There is one other point on which I wish to make my position clear. The fact that human love or sympathy is the guide who conducts us to the heart of life, revealing to us God and Nature and ourselves, is proof that part of our life is bound up with the life of the world, and that if we live in these our true relations we shall not entirely die so long as human beings remain alive upon this earth. The progress of the race, the diminution of sin and misery, the advancing kingdom of Christ on earth,—these are matters in which we have a personal interest. The strong desire that we feel—and the best of us feel it most strongly—that the human race may be better, wiser, and happier in the future than they are now or have been in the past, is neither due to a false association of ideas, nor to pure unselfishness. There is a sense in which death would not be the end of everything for us, even though in this life only we had hope in Christ.
But when this comforting and inspiring thought is made to form the basis of a new Chiliasm—a belief in a millennium of perfected humanity on this earth, and when this belief is substituted for the Christian belief in an eternal life beyond our bourne of time and place, it is necessary to protest that this belief entirely fails to satisfy the legitimate hopes of the human race, that it is bad philosophy, and that it is flatly contrary to what science tells us of the destiny of the world and of mankind. The human spirit beats against the bars of space and time themselves, and could never be satisfied with any earthly utopia. Our true home must be in some higher sphere of existence, above the contradictions which make it impossible for us to believe that time and space are ultimate realities, and out of reach of the inevitable catastrophe which the next glacial age must bring upon the human race. This world of space and time is to resemble heaven as far as it can; but a fixed limit is set to the amount of the Divine plan which can be realised under these conditions. Our hearts tell us of a higher form of existence, in which the doom of death is not merely deferred but abolished. This eternal world we here see through a glass darkly: at best we can apprehend but the outskirts of God's ways, and hear a small whisper of His voice; but our conviction is that, though our earthly house be dissolved (as dissolved it must be), we have a home not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. In this hope we may include all creation; and trust that in some way neither more nor less incomprehensible than the deliverance which we expect for ourselves, all God's creatures, according to their several capacities, may be set free from the bondage of corruption and participate in the final triumph over death and sin. Most firmly do I believe that this faith in immortality, though formless and inpalpable as the air we breathe, and incapable of definite presentation except under inadequate and self-contradictory symbols, is nevertheless enthroned in the centre of our being, and that those who have steadily set their affections on things above, and lived the risen life even on earth, receive in themselves an assurance which robs death of its sting, and is an earnest of a final victory over the grave.
It is not claimed that Mysticism, even in its widest sense, is, or can ever be, the whole of Christianity. Every religion must have an institutional as well as a mystical element. Just as, if the feeling of immediate communion with God has faded, we shall have a dead Church worshipping "a dead Christ," as Fox the Quaker said of the Anglican Church in his day; so, if the seer and prophet expel the priest, there will be no discipline and no cohesion. Still, at the present time, the greatest need seems to be that we should return to the fundamentals of spiritual religion. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that both the old seats of authority, the infallible Church and the infallible book, are fiercely assailed, and that our faith needs reinforcements. These can only come from the depths of the religious consciousness itself; and if summoned from thence, they will not be found wanting. The "impregnable rock" is neither an institution nor a book, but a life or experience. Faith, which is an affirmation of the basal personality, is its own evidence and justification. Under normal conditions, it will always be strongest in the healthiest minds. There is and can be no appeal from it. If, then, our hearts, duly prepared for the reception of the Divine Guest, at length say to us, "This I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see," we may, in St. John's words, "have confidence towards God."
The objection may be raised—"But these beliefs change, and merely reflect the degree of enlightenment or its opposite, which every man has reached." The conscience of the savage tells him emphatically that there are some things which he must not do; and blind obedience to this "categorical imperative" has produced not only all the complex absurdities of "taboo," but crimes like human sacrifice, and faith in a great many things that are not. "Perhaps we are leaving behind the theological stage, as we have already left behind those superstitions of savagery." Now the study of primitive religions does seem to me to prove the danger of resting religion and morality on unreasoning obedience to a supposed revelation; but that is not my position. The two forces which kill mischievous superstitions are the knowledge of nature, and the moral sense; and we are quite ready to give both free play, confident that both come from the living Word of God. The fact that a revelation is progressive is no argument that it is not Divine: it is, in fact, only when the free current of the religious life is dammed up that it turns into a swamp, and poisons human society. Of course we must be ready to admit with all humility, that our notions of God are probably unworthy and distorted enough; but that is no reason why we should not follow the light which we have, or mistrust it on the ground that it is "too good to be true."
Nor would it be fair to say that this argument makes religion depend merely on feeling. A theology based on mere feeling is (as Hegel said) as much contrary to revealed religion as to rational knowledge. The fact that God is present to our feeling is no proof that He exists; our feelings include imaginations which have no reality corresponding to them. No, it is not feeling, but the heart or reason (whichever term we prefer), which speaks with authority. By the heart or reason I mean the whole personality acting in concord, an abiding mood of thinking, willing, and feeling. The life of the spirit perhaps begins with mere feeling, and perhaps will be consummated in mere feeling, when "that which is in part shall be done away"; but during its struggles to enter into its full inheritance, it gathers up into itself the activities of all the faculties, which act harmoniously together in proportion as the organism to which they belong is in a healthy state.
Once more, this reliance on the inner light does not mean that every man must be his own prophet, his own priest, and his own saviour. The individual is not independent of the Church, nor the Church of the historical Christ. But the Church is a living body and the Incarnation and Atonement are living facts still in operation. They are part of the eternal counsels of God; and whether they are enacted in the Abyss of the Divine Nature, or once for all in their fulness on the stage of history, or in miniature, as it were, in your soul and mine, the process is the same, and the tremendous importance of those historical facts which our creeds affirm is due precisely to the fact that they are not unique and isolated portents, but the supreme manifestation of the grandest and most universal laws.
These considerations may well have a calming and reassuring influence upon those who, from whatever cause, are troubled by religious doubts. The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth, and is known by, them that are His. But we must not expect that "religious difficulties" will ever cease. Every truth that we know is but the husk of a deeper truth; and it may be that the Holy Spirit has still many things to say to us, which we cannot bear now. Each generation and each individual has his own problem, which has never been set in exactly the same form before: we must all work out our own salvation, for it is God who worketh in us. If we have realised the meaning of these words of St. Paul, which I have had occasion to quote so often in these Lectures, we cannot doubt that, though we now see through a glass darkly, and know only in part, we shall one day behold our Eternal Father face to face, and know Him even as we are known.
[Footnote 364: Horace, Ep. i. 12. 19.]
[Footnote 365: [Greek: polypoikilos sophia], Eph. iii. 10.]
[Footnote 366: Pindar, Olymp. ii. 154.]
[Footnote 367: Barine in Revue des Deux Mondes, April 1891.]
[Footnote 368: The latter, like Fechner in our own century, holds that the stars are living organisms, whose "sensibility is full of pleasure."]
[Footnote 369: See Illingworth's Divine Immanence, where this and other interesting passages are quoted. But Suso was, of course, not a "Protestant mystic." And I cannot agree with the author when he says that Lucretius found no religious inspiration in Nature. The poet of the Nature of Things shows himself to have been a lonely man, who had pondered much among the hills and by the sea, and who loved to taste the pure delights of the spring. Thence came to him the "holy joy and dread" ("quaedam divina voluptas atque horror") which pulsates through his great poem as he shatters the barbarous mythology of paganism, and then, in the spirit of a priest rather than of a philosopher, turns the "bright shafts of day" upon the folly and madness of those who are slaves to the world or the flesh. The spirit of Lucretius is the spirit of modern science, which tends neither to materialism nor to atheism, whatever its friends and enemies may say.]
[Footnote 370: Christian Platonism has never been more beautifully set forth than in the poem of Spenser named above. Compare, especially, the following stanzas:—
"The means, therefore, which unto us is lent Him to behold, is on His works to look, Which He hath made in beauty excellent, And in the same, as in a brazen book To read enregistered in every nooke His goodness, which His beauty doth declare: For all that's good is beautiful and fair.
"Thence gathering plumes of perfect speculation, To imp the wings of thy high-flying mind, Mount up aloft through heavenly contemplation, From this dark world, whose damps the soul do blind, On that bright Sun of glory fix thine eyes, Cleared from gross mists of frail infirmities."
Shelley sums up a great deal of Plotinus in the following stanza of "Adonais":—
"The One remains; the many change and pass; Heaven's light for ever shines; earth's shadows fly; Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass, Stains the white radiance of eternity."
Compare, too, the opening lines of "Alastor."]
[Footnote 371: Compare the following sentences in Bradley's Appearance and Reality: "Nature viewed materialistically is only an abstraction for certain purposes, and has not a high degree of truth or reality. The poet's nature has much more.... Our principle, that the abstract is the unreal, moves us steadily upward.... It compels us in the end to credit nature with our higher emotions. That process can only cease when nature is quite absorbed into spirit, and at every stage of the process we find increase in reality."]
[Footnote 372: "Prelude," viii. 340 sq.]
[Footnote 373: "Prelude," viii. 668.]
[Footnote 374: La Rochefoucauld.]
[Footnote 375: These words, from Milton's "Comus," are applied to Wordsworth by Hazlitt.]
[Footnote 376: "Prelude," iv. 1207-1229. The ascetic element in Wordsworth's ethics should by no means be forgotten by those who envy his brave and unruffled outlook upon life. As Hutton says excellently (Essays, p. 81), "there is volition and self-government in every line of his poetry, and his best thoughts come from the steady resistance he opposes to the ebb and flow of ordinary desires and regrets. He contests the ground inch by inch with all despondent and indolent humours, and often, too, with movements of inconsiderate and wasteful joy—turning defeat into victory, and victory into defeat." See the whole passage.]
[Footnote 377: "Prelude," vi. 604-608.]
[Footnote 378: "Miscell. Sonnets," xii.]
[Footnote 379: See the Essay in which he deals with Macpherson: "In nature everything is distinct, yet nothing defined into absolute independent singleness. In Macpherson's work it is exactly the reverse—everything is defined, insulated, dislocated, deadened—yet nothing distinct."]
[Footnote 380: "Excursion," v. 500-514.]
[Footnote 381: This seemed flat blasphemy to Shelley, whose idealism was mixed with Byronic misanthropy. "Nor was there aught the world contained of which he could approve."]
[Footnote 382: "Prelude," xiv. 192. Wordsworth's psychology is very interesting. "Imagination" is for him ("Miscellaneous Sonnets," xxxv.) a "glorious faculty," whose function it is to elevate the more-than-reasoning mind; "'tis hers to pluck the amaranthine flower of Faith," and "colour life's dark cloud with orient rays." This faculty is at once "more than reason," and identical with "Reason in her most exalted mood." I have said (p.21) that "Mysticism is reason applied to a sphere above rationalism" and this appears to be exactly Wordsworth's doctrine.]
[Footnote 383: "Sonnets on the River Duddon," xxxiv.]
[Footnote 384: "Lines composed above Tintern Abbey," 95-102.]
[Footnote 385: "Miscell. Sonnets," xxxiii.]
[Footnote 386: "Prelude," xiv. 112-129.]
[Footnote 387: "Prelude," ii. 396-418.]
[Footnote 388: "Lines composed above Tintern Abbey," 35-48.]
[Footnote 389: Wordsworth's Mysticism contains a few subordinate elements which are of more questionable value. The "echoes from beyond the grave," which "the inward ear" sometimes catches, are dear to most of us; but we must not be too confident that they always come from God. Still less can we be sure that presentiments are "heaven-born instincts." Again, when the lonely thinker feels himself surrounded by "huge and mighty forms, that do not move like living men," it is a sign that the "dim and undetermined sense of unknown modes of being" has begun to work not quite healthily upon his imagination. And the doctrine of pre-existence, which appears in the famous Ode, is one which it has been hitherto impossible to admit into the scheme of Christian beliefs, though many Christian thinkers have dallied with it. Perhaps the true lesson of the Ode is that the childish love of nature, beautiful and innocent as it is, has to die and be born again in the consciousness of the grown man. That Wordsworth himself passed through this experience, we know from other passages in his writings. In his case, at any rate, the "light of common day" was, for a time at least, more splendid than the roseate hues of his childish imagination can possibly have been; and there seems to be no reason for holding the gloomy view that spiritual insight necessarily becomes dimmer as we travel farther from our cradles, and nearer to our graves. What fails us as we get older is only that kind of vision which is analogous to the "consolations" often spoken of by monkish mystics as the privilege of beginners. Amiel expresses exactly the same regret as Wordsworth: "Shall I ever enjoy again those marvellous reveries of past days?..." See the whole paragraph on p. 32 of Mrs. Humphry Ward's translation.]
[Footnote 390: These objections are pressed by Lotze, and not only by avowed Pessimists. Lotze abhors what he calls "sentimental symbolism" because it interferes with his monadistic doctrines. I venture to say that any philosophy which divides man, as a being sui generis, from the rest of Nature, is inevitably landed either in Acosmism or in Manichean Dualism.]
[Footnote 391: This is perhaps the best place to notice the mystical treatise of James Hinton, entitled Man and his Dwelling-place, which is chiefly remarkable for its attempt to solve the problem of evil. This writer pushes to an extremity the favourite mystical doctrine that we surround ourselves with a world after our own likeness, and considers that all the evil which we see in Nature is the "projection of our own deadness." Apart from the unlikelihood of a theory which makes man—"the roof and crown of things"—the only diseased and discordant element in the universe, the writer lays himself open to the fatal rejoinder, "Did Christ, then, see no sin or evil in the world?" The doctrines of sacrifice (vicarious suffering) as a blessed law of Nature ("the secret of the universe is learnt on Calvary"), and of the necessity of annihilating "the self" as the principle of evil, are pressed with a harsh and unnatural rigour. Our blessed Lord laid no such yoke upon us, nor will human nature consent to bear it. The "atonement" of the world by love is much better delineated by R.L. Nettleship, in a passage which seems to me to exhibit the very kernel of Christian Mysticism in its social aspect. "Suppose that all human beings felt permanently to each other as they now do occasionally to those they love best. All the pain of the world would be swallowed up in doing good. So far as we can conceive of such a state, it would be one in which there would be no 'individuals' at all, but an universal being in and for another; where being took the form of consciousness, it would be the consciousness of 'another' which was also 'oneself'—a common consciousness. Such would be the 'atonement' of the world."]
[Footnote 392: Charles Kingsley is another mystic of the same school.]
[Footnote 393: Browning, Paracelsus, Act i.]
[Footnote 394: Browning, "Saul," xvii.]
[Footnote 395: Browning, "Cristina."]
[Footnote 396: Browning, "Christmas Eve and Easter Day," xxx., xxxiii.]
[Footnote 397: Browning, "Any Wife to any Husband."]
[Footnote 398: Compare Plato's well-known sentence: [Greek: di algedonon kai odynon gignetai he opheleia, ou gar oion te allos adikias apallattesthai].]
[Footnote 399: Browning, Paracelsus.]
[Footnote 400: Compare Pascal: "No one is discontented at not being a king, except a discrowned king."]
[Footnote 401: It is almost as prominent in Tennyson as in Browning: "Give her the wages of going on, and not to die," is his wish for the human soul.]
[Footnote 402: I had written these words before the publication of Principal Caird's Sermons, which contain, in my judgment, the most powerful defence of what I have called Christian Mysticism that has appeared since William Law. On p. 14 he says: "Of all things good and fair and holy there is a spiritual cognisance which precedes and is independent of that knowledge which the understanding conveys." He shows how in the contemplation of nature it is "by an organ deeper than intellectual thought" that "the revelation of material beauty flows in upon the soul." "And in like manner there is an apprehension of God and Divine things which comes upon the spirit as a living reality which it immediately and intuitively perceives." ... "There is a capacity of the soul, by which the truths of religion may be apprehended and appropriated." See the whole sermon, entitled, What is Religion? and many other parts of the book.]
[Footnote 403: Cf. Hegel (Philosophy of Religion, vol. ii. p. 8): "The Beautiful is essentially the Spiritual making itself known sensuously, presenting itself in sensuous concrete existence, but in such a manner that that existence is wholly and entirely permeated by the Spiritual, so that the sensuous is not independent, but has its meaning solely and exclusively in the Spiritual and through the Spiritual, and exhibits not itself, but the Spiritual."]
[Footnote 404: Some reference ought perhaps to be made to Drummond's Natural Law in the Spiritual World. But Mysticism seeks rather to find spiritual law in the natural world—and some better law than Drummond's Calvinism. (And I cannot help thinking that, though Evolution explains much and contradicts nothing in Christianity, it is in danger of proving an ignis fatuus to many, especially to those who are inclined to idealistic pantheism. There can be no progress or development in God, and the cosmic process as we know it cannot have a higher degree of reality than the categories of time and place under which it appears. As for the millennium of perfected humanity on this earth, which some Positivists and others dream of,—Christianity has nothing to say against it, but science has a great deal.) See below, p. 328.]
[Footnote 405: In the Life of Charles Darwin there is an interesting letter, in which he laments the gradual decay of his taste for poetry, as his mind became a mere "machine for grinding out general laws" from a mass of observations. The decay of religious feeling in many men of high character may be accounted for in the same way. The really great man is conscious of the sacrifice which he is making. "It is an accursed evil to a man," Darwin wrote to Hooker, "to become so absorbed in any subject as I am in mine." The common-place man is not conscious of it: he obtains his heart's desire, if he works hard enough, and God sends leanness withal into his soul.]
[Footnote 406: The metaphysical problem about the reality of time in relation to evolution is so closely bound up with speculative Mysticism, that I have been obliged to state my own opinion upon it. It is, of course, one of the vexed questions of philosophy at the present time; and I could not afford the space, even if I had the requisite knowledge and ability, to argue it. The best discussion of it that I know is in M'Taggart's Studies in Hegelian Dialectic, pp. 159-202. Cf. note on p. 23.]
Definitions Of "Mysticism" And "Mystical Theology"
The following definitions are given only as specimens. The list might be made much longer by quoting from other Roman Catholic theologians, but their definitions for the most part agree closely enough with those which I have transcribed from Corderius, John a Jesu Maria, and Gerson.
1. Corderius. "Theologia mystica est sapientia experimentalis, Dei affectiva, divinitus infusa, quae mentem ab omni inordinatione puram per actus supernaturales fidei spei et caritatis cum Deo intime coniungit.... Mystica theologia, si vim nominis attendas, designat quandam sacram et arcanam de Deo divinisque rebus notitiam."
2. John a Jesu Maria. "[Theologia mystica] est caelestis quaedam Dei notitia per unionem voluntatis Deo inhaerentis elicita vel lumine caelitus immisso producta."
3. Bonaventura (adopted also by Gerson). "Est animi extensio in Deum per amoris desiderium."
4. Gerson. "Theologia mystica est motio anagogica in Deum per amorem fervidum et purum. Aliter sic: Theologia mystica est experimentalis cognitio habita de Deo per amoris unitivi complexum. Aliter sic: est sapientia, id est sapida notio habita de Deo, dum ei supremus apex affectivae potentiae rationalis per amorem iungitur et unitur."
5. Scaramelli. "La theologia mistica esperimentale, secondo il suo atto principale e piu proprio, e una notizia pura di Dio che l' anima d'ordinario riceve nella caligine luminosa, o per di meglio nel chiaro oscuro d' un' alta contemplazione, insieme con un amore esperimentale si intimo, che la fa perdere tutta a se stessa per unirla e transformarla in Dio."
6. Ribet. "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 pouvent avoir sur le corps un retentissement merveilleux et irresistible.... Au point de vue doctrinal objectif, la mystique peut se definir: la science qui traite des phenomenes surnaturels, qui preparent, accompagnent, et suivent l'attraction passive des ames vers Dieu et par Dieu, c'est a dire la contemplation divine; qui les coordonne et les justifie par l'autorite de l'Ecriture, des docteurs et de la raison; les distingue des phenomenes paralleles dus a l'action de Satan, et des faits analogues purement naturels; enfin, qui trace des regles pratiques pour la conduite des ames dans ces ascensions sublimes mais perilleuses."
7. L'Abbe Migne. "La mystique est la science d'etat sur naturel de l'ame humaine manifeste dans le corps et dans l'ordre des choses visibles par des effets egalement surnaturels."
In these scholastic and modern Roman Catholic definitions we may observe (a) that the earlier definitions supplement without contradicting each other, representing different aspects of Mysticism, as an experimental science, as a living sacrifice of the will, as an illumination from above, and as an exercise of ardent devotion; (b) that symbolic or objective Mysticism is not recognised; (c) that the sharp distinction between natural and supernatural, which is set up by the scholastic mystics, carries with it a craving for physical "mystical phenomena" to support the belief in supernatural interventions. These miracles, though not mentioned in the earlier definitions, have come to be considered an integral part of Mysticism, so that Migne and Ribet include them in their definitions; (d) lastly, that those who take this view of "la mystique divine" are constrained to admit by the side of true mystical facts a parallel class of "contrefacons diaboliques."
8. Von Hartmann. "Mysticism is the filling of the consciousness with a content (feeling, thought, desire), by an involuntary emergence of the same out of the unconscious."
Von Hartmann's hypostasis of the Unconscious has been often and justly criticised. But his chapter on Mysticism is of great value. He begins by asking, "What is the Wesen of Mysticism?" and shows that it is not quietism (disproved by mystics like Boehme, and by many active reformers), nor ecstasy (which is generally pathological), nor asceticism, nor allegorism, nor fantastic symbolism, nor obscurity of expression, nor religion generally, nor superstition, nor the sum of these things. It is healthy in itself, and has been of high value to individuals and to the race. It prepared for the Gospel of St. John, for the revolt against arid scholasticism in the Middle Ages, for the Reformation, and for modern German philosophy. He shows the mystical element in Hamann, Jacobi, Fichte, and Schelling; and quotes with approval the description of "intellectual intuition" given by the last named. We must not speak of thought as an antithesis to experience, "for thought (including immediate or mystical knowledge) is itself experience." This knowledge is not derived from sense-perception,—the conscious will has nothing to do with it,—"it can only have arisen through inspiration from the Unconscious." He would extend the name of mystic to "eminent art-geniuses who owe their productions to inspirations of genius, and not to the work of their consciousness (e.g. Phidias, AEeschylus, Raphael, Beethoven)", and even to every "truly original" philosopher, for every high thought has been first apprehended by the glance of genius. Moreover, the relation of the individual to the Absolute, an essential theme of philosophy, can only be mystically apprehended. "This feeling is the content of Mysticism [Greek: kat exochen], because it finds its existence only in it." He then shows with great force how religious and philosophical systems have full probative force only for the few who are able to reproduce mystically in themselves their underlying suppositions, the truth of which can only be mystically apprehended. "Hence it is that those systems which rejoice in most adherents are just the poorest of all and most unphilosophical (e.g. materialism and rationalistic Theism)."
9. Du Prel. "If the self is not wholly contained in self-consciousness, if man is a being dualised by the threshold of sensibility, then is Mysticism possible; and if the threshold of sensibility is movable, then Mysticism is necessary." "The mystical phenomena of the soul-life are anticipations of the biological process." "Soul is our spirit within the self-consciousness, spirit is the soul beyond the self-consciousness."
This definition, with which should be compared the passage from J.P. Ritcher, quoted in Lecture I., assumes that Mysticism may be treated as a branch of experimental psychology. Du Prel attaches great importance to somnambulism and other kindred psychical phenomena, which (he thinks) give us glimpses of the inner world of our Ego, in many ways different from our waking consciousness. "As the moon turns to us only half its orb, so our Ego." He distinguishes between the Ego and the subject. The former will perish at death. It arises from the free act of the subject, which enters the time-process as a discipline. "The self-conscious Ego is a projection of the transcendental subject, and resembles it." "We should regard this earthly existence as a transitory phenomenal form in correspondence with our transcendental interest." "Conscience is transcendental nature." (This last sentence suggests thoughts of great interest.) Du Prel shows how Schopenhauer's pessimism may be made the basis of a higher optimism. "The path of biological advance leads to the merging of the Ego in the subject." "The biological aim for the race coincides with the transcendental aim for the individual." "The whole content of Ethics is that the Ego must subserve the Subject." The disillusions of experience show that earthly life has no value for its own sake, and is only a means to an end; it follows that to make pleasure our end is the one fatal mistake in life. These thoughts are mixed with speculations of much less value; for I cannot agree with Du Prel that we shall learn much about higher and deeper modes of life by studying abnormal and pathological states of the consciousness.
10. Goethe. "Mysticism is the scholastic of the heart, the dialectic of the feelings."
11. Noack. "Mysticism is formless speculation."
Noack's definition is, perhaps, not very happily phrased, for the essence of Mysticism is not speculation but intuition; and when it begins to speculate, it is obliged at once to take to itself "forms." Even the ultimate goal of the via negativa is apprehended as "a kind of form of formlessness." Goethe's definition regards Mysticism as a system of religion or philosophy, and from this point of view describes it accurately.
12. Ewald. "Mystical theology begins by maintaining that man is fallen away from God, and craves to be again united with Him."
13. Canon Overton. "That we bear the image of God is the starting-point, one might almost say the postulate, of all Mysticism. The complete union of the soul with God is the goal of all Mysticism."
14. Pfleiderer. "Mysticism is the immediate feeling of the unity of the self with God; it is nothing, therefore, but the fundamental feeling of religion, the religious life at its very heart and centre. But what makes the mystical a special tendency inside religion, is the endeavour to fix the immediateness of the life in God as such, as abstracted from all intervening helps and channels whatever, and find a permanent abode in the abstract inwardness of the life of pious feeling. In this God-intoxication, in which self and the world are alike forgotten, the subject knows himself to be in possession of the highest and fullest truth; but this truth is only possessed in the quite undeveloped, simple, and bare form of monotonous feeling; what truth the subject possesses is not filled up by any determination in which the simple unity might unfold itself, and it lacks therefore the clearness of knowledge, which is only attained when thought harmonises differences with unity."
15. Professor A. Seth. "Mysticism is a phase of thought, or rather, perhaps, of feeling, which from its very nature is hardly susceptible of exact definition. It appears in connexion with the endeavour of the human mind to grasp the Divine essence or the ultimate reality of things, and to enjoy the blessedness of actual communion with the highest. The first is the philosophic side of Mysticism; the second, its religious side. The thought that is most intensely present with the mystic is that of a supreme, all-pervading, and indwelling Power, in whom all things are one. Hence the speculative utterances of Mysticism are always more or less pantheistic in character. On the practical side, Mysticism maintains the possibility of direct intercourse with this Being of beings. God ceases to be an object, and becomes an experience."
This carefully-worded statement of the essence of Mysticism is followed by a hostile criticism. Professor Seth considers quietism the true conclusion from the mystic's premisses. "It is characteristic of Mysticism, that it does not distinguish between what is metaphorical and what is susceptible of a literal interpretation. Hence it is prone to treat a relation of ethical harmony as if it were one of substantial identity or chemical fusion; and, taking the sensuous language of religious feeling literally, it bids the individual aim at nothing less than an interpenetration of essence. And as this goal is unattainable while reason and the consciousness of self remain, the mystic begins to consider these as impediments to be thrown aside.... Hence Mysticism demands a faculty above reason, by which the subject shall be placed in immediate and complete union with the object of his desire, a union in which the consciousness of self has disappeared, and in which, therefore, subject and object are one." To this, I think, the mystic might answer: "I know well that interpenetration and absorption are words which belong to the category of space, and are only metaphors or symbols of the relation of the soul to God; but separateness, impenetrability, and isolation, which you affirm of the ego, belong to the same category, and are no whit less metaphorical. The question is, which of the two sets of words best expresses the relation of the ransomed soul to its Redeemer? In my opinion, your phrase 'ethical harmony' is altogether inadequate, while the New Testament expressions, 'membership,' 'union,' 'indwelling,' are as adequate as words can be." The rest of the criticism is directed against the "negative road," which I have no wish to defend, since I cannot admit that it follows logically from the first principles of Mysticism.
16. Recejac. "Mysticism is the tendency to approach the Absolute morally, and by means of symbols."
Recejac's very interesting Essai sur les Fondements de la Connaissance mystique has the great merit of emphasising the symbolic character of all mystical phenomena, and of putting all such experiences in their true place, as neither hallucinations nor invasions of the natural order, but symbols of a higher reality. "Les apparitions et autres phenomenes mystiques n'existent que dans l'esprit du voyant, et ne perdent rien pour cela de leur prix ni de leur verite.... Et alors n'y a-t-il pas au fond des symboles autant d'etre que sous les phenomenes? Bien plus encore: car l'etre phenomenal, le reel, se pose dans la conscience par un enchainement de faits tellement successif que nous ne tenons jamais 'le meme'; tandis que sous les symboles, si nous tenons quelque chose, c'est l'identique et le permanent." Recejac also insists with great force that the motive power of Mysticism is neither curiosity nor self-interest, but love: the intrusion of alien motives is at once fatal to it. "Its logic consists in having confidence in the rationality of the moral consciousness and its desires." This agrees with what I have said—that Reason is, or should be, the logic of our entire personality, and that if Reason is so defined, it does not come into conflict with Mysticism. Recejac also has much to say upon Free Will and Determinism. He says that Mysticism is an alliance between the Practical Reason (which he identifies with "la Liberte") and Imagination. "Determinism is the opposite, not of 'Liberty,' but of 'indifference.' Liberty, as Fouillee says, is only a higher form of Determinism." "The modern idea of liberty, and the mystical conception of Divine will, may be reconciled in the same way as inspiration and reason, on condition that both are discovered in the same fact interior to us, and that, far from being opposed to each other, they are fused and distinguished together dans quelque implicite reellement present a la conscience." Recejac throughout appeals to Kant instead of to Hegel as his chief philosophical authority, in this differing from the majority of those who are in sympathy with Mysticism.
17. Bonchitte. "Mysticism consists in giving to the spontaneity of the intelligence a larger part than to the other faculties."
18. Charles Kingsley. "The great Mysticism is the belief which is becoming every day stronger with me, that all symmetrical natural objects are types of some spiritual truth or existence. When I walk the fields, I am oppressed now and then with an innate feeling that everything I see has a meaning, if I could but understand it. And this feeling of being surrounded with truths which I cannot grasp, amounts to indescribable awe sometimes. Everything seems to be full of God's reflex, if we could but see it. Oh, how I have prayed to have the mystery unfolded, at least hereafter! To see, if but for a moment, the whole harmony of the great system! To hear once the music which the whole universe makes as it performs His bidding! Oh, that heaven! The thought of the first glance of creation from thence, when we know even as we are known. And He, the glorious, the beautiful, the incarnate Ideal shall be justified in all His doings, and in all, and through all, and over all.... All day, glimpses from the other world, floating motes from that inner transcendental life, have been floating across me.... Have you not felt that your real soul was imperceptible to your mental vision, except at a few hallowed moments? That in everyday life the mind, looking at itself, sees only the brute intellect, grinding and working, not the Divine particle, which is life and immortality, and on which the Spirit of God most probably works, as being most cognate to Deity" (Life, vol. i. p. 55). Again he says: "This earth is the next greatest fact to that of God's existence."
Kingsley's review of Vaughan's Hours with the Mystics shows that he retained his sympathy with Mysticism at a later period of his life. It would be impossible to find any consistent idealistic philosophy in Kingsley's writings; but the sentences above quoted are interesting as a profession of faith in Mysticism of the objective type.
19. R.L. Nettleship. "The cure for a wrong Mysticism is to realise the facts, not particular facts or aspects of facts, but the whole fact: true Mysticism is the consciousness that everything that we experience is an element, and only an element, in fact; i.e. that in being what it is, it is symbolic of something more."
The obiter dicta on Mysticism in Nettleship's Remains are of great value.
20. Lasson. "The essence of Mysticism is the assertion of an intuition which transcends the temporal categories of the understanding, relying on speculative reason. Rationalism cannot conduct us to the essence of things; we therefore need intellectual vision. But Mysticism is not content with symbolic knowledge, and aspires to see the Absolute by pure spiritual apprehension.... There is a contradiction in regarding God as the immanent Essence of all things, and yet as an abstraction transcending all things. But it is inevitable. Pure immanence is unthinkable, if we are to maintain distinctions in things.... Strict 'immanence' doctrine tends towards the monopsychism of Averroes.... Mysticism is often associated with pantheism, but the religious character of Mysticism views everything from the standpoint of teleology, while pantheism generally stops at causality.... Mysticism, again, is often allied with rationalism, but their ground-principles are different, for rationalism is deistic, and rests on this earth, being based on the understanding [as opposed to the higher faculty, the reason].... Nothing can be more perverse than to accuse Mysticism of vagueness. Its danger is rather an overvaluing of reason and knowledge.... Mysticism is only religious so long as it remembers that we can here only see through a glass darkly; when it tries to represent the eternal adequately, it falls into a new and dangerous retranslation of thought into images, or into bare negation.... Religion is a relation of person to person, a life, which in its form is an analogy to the earthly, while its content is pure relation to the eternal. Dogmatic is the skeleton, Mysticism the life-blood, of the Christian body.... Since the Reformation, philosophy has taken over most of the work which the speculative mystics performed in the Middle Ages" (Essay on the Essence and Value of Mysticism).
21. Nordau. "The word Mysticism describes a state of mind in which the subject imagines that he perceives or divines unknown and inexplicable relations among phenomena, discerns in things hints at mysteries, and regards them as symbols by which a dark power seeks to unveil, or at least to indicate, all sorts of marvels.... It is always connected with strong emotional excitement.... Nearly all our perceptions, ideas, and conceptions are connected more or less closely through the association of ideas. But to make the association of ideas fulfil its function, one more thing must be added—attention, which is the faculty to suppress one part of the memory-images and maintain another part." We must select the strongest and most direct images, those directly connected with the afferent nerves; "this Ribot calls adaptation of the whole organism to a predominant idea.... Attention presupposes strength of will. Unrestricted play of association, the result of an exhausted or degenerate brain, gives rise to Mysticism. Since the mystic cannot express his cloudy thoughts in ordinary language, he loves mutually exclusive expressions. Mysticism blurs outlines, and makes the transparent opaque."
The Germans have two words for what we call Mysticism—Mystik and Mysticismus, the latter being generally dyslogistic. The long chapter in Nordau's Degeneration, entitled "Mysticism," treats it throughout as a morbid state. It will be observed that the last sentence quoted flatly contradicts one of the statements copied from Lasson's essay. But Nordau is not attacking religious Mysticism, so much as that unwholesome development of symbolic "science, falsely so called," which has usurped the name in modern France. Those who are interested in Mysticism should certainly study the pathological symptoms which counterfeit mystical states, and from this point of view the essay in Degeneration is valuable. The observations of Nordau and other alienists must lead us to suspect very strongly the following kinds of symbolical representation, whether the symbols are borrowed from the external world, or created by the imagination:—(a) All those which include images of a sexual character. It is unnecessary to illustrate this. The visions of monks and nuns are often, as we might expect, unconsciously tinged with a morbid element of this kind. (b) Those which depend on mere verbal resemblances or other fortuitous correspondences. Nordau shows that the diseased brain is very ready to follow these false trains of association. (c) Those which are connected with the sense of smell, which seems to be morbidly developed in this kind of degeneracy. (d) Those which in any way minister to pride or self-sufficiency.
22. Harnack. "Mysticism is rationalism applied to a sphere above reason."
I have criticised this definition in my first Lecture, and have suggested that the words "rationalism" and "reason" ought to be transposed. Elsewhere Harnack says that the distinctions between "Scholastic, Roman, German, Catholic, Evangelical, and Pantheistic Mysticism" are at best superficial, and in particular that it is a mistake to contrast "Scholasticism and Mysticism" as opposing forces in the Middle Ages. "Mysticism," he proceeds, "is Catholic piety in general, so far as this piety is not merely ecclesiastical obedience, that is, fides implicita. The Reformation element which is ascribed to it lies simply in this, that Mysticism, when developed in a particular direction, is led to discern the inherent responsibility of the soul, of which no authority can again deprive it." The conflicts between Mysticism and Church authority, he thinks, in no way militate against both being Catholic ideals, just as asceticism and world-supremacy are both Catholic ideals, though contradictory. The German mystics he disparages. "I give no extracts from their writings," he says, "because I do not wish even to seem to countenance the error that they expressed anything that one cannot read in Origen, Plotinus, the Areopagite, Augustine, Erigena, Bernard, and Thomas, or that they represented religious progress." "It will never be possible to make Mysticism Protestant without flying in the face of history and Catholicism." "A mystic who does not become a Catholic is a dilettante."
Before considering these statements, I will quote from another attack upon Mysticism by a writer whose general views are very similar to those of Harnack.
23. Herrmann (Verkehr des Christen mit Gott). "The most conspicuous features of the Roman Catholic rule of life are obedience to the laws of cultus and of doctrine on the one side, and Neoplatonic Mysticism on the other.... The essence of Mysticism lies in this: when the influence of God upon the soul is sought and found solely in an inward experience of the individual; when certain excitements of the emotions are taken, with no further question, as evidence that the soul is possessed by God: when at the same time nothing external to the soul is consciously and clearly perceived and firmly grasped; when no thoughts that elevate the spiritual life are aroused by the positive contents of an idea that rules the soul,—then that is the piety of Mysticism.... Mysticism is not that which is common to all religion, but a particular species of religion, namely a piety which feels that which is historical in the positive religion to be burdensome, and so rejects it."
These extracts from Harnack and Herrmann represent the attitude towards Mysticism of the Ritschlian school in Germany, of which Kaftan is another well-known exponent. They are neo-Kantians, whose religion is an austere moralism, and who seem to regard Christianity as a primitive Puritanism, spoiled by the Greeks, who brought into it their intellectualism and their sacramental mysteries. True Christianity, they say, is faith in the historic Christ. "In the human Jesus," says Herrmann, "we have met with a fact, the content of which is incomparably richer than that of any feelings which arise within ourselves,—a fact, moreover, which makes us so certain of God that, our reason and conscience being judges, our conviction is only confirmed that we are in communion with Him." "The mystic's experience of God is a delusion. If the Christian has learnt how Christ alone has lifted him above all that he had even been before, he cannot believe that another man might reach the same end by simply turning inward upon himself." "The piety of the mystic is such that at the highest point to which it leads Christ must vanish from the soul along with all else that is external." This curious view of Christianity quite fails to explain how "our reason and conscience" can detect the "incomparable richness" of a revelation altogether unlike "the feelings which arise within ourselves." It entirely ignores the Pauline and Johannine doctrine of the mystical union, according to which Christ is not "external" to the redeemed soul, and most assuredly can never "vanish" from it. Instead of the "Lo I am with you alway" of our blessed Lord, we are referred to "history"—that is, primarily, the four Gospels confirmed by "a fifth," "the united testimony of the first Christian community" (Harnack, Christianity and History). We are presented with a Christianity without knowledge (Gnosis), without discipline, without sacraments, resting partly on a narrative which these very historical critics tear in pieces, each in his own fashion, and partly on a categorical imperative which is really the voice of "irreligious moralism," as Pfleiderer calls it. The words are justified by such a sentence as this from Herrmann: "Religious faith in God is, rightly understood, just the medium by which the universal law becomes individualised for the particular man in his particular place in the world's life, so as to enable him to recognise its absoluteness as the ground of his self-certainty, and the ideal drawn in it as his own personal end." Thus the school which has shown the greatest animus against Mysticism unconsciously approaches very near to the atheism of Feuerbach. Indeed, what worse atheism can there be, than such disbelief in the rationality of our highest thoughts as is expressed in this sentence: "Metaphysics is an impassioned endeavour to obtain recognition for thoughts, the contents of which have no other title to be recognised than their value for us"? As if faith in God had any other meaning than a confidence that what is of "value for us" is the eternally and universally good and true! Herrmann's attitude towards reason can only escape atheism by accepting in preference the crudest dualism, "behind which" (to quote Pfleiderer again) lies concealed simply "the scepticism of a disintegrating Nominalism."
24. Victor Cousin. "Mysticism is the pretension to know God without intermediary, and, so to speak, face to face. For Mysticism, whatever is between God and us hides Him from us." "Mysticism consists in substituting direct inspiration for indirect, ecstasy for reason, rapture for philosophy."
25. R.A. Vaughan. "Mysticism is that form of error which mistakes for a Divine manifestation the operations of a merely human faculty."
This poor definition is the only one (except "Mysticism is the romance of religion") to be found in Hours with the Mystics, the solitary work in English which attempts to give a history of Christian Mysticism. The book has several conspicuous merits. The range of the author's reading is remarkable, and he has a wonderful gift of illustration. But he was not content to trust to the interest of the subject to make his book popular, and tried to attract readers by placing it in a most incongruous setting. There is something almost offensive in telling the story of men like Tauler, Suso, and Juan of the Cross, in the form of smart conversations at a house-party, and the jokes cracked at the expense of the benighted "mystics" are not always in the best taste. Vaughan does not take his subject quite seriously enough. There is an irritating air of superiority in all his discussions of the lives and doctrines of the mystics, and his hatred and contempt for the Roman Church often warp his judgment. His own philosophical standpoint is by no means clear, and this makes his treatment of speculative Mysticism less satisfactory than the more popular parts of the book. It is also a pity that he has neglected the English representatives of Mysticism; they are quite as interesting in their way as Madame Guyon, whose story he tells at disproportionate length. At the same time, I wish to acknowledge considerable obligations to Vaughan, whose early death probably deprived us of even better work than the book which made his reputation.
26. James Hinton. "Mysticism is an assertion of a means of knowing that must not be tried by ordinary rules of evidence—the claiming authority for our own impressions."
Another poor and question-begging definition, on the same lines as the last.
The Greek Mysteries And Christian Mysticism
The connexion between the Greek Mysteries and Christian Mysticism is marked not only by the name which the world has agreed to give to that type of religion (though it must be said that [Greek: mysteria] is not the commonest name for the Mysteries—[Greek: orgia, teletai, tele] are all, I think, more frequent), but by the evident desire on the part of such founders of mystical Christianity as Clement and Dionysius the Areopagite, to emphasise the resemblance. It is not without a purpose that these writers, and other Platonising theologians from the third to the fifth century, transfer to the faith and practice of the Church almost every term which was associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries and others like them. For instance, the sacraments are regularly [Greek: mysteria]; baptism is [Greek: mystikon loutron] (Gregory of Nyssa); unction, [Greek: chrisma mystikon] (Athanasius); the elements, [Greek: mystis edode] (Gregory Naz.); and participation in them is [Greek: mystike metalepsis]. Baptism, again, is "initiation" [Greek: myesis]; a baptized person is [Greek: memyemenos], [Greek: mystes] or [Greek: symmystes] (Gregory Ny. and Chrysostom), an unbaptized person is [Greek: amyetos]. The celebrant is [Greek: mysterion lanthanonton mystagogos] (Gregory Ny.); the administration is [Greek: paradosis], as at Eleusis. The sacraments are also [Greek: telete] or [Greek: tele], regular Mystery-words; as are [Greek: teleiosis, teleiousthai, teleiopoios], which are used in the same connexion. Secret formulas (the notion of secret formulas itself comes from the Mysteries) were [Greek: aporreta]. (Whether the words [Greek: photismos] and [Greek: sphragis] in their sacramental meaning come from the Mysteries seems doubtful, in spite of Hatch, Hibbert Lectures, p. 295.) Nor is the language of the Mysteries applied only to the sacraments. Clement calls purgative discipline [Greek: ta katharsia], and [Greek: ta mikra mysteria], and the highest stage in the spiritual life [Greek: epopteia]. He also uses such language as the following: "O truly sacred mysteries! O stainless light! My way is lighted with torches, and I survey the heavens and God! I am become holy while I am being initiated. The Lord is my hierophant," etc. (Protr. xii. 120). Dionysius, as I have shown in a note on Lecture III., uses the Mystery words frequently, and gives to the orders of the Christian ministry the names which distinguished the officiating priests at the Mysteries. The aim of these writers was to prove that the Church offers a mysteriosophy which includes all the good elements of the old Mysteries without their corruptions. The alliance between a Mystery-religion and speculative Mysticism within the Church was at this time as close as that between the Neoplatonic philosophy and the revived pagan Mystery cults. But when we try to determine the amount of direct influence exercised by the later paganism on Christian usages and thought, we are baffled both by the loss of documents, and by the extreme difficulty of tracing the pedigree of religious ideas and customs. I shall here content myself with calling attention to certain features which were common to the Greek Mysteries and to Alexandrian Christianity, and which may perhaps claim to be in part a legacy of the old religion to the new. My object is not at all to throw discredit upon modes of thought which may have been unfamiliar to Palestinian Jews. A doctrine or custom is not necessarily un-Christian because it is "Greek" or "pagan." I know of no stranger perversity than for men who rest the whole weight of their religion upon "history," to suppose that our Lord meant to raise an universal religion on a purely Jewish basis.
The Greek Mysteries were perhaps survivals of an old-world ritual, based on a primitive kind of Nature-Mysticism. The "public Mysteries," of which the festival at Eleusis was the most important, were so called because the State admitted strangers by initiation to what was originally a national cult. (There were also private Mysteries, conducted for profit by itinerant priests [Greek: agyrtai] from the East, who as a class bore no good reputation.) The main features of the ritual at Eleusis are known. The festival began at Athens, where the mystae collected, and, after a fast of several days, were "driven" to the sea, or to two salt lakes on the road to Eleusis, for a purifying bath. This kind of baptism washed away the stains of their former sins, the worst of which they were obliged to confess before being admitted to the Mysteries. Then, after sacrifices had been offered, the company went in procession to Eleusis, where Mystery-plays were performed in a great hall, large enough to hold thousands of people, and the votaries were allowed to handle certain sacred relics. A sacramental meal, in which a mixture of mint, barley-meal, and water was administered to the initiated, was an integral part of the festival. The most secret part of the ceremonies was reserved for the [Greek: epoptai] who had passed through the ordinary initiation in a previous year. It probably culminated in the solemn exhibition of a corn-ear, the symbol of Demeter. The obligation of silence was imposed not so much because there were any secrets to reveal, but that the holiest sacraments of the Greek religion might not be profaned by being brought into contact with common life. This feeling was strengthened by the belief that words are more than conventional symbols of things. A sacred formula must not be taken in vain, or divulged to persons who might misuse it.
The evidence is strong that the Mysteries had a real spiritualising and moralising influence on large numbers of those who were initiated, and that this influence was increasing under the early empire. The ceremonies may have been trivial, and even at times ludicrous; but the discovery had been made that the performance of solemn acts of devotion in common, after ascetical preparation, and with the aid of an impressive ritual, is one of the strongest incentives to piety. Diodorus is not alone in saying (he is speaking of the Samothracian Mysteries) that "those who have taken part in them are said to become more pious, more upright, and in every way better than their former selves."
The chief motive force which led to the increased importance of Mystery-religion in the first centuries of our era, was the desire for "salvation" ([Greek: soteria]), which both with pagans and Christians was very closely connected with the hope of everlasting life. Happiness after death was the great promise held out in the Mysteries. The initiated were secure of blessedness in the next world, while the uninitiated must expect "to lie in darkness and mire after their death" (cf. Plato, Phaedrus, 69).
How was this "salvation" attained or conferred? We find that several conflicting views were held, which it is impossible to keep rigidly separate, since the human mind at one time inclines to one of them, at another time to another.
(a) Salvation is imparted by revelation. This makes it to depend upon knowledge; but this knowledge was in the Mysteries conveyed by the spectacle or drama, not by any intellectual process. Plutarch (de Defect. Orac. 22) says that those who had been initiated could produce no demonstration or proof of the beliefs which they had acquired. And Synesius quotes Aristotle as saying that the initiated do not learn anything, but rather receive impressions ([Greek: ou mathein ti dein alla pathein]). The old notion that monotheism was taught as a secret dogma rests on no evidence, and is very unlikely. There was a good deal of [Greek: theokrasia], as the ancients called it, and some departures from the current theogonies, but such doctrine as there was, was much nearer to pantheism than to monotheism. Certain truths about nature and the facts of life were communicated in the "greatest mysteries," according to Clement, and Cicero says the same thing. And sometimes the [Greek: gnosis soterias] includes knowledge about the whence and whither of man ([Greek: tines esmen kai ti gegonamen], Clem. Exc. ex Theod. 78). Some of the mystical formulae were no doubt susceptible of deep and edifying interpretations, especially in the direction of an elevated nature-worship.
(b) Salvation was regarded, as in the Oriental religions, as emancipation from the fetters of human existence. Doctrines of this kind were taught especially in the Orphic Mysteries, where it was a secret doctrine ([Greek: aporretos logos], Plat. Phaedr. 62) that "we men are here in a kind of prison," or in a tomb ([Greek: sema tines to soma einai tes psyches, os tethammenes en to paronti], Plat. Crat. 400). They also believed in transmigration of souls, and in a [Greek: kuklos tes geneseos] (rota fati et generationis). The "Orphic life," or rules of conduct enjoined upon these mystics, comprised asceticism, and, in particular, abstinence from flesh; and laid great stress on "following of God" [Greek: epesthai] or [Greek: akolouthein to theo] as the goal of moral endeavour. This cult, however, was tinged with Thracian barbarism; its heaven was a kind of Valhalla ([Greek: methe aionios], Plat. Rep. ii. 363). Very similar was the rule of life prescribed by the Pythagorean brotherhood, who were also vegetarians, and advocates of virginity. Their system of purgation, followed by initiation, liberated men "from the grievous woeful circle" ([Greek: kyklou d'exeptan Barypentheos argaleoio] on a tombstone), and entitled them "to a happy life with the gods." (For the conception of salvation as deification, see Appendix C.) Whether these sects taught that our separate individuality must be merged is uncertain; but among the Gnostics, who had much in common with the Orphic mystae, the formula, "I am thou, and thou art I," was common (Pistis Sophia; formulae of the Marcosians; also in an invocation of Hermes: [Greek: to son onoma emon kai to emon son. ego gar eimi to eidolon son]. Rohde, Psyche, vol. ii. p. 61). A foretaste of this deliverance was given by initiation, which conducts the mystic to ecstasy, an [Greek: oligochronios mania] (Galen), in which "animus ita solutus est et vacuus ut ei plane nihil sit cum corpore" (Cic. De Divin. i. I. 113); which was otherwise conceived as [Greek: enthousiasmos] ([Greek: enthousioses kai ouketi ouses en eaute dianoias], Philo).
(c) The imperishable Divine nature is infused by mechanical means. Sacraments and the like have a magical or miraculous potency. The Homeric hymn to Demeter insists only on ritual purity as the condition of salvation, and we hear that people trusted to the mystic baptism to wash out all their previous sins. Similarly the baptism of blood, the taurobolium, was supposed to secure eternal happiness, at any rate if death occurred within twenty years after the ceremony; when that interval had elapsed, it was common to renew the rite. (We find on inscriptions such phrases as "arcanis perfusionibus in aeternum renatus.") So mechanical was the operation of the Mysteries supposed to be, that rites were performed for the dead (Plat. Rep. 364. St. Paul seems to refer to a similar custom in 1 Cor. xv. 29), and infants were appointed "priests," and thoroughly initiated, that they might be clean from their "original sin." Among the Gnostics, a favourite phrase was that initiation releases men "from the fetters of fate and necessity"; the gods of the intelligible world ([Greek: theoi noetoi]) with whom we hold communion in the Mysteries being above "fate."
(d) Salvation consists of moral regeneration. The efficacy of initiation without moral reformation naturally appeared doubtful to serious thinkers. Diogenes is reported to have asked, "What say you? Will Pataecion the thief be happier in the next world than Epaminondas, because he has been initiated?" And Philo says, "It often happens that good men are not initiated, but that robbers, and murderers, and lewd women are, if they pay money to the initiators and hierophants." Ovid protests against the immoral doctrine of mechanical purgation with more than his usual earnestness (Fasti, ii. 35):—
"Omne nefas omnemque mali purgamina causam Credebant nostri tollere posse senes. Graecia principium moris fuit; ilia nocentes Impia lustratos ponere facta putat. A! nimium faciles, qui tristia crimina caedis Fluminea tolli posse putetis aqua!"
Such passages show that abuses existed, but also that it was felt to be a scandal if the initiated person failed to exhibit any moral improvement.
These different conceptions of the office of the Mysteries cannot, as I have said, be separated historically. They all reappear in the history of the Christian sacraments. The main features of the Mystery-system which passed into Catholicism are the notions of secrecy, of symbolism, of mystical brotherhood, of sacramental grace, and, above all, of the three stages in the spiritual life, ascetic purification, illumination, and [Greek: epopteia] as the crown.
The secrecy observed about creeds and liturgical forms had not much to do with the development of Mysticism, except by associating sacredness with obscurity (cf. Strabo, x. 467, [Greek: he krypsis he mystike semnopoiei to theion, mimoumene ten physin autou ekpheugousan ten aisthesin]), a tendency which also showed itself in the love of symbolism. This certainly had a great influence, both in the form of allegorism (cf. Clem. Strom, i. 1. 15, [Greek: esti de ha kai ainixetai moi he graphe; peirasetai de kai ganthanousa eipein kai epikryptomene ekphenai kai deixai sioposa]), which Philo calls "the method of the Greek Mysteries," and in the various kinds of Nature-Mysticism. The great value of the Mysteries lay in the facilities which they offered for free symbolical interpretation.
The idea of mystical union by means of a common meal was, as we have seen, familiar to the Greeks. For instance, Plutarch says (Non fosse suav. vivi sec. Epic. 21), "It is not the wine or the cookery that delights us at these feasts, but good hope, and the belief that God is present with us, and that He accepts our service graciously." There have always been two ideas of sacrifice, alike in savage and civilised cults—the mystical, in which it is a communion, the victim who is slain and eaten being himself the god, or a symbol of the god; and the commercial, in which something valuable is offered to the god in the hope of receiving some benefit in exchange. The Mysteries certainly encouraged the idea of communion, and made it easier for the Christian rite to gather up into itself all the religious elements which can be contained in a sacrament of this kind.
But the scheme of ascent from [Greek: katharsis] to [Greek: myesis], and from [Greek: myesis] to [Greek: epopteia], is the great contribution of the Mysteries to Christian Mysticism. Purification began, as we have seen, with confession of sin; it proceeded by means of fasting (with which was combined [Greek: agneia apo synousias]) and meditation, till the second stage, that of illumination, was reached. The majority were content with the partial illumination which belonged to this stage, just as in books of Roman Catholic divinity "mystical theology" is a summit of perfection to which "all are not called." The elect advance, after a year's interval at least, to the full contemplation ([Greek: epopteia]). This highest truth was conveyed in various ways—by visible symbols dramatically displayed, by solemn words of mysterious import; by explanations of enigmas and allegories and dark speeches (cf. Orig. Cels. vii. 10), and perhaps by "visions and revelations." It is plain that this is one of the cases in which Christianity conquered Hellenism by borrowing from it all its best elements; and I do not see that a Christian need feel any reluctance to make this admission.
The Doctrine Of Deification
The conception of salvation as the acquisition by man of Divine attributes is common to many forms of religious thought. It was widely diffused in the Roman Empire at the time of the Christian revelation, and was steadily growing in importance during the first centuries of our era. The Orphic Mysteries had long taught the doctrine. On tombstones erected by members of the Orphic brotherhoods we find such inscriptions as these: "Happy and blessed one! Thou shalt be a god instead of a mortal" ([Greek: olbie kai makariste theos d' ese anti brotoio]); "Thou art a god instead of a wretched man" ([Greek: theos ei eleeinou ex anthropou]). It has indeed been said that "deification was the idea of salvation taught in the Mysteries" (Harnack).
To modern ears the word "deification" sounds not only strange, but arrogant and shocking. The Western consciousness has always tended to emphasise the distinctness of individuality, and has been suspicious of anything that looks like juggling with the rights of persons, human or Divine. This is especially true of thought in the Latin countries. Deus has never been a fluid concept like [Greek: theos]. St. Augustine no doubt gives us the current Alexandrian philosophy in a Latin dress; but this part of his Platonism never became acclimatised in the Latin-speaking countries. The Teutonic genius is in this matter more in sympathy with the Greek; but we are Westerns, while the later "Greeks" were half Orientals, and there is much in their habits of thought which is strange and unintelligible to us. Take, for instance, the apotheosis of the emperors. This was a genuinely Eastern mode of homage, which to the true European remained either profane or ridiculous. But Vespasian's last joke, "Voe! puto Deus fio!" would not sound comic in Greek. The associations of the word [Greek: theos] were not sufficiently venerable to make the idea of deification ([Greek: theopoiesis]) grotesque. We find, as we should expect, that this vulgarisation of the word affected even Christians in the Greek-speaking countries. Not only were the "barbarous people" of Galatia and Malta ready to find "theophanies" in the visits of apostles, or any other strangers who seemed to have unusual powers, but the philosophers (except the "godless Epicureans") agreed in calling the highest faculty of the soul Divine, and in speaking of "the God who dwells within us." There is a remarkable passage of Origen (quoted by Harnack) which shows how elastic the word [Greek: theos] was in the current dialect of the educated. "In another sense God is said to be an immortal, rational, moral Being. In this sense every gentle ([Greek: asteia]) soul is God. But God is otherwise defined as the self-existing immortal Being. In this sense the souls that are enclosed in wise men are not gods." Clement, too, speaks of the soul as "training itself to be God." Even more remarkable than such language (of which many other examples might be given) is the frequently recurring accusation that bishops, teachers, martyrs, philosophers, etc., are venerated with Divine or semi-Divine honours. These charges are brought by Christians against pagans, by pagans against Christians, and by rival Christians against each other. Even the Epicureans habitually spoke of their founder Epicurus as "a god." If we try to analyse the concept of [Greek: theos], thus loosely and widely used, we find that the prominent idea was that exemption from the doom of death was the prerogative of a Divine Being (cf. 1 Tim. vi. 16, "Who only hath immortality"), and that therefore the gift of immortality is itself a deification. This notion is distinctly adopted by several Christian writers. Theophilus says (ad Autol. ii. 27) "that man, by keeping the commandments of God, may receive from him immortality as a reward ([Greek: misthon]), and become God." And Clement (Strom. v. 10. 63) says, "To be imperishable ([Greek: to me phtheiresthai]) is to share in Divinity." To the same effect Hippolytus (Philos. x. 34) says, "Thy body shall be immortal and incorruptible as well as thy soul. For thou hast become God. All the things that follow upon the Divine nature God has promised to supply to thee, for thou wast deified in being born to immortality." With regard to later times, Harnack says that "after Theophilus, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Origen, the idea of deification is found in all the Fathers of the ancient Church, and that in a primary position. We have it in Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Apollinaris, Ephraem Syrus, Epiphanius, and others, as also in Cyril, Sophronius, and late Greek and Russian theologians. In proof of it, Ps. lxxxii. 6 ('I said, Ye are gods') is very often quoted." He quotes from Athanasius, "He became man that we might be deified"; and from Pseudo-Hippolytus, "If, then, man has become immortal, he will be God."
This notion grew within the Church as chiliastic and apocalyptic Christianity faded away. A favourite phrase was that the Incarnation, etc., "abolished death," and brought mankind into a state of "incorruption" ([Greek: aphtharsia]) This transformation of human nature, which is also spoken of as [Greek: theopoiesis] is the highest work of the Logos. Athanasius makes it clear that what he contemplates is no pantheistic merging of the personality in the Deity, but rather a renovation after the original type.
But the process of deification may be conceived of in two ways: (a) as essentialisation, (b) as substitution. The former may perhaps be called the more philosophical conception, the latter the more religious. The former lays stress on the high calling of man, and his potential greatness as the image of God; the latter, on his present misery and alienation, and his need of redemption. The former was the teaching of the Neoplatonic philosophy, in which the human mind was the throne of the Godhead; the latter was the doctrine of the Mysteries, in which salvation was conceived of realistically as something imparted or infused.
The notion that salvation or deification consists in realising our true nature, was supported by the favourite doctrine that like only can know like. "If the soul were not essentially Godlike ([Greek: theoeides]), it could never know God." This doctrine might seem to lead to the heretical conclusion that man is [Greek: omoousios to Patri] in the same sense as Christ. This conclusion, however, was strongly repudiated both by Clement and Origen. The former (Strom. xvi. 74) says that men are not [Greek: meros theou kai to theo omoousioi]; and Origen (in Joh. xiii. 25) says it is very impious to assert that we are [Greek: omoousioi] with "the unbegotten nature." But for those who thought of Christ mainly as the Divine Logos or universal Reason, the line was not very easy to draw. Methodius says that every believer must, through participation in Christ, be born as a Christ,—a view which, if pressed logically (as it ought not to be), implies either that our nature is at bottom identical with that of Christ, or that the life of Christ is substituted for our own. The difficulty as to whether the human soul is, strictly speaking, "divinae particula aurae," is met by Proclus in the ingenious and interesting passage quoted p. 34; "There are," he says, "three sorts of wholes, (1) in which the whole is anterior to the parts, (2) in which the whole is composed of the parts, (3) which knits into one stuff the parts and the whole ([Greek: he tois holois ta mere sunyphainousa])." This is also the doctrine of Plotinus, and of Augustine. God is not split up among His creatures, nor are they essential to Him in the same way as He is to them. Erigena's doctrine of deification is expressed (not very clearly) in the following sentence (De Div. Nat. iii. 9): "Est igitur participatio divinae essentiae assumptio. Assumptio vero eius divinae sapientiae fusio quae est omnium substantia et essentia, et quaecumque in eis naturaliter intelliguntur." According to Eckhart, the Wesen of God transforms the soul into itself by means of the "spark" or "apex of the soul" (equivalent to Plotinus' [Greek: kentron psyches], Enn. vi. 9. 8), which is "so akin to God that it is one with God, and not merely united to Him."
The history of this doctrine of the spark, and of the closely connected word synteresis, is interesting. The word "spark" occurs in this connexion as early as Tatian, who says (Or. 13): "In the beginning the spirit was a constant companion of the soul, but forsook it because the soul would not follow it; yet it retained, as it were, a spark of its power," etc. See also Tertullian, De Anima, 41. The curious word synteresis (often misspelt sinderesis), which plays a considerable part in mediaeval mystical treatises, occurs first in Jerome (on Ezech. i.): "Quartamque ponunt quam Graeci vocant [Greek: synteresin], quae scintilla conscientiae in Cain quoque pectore non exstinguitur, et qua victi voluptatibus vel furore nos peccare sentimus.... In Scripturis [eam] interdum vocari legimus Spiritum." Cf. Rom. viii. 26; 2 Cor. ii. 11. Then we find it in Alexander of Hales, and in Bonaventura, who (Itinerare, c. I) defines it as "apex mentis seu scintilla"; and more precisely (Breviloquium, Pars 2, c. 11): "Benignissimus Deus quadruplex contulit ei adiutorium, scilicet duplex naturae et duplex gratiae. Duplicem enim indidit rectitudinem ipsi naturae, videlicet unam ad recte iudicandum, et haec est rectitudo conscientiae, aliam ad recte volendum, et haec est synteresis, cuius est remurmurare contra malum et stimulare ad bonum." Hermann of Fritslar speaks of it as a power or faculty in the soul, wherein God works immediately, "without means and without intermission." Ruysbroek defines it as the natural will towards good implanted in us all, but weakened by sin. Giseler says: "This spark was created with the soul in all men, and is a clear light in them, and strives in every way against sin, and impels steadily to virtue, and presses ever back to the source from which it sprang." It has, says Lasson, a double meaning in mystical theology, (a) the ground of the soul; (b) the highest ethical faculty. In Thomas Aquinas it is distinguished from "intellectus principiorum," the former being the highest activity of the moral sense, the latter of the intellect. In Gerson, "synteresis" is the highest of the affective faculties, the organ of which is the intelligence (an emanation from the highest intelligence, which is God Himself), and the activity of which is contemplation. Speaking generally, the earlier scholastic mystics regard it as a remnant of the sinless state before the fall, while for Eckhart and his school it is the core of the soul.
There is another expression which must be considered in connexion with the mediaeval doctrine of deification. This is the intellectus agens, or [Greek: nous poietikos], which began its long history in Aristotle (De Anima, iii. 5). Aristotle there distinguishes two forms of Reason, which are related to each other as form and matter. Reason becomes all things, for the matter of anything is potentially the whole class to which it belongs; but Reason also makes all things, that is to say, it communicates to things those categories by which they become objects of thought. This higher Reason is separate and impassible ([Greek: choristos kai amiges kai apathes]); it is eternal and immortal; while the passive reason perishes with the body. The creative Reason is immanent both in the human mind and in the external world; and thus only is it possible for the mind to know things. Unfortunately, Aristotle says very little more about his [Greek: nous poietikos], and does not explain how the two Reasons are related to each other, thereby leaving the problem for his successors to work out. The most fruitful attempt to form a consistent theory, on an idealistic basis, out of the ambiguous and perhaps irreconcilable statements in the De Anima, was made by Alexander of Aphrodisias (about 200 A.D.), who taught that the Active Reason "is not a part or faculty of our soul, but comes to us from without"—it is, in fact, identified with the Spirit of God working in us. Whether Aristotle would have accepted this interpretation of his theory may be doubted; but the commentary of Alexander of Aphrodisias was translated into Arabic, and this view of the Active Reason became the basis of the philosophy of Averroes. Averroes teaches that it is possible for the passive reason to unite itself with the Active Reason, and that this union may be attained or prepared for by ascetic purification and study. But he denies that the passive reason is perishable, not wishing entirely to depersonalise man. Herein he follows, he says, Themistius, whose views he tries to combine with those of Alexander. Avicenna introduces a celestial hierarchy, in which the higher intelligences shed their light upon the lower, till they reach the Active Reason, which lies nearest to man, "a quo, ut ipse dicit, effluunt species intelligibiles in animas nostras" (Aquinas). The doctrine of "monopsychism" was, of course, condemned by the Church. Aquinas makes both the Active and Passive Reason parts of the human soul. Eckhart, as I have said in the fourth Lecture, at one period of his teaching expressly identifies the "intellectus agens" with the "spark," in reference to which he says that "here God's ground is my ground, and my ground God's ground." This doctrine of the Divinity of the ground of the soul is very like the Cabbalistic doctrine of the Neschamah, and the Neoplatonic doctrine of [Greek: Nous] (cf. Stoeckl, vol. ii. p. 1007). Eckhart was condemned for saying, "aliquid est in anima quod est increatum et increabile; si tota anima esset talis, esset increata et increabilis. Hoc est intellectus." Eckhart certainly says explicitly that "as fire turns all that it touches into itself, so the birth of the Son of God in the soul turns us into God, so that God no longer knows anything in us but His Son." Man thus becomes "filius naturalis Dei," instead of only "filius adoptivus." We have seen that Eckhart, towards the end of his life, inclined more and more to separate the spark, the organ of Divine contemplation, from the reason. This is, of course, an approximation to the other view of deification—that of substitution or miraculous infusion from without, unless we see in it a tendency to divorce the personality from the reason. Ruysbroek states his doctrine of the Divine spark very clearly: "The unity of our spirit in God exists in two ways, essentially and actively. The essential existence of the soul, quae secundum aeternam ideam in Deo nos sumus, itemque quam in nobis habemus, medii ac discriminis expers est. Spiritus Deum in nuda natura essentialiter possidet, et spiritum Deus. Vivit namque in Deo et Deus in ipso; et secundum supremam sui partem Dei claritatem suscipere absque medio idoneus est; quin etiam per aeterni exemplaris sui claritudinem essentialiter ac personaliter in ipso lucentis, secundum supremam vivacitatis suae portionem, in divinam sese demittit ac demergit essentiam, ibidemque perseveranter secundum ideam manendo aeternam suam possidet beatitudinem; rursusque cum creaturis omnibus per aeternam Verbi generationem inde emanans, in esse suo creato constituitur." The "natural union," though it is the first cause of all holiness and blessedness, does not make us holy and blessed, being common to good and bad alike. "Similitude" to God is the work of grace, "quae lux quaedam deiformis est." We cannot lose the "unitas," but we can lose the "similitudo quae est gratia." The highest part of the soul is capable of receiving a perfect and immediate impression of the Divine essence; by this "apex mentis" we may "sink into the Divine essence, and by a new (continuous) creation return to our created being according to the idea of God." The question whether the "ground of the soul" is created or not is obviously a form of the question which we are now discussing. Giseler, as I have said, holds that it was created with the soul. Sterngassen says: "That which God has in eternity in uncreated wise, that has the soul in time in created wise." But the author of the Treatise on Love, which belongs to this period, speaks of the spark as "the Active Reason, which is God." And again, "This is the Uncreated in the soul of which Master Eckhart speaks." Suso seems to imply that he believed the ground of the soul to be uncreated, an emanation of the Divine nature; and Tauler uses similar language. Ruysbroek, in the last chapter of the Spiritual Nuptials, says that contemplative men "see that they are the same simple ground as to their uncreated nature, and are one with the same light by which they see, and which they see." The later German mystics taught that the Divine essence is the material substratum of the world, the creative will of God having, so to speak, alienated for the purpose a portion of His own essence. If, then, the created form is broken through, God Himself becomes the ground of the soul. Even Augustine countenances some such notion when he says, "From a good man, or from a good angel, take away 'man' or 'angel,' and you find God." But one of the chief differences between the older and later Mysticism is that the former regarded union with God as achieved through the faculties of the soul, the latter as inherent in its essence. The doctrine of immanence, more and more emphasised, tended to encourage the belief that the Divine element in the soul is not merely something potential, something which the faculties may acquire, but is immanent and basal. Tauler mentions both views, and prefers the latter. Some hesitation may be traced in the Theologia Germanica on this point (p. 109, "Golden Treasury" edition): "The true light is that eternal Light which is God; or else it is a created light, but yet Divine, which is called grace." Our Cambridge Platonists naturally revived this Platonic doctrine of deification, much to the dissatisfaction of some of their contemporaries. Tuckney speaks of their teaching as "a kind of moral divinity minted only with a little tincture of Christ added. Nay, a Platonic faith unites to God!" Notwithstanding such protests, the Platonists persisted that all true happiness consists in a participation of God; and that "we cannot enjoy God by any external conjunction with Him."