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Mysticism and the Doctrine of Atonement
44AMONGST the problems which have to be met by those who incline to a mystical view of Christianity — that view which lays special emphasis on the growth and experience of the individual soul, its ascent to union with God, as the very aim and object of religion — one of the most pressing is that which centres on the doctrine of the Atonement. It is clear that many people feel that such a mystical and empirical view of religion leaves no room for this doctrine, or for the idea which it represents; that they are convinced that there is here a real conflict between two incompatible views of the Christian faith. On the one hand, they see orthodox Christianity still centred on the "atoning act" of Christ, with its implications of reconciliation and vicarious suffering, of the divine life humiliating itself, in order to do within the temporal order something for man which man cannot do for himself; a doctrine which retains its attraction and value, because so full of hope and mercy for the sinful and the weak. On the other hand, they see that demand of personal and individual growth, purification, life-enhancement, progressive union with God — helped doubtless by grace, but no less dependent on will — as the condition of attaining Eternal Life, which seems to be made by mystical theology. The opposition, in fact, is supposed to be between a concept of spiritual life in which each man must himself do and be, achieve and actualize in his own person, and not merely as the acceptor of a creed or the45member of a Church — must not only accept the gift, but must set himself to be an imitator, so far as he may, of the Giver — and one in which a special manifestation in time and space of the divine power and love, for Christians the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, does something for the man accepting it, which he cannot do for himself. In the one case, we are saved one by one, by effort, response, growth; in the other, we are saved as members of a group. Here the individual and the corporate ideals in their most intense forms face one another.
It does, then, seem at first as though we had here an irreconcilable opposition. Yet before we discard either of these ideas, it is worth while to enquire whether they need really entail conflict, or can be regarded as two sides of a greater whole. It is true that there are certain extreme views of the Atonement which do appear to be hopelessly irreconcilable with the mystical view of religion: especially those which lay peculiar stress, not on the latent powers, but on the essential impotence of man; centring the soul's salvation on " imputed righteousness," and finding the whole meaning and reason of the Incarnation in the one historical "propitiatory act" of Calvary. There is real conflict between such a creed, centred on the idea of something done once for all to the soul — to the world — from outside, and that which is centred on the idea of a life perpetually welling up in the soul, on growth, movement, organic change. Yet, on the other hand, is there not a curious similarity between these two apparently opposite views of salvation? Is not the drama of the divine life incarnate, humbling and limiting itself to the human life to save it, essentially a dramatic representation of that other experience, of the divine life limiting itself and mysteriously emerging within each soul, to transmute, regenerate, infinitize it, which the mystics describe to us? Is not what theologians call "grace" — that essential factor of the mystic life-process — a making46good by the addition of a new dower of transcendent vitality, of the shortcomings of the merely human creature regarded as an " inheritor of Eternal Life"; just as the historical surrender of Calvary is conceived by orthodox Christianity to make good the shortcomings of the whole race, regarded as heirs of the Kingdom? And if this be so, then can the opposition between these two ideas of salvation — the vital and the theological — be as real as it sometimes appears? Are they not both plans in which atonement plays a part?
After all, both these views of the Christian scheme have emerged and diverged from the same source. St. Paul, the greatest of all Christian mystics — soaked, too, in the idea of grace and of growth in grace, and deeply impressed with the fact of the soul's individual responsibility — is also supremely the theologian of the Atonement. Though no doubt his teaching on the subject was first called forth by the practical need of finding some meaning in the tragedy wf the crucifixion, it is yet a development of that profound conception of His own death as a filling up to the brim of the cup of sacrifice and surrender, which seems to have inspired Christ Himself. If there were indeed a fundamental inconsistency between these two ideas in their pure and original form, then St. Paul would be inconsistent; for he certainly held them both. We all know that the usual way of studying St. Paul's "doctrines" for purposes of edification has been to isolate each of his ardent and poetic utterances, place it, as it were, in cold storage till it is no longer reminiscent of the living mobile body from which it came, and then subject it to analysis. We are also beginning to know that this method is not quite fair to a man who was a poet, an artist, a lover, as well as a constructive genius of unequalled power. The Pauline utterances are mostly impassioned efforts to express something which Paul knows in his own person; descriptions of the way in which the Christian revelation has met his own needs, regenerated his own nature. They are closely connected with the interior47adventures which have attended on his new spiritual existence "in Christ." To adopt a well-known phrase of St. Bonaventura, they come "of grace, not of doctrine; of desire, not of intellect; of the ardours of prayer, not of the teaching of the schools." To put it in another way, they are the fruits of his mystical consciousness, which he is trying to express in artistic or intellectual terms. If we accept this statement then the fact of Paul's mystical experience and all that it means to him must never be absent from our minds when we are trying to understand his declarations. He lives in that supernal atmosphere which he calls " Christ-Spirit "; he speaks to us from that sphere. Nothing outside of it is real to him. Whatever its other bearings may be, his doctrine of Atonement is solidly real on that plane — the mystic's plane, the plane of union — or not at all. When he says he is "crucified with Christ," "hid in God with Christ," he means these things. They are not vaguely pious utterances, but desperate attempts towards the communication of a real state, really felt and known. Paul does feel himself welded together with that Transcendent Life, at once so intimate and personal, so infinite and universal, which he identifies with the glorified Jesus. Because of this union — and only because of it — the acts, powers, holiness, adventures of that life avail for him, Paul. He is a bit of its Body, in his own bold metaphor. So that the first great factor of salvation, as he sees it, is the essentially mystical factor of the "union" of the soul with Christ; the "doing away of the flame of separation." The Atonement follows, as it were almost logically, from this.
The general content of his letters makes us feel that St. Paul had an extremely rich, deep view of life; so great, indeed, that it refuses to be hammered into a consistent system, and we can never manage to embrace it all at once. Always bits get left out, and hence there is apt to be a certain distortion in all our views of the Pauline universe. There was a wonderful wholeness, a strongly affirmative quality48about his sense of existence; subtractions and negations were unnatural to him. Any paradoxes and inconsistencies which we find in his statements are the inevitable result of an effort to express the enormous sweep, the living multiplicity, and (to borrow a word from William James) the thickness of his vision of Reality. Hence it follows that he was able to see and treat the soul of man, both as intensely individual and responsible, and at the same time as a part of the body of all life; that "mystical body of many members" of which the head is Christ-Spirit, the Divine Humanity which appeared in Jesus — a corporation actualized in the Christian Church, but potentially co-extensive with the whole of mankind. These two — the separate and the corporate — are aspects of one whole. They seem to us to conflict, only because the totality to which they contribute is beyond the focus of the mind. Thus Paul could and did demand of the individual, on the one hand the self-mergence of faith, the corporate sense, the humble acknowledgment of personal impotence; and on the other hand, could demand of that same man the personal industry and self-dependence which "works out its own salvation," "runs for an imperishable garland," and "presses on towards the goal."
All through those passages in the Epistle to the Romans on which the doctrine of the Atonement was afterwards built, Paul seems to be trying to express — often by the use of traditional images, which of course revenge themselves upon his free handling of them, as imagery so often revenges itself upon poets — his vision of something supreme, some enormous uplift to eternal levels, some fundamental change, achieved by, for, in the human race. He has this vision just because, and in so far as, this supreme thing has been achieved by, for, in him, the mystic Paul. Behind the formula, we feel the first-hand experience. What is this crucial change? Surely it is the fundamental mystical achievement, the fundamental religious fact; the human49soul's conscious attainment of God. At bottom, atonement is wanted simply and solely to help man to do that; to enable the spirit of life to reach its goal. If we did not want God, we should be very well satisfied as we are: but we are not satisfied — "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts shall find no rest save in Thee." No doubt Paul's eschatological views, the whole tendency of his time, made him connect this achievement, which he knew at first hand, with the imminent coming of a Liberator. For him, it was part of the preparation, the new vitality already given to those who were destined to live the new life. Achieved in one, it permeated the whole "new race" of spiritual men; but this is only the interpretation which a complex of causes made him put upon the transcendent fact. The prominence given to Paul's legal imagery, its isolation from the general trend of his life and thought, has made us inclined to forget all this. But if we try to see Reality from his angle, to catch the wild accents of his enthusiasm and his love, the theory that he seriously held anything approaching what would be called a "commercial" theory of atonement falls to the ground at once. That he should sometimes have argued in this sense when cornered by Judaizing opponents, is likely enough: and it is characteristic of the mystical temperament to ignore the discrepancy between such intellectual exercises and the fundamental intuition by which it lives. Life and love are as much the key-words of Paul's system as they are of the Fourth Gospel itself. He was the noblest of souls; and we cannot imagine a soul with a spark of nobility wanting atonement as a buying-off of penalty incurred, as a paying by another of a debt which it owes, a mere saving of it from pain or any other retribution. The living, loving soul can only want atonement as a road-making act; a bridge thrown out to the infinite, on which man can travel to his home in God. Now, Paul had made that journey in the spirit. He knew already, at first hand, that Divine Reality was accessible50to him, and that this contact was the greatest thing in life. But he knew and felt, too, that however much he, Paul, had really achieved this new state, this fruition of Eternity, by difficult growth from within; yet first, he could never have done it at all without the enormous uplift of enhancing-grace, that new dower of energy which was poured in on him from beyond the confines of his own nature; and secondly, great though the change had been, yet it was nothing compared with the immeasurable human possibilities achieved in Christ.
For Paul, these two achievements — the victory of Christ and the victory of the Christian soul — are intimately connected. True, one is infinitely great, the other very little. Except Christ, "all have fallen short of the glory"; have failed to grow up to the "fullness of the stature," to actualize the immense spiritual possibilities of man. Still, we are all in the same line; partakers of the same kind of life, "grace" or immanent Spirit, and aiming, consciously or unconsciously, at the same goal — union with God. Now, total dependence on God, the centring of our whole interest and attention on
the Spiritual Order, is the very essence of union with Him. Everything short of that total dependence, that supreme rightness of relation, is trespass; a backing of the finite against the infinite. In the death of Jesus, that total dependence, that perfect relation, was completely achieved at last: the supreme mystic act, the self-donation of love, was done perfectly, and in this sense "once for all." Aleph, it is enough. The spirit of man, in this "new man," had overcome its limitations, the downward drag of instinct, and had leapt to the heights. This was the "redemption that is in Christ Jesus." In this unique vindication of humanity, this exhibition of regnant spirit overcoming the world, Christ-Spirit crowned with splendour all the tentative efforts of man, and, because
of the corporate nature of humanity, conferred that splendour on the race.
But there is far more in it than this. And first, the51Christian's achievement of God, such as it is — from that of the least of believers to that of the greatest of the mystical saints — is really and practically conditioned by the known fact and known character of the achievement of Christ. It is the addition of this fact, this distinct historic happening, to the racial consciousness, which makes possible the specially Christian apprehension of God; differentiates it, say, from that of a Hindu or a Neoplatonic saint. A reference to the phenomena of apperception will help us to understand this. As in the world of nature or art our perception of each new object is governed by the images and ideas already dominant within the mind, so, too, in the religious sphere. If Christians had not got the idea of Calvary in their consciousness — if the image of the surrender of Jesus, His sublime exhibition of love and faith, were not there first as a clue, something about which to group and arrange their spiritual intuitions — it would make a vital difference to their interpretation of the relation of the soul to God; and this means that the relation itself would be quite different for the conscious self, other elements would be stressed, and different results would flow from it. It is only because the sacrifice of Jesus is now part of the Christian's "apperceiving mass" — because, coming to the contemplation of the spiritual world, he inevitably brings the Cross with him — that he is able to make the characteristically Christian contact with God. That Christian contact is a direct gift to him, from the historic Person and the historic act. We approach the Transcendent Order with that, or, as Paul tersely puts it, "in Christ"; and our fruition of Reality results, not, as some extreme mystics have liked to think, from any "naked apprehension" — for naked apprehension has no meaning, no content, for the mind — but from a fusion of that which we bring with us and that to which we ascend; tradition and experience, the past and the present. Through love of Christ the Christian comes to the Cross, and through the Cross he enters a spiritual region he could not52reach in any other way. So we find that even for the most transcendental of Christian contemplatives, still "in the Cross all doth consist." It has for him a terror and a rapture which the judicious philosopher can never know; and reveals to him strange secrets beyond the province of philosophy.
" Vocce legendo, en croce legendo
nel libro che c'è ensanguinato
Ca essa scrittura me fa en natura
ed en filosofia conventato;
O libro signato che dentro se' aurato,
e tutto fiorito d'amore!"
That Cross gives the Infinite a colour which it did not have before. So, even from the point of view of the most hardened and thorough-going psychologist, Paul's statement that "through one act of righteousness, the free gift came unto all men" is literally accurate. It is true — and that not in any conjuring-trick sense, but in a sense which fulfils on highest levels life's basic laws — that "by the grace of one man" "the gift has abounded to the many," entincturing and altering the whole universe, and hence the whole experience, of every receptive soul; atoning for the faulty attitude, the imperfect love, of average man.
But still this is not all. There are other laws of life gathered up in, and redistributed from, this great lens. Essentially the idea which the Christ of the Gospels seems to have had of His own death is the idea of a making good of some general falling-short on life's part: a "filling-up of the cup" of sacrifice and surrender, to balance the other overflowing cup of error and sin. It is not only man's unaccomplished aim, but God's unaccomplished aim in life, which He is represented as fulfilling; and the fact that this conception owes a good deal to Old Testament prophecy need not invalidate its mystical truth. If we accept this idea, then, as well as showing individual man the way to perfect union with God — "building the bridge and reforming the road which leads to the Father's53heart," as St. Catherine of Siena has it — Christ in His willing death is somehow performing the very object of life, in the name of the whole race. The true business of an atoner is a constructive one. He is called upon to heal a disharmony; bridge a gap between two things which, though separate, desire to be one. Even the sacrificed animal of primitive religions seems most often to be a reconciling victim, the medium of union between the worshipper and his deity. In religions of a mystical type, then, the Atoner or Redeemer will surely be one who makes patent those latent possibilities of man which are at once the earnests of his future blessedness and the causes of his present unrest. He will achieve the completion and sublimation of our vague instinct for sacrifice and love, and thus bridge the space between that which is most divine in humanity and that which is most human in divinity; filling up the measure of that "glory," that real and divine life, of which we all fall short, yet without which we can never be content. Is not this again what St. Paul feels that Christ did? What he seems, at bottom, to see in the Passion — though the imagery by which he tries to communicate it often sounds harsh in our ears — is, the mysterious fulfilment of all cosmic meanings; the perfect surrender to infinite ideals of Man, the compound inhabitant of two possible orders of reality, who by this painful self-loss achieves perfect identifica- tion with the Divine will. This fulfilment was, as he distinctly tion with the Divine will. This fulfilment was, as he distinctly says, the duty and destiny of the human soul. All creation looks for it "with outstretched neck." But all have fallen short. Christ, the perfect man, does it, does what man was always meant to do; and because of the corporate character of humanity, in His utter transcendence of self-hood and of all finite categories He inevitably lifts up, to share His union with God, all who are in union with Him. The essence of the Atonement, then, would not lie so much in the sacrificial act as in the lift-up of the human spirit which that act guarantees; the new levels of life which it opens for the54race. "Much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved in his life," says Paul.
"In his life" a new summit has been conquered by humanity. But are we to stop there? Is not the attainment of that same summit, the achievement of that life-giving surrender to the Universal Spirit — "a life-giving life," Ruysbroeck calls it — just what the great mystics, following as well as they can the curve of the life of Christ, try to do according to their measure? Theirs, after all, is the vision which sees that "there is no other way to life but the way of the Cross," and that the human life of Christ is "the door by which all must come in." Thus the spiritual victory of the Cross is for them not so much a unique, as a pioneer act. It is the first heroic cutting of a road on which they are to travel as far as they can; not merely the vicarious setting-right of the balance between God and man, upset by man's wilful sin. In their ascent towards union with God, are not they road-makers, or at any rate road-menders, too? Are they not forging new links between two orders of reality, which are separate for the once-born consciousness? If so, then we may regard each one of them as a bit of the slowly achieved atonement of the race; that gradual pressing-on of humanity into the heart of the Transcendent Order. For Christians, this movement was initiated by Christ. But surely it is continued and helped by every soul in union with Him, even those who knew not His Name; and Julian of Norwich was right when she said that she knew she was "in the Cross with Him."
Two things are perpetually emphasized in modern presentations of religion. First, the stress tends more and more to be upon experience. Nothing which authority tells us is done for us truly counts, unless we feel and realize it as done in us. In so far as this is so, the tendency is to a mystical concept of religion; and, speaking generally, to just the concept of religion which is supposed to conflict with the idea of atonement55as usually understood. But, secondly, the social and corporate character of Christianity is strongly emphasized; and, where this corporate character is admired more than it is understood, mysticism is harshly criticized as the religion of the spiritual individualist, a "vertical relation," the "flight of the alone to the Alone." St. Paul's "completing opposites," in fact, are still in the foreground of our religious life; and so perhaps some re-statement of the solution by which he found room for both of them, and hence both for personal responsibility and atonement, may be possible and fruitful for us, too.
And first we notice that those enthusiasts for the corporate idea who condemn the mystics as religious egoists seem to forget that they are contradicting themselves; that if their vision of the Church of Christ as a mystical body be true, then the mystic's ascent to God cannot be a flight of the Alone. The poisonous implication of that phrase — true in its context but always misunderstood — has stuck like mud to the white robes of the saints. But the mystic is not merely a self going out on a solitary quest of Reality. He can, must, and does go only as a member of the whole body, performing as it were the function of a specialized organ. What he does, he does for all. He is, in fact, an atoner pure and simple: something stretched out to bridge a gap, something which makes good in a particular direction the general falling-short. The special kind of light or life which he receives, he receives for the race; and, conversely, the special growth which he is able to achieve comes from the race. He depends on it for his past; it depends on him for its future. All are part of life's great process of becoming; there are no breaks. Although there is perfect individualization, there is interpenetration too. His attainment is the attainment of the whole, pressing on behind him, supporting him. Thus — to take an obvious example — the achievement of peculiar sanctity by the member of a religious order is the achievement of that order in him; and this not in a fantastic and metaphorical56sense. The support of the Rule, the conditions of the life, the weight of tradition, the special characters which each religious family inherits from its Patriarch, have all contributed something to make the achievement possible; and are factors governing the type which that achievement assumes. We recognize the Cistercian stamp upon St. Bernard, the Dominican on Suso and Tauler, the Carmelite on St. John of the Cross. Each such case vindicates once more the incarnational principle; it is the true spirit of the community, flowering in this representative of theirs, which we see. Thus, as we may regard Christ from one point of view as supremely ideal Man incarnate — the "heavenly man " as Paul calls Him — summing up, fulfilling, lifting to new heights all that came before, and therefore actualizing all that humanity was ever intended to do, and changing for ever more the character of its future achievements; so, in a small way, we may regard St. Teresa as Carmel, the ideal Carmel, incarnate. Each is a concrete fact which atones for the falling-short of a whole type, and yet is conditioned by that type. The thought of what the Carmelite life was meant to do, the pressure of that idea seeking manifestation, did condition Teresa's achievement. Are we not also bound to say that the thought of the Jewish visions of an ideal humanity, of the Son of Man and the Suffering Servant, did condition the external accidents of the life and death of Christ?
So as to the past. Still more as to the future are the corporate and individual aspects of spiritual life inextricably twined together. As that done by one is an outbirth of the whole, so that done to one may avail for the whole. Only by staying within the circle of this thought — a thought which surely comes very close to the doctrine of Atonement — can we form a sane and broad idea of what the mystic, and the mystic's experience, mean for the race. Consider again the case of Teresa. As, even in a time and place of considerable monastic corruption — for no one who has read her life and57letters can regard the Convent of the Incarnation as a forcing house of the spiritual life — still the idea of her order conditioned her great and Godward-tending soul, and her dedicated life filled up the measure of its glory; yet more has Teresa's own, separate, unique achievement conditioned the spirit of her order ever since. All the saints which it has nourished have been salted with her salt. All that she won has flowed out from her in life-giving streams to others. She has been a regenerator of the religious life, has achieved the ideal of Richard Rolle, and become a "pipe of life" through which the living water can pass from God to man. Is not this, too, rather near the idea of Atonement, a curiously close and faithful imitation of Christ; especially when we consider the amount of unselfish suffering which such a career entails?
The objective of the Christian life, we say, is union with God: that paradoxical victory-in-surrender of love which translates us from finite to infinite levels. Most of us in this present life and in our own persons fall short of the glory of this. We are not all equally full of grace; we do not all grow up to the full stature of the Sons of God; and it is no use pretending that we do. But the mystical saint does achieve this, and by this act of mediation — this "vicarious" achievement, if you like to put it so — performed by a member of our social organism, the gift does really "abound unto the many." For what other purpose, indeed, are these apparently elect souls bred up? What other social value can we attribute to them than that which we see them actually possessing in history — the value, that is, of special instruments put forth by the race, to do or suffer something which the average self cannot do, but which humanity as a whole, in its Godward ascent, must, can, and shall do; ducts, too, whereby fresh spiritual energy flows in to mankind; eyes, open to visions beyond the span of average sight; parents of new life. Carlyle said that a hero was "a man sent hither58to make the divine mystery more impressively known to us" — to atone, in fact, for the inadequacy of our own perception of Reality, our perpetual relapses to lower levels of life; to make a bridge between us and the Transcendent Order. And when the hero as mystic does this, is he not in a special sense a close imitator of Christ?
We seem to have here the highest example of a principle which is operative through the whole of the seething complex of life, for there is a sense on which every great personality fulfils the function of an atoner. On the one hand he does something towards the making good of humanity's "falling short" in one direction or another; on the other hand, he gives to his fellow-men — adds to their universe — something which they did not possess before. Burke, speaking of the social contract, has said that society is a partnership in all science, all art, every virtue, and all perfection; and, since the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained but in many generations, it is a partnership between the living, the dead, and the unborn. "Each contract of each particular state," he says, "is but a clause in the great primæval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and the invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures each in their appointed place." In such a partnership — linking higher and lower, visible and invisible worlds in one — the creative spirits in every department of life may properly be called "atoners," for they have a corporate and racial value which is in exact proportion to their individual achievement of reality. Thus the great artist, or the great musician, really redeems his fellows from slavery to a lower level of colour, form, sound. He atones for their dullness towards that which has always been there, and endows them with new possibilities of vision and hearing; gives them, in fact, more abundant life; is the Door, the Way, to a wider universe. His creative acts59open new gates to the whole race. The fact that he has lived and worked has effected a permanent change in the stream of life, which can never again be that which it was before. If we were more accustomed, on the one hand, to look at the achievements of religious genius from the artistic and creative point of view, and on the other hand, to discern the work of the Holy Spirit in the artistic as well as the religious field, I believe that we should find a close parallel between the work of supreme personality redeeming spirit, and the work of the great artist redeeming sense, from servitude to old imperfections and disharmonies.
We might almost make it the test of true greatness, this wonderful power of flinging out the filaments of life in all directions; this way in which noble and creative personalities of every type seem to be so much more than themselves — to count for so much more than themselves — to be, in their generous activities, the servants of all life. They appear to be the sum of tendencies which preceded them; and to gather those tendencies to a focus and distribute them again, enhanced and re-directed, to succeeding generations of souls. Such a personality has to the full the divine power of giving and of taking. Whilst he seems specially original, it is always true that the past, the race, nourishes him to an enormous extent. Christ Himself conformed to this law. The great man is rooted in history, plaited up in the life of his own time: absorbs from the human as well as from the spiritual. His feet are in Time, though his head is in Eternity. He is never isolated and ring-fenced. Where he seems so, that appearance is found on examination to be deceptive, as Dr. Rufus Jones has shown in the case of Jacob Boehme, and Baron von Hugel in that of George Fox. So, again, the special act, vision, or experience of the spiritual genius never ends with him. He is a centre of divine fecundity — it is the mystics' own phrase. The touch of the divine life stimulates him to creation. He is a regenerator, a whirlpool of new forces, a60parent of new things. It seems that life's "tendency to lag behind," its tendency not to do its best, receives its corrective in all such great spirits; and the Christian atonement becomes the supreme, the divine manifestation of a vital law which we find operative on every level of existence.
If we acknowledge the extent to which Grace, Spirit, God, works on man through personality, through specific men — as a communication of transcendent vitality to certain souls ("elect," if you like) in order that they may bring forth new life, new vision, new goodness, may fertilize the race afresh---then shall we not expect to find that Christianity, being a vital, dynamic system, has exhibited and emphasized these facts throughout the whole of her great career? This outward thrust of great personalities from the social organism, these fresh unique saving contacts made by the individual in the name of the All, these sudden, incalculable, upward leaps of life, these changes in the national consciousness which the hero, poet, prophet can produce — we shall expect to find all this operative in the highest degree in the Christian Church. We shall expect to find her claiming for her greatest and most God-achieving spirits, not only special honour, but a special value, a special redeeming power in respect of the corporate body to which they belong; and this, of course, is exactly what we do find. The mystical saints, in fact, seem to provide us with a link between the doctrine of the Atonement — of the special racial value of the utterly surrendered life in God, which was once, and once only, perfectly achieved — and the doctrine of the Communion of Saints, or interpenetration and mutual help of all souls "in Christ." From these two ideas there follows of necessity that further doctrine of the "prevailing merits" of the saints, their special "atoning" value for other men, the corporate social work done by heroic virtue flowering in individual souls, which the Catholic Church has always deduced from them. At the back of both ideas we find the same fact; that Life and61Love, when supremely evoked within the temporal order, cannot keep themselves to themselves. Such life and such love have, in spite of their marked individuality, a profoundly social character; they are violently contagious; they spread, they interpenetrate, they transmute all selves that will receive them. They entincture the whole stream of duration, make good its shortcomings, make widening circles of splendour within the flux.
So, if we want to think of a Celestial Hierarchy, actual to us, founded in history, related with us by a thousand links, it is surely of the saints and the mystics that we ought to think; rising as it were in graduated orders, according to the strength and purity of their union with God, the fullness of their possession of Eternal Life, towards the Cross in which their tendencies are perfected and gathered up. These are amongst the highest values which life has given to us. The apostolic type; the men of action, dynamic manifestations of the Spirit. The prophetic type; men of supreme vision, enlarging the horizons of the world. The martyr-type; men of utter sacrifice and complete interior surrender. These are the three ways in which the mystical passion for God breaks out through humanity. These three types make good — atone for — our corporate spiritual shortcomings; redeem the dead level of that race which has thrust them forth towards the Infinite.
Perhaps it seems to us that their difference from us is too great; that they are cut off, divided by a chasm from the common experience of man to form an exclusive, "other-worldly" type. Their life rises up like a great mountain, full of beauty and strangeness; and ours is like the homely plain. But there is no break between the plain and the mountain. It is pushed out from us, it is part of us; its value is bound up with the value of the whole — with our value, as struggling, growing men. It, every inch of it, atones for our flatness and enhances the average level of the62race. We have all seen in Catholic countries how a sudden hill with a Calvary on its summit can glorify and atone for the whole landscape — so poor without it, so noble with it — from which it is lifted up. Now the Cross is, and remains, the central feature in the Christian landscape too: but is it not the long slope of that hill, going from the common level to the heights, which makes it so homely to us, so accessible to us, so supremely a part of us, and completes its task of linking humanity and divinity?
These are some of the reasons why the doctrine of Atonement seems to be closely bound up with the mystical vision of life, and hard to understand — whether we mean by it a spiritual principle or a historic event — without that mystical vision. We have Christianity saying to us, on the one hand, that the utmost ideal of humanity, the ideal of perfect self-donation to the purposes of Spirit, perfect self-surrender to the interests of the All, was completely and transcendently achieved in Jesus. In Him man leapt to the heights; and this unique attainment counts for the whole race. But, on the other hand, it says that all who can are called to go as far as they are able on the same road; to "fill up the measure of the sufferings," to "grow to the full stature," to "press on to the high calling" of the human soul. Through these more vital personalities — the mystics, the twice-born, the saints — the radiance of the spiritual streams out on the race; God speaks to man through man. Such personalities act as receivers and transmitters; they really and practically distribute the flashes of the Uncreated Light. Their activities are vicarious; they do atone for the disabilities of other men. Therefore the social value of the mystics, their place in the organism, is intimately connected with the atoning idea. Were it not for the principle which the doctrine of Atonement expresses, the mystics would be spiritual individualists, whose life and experience would be meaningless except for themselves. And were it not for the continuance of the mystical63life, the perpetual renewal of the mystical self-donation in love, its known value for the race, then the historic Atonement of Jesus would be an isolated act, unrelated to the great processes of the Spiritual World, of which it should form the crown.
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