 319: In the Edinburgh Review, October 1896. The article referred to, on "The Catholic Mystics of the Middle Ages," is beautifully written, and should be read by all who are interested in the subject.]
[Footnote 320: This is Kant's use of the word. See Bosanquet, History of AEsthetic, p. 273: "A symbol is for Kant a perception or presentation which represents a conception neither conventionally as a mere sign, nor directly, but in the abstract, as a scheme, but indirectly though appropriately through a similarity between the rules which govern our reflection in the symbol and in the thing (or idea) symbolised." "In this sense beauty is a symbol of the moral order." Goethe's definition is also valuable: "That is true symbolism where the more particular represents the more general, not as a dream or shade, but as a vivid, instantaneous revelation of the inscrutable."]
[Footnote 321: Or rather of power and dignity; for in some early Byzantine works even Satan is represented with a nimbus.]
[Footnote 322: Emerson says rightly, "Mysticism (in a bad sense) consists in the mistake of an accidental and individual symbol for an universal one."]
[Footnote 323: The distinction which Ruskin draws between the fancy and the imagination may help us to discern the true and the false in Symbolism. "Fancy has to do with the outsides of things, and is content therewith. She can never feel, but is one of the most purely and simply intellectual of the faculties. She cannot be made serious; no edge-tool, but she will play with: whereas the imagination is in all things the reverse. She cannot but be serious; she sees too far, too darkly, too solemnly, too earnestly, ever to smile.... There is reciprocal action between the intensity of moral feeling and the power of imagination. Hence the powers of the imagination may always be tested by accompanying tenderness of emotion.... Imagination is quiet, fancy restless; fancy details, imagination suggests.... All egotism is destructive of imagination, whose play and power depend altogether on our being able to forget ourselves.... Imagination has no respect for sayings or opinions: it is independent" (Modern Painters, vol. ii. chap. iii.).]
[Footnote 324: Cf. Harnack, History of Dogma, vol. ii. p. 144: "What we nowadays understand by 'symbols' is a thing which is not that which it represents; at that time (in the second century) 'symbol' denoted a thing which, in some kind of way, is that which it signifies; but, on the other hand, according to the ideas of that period, the really heavenly element lay either in or behind the visible form without being identical with it. Accordingly, the distinction of a symbolic and realistic conception of the Lord's Supper is altogether to be rejected." And vol. iv. p. 289: "The 'symbol' was never a mere type or sign, but always embodied a mystery." So Justin Martyr uses [Greek: symbolikos eipein] and [Greek: eipein en mysterio] as interchangeable terms; and Tertullian says that the name of Joshua was nominis futuri sacramentum.]
[Footnote 325: So some thinkers have felt that "the Word" is not the best expression for the creative activity of God. The passage of Goethe where Faust rejects "Word," "Thought," and "Power," and finally translates, "In the beginning was the Act," is well known. And Philo, in a very interesting passage, says that Nature is the language in which God speaks; "but there is this difference, that while the human voice is made to be heard, the voice of God is made to be seen: what God says consists of acts, not of words" (De Decem Orac. II).]
[Footnote 326: Aquinas says of the sacraments, "efficiunt quod figurant." The Thomists held that the sacraments are "causae" of grace; the Scotists (Nominalists), that grace is their inseparable concomitant. The maintenance of a real correspondence between sign and significance seems to be essential to the idea of a sacrament, but then the danger of degrading it into magic lies close at hand.]
[Footnote 327: In the case of irregular Baptism, the maxim holds: "Fieri non debuit; factum valet." Cf. Bp. Churton, The Missionary's Foundation of Doctrine, p. 129. The reason for this difference between the two sacraments is quite clear.]
[Footnote 328: It is, of course, difficult to decide how far such statements were meant to be taken literally. But there is no doubt that both Baptism and the Eucharist were supposed to confer immortality. Cf. Tert. de Bapt. 2 (621, Oehl.), "nonne mirandum est lavacro dilui mortem?"; Gregory of Nyssa, Or. cat. magn. 35, [Greek: me dynasthai de phemi dicha tes kata to loutron anagenneseos en anastasei genesthai ton anthropon]. Basil, too, calls Baptism [Greek: dynamis eis ten anastasin]. Of the Eucharist, Ignatius uses the phrase quoted, [Greek: pharmakon tes athanasias], and [Greek: antidotos tou me apothanein]; and Gregory of Nyssa uses the same language as about Baptism. See, further, in Appendices B and C.]
[Footnote 329: E.g. [Greek: metallaxis] (Theodoret), [Greek: metabole] (Cyril), [Greek: metapoiesis] (Gregory Naz.), [Greek: metastoicheiosis] (Theophylact). The last-named goes on to say that "we are in the same way transelementated into Christ." The Christian Neoplatonists naturally regard the sacrament as symbolic. Origen is inclined to hold that every action should be sacramental, and that material symbols, such as bread and wine, and participation in a ceremonial, cannot be necessary vehicles of spiritual grace; this is in accordance with the excessive idealism and intellectualism of his system. Dionysius calls the elements [Greek: symbola, eikones, antitypa, aistheta tina anti noeton metalambanomena]; and Maximus, his commentator, defines a symbol as [Greek: aistheton ti anti noetou metalambanomenon].]
[Footnote 330: Harnack (History of Dogma, vol. vi. p. 102, English edition) says: "In the centuries before the Reformation, a growing value was attached not only to the sacraments, but to crosses, amulets, relics, holy places, etc. As long as what the soul seeks is not the rock of assurance, but means for inciting to piety, it will create for itself a thousand holy things. It is therefore an extremely superficial view that regards the most inward Mysticism and the service of idols as contradictory. The opposite view, rather, is correct." I have seldom found myself able to agree with this writer's judgments upon Mysticism; and this one is no exception. The "most inward Mysticism" does not occupy itself much with external "incitements to piety," nor is this the motive with which a mystic could ever (e.g.) receive the Eucharist. The use of amulets, etc., which Harnack finds to have been spreading before the Reformation, and which was certainly very prevalent in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, had very little to do with "the most inward Mysticism." My view as to the place of magic in the history of Mysticism is given in this Lecture; I protest against identifying it with the essence of Mysticism. Symbolic Mysticism soon outgrew it; introspective Mysticism never valued it. The use of visible things as stimulants to piety is another matter; it has its place in the systems of the Catholic mystics, but as a very early stage in the spiritual ascent. What I have said as to the inconsistency of a high sacramental doctrine with the favourite injunctions to "cast away all images," which we find in the mediaeval mystics, is, I think, indisputable.]
[Footnote 331: The most recent developments of German idealistic philosophy, as set forth in the cosmology of Lotze, and still more of Fechner, may perhaps be described as an attempt to preserve the truth of Animism on a much higher plane, without repudiating the universality of law.]
[Footnote 332: I refer especially to Huysmans' two "mystical" novels, En Route and La Cathedrale. The naked Fetishism of the latter book almost passes belief. We have a Madonna who is good-natured at Lourdes and cross-grained at La Salette; who likes "pretty speeches and little coaxing ways" in "paying court" to her, and who at the end is apostrophised as "our Lady of the Pillar," "our Lady of the Crypt." It may perhaps be excusable to resort to such expedients as these in the conversion of savages; but there is something singularly repulsive in the picture (drawn apparently from life) of a profligate man of letters seeking salvation in a Christianity which has lowered itself far beneath educated paganism. At any rate, let not the name of Mysticism be given to such methods.]
[Footnote 333: I refer especially to the horrors connected with the belief in witchcraft, on which see Lecky, Rationalism in Europe, vol. i. "Remy, a judge of Nancy, boasted that he had put to death eight hundred witches in sixteen years." "In the bishopric of Wartzburg, nine hundred were burnt in one year." As late as 1850, some French peasants burnt alive a woman named Bedouret, whom they supposed to be a witch.]
[Footnote 334: The degradation of Mysticism in the Roman Church since the Reformation may be estimated by comparing the definitions of Mysticism and Mystical Theology current in the Middle Ages with the following from Ribet, who is recognised as a standard authority on the subject: "La Theologie mystique, au point de vue subjectif et experimental, nous semble pouvoir etre definie; une attraction surnaturelle et passive de l'ame vers Dieu, provenant d'une illumination et d'un embrasement interieurs, qui previennent la reflexion, surpassent l'effort humain, et peuvent avoir sur le corps un retentissement merveilleux et irresistible." "Au point de vue doctrinal et objectif, la mystique peut se definir: la science qui traite des phenomenes surnaturels, soit intimes, soit exterieurs, qui preparent, accompagnent, et suivent la contemplation divine." The time is past, if it ever existed, when such superstitions could be believed without grave injury to mental and moral health.]
[Footnote 335: This language about the teaching of the Roman Church may be considered unseemly by those who have not studied the subject. Those who have done so will think it hardly strong enough. In self-defence, I will quote one sentence from Schram, whose work on "Mysticism" is considered authoritative, and is studied in the great Catholic university of Louvain: "Quaeri potest utrum daemon per turpem concubitum possit violenter opprimere marem vel feminam cuius obsessio permissa sit ob finem perfectionis et contemplationis acquirendae." The answer is in the affirmative, and the evidence is such as could hardly be transcribed, even in Latin. Schram's book is mainly intended for the direction of confessing priests, and the evidence shows, as might have been expected, that the subjects of these "phenomena" are generally poor nuns suffering from hysteria.]
[Footnote 336: At a time when many are hoping to find in the study of the obscurer psychical phenomena a breach in the "middle wall of partition" between the spiritual and material worlds, I may seem to have brushed aside too contemptuously the floating mass of popular beliefs which "spiritualists" think worthy of serious investigation. I must therefore be allowed to say that in my opinion psychical research has already established results of great value, especially in helping to break down that view of the imperviousness of the ego which is fatal to Mysticism, and (I venture to think) to any consistent philosophy. Monadism, we may hope, is doomed. But the more popular kind of spiritualism is simply the old hankering after supernatural manifestations, which are always dear to semi-regenerate minds.]
[Footnote 337: It is, I think, significant that the word "imagination" was slow in making its way into psychology. [Greek: Phantasia] is defined by Aristotle (de Anima, iii. 3) as [Greek: kinesis hypo tes aistheseos tes kat energeian gignomene], but it is not till Philostratus that the creative imagination is opposed to [Greek: mimesis]. Cf. Vit. Apoll. vi. 19, [Greek: mimesis men demiourgesei ho eiden, phantasia de kai ho me eiden].]
[Footnote 338: Reuchlin, De arte cabbalistica: "Est enim Cabbala divinae revelationis ad salutiferam Dei et formarum separatarum contemplationem traditae symbolica receptio, quam qui coelesti sortiumtur afflatu recto nomine Cabbalici dicuntur, eorum vero discipulos cognomento Cabbalaeos appellabimus, et qui alioquin eos imitari conantur, Cabbalistae nominandi sunt."]
[Footnote 339: The mystical Rabbis ascribe the Cabbala to the angel Razael, the reputed teacher of Adam in Paradise, and say that this angel gave Adam the Cabbala as his lesson-book. There is a clear and succinct account of the main Cabbalistic docrines in Hunt, Pantheism and Christianity, pp. 84-88.]
[Footnote 340: But the notion that the deepest mysteries should not be entrusted to writing is found in Clement and Origen; cf. Origen, Against Celsus, vi. 26: [Greek: ouk akindynon ten ton toiouton sapheneian pisteusai graphe]. And Clement says: [Greek: ta aporreta, kathaper ho theos, logo pisteuetai ou grammati]. The curious legend of an oral tradition also appears in Clement (Hypolyp. Fragm. in Eusebius, H.E. ii. I. 4): [Greek: Iakobo to dikaio kai Ioane kai Petro meta ten anastasin paredoke ten gnosin ho kyrios, outoi tois loipois apostolois paredokan, oi de loipoi apostoloi tois hebdomekonta, on eis en kai Barnabas.] Origen, too, speaks of "things spoken in private to the disciples."]
[Footnote 341: The following extract from Pico's Apology may be interesting, as illustrating the close connexion between magic and science at this period: "One of the chief charges against me is that I am a magician. Have I not myself distinguished two kinds of magic? One, which the Greeks call [Greek: goeteia], depends entirely on alliance with evil spirits, and deserves to be regarded with horror, and to be punished; the other is magic in the proper sense of the word. The former subjects man to the evil spirits, the latter makes them serve him. The former is neither an art nor a science; the latter embraces the deepest mysteries, and the knowledge of the whole of Nature with her powers. While it connects and combines the forces scattered by God through the whole world, it does not so much work miracles as come to the help of working nature. Its researches into the sympathies of things enable it to bring to light hidden marvels from the secret treasure-houses of the world, just as if it created them itself. As the countryman trains the vine upon the elm, so the magician marries the earthly objects to heavenly bodies. His art is beneficial and Godlike, for it brings men to wonder at the works of God, than which nothing conduces more to true religion."]
[Footnote 342: This was a very old theory. Cf. Lecky, Rationalism in Europe, vol. i. p. 264. "The Clavis of St. Melito, who was bishop of Sardis, it is said, in the beginning of the second century, consists of a catalogue of many hundreds of birds, beasts, plants, and minerals that were symbolical of Christian virtues, doctrines, and personages."]
[Footnote 343: The analogy between allegorism in religion and the hieroglyphic writing is drawn out by Clement, Strom. v. 4 and 7.]
[Footnote 344: The distinction, however, would be unintelligible to the savage mind. To primitive man a name is a symbol in the strictest sense. Hence, "the knowledge, invocation, and vain repetition of a deity's name constitutes in itself an actual, if mystic, union with the deity named" (Jevons, Introduction to the History of Religion, p. 245). This was one of the chief reasons for making a secret of the cultus, and even of the name of a patron-deity. To reveal it was to admit strangers into the tutelage of the national god.]
[Footnote 345: I do not find it possible to give a more honourable place than this to a system of biblical exegesis which has still a few defenders. It was first developed in Christian times by the Gnostics, and was eagerly adopted by Origen, who fearlessly applied it to the Gospels, teaching that "Christ's actions on earth were enigmas ([Greek: ainigmata]), to be interpreted by Gnosis." The method was often found useful in dealing with moral and scientific difficulties in the Old Testament; it enabled Dionysius to use very bold language about the literal meaning, as I showed in Lecture III. The Christian Platonists of Alexandria meant it to be an esoteric method: Clement calls it [Greek: symbolikos philosophein]. It was held that [Greek: ta mysteria mystikos paradidotai]; and even that Divine truths are honoured by enigmatic treatment ([Greek: he krypsis he mystike semnopoiei to theion]). But the main use of allegorism was pietistic; and to this there can be no objection, unless the piety is morbid, as is the case in many commentaries on the Song of Solomon. Still, it can hardly be disputed that the countless books written to elaborate the principles of allegorism contain a mass of futility such as it would be difficult to match in any other class of literature. The best defence of the method is perhaps to be found in Keble's Tract (No. 89) on the "Mysticism" of the early Fathers. Keble's own poetry contains many beautiful examples of the true use of symbolism; but as an apologist of allegorism he does not distinguish between its use and abuse. Yet surely there is a vast difference between seeing in the "glorious sky embracing all" a type of "our Maker's love," and analysing the 153 fish caught in the Sea of Galilee into the square of the 12 Apostles + the square of the 3 Persons of the Trinity.
The history of the doctrine of "signatures," which is the cryptogram theory applied to medicine, is very curious and interesting, "Citrons, according to Paracelsus, are good for heart affections, because they are heart-shaped; the saphena riparum is to be applied to fresh wounds, because its leaves are spotted as with flecks of blood. A species of dentaria, whose roots resemble teeth, is a cure for toothache and scurvy."—Vaughan, Hours with the Mystics, vol. ii. p. 77. It is said that some traces of this quaint superstition survive even in the modern materia medica. The alliance between medicine and Mysticism subsisted for a long time, and forms a curious chapter of history.]
[Footnote 346: Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim, a contemporary of Reuchlin, studied Cabbalism mainly as a magical science. He was nominally a Catholic, but attacked Rome and scholasticism quite in the spirit of Luther. His three chief works are, On the Threefold Way of Knowing God, On the Vanity of Arts and Sciences (a ferocious attack on most of the professions), and On Occult Philosophy (treating of natural, celestial, and religious magic). The "magician," he says, "must study three sciences—physics, mathematics, and theology." Agrippa's adventurous life ended in 1533.]
[Footnote 347: Theophrastus Paracelsus (Philippus Bombastus von Hohenheim) was born in 1493, and died in 1541. His writings are a curious mixture of theosophy and medical science: "medicine," he taught, "has four pillars—philosophy, astronomy (or rather astrology), alchemy, and religion." He lays great stress on the doctrine that man is a microcosm, and on the law of Divine manifestation by contraries—the latter is a new feature which was further developed by Boehme.]
[Footnote 348: "I saw," he says, "the Being of all Beings, the Ground and the Abyss; also, the birth of the Holy Trinity; the origin and first state of the world and of all creatures. I saw in myself the three worlds—the Divine or angelic world; the dark world, the original of Nature; and the external world, as a substance spoken forth out of the two spiritual worlds.... In my inward man I saw it well, as in a great deep; for I saw right through as into a chaos where everything lay wrapped, but I could not unfold it. Yet from time to time it opened itself within me, like a growing plant. For twelve years I carried it about within me, before I could bring it forth in any external form; till afterwards it fell upon me, like a bursting shower that killeth wheresoever it lighteth, as it will. Whatever I could bring into outwardness, that I wrote down. The work is none of mine; I am but the Lord's instrument, wherewith He doeth what He will."]
[Footnote 349: This is from Bp. Warburton. "Sublime nonsense, inimitable bombast, fustian not to be paralleled," is John Wesley's verdict.]
[Footnote 350: See Overton, Life of William Law, p. 188.]
[Footnote 351: I have omitted Boehme's gnostical theories as to the seven Quellgeister as belonging rather to theosophy than to Mysticism. The resemblance to Basilides is here rather striking, but it must be a pure coincidence.]
[Footnote 352: And of English Mysticism before the Reformation; cf. p. 208.]
[Footnote 353: From the Spirit of Prayer. The sect of Behmenists in Germany, unlike Law, attended no church, and took no part in the Lord's Supper.—Overton, Life of William Law, p. 214.]
[Footnote 354: This stimulating doctrine, that the soul, when freed from impediments, ascends naturally and inevitably to its "own place," is put into the mouth of Beatrice by Dante (Paradiso, i. 136)—
"Non dei piu ammirar, se bene stimo, Lo tuo salir, se non come d'un rivo Se d'alto monte scende giuso ad imo. Maraviglia sarebbe in te, se privo D'impedimento giu ti fossi assiso, Com' a terra quieto fuoco vivo. Quinci rivolce inver lo cielo il viso." ]
[Footnote 355: It may be interesting to compare the following passage from George Fox, which dramatises the irruption of natural science, with its faith in fixed laws, into the sphere of the religious consciousness:—"One morning, while I was sitting by the fire, a great cloud came over me, a temptation beset me; and I sat still. It was said, All things come by Nature; and the elements and stars came over me, so that I was in a manner quite clouded by it. And as I sat still under it and let it alone, a living hope and a true voice arose in me, which said, There is a living God who made all things. Immediately the cloud and temptation vanished away, and life rose over it all; my heart was glad, and I praised the living God."]
[Footnote 356: So we may fairly say, if we remember that we are speaking of what transcends time. Neither Boehme nor Law looks forward to a golden age on this earth.]
[Footnote 357: Henry More's judgment is as follows: "Jacob Behmen, I conceive, is to be reckoned in the number of those whose imaginative faculty has the pre-eminence above the rational; and though he was a good and holy man, his natural complexion, notwithstanding, was not destroyed, but retained its property still; and, therefore, his imagination being very busy about Divine things, he could not without a miracle fail of becoming an enthusiast, and of receiving Divine truths upon the account of the strength and vigour of his fancy; which, being so well qualified with holiness and sanctity, proved not unsuccessful in sundry apprehensions, but in others it fared with him after the manner of men, the sagacity of his imagination failing him, as well as the anxiety of reason does others of like integrity with himself."]
[Footnote 358: Canon G.G. Perry, in his Students' English Church History, disposes of this noble group of men in one contemptuous paragraph, as a "class of divines who were neither Puritans nor High Churchmen," and makes the astounding statement that "to the school thus commenced, the deadness, carelessness, and indifference prevalent in the eighteenth century are in large measure to be attributed." It is of these very same men that Bishop Burnet writes, that if they had not appeared to combat the "laziness and negligence," the "ease and sloth" of the Restoration clergy, "the Church had quite lost her esteem over the nation." Alexander Knox (Works, vol. iii. p. 199) speaks of the rise of this school as a great instance of the design of Providence to supply to the Church what had never before been produced, writers who do "full honour at once to the elevation and the rationality of Christian piety.... In their writings we are invited to ascend, by having a prospect opened before us as luminous as it is sublime.... They are such writers as had never before existed.... No Church but the English Church could have produced them." Of John Smith he says, "My value for him is beyond what words can do justice to." The works of Whichcote, Smith, Cudworth, and Culverwel are happily accessible enough, and I beg my readers to study them at first hand. I do not believe that any Christian could rise from the perusal of the two first-named without having gained a lasting benefit in the deepening of his spiritual life and heightening of his faith.]
[Footnote 359: A writer who signs himself S.P. (probably Simon Patrick, bishop of Ely), in a pamphlet called A Brief Account of the new Sect of Latitude Men (1662), vindicates their attachment to the "virtuous mediocrity" of the Church of England, as distinguished from the "meretricious gaudiness of the Church of Rome, and the squalid sluttery of fanatic conventicles."]
[Footnote 360: Compare with these extracts the words of Leibnitz: "To despise reason in matters of religion is to my eyes certain proof either of an obstinacy that borders on fanaticism, or, what is worse, of hypocrisy."]
[Footnote 361: See Appendix C.]
[Footnote 362: The classical reader will be reminded of Lucretius, iii. 979-1036. Smith, however, would not have relished this comparison. He devotes part of one sermon to a refutation of the Epicurean poet, in whom he sees a precursor of his bete noire, Hobbes!]
[Footnote 363: Compare with this the following passage of Jean de Labadie (1610-1674), the founder of a mystical school on the Continent: "Plusieurs sont bien aises d'ouyr dire qu'ils sont justifies par Jesus-Christ, laves de leurs peches en son sang par la foi, par la repentance et par le bapteme chrestien, et volontiers ils I'embrasent comme Justificateur, comme crucifie et mort pour eux; mais peu prennent part a sa croix, a sa mort, pour se faire spirituellement mourir avec Luy, crucifier leur chair avec la sienne, et porter en eux-memes les vives marques de sa croix et de sa mort. Peu le goutent comme Justificateur au dedans par l'Esprit consacrant et immolant le vieil homme a Dieu et par une pratique vraiment sainte, laquelle dompte le peche."]
"For nothing worthy proving can be proven, Nor yet disproven; wherefore thou be wise, Cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt, And cling to Faith beyond the forms of Faith! She reels not in the storm of warring words, She brightens at the clash of Yes and No, She sees the Best that glimmers through the Worst, She feels the sun is hid but for a night, She spies the summer thro' the winter bud, She tastes the fruit before the blossom falls, She hears the lark within the songless egg, She finds the fountain where they wail'd 'Mirage!'"
TENNYSON, The Ancient Sage.
"Of true religions there are only two: one of them recognises and worships the Holy that without form or shape dwells in and around us; and the other recognises and worships it in its fairest form. Everything that lies between these two is idolatry."
"My wish is that I may perceive the God whom I find everywhere in the external world, in like manner within and inside me."
"Getrost, das Leben schreitet Zum ew'gen Leben hin; Von innrer Gluth geweitet Verklaert sich unser Sinn. Die Sternwelt wird zerfliessen Zum goldnen Lebenswein, Wir werden sie geniessen Und lichte Sterne sein.
"Die Lieb' ist freigegeben Und keine Trennung mehr Es wogt das volle Leben Wie ein unendlich Meer. Nur eine Nacht der Wonne, Ein ewiges Gedicht! Und unser Aller Sonne Ist Gottes Angesicht."
"The invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood through the things that are made, even His everlasting power and Divinity."—ROM. i. 20.
In my last Lecture I showed how the later Mysticism emancipated itself from the mischievous doctrine that the spiritual eye can only see when the eye of sense is closed. After the Reformation period the mystic tries to look with both eyes; his aim is to see God in all things, as well as all things in God. He returns with better resources to the task of the primitive religions, and tries to find spiritual law in the natural world. It is true that a strange crop of superstitions, the seeds of which had been sown long before, sprang up to mock his hopes. In necromancy, astrology, alchemy, palmistry, table-turning, and other delusions, we have what some count the essence, and others the reproach, of Mysticism. But these are, strictly speaking, scientific and not religious errors. From the standpoint of religion and philosophy, the important change is that, in the belief of these later mystics, the natural and the spiritual are, somehow or other, to be reconciled; the external world is no longer regarded as a place of exile from God, or as a delusive appearance; it is the living vesture of the Deity; and its "discordant harmony," though "for the many it needs interpreters," yet "has a voice for the wise" which speaks of things behind the veil. The glory of God is no longer figured as a blinding white light in which all colours are combined and lost; but is seen as a "many-coloured wisdom" which shines everywhere, its varied hues appearing not only in the sanctuary of the lonely soul, but in all the wonders that science can discover, and all the beauties that art can interpret. Dualism, with the harsh asceticism which belongs to it, has given way to a brighter and more hopeful philosophy; men's outlook upon the world is more intelligent, more trustful, and more genial; only for those who perversely seek to impose the ethics of selfish individualism upon a world which obeys no such law, science has in reserve a blacker pessimism than ever brooded over the ascetic of the cloister.
We shall not meet, in this chapter, any finer examples of the Christian mystic than John Smith and William Law. But these men, and their intellectual kinsmen, were far from exhausting the treasure of Nature-Mysticism. The Cambridge Platonists, indeed, somewhat undervalued the religious lessons of Nature. They were scholars and divines, and what lay nearest their heart was the consecration of the reason—that is, of the whole personality under the guidance of its highest faculty—to the service of truth and goodness. And Law, in his later years, was too much under the influence of Boehme's fantastic theosophy to bring to Nature that childlike spirit which can best learn her lessons.
The Divine in Nature has hitherto been discerned more fully by the poet than by the theologian or the naturalist; and in this concluding Lecture I must deal chiefly with Christian poetry. The attitude towards Nature which we have now to consider is more contemplative than practical; it studies analogies in order to know the unseen powers which surround us, and has no desire to bend them or make them its instruments.
Our Lord's precept, "Consider the lilies," sanctions this religious use of Nature; and many of His parables, such as that of the Sower, show us how much we may learn from such analogies. And be it observed that it is the normal and regular in Nature which in these parables is presented for our study; the yearly harvest, not the three years' famine; the constant care and justice of God, not the "special providence" or the "special judgment." We need not wait for catastrophes to trace the finger of God. As for Christian poetry and art, we do not expect to find any theory of aesthetic in the New Testament; but we may perhaps extract from the precept quoted above the canon that the highest beauty that we can discern resides in the real and natural, and only demands the seeing eye to find it.
In the Greek Fathers we find great stress laid on the glories of Nature as a revelation of God. Cyril says, "The wider our contemplation of creation, the grander will be our conception of God." And Basil uses the same language. We find, indeed, in these writers a marked tendency to exalt the religious value of natural beauty, and to disparage the function of art—a premonition, perhaps, of iconoclasm. Pagan art, which was decaying before the advent of Christ, could not, it appears, be quietly Christianised and carried on without a break.
The true Nature-Mysticism is prominent in St. Francis of Assisi. He loves to see in all around him the pulsations of one life, which sleeps in the stones, dreams in the plants, and wakens in man. "He would remain in contemplation before a flower, an insect, or a bird, and regarded them with no dilettante or egoistic pleasure; he was interested that the plant should have its sun, the bird its nest; that the humblest manifestations of creative force should have the happiness to which they are entitled." So strong was his conviction that all living things are children of God, that he would preach to "my little sisters the birds," and even undertook the conversion of "the ferocious wolf of Agobio."
This tender reverence for Nature, which is a mark of all true Platonism, is found, as we have seen, in Plotinus. It is also prominent in the Platonists of the Renaissance, such as Bruno and Campanella, and in Petrarch, who loved to offer his evening prayers among the moonlit mountains. Suso has at least one beautiful passage on the sights and sounds of spring, and exclaims, "O tender God, if Thou art so loving in Thy creatures, how fair and lovely must Thou be in Thyself!" The Reformers, especially Luther and Zwingli, are more alive than might have been expected to the value of Nature's lessons; and the French mystics, Francis de Sales and Fenelon, write gracefully about the footprints of the Divine wisdom and beauty which may be traced everywhere in the world around us.
But natural religion is not to be identified with Mysticism, and it would not further our present inquiry to collect passages, in prose or poetry, which illustrate the aids to faith which the book of Nature may supply. Nor need we dwell on such pure Platonism as we find in Spenser's "Hymn of Heavenly Beauty," or some of Shelley's poems, in which we are bidden to gaze upon the world as a mirror of the Divine Beauty, since our mortal sight cannot endure the "white radiance" of the eternal archetypes. We have seen how this view of the world as a pale reflection of the Ideas leads in practice to a contempt for visible things; as, indeed, it does in Spenser's beautiful poem. He invites us, after learning Nature's lessons, to
"Look at last up to that sovereign light, From whose pure beams all perfect beauty springs; That kindleth love in every godly spright, Even the love of God; which loathing brings Of this vile world and these gay-seeming things; With whose sweet pleasures being so possessed, Thy straying thoughts henceforth for ever rest."
This is not the keynote of the later Nature-Mysticism. We now expect that every new insight into the truth of things, every enlightenment of the eyes of our understanding, which may be granted us as the reward of faith, love, and purity of heart, will make the world around us appear, not viler and baser, but more glorious and more Divine. It is not a proof of spirituality, but of its opposite, if God's world seems to us a poor place. If we could see it as God sees it, it would be still, as on the morning of creation, "very good." The hymn which is ever ascending from the earth to the throne of God is to be listened for, that we may join in it. The laws by which all creation lives are to be studied, that we too may obey them. As for the beauty which is everywhere diffused so lavishly, it seems to be a gift of God's pure bounty, to bring happiness to the unworldly souls who alone are able to see and enjoy it.
The greatest prophet of this branch of contemplative Mysticism is unquestionably the poet Wordsworth. It was the object of his life to be a religious teacher, and I think there is no incongruity in placing him at the end of the roll of mystical divines who have been dealt with in these Lectures. His intellectual kinship with the acknowledged representatives of Nature-Mysticism will, I hope, appear very plainly.
Wordsworth was an eminently sane and manly spirit. He found his philosophy of life early, and not only preached but lived it consistently. A Platonist by nature rather than by study, he is thoroughly Greek in his distrust of strong emotions and in his love of all which the Greeks included under [Greek: sophrosyne]. He was a loyal Churchman, but his religion was really almost independent of any ecclesiastical system. His ecclesiastical sonnets reflect rather the dignity of the Anglican Church than the ardent piety with which our other poet-mystics, such as Herbert, Vaughan, and Crashaw, adorn the offices of worship. His cast of faith, intellectual and contemplative rather than fervid, and the solitariness of his thought, forbade him to find much satisfaction in public ceremonial. He would probably agree with Galen, who in a very remarkable passage says that the study of nature, if prosecuted with the same earnestness and intensity which men bring to the contemplation of the "Mysteries," is even more fitted than they to reveal the power and wisdom of God; for "the symbolism of the mysteries is more obscure than that of nature."
He shows his affinity with the modern spirit in his firm grasp of natural law. Like George Fox and William Law, he had to face the shock of giving up his belief in arbitrary interferences. There was a period when he lost his young faculty of generalisation; when he bowed before the inexorable dooms of an unknown Lawgiver—"the categorical imperative," till the gift of intuition was restored to him in fuller measure. This experience explains his attitude towards natural science. His reverence for facts never failed him; "the sanctity and truth of nature," he says, "must not be tricked out with accidental ornaments"; but he looked askance at the science which tries to erect itself into a philosophy. Physics, he saw plainly, is an abstract study: its view of the world is an abstraction for certain purposes, and possesses less truth than the view of the poet. And yet he looked forward to a time when science, too, shall be touched with fire from the altar;—
"Then her heart shall kindle; her dull eye, Dull and inanimate, no more shall hang Chained to its object in brute slavery."
And in a remarkable passage of the "Prefaces" he says "If the time should ever come when that which is now called science shall be ready to put on as it were a form of flesh and blood, the poet will lend his Divine spirit to aid the transformation, and will welcome the Being thus produced as a dear and genuine inmate of the household of man." He feels that the loving and disinterested study of nature's laws must at last issue, not in materialism, but in some high and spiritual faith, inspired by the Word of God, who is Himself, as Erigena said, "the Nature of all things."
In aloofness and loneliness of mind he is exceeded by no mystic of the cloister. It may be said far more truly of him than of Milton, that "his soul was like a star, and dwelt apart." In his youth he confesses that human beings had only a secondary interest for him; and though he says that Nature soon led him to man, it was to man as a "unity," as "one spirit," that he was drawn, not to men as individuals. Herein he resembled many other contemplative mystics; but it has been said truly that "it is easier to know man in general than a man in particular." The sage who "sits in the centre" of his being, and there "enjoys bright day," does not really know human beings as persons.
It will be interesting to compare the steps in the ladder of perfection, as described by Wordsworth, with the schemes of Neoplatonism and introspective Mysticism. The three stages of the mystical ascent have been already explained. We find that Wordsworth, too, had his purgative, disciplinary stage. He began by deliberately crushing, not only the ardent passions to which he tells us that he was naturally prone, but all ambition and love of money, determining to confine himself to "such objects as excite no morbid passions, no disquietude, no vengeance, and no hatred," and found his reward in a settled state of calm serenity, in which all the thoughts flow like a clear fountain, and have forgotten how to hate and how to despise.
Wordsworth is careful to inculcate several safeguards for those who would proceed to the contemplative life. First, there must be strenuous aspiration to reach that infinitude which is our being's heart and home; we must press forward, urged by "hope that can never die, effort, and expectation, and desire, and something evermore about to be." The mind which is set upon the unchanging will not "praise a cloud," but will "crave objects that endure." In the spirit of true Platonism, as contrasted with its later aberrations, Wordsworth will have no blurred outlines. He tries always to see in Nature distinction without separation; his principle is the exact antithesis of Hume's atheistic dictum, that "things are conjoined, but not connected." The importance of this caution has been fully demonstrated in the course of our inquiry. Then, too, he knows that to imperfect man reason is a crown "still to be courted, never to be won." Delusions may affect "even the very faculty of sight," whether a man "look forth," or "dive into himself." Again, he bids us seek for real, and not fanciful analogies; no "loose types of things through all degrees"; no mythology; and no arbitrary symbolism. The symbolic value of natural objects is not that they remind us of something that they are not, but that they help us to understand something that they in part are. They are not intended to transport us away from this earth into the clouds. "This earth is the world of all of us," he says boldly, "in which we find our happiness or not at all." Lastly, and this is perhaps the most important of all, he recognises that the still small voice of God breathes not out of nature alone, nor out of the soul alone, but from the contact of the soul with nature. It is the marriage of the intellect of man to "this goodly universe, in love and holy passion," which produces these raptures. "Intellect" includes Imagination, which is but another name for Reason in her most exalted mood; these must assist the eye of sense.
Such is the discipline, and such are the counsels, by which the priest of Nature must prepare himself to approach her mysteries. And what are the truths which contemplation revealed to him?
The first step on the way that leads to God was the sense of the boundless, growing out of musings on the finite; and with it the conviction that the Infinite and Eternal alone can be our being's heart and home—"we feel that we are greater than we know." Then came to him—
"The sense sublime Of something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean and the living air, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man; A motion and a spirit, that impels All thinking things, all objects of all thoughts, And rolls through all things."
The worldliness and artificiality which set us out of tune with all this is worse than paganism. Then this "higher Pantheism" developed into the sense of an all-pervading Personality, "a soul that is the eternity of thought." And with this heightened consciousness of the nature of God came also a deeper knowledge of his own personality, a knowledge which he describes in true mystical language as a "sinking into self from thought to thought." This may continue till man can at last "breathe in worlds to which the heaven of heavens is but a veil," and perceive "the forms whose kingdom is where time and space are not." These last lines describe a state analogous to the [Greek: opsis] of the Neoplatonists, and the excessus mentis of the Catholic mystics. At this advanced stage the priest of Nature may surrender himself to ecstasy without mistrust. Of such minds he says—
"The highest bliss That flesh can know is theirs—the consciousness Of whom they are, habitually infused Through every image and through every thought, And all affections by communion raised From earth to heaven, from human to divine;... Thence cheerfulness for acts of daily life, Emotions which best foresight need not fear, Most worthy then of trust when most intense."
There are many other places where he describes this "bliss ineffable," when "all his thoughts were steeped in feeling," as he listened to the song which every form of creature sings "as it looks towards the uncreated with a countenance of adoration and an eye of love," that blessed mood—
"In which the affections gently lead us on,— Until, the breath of this corporeal frame, And even the motion of our human blood Almost suspended, we are laid asleep In body, and become a living soul: While with an eye made quiet by the power Of harmony, and the deep power of joy, We see into the life of things."
Is it not plain that the poet of Nature amid the Cumberland hills, the Spanish ascetic in his cell, and the Platonic philosopher in his library or lecture-room, have been climbing the same mountain from different sides? The paths are different, but the prospect from the summit is the same. It is idle to speak of collusion or insanity in the face of so great a cloud of witnesses divided by every circumstance of date, nationality, creed, education, and environment. The Carmelite friar had no interest in confirming the testimony of the Alexandrian professor; and no one has yet had the temerity to question the sanity of Wordsworth, or of Tennyson, whose description of the Vision in his "Ancient Sage" is now known to be a record of personal experience. These explorers of the high places of the spiritual life have only one thing in common—they have observed the conditions laid down once for all for the mystic in the 24th Psalm, "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation." The "land which is very far off" is always visible to those who have climbed the holy mountain. It may be scaled by the path of prayer and mortification, or by the path of devout study of God's handiwork in Nature (and under this head I would wish to include not only the way traced out by Wordsworth, but that hitherto less trodden road which should lead the physicist to God); and, lastly, by the path of consecrated life in the great world, which, as it is the most exposed to temptations, is perhaps on that account the most blessed of the three.
It has been said of Wordsworth, as it has been said of other mystics, that he averts his eyes "from half of human fate." Religious writers have explained that the neglected half is that which lies beneath the shadow of the Cross. The existence of positive evil in the world, as a great fact, and the consequent need of redemption, is, in the opinion of many, too little recognised by Wordsworth, and by Mysticism in general. This objection has been urged both from the scientific and from the religious side. It is held by many students of Nature that her laws affirm a Pessimism and not an Optimism. "Red in tooth and claw with ravine," she shrieks against the creed that her Maker is a God of love. The only morality which she inculcates is that of a tiger in the jungle, or at best that of a wolf-pack. "It is not strange (says Lotze) that no nature-religions have raised their adherents to any high pitch of morality or culture." The answer to this is that Nature includes man as well as the brutes, and the merciful and moral man as well as the savage. Physical science, at any rate, can exclude nothing from the domain of Nature. And the Christian may say with all reverence that Nature includes, or rather is included by, Christ, the Word of God, by whom it was made. And the Word was made flesh to teach us that vicarious suffering, which we see to be the law of Nature, is a law of God, a thing not foreign to His own life, and therefore for all alike a condition of perfection, not a reductio ad absurdum of existence. The reductio ad absurdum is not of Nature, but of selfish individualism, which suffers shipwreck alike in objective and in subjective religion. It is precisely because the shadow of the Cross lies across the world, that we can watch Nature at work with "admiration, hope, and love," instead of with horror and disgust.
The religious objection amounts to little more than that Mysticism has not succeeded in solving the problem of evil, which no philosophy has ever attacked with even apparent success. It is, however, with some reason that this difficulty has been pressed against the mystics; for they are bound by their principles to attempt some solution, and their tendency has been to attenuate the positive character of evil to a somewhat dangerous degree. But if we sift the charges often brought by religious writers against Mysticism, we shall generally find that there lies at the bottom of their disapproval a residuum of mediaeval dualism, which wishes to see in Christ the conquering invader of a hostile kingdom. In practice, at any rate, the great mystics have not taken lightly the struggle with the law of sin in our members, or tried to "heal slightly" the wounds of the soul.
It is quite true that the later mystics have been cheerful and optimistic. But those who have found a kingdom in their own minds, and who have enough strength of character "to live by reason and not by opinion," as Whichcote says (in a maxim which was anticipated by that arch-enemy of Mysticism—Epicurus), are likely to be happier than other men. And, moreover, Wordsworth teaches us that almost, if not quite, every evil may be so transmuted by the "faculty which abides within the soul," that those "interpositions which would hide and darken" may "become contingencies of pomp, and serve to exalt her native brightness"; even as the moon, "rising behind a thick and lofty grove, turns the dusky veil into a substance glorious as her own." So the happy warrior is made "more compassionate" by the scenes of horror which he is compelled to witness. Whether this healing and purifying effect of sorrow points the way to a solution of the problem of evil or not, it is a high and noble faith, the one and only consolation which we feel not to be a mockery when we are in great trouble.
These charges, then, do not seem to form a grave indictment against the type of Mysticism of which Wordsworth is the best representative. But he does fall short of the ideal held up by St. John for the Christian mystic, in that his love and sympathy for inanimate Nature were (at any rate in his poetry) deeper than for humanity. And if there is any accusation which may justly be brought against the higher order of mystics (as opposed to representatives of aberrant types), I think it is this: that they have sought and found God in their own souls and in Nature, but not so often in the souls of other men and women: theirs has been a lonely religion. The grand old maxim, "Vides fratrem, vides Dominum tuum," has been remembered by them only in acts of charity. But in reality the love of human beings must be the shortest road to the vision of God. Love, as St. John teaches us, is the great hierophant of the Christian mysteries. It gives wings to contemplation and lightens the darkness which hides the face of God. When our emotions are deeply stirred, even Nature speaks to us with voices unheard before; while the man who is without human affection is either quite unmoved by her influences, or misreads all her lessons.
The spiritualising power of human love is the redeeming principle in many sordid lives. Teutonic civilisation, which derives half of its restless energy from ideals which are essentially anti-Christian, and tastes which are radically barbarous, is prevented from sinking into moral materialism by its high standard of domestic life. The sweet influences of the home deprive even mammon-worship of half its grossness and of some fraction of its evil. As a schoolmaster to bring men and women to Christ, natural affection is without a rival. It is in the truest sense a symbol of our union with Him from whom every family in heaven and earth is named. It is needless to labour a thesis on which nearly all are agreed; but it may be worth pointing out that, though St. Paul felt the unique value of Christian marriage as a symbol of the mystical union of Christ and the Church, this truth was for the most part lost sight of by the mediaeval mystics, who as monks and priests were, of course, cut off from domestic life. The romances of true love which the Old Testament contains were treated as prophecies wrapped up in riddling language, or as models for ecstatic contemplation. Wordsworth, though his own home was a happy one, does not supply this link in the mystical chain. The most noteworthy attempt to do so is to be found in the poetry of Robert Browning, whose Mysticism is in this way complementary to that of Wordsworth. He resembles Wordsworth in always trying "to see the infinite in things," but considers that "little else (than the development of a soul) is worth study." This is not exactly a return to subjective Mysticism, for Browning is as well aware as Goethe that if "a talent grows best in solitude," a character is perfected only "in the stream of the world." With him the friction of active life, and especially the experience of human love, are necessary to realise the Divine in man. Quite in the spirit of St. John he asks, "How can that course be safe, which from the first produces carelessness to human love?" "Do not cut yourself from human weal ... there are strange punishments for such" as do so. Solitude is the death of all but the strongest virtue, and in Browning's view it also deprives us of the strongest inner witness to the existence of a loving Father in heaven. For he who "finds love full in his nature" cannot doubt that in this, as in all else, the Creator must far surpass the creature. Since, then, in knowing love we learn to know God, and since the object of life is to know God (this, the mystic's minor premiss, is taken for granted by Browning), it follows that love is the meaning of life; and he who finds it not "loses what he lived for, and eternally must lose it." "The mightiness of love is curled" inextricably round all power and beauty in the world. The worst fate that can befall us is to lead "a ghastly smooth life, dead at heart." Especially interesting is the passage where he chooses or chances upon Eckhart's image of the "spark" in the centre of the soul, and gives it a new turn in accordance with his own Mysticism—
"It would not be because my eye grew dim Thou could'st not find the love there, thanks to Him Who never is dishonoured in the spark He gave us from His fire of fires, and bade Remember whence it sprang, nor be afraid While that burns on, though all the rest grow dark."
Our language has no separate words to distinguish Christian love ([Greek: agape]—caritas) from sexual love ([Greek: eros]—amor); "charity" has not established itself in its wider meaning. Perhaps this is not to be regretted—at any rate Browning's poems could hardly be translated into any language in which this distinction exists. But let us not forget that the ascetic element is as strong in Browning as in Wordsworth. Love, he seems to indicate, is no exception to the rule that our joys may be "three parts pain," for "where pain ends gain ends too."
"Not yet on thee Shall burst the future, as successive zones Of several wonder open on some spirit Flying secure and glad from heaven to heaven; But thou shalt painfully attain to joy, While hope and fear and love shall keep thee man."
He even carries this law into the future life, and will have none of a "joy which is crystallised for ever." Felt imperfection is a proof of a higher birthright: if we have arrived at the completion of our nature as men, then "begins anew a tendency to God." This faith in unending progress as the law of life is very characteristic of our own age. It assumes a questionable shape sometimes; but Browning's trust in real success through apparent disappointments—a trust even based on the consciousness of present failure—is certainly one of the noblest parts of his religious philosophy.
I have decided to end my survey of Christian Mysticism with these two English poets. It would hardly be appropriate, in this place, to discuss Carlyle's doctrine of symbols, as the "clothing" of religious and other kinds of truth. His philosophy is wanting in some of the essential features of Mysticism, and can hardly be called Christian without stretching the word too far. And Emerson, when he deals with religion, is a very unsafe guide. The great American mystic, whose beautiful character was as noble a gift to humanity as his writings, is more liable than any of those whom we have described to the reproach of having turned his back on the dark side of life. Partly from a fastidiousness which could not bear even to hear of bodily ailments, partly from the natural optimism of the dweller in a new country, and partly because he made a principle of maintaining an unruffled cheerfulness and serenity, he shut his eyes to pain, death, and sin, even more resolutely than did Goethe. The optimism which is built on this foundation has no message of comfort for the stricken heart. To say that "evil is only good in the making," is to repeat an ancient and discredited attempt to solve the great enigma. And to assert that perfect justice is meted out to individuals in this world, is surely mere dreaming. Moreover, we can hardly acquit him of playing with pantheistic Mysticism of the Oriental type, without seeing, or without caring, whither such speculations logically lead. "Within man," he tells us, "is the soul of the whole, the wise silence, the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related—the eternal One." This is genuine Pantheism, and should carry with it the doctrine that all actions are equally good, bad, or indifferent. Emerson says that his wife kept him from antinomianism; but this is giving up the defence of his philosophy. He also differs from Christianity, and agrees with many Hegelians, in teaching that God, "the Over-Soul," only attains to self-consciousness in man; and this, combined with his denial of degrees in Divine immanence, leads him to a self-deification of an arrogant and shocking kind, such as we find in the Persian Sufis, and in some heretical mystics of the Middle Ages. "I, the imperfect, adore my own Perfect. I am receptive of the great soul. I become a transparent eyeball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the universal Being circulate through me. I am part of God"; and much more to the same effect. This is not the language of those who have travelled up the mystical ladder, instead of only writing about it. It is far more objectionable than the bold phrases about deification which I quoted in my fifth Lecture from the fourteenth century mystics; because with them the passage into the Divine glory is the final reward, only to be attained "by all manner of exercises"; while for Emerson it seems to be a state already existing, which we can realise by a mere act of intellectual apprehension. And the phrase, "Man is a part of God,"—as if the Divine Spirit were divided among the organs which express its various activities,—has been condemned by all the great speculative mystics, from Plotinus downwards. Emerson is perhaps at his best when he applies his idealism to love and friendship. The spiritualising and illuminating influence of pure comradeship has never been better or more religiously set forth. And though it is necessary to be on our guard against the very dangerous tendency of some of his teaching, we shall find much to learn from the brave and serene philosopher whose first maxim was, "Come out into the azure; love the day," and who during his whole life fixed his thoughts steadily on whatsoever things are pure, lovely, noble, and of good report.
The constructive task which lies before the next century is, if I may say so without presumption, to spiritualise science, as morality and art have already been spiritualised. The vision of God should appear to us as a triple star of truth, beauty, and goodness. These are the three objects of all human aspiration; and our hearts will never be at peace till all three alike rest in God. Beauty is the chief mediator between the good and the true; and this is why the great poets have been also prophets. But Science at present lags behind; she has not found her God; and to this is largely due the "unrest of the age." Much has already been done in the right direction by divines, philosophers, and physicists, and more still, perhaps, by the great poets, who have striven earnestly to see the spiritual background which lies behind the abstractions of materialistic science. But much yet remains to be done. We may agree with Hinton that "Positivism bears a new Platonism in its bosom"; but the child has not yet come to the birth.
Meanwhile, the special work assigned to the Church of England would seem to be the development of a Johannine Christianity, which shall be both Catholic and Evangelical without being either Roman or Protestant. It has been abundantly proved that neither Romanism nor Protestantism, regarded as alternatives, possesses enough of the truth to satisfy the religious needs of the present day. But is it not probable that, as the theology of the Fourth Gospel acted as a reconciling principle between the opposing sections in the early Church, so it may be found to contain the teaching which is most needed by both parties in our own communion? In St. John and St. Paul we find all the principles of a sound and sober Christian Mysticism; and it is to these "fresh springs" of the spiritual life that we must turn, if the Church is to renew her youth.
I attempted in my second Lecture to analyse the main elements of Christian Mysticism as found in St. Paul and St. John. But since in the later Lectures I have been obliged to draw from less pure sources, and since, moreover, I am most anxious not to leave the impression that I have been advocating a vague spirituality tempered by rationalism, I will try in a few words to define my position apologetically, though I am well aware that it is a hazardous and difficult task.
The principle, "Cuique in sua arte credendum est," applies to those who have been eminent for personal holiness as much as to the leaders in any other branch of excellence. Even in dealing with arts which are akin to each other, we do not invite poets to judge of music, or sculptors of architecture. We need not then be disturbed if we occasionally find men illustrious in other fields, who are as insensible to religion as to poetry. Our reverence for the character and genius of Charles Darwin need not induce us to lay aside either our Shakespeare or our New Testament. The men to whom we naturally turn as our best authorities in spiritual matters, are those who seem to have been endowed with an "anima naturaliter Christiana," and who have devoted their whole lives to the service of God and the imitation of Christ.
Now it will be found that these men of acknowledged and pre-eminent saintliness agree very closely in what they tell us about God. They tell us that they have arrived gradually at an unshakable conviction, not based on inference but on immediate experience, that God is a Spirit with whom the human spirit can hold intercourse; that in Him meet all that they can imagine of goodness, truth, and beauty; that they can see His footprints everywhere in nature, and feel His presence within them as the very life of their life, so that in proportion as they come to themselves they come to Him. They tell us that what separates us from Him and from happiness is, first, self-seeking in all its forms; and, secondly, sensuality in all its forms; that these are the ways of darkness and death, which hide from us the face of God; while the path of the just is like a shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. As they have toiled up the narrow way, the Spirit has spoken to them of Christ, and has enlightened the eyes of their understandings, till they have at least begun to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, and to be filled with all the fulness of God.
So far, the position is unassailable. But the scope of the argument has, of course, its fixed limits. The inner light can only testify to spiritual truths. It always speaks in the present tense; it cannot guarantee any historical event, past or future. It cannot guarantee either the Gospel history or a future judgment. It can tell us that Christ is risen, and that He is alive for evermore, but not that He rose again the third day. It can tell us that the gate of everlasting life is open, but not that the dead shall be raised incorruptible. We have other faculties for investigating the evidence for past events; the inner light cannot certify them immediately, though it can give a powerful support to the external evidence. For though we are in no position to dogmatise about the relations of the temporal to the eternal, one fact does seem to stand out,—that the two are, for us, bound together. If, when we read the Gospels, "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit" that here are the words of eternal life, and the character which alone in history is absolutely flawless, then it is natural for us to believe that there has been, at that point of time, an Incarnation of the Word of God Himself. That the revelation of Christ is an absolute revelation, is a dogmatic statement which, strictly speaking, only the Absolute could make. What we mean by it is that after two thousand years we are unable to conceive of its being ever superseded in any particular. And if anyone finds this inadequate, he may be invited to explain what higher degree of certainty is within our reach. With regard to the future life, the same consideration may help us to understand why the Church has clung to the belief in a literal second coming of Christ to pronounce the dooms of all mankind. But our Lord Himself has taught us that in "that day and that hour" lies hidden a more inscrutable mystery than even He Himself, as man, could reveal.