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CHAPTER II

HISTORY AND THE LIFE OF THE SPIRIT

We have already agreed that, if we wish to grasp the real character of spiritual life, we must avoid the temptation to look at it as merely a historical subject. If it is what it claims to be, it is a form of eternal life, as constant, as accessible to us here and now, as in any so-called age of faith: therefore of actual and present importance, or else nothing at all. This is why I think that the approach to it through philosophy and psychology is so much to be preferred to the approach through pure history. Yet there is a sense in which we must not neglect such history; for here, if we try to enter by sympathy into the past, we can see the life of the Spirit emerging and being lived in all degrees of perfection and under many different forms. Here, through and behind the immense diversity of temperaments which it has transfigured, we can best realise its uniform and enduring character; and therefore our own possibility of attaining to it, and the way that we must tread so to do. History does not exhort us or explain to us, but exhibits living specimens to us; and these specimens witness again and again to the fact that a compelling power does exist in the world—little understood, even by those who are inspired by it—which presses men to transcend their material limitations and mental conflicts, and live a new creative life of harmony, freedom and joy. Directly human character emerges as one of man's prime interests, this possibility emerges too, and is never lost sight of again. Hindu, Buddhist, Egyptian, Greek, Alexandrian, Moslem and Christian all declare with more or less completeness a way of life, a path, a curve of development which shall end in its attainment; and history brings us face to face with the real and human men and women who have followed this way, and found its promise to be true.

It is, indeed, of supreme importance to us that these men and women did truly and actually thus grow, suffer and attain: did so feel the pressure of a more intense life, and the demand of a more authentic love. Their adventures, whatsoever addition legend may have made to them, belong at bottom to the realm of fact, of realistic happening, not of phantasy: and therefore speak not merely to our imagination but to our will. Unless the spiritual life were thus a part of history, it could only have for us the interest of a noble dream: an interest actually less than that of great poetry, for this has at least been given to us by man's hard passionate work of expressing in concrete image—and ever the more concrete, the greater his art—the results of his transcendental contacts with Beauty, Power or Love. Thus, as the tracking-out of a concrete life, a Man, from Nazareth to Calvary, made of Christianity a veritable human revelation of God and not a Gnostic answer to the riddle of the soul; so the real and solid men and women of the Spirit—eating, drinking, working, suffering, loving, each in the circumstances of their own time—are the earnests of our own latent destiny and powers, the ability of the Christian to "grow taller in Christ."4242 Everard, "Some Gospel Treasures Opened," p. 555 These powers—that ability—are factually present in the race, and are totally independent of the specific religious system which may best awaken, nourish, and cause them to grow.

In order, then, that we may be from the first clear of all suspicion of vague romancing about indefinite types of perfection and keep tight hold on concrete life, let us try to re-enter history, and look at the quality of life exhibited by some of these great examples of dynamic spirituality, and the movements which they initiated. It is true that we can only select from among them, but we will try to keep to those who have followed on highest levels a normal course; the upstanding types, varying much in temperament but little in aim and achievement, of that form of life which is re-made and controlled by the Spirit, entinctured with Eternal Life. If such a use of history is indeed to be educative for us, we must avoid the conventional view of it, as a mere chronicle of past events; and of historic personalities as stuffed specimens exhibited against a flat tapestried background, more or less picturesque, but always thought of in opposition to the concrete thickness of the modern world. We are not to think of spiritual epochs now closed; of ages of faith utterly separated from us; of saints as some peculiar species, God's pet animals, living in an incense-laden atmosphere and less vividly human and various than ourselves. Such conceptions are empty of historical content in the philosophic sense; and when we are dealing with the accredited heroes of the Spirit—that is to say, with the Saints—they are particularly common and particularly poisonous. As Benedetto Croce has observed, the very condition of the existence of real history is that the deed celebrated must live and be present in the soul of the historian; must be emotionally realized by him now, as a concrete fact weighted with significance. It must answer to a present, not to a past interest of the race, for thus alone can it convey to us some knowledge of its inward truth.

Consider from this point of view the case of Richard Rolle, who has been called the father of English mysticism. It is easy enough for those who regard spiritual history as dead chronicle and its subjects as something different from ourselves, to look upon Rolle's threefold experience of the soul's reaction to God—the heat of his quick love, the sweetness of his spiritual intercourse, the joyous melody with which it filled his austere, self-giving life—4343 Canor Dulcor, Canor; cf. Rolle: "The Fire of Love," Bk. 1, Cap. 14 as the probable result of the reaction of a neurotic temperament to mediæval traditions. But if, for instance the Oxford undergraduate of to-day realizes Rolle, not as a picturesque fourteenth-century hermit, but as a fellow-student—another Oxford undergraduate, separated from him only by an interval of time—who gave up that university and the career it could offer him, under the compulsion of another Wisdom and another Love, then he re-enters the living past. If, standing by him in that small hut in the Yorkshire wolds, from which the urgent message of new life spread through the north of England, he hears Rolle saying "Nought more profitable, nought merrier than grace of contemplation, the which lifteth us from low things and presenteth us to God. What thing is grace but beginning of joy? And what is perfection of joy but grace complete?"—4444 Rolle: "The Mending of Life," Cap. XII. if, I say, he so re-enters history that he can hear this as Rolle meant it, not as a poetic phrase but as a living fact, indeed life's very secret—then, his heart may be touched and he may begin to understand. And then it may occur to him that this ardour, and the sacrifice it impelled, the hard life which it supported, witness to another level of being; reprove his own languor and comfort, his contentment with a merely physical mental life, and are not wholly to be accounted for in terms of superstition or of pathology.

When the living spirit in us thus meets the living spirit of the past, our time-span is enlarged, and history is born and becomes contemporary; thus both widening and deepening our vital experience. It then becomes not only a real mode of life to us; but more than this, a mode of social life. Indeed, we can hardly hope without this re-entrance into the time stream to achieve by ourselves, and in defiance of tradition, a true integration of existence. Thus to defy tradition is to refuse all the gifts the past can make to us, and cut ourselves off from the cumulative experiences of the race. The Spirit, as Croce4545 Benedetto Croce: "Theory and History of Historiography," trans. by Douglas Ainslie, p. 25. reminds us, is history, makes history, and is also itself the living result of all preceding history; since Becoming is the essential reality, the creative formula, of that life in which we find ourselves immersed.

It is from such an angle as this that I wish to approach the historical aspect of the life of Spirit; re-entering the past by sympathetic imagination, refusing to be misled by superficial characteristics, but seeking the concrete factors of the regenerate life, the features which persist and have significance for it—getting, if we can, face to face with those intensely living men and women who have manifested it. This is not easy. In studying all such experience, we have to remember that the men and women of the Spirit are members of two orders. They have attachments both to time and to eternity. Their characteristic experiences indeed are non-temporal, but their feet are on the earth; the earth of their own day. Therefore two factors will inevitably appear in those experiences, one due to tradition, the other to the free movements of creative life: and we, if we would understand, must discriminate between them. In this power of taking from the past and pushing on to the future, the balance maintained between stability and novelty, we find one of their abiding characteristics. When this balance is broken—when there is either too complete a submission to tradition and authority, or too violent a rejection of it—full greatness is not achieved.

In complete lives, the two things overlap: and so perfectly that no sharp distinction is made between the gifts of authority and of fresh experience. Traditional formulæ, as we all know, are often used because they are found to tally with life, to light up dark corners of our own spirits and give names to experiences which we want to define. Ceremonial deeds are used to actualize free contacts with Reality. And we need not be surprised that they can do this; since tradition represents the crystallization, and handling on under symbols, of all the spiritual experiences of the race.

Therefore the man or woman of the Spirit will always accept and use some tradition; and unless he does so, he is not of much use to his fellow-men. He must not, then, be discredited on account of the symbolic system he adopts; but must be allowed to tell his news in his own way. We must not refuse to find reality within the Hindu's account of his joyous life-giving communion with Ram, any more than we refuse to find it within the Christian's description of his personal converse with Christ. We must not discredit the assurance which comes to the devout Buddhist who faithfully follows the Middle Way, or deny that Pagan sacramentalism was to its initiates a channel of grace. For all these are children of tradition, occupy a given place in the stream of history; and commonly they are better, not worse, for accepting this fact with all that it involves. And on the other hand, as we shall see when we come to discuss the laws of suggestion and the function of belief, the weight of tradition presses the loyal and humble soul which accepts it, to such an interpretation of its own spiritual intuitions as its Church, its creed, its environment give to it. Thus St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Teresa, even Ruysbroeck, are able to describe their intuitive communion with God in strictly Catholic terms; and by so doing renew, enrich and explicate the content of those terms for those who follow them. Those who could not harmonize their own vision of reality with the current formulæ—Fox, Wesley or Blake, driven into opposition by the sterility of the contemporary Church—were forced to find elsewhere some tradition through which to maintain contact with the past. Fox found it in the Bible; Wesley in patristic Christianity. Even Blake's prophetic system, when closely examined, is found to have many historic and Christian connections. And all these regarded themselves far less as bringers-in of novelty, than as restorers of lost truth. So we must be prepared to discriminate the element of novelty from the element of stability; the reality of the intuition, the curve of growth, the moral situation, from the traditional and often symbolic language in which it is given to us. The comparative method helps us towards this; and is thus not, as some would pretend, the servant of scepticism, but rightly used the revealer of the Spirit of Life in its variety of gifts. In this connection we might remember that time—like space—is only of secondary importance to us. Compared with the eons of preparation, the millions of years of our animal and sub-human existence, the life of the Spirit as it appears in human history might well be regarded as simultaneous rather than successive. We may borrow the imagery of Donne's great discourse on Eternity and say, that those heroic livers of the spiritual life whom we idly class in comparison with ourselves as antique, or mediæval men, were "but as a bed of flowers some gathered at six, some at seven, some at eight—all in one morning in respect of this day."4646 "Donne's Sermons," p. 236.

Such a view brings them more near to us, helps us to neglect mere differences of language and appearance, and grasp the warmly living and contemporary character of all historic truth. It preserves us, too, from the common error of discriminating between so-called "ages of faith" and our own. The more we study the past, the more clearly we recognize that there are no "ages of faith." Such labels merely represent the arbitrary cuts which we make in the time-stream, the arbitrary colours which we give to it. The spiritual man or woman is always fundamentally the same kind of man or woman; always reaching out with the same faith and love towards the heart of the same universe, though telling that faith and love in various tongues. He is far less the child of his time, than the transformer of it. His this-world business is to bring in novelty, new reality, fresh life. Yet, coming to fulfil not to destroy, he uses for this purpose the traditions, creeds, even the institutions of his day. But when he has done with them, they do not look the same as they did before. Christ himself has been well called a Constructive Revolutionary,4747 B.H. Streeter, in "The Spirit," p. 349 seq. yet each single element of His teaching can be found in Jewish tradition; and the noblest of His followers have the same character. Thus St. Francis of Assisi only sought consistently to apply the teaching of the New Testament, and St. Teresa that of the Carmelite Rule. Every element of Wesleyanism is to be found in primitive Christianity; and Wesleyanism is itself the tradition from which the new vigour of the Salvation Army sprang. The great regenerators of history are always in fundamental opposition to the common life of their day, for they demand by their very existence a return to first principles, a revolution in the ways of thinking and of acting common among men, a heroic consistency and single-mindedness: but they can use for their own fresh constructions and contacts with Eternal Life the material which this life offers to them. The experiments of St. Benedict, St. Francis, Fox or Wesley, were not therefore the natural products of ages of faith. They each represented the revolt of a heroic soul against surrounding apathy and decadence; an invasion of novelty; a sharp break with society, a new use of antique tradition depending on new contacts with the Spirit. Greatness is seldom in harmony with its own epoch, and spiritual greatness least of all. It is usually startlingly modern, even eccentric at the time at which it appears. We are accustomed to think of "The Imitation of Christ" as the classic expression of mediæval spirituality. But when Thomas à Kempis wrote his book, it was the manifesto of that which was called the Modern Devotion; and represented a new attempt to live the life of the Spirit, in opposition to surrounding apathy.

When we re-enter the past, what we find, there is the persistent conflict between this novelty and this apathy; that is to say between man's instinct for transcendence, in which we discern the pressure of the Spirit and the earnest of his future, and his tendency to lag behind towards animal levels, in which we see the influence of his racial past. So far as the individual is concerned, all that religion means by grace is resumed under the first head, much that it means by sin under the second head. And the most striking—though not the only—examples of the forward reach of life towards freedom (that is, of conquering grace) are those persons whom we call men and women of the Spirit. In them it is incarnate, and through them, as it were, it spreads and gives the race a lift: for their transfiguration is never for themselves alone, they impart it to all who follow them. But the downward falling movement ever dogs the emerging life of spirit; and tends to drag back to the average level the group these have vivified, when their influence is withdrawn. Hence the history of the Spirit—and, incidentally, the history of all churches—exhibits to us a series of strong movements towards completed life, inspired by vigorous and transcendent personalities; thwarted by the common indolence and tendency to mechanization, but perpetually renewed. We have no reason to suppose that this history is a closed book, or that the spiritual life struggling to emerge among ourselves will follow other laws.

We desire then, if we can, to discover what it was that these transcendent personalities possessed. We may think, from the point at which we now stand, that they had some things which were false, or, at least, were misinterpreted by them. We cannot without insincerity make their view of the universe our own. But, plainly, they also possessed truths and values which most of us have not: they obtained from their religion, whether we allow that it had as creed an absolute or a symbolic value, a power of living, a courage and clear vision, which we do not as a rule obtain. When we study the character and works of these men and women, observing their nobility, their sweetness, their power of endurance, their outflowing love, we must, unless we be utterly insensitive, perceive ourselves to be confronted by a quality of being which we do not possess. And when we are so fortunate as to meet one of them in the flesh, though his conduct is commonly more normal than our own, we know then with Plotinus that the soul has another life. Yet many of us accept the same creedal forms, use the same liturgies, acknowledge the same scale of values and same moral law. But as something, beyond what the ordinary man calls beauty rushes out to the great artist from the visible world, and he at this encounter becomes more vividly alive; so for these there was and is in religion a new, intenser life which they can reach. They seem to represent favourable variations, genuine movements of man towards new levels; a type of life and of greatness, which remains among the hoarded possibilities of the race.

Now the main questions which we have to ask of history fall into two groups:

First, Type. What are the characters which mark this life of the Spirit?

Secondly, Process. What is the line of development by which the individual comes to acquire and exhibit these characters?

First, then, the Spiritual Type.

What we see above all in these men and women, so frequently repeated that we may regard it as classic, is a perpetual serious heroic effort to integrate life about its highest factors. Their central quality and real source of power is this single-mindedness. They aim at God: the phrase is Ruysbroeck's, but it pervades the real literature of the Spirit. Thus it is the first principle of Hinduism that "the householder must keep touch with Brahma in all his actions."4848 "Autobiography of Maharishi Devendranath Tagore," Cap. 23. Thus the Sufi says he has but two laws—to look in one direction and to live in one way.4949 R.A. Nicholson: "Studies in Islamic Mysticism," Cap. i. Christians call this, and with reason, the Imitation of Christ; and it was in order to carry forward this imitation more perfectly that all the great Christian systems of spiritual training were framed. The New Testament leaves us in no doubt that the central fact of Our Lord's life was His abiding sense of direct connection with and responsibility to the Father; that His teaching and works of charity alike were inspired by this union; and that He declared it, not as a unique fact, but as a possible human ideal. This Is not a theological, but a historical statement, which applies, in its degree to every man and woman who has been a follower of Christ: for He was, as St. Paul has said, "the eldest in a vast family of brothers." The same single-minded effort and attainment meet us in other great faiths; though these may lack a historic ideal of perfect holiness and love. And by a paradox repeated again and again in human history, it is this utter devotion to the spiritual and eternal which is seen to bring forth the most abundant fruits in the temporal sphere; giving not only the strength to do difficult things, but that creative charity which "wins and redeems the unlovely by the power of its love."5050 Baron von Hügel In the "Hibbert Journal," July, 1921. The man or woman of prayer, the community devoted to it, tap some deep source of power and use it in the most practical ways. Thus, the only object of the Benedictine rule was the fostering of goodness in those who adopted it, the education of the soul; and it became one of the chief instruments in the civilization of Europe, carrying forward not only religion, but education, pure scholarship, art, and industrial reform. The object of St. Bernard's reform was the restoration of the life of prayer. His monks, going out into the waste places with no provision but their own faith, hope and charity, revived agriculture, established industry, literally compelled the wilderness to flower for God. The Brothers of the Common Life joined together, in order that, living simply and by their own industry, they might observe a rule of constant prayer: and they became in consequence a powerful educational influence. The object of Wesley and his first companions was by declaration the saving of their own souls and the living only to the glory of God; but they were impelled at once by this to practical deeds of mercy, and ultimately became the regenerators of religion in the English-speaking world.

It is well to emphasize this truth, for it conveys a lesson which we can learn from history at the present time with much profit to ourselves. It means that reconstruction of character and reorientation of attention must precede reconstruction of society; that the Sufi is right when he declares that the whole secret lies in looking in one direction and living in one way. Again and again it has been proved, that those who aim at God do better work than those who start with the declared intention of benefiting their fellow-men. We must be good before we can do good; be real before we can accomplish real things. No generalized benevolence, no social Christianity, however beautiful and devoted, can take the place of this centring of the spirit on eternal values; this humble, deliberate recourse to Reality. To suppose that it can do so, is to fly in the face of history and mistake effect for cause.

This brings us to the Second Character: the rich completeness of the spiritual life, the way in which it fuses and transfigures the complementary human tendencies to contemplation and action, the non-successive and successive aspects of reality. "The love of God," said Ruysbroeck, "is an indrawing and outpouring tide"5151 Ruysbroeck: "The Sparkling Stone," Cap. 10. ; and history endorses this. In its greatest representatives, the rhythm of adoration and work is seen in an accentuated form. These people seldom or never answer to the popular idea of idle contemplatives. They do not withdraw from the stream of natural life and effort, but plunge into it more deeply, seek its heart. They have powers of expression and creation, and use them to the full. St. Paul, St. Benedict, St. Bernard, St. Francis, St. Teresa, St. Ignatius organizing families which shall incarnate the gift of new life; Fox, Wesley and Booth striving to save other men; Mary Slessor driven by vocation from the Dundee mill to the African swamps—these are characteristic of them. We perceive that they are not specialists, as more earthly types of efficiency are apt to be. Theirs are rich natures, their touch on existence has often an artistic quality, St. Paul in his correspondence could break into poetry, as the only way of telling the truth. St. Jerome lived to the full the lives of scholar and of ascetic. St. Francis, in his perpetual missionary activities, still found time for his music songs; St. Hildegarde and St. Catherine of Siena had their strong political interests; Jacopone da Todi combined the careers of contemplative politician and poet. So too in practical matters. St. Catherine of Genoa was one of the first hospital administrators, St. Vincent de Paul a genius in the sphere of organized charity, Elizabeth Fry in that of prison reform. Brother Laurence assures us that he did his cooking the better for doing it in the Presence of God. Jacob Boehme was a hard-working cobbler, and afterwards as a writer showed amazing powers of composition. The perpetual journeyings and activities of Wesley reproduced in smaller compass the career of St. Paul: he was also an exact scholar and a practical educationist. Mary Slessor showed the quality of a ruler as well as that of a winner of souls. In the intellectual region, Richard of St. Victor was supreme in contemplation, and also a psychologist far in advance of his time. We are apt to forget the mystical side of Aquinas; who was poet and contemplative as well as scholastic philosopher.

And the third feature we notice about these men and women is, that this new power by which they lived was, as Ruysbroeck calls it, "a spreading light."5252 Ruysbroeck: "The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage," Bk. II, Cap. 39. It poured out of them, invading and illuminating other men: so that, through them, whole groups or societies were re-born, if only for a time, on to fresh levels of reality, goodness and power. Their own intense personal experience was valid not only for themselves. They belonged to that class of natural, leaders who are capable,—of infecting the herd with their own ideals; leading it to new feeding grounds, improving the common level It is indeed the main social function of the man or woman of the Spirit to be such a crowd-compeller In the highest sense; and, as the artist reveals new beauty to his fellow-men, to stimulate in their neighbours the latent human capacity for God. In every great surge forward to new life, we can trace back the radiance to such a single point of light; the transfiguration of an individual soul. Thus Christ's communion with His Father was the life-centre, the point of contact with Eternity, whence radiated the joy and power of the primitive Christian flock: the classic example of a corporate spiritual life. When the young man with great possessions asked Jesus, "What shall I do to be saved?" Jesus replied in effect, "Put aside all lesser interests, strip off unrealities, and come, give yourself the chance of catching the Infection of holiness from Me." Whatever be our view of Christian dogma, whatever meaning we attach to the words "redemption" and "atonement," we shall hardly deny that in the life and character of the historic Christ something new was thus evoked from, and added to, humanity. No one can read with attention the Gospel and the story of the primitive Church, without being struck by the consciousness of renovation, of enhancement, experienced by all who received the Christian secret in its charismatic stage. This new factor is sometimes called re-birth, sometimes grace, sometimes the power of the Spirit, sometimes being "in Christ." We misread history if we regard it either as a mere gust of emotional fervour, or a theological idea, or discount the "miracles of healing" and other proofs of enhanced power by which it was expressed. Everything goes to prove that the "more abundant life" offered by the Johannine Christ to His followers, was literally experienced by them; and was the source of their joy, their enthusiasm, their mutual love and power of endurance.

On lower levels, and through the inspiration of lesser teachers, history shows us the phenomena of primitive Christianity repeated again and again; both within and without the Christian circle of ideas. Every religion looks for, and most have possessed, some revealer of the Spirit; some Prophet, Buddha, Mahdi, or Messiah. In all, the characteristic demonstrations of the human power of transcendence—a supernatural life which can be lived by us—have begun in one person, who has become a creative centre mediating new life to his fellow-men: as were Buddha and Mohammed for the faiths which they founded. Such lives as those of St. Paul, St. Benedict, St. Francis, Fox, Wesley, Booth are outstanding examples of the operation of this law. The parable of the leaven is in fact an exact description of the way in which the spiritual consciousness—the supernatural urge—is observed to spread in human society. It is characteristic of the regenerate type, that he should as it were overflow his own boundaries and energize other souls: for the gift of a real and harmonized life pours out inevitably from those who possess it to other men. We notice that the great mystics recognize again and again such a fertilizing and creative power, as a mark of the soul's full vitality. It is not the personal rapture of the spiritual marriage, but rather the "divine fecundity" of one who is a parent of spiritual children; which seems to them the goal of human transcendence, and evidence of a life truly lived on eternal levels, in real union with God. "In the fourth and last degree of love the soul brings forth its children," says Richard of St. Victor.5353 R. of St. Victor: "De Quatuor Gradibus Violentæ Charitatis" (Migne, Pat. Lat.) T. 196, Col. 1216. "The last perfection to supervene upon a thing," says Aquinas, "is its becoming the cause of other things."5454"Summa Contra Gentiles," Bk. III, Cap. 21. In a word, it is creative. And the spiritual life as we see it in history is thus creative; the cause of other things.

History is full of examples of this law: that the man or woman of the spirit is, fundamentally, a life-giver; and all corporate achievement of the life of the spirit flows from some great apostle or initiator, is the fruit of discipleship. Such corporate achievement is a form of group consciousness, brought into being through the power and attraction of a fully harmonized life, infecting others with its own sharp sense of Divine reality. Poets and artists thus infect in a measure all those who yield to their influence. The active mystic, who is the poet of Eternal Life, does it in a supreme degree. Such a relation of master and disciples is conspicuous in every true spiritual revival; and is the link between the personal and corporate aspects of regeneration. We see it in the little flock that followed Christ, the Little Poor Men who followed Francis, the Friends of Fox, the army of General Booth. Not Christianity alone, but Hindu and Moslem history testify to this necessity. The Hindu who is drawn to the spiritual life must find a guru who can not only teach its laws but also give its atmosphere; and must accept his discipline in a spirit of obedience. The Sūfi neophyte is directed to place himself in the hands of his sheikh "as a corpse in the hands of the washer"; and all the great saints of Islam have been the inspiring centres of more or less organized groups.

History teaches us, in fact, that God most often educates men through men. We most easily recognize Spirit when it is perceived transfiguring human character, and most easily achieve it by means of sympathetic contagion. Though the new light may flash, as it seems, directly into the soul of the specially gifted or the inspired, this spontaneous outbreaking of novelty is comparatively rare; and even here, careful analysis will generally reveal the extent in which environment, tradition, teaching literary or oral, have prepared the way for it. There is no aptitude so great that it can afford to dispense with human experience and education. Even the noblest of the sons and daughters of God are also the sons and daughters of the race; and are helped by those who go before them. And as regards the generality, not isolated effort but the love and sincerity of the true spiritual teacher—and every man and woman of the Spirit is such a teacher within his own sphere of influence—the unselfconscious trust of the disciple, are the means by which the secret of full life has been handed on. "One loving spirit," said St. Augustine, "sets another on fire"; and expressed in this phrase the law which governs the spiritual history of man. This law finds notable expression in the phenomena of the Religious Order; a type of association, found in more or less perfection in every great religion, which has not received the attention it deserves from students of psychology. If we study the lives of those who founded these Orders—though such a foundation was not always intended by them—we notice one general characteristic: each was an enthusiast, abounding in zest and hope, and became in his lifetime a fount of regeneration, a source of spiritual infection, for those who came under his influence. In each the spiritual world was seen "through a temperament," and so mediated to the disciples; who shared so far as they were able the master's special secret and attitude to life. Thus St. Benedict's sane and generous outlook is crystallized in the Benedictine rule. St. Francis' deep sense of the connection between poverty and freedom gave Franciscan regeneration its peculiar character. The heroisms of the early Jesuit missionaries reflected the strong courageous temper of St. Ignatius. The rich contemplative life of Carmel is a direct inheritance from St. Teresa's mystical experience. The great Orders in their purity were families, inheriting and reproducing the salient qualities of their patriarch; who gave, as a father to his children, life stamped with his own characteristics.

Yet sooner or later after the withdrawal of its founder, the group appears to lose its spontaneous and enthusiastic character. Zest fails. Unless a fresh leader be forthcoming, it inevitably settles down again towards the general level of the herd. Thence it can only be roused by means of "reforms" or "revivals," the arrival of new, vigorous leaders, and the formation of new enthusiastic groups: for the bulk of men as we know them cannot or will not make the costing effort needed for a first-hand participation in eternal life. They want a "crowd-compeller" to lift them above themselves. Thus the history of Christianity is the history of successive spiritual group-formations, and their struggle to survive; from the time when Jesus of Nazareth formed His little flock with the avowed aim of "bringing in the Kingdom of God"—transmuting the mentality of the race, and so giving it more abundant life.

Christians appeal to the continued teaching and compelling power of their Master, the influence and infection of His spirit and atmosphere, as the greatest of the regenerative forces still at work within life: and this is undoubtedly true of those devout spirits able to maintain contact with the eternal world in prayer. The great speech of Serenus de Cressy in "John Inglesant" described once for all the highest type of Christian spirituality.5555 J.E. Shorthouse: "John Inglesant," Cap. 19. But in practice this link and this influence are too subtle for the mass of men. They must constantly be re-experienced by ardent and consecrated souls; and by them be mediated to fresh groups, formed within or without the institutional frame. Thus in the thirteenth century St. Francis, and in the fourteenth the Friends of God, created a true spiritual society within the Church, by restoring in themselves and their followers the lost consistency between Christian idea and Christian life. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Fox and Wesley possessed by the same essential vision, broke away from the institution which was no longer supple enough to meet their needs, and formed their fresh groups outside the old herd.

When such creative personalities appear and such groups are founded by them, the phenomena of the spiritual life reappear in their full vigour, and are disseminated. A new vitality, a fresh power of endurance, is seen in all who are drawn within the group and share its mind. This is what St. Paul seems to have meant, when he reminded his converts that they had the mind of Christ. The primitive friars, living under the influence of Francis, did practice the perfect poverty which is also perfect joy. The assured calm and willing sufferings of the early Christians were reproduced in the early Quakers, secure in their possession of the inner light. We know very well the essential characters of this fresh mentality; the power, the enthusiasm, the radiant joy, the indifference to pain and hardship it confers. But we can no more produce it from these raw materials than the chemist's crucible can produce life. The whole experience of St. Francis is implied in the Beatitudes. The secret of Elizabeth Fry is the secret of St. John. The doctrine of General Booth is fully stated by St. Paul. But it was not by referring inquirers to the pages of the New Testament that the first brought men fettered by things to experience the freedom of poverty; the second faced and tamed three hundred Newgate criminals, who seemed at her first visit "like wild beasts"; or the third created armies of the redeemed from the dregs of the London Slums. They did these things by direct personal contagion; and they will be done among us again when the triumphant power of Eternal Spirit is again exhibited, not in ideas but in human character.

I think, then, that history justifies us in regarding the full living of the spiritual life as implying at least these three characters. First, single-mindedness: to mean only God. Second, the full integration of the contemplative and active sides of existence, lifted up, harmonized, and completely consecrated to those interests which the self recognizes as Divine. Third, the power of reproducing this life; incorporating it in a group. Before we go on, we will look at one concrete example which illustrates all these points. This example is that of St. Benedict and the Order which he founded; for in the rounded completeness of his life and system we see what should be the normal life of the Spirit, and its result.

Benedict was born in times not unlike our own, when wars had shaken civilization, the arts of peace were unsettled, religion was at a low ebb. As a young man, he experienced an intense revulsion from the vicious futility of Roman society, fled into the hills, and lived in a cave for three years alone with his thoughts of God. It would be easy to regard him as an eccentric boy: but he was adjusting himself to the real centre of his life. Gradually others who longed for a more real existence joined him, and he divided them into groups of twelve, and settled them in small houses; giving them a time-table by which to live, which should make possible a full and balanced existence of body, mind and soul. Thanks to those years of retreat and preparation, he knew what he wanted and what he ought to do; and they ushered in a long life of intense mental and spiritual activity. His houses were schools, which taught the service of God and the perfecting of the soul as the aims of life. His rule, in which genial human tolerance, gentle courtesy, and a profound understanding of men are not less marked than lofty spirituality, is the classic statement of all that the Christian spiritual life implies and should be.5656 Cf. Delatte: "The Rule of St. Benedict"; and C. Butler: "Benedictine Monachism."

What, then, is the character of the life which St. Benedict proposed as a remedy for the human failure and disharmony that he saw around him? It was framed, of course, for a celibate community: but it has many permanent features which are unaffected by his limitation. It offers balanced opportunities of development to the body, the mind and the spirit; laying equal emphasis on hard work, study, and prayer. It aims at a robust completeness, not at the production of professional ascetics; indeed, its Rule says little about physical austerities, insists on sufficient food and rest, and countenances no extremes. According to Abbot Butler, St. Benedict's day was divided into three and a half hours for public worship, four and a half for reading and meditation, six and a half for manual work, eight and a half for sleep, and one hour for meals. So that in spite of the time devoted to spiritual and mental interests, the primitive Benedictine did a good day's work and had a good night's rest at the end of it. The work might be anything that wanted doing, so long as the hours of prayer were not infringed. Agriculture, scholarship, education, handicrafts and art have all been done perfectly by St. Benedict's sons, working and willing in quiet love. This is what one of the greatest constructive minds of Christendom regarded as a reasonable way of life; a frame within which the loftiest human faculties could grow, and man's spirit achieve that harmony with God which is its goal. Moreover, this life was to be social. It was in the beginning just the busy useful life of an Italian farm, lived in groups—in monastic families, under the rule and inspiration not of a Master but of an Abbot; a Father who really was the spiritual parent of his monks, and sought to train them in the humility, obedience, self-denial and gentle suppleness of character which are the authentic fruits of the Spirit. This ideal, it seems to me, has something still to say to us; some reproof to administer to our hurried and muddled existence, our confusion of values, our failure to find time for reality. We shall find in it and its creator, if we look, all those marks of the regenerate life of the Spirit which history has shown to us as normal: namely the transcendent aim, the balanced career of action and contemplation, the creative power, and above all the principle of social solidarity and discipleship.

We go on to ask history what it has to tell us on the second point, the process by which the individual normally develops this life of the Spirit, the serial changes it demands; for plainly, to know this is of practical importance to us. The full inwardness of these changes will be considered when we come to the personal aspect of the spiritual life. Now we are only concerned to notice that history tends to establish the constant recurrence of a normal process, recognizable alike in great and small personalities under the various labels which have been given to it, by which the self moves from its usually exclusive correspondence with the temporal order to those full correspondences with reality, that union with God, characteristic of the spiritual life. This life we must believe in some form and degree to be possible for all; but we study it best on heroic levels, for here its moments are best marked and its fullest records survive.

The first moment of this process seems to be, that man falls out of love with life as he has commonly lived it, and the world as he has known it. Dissatisfaction and disillusion possess him; the negative marks of his nascent intuition of another life, for which he is intended but which he has not yet found. We see this initial phase very well in St. Benedict, disgusted by the meaningless life of Roman society; in St. Francis, abandoning his gay and successful social existence; in Richard Rolle, turning suddenly from scholarship to a hermit's life; in the restless misery of St. Catherine of Genoa; in Fox, desperately seeking "something that could speak to his condition"; and also in two outstanding examples from modern India, those of the Maharishi Devendranath Tagore and the Sadhu Sundar Singh. This dissatisfaction, sometimes associated with the negative vision or conviction of sin, sometimes with the positive longing for holiness and peace, is the mental preparation of conversion; which, though not a constant, is at least a characteristic feature of the beginning of the spiritual life as seen in history. We might, indeed, expect some crucial change of attitude, some inner crisis, to mark the beginning of a new life which is to aim only at God. Here too we find one motive of that movement of world-abandonment which so commonly follows conversion, especially in heroic souls. Thus St. Paul hides himself in Arabia; St. Benedict retires for three years to the cave at Subiaco; St. Ignatius to Manresa. Gerard Groot, the brilliant and wealthy young Dutchman who founded the brotherhood of the Common Life, began his new life by self-seclusion in a Carthusian cell. St. Catherine of Siena at first lived solitary in her own room. St. Francis with dramatic completeness abandoned his whole past, even the clothing that was part of it. Jacopone da Todi, the prosperous lawyer converted to Christ's poverty, resorted to the most grotesque devices to express his utter separation from the world. Others, it is true, have chosen quieter methods, and found in that which St. Catherine calls the cell of self-knowledge the solitude they required; but some decisive break was imperative for all. History assures us that there is no easy sliding into the life of the Spirit.

A secondary cause of such world refusal is the first awakening of the contemplative powers; the intuition of Eternity, hitherto dormant, and felt at this stage to be—in its overwhelming reality and appeal—in conflict with the unreal world and unsublimated active life. This is the controlling idea of the hermit and recluse. It is well seen in St. Teresa; whom her biographers describe as torn, for years, between the interests of human intercourse and the imperative inner voice urging her to solitary self-discipline and prayer. So we may say that in the beginning of the life of the Spirit, as history shows it to us, if disillusion marks the first moment, some measure of asceticism, of world-refusal and painful self-schooling, is likely to mark the second moment.

What we are watching is the complete reconstruction of personality; a personality that has generally grown into the wrong shape. This is likely to be a hard and painful business; and indeed history assures us that it is, and further that the spiritual life is never achieved by taking the line of least resistance and basking in the divine light. With world-refusal, then, is intimately connected stern moral conflict; often lasting for years, and having as its object the conquest of selfhood in all its insidious forms. "Take one step out of yourself," say the Sūfis, "and you will arrive at God."5757 R.A. Nicholson: "Studies in Islamic Mysticism," Cap. 1. This one step is the most difficult act of life; yet urged by love, man has taken it again and again. This phase is so familiar to every reader of spiritual biography, that I need not insist upon it. "In the field of this body," says Kabir, "a great war goes forward, against passion, anger, pride and greed. It is in the Kingdom of Truth, Contentment and Purity that this battle is raging, and the sword that rings forth most loudly is the sword of His Name."5858 "One Hundred Poems of Kabir," p. 44. "Man," says Boehme, "must here be at war with himself if he wishes to be a heavenly citizen ... fighting must be the watchword, not with tongue and sword, but with mind and spirit; and not to give over."5959 Boehme: "Six Theosophic Points," p. 111. The need of such a conflict, shown to us in history, is explained on human levels by psychology. On spiritual levels it is made plain to all whose hearts are touched by the love of God. By this way all must pass who achieve the life of the Spirit; subduing to its purposes their wayward wills, and sublimating in its power their conflicting animal impulses. This long effort brings, as its reward a unification of character, an inflow of power: from it we see the mature man or woman of the Spirit emerge. In St. Catherine of Genoa this conflict lasted for four years, after which the thought of sin ceased to rule her consciousness.6060 Cf. Von Hügel: "The Mystical Element of Religion," Vol. I, Pt. II. St. Teresa's intermittent struggles are said to have continued for thirty years. John Wesley, always deeply religious, did not attain the inner stability he calls assurance till he was thirty-five years old. Blake was for twenty years in mental conflict, shut off from the sources of his spiritual life. So slowly do great personalities come to their full stature, and subdue their vigorous impulses to the one ruling idea.

The ending of this conflict, the self's unification and establishment in the new life, commonly means a return more or less complete to that world from which the convert had retreated; taking up of the fully energized and fully consecrated human existence, which must express itself in work no less than in prayer; an exhibition too of the capacity for leadership which is the mark of the regenerate mind. Thus the "first return" of the Buddhist saint is "from the absolute world to the world of phenomena to save all sentient beings."6161 McGovern: "An Introduction to Mahãyãna Buddhism," p. 175. Thus St. Benedict's and St. Catherine of Siena's three solitary years are the preparation for their great and active life works. St. Catherine of Genoa, first a disappointed and world-weary woman and then a penitent, emerges as a busy and devoted hospital matron and inspired teacher of a group of disciples. St. Teresa's long interior struggles precede her vigorous career as founder and reformer; her creation of spiritual families, new centres of contemplative life. The vast activities of Fox and Wesley were the fruits first of inner conflict, then of assurance—the experience of God and of the self's relation to Him. And on the highest levels of the spiritual life as history shows them to us, this experience and realization, first of profound harmony with Eternity and its interests, next of a personal relation of love, last of an indwelling creative power, a givenness, an energizing grace, reaches that completeness to which has been given the name of union with God.

The great man or woman of the Spirit who achieves this perfect development is, it is true, a special product: a genius, comparable with great creative personalities in other walks of life. But he neither invalidates the smaller talent nor the more general tendency in which his supreme gift takes its rise. Where he appears, that tendency is vigorously stimulated. Like other artists, he founds a school; the spiritual life flames up, and spreads to those within his circle of influence. Through him, ordinary men, whose aptitude for God might have remained latent, obtain a fresh start; an impetus to growth. There is a sense in which he might say with the Johannine Christ, "He that receiveth me receiveth Him that sent me"; for yielding to his magnetism, men really yield to the drawing of the Spirit itself. And when they do this, their lives are found to reproduce—though with less intensity—the life history of their leader. Therefore the main characters of that life history, that steady undivided process of sublimation; are normal human characters. We too may heal the discords of our moral nature, learn to judge existence in the universal light, bring into consciousness our latent transcendental sense, and keep ourselves so spiritually supple that alike in times of stress and hours of prayer and silence we are aware of the mysterious and energizing contact of God. Psychology suggests to us that the great spiritual personalities revealed in history are but supreme instances of a searching self-adjustment and of a way of life, always accessible to love and courage, which all men may in some sense undertake.



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