« Prev Lecture IV. Christian Platonism and Speculative… Next »


[Greek: "Edizêsamên emeôuton."]


"La philosophie n'est pas philosophie si elle ne touche à l'abîme; mais elle cesse d'être philosophie si elle y tombe."


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


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


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




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

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

Scientific Mysticism in the West did not all pass through Dionysius. Victorinus, a Neoplatonic philosopher, was converted to Christianity in his old age, about 360 A.D. The story of his conversion, and the joy which it caused in the Christian community, is told by St. Augustine188188Conf. viii. 2-5. The best account of the theology of Victorinus is Gore's article in the Dictionary of Christian Biography.. He was a deep thinker of the speculative mystical type, but a clumsy and obscure writer, in spite of his rhetorical training. His importance lies in his position as the first Christian Neoplatonist who wrote in Latin.

The Trinitarian doctrine of Victorinus anticipates in a remarkable manner that of the later philosophical mystics. The Father, he says, eternally knows Himself in the Son. The Son is the self-objectification of God, the "forma" of God189189So Synesius calls the Son [Greek: patros morphê]., the utterance of the Absolute. The Father is "cessatio," "silentium," "quies"; but He is also "motus" while the Son is "motio." There is no contradiction between "motus" and "cessatio" since "motus" is not the same as "mutatio." "Movement" belongs to the "being" of God; and this eternal "movement" is the generation of the Son. This eternal generation is exalted above time. All life is now: we live always in the present, not in the past or future; and thus our life is a symbol of eternity, to which all things are for ever present190190"Non enim vivimus præteritum aut vivimus futurum, sed semper præsenti utimur." "Æternitas semper per præsentiam habet omnia et hæc semper.". The generation of the Son is at the same time the creation of the archetypal world; for the Son is the cosmic principle191191"Effectus est omnia," Victorinus says plainly., through whom all that potentially is is actualised. He even says that the Father is to the Son as [Greek: ho mê ôn] to [Greek: ho ôn], thus taking the step which Plotinus wished to avoid, and applying the same expression to the superessential God as to infra-essential matter.192192Victorinus must have got this phrase from some Greek Neoplatonist. It was explained that [Greek: to mê on] may be used in four senses, and that it is not intended to identify the two extremes. But the very remarkable passage in Hierotheus (referred to in Lecture III.) shows that the two categories of [Greek: aoristia] cannot be kept apart.

This actualisation is a self-limitation of God,193193"Ipse se ipsum circumterminavit." but involves no degradation. Victorinus uses language implying the subordination of the Son, but is strongly opposed to Arianism.

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

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

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

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

God is above all that can be said of Him. We must not even call Him ineffable;194194De Trin. vii. 4. 7; de Doctr. Christ. i. 5. 5; Serm. 52. 16; De Civ. Dei, ix. 16. He is best adored in silence,195195Contr. Adim. Man. 11. best known by nescience,196196De Ord. ii. 16. 44, 18. 47. best described by negatives.197197Enarrat. in Ps. 85. 12. God is absolutely immutable; this is a doctrine on which he often insists, and which pervades all his teaching about predestination. The world pre-existed from all eternity in the mind of God; in the Word of God, by whom all things were made, and who is immutable Truth, all things and events are stored up together unchangeably, and all are one. God sees the time-process not as a process, but gathered up into one harmonious whole. This seems very near to acosmism, but there are other passages which are intended to guard against this error. For instance, in the Confessions198198Conf. vii. 13 ad fin. he says that "things above are better than things below; but all creation together is better than things above"; that is to say, true reality is something higher than an abstract spirituality.199199Compare with this sentence of the Confessions the statement of Erigena quoted below, that "the things which are not are far better than those which are."

He is fond of speaking of the Beauty of God; and as he identifies beauty with symmetry,200200Ep. 120. 20. St. Augustine wrote in early life an essay "On the Beautiful and Fit," which he unhappily took no pains to preserve. it is plain that the formless "Infinite" is for him, as for every true Platonist, the bottom and not the top of the scale of being. Plotinus had perhaps been the first to speak of the Divine nature as the meeting-point of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful; and this conception, which is of great value, appears also in Augustine. There are three grades of beauty, they both say, corporeal, spiritual, and divine,201201De Ord. ii. 16. 42, 59; Plot. Enn. i. 6. 4. the first being an image of the second, and the second of the third.202202De Lib. Arb. ii. 16. 41; Plot. Enn. i. 6. 8, iii. 8. 11. "Righteousness is the truest beauty,203203Enarr. in Ps. xliv. 3; Ep. 120. 20. Plot. Enn. i. 6. 4, says with more picturesqueness than usual [Greek: kalon to tês dikaiosynês kai sôphrosynês prosôpon, kai oute hesperos oute eôos outô kala]. (From Aristotle, Eth. v. 1. 15.)" Augustine says more than once. "All that is beautiful comes from the highest Beauty, which is God." This is true Platonism, and points to Mysticism of the symbolic kind, which we must consider later. St. Augustine is on less secure ground when he says that evil is simply the splash of dark colour which gives relief to the picture; and when in other places he speaks of it as simple privation of good. But here again he closely follows Plotinus.204204Ench. iii. "etiam illud quod malum dicitur bene ordinatum est loco suo positum; eminentius commendat bona." St. Augustine also says (Ench. xi.), "cum omnino mali nomen non sit nisi privationis boni"; cf. Plot. Enn. iii. 2. 5, [Greek: holôs de to kakon elleipsin tou agathou theteon.] St. Augustine praises Plotinus for his teaching on the universality of Providence.

St. Augustine was not hostile to the idea of a World-Soul; he regards the universe as a living organism;205205De Civ. Dei, iv. 12, vii. 5. but he often warns his readers against identifying God and the world, or supposing that God is merely immanent in creation. The Neoplatonic teaching about the relation of individual souls to the World-Soul may have helped him to formulate his own teaching about the mystical union of Christians with Christ. His phrase is that Christ and the Church are "una persona."

St. Augustine arranges the ascent of the soul in seven stages.206206De Quantitate Animæ, xxx. But the higher steps are, as usual, purgation, illumination, and union. This last, which he calls "the vision and contemplation of truth," is "not a step, but the goal of the journey." When we have reached it, we shall understand the wholesomeness of the doctrines with which we were fed, as children with milk; the meaning of such "hard sayings" as the resurrection of the body will become plain to us. Of the blessedness which attends this state he says elsewhere,207207Conf. vii. 10. I have quoted Bigg's translation. "I entered, and beheld with the mysterious eye of my soul the light that never changes, above the eye of my soul, above my intelligence. It was something altogether different from any earthly illumination. It was higher than my intelligence because it made me, and I was lower because made by it. He who knows the truth knows that light, and he who knows that light knows eternity. Love knows that light." And again he says,208208Conf. xi. 9. "What is this which flashes in upon me, and thrills my heart without wounding it? I tremble and I burn; I tremble, feeling that I am unlike Him; I burn, feeling that I am like Him."

One more point must be mentioned before we leave St. Augustine. In spite of, or rather because of, his Platonism, he had nothing but contempt for the later Neoplatonism, the theurgic and theosophic apparatus of Iamblichus and his friends. I have said nothing yet about the extraordinary development of magic in all its branches, astrology, necromancy, table-rapping, and other kinds of divination, charms and amulets and witchcraft, which brought ridicule upon the last struggles of paganism. These aberrations of Nature-Mysticism will be dealt with in their later developments in my seventh Lecture. St. Augustine, after mentioning some nonsensical incantations of the "abracadabra" kind, says, "A Christian old woman is wiser than these philosophers." In truth, the spirit of Plato lived in, and not outside Christianity, even in the time of Porphyry. And on the cultus of angels and spirits, which was closely connected with theurgic superstition, St. Augustine's judgment is very instructive. "Whom should I find," he asks, "to reconcile me to Thee? Should I approach the angels? With what prayers, with what rites? Many, as I hear, have tried this method, and have come to crave for curious visions, and have been deceived, as they deserved.209209St. Augustine does not reject the belief that visions are granted by the mediation of angels, but he expresses himself with great caution on the subject. Cf. De Gen. ad litt. xii. 30, "Sunt quædam excellentia et merito divina, quæ demonstrant angeli miris modis: utrum visa sua facili quadam et præpotenti iunctione vel commixtione etiam nostra esse facientes, an scientes nescio quo modo nostram in spiritu nostro informar visionem, difficilis perceptu et difficilior dictu res est.""

In spite of St. Augustine's Platonism and the immense influence which he exercised, the Western Church was slow in developing a mystical theology. The Greek Mysticism, based on emanation, was not congenial to the Western mind, and the time of the German, with its philosophy of immanence, was not yet. The tendency of Eastern thinkers is to try to gain a view of reality as a whole, complete and entire: the form under which it most readily pictures it is that of space. The West seeks rather to discover the universal laws which in every part of the universe are working out their fulfilment. The form under which it most readily pictures reality is that of time.210210See Lotze, Microcosmus, bk. viii. chap. 4, and other places. We may perhaps compare the Johannine [Greek: kosmos] with the Synoptic [Greek: aiôn] as examples of the two modes of envisaging reality. Thus Neoplatonism had to undergo certain modifications before it could enter deeply into the religious consciousness of the West.

The next great name is that of John Scotus Erigena,211211Eriugena is, no doubt, the more correct spelling, but I have preferred to keep the name by which he is best known. an English or Irish monk, who in the ninth century translated Dionysius into Latin. Erigena is unquestionably one of the most remarkable figures of the Middle Ages. A bold and independent thinker, he made it his aim to elucidate the vague theories of Dionysius, and to present them as a consistent philosophical system worked out by the help of Aristotle and perhaps Boethius.212212Erigena quotes also Origen, the two Gregorys, Basil, Maximus, Ambrose, and Augustine. Of pagan philosophers he puts Plato first, but holds Aristotle in high honour. He intends, of course, to keep within the limits permitted to Christian speculation; but in reality he does not allow dogma to fetter him. The Christian Alexandrians were, on the whole, more orthodox than their language; Erigena's language partially veils the real audacity of his speculation. He is a mystic only by his intellectual affinities;213213Stöckl calls him "ein fälscher Mystiker," because the Neoplatonic ("gnostic-rationalistic") element takes, for him, the place of supernaturalism. This, as will be shown later, is in accordance with the Roman Catholic view of Mysticism, which is not that adopted in these Lectures. For us, Erigena's defect as a mystic is rather to be sought in his extreme intellectualism. the warmth of pious aspiration and love which makes Dionysius, amid all his extravagance, still a religious writer, has cooled entirely in Erigena. He can pray with fervour and eloquence for intellectual enlightenment; but there was nothing of the prophet or saint about him, to judge from his writings. Still, though one might dispute his title to be called either a Christian or a mystic, we must spare a few minutes to this last flower of Neoplatonism, which bloomed so late on our northern islands.

God, says Erigena, is called Essence or Being; but, strictly speaking, He is not "Being";214214"Dum vero (divina bonitas) incomprehensibilis intelligitur, per excellentiam non immerito nihilum vocitatur." for Being arises in opposition to not-Being, and there is no opposition to the Absolute, or God. Eternity, the abode or nature of God, is homogeneous and without parts, one, simple, and indivisible. "God is the totality of all things which are and are not, which can and cannot be. He is the similarity of the similar, the dissimilarity of the dissimilar, the opposition of opposites, and the contrariety of contraries. All discords are resolved when they are considered as parts of the universal harmony." All things begin from unity and end in unity: the Absolute can contain nothing self-contradictory. And so God cannot be called Goodness, for Goodness is opposed to Badness, and God is above this distinction. Goodness, however is a more comprehensive term than Being. There may be Goodness without Being, but not Being without Goodness; for Evil is the negation of Being. "The Scripture openly pronounces this," says Erigena; "for we read, God saw all things; and not, lo, they were, but, lo, they were very good." All things are, in so far as they are good. "But the things that are not are also called good, and are far better than those which are." Being, in fact, is a defect, "since it separates from the superessential Good." The feeling which prompts this strange expression is that since time and space are themselves onesided appearances, a fixed limit must be set to the amount of goodness and reality which can be represented under these conditions. Erigena therefore thinks that to enter the time-process must be to contract a certain admixture of unreality or evil. In so far as life involves separateness (not distinction), this must be true; but the manifold is only evil when it is discordant and antagonistic to unity. That the many-in-one should appear as the one-in-many, is the effect of the forms of time and space in which it appears; the statement that "the things which are not are far better than those which are," is only true in the sense that the world of appearance is permeated by evil as yet unsubdued, which in the Godhead exists only as something overcome or transmuted.

Erigena says that God is above all the categories, including that of relation. It follows that the Persons of the Trinity, which are only "relative names," are fused in the Absolute.215215This is really a revival of "modalism." The unorthodoxy of the doctrine becomes very apparent in some of Erigena's successors. We may make statements about God, if we remember that they are only metaphors; but whatever we deny about Him, we deny truly.216216De Div. Nat. i. 36: "Iamdudum inter nos est confectum omnia quæ vel sensu corporeo vel intellectu vel ratione cognoscuntur de Deo merito creatore omnium, posse prædicari, dum nihil eorum quæ de se prædicantur pura veritatis contemplatio eum approbat esse." All affirmations about God are made "non proprie sed translative"; all negations "non translative sed proprie." Cf. also ibid. i. 1. 66, "verius fideliusque negatur in omnibus quam affirmatur"; and especially ibid. i. 5. 26, "theophanias autem dico visibilium et invisibilium species, quarum ordine et pulcritudine cognoscitur Deus esse et invenitur non quid est, sed quia solummodo est." Erigena tries to say (in his atrocious Latin) that the external world can teach us nothing about God, except the bare fact of His existence. No passage could be found to illustrate more clearly the real tendencies of the negative road, and the purely subjective Mysticism connected with it. Erigena will not allow us to infer, from the order and beauty of the world, that order and beauty are Divine attributes. This is the "negative road" of Dionysius, from whom Erigena borrows a number of uncouth compounds. But we can see that he valued this method mainly as safeguarding the transcendence of God against pantheistic theories of immanence. The religious and practical aspects of the doctrine had little interest for him.

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

Creation he regards as a necessary self-realisation of God. "God was not," he says, "before He made the universe." The Son is the Idea of the World; "be assured," he says, "that the Word is the nature of all things." The primordial causes or ideas—Goodness, Being, Life, etc., in themselves, which the Father made in the Son—are in a sense the creators of the world, for the order of all things is established according to them. God created the world, not out of nothing, nor out of something, but out of Himself.217217But it must be remembered that Erigena calls God "nihilum." His words about creation are, "Ac sic de nihilo facit omnia, de sua videlicet superessentialitate producit essentias, de supervitalitate vitas, de superintellectualitate intellectus, de negatione omnium quæ sunt et quæ non sunt, affirmationes omnium quæ sunt et quæ non sunt." The creatures have always pre-existed "yonder" in the Word; God has only caused them to be realised in time and space.

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

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

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

Erigena is an admirable interpreter of the Alexandrians and of Dionysius, but he emphasises their most dangerous tendencies. We cannot be surprised that his books were condemned; it is more strange that the audacious theories which they repeat from Dionysius should have been allowed to pass without censure for so long. Indeed, the freedom of speculation accorded to the mystics forms a remarkable exception to the zeal for exact orthodoxy which characterised the general policy of the early Church. The explanation is that in the East Mysticism has seldom been revolutionary, and has compensated for its speculative audacity by the readiness of its outward conformity. Moreover, the theories of Dionysius about the earthly and heavenly hierarchies were by no means unwelcome to sacerdotalism. In the West things were different. Mysticism there has always been a spirit of reform, generally of revolt. There is much even in Erigena, whose main affinities were with the East, which forecasts the Reformation. He is the father, not only of Western Mysticism and scholasticism, but of rationalism as well.218218So Kaulich shows in his monograph on the speculative system of Erigena. But the danger which lurked in his speculations was not at first recognised. His book on predestination was condemned in 855 and 859 for its universalist doctrine,219219Erigena was roused by a work on predestination, written by Gotteschalk, and advocating Calvinistic views, to protest against the doctrine that God, who is life, can possibly predestine anyone to eternal death. and two hundred years later his Eucharistic doctrine, revived by Berengar, was censured.220220Berengar objected to the crudely materialistic theories of the real presence which were then prevalent. He protested against the statement that the transmutation of the elements takes place "vere et sensualiter," and that "portiunculæ" of the body of Christ lie upon the altar. "The mouth," he said, "receives the sacrament, the inner man the true body of Christ." But it was not till the thirteenth century that a general condemnation was passed upon him. This judgment followed the appearance of a strongly pantheistic or acosmistic school of mystics, chief among whom was Amalric of Bena, a master of theology at Paris about 1200. Amalric is a very interesting figure, for his teaching exhibits all the features which are most characteristic of extravagant Mysticism in the West—its strong belief in Divine immanence, not only in the Church, but in the individual; its uncompromising rationalism, contempt for ecclesiastical forms, and tendency to evolutionary optimism. Among the doctrines attributed to Amalric and his followers are a pantheistic identification of man with God, and a negation of matter; they were said to teach that unconsecrated bread was the body of Christ, and that God spoke through Ovid (a curious choice!), as well as through St. Augustine. They denied the resurrection of the body, and the traditional eschatology, saying that "he who has the knowledge of God in himself has paradise within him." They insisted on a progressive historical revelation—the reign of the Father began with Abraham, that of the Son with Christ, that of the Spirit with themselves. They despised sacraments, believing that the Spirit works without means. They taught that he who lives in love can do no wrong, and were suspected, probably truly, of the licentious conduct which naturally follows from such a doctrine. This antinomianism is no part of true Mysticism; but it is often found in conjunction with mystical speculation among the half-educated. It is the vulgar perversion of Plotinus' doctrine that matter is nothing, and that the highest part of our nature can take no stain.221221Similar teaching from the sacred books of the East is quoted by E. Caird, Evolution of Religion, vol. i. p. 355. We find evidence of immorality practised "in nomine caritatis" among the Gnostics and Manicheans of the first centuries, and these heresies never really became extinct. The sects of the "Free Spirit," who flourished later in the thirteenth century, had an even worse reputation than the Amalricians. They combined with their Pantheism a Determinism which destroyed all sense of responsibility. On the other hand, the followers of Ortlieb of Strassburg, about the same period, advocated an extreme asceticism based on a dualistic or Manichean view of the world; and they combined with this error an extreme rationalism, teaching that the historical Christ was a mere man; that the Gospel history has only a symbolical truth; that the soul only, without the body, is immortal; and that the Pope and his priests are servants of Satan.

The problem for the Church was how to encourage the warm love and faith of the mystics without giving the rein to these mischievous errors. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries produced several famous writers, who attempted to combine scholasticism and Mysticism.222222This is the accepted phrase for the work of the twelfth and thirteenth century theologians. We might also say that they modified uncompromising Platonic Realism by Aristotelian science. Cf. Harnack, History of Dogma, vol. vi. p. 43 (English translation): "Under what other auspices could this great structure be erected than under those of that Aristotelian Realism, which was at bottom a dialectic between the Platonic Realism and Nominalism; and which was represented as capable of uniting immanence and transcendence, history and miracle, the immutability of God and mutability, Idealism and Realism, reason and authority." The leaders in this attempt were Bernard,223223The great importance of Bernard in the history of Mysticism does not lie in the speculative side of his teaching, in which he depends almost entirely upon Augustine. His great achievement was to recall devout and loving contemplation to the image of the crucified Christ, and to found that worship of our Saviour as the "Bridegroom of the Soul," which in the next centuries inspired so much fervid devotion and lyrical sacred poetry. The romantic side of Mysticism, for good and for evil, received its greatest stimulus in Bernard's Poems and in his Sermons on the Canticles. This subject is dealt with in Appendix E. Hugo and Richard of St. Victor, Bonaventura, Albertus Magnus, and (later) Gerson. Their works are not of great value as contributions to religious philosophy, for the Schoolmen were too much afraid of their authorities—Catholic tradition and Aristotle—to probe difficulties to the bottom; and the mystics, who, by making the renewed life of the soul their starting-point, were more independent, were debarred, by their ignorance of Greek, from a first-hand knowledge of their intellectual ancestors. But in the history of Mysticism they hold an important place.224224Stöckl says of Hugo that the course of development of mediæval Mysticism cannot be understood without a knowledge of his writings. Stöckl's own account is very full and clear. Speculation being for them restricted within the limits of Church-dogma, they were obliged to be more psychological and less metaphysical than Dionysius or Erigena. The Victorines insist often on self-knowledge as the way to the knowledge of God and on self-purification as more important than philosophy. "The way to ascend to God," says Hugo, "is to descend into oneself.225225The "eye of contemplation" was given us "to see God within ourselves"; this eye has been blinded by sin. The "eye of reason" was given us "to see ourselves"; this has been injured by sin. Only the "eye flesh" remains in its pristine clearness. In things "above reason" we must trust to faith, "quæ non adiuvatur ratione ulla, quoniam non capit ea ratio."" "The ascent is through self above self," says Richard; we are to rise on stepping-stones of our dead selves to higher things. "Let him that thirsts to see God clean his mirror, let him make his own spirit bright," says Richard again. The Victorines do not disparage reason, which is the organ by which mankind in general apprehend the things of God; but they regard ecstatic contemplation as a supra-rational state or faculty, which can only be reached per mentis excessum, and in which the naked truth is seen, no longer in a glass darkly.226226Richard, who is more ecstatic than Hugo, gives the following account of this state: "Per mentis excessum extra semetipsum ductus homo … lumen non per speculum in ænigmate sed in simplici veritate contemplatur." In this state "we forget all that is without and all that is within us." Reason and all other faculties are obscured. What then is our security against delusions? "The transfigured Christ," he says, "must be accompanied by Moses and Elias"; that is to say, visions must not be believed which conflict with the authority of Scripture.

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

This sharp opposition between the natural and the supernatural, which is fully developed first by Richard of St. Victor, is the distinguishing feature of Catholic Mysticism. It is an abandonment of the great aim which the earlier Christian idealists had set before themselves, namely, to find spiritual law in the normal course of nature, and the motions of the Divine Word in the normal processes of mind. St. John's great doctrine of the Logos as a cosmic principle is now dropped. Roman Catholic apologists227227See, especially, Stöckl, Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters, vol. i. pp. 382-384. claim that Mysticism was thus set free from the "idealistic pantheism" of the Neoplatonist, and from the "Gnostic-Manichean dualism" which accompanies it. The world of space and time (they say) is no longer regarded, as it was by the Neoplatonist, as a fainter effluence from an ideal world, nor is human individuality endangered by theories of immanence. Both nature and man regain a sort of independence. We once more tread as free men on solid ground, while occasional "supernatural phenomena" are not wanting to testify to the existence of higher powers.

We have seen that the Logos-doctrine (as understood by St. Clement) is exceptionally liable to perversion; but the remedy of discarding it is worse than the disease. The unscriptural228228It is hardly necessary to point out that St. Paul's distinction between natural and spiritual (see esp. 1 Cor. ii.) is wholly different. and unphilosophical cleft between natural and supernatural introduces a more intractable dualism than that of Origen. The faculty which, according to this theory, possesses immediate intuition into the things of God is not only irresponsible to reason, but stands in no relation to it. It ushers us into an entirely new world, where the familiar criteria of truth and falsehood are inapplicable. And what it reveals to us is not a truer and deeper view of the actual, but a wholly independent cosmic principle which invades the world of experience as a disturbing force, spasmodically subverting the laws of nature in order to show its power over them.229229Contrast the Plotinian doctrine of ecstasy with the following: "Dieu élève à son grè aux plus hauts sommets, sans aucun mérite préalable. Osanne de Mantoue reçoit le don de la contemplation à peine agée de six ans. Christine est fiancée à dix ans, pendant une extase de trois jours; Marie d'Agrèda reçut des illuminations dès sa première enfance" (Ribet). Since Divine favours are believed to be bestowed in a purely arbitrary manner, the fancies of a child left alone in the dark are as good as the deepest intuitions of saint, poet, or philosopher. Moreover, God sometimes "asserts His liberty" by "elevating souls suddenly and without transition from the abyss of sin to the highest summits of perfection, just as in nature He asserts it by miracles" (Ribet). Such teaching is interesting as showing how the admission of caprice in the world of phenomena reacts upon the moral sense and depraves our conception of God and salvation. The faculty of contemplation, according to Roman Catholic teaching, is acquired "either by virtue or by gratuitous favour." The dualism of natural and supernatural thus allows men to claim independent merit, while the interventions of God are arbitrary and unaccountable. For as soon as the formless intuition of contemplation begins to express itself in symbols, these symbols, when untested by reason, are transformed into hallucinations. The warning of Plotinus, that "he who tries to rise above reason falls outside of it," receives a painful corroboration in such legends as that of St. Christina, who by reason of her extreme saintliness frequently soared over the tops of trees. The consideration of these alleged "mystical phenomena" belongs to objective Mysticism, which I hope to deal with in a later Lecture. Here I will only say that the scholastic-mystical doctrine of "supernatural" interventions, which at first sight seems so attractive, has led in practice to the most barbarous and ridiculous superstitions.230230Those who are interested to see how utterly defenceless this theory leaves us against the silliest delusions, may consult with advantage the Dictionary of Mysticism, by the Abbé Migne (passim), or, if they wish to ascend nearer to the fountain-head of these legends, there are the sixty folio volumes of Acta Sanctorum, compiled by the Bollandists. Görres and Ribet are also very full of these stories.

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

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

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

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

Gerson's psychology may be given in outline as follows: The cognitive power has three faculties: (1) simple intelligence or natural light, an outflow from the highest intelligence, God Himself; (2) the understanding, which is on the frontier between the two worlds; (3) sense-consciousness. To each of these three faculties answers one of the affective faculties: (1) synteresis;231231See Appendix C. (2) understanding, rational desire; (3) sense-affections. To these again correspond three activities: (1) contemplation; (2) meditation;232232The difference between contemplation and meditation is explained by all the mediæval mystics. Meditation is "discursive," contemplation is "mentis in Deum suspensæ elevatio." Richard of St. Victor states the distinction epigrammatically—"per meditationem rimamur, per contemplationem miramur." ("Admiratio est actus consequens contemplationem sublimis veritatis."—Thomas Aquinas.) (3) thought.

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

The "means of mystical theology" are seven: (i.) the call of God; (ii.) certainty that one is called to the contemplative life—all are not so; (iii.) freedom from encumbrances; (iv.) concentration of interests upon God; (v.) perseverance; (vi.) asceticism; but the body must not be maltreated if it is to be a good servant; (vii.) shutting the eye to all sense perceptions.233233This arbitrary schematism is very characteristic of this type of Mysticism, and shows its affinity to Indian philosophy. Compare "the eightfold path of Buddha," and a hundred other similar classifications in the sacred books of the East.

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

In this Lecture we are following the line of speculative Mysticism, and we have now to consider the greatest of all speculative mystics, Meister Eckhart, who was born soon after the middle of the thirteenth century.234234The date usually given, 1260, is probably too late; but the exact year cannot be determined. He was a Dominican monk, prior of Erfurt and vicar of Thuringen, and afterwards vicar-general for Bohemia. He preached a great deal at Cologne about 1325; and before this period had come into close relations with the Beghards and Brethren of the Free Spirit—societies of men and women who, by their implicit faith in the inner light, resembled the Quakers, though many of them, as has been said, were accused of immoral theories and practices. His teaching soon attracted the attention of the Inquisition, and some of his doctrines were formally condemned by the Pope in 1329, immediately after his death.

The aim of Eckhart's religious philosophy is to find a speculative basis for the doctrines of the Church, which shall at the same time satisfy the claims of spiritual religion. His aims are purely constructive, and he shows a distaste for polemical controversy. The writers whom he chiefly cites by name are Dionysius, Augustine, Gregory, and Boethius; but he must have read Erigena, and probably Averroes, writers to whom a Catholic could hardly confess his obligations.235235Prof. Karl Pearson (Mina, 1886) says, "The Mysticism of Eckhart owes its leading ideas to Averroes." He traces the doctrine of the [Greek: Nous poiêtikos] from Aristotle, de Anima, through the Arabs to Eckhart, and finds a close resemblance between the "prototypes" or "ideas" of Eckhart and the "Dinge an sich" of Kant. But Eckhart's affinities with Plotinus and Hegel seem to me to be closer than those which he shows with Aristotle and Kant. On the connexion with Averroes, Lasson says that while there is a close resemblance between the Eckhartian doctrine of the "Seelengrund" and Averroes' Intellectus Agens as the universal principle of reason in all men (monopsychism), they differ in this—that with Averroes personality is a phase or accident, but with Eckhart the eternal is immanent in the personality in such a way that the personality itself has a part in eternity (Meister Eckhart der Mystiker, pp. 348, 349). Personality is for Eckhart the eternal ground-form of all true being, and the notion of Person is the centre-point of his system. He says, "The word I am none can truly speak but God alone." The individual must try to become a person, as the Son of God is a Person. He also frequently introduces quotations with the words, "A master saith." The "master" is nearly always Thomas Aquinas, to whom Eckhart was no doubt greatly indebted, though it would be a great mistake to say, as some have done, that all Eckhart can be found in the Summa. For instance, he sets himself in opposition to Thomas about the "spark," which Thomas regarded as a faculty of the soul, while Eckhart, in his later writings, says that it is uncreated.236236Denifle has devoted great pains to proving that Eckhart in his Latin works is very largely dependent upon Aquinas. His conclusions are welcomed and gladly adopted by Harnack, who, like Ritschl, has little sympathy with the German mystics, and considers that Christian Mysticism is really "Catholic piety." "It will never be possible," he says, "to make Mysticism Protestant without flying in the face of history and Catholicism." No one certainly would be guilty of the absurdity of "making Mysticism Protestant"; but it is, I think, even more absurd to "make it (Roman) Catholic," though such a view may unite the suffrages of Romanists and Neo-Kantians. See Appendix A, p. 346. His double object leads him into some inconsistencies. Intellectually, he is drawn towards a semi-pantheistic idealism; his heart makes him an Evangelical Christian. But though it is possible to find contradictions in his writings, his transparent intellectual honesty and his great powers of thought, combined with deep devoutness and childlike purity of soul, make him one of the most interesting figures in the history of Christian philosophy.

Eckhart wrote in German; that is to say, he wrote for the public, and not for the learned only. His desire to be intelligible to the general reader led him to adopt an epigrammatic antithetic style, and to omit qualifying phrases. This is one reason why he laid himself open to so many accusations of heresy.237237Preger (vol. iii. p. 140) says that Eckhart did not try to be popular. But it is clear, I think, that he did try to make his philosophy intelligible to the average educated man, though his teaching is less ethical and more speculative than that of Tauler.

Eckhart distinguishes between "the Godhead" and "God." The Godhead is the abiding potentiality of Being, containing within Himself all distinctions, as yet undeveloped. He therefore cannot be the object of knowledge, nor of worship, being "Darkness" and "Formlessness.238238Sometimes he speaks of the Godhead as above the opposition of being and not being; but at other times he regards the Godhead as the universal Ground or Substance of the ideal world. "All things in God are one thing." "God is neither this nor that." Compare, too, the following passage: "(Gottes) einfeltige natur ist von formen formlos, von werden werdelos, von wesen wesenlos, und von sachen sachelos, und darum entgeht sie in allen werdenden dingen, und die endliche dinge müssen da enden."" The Triune God is evolved from the Godhead. The Son is the Word of the Father, His uttered thought; and the Holy Ghost is "the Flower of the Divine Tree," the mutual love which unites the Father and the Son. Eckhart quotes the words which St. Augustine makes Christ say of Himself: "I am come as a Word from the heart, as a ray from the sun, as heat from the fire, as fragrance from the flower, as a stream from a perennial fountain." He insists that the generation of the Son is a continual process.

The universe is the expression of the whole thought of the Father; it is the language of the Word. Eckhart loves startling phrases, and says boldly, "Nature is the lower part of the Godhead," and "Before creation, God was not God." These statements are not so crudely pantheistic as they sound. He argues that without the Son the Father would not be God, but only undeveloped potentiality of being. The three Persons are not merely accidents and modes of the Divine Substance, but are inherent in the Godhead.239239I here agree with Preger against Lasson. It seems to me to be one of the most important and characteristic parts of Eckhart's system, that the Trinity is not for him (as it was for Hierotheus) an emanation or appearance of the Absolute. But it is not to be denied that there are passages in Eckhart which support the other view. And so there can never have been a time when the Son was not. But the generation of the Son necessarily involves the creation of an ideal world; for the Son is Reason, and Reason is constituted by a cosmos of ideas. When Eckhart speaks of creation and of the world which had no beginning, he means, not the world of phenomena, but the world of ideas, in the Platonic sense. The ideal world is the complete expression of the thought of God, and is above space and time. He calls it "non-natured nature," as opposed to "diu genâ-tûrte nâtûre," the world of phenomena.240240Compare Spinoza's "natura naturata." Eckhart's doctrine here differs from that of Plotinus in a very important particular. The Neoplatonists always thought of emanation as a diffusion of rays from a sun, which necessarily decrease in heat and brightness as they recede from the central focus. It follows that the second Person of the Trinity, the [Greek: Nous] or Intelligence, is subordinate to the First, and the Third to the Second. But with Eckhart there is no subordination. The Son is the pure brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of His Person. "The eternal fountain of things is the Father; the image of things in Him is the Son, and love for this Image is the Holy Ghost." All created things abide "formless" (as possibilities) in the ground of the Godhead, and all are realised in the Son. The Alexandrian Fathers, in identifying the Logos with the Platonic [Greek: Nous], the bearer of the World-Idea, had found it difficult to avoid subordinating Him to the Father. Eckhart escapes this heresy, but in consequence his view of the world is more pantheistic. For his intelligible world is really God—it is the whole content of the Divine mind.241241The ideas are "uncreated creatures"; they are "creatures in God but not in themselves." Preger states Eckhart's doctrine thus: "Gott denkt sein Wesen in untergeordnete Weise nachahmbar, und der Reflex dieses Denkens in dem göttlichen Bewusstsein, die Vorstellungen hievon, sind die Ideen." But in what sense is the ideal world "subordinate"? The Son in Eckhart holds quite a different relation to the Father from that which the [Greek: Noûs] holds to "the One" in Plotinus, as the following sentence will show: "God is for ever working in one eternal Now; this working of His is giving birth to His Son; He bears Him at every moment. From this birth proceed all things. God has such delight therein that He uses up all His power in the process. He bears Himself out of Himself into Himself. He bears Himself continually in the Son; in Him He speaks all things." The following passage from Ruysbroek is an attempt to define more precisely the nature of the Eckhartian Ideas: Before the temporal creation God saw the creatures, "et agnovit distincte in seipso in alteritate quadam—non tamen omnimoda alteritate; quidquid enim in Deo est Deus est." Our eternal life remains "perpetuo in divina essentia sine discretione," but continually flows out "per æternam Verbi generationem." Ruysbroek also says clearly that creation is the embodiment of the whole mind of God: "Whatever lives in the Father hidden in the unity, lives in the Son 'in emanatione manifesta.'" The question has been much debated, whether Eckhart really falls into pantheism or not. The answer seems to me to depend on what is the obscurest part of his whole system—the relation of the phenomenal world to the world of ideas. He offers the Christian dogma of the Incarnation of the Logos as a kind of explanation of the passage of the "prototypes" into "externality." When God "speaks" His ideas, the phenomenal world arises. This is an incarnation. But the process by which the soul emancipates itself from the phenomenal and returns to the intelligible world, is also called a "begetting of the Son." Thus the whole process is a circular one—from God and back to God again. Time and space, he says, were created with the world. Material things are outside each other, spiritual things in each other. But these statements do not make it clear how Eckhart accounts for the imperfections of the phenomenal world, which he is precluded from explaining, as the Neoplatonists did, by a theory of emanation. Nor can we solve the difficulty by importing modern theories of evolution into his system. The idea of the world-history as a gradual realisation of the Divine Personality was foreign to Eckhart's thought. Stöckl, indeed, tries to father upon him the doctrine that the human mind is a necessary organ of the self-development of God. But this theory cannot be found in Eckhart. The "necessity" which impels God to "beget His Son" is not a physical but a moral necessity. "The good must needs impart itself," he says.242242It is true that Eckhart was censured for teaching "Deum sine ipso nihil facere posse"; but the notion of a real becoming of God in the human mind, and the attempt to solve the problem of evil on the theory of evolutionary optimism, are, I am convinced, alien to his philosophy. See, however, on the other side, Carrière, Die philosophische Weltanschauung der Reformationszeit, pp. 152-157. The fact is that his view of the world is much nearer to acosmism than to pantheism. "Nothing hinders us so much from the knowledge of God as time and place," he says. He sees in phenomena only the negation of being, and it is not clear how he can also regard them as the abode of the immanent God.243243See Lasson, Meister Eckhart, p. 351. Eckhart protests vigorously against the misrepresentation that he made the phenomenal world the Wesen of God, and uses strongly acosmistic language in self-defence. But there seems to be a real inconsistency in this side of his philosophy. It would probably be true to say that, like most mediæval thinkers, he did not feel himself obliged to give a permanent value to the transitory, and that the world, except as the temporary abode of immortal spirits, interested him but little. His neglect of history, including the earthly life of Christ, is not at all the result of scepticism about the miraculous. It is simply due to the feeling that the Divine process in the "everlasting Now" is a fact of immeasurably greater importance than any occurrence in the external world can be.

When a religious writer is suspected of pantheism, we naturally turn to his treatment of the problem of evil. To the true pantheist all is equally divine, and everything for the best or for the worst, it does not much matter which.244244I mean that a pantheist may with equal consistency call himself an optimist or a pessimist, or both alternately. Eckhart certainly does not mean to countenance this absurd theory, but there are passages in his writings which logically imply it; and we look in vain for any elucidation, in his doctrine of sin, of the dark places in his doctrine of God.245245As when he says, "In God all things are one, from angel to spider." The inquisitors were not slow to lay hold of this error. Among the twenty-six articles of the gravamen against Eckhart we find, "Item, in omni opere, etiam malo, manifestatur et relucet æqualiter gloria Dei." The word æqualiter the stamp of true pantheism. Eckhart, however, whether consistently or not, frequently asserts the transcendence of God. "God is in the creatures, but above them." "He is above all nature, and is not Himself nature," etc. In dealing with sin, he is confronted with the obvious difficulty that if it is the nature of all phenomenal things to return to God, from whom they proceeded, the process which he calls the birth of the Son ought logically to occur in every conscious individual, for all have a like phenomenal existence. He attempts to solve this puzzle by the hypothesis of a double aspect of the new birth (see below). But I fear there is some justice in Professor Pearson's comment, "Thus his phenomenology is shattered upon his practical theology." In fact, he adds very little to the Neoplatonic doctrine of the nature of evil. Like Dionysius, he identifies Being with Good, and evil, as such, with not-being. Moral evil is self-will: it is the attempt, on the part of the creature, to be a particular This or That outside of God.

But what is most distinctive in Eckhart's ethics is the new importance which is given to the doctrine of immanence. The human soul is a microcosm, which in a manner contains all things in itself. At the "apex of the mind" there is a Divine "spark," which is so closely akin to God that it is one with Him, and not merely united to Him.246246Other scholastics and mystics had taught that there is a residue of the Godlike in man. The idea of a central point of the soul appears in Plotinus and Augustine, and the word scintilla had been used of this faculty before Eckhart. The "synteresis" of Alexander of Hales, Bonaventura, Albertus Magnus, and Thomas Aquinas, was substantially the same. But there is this difference, that while the earlier writers regard this resemblance to God as only a residue, Eckhart regards it as the true Wesen of the soul, into which all its faculties may be transformed. In his teaching about this "ground of the soul" Eckhart wavers. His earlier view is that it is created, and only the medium by which God transforms us to Himself. But his later doctrine is that it is uncreated, the immanence of the Being and Nature of God Himself. "Diess Fünkelein, das ist Gott," he says once. This view was adopted by Ruysbroek, Suso, and (with modifications by) Tauler, and became one of their chief tenets.247247The following passage from Amiel (p. 44 of English edition) is an admirable commentary on the mystical doctrine of immanence:—"The centre of life is neither in thought nor in feeling nor in will, nor even in consciousness, so far as it thinks, feels, or wishes. For moral truth may have been penetrated and possessed in all these ways, and escape us still. Deeper even than consciousness, there is our being itself, our very substance, our nature. Only those truths which have entered into this last region, which have become ourselves, become spontaneous and involuntary, instinctive and unconscious, are really our life—that is to say, something more than our property. So long as we are able to distinguish any space whatever between the truth and us, we remain outside it. The thought, the feeling, the desire, the consciousness of life, are not yet quite life. But peace and repose can nowhere be found except in life and in eternal life, and the eternal life is the Divine life, is God. To become Divine is, then, the aim of life: then only can truth be said to be ours beyond the possibility of loss, because it is no longer outside of us, nor even in us, but we are it, and it is we; we ourselves are a truth, a will, a work of God. Liberty has become nature; the creature is one with its Creator—one through love." This spark is the organ by which our personality holds communion with God and knows Him. It is with reference to it that Eckhart uses the phrase which has so often been quoted to convict him of blasphemous self-deification—"the eye with which I see God is the same as that with which He sees me.248248No better exposition of the religious aspect of Eckhart's doctrine of immanence can be found than in Principal Caird's Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, pp. 244, 245, as the following extract will show: "There is therefore a sense in which we can say that the world of finite intelligence, though distinct from God, is still, in its ideal nature, one with Him. That which God creates, and by which He reveals the hidden treasures of His wisdom and love, is still not foreign to His own infinite life, but one with it. In the knowledge of the minds that know Him, in the self-surrender of the hearts that love Him, it is no paradox to affirm that He knows and loves Himself. As He is the origin and inspiration of every true thought and pure affection, of every experience in which we forget and rise above ourselves, so is He also of all these the end. If in one point of view religion is the work of man, in another it is the work of God. Its true significance is not apprehended till we pass beyond its origin in time and in the experience of a finite spirit, to see in it the revelation of the mind of God Himself. In the language of Scripture, 'It is God that worketh in us to will and to do of His good pleasure: all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself.'"" The "uncreated spark" is really the same as the grace of God, which raises us into a Godlike state. But this grace, according to Eckhart (at least in his later period), is God Himself acting like a human faculty in the soul, and transforming it so that "man himself becomes grace."

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

It is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure; but our own nature and personality remain intact. It is plain that we could not see God unless our personality remained distinct from the personality of God. Complete fusion is as destructive of the possibility of love and knowledge as complete separation249249Eckhart sees this (cf. Preger, vol. i. p. 421): "Personality in Eckhart is neither the faculties, nor the form (Bild), nor the essence, nor the nature of the Godhead, but it is rather the spirit which rises out of the essence, and is born by the irradiation of the form in the essence, which mingles itself with our nature and works by its means." The obscurity of this conception is not made any less by the distinction which Eckhart draws between the outer and inner consciousness in the personality. The outer consciousness is bound up with the earthly life; to it all images must come through sense; but in this way it can have no image of itself. But the higher consciousness is supra-temporal. The potential ground of the soul is and remains sinless; but the personality is also united to the bodily nature; its guilt is that it inclines to its sinful nature instead of to God..

Eckhart gives to "the highest reason250250Eckhart distinguishes the intellectus agens (diu wirkende Vernunft) from the passive (lîdende) intellect. The office of the former is to present perceptions to the latter, set out under the forms of time and space. In his Strassburg period, the spark or Ganster, the intellectus agens, diu oberste Vernunft, and synteresis, seem to be identical; but later he says, "The active intellect cannot give what it has not got. It cannot see two ideas together, but only one after another. But if God works in the place of the active intellect, He begets (in the mind) many ideas in one point." Thus the "spark" becomes supra-rational and uncreated—the Divine essence itself." the primacy among our faculties, and in his earlier period identifies it with "the spark." He asserts the absolute supremacy of reason more strongly than anyone since Erigena. His language on this subject resembles that of the Cambridge Platonists. "Reasonable knowledge is eternal life," he says. "How can any external revelation help me," he asks, "unless it be verified by inner experience? The last appeal must always be to the deepest part of my own being, and that is my reason." "The reason," he says, "presses ever upwards. It cannot rest content with goodness or wisdom, nor even with God Himself; it must penetrate to the Ground from whence all goodness and wisdom spring."

Thus Eckhart is not content with the knowledge of God which is mediated by Christ, but aspires to penetrate into the "Divine darkness" which underlies the manifestation of the Trinity. In fact, when he speaks of the imitation of Christ, he distinguishes between "the way of the manhood," which has to be followed by all, and "the way of the Godhead," which is for the mystic only. In this overbold aspiration to rise "from the Three to the One," he falls into the error which we have already noticed, and several passages in his writings advocate the quietistic self-simplification which belongs to this scheme of perfection. There are sentences in which he exhorts us to strip off all that comes to us from the senses, and to throw ourselves upon the heart of God, there to rest for ever, "hidden from all creatures251251The following sentence, for instance, is in the worst manner of Dionysius: "Thou shalt love God as He is, a non-God, a non-Spirit, a non-Person, a non-Form: He is absolute bare Unity." This is Eckhart's theory of the Absolute ("the Godhead") as distinguished from God. In these moods he wishes, like the Asiatic mystics, to sink in the bottomless sea of the Infinite. He also aspires to absolute [Greek: apatheia] (Abgeschiedenheit). "Is he sick? He is as fain to be sick as well. If a friend should die—in the name of God. If an eye should be knocked out—in the name of God." The soul has returned to its pre-natal condition, having rid itself of all "creatureliness."." But there are many other passages of an opposite tendency. He tells us that "the way of the manhood," which, of course, includes imitation of the active life of Christ, must be trodden first by all; he insists that in the state of union the faculties of the soul will act in a new and higher way, so that the personality is restored, not destroyed; and, lastly, he teaches that contemplation is only the means to a higher activity, and that this is, in fact, its object; "what a man has taken in by contemplation, that he pours out in love." There is no contradiction in the desire for rest combined with the desire for active service; for rest can only be defined as unimpeded activity; but in Eckhart there is, I think, a real inconsistency. The traditions of his philosophy pointed towards withdrawal from the world and from outward occupations—towards the monkish ideal, in a word; but the modern spirit was already astir within him. He preached in German to the general public, and his favourite themes are the present living operation of the Spirit, and the consecration of life in the world. There is, he shows, no contradiction between the active and the contemplative life; the former belongs to the faculties of the soul, the latter to its essence. In commenting on the story of Martha and Mary, those favourite types of activity and contemplation252252Many passages might be quoted. The ordinary conclusion is that Mary chose the better part, because activity is confined to this life, while contemplation lasts for ever. Augustine treats the story of Leah and Rachel in the same way (Contra Faust. Manich. xxii. 52): "Lia interpretatur Laborans, Rachel autem Visum principium, sive Verbum ex quo videtur principium. Actio ergo humanæ mortalisque vitæ … ipsa est Lia prior uxor Jacob; ac per hoc et infirmis oculis fuisse commemoratur. Spes vero æternæ contemplationis Dei, habens certam et delectabilem intelligentiam veritatis, ipsa est Rachel, unde etiam dicitur bona facie et pulcra specie," etc., he surprises us by putting Martha first. "Mary hath chosen the good part; that is," he says, "she is striving to be as holy as her sister. Mary is still at school: Martha has learnt her lesson. It is better to feed the hungry than to see even such visions as St. Paul saw." "Besser ein Lebemeister als tausend Lesemeister." He discourages monkish religiosity and external badges of saintliness—"avoid everything peculiar," he says, "in dress, food, and language." "You need not go into a desert and fast; a crowd is often more lonely than a wilderness, and small things harder to do than great." "What is the good of the dead bones of saints?" he asks, in the spirit of a sixteenth century reformer; "the dead can neither give nor take253253Moreover, he is never tired of insisting that the Will is everything. "If your will is right, you cannot go wrong," he says. "With the will I can do everything." "Love resides in the will—the more will, the more love." "There is nothing evil but the evil will, of which sin is the appearance." "The value of human life depends entirely on the aim which it sets before itself." This over-insistence on purity of intention as the end, as well as the beginning, of virtue, is no doubt connected with Eckhart's denial of reality and importance to the world of time; he tries to show that it does not logically lead to Antinomianism. His doctrine that good works have no value in themselves differs from those of Abelard and Bernard, which have a superficial resemblance to it. Eckhart really regards the Catholic doctrine of good works much as St. Paul treated the Pharisaic legalism; but he is as unconscious of the widening gulf which had already opened between Teutonic and Latin Christianity, as of the discredit which his own writings were to help to bring upon the monkish view of life.." This double aspect of Eckhart's teaching makes him particularly interesting; he seems to stand on the dividing-line between mediæval and modern Christianity.

Like other mystics, he insists that love, when perfect, is independent of the hope of reward, and he shows great freedom in handling Purgatory, Hell, and Heaven. They are states, not places; separation from God is the misery of hell, and each man is his own judge. "We would spiritualise everything," he says, with especial reference to Holy Scripture.254254As an example of his free handling of the Old Testament, I may quote, "Do not suppose that when God made heaven and earth and all things, He made one thing to-day and another to-morrow. Moses says so, of course, but he knew better; he only wrote that for the sake of the populace, who could not have understood otherwise. God merely willed and the world was."

In comparing the Mysticism of Eckhart with that of his predecessors, from Dionysius downwards, and of the scholastics down to Gerson, we find an obvious change in the disappearance of the long ladders of ascent, the graduated scales of virtues, faculties, and states of mind, which fill so large a place in those systems. These lists are the natural product of the imagination, when it plays upon the theory of emanation. But with Eckhart, as we have seen, the fundamental truth is the immanence of God Himself, not in the faculties, but in the ground of the soul. The "spark of the soul" is for him really "divinæ particula auræ." "God begets His Son in me," he is fond of saying: and there is no doubt that, relying on a verse in the seventeenth chapter of St. John, he regards this "begetting" as analogous to the eternal generation of the Son.255255E.g. "Da der vatter seynen sun in mir gebirt, da byn ich der selb sun und nitt eyn ander." This birth of the Son in the soul has a double aspect—the "eternal birth," which is unconscious and inalienable,256256So Hermann of Fritslar says that the soul has two faces, the one turned towards this world, the other immediately to God. In the latter God flows and shines eternally, whether man is conscious of it or not. It is therefore according to man's nature as possessed of this Divine ground, to seek God, his original; and even in hell the suffering there has its source in hopeless contradiction of this indestructible tendency. See Vaughan, vol. i. p. 256; and the same teaching in Tauler, p. 185. but which does not confer blessedness, being common to good and bad alike; and the assimilation of the faculties of the soul by the pervading presence of Christ, or in other words by grace, "quæ lux quædam deiformis est," as Ruysbroek says. The deification of our nature is therefore a thing to be striven for, and not given complete to start with; but it is important to observe that Eckhart places no intermediaries between man and God. "The Word is very nigh thee," nearer than any object of sense, and any human institutions; sink into thyself, and thou wilt find Him. The heavenly and earthly hierarchies of Dionysius, with the reverence for the priesthood which was built upon them, have no significance for Eckhart. In this as in other ways, he is a precursor of the Reformation.

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

« Prev Lecture IV. Christian Platonism and Speculative… Next »

| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |