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§ 103. Mysticism.


Literature: The Works of St. Bernard, Hugo and Richard of St. Victor, Rupert of Deutz, and also of Anselm, Bonaventura, Thomas Aquinas, all in Migne’s Patrology.—G. Arnold: Historie und Beschreibung d. myst. Theologie, Frankf., 1703.—H. Schmid: D. Mysticismus des Mittelalters, Jena, 1824.—J. Görres (Prof. of Hist. in Munich, founder of German ultramontanism, d. 1848): D. christl. Mystik, 4 vols. Regensb., 1836–1842. A product of the fancy rather than of sober historical investigation.—A. Helfferich: D. christl. Mystik, etc., 2 parts, Gotha, 1842. —R. A. Vaughn: Hours with the Mystics, Lond., 1856, 4th ed., no date, with preface by Wycliffe Vaughan .—Ludwig Noack: D. christl. Mystik nach ihrem geschichtl. Entwickelungsgang, 2 parts, Königsb., 1863.—J. Hamberger: Stimmen der Mystik, etc., 2 parts, Stuttg., 1857.—W. Preger: Gesch. der deutschen Mystik im Mittelalter, 3 vols. Leip., 1874–1893. The Mysticism of the twelfth and thirteenth cents. is given, vol. I 1–309.—Carl du Prel: D. Philosophie der Mystik, Leip., 1885.—W. R. Inge: Christ. Mysticism, Lond., 1899.—The Lives of Bernard, Hugo of St. Victor, etc.—The Histories of Doctrine of Schwane, Harnack, etc.


Side by side with the scholastic element in mediaeval theology was developed the mystical element. Mysticism aims at the immediate personal communion of the soul with the Infinite Spirit, through inward devotions and spiritual aspirations, by abstraction rather than by logical analysis, by adoration rather than by argument, with the heart rather than with the head, through the spiritual feelings rather than through intellectual prowess, through the immediate contact of the soul with God rather than through rites and ceremonies. The characteristic word to designate the activity of the mystic is devotion; of the scholastic, speculation. Mysticism looks less for God without and more for God within the breast. It relies upon experience rather than upon definitions.14191419    Harnack, Dogmengesch., III. 314 sqq., 373 sqq., turns to ridicule the alleged difference between scholasticism and mysticism. With the emotional or quietistic type of religion, die Pektoraltheologie, the cardiac theology, as the Germans call it, he has little sympathy. Piety, he says, is the starting-point of both and full knowledge their goal. He makes the brusque statement, p. 318, that "a mystic who does not become a Roman Catholic, is a dilettante." Ritschl had said before that there is "no normal mysticism except in connection with the hermit life. The love for it, widely prevalent among evangelical Christians, is dilettanteism."Pietismus, II. 12. Harnack, however, is willing to allow a distinction in the terms and to speak of scholasticism when the relation of God to the universe is thought of and of mysticism when we have in mind the union of the soul with God.icism is equally opposed to rationalism and to ritual formalism.

In the Apostle John and also in Paul we have the mystical element embodied. The centre of John’s theology is that God is love. The goal of the believer is to abide in Christ and to have Christ abide in him. The true mystic has felt. He is no visionary nor a dabbler in occultism. Nor is he a recluse. Neither the mystics of this period nor Eckart and Tauler of a later period seclude themselves from the course of human events and human society. Bernard and the theologians of St. Victor did not lose themselves in the absorption of ecstatic exercises, though they sought after complete and placid composure of soul under the influence of love for Christ and the pure contemplation of spiritual things. "God," said St. Bernard, "is more easily sought and found by prayer than by disputation." "God is known," said both Bernard and Hugo of St. Victor, "so far as He is loved." Dante placed Bernard still higher than Thomas Aquinas, the master of scholastic thought, and was led by him through prayer to the beatific vision of the Holy Trinity with which his Divine Comedy closes.14201420    Paradiso, XXXI. 130, XXXIII. 49, etc. Dr. Philip Schaff said, Lit. and Poetry, p. 232, "Bernard defended orthodox mysticism and the theology of the heart against speculative rationalism and the theology of the intellect in contrast with Peter Abaelard."

Augustine furnished the chief materials for the mystics of the Middle Ages as he did for the scholastics. It was he who said, "Thou hast made us for thyself and the heart is restless till it rests in Thee." For Aristotle, the mystics substituted Dionysius the Areopagite, the Christian Neo-Platonist, whose works were made accessible in Latin by Scotus Erigena.14211421    "The mediaeval mystics were steeped in Dionysius." Inge, p. 110.as strong in the greatest of the Schoolmen, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventura.

The Middle Ages took Rachel and Leah, Mary and Martha as the representatives of the contemplative and the active life, the conventual and the secular life, and also of the mystic and scholastic methods. Through the entire two periods of seven years, says Peter Damiani,14221422    De perf. monachi, VIII.; Migne, 145. 303.ion; that is, as it were, the embraces of the beautiful Rachel. These two periods stand for the Old and New Testament, the law and the grace of the Gospel. He who keeps the commandments of both at last comes into the embraces of Rachel long desired.

Richard of St. Victor devotes a whole treatise to the comparison between Rachel and Leah. Leah was the more fertile, Rachel the more comely. Leah represented the discipline of virtue, Rachel the doctrine of truth. Rachel stands for meditation, contemplation, spiritual apprehension, and insight; Leah for weeping, lamentation, repining, and grief. Rachel died in giving birth to Benjamin. So reason, after the pangs of ratiocination, dies in giving birth to religious devotion and ardor.14231423    De preparat. ad contemplationem sive Benjamin minor, I. 73; Migne, 196. 52.

This comparison was taken from Augustine, who said that Rachel stands for the joyous apprehension of the truth and, for that reason, was said to have a good face and beautiful form.14241424    C. Faus. Man., XXII. 52.ame family, dwelling together as did Mary and Martha.14251425    Sermo in Cant., 51, 2. See De consid., I, 1.

The scholastic theology was developed in connection with the school and the university, the mystic in connection with the convent. Clairvaux and St. Victor near Paris were the hearth-stones of mysticism. Within cloistral precincts were written the passionate hymns of the Middle Ages, and the eucharistic hymns of Thomas Aquinas are the utterances of the mystic and not of the Schoolman.

The leading mystical divines of this period were Bernard, Hugo and Richard of St. Victor, and Rupert of Deutz. Mystical in their whole tendency were also Joachim of Flore, Hildegard and Elizabeth of Schönau, who belong in a class by themselves.



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