Christian Mysticism
by William Ralph Inge
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The Bampton Lectures, 1899

Considered in Eight Lectures Delivered before the University of Oxford



Methuen & Co. Ltd. 36 Essex Street W.c. London

Extract From The Last Will And Testament Of The Late Rev. John Bampton Canon Of Salisbury

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

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

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

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

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


The first of the subjects which, according to the will of Canon Bampton, are prescribed for the Lecturers upon his foundation, is the confirmation and establishment of the Christian faith. This is the aim which I have kept in view in preparing this volume; and I should wish my book to be judged as a contribution to apologetics, rather than as a historical sketch of Christian Mysticism. I say this because I decided, after some hesitation, to adopt a historical framework for the Lectures, and this arrangement may cause my object to be misunderstood. It seemed to me that the instructiveness of tracing the development and operation of mystical ideas, in the forms which they have assumed as active forces in history, outweighed the disadvantage of appearing to waver between apology and narrative. A series of historical essays would, of course, have been quite unsuitable in the University pulpit, and, moreover, I did not approach the subject from that side. Until I began to prepare the Lectures, about a year and a half before they were delivered, my study of the mystical writers had been directed solely by my own intellectual and spiritual needs. I was attracted to them in the hope of finding in their writings a philosophy and a rule of life which would satisfy my mind and conscience. In this I was not disappointed; and thinking that others might perhaps profit by following the same path, I wished to put together and publish the results of my thought and reading. In such a scheme historical details are either out of place or of secondary value; and I hope this will be remembered by any historians who may take the trouble to read my book.

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

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

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

The charge of "pantheistic tendency" will not, I hope, be brought against me without due consideration. I have tried to show how the Johannine Logos-doctrine, which is the basis of Christian Mysticism, differs from Asiatic Pantheism, from Acosmism, and from (one kind of) evolutionary Idealism. Of course, speculative Mysticism is nearer to Pantheism than to Deism; but I think it is possible heartily to eschew Deism without falling into the opposite error.

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

I have ventured to say in my last Lecture—and it is my earnest conviction—that a more general acquaintance with mystical theology and philosophy is very desirable in the interests of the English Church at the present time. I am not one of those who think that the points at issue between Anglo-Catholics and Anglo-Protestants are trivial: history has always confirmed Aristotle's famous dictum about parties—[Greek: gignontai ai staseis ou peri mikron all' ek mikron, stasiazousi de peri megalon]—but I do not so far despair of our Church, or of Christianity, as to doubt that a reconciling principle must and will be found. Those who do me the honour to read these Lectures will see to what quarter I look for a mediator. A very short study would be sufficient to dispel some of the prejudices which still hang round the name of Mysticism—e.g., that its professors are unpractical dreamers, and that this type of religion is antagonistic to the English mind. As a matter of fact, all the great mystics have been energetic and influential, and their business capacity is specially noted in a curiously large number of cases. For instance, Plotinus was often in request as a guardian and trustee; St. Bernard showed great gifts as an organiser; St. Teresa, as a founder of convents and administrator, gave evidence of extraordinary practical ability; even St. Juan of the Cross displayed the same qualities; John Smith was an excellent bursar of his college; Fenelon ruled his diocese extremely well; and Madame Guyon surprised those who had dealings with her by her great aptitude for affairs. Henry More was offered posts of high responsibility and dignity, but declined them. The mystic is not as a rule ambitious, but I do not think he often shows incapacity for practical life, if he consents to mingle in it. And so far is it from being true that Great Britain has produced but few mystics, that I am inclined to think the subject might be adequately studied from English writers alone. On the more intellectual side we have (without going back to Scotus Erigena) the Cambridge Platonists, Law and Coleridge; of devotional mystics we have attractive examples in Hilton and Julian of Norwich; while in verse the lofty idealism[1] and strong religious bent of our race have produced a series of poet-mystics such as no other country can rival. It has not been possible in these Lectures to do justice to George Herbert, Vaughan "the Silurist," Quarles, Crashaw, and others, who have all drunk of the same well. Let it suffice to say that the student who desires to master the history of Mysticism in Britain will find plenty to occupy his time. But for the religious public in general the most useful thing would be a judicious selection from the mystical writers of different times and countries. Those who are more interested in the practical and devotional than the speculative side may study with great profit some parts of St. Augustine, the sermons of Tauler, the Theologia Germanica, Hilton's Scale of Perfection, the Life of Henry Suso, St. Francis de Sales and Fenelon, the Sermons of John Smith and Whichcote's Aphorisms, and the later works of William Law, not forgetting the poets who have been mentioned. I can think of no course of study more fitting for those who wish to revive in themselves and others the practical idealism of the primitive Church, which gained for it its greatest triumphs.

I conclude this Preface with a quotation from William Law on the value of the mystical writers. "Writers like those I have mentioned," he says in a letter to Dr. Trapp, "there have been in all ages of the Church, but as they served not the ends of popular learning, as they helped no people to figure or preferment in the world, and were useless to scholastic controversial writers, so they dropt out of public uses, and were only known, or rather unknown, under the name of mystical writers, till at last some people have hardly heard of that very name: though, if a man were to be told what is meant by a mystical divine, he must be told of something as heavenly, as great, as desirable, as if he was told what is meant by a real, regenerate, living member of the mystical body of Christ; for they were thus called for no other reason than as Moses and the prophets, and the saints of the Old Testament, may be called the spiritual Israel, or the true mystical Jews. These writers began their office of teaching as John the Baptist did, after they had passed through every kind of mortification and self-denial, every kind of trial and purification, both inward and outward. They were deeply learned in the mysteries of the kingdom of God, not through the use of lexicons, or meditating upon critics, but because they had passed from death unto life. They highly reverence and excellently direct the true use of everything that is outward in religion; but, like the Psalmist's king's daughter, they are all glorious within. They are truly sons of thunder, and sons of consolation; they break open the whited sepulchres; they awaken the heart, and show it its filth and rottenness of death: but they leave it not till the kingdom of heaven is raised up within it. If a man has no desire but to be of the spirit of the gospel, to obtain all that renovation of life and spirit which alone can make him to be in Christ a new creature, it is a great unhappiness to him to be unacquainted with these writers, or to pass a day without reading something of what they wrote."


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



I. General Characteristics of Mysticism

II. The Mystical Element in the Bible

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

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

V. Practical and Devotional Mysticism

VI. Practical and Devotional Mysticism—continued

VII. Nature-Mysticism and Symbolism

VIII. Nature-Mysticism—continued

APPENDIX A. Definitions of "Mysticism" and "Mystical Theology"

APPENDIX B. The Greek Mysteries and Christian Mysticism

APPENDIX C. The Doctrine of Deification

APPENDIX D. The Mystical Interpretation of the Song of Solomon



[Greek: "Hemin de apodeikteon hos ep' eutuchia te megiste para Theon he toiaute mania didotai he de de apodeixis estai deinois men apistos, sophois de piste"]

PLATO, Phaedrus, p. 245.

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

GOETHE, Iphigenie.

"Si notre vie est moins qu'une journee En l'eternel; si l'an qui fait le tour Chasse nos jours sans espoir de retour; Si perissable est toute chose nee; Que songes-tu, mon ame emprisonnee? Pourquoi te plait l'obscur de notre jour, Si, pour voler en un plus clair sejour, Tu as au dos l'aile bien empennee! La est le bien que tout esprit desire, La, le repos ou tout le monde aspire, La est l'amour, la le plaisir encore! La, o mon ame, au plus haut ciel guidee, Tu y pourras reconnaitre l'idee De la beaute qu'en ce monde j'adore!"



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

No word in our language—not even "Socialism"—has been employed more loosely than "Mysticism." Sometimes it is used as an equivalent for symbolism or allegorism, sometimes for theosophy or occult science; and sometimes it merely suggests the mental state of a dreamer, or vague and fantastic opinions about God and the world. In Roman Catholic writers, "mystical phenomena" mean supernatural suspensions of physical law. Even those writers who have made a special study of the subject, show by their definitions of the word how uncertain is its connotation.[2] It is therefore necessary that I should make clear at the outset what I understand by the term, and what aspects of religious life and thought I intend to deal with in these Lectures.

The history of the word begins in close connexion with the Greek mysteries.[3] A mystic [Greek: mystes] is one who has been, or is being, initiated into some esoteric knowledge of Divine things, about which he must keep his mouth shut ([Greek: myein]); or, possibly, he is one whose eyes are still shut, one who is not yet an [Greek: epoptes].[4] The word was taken over, with other technical terms of the mysteries, by the Neoplatonists, who found in the existing mysteriosophy a discipline, worship, and rule of life congenial to their speculative views. But as the tendency towards quietism and introspection increased among them, another derivation for "Mysticism" was found—it was explained to mean deliberately shutting the eyes to all external things.[5] We shall see in the sequel how this later Neoplatonism passed almost entire into Christianity, and, while forming the basis of mediaeval Mysticism, caused a false association to cling to the word even down to the Reformation.[6]

The phase of thought or feeling which we call Mysticism has its origin in that which is the raw material of all religion, and perhaps of all philosophy and art as well, namely, that dim consciousness of the beyond, which is part of our nature as human beings. Men have given different names to these "obstinate questionings of sense and outward things." We may call them, if we will, a sort of higher instinct, perhaps an anticipation of the evolutionary process; or an extension of the frontier of consciousness; or, in religious language, the voice of God speaking to us. Mysticism arises when we try to bring this higher consciousness into relation with the other contents of our minds. Religious Mysticism may be defined as the attempt to realise the presence of the living God in the soul and in nature, or, more generally, as the attempt to realise, in thought and feeling, the immanence of the temporal in the eternal, and of the eternal in the temporal. Our consciousness of the beyond is, I say, the raw material of all religion. But, being itself formless, it cannot be brought directly into relation with the forms of our thought. Accordingly, it has to express itself by symbols, which are as it were the flesh and bones of ideas. It is the tendency of all symbols to petrify or evaporate, and either process is fatal to them. They soon repudiate their mystical origin, and forthwith lose their religious content. Then comes a return to the fresh springs of the inner life—a revival of spirituality in the midst of formalism or unbelief. This is the historical function of Mysticism—it appears as an independent active principle, the spirit of reformations and revivals. But since every active principle must find for itself appropriate instruments, Mysticism has developed a speculative and practical system of its own. As Goethe says, it is "the scholastic of the heart, the dialectic of the feelings." In this way it becomes possible to consider it as a type of religion, though it must always be remembered that in becoming such it has incorporated elements which do not belong to its inmost being.[7] As a type of religion, then, Mysticism seems to rest on the following propositions or articles of faith:—

First, the soul (as well as the body) can see and perceive—[Greek: esti de psyches aisthesis tis], as Proclus says. We have an organ or faculty for the discernment of spiritual truth, which, in its proper sphere, is as much to be trusted as the organs of sensation in theirs.

The second proposition is that, since we can only know what is akin to ourselves,[8] man, in order to know God, must be a partaker of the Divine nature. "What we are, that we behold; and what we behold, that we are," says Ruysbroek. The curious doctrine which we find in the mystics of the Middle Ages, that there is at "the apex of the mind" a spark which is consubstantial with the uncreated ground of the Deity, is thus accounted for. We could not even begin to work out our own salvation if God were not already working in us. It is always "in His light" that "we see light." The doctrine has been felt to be a necessary postulate by most philosophers who hold that knowledge of God is possible to man. For instance, Krause says, "From finite reason as finite we might possibly explain the thought of itself, but not the thought of something that is outside finite reasonable beings, far less the absolute idea, in its contents infinite, of God. To become aware of God in knowledge we require certainly to make a freer use of our finite power of thought, but the thought of God itself is primarily and essentially an eternal operation of the eternal revelation of God to the finite mind." But though we are made in the image of God, our likeness to Him only exists potentially.[9] The Divine spark already shines within us, but it has to be searched for in the innermost depths of our personality, and its light diffused over our whole being.

This brings us to the third proposition—"Without holiness no man may see the Lord"; or, as it is expressed positively in the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." Sensuality and selfishness are absolute disqualifications for knowing "the things of the Spirit of God." These fundamental doctrines are very clearly laid down in the passage from St. John which I read as the text of this Lecture. The filial relation to God is already claimed, but the vision is inseparable from likeness to Him, which is a hope, not a possession, and is only to be won by "purifying ourselves, even as He is pure."

There is one more fundamental doctrine which we must not omit. Purification removes the obstacles to our union with God, but our guide on the upward path, the true hierophant of the mysteries of God, is love[10]. Love has been defined as "interest in its highest power";[11] while others have said that "it is of the essence of love to be disinterested." The contradiction is merely a verbal one. The two definitions mark different starting-points, but the two "ways of love" should bring us to the same goal. The possibility of disinterested love, in the ordinary sense, ought never to have been called in question. "Love is not love" when it asks for a reward. Nor is the love of man to God any exception. He who tries to be holy in order to be happy will assuredly be neither. In the words of the Theologia Germanica, "So long as a man seeketh his own highest good because it is his, he will never find it." The mystics here are unanimous, though some, like St. Bernard, doubt whether perfect love of God can ever be attained, pure and without alloy, while we are in this life.[12] The controversy between Fenelon and Bossuet on this subject is well known, and few will deny that Fenelon was mainly in the right. Certainly he had an easy task in justifying his statements from the writings of the saints. But we need not trouble ourselves with the "mystic paradox," that it would be better to be with Christ in hell than without Him in heaven—a statement which Thomas a Kempis once wrote and then erased in his manuscript. For wherever Christ is, there is heaven: nor should we regard eternal happiness as anything distinct from "a true conjunction of the mind with God.[13]" "God is not without or above law: He could not make men either sinful or miserable.[14]" To believe otherwise is to suppose an irrational universe, the one thing which a rational man cannot believe in.

The mystic, as we have seen, makes it his life's aim to be transformed into the likeness of Him in whose image he was created.[15] He loves to figure his path as a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, which must be climbed step by step. This scala perfectionis is generally divided into three stages. The first is called the purgative life, the second the illuminative, while the third, which is really the goal rather than a part of the journey, is called the unitive life, or state of perfect contemplation.[16] We find, as we should expect, some differences in the classification, but this tripartite scheme is generally accepted.

The steps of the upward path constitute the ethical system, the rule of life, of the mystics. The first stage, the purgative life, we read in the Theologia Germanica, is brought about by contrition, by confession, by hearty amendment; and this is the usual language in treatises intended for monks. But it is really intended to include the civic and social virtues in this stage.[17] They occupy the lowest place, it is true; but this only means that they must be acquired by all, though all are not called to the higher flights of contemplation. Their chief value, according to Plotinus, is to teach us the meaning of order and limitation ([Greek: taxis] and [Greek: peras]), which are qualities belonging to the Divine nature. This is a very valuable thought, for it contradicts that aberration of Mysticism which calls God the Infinite, and thinks of Him as the Indefinite, dissolving all distinctions in the abyss of bare indetermination. When Ewald says, "the true mystic never withdraws himself wilfully from the business of life, no, not even from the smallest business," he is, at any rate, saying nothing which conflicts with the principles of Mysticism.[18]

The purgative life necessarily includes self-discipline: does it necessarily include what is commonly known as asceticism? It would be easy to answer that asceticism means nothing but training, as men train for a race, or more broadly still, that it means simply "the acquisition of some greater power by practice.[19]" But when people speak of "asceticism," they have in their minds such severe "buffeting" of the body as was practised by many ancient hermits and mediaeval monks. Is this an integral part of the mystic's "upward path"? We shall find reason to conclude that, while a certain degree of austere simplicity characterises the outward life of nearly all the mystics, and while an almost morbid desire to suffer is found in many of them, there is nothing in the system itself to encourage men to maltreat their bodies. Mysticism enjoins a dying life, not a living death. Moreover, asceticism, when regarded as a virtue or duty in itself, tends to isolate us, and concentrates our attention on our separate individuality. This is contrary to the spirit of Mysticism, which aims at realising unity and solidarity everywhere. Monkish asceticism (so far as it goes beyond the struggle to live unstained under unnatural conditions) rests on a dualistic view of the world which does not belong to the essence of Mysticism. It infected all the religious life of the Middle Ages, not Mysticism only.[20]

The second stage, the illuminative life, is the concentration of all the faculties, will, intellect, and feeling, upon God. It differs from the purgative life, not in having discarded good works, but in having come to perform them, as Fenelon says, "no longer as virtues," that is to say, willingly and almost spontaneously. The struggle is now transferred to the inner life.

The last stage of the journey, in which the soul presses towards the mark, and gains the prize of its high calling, is the unitive or contemplative life, in which man beholds God face to face, and is joined to Him. Complete union with God is the ideal limit of religion, the attainment of which would be at once its consummation and annihilation. It is in the continual but unending approximation to it that the life of religion subsists.[21] We must therefore beware of regarding the union as anything more than an infinite process, though, as its end is part of the eternal counsel of God, there is a sense in which it is already a fact, and not merely a thing desired. But the word deification holds a very large place in the writings of the Fathers, and not only among those who have been called mystics. We find it in Irenaeus as well as in Clement, in Athanasius as well as in Gregory of Nyssa. St. Augustine is no more afraid of "deificari" in Latin than Origen of [Greek: theopoieisthai] in Greek. The subject is one of primary importance to anyone who wishes to understand mystical theology; but it is difficult for us to enter into the minds of the ancients who used these expressions, both because [Greek: theos] was a very fluid concept in the early centuries, and because our notions of personality are very different from those which were prevalent in antiquity. On this latter point I shall have more to say presently; but the evidence for the belief in "deification," and its continuance through the Middle Ages, is too voluminous to be given in the body of these Lectures.[22] Let it suffice to say here that though such bold phrases as "God became man, that we might become God," were commonplaces of doctrinal theology at least till after Augustine, even Clement and Origen protest strongly against the "very impious" heresy that man is "a part of God," or "consubstantial with God.[23]" The attribute of Divinity which was chiefly in the minds of the Greek Fathers when they made these statements, was that of imperishableness.

As to the means by which this union is manifested to the consciousness, there is no doubt that very many mystics believed in, and looked for, ecstatic revelations, trances, or visions. This, again, is one of the crucial questions of Mysticism.

Ecstasy or vision begins when thought ceases, to our consciousness, to proceed from ourselves. It differs from dreaming, because the subject is awake. It differs from hallucination, because there is no organic disturbance: it is, or claims to be, a temporary enhancement, not a partial disintegration, of the mental faculties. Lastly, it differs from poetical inspiration, because the imagination is passive.

That perfectly sane people often experience such visions there is no manner of doubt. St. Paul fell into a trance at his conversion, and again at a later period, when he seemed to be caught up into the third heaven. The most sober and practical of the mediaeval mystics speak of them as common phenomena. And in modern times two of the sanest of our poets have recorded their experiences in words which may be worth quoting.

Wordsworth, in his well-known "Lines composed above Tintern Abbey," speaks of—

"That serene and blessed mood, In which ... 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."

And Tennyson says,[24] "A kind of waking trance I have often had, quite from boyhood, when I have been all alone. This has generally come upon me through repeating my own name two or three times to myself silently, till all at once, out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, the individual itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being: and this not a confused state, but the clearest of the clearest, and the surest of the surest, the weirdest of the weirdest, utterly beyond words, where death was an almost laughable impossibility, the loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction, but the only true life."

Admitting, then, that these psychical phenomena actually occur, we have to consider whether ecstasy and kindred states are an integral part of Mysticism. In attempting to answer this question, we shall find it convenient to distinguish between the Neoplatonic vision of the super-essential One, the Absolute, which Plotinus enjoyed several times, and Porphyry only once, and the visions and "locutions" which are reported in all times and places, especially where people have not been trained in scientific habits of thought and observation. The former was held to be an exceedingly rare privilege, the culminating point of the contemplative life. I shall speak of it in my third Lecture; and shall there show that it belongs, not to the essence of Mysticism, and still less to Christianity, but to the Asiatic leaven which was mixed with Alexandrian thought, and thence passed into Catholicism. As regards visions in general, they were no invention of the mystics. They played a much more important part in the life of the early Church than many ecclesiastical historians are willing to admit. Tertullian, for instance, says calmly, "The majority, almost, of men learn God from visions.[25]" Such implicit reliance was placed on the Divine authority of visions, that on one occasion an ignorant peasant and a married man was made Patriarch of Alexandria against his will, because his dying predecessor had a vision that the man who should bring him a present of grapes on the next day should be his successor! In course of time visions became rarer among the laity, but continued frequent among the monks and clergy. And so the class which furnished most of the shining lights of Mysticism was that in which these experiences were most common.

But we do not find that the masters of the spiritual life attached very much importance to them, or often appealed to them as aids to faith.[26] As a rule, visions were regarded as special rewards bestowed by the goodness of God on the struggling saint, and especially on the beginner, to refresh him and strengthen him in the hour of need. Very earnest cautions were issued that no efforts must be made to induce them artificially, and aspirants were exhorted neither to desire them, nor to feel pride in having seen them. The spiritual guides of the Middle Ages were well aware that such experiences often come of disordered nerves and weakened digestion; they believed also that they are sometimes delusions of Satan. Richard of St. Victor says, "As Christ attested His transfiguration by the presence of Moses and Elias, so visions should not be believed unless they have the authority of Scripture." Albertus Magnus tries to classify them, and says that those which contain a sensuous element are always dangerous. Eckhart is still more cautious, and Tauler attaches little value to them. Avila, the Spanish mystic, says that only those visions which minister to our spiritual necessities, and make us more humble, are genuine. Self-induced visions inflate us with pride, and do irreparable injury to health of mind and body.[27]

It hardly falls within my task to attempt to determine what these visions really are. The subject is one upon which psychological and medical science may some day throw more light. But this much I must say, to make my own position clear: I regard these experiences as neither more nor less "supernatural" than other mental phenomena. Many of them are certainly pathological;[28] about others we may feel doubts; but some have every right to be considered as real irradiations of the soul from the light that "for ever shines," real notes of the harmony that "is in immortal souls." In illustration of this, we may appeal to three places in the Bible where revelations of the profoundest truths concerning the nature and counsels of God are recorded to have been made during ecstatic visions. Moses at Mount Horeb heard, during the vision of the burning bush, a proclamation of God as the "I am"—the Eternal who is exalted above time. Isaiah, in the words "Holy, Holy, Holy," perceived dimly the mystery of the Trinity. And St. Peter, in the vision of the sheet, learned that God is no respecter of persons or of nationalities. In such cases the highest intuitions or revelations, which the soul can in its best moments just receive, but cannot yet grasp or account for, make a language for themselves, as it were, and claim the sanction of external authority, until the mind is elevated so far as to feel the authority not less Divine, but no longer external. We may find fairly close analogies in other forms of that "Divine madness," which Plato says is "the source of the chiefest blessings granted to men"—such as the rapture of the poet, or (as Plato adds) of the lover.[29] And even the philosopher or man of science may be surprised into some such state by a sudden realisation of the sublimity of his subject. So at least Lacordaire believed when he wrote, "All at once, as if by chance, the hair stands up, the breath is caught, the skin contracts, and a cold sword pierces to the very soul. It is the sublime which has manifested itself![30]" Even in cases where there is evident hallucination, e.g. when the visionary sees an angel or devil sitting on his book, or feels an arrow thrust into his heart, there need be no insanity. In periods when it is commonly believed that such things may and do happen, the imagination, instead of being corrected by experience, is misled by it. Those who honestly expect to see miracles will generally see them, without detriment either to their truthfulness or sanity in other matters.

The mystic, then, is not, as such, a visionary; nor has he any interest in appealing to a faculty "above reason," if reason is used in its proper sense, as the logic of the whole personality. The desire to find for our highest intuitions an authority wholly external to reason and independent of it,—a "purely supernatural" revelation,—has, as Recejac says, "been the cause of the longest and the most dangerous of the aberrations from which Mysticism has suffered." This kind of supernaturalism is destructive of unity in our ideas of God, the world, and ourselves; and it casts a slur on the faculties which are the appointed organs of communication between God and man. A revelation absolutely transcending reason is an absurdity: no such revelation could ever be made. In the striking phrase of Macarius, "the human mind is the throne of the Godhead." The supremacy of the reason is the favourite theme of the Cambridge Platonists, two of whom, Whichcote and Culverwel, are never tired of quoting the text, "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord." "Sir, I oppose not rational to spiritual," writes Whichcote to Tuckney, "for spiritual is most rational." And again, "Reason is the Divine governor of man's life: it is the very voice of God.[31]" What we can and must transcend, if we would make any progress in Divine knowledge, is not reason, but that shallow rationalism which regards the data on which we can reason as a fixed quantity, known to all, and which bases itself on a formal logic, utterly unsuited to a spiritual view of things. Language can only furnish us with poor, misleading, and wholly inadequate images of spiritual facts; it supplies us with abstractions and metaphors, which do not really represent what we know or believe about God and human personality. St. Paul calls attention to this inadequacy by a series of formal contradictions: "I live, yet not I"; "dying, and behold we live"; "when I am weak, then I am strong," and so forth; and we find exactly the same expedient in Plotinus, who is very fond of thus showing his contempt for the logic of identity. When, therefore, Harnack says that "Mysticism is nothing else than rationalism applied to a sphere above reason," he would have done better to say that it is "reason applied to a sphere above rationalism.[32]"

For Reason is still "king.[33]" Religion must not be a matter of feeling only. St. John's command to "try every spirit" condemns all attempts to make emotion or inspiration independent of reason. Those who thus blindly follow the inner light find it no "candle of the Lord," but an ignis fatuus; and the great mystics are well aware of this. The fact is that the tendency to separate and half personify the different faculties—intellect, will, feeling—is a mischievous one. Our object should be so to unify our personality, that our eye may be single, and our whole body full of light.

We have considered briefly the three stages of the mystic's upward path. The scheme of life therein set forth was no doubt determined empirically, and there is nothing to prevent the simplest and most unlettered saint from framing his conduct on these principles. Many of the mediaeval mystics had no taste for speculation or philosophy;[34] they accepted on authority the entire body of Church dogma, and devoted their whole attention to the perfecting of the spiritual life in the knowledge and love of God. But this cannot be said of the leaders. Christian Mysticism appears in history largely as an intellectual movement, the foster-child of Platonic idealism; and if ever, for a time, it forgot its early history, men were soon found to bring it back to "its old loving nurse the Platonic philosophy." It will be my task, in the third and fourth Lectures of this course, to show how speculative Christian Mysticism grew out of Neoplatonism; but we shall not be allowed to forget the Platonists even in the later Lectures. "The fire still burns on the altars of Plotinus," as Eunapius said.

Mysticism is not itself a philosophy, any more than it is itself a religion. On its intellectual side it has been called "formless speculation.[35]" But until speculations or intuitions have entered into the forms of our thought, they are not current coin even for the thinker. The part played by Mysticism in philosophy is parallel to the part played by it in religion. As in religion it appears in revolt against dry formalism and cold rationalism, so in philosophy it takes the field against materialism and scepticism.[36] It is thus possible to speak of speculative Mysticism, and even to indicate certain idealistic lines of thought, which may without entire falsity be called the philosophy of Mysticism. In this introductory Lecture I can, of course, only hint at these in the barest and most summary manner. And it must be remembered that I have undertaken to-day to delineate the general characteristics of Mysticism, not of Christian Mysticism. I am trying, moreover, in this Lecture to confine myself to those developments which I consider normal and genuine, excluding the numerous aberrant types which we shall encounter in the course of our survey.

The real world, according to thinkers of this school, is created by the thought and will of God, and exists in His mind. It is therefore spiritual, and above space and time, which are only the forms under which reality is set out as a process.

When we try to represent to our minds the highest reality, the spiritual world, as distinguished from the world of appearance, we are obliged to form images; and we can hardly avoid choosing one of the following three images. We may regard the spiritual world as endless duration opposed to transitoriness, as infinite extension opposed to limitation in space, or as substance opposed to shadow. All these are, strictly speaking, symbols or metaphors,[37] for we cannot regard any of them as literally true statements about the nature of reality; but they are as near the truth as we can get in words. But when we think of time as a piece cut off from the beginning of eternity, so that eternity is only in the future and not in the present; when we think of heaven as a place somewhere else, and therefore not here; when we think of an upper ideal world which has sucked all the life out of this, so that we now walk in a vain shadow,—then we are paying the penalty for our symbolical representative methods of thought, and must go to philosophy to help us out of the doubts and difficulties in which our error has involved us. One test is infallible. Whatever view of reality deepens our sense of the tremendous issues of life in the world wherein we move, is for us nearer the truth than any view which diminishes that sense. The truth is revealed to us that we may have life, and have it more abundantly.

The world as it is, is the world as God sees it, not as we see it. Our vision is distorted, not so much by the limitations of finitude, as by sin and ignorance. The more we can raise ourselves in the scale of being, the more will our ideas about God and the world correspond to the reality. "Such as men themselves are, such will God Himself seem to them to be," says John Smith, the English Platonist. Origen, too, says that those whom Judas led to seize Jesus did not know who He was, for the darkness of their own souls was projected on His features.[38] And Dante, in a very beautiful passage, says that he felt that he was rising into a higher circle, because he saw Beatrice's face becoming more beautiful.[39]

This view of reality, as a vista which is opened gradually to the eyes of the climber up the holy mount, is very near to the heart of Mysticism. It rests on the faith that the ideal not only ought to be, but is the real. It has been applied by some, notably by that earnest but fantastic thinker, James Hinton, as offering a solution of the problem of evil. We shall encounter attempts to deal with this great difficulty in several of the Christian mystics. The problem among the speculative writers was how to reconcile the Absolute of philosophy, who is above all distinctions,[40] with the God of religion, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. They could not allow that evil has a substantial existence apart from God, for fear of being entangled in an insoluble Dualism. But if evil is derived from God, how can God be good? We shall find that the prevailing view was that "Evil has no substance." "There is nothing," says Gregory of Nyssa, "which falls outside of the Divine nature, except moral evil alone. And this, we may say paradoxically, has its being in not-being. For the genesis of moral evil is simply the privation of being.[41] That which, properly speaking, exists, is the nature of the good." The Divine nature, in other words, is that which excludes nothing, and contradicts nothing, except those attributes which are contrary to the nature of reality; it is that which harmonises everything except discord, which loves everything except hatred, verifies everything except falsehood, and beautifies everything except ugliness. Thus that which falls outside the notion of God, proves on examination to be not merely unreal, but unreality as such. But the relation of evil to the Absolute is not a religious problem. To our experience, evil exists as a positive force not subject to the law of God, though constantly overruled and made an instrument of good. On this subject we must say more later. Here I need only add that a sunny confidence in the ultimate triumph of good shines from the writings of most of the mystics, especially, I think, in our own countrymen. The Cambridge Platonists are all optimistic; and in the beautiful but little known Revelations of Juliana of Norwich, we find in page after page the refrain of "All shall be well." "Sin is behovable,[42] but all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

Since the universe is the thought and will of God expressed under the forms of time and space, everything in it reflects the nature of its Creator, though in different degrees. Erigena says finely, "Every visible and invisible creature is a theophany or appearance of God." The purest mirror in the world is the highest of created things—the human soul unclouded by sin. And this brings us to a point at which Mysticism falls asunder into two classes.

The question which divides them is this—In the higher stages of the spiritual life, shall we learn most of the nature of God by close, sympathetic, reverent observation of the world around us, including our fellow-men, or by sinking into the depths of our inner consciousness, and aspiring after direct and constant communion with God? Each method may claim the support of weighty names. The former, which will form the subject of my seventh and eighth Lectures, is very happily described by Charles Kingsley in an early letter.[43] "The great Mysticism," he says, "is the belief which is becoming every day stronger with me, that all symmetrical natural objects ... are types of some spiritual truth or existence.... Everything seems to be full of God's reflex if we could but see it.... Oh, 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! When I feel that sense of the mystery that is around me, I feel a gush of enthusiasm towards God, which seems its inseparable effect."

On the other side stand the majority of the earlier mystics. Believing that God is "closer to us than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet," they are impatient of any intermediaries. "We need not search for His footprints in Nature, when we can behold His face in ourselves,[44]" is their answer to St. Augustine's fine expression that all things bright and beautiful in the world are "footprints of the uncreated Wisdom.[45]" Coleridge has expressed their feeling in his "Ode to Dejection"—

"It were a vain endeavour, Though I should gaze for ever On that green light that lingers in the West; I may not hope from outward forms to win The passion and the life whose fountains are within."

"Grace works from within outwards," says Ruysbroek, "for God is nearer to us than our own faculties. Hence it cannot come from images and sensible forms." "If thou wishest to search out the deep things of God," says Richard of St. Victor, "search out the depths of thine own spirit."

The truth is that there are two movements,—a systole and diastole of the spiritual life,—an expansion and a concentration. The tendency has generally been to emphasise one at the expense of the other; but they must work together, for each is helpless without the other. As Shakespeare says[46]—

"Nor doth the eye itself, That most pure spirit of sense, behold itself, Not going from itself, but eye to eye opposed, Salutes each other with each other's form: For speculation turns not to itself Till it hath travelled, and is mirrored there, Where it may see itself."

Nature is dumb, and our own hearts are dumb, until they are allowed to speak to each other. Then both will speak to us of God.

Speculative Mysticism has occupied itself largely with these two great subjects—the immanence of God in nature, and the relation of human personality to Divine. A few words must be said, before I conclude, on both these matters.

The Unity of all existence is a fundamental doctrine of Mysticism. God is in all, and all is in God. "His centre is everywhere, and His circumference nowhere," as St. Bonaventura puts it. It is often argued that this doctrine leads direct to Pantheism, and that speculative Mysticism is always and necessarily pantheistic. This is, of course, a question of primary importance. It is in the hope of dealing with it adequately that I have selected three writers who have been frequently called pantheists, for discussion in these Lectures. I mean Dionysius the Areopagite, Scotus Erigena, and Eckhart. But it would be impossible even to indicate my line of argument in the few minutes left me this morning.

The mystics are much inclined to adopt, in a modified form, the old notion of an anima mundi. When Erigena says, "Be well assured that the Word—the second Person of the Trinity—is the Nature of all things," he means that the Logos is a cosmic principle, the Personality of which the universe is the external expression or appearance.[47]

We are not now concerned with cosmological speculations, but the bearing of this theory on human personality is obvious. If the Son of God is regarded as an all-embracing and all-pervading cosmic principle, the "mystic union" of the believer with Christ becomes something much closer than an ethical harmony of two mutually exclusive wills. The question which exercises the mystics is not whether such a thing as fusion of personalities is possible, but whether, when the soul has attained union with its Lord, it is any longer conscious of a life distinct from that of the Word. We shall find that some of the best mystics went astray on this point. They teach a real substitution of the Divine for human nature, thus depersonalising man, and running into great danger of a perilous arrogance. The mistake is a fatal one even from the speculative side, for it is only on the analogy of human personality that we can conceive of the perfect personality of God; and without personality the universe falls to pieces. Personality is not only the strictest unity of which we have any experience; it is the fact which creates the postulate of unity on which all philosophy is based.

But it is possible to save personality without regarding the human spirit as a monad, independent and sharply separated from other spirits. Distinction, not separation, is the mark of personality; but it is separation, not distinction, that forbids union. The error, according to the mystic's psychology, is in regarding consciousness of self as the measure of personality. The depths of personality are unfathomable, as Heraclitus already knew;[48] the light of consciousness only plays on the surface of the waters. Jean Paul Richter is a true exponent of this characteristic doctrine when he says, "We attribute far too small dimensions to the rich empire of ourself, if we omit from it the unconscious region which resembles a great dark continent. The world which our memory peoples only reveals, in its revolution, a few luminous points at a time, while its immense and teeming mass remains in shade.... We daily see the conscious passing into unconsciousness; and take no notice of the bass accompaniment which our fingers continue to play, while our attention is directed to fresh musical effects.[49]" So far is it from being true that the self of our immediate consciousness is our true personality, that we can only attain personality, as spiritual and rational beings, by passing beyond the limits which mark us off as separate individuals. Separate individuality, we may say, is the bar which prevents us from realising our true privileges as persons.[50] And so the mystic interprets very literally that maxim of our Lord, in which many have found the fundamental secret of Christianity: "He that will save his life—his soul, his personality—shall lose it; and he that will lose his life for My sake shall find it." The false self must die—nay, must "die daily," for the process is gradual, and there is no limit to it. It is a process of infinite expansion—of realising new correspondences, new sympathies and affinities with the not-ourselves, which affinities condition, and in conditioning constitute, our true life as persons. The paradox is offensive only to formal logic. As a matter of experience, no one, I imagine, would maintain that the man who has practically realised, to the fullest possible extent, the common life which he draws from his Creator, and shares with all other created beings,—so realised it, I mean, as to draw from that consciousness all the influences which can play upon him from outside,—has thereby dissipated and lost his personality, and become less of a person than another who has built a wall round his individuality, and lived, as Plato says, the life of a shell-fish.[51]

We may arrive at the same conclusion by analysing that unconditioned sense of duty which we call conscience. This moral sense cannot be a fixed code implanted in our consciousness, for then we could not explain either the variations of moral opinion, or the feeling of obligation (as distinguished from necessity) which impels us to obey it. It cannot be the product of the existing moral code of society, for then we could not explain either the genesis of that public opinion or the persistent revolt against its limitations which we find in the greatest minds. The only hypothesis which explains the facts is that in conscience we feel the motions of the universal Reason which strives to convert the human organism into an organ of itself, a belief which is expressed in religious language by saying that it is God who worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.

If it be further asked, Which is our personality, the shifting moi (as Fenelon calls it), or the ideal self, the end or the developing states? we must answer that it is both and neither, and that the root of mystical religion is in the conviction that it is at once both and neither.[52] The moi strives to realise its end, but the end being an infinite one, no process can reach it. Those who have "counted themselves to have apprehended" have thereby left the mystical faith; and those who from the notion of a progressus ad infinitum come to the pessimistic conclusion, are equally false to the mystical creed, which teaches us that we are already potentially what God intends us to become. The command, "Be ye perfect," is, like all Divine commands, at the same time a promise.

It is stating the same paradox in another form to say that we can only achieve inner unity by transcending mere individuality. The independent, impervious self shows its unreality by being inwardly discordant. It is of no use to enlarge the circumference of our life, if the fixed centre is always the ego. There are, if I may press the metaphor, other circles with other centres, in which we are vitally involved. And thus sympathy, or love, which is sympathy in its highest power, is the great atoner, within as well as without. The old Pythagorean maxim, that "a man must be one,[53]" is echoed by all the mystics. He must be one as God is one, and the world is one; for man is a microcosm, a living mirror of the universe. Here, once more, we have a characteristic mystical doctrine, which is perhaps worked out most fully in the "Fons Vitae" of Avicebron (Ibn Gebirol), a work which had great influence in the Middle Ages. The doctrine justifies the use of analogy in matters of religion, and is of great importance. One might almost dare to say that all conclusions about the world above us which are not based on the analogy of our own mental experiences, are either false or meaningless.

The idea of man as a microcosm was developed in two ways. Plotinus said that "every man is double," meaning that one side of his soul is in contact with the intelligible, the other with the sensible world. He is careful to explain that the doctrine of Divine Immanence does not mean that God divides Himself among the many individuals, but that they partake of Him according to their degrees of receptivity, so that each one is potentially in possession of all the fulness of God. Proclus tries to explain how this can be. "There are three sorts of Wholes—the first, anterior to the parts; the second, composed of the parts; the third, knitting into one stuff the parts and the whole.[54]" In this third sense the whole resides in the parts, as well as the parts in the whole. St. Augustine states the same doctrine in clearer language.[55] It will be seen at once how this doctrine encourages that class of Mysticism which bids us "sink into the depths of our own souls" in order to find God.

The other development of the theory that man is a microcosm is not less important and interesting. It is a favourite doctrine of the mystics that man, in his individual life, recapitulates the spiritual history of the race, in much the same way in which embryologists tell us that the unborn infant recapitulates the whole process of physical evolution. It follows that the Incarnation, the central fact of human history, must have its analogue in the experience of the individual. We shall find that this doctrine of the birth of an infant Christ in the soul is one of immense importance in the systems of Eckhart, Tauler, and our Cambridge Platonists. It is a somewhat perilous doctrine, as we shall see; but it is one which, I venture to think, has a future as well as a past, for the progress of modern science has greatly strengthened the analogies on which it rests. I shall show in my next Lecture how strongly St. Paul felt its value.

This brief introduction will, I hope, have indicated the main characteristics of mystical theology and religion. It is a type which is as repulsive to some minds as it is attractive to others. Coleridge has said that everyone is born a Platonist or an Aristotelian, and one might perhaps adapt the epigram by saying that everyone is naturally either a mystic or a legalist. The classification does, indeed, seem to correspond to a deep difference in human characters; it is doubtful whether a man could be found anywhere whom one could trust to hold the scales evenly between—let us say—Fenelon and Bossuet. The cleavage is much the same as that which causes the eternal strife between tradition and illumination, between priest and prophet, which has produced the deepest tragedies in human history, and will probably continue to do so while the world lasts. The legalist—with his conception of God as the righteous Judge dispensing rewards and punishments, the "Great Taskmaster" in whose vineyard we are ordered to labour; of the Gospel as "the new law," and of the sanction of duty as a "categorical imperative"—will never find it easy to sympathise with those whose favourite words are St. John's triad—light, life, and love, and who find these the most suitable names to express what they know of the nature of God. But those to whom the Fourth Gospel is the brightest jewel in the Bible, and who can enter into the real spirit of St. Paul's teaching, will, I hope, be able to take some interest in the historical development of ideas which in their Christian form are certainly built upon those parts of the New Testament.


[Footnote 2: See Appendix A for definitions of Mysticism and Mystical Theology.]

[Footnote 3: See Appendix B for a discussion of the influence of the Greek mysteries upon Christian Mysticism.]

[Footnote 4: Tholuck accepts the former derivation (cf. Suidas, [Greek: mysteria eklethesan para to tous akouontas myein to stoma kai medeni tauta exegeisthai]); Petersen, the latter. There is no doubt that [Greek: myesis] was opposed to [Greek: epopteia], and in this sense denoted incomplete initiation; but it was also made to include the whole process. The prevailing use of the adjective [Greek: mystikos] is of something seen "through a glass darkly," some knowledge purposely wrapped up in symbols.]

[Footnote 5: So Hesychius says, [Greek: Mystai, apo myo, myontes gar tas aistheseis kai exo ton sarkikon phrontidon genomenoi, outo tas theias analampseis edechonto.] Plotinus and Proclus both use [Greek: myo] of the "closed eye" of rapt contemplation.]

[Footnote 6: I cannot agree with Lasson (in his book on Meister Eckhart) that "the connexion with the Greek mysteries throws no light on the subject." No writer had more influence upon the growth of Mysticism in the Church than Dionysius the Areopagite, whose main object is to present Christianity in the light of a Platonic mysteriosophy. The same purpose is evident in Clement, and in other Christian Platonists between Clement and Dionysius. See Appendix B.]

[Footnote 7: It should also be borne in mind that every historical example of a mystical movement may be expected to exhibit characteristics which are determined by the particular forms of religious deadness in opposition to which it arises. I think that it is generally easy to separate these secondary, accidental characteristics from those which are primary and integral, and that we shall then find that the underlying substance, which may be regarded as the essence of Mysticism as a type of religion, is strikingly uniform.]

[Footnote 8: The analogy used by Plotinus (Ennead i. 6. 9) was often quoted and imitated: "Even as the eye could not behold the sun unless it were itself sunlike, so neither could the soul behold God if it were not Godlike." Lotze (Microcosmus, and cf. Metaphysics, 1st ed., p. 109) falls foul of Plotinus for this argument. "The reality of the external world is utterly severed from our senses. It is vain to call the eye sunlike, as if it needed a special occult power to copy what it has itself produced: fruitless are all mystic efforts to restore to the intuitions of sense, by means of a secret identity of mind with things, a reality outside ourselves." Whether the subjective idealism of this sentence is consistent with the subsequent dogmatic assertion that "nature is animated throughout," it is not my province to determine. The latter doctrine is held by a large school of mystics: the acosmistic tendency of the former has had only too much attraction for mystics of another school.]

[Footnote 9: This distinction is drawn by Origen, and accepted by all the mystical writers.]

[Footnote 10: Faith goes so closely hand in hand with love that the mystics seldom try to separate them, and indeed they need not be separated. William Law's account of their operation is characteristic. "When the seed of the new birth, called the inward man, has faith awakened in it, its faith is not a notion, but a real strong essential hunger, an attracting or magnetic desire of Christ, which as it proceeds from a seed of the Divine nature in us, so it attracts and unites with its like: it lays hold on Christ, puts on the Divine nature, and in a living and real manner grows powerful over all our sins, and effectually works out our salvation" (Grounds and Reasons of Christian Regeneration).]

[Footnote 11: R.L. Nettleship, Remains.]

[Footnote 12: "Nescio si a quoquam homine quartus (gradus) in hac vita perfecte apprehenditur, ut se scilicet diligat homo tantum propter Deum. Asserant hoc si qui experti sunt: mihi (fateor) impossibile videtur" (De diligendo Deo, xv.; Epist. xi. 8).]

[Footnote 13: From a sermon by Smith, the Cambridge Platonist. Plotinus, too, says well, [Greek: ei tis allo eidos edones peri ton spoudaion bion zetei, ou ton spoudaion bion zetei] (Ennead i. 4. 12).]

[Footnote 14: From Smith's sermons.]

[Footnote 15: Pindar's [Greek: genoio oios essi mathon] is a fine mystical maxim. (Pyth. 2. 131.)]

[Footnote 16: Strictly, the unitive road (via) leads to the contemplative life (vita). Cf. Benedict, xiv., De Servorum Dei beatific., iii. 26, "Perfecta haec mystica unio reperitur regulariter in perfecto contemplativo qui in vita purgativa et illuminativa, id est meditativa, et contemplativa diu versatus, ex speciali Dei favore ad infusam contemplativam evectus est." On the three ways, Suarez says, "Distinguere solent mystici tres vias, purgativam, illuminativam, et unitivam." Molinos was quite a heterodox mystic in teaching that there is but a "unica via, scilicet interna," and this proposition was condemned by a Bull of Innocent XI.]

[Footnote 17: In Plotinus the civic virtues precede the cathartic; but they are not, as with some perverse mystics, considered to lie outside the path of ascent.]

[Footnote 18: Tauler is careful to put social service on its true basis. "One can spin," he says, "another can make shoes; and all these are gifts of the Holy Ghost. I tell you, if I were not a priest, I should esteem it a great gift that I was able to make shoes, and would try to make them so well as to be a pattern to all." In a later Lecture I shall revert to the charge of indolent neglect of duties, so often preferred against the mystics.]

[Footnote 19: R.L. Nettleship, Remains.]

[Footnote 20: In a Roman Catholic manual I find: "Non raro sub nomine theologiae mysticae intelligitur etiam ascesis, sed immerito. Nam ascesis consuetas tantum et tritas perfectionis semitas ostendit, mystica autem adhuc excellentiorem viam demonstrat." This is to identify "mystical theology" with the higher rungs of the ladder. It has been used in this curious manner from the Middle Ages. Ribet says, "La mystique, comme science speciale, fait partie de la theologie ascetique"; that part, namely, "dans lequel l'homme est reduit a la passivite par l'action souveraine de Dieu." "L'ascese" is defined as "l'ascension de l'ame vers Dieu."]

[Footnote 21: Cf. Professor W. Wallace's collected Lectures and Essays, p. 276.]

[Footnote 22: See Appendix C on the Doctrine of Deification.]

[Footnote 23: So Fenelon, after asserting the truth of mystical "transformation," adds: "It is false to say that transformation is a deification of the real and natural soul, or a hypostatic union, or an unalterable conformity with God."]

[Footnote 24: Life of Tennyson, vol. i. p. 320. The curious experience, that the repetition of his own name induced a kind of trance, is used by the poet in his beautiful mystical poem, "The Ancient Sage." It would, indeed, have been equally easy to illustrate this topic from Wordsworth's prose and Tennyson's poetry.]

[Footnote 25: See the very interesting note in Harnack, History of Dogma, vol. i. p. 53.]

[Footnote 26: The Abbe Migne says truly, "Ceux qui traitent les mystiques de visionnaires seraient fort etonnes de voir quel peu de cas ils font des visions en elles-memes." And St. Bonaventura says of visions, "Nec faciunt sanctum nec ostendunt: alioquin Balaam sanctus esset, et asina, quae vidit Angelum."]

[Footnote 27: The following passage from St. Francis de Sales is much to the same effect as those referred to in the text: "Les philosophes mesmes ont recogneu certaines especes d'extases naturelles faictes par la vehemente application de l'esprit a la consideration des choses relevees. Une marque de la bonne et sainete extase est qu'elle ne se prend ny attache jamais tant a l'entendement qu'a la volonte, laquelle elle esmeut, eschauffe, et remplit d'une puissante affection envers Dieu; de maniere que si l'extase est plus belle que bonne, plus lumineuse qu'affective, elle est grandement douteuse et digne de soupcon."]

[Footnote 28: Some of my readers may find satisfaction in the following passage of Jeremy Taylor: "Indeed, when persons have long been softened with the continual droppings of religion, and their spirits made timorous and apt for impression by the assiduity of prayer, and the continual dyings of mortification—the fancy, which is a very great instrument of devotion, is kept continually warm, and in a disposition and aptitude to take fire, and to flame out in great ascents; and when they suffer transportations beyond the burdens and support of reason, they suffer they know not what, and call it what they please." Henry More, too, says that those who would "make their whole nature desolate of all animal figurations whatever," find only "a waste, silent solitude, and one uniform parchedness and vacuity. And yet, while a man fancies himself thus wholly Divine, he is not aware how he is even then held down by his animal nature; and that it is nothing but the stillness and fixedness of melancholy that thus abuses him, instead of the true Divine principle."]

[Footnote 29: Plato, Phaedrus, 244, 245; Ion, 534.]

[Footnote 30: Lacordaire, Conferences, xxxvii.]

[Footnote 31: Compare, too, the vigorous words of Henry More, the most mystical of the group: "He that misbelieves and lays aside clear and cautious reason in things that fall under the discussion of reason, upon the pretence of hankering after some higher principle (which, a thousand to one, proves but the infatuation of melancholy, and a superstitious hallucination), is as ridiculous as if he would not use his natural eyes about their proper object till the presence of some supernatural light, or till he had got a pair of spectacles made of the crystalline heaven, or of the caelum empyreum, to hang upon his nose for him to look through."]

[Footnote 32: There is, of course, a sense in which any strong feeling lifts us "above reason." But this is using "reason" in a loose manner.]

[Footnote 33: [Greek: ho nous basileus], says Plotinus.]

[Footnote 34: Roman Catholic writers can assert that "la plupart des contemplatifs etaient depourvus de toute culture litteraire." But their notion of "contemplation" is the passive reception of "supernatural favours,"—on which subject more will be said in Lectures IV. and VII.]

[Footnote 35: "Die Mystik ist formlose Speculation," Noack, Christliche Mystik, p. 18.]

[Footnote 36: The Atomists, from Epicurus downwards, have been especially odious to the mystics.]

[Footnote 37: The theory that time is real, but not space, leads us into grave difficulties. It is the root of the least satisfactory kind of evolutionary optimism, which forgets, in the first place, that the idea of perpetual progress in time is hopelessly at variance with what we know of the destiny of the world; and, in the second place, that a mere progressus is meaningless. Every created thing has its fixed goal in the realisation of the idea which was immanent in it from the first.]

[Footnote 38: Origen in Matth., Com. Series, 100; Contra Celsum, ii. 64. Referred to by Bigg, Christian Platonists of Alexandria, p. 191.]

[Footnote 39: Paradiso viii. 13—

"Io non m'accorsi del salire in ella; Ma d'esserv' entro mi fece assai fede La donna mia ch'io vidi far piu bella." ]

[Footnote 40: "Deo nihil opponitur," says Erigena.]

[Footnote 41: Compare Bradley, Appearance and Reality, where it is shown that the essential attributes of Reality are harmony and inclusiveness.]

[Footnote 42: I.e. "necessary" or "expedient."]

[Footnote 43: Life, vol. i. p. 55.]

[Footnote 44: J. Smith, Select Discourses, v. So Bernard says (De Consid. v. I), "quid opus est scalis tenenti iam solium?"]

[Footnote 45: Aug. De Libero Arbitrio, ii. 16, 17.]

[Footnote 46: Troilus and Cressida, Act III. Scene 3.]

[Footnote 47: This idea of the world as a living being is found in Plotinus: and Origen definitely teaches that "as our body, while consisting of many members, is yet an organism which is held together by one soul, so the universe is to be thought of as an immense living being which is upheld by the power and the Word of God." He also holds that the sun and stars are spiritual beings. St. Augustine, too (De Civitate Dei, iv. 12, vii. 5), regards the universe as a living organism; and the doctrine reappears much later in Giordano Bruno. According to this theory, we are subsidiary members of an all-embracing organism, and there may be intermediate will-centres between our own and that of the universal Ego. Among modern systems, that of Fechner is the one which seems to be most in accordance with these speculations. He views life under the figure of a number of concentric circles of consciousness, within an all-embracing circle which represents the consciousness of God.]

[Footnote 48: [Greek: psuches peirata ouk an exeuroio pasan epiporeuomenos hodon outo bathyn logon echei], Frag. 71.]

[Footnote 49: J.P. Richter, Selina. Compare, too, Lotze, Microcosmus: "Within us lurks a world whose form we imperfectly apprehend, and whose working, when in particular phases it comes under our notice, surprises us with foreshadowings of unknown depths in our being."]

[Footnote 50: As Lotze says, "The finite being does not contain in itself the conditions of its own existence." It must struggle to attain to complete personality; or rather, since personality belongs unconditionally only to God, to such a measure of personality as is allotted to us. Eternal life is nothing than the attainment of full personality, a conscious existence in God.]

[Footnote 51: J.A. Picton (The Mystery of Matter, p. 356) puts the matter well: "Mysticism consists in the spiritual realisation of a grander and a boundless unity, that humbles all self-assertion by dissolving it in a wider glory. It does not follow that the sense of individuality is necessarily weakened. But habitual contemplation of the Divine unity impresses men with the feeling that individuality is phenomenal only. Hence the paradox of Mysticism. For apart from this phenomenal individuality, we should not know our own nothingness, and personal life is good only through the bliss of being lost in God. [Rather, I should say, through the bliss of finding our true life, which is hid with Christ in God.] True religious worship doth not consist in the acknowledgment of a greatness which is estimated by comparison, but rather in the sense of a Being who surpasses all comparison, because He gives to phenomenal existences the only reality they can know. Hence the deepest religious feeling necessarily shrinks from thinking of God as a kind of gigantic Self amidst a host of minor selves. The very thought of such a thing is a mockery of the profoundest devotion."]

[Footnote 52: See, further, Appendix C, pp. 366-7.]

[Footnote 53: [Greek: hena genesthai ton anthropon dei]: Pythagoras quoted by Clement. Cf. Plotinus, Enn. vi. 9. I, [Greek: kai hugieia de, hotan eis hen syntachthe to soma, kai kallos hotan he tou henos ta moria katasche physis, kai arete de psyches hotan eis hen kai eis mian homologian henothe].]

[Footnote 54: Proclus, in Tim. 83. 265.]

[Footnote 55: Aug. Ep. 187. 19: "Deus totus adesse rebus omnibus potest, et singulis totus, quamvis in quibus habitat habeant eum pro suae capacitatis diversitate, alii amplius, alii minus." More clearly still, Bonaventura, Itin. ment. ad Deum, 5: "Totum intra omnia, et totum extra: ac per hoc est sphaera intelligibilis, cuius centrum est ubique, et circumferentia nusquam."]


[Greek: "To eu zen edidaxen epiphaneis os didaskalos, hina to aei zen husteron os theos choregese."]


"But souls that of His own good life partake He loves as His own self: dear as His eye They are to Him; He'll never them forsake: When they shall die, then God Himself shall die: They live, they live in blest eternity."


"Amor Patris Filiique, Par amborum, et utrique Compar et consimilis: Cuncta reples, cuncta foves, Astra regis, coelum moves, Permanens immobilis.

"Te docente nil obscurum, Te praesente nil impurum; Sub tua praesentia Gloriatur mens iucunda; Per te laeta, per te munda Gaudet conscientia.

"Consolator et fundator, Habitator et amator Cordium humilium; Pelle mala, terge sordes, Et discordes fac concordes, Et affer praesidium."



"That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled with all the fulness of God."—EPH. iii. 17-19.

The task which now lies before me is to consider how far that type of religion and religious philosophy, which I tried in my last Lecture to depict in outline, is represented in and sanctioned by Holy Scripture. I shall devote most of my time to the New Testament, for we shall not find very much to help us in the Old. The Jewish mind and character, in spite of its deeply religious bent, was alien to Mysticism. In the first place, the religion of Israel, passing from what has been called Henotheism—the worship of a national God—to true Monotheism, always maintained a rigid notion of individuality, both human and Divine. Even prophecy, which is mystical in its essence, was in the early period conceived as unmystically as possible, Balaam is merely a mouthpiece of God; his message is external to his personality, which remains antagonistic to it. And, secondly, the Jewish doctrine of ideas was different from the Platonic. The Jew believed that the world, and the whole course of history, existed from all eternity in the mind of God, but as an unrealised purpose, which was actualised by degrees as the scroll of events was unfurled. There was no notion that the visible was in any way inferior to the invisible, or lacking in reality. Even in its later phases, after it had been partially Hellenised, Jewish idealism tended to crystallise as Chiliasm, or in "Apocalypses," and not, like Platonism, in the dream of a perfect world existing "yonder." In fact, the Jewish view of the external world was mainly that of naive realism, but strongly pervaded by belief in an Almighty King and Judge. Moreover, the Jew had little sense of the Divine in nature: it was the power of God over nature which he was jealous to maintain. The majesty of the elemental forces was extolled in order to magnify the greater power of Him who made and could unmake them, and whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain. The weakness and insignificance of man, as contrasted with the tremendous power of God, is the reflection which the contemplation of nature generally produced in his mind. "How can a man be just with God?" asks Job; "which removeth the mountains, and they know it not; when He overturneth them in His anger; which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble; which commandeth the sun, and it riseth not, and sealeth up the stars.... He is not a man, as I am, that I should answer Him, that we should come together in judgment. There is no daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both." Nor does the answer that came to Job out of the whirlwind give any hint of a "daysman" betwixt man and God, but only enlarges on the presumption of man's wishing to understand the counsels of the Almighty. Absolute submission to a law which is entirely outside of us and beyond our comprehension, is the final lesson of the book.[56] The nation exhibited the merits and defects of this type. On the one hand, it showed a deep sense of the supremacy of the moral law, and of personal responsibility; a stubborn independence and faith in its mission; and a strong national spirit, combined with vigorous individuality; but with these virtues went a tendency to externalise both religion and the ideal of well-being: the former became a matter of forms and ceremonies; the latter, of worldly possessions. It was only after the collapse of the national polity that these ideals became transmuted and spiritualised. Those disasters, which at first seemed to indicate a hopeless estrangement between God and His people, were the means of a deeper reconciliation. We can trace the process, from the old proverb that "to see God is death," down to that remarkable passage in Jeremiah where the approaching advent, or rather restoration, of spiritual religion, is announced with all the solemnity due to so glorious a message. "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.... After those days, saith the Lord, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord.[57]" That this knowledge of God, and the assurance of blessedness which it brings, is the reward of righteousness and purity, is the chief message of the great prophets and psalmists. "Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil, he shall dwell on high; his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given unto him; his waters shall be sure. Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty; they shall behold the land that is very far off.[58]"

This passage of Isaiah bears a very close resemblance to the 15th and 24th Psalms; and there are many other psalms which have been dear to Christian mystics. In some of them we find the "amoris desiderium"—the thirst of the soul for God—which is the characteristic note of mystical devotion; in others, that longing for a safe refuge from the provoking of all men and the strife of tongues, which drove so many saints into the cloister. Many a solitary ascetic has prayed in the words of the 73rd Psalm: "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever." And verses like, "I will hearken what the Lord God will say concerning me," have been only too attractive to quietists. Other familiar verses will occur to most of us. I will only add that the warm faith and love which inspired these psalms is made more precious by the reverence for law which is part of the older inheritance of the Israelites.

There are many, I fear, to whom "the mystical element in the Old Testament" will suggest only the Cabbalistic lore of types and allegories which has been applied to all the canonical books, and with especial persistency and boldness to the Song of Solomon. I shall give my opinion upon this class of allegorism in the seventh Lecture of this course, which will deal with symbolism as a branch of Mysticism. It would be impossible to treat of it here without anticipating my discussion of a principle which has a much wider bearing than as a method of biblical exegesis. As to the Song of Solomon, its influence upon Christian Mysticism has been simply deplorable. A graceful romance in honour of true love was distorted into a precedent and sanction for giving way to hysterical emotions, in which sexual imagery was freely used to symbolise the relation between the soul and its Lord. Such aberrations are as alien to sane Mysticism as they are to sane exegesis.[59]

In Jewish writings of a later period, composed under Greek influence, we find plenty of Platonism ready to pass into Mysticism. But the Wisdom of Solomon does not fall within our subject, and what is necessary to be said about Philo and Alexandria will be said in the next Lecture. In the New Testament, it will be convenient to say a very few words on the Synoptic Gospels first, and afterwards to consider St. John and St. Paul, where we shall find most of our material.

The first three Gospels are not written in the religious dialect of Mysticism. It is all the more important to notice that the fundamental doctrines on which the system (if we may call it a system) rests, are all found in them. The vision of God is promised in the Sermon on the Mount, and promised only to those who are pure in heart. The indwelling presence of Christ, or of the Holy Spirit, is taught in several places; for instance—"The kingdom of God is within you"; "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them"; "Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world." The unity of Christ and His members is implied by the words, "Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me." Lastly, the great law of the moral world,—the law of gain through loss, of life through death,—which is the corner-stone of mystical (and, many have said, of Christian) ethics, is found in the Synoptists as well as in St. John. "Whosoever shall seek to gain his life (or soul) shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life (or soul) shall preserve it."

The Gospel of St. John—the "spiritual Gospel," as Clement already calls it—is the charter of Christian Mysticism. Indeed, Christian Mysticism, as I understand it, might almost be called Johannine Christianity; if it were not better to say that a Johannine Christianity is the ideal which the Christian mystic sets before himself. For we cannot but feel that there are deeper truths in this wonderful Gospel than have yet become part of the religious consciousness of mankind. Perhaps, as Origen says, no one can fully understand it who has not, like its author, lain upon the breast of Jesus. We are on holy ground when we are dealing with St. John's Gospel, and must step in fear and reverence. But though the breadth and depth and height of those sublime discourses are for those only who can mount up with wings as eagles to the summits of the spiritual life, so simple is the language and so large its scope, that even the wayfaring men, though fools, can hardly altogether err therein.

Let us consider briefly, first, what we learn from this Gospel about the nature of God, and then its teaching upon human salvation.

There are three notable expressions about God the Father in the Gospel and First Epistle of St. John: "God is Love"; "God is Light"; and "God is Spirit." The form of the sentences teaches us that these three qualities belong so intimately to the nature of God that they usher us into His immediate presence. We need not try to get behind them, or to rise above them into some more nebulous region in our search for the Absolute. Love, Light, and Spirit are for us names of God Himself. And observe that St. John does not, in applying these semi-abstract words to God, attenuate in the slightest degree His personality. God is Love, but He also exercises love. "God so loved the world." And He is not only the "white radiance" that "for ever shines"; He can "draw" us to Himself, and "send" His Son to bring us back to Him.

The word "Logos" does not occur in any of the discourses. The identification of Christ with the "Word" or "Reason" of the philosophers is St. John's own. But the statements in the prologue are all confirmed by our Lord's own words as reported by the evangelist. These fall under two heads, those which deal with the relation of Christ to the Father, and those which deal with His relation to the world. The pre-existence of Christ in glory at the right hand of God is proved by several declarations: "What if ye shall see the Son of Man ascending where He was before?" "And now, O Father, glorify Me with Thine own self, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was." His exaltation above time is shown by the solemn statement, "Before Abraham was, I am." And with regard to the world, we find in St. John the very important doctrine, which has never made its way into popular theology, that the Word is not merely the Instrument in the original creation,—"by (or through) Him all things were made,"—but the central Life, the Being in whom life existed and exists as an indestructible attribute, an underived prerogative,[60] the Mind or Wisdom who upholds and animates the universe without being lost in it. This doctrine, which is implied in other parts of St. John, seems to be stated explicitly in the prologue, though the words have been otherwise interpreted. "That which has come into existence," says St. John, "was in Him life" ([Greek: ho gegonen, en auto zoe en.]) That is to say, the Word is the timeless Life, of which the temporal world is a manifestation. This doctrine was taught by many of the Greek Fathers, as well as by Scotus Erigena and other speculative mystics. Even if, with the school of Antioch and most of the later commentators, we transfer the words [Greek: ho gegonen] to the preceding sentence, the doctrine that Christ is the life as well as the light of the world can be proved from St. John.[61] The world is the poem of the Word to the glory of the Father: in it, and by means of it, He displays in time all the riches which God has eternally put within Him.

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