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66

CHAPTER IV
HIS DOCTRINE OF MAN

That which was begun by Grace, is accomplished by Grace and Free-will; so that they work mixedly not separately, simultaneously not successively, in each and all of their processes.

St. Bernard.

The concept of the Nature of God which we have traced through its three phases—out from the unchanging One to the active Persons and back to the One again—gives us a clue to Ruysbroeck’s idea of the nature and destiny of man. In man, both aspects of Divine Reality, active and fruitive, are or should be reflected; for God is the ‘Living Pattern of Creation’ who has impressed His image on each soul, and in every adult spirit the character of that image must be brought from the hiddenness and realised. Destined to be wholly real, though yet in the making, there is in man a latent Divine likeness, a ‘spark’ of the primal fire. Created for union with God, already in Eternity that union is a fact.

“The creature is in Brahma and Brahma 67 is in the creature; they are ever distinct yet ever united,” says the Indian mystic. Were it translated into Christian language, it is probable that this thought—which does not involve pantheism—would have been found acceptable by Ruysbroeck; for the interpenetration yet eternal distinction of the human and Divine spirits is the central fact of his universe. Man, he thinks, is already related in a threefold manner to his Infinite Source; for “we have our being in Him as the Father, we contemplate Him as does the Son, we ceaselessly tend to return to Him as does the Spirit.”

“The first property of the soul is a naked being, devoid of all image. Thereby do we resemble, and are united to, the Father and His nature Divine.” This is the ‘ground of the soul’ perpetually referred to by mystics of the Eckhartian School; the bare, still place to which consciousness retreats in introversion, image of the static and absolute aspect of Reality. “The second property might be called the higher understanding of the soul. It is a mirror of light, wherein we receive the Son of God, the Eternal Truth. By this light we are like unto Him; but in the act of receiving, we are one with Him.” This is the power of knowing Divine things by intuitive comprehension: man’s fragmentary share in the character of the Logos, or Wisdom of 68 God. “The third property we call the spark of the soul. It is the inward and natural tendency of the soul towards its Source; and here do we receive the Holy Spirit, the Charity of God. By this inward tendency we are like the Holy Spirit; but in the act of receiving, we become one spirit and one love with God.”1212The Mirror of Eternal Salvation, cap. viii. Here the Divine image shows itself in its immanent and dynamic aspect, as the ‘internal push’ which drives Creation back to the Father’s heart.

The soul then is, as Julian of Norwich said, “made Trinity, like to the unmade Blessed Trinity.” Reciprocally, there is in the Eternal World the uncreated Pattern or Archetype of man—his ‘Platonic idea.’ Now man must bring from its hiddenness the latent likeness, the germ of Divine humanity that is in him, and develop it until it realises the ‘Platonic idea’; achieving thus the implicit truth of his own nature as it exists in the mind of God. This, according to Ruysbroeck, is the whole art and object of the spiritual life; this actualisation of the eternal side of human nature, atrophied in the majority of men—the innate Christliness in virtue of which we have power to become ‘Sons’ of God.

“Lo! thus are we all one with God in our Eternal Archetype, which is His Wisdom who hath put on the nature of us all. And 69 although we are already one with Him therein by that putting on of our nature, we must also be like God in grace and virtue, if we would find ourselves one with Him in our Eternal Archetype, which is Himself.”1313The Twelve Béguines, cap. ix.

Under the stimulus of Divine Love perpetually beating in on him, feeding perpetually on the substance of God, perpetually renewed and ‘reborn’ on to ever higher levels through the vivifying contact of reality, man must grow up into the ‘superessential life’ of complete unity with the Transcendent. There, not only the triune aspect but the dual character of God is reproduced in him, reconciled in a synthesis beyond the span of thought; and he becomes ‘deiform’—both active and fruitive, ‘ever at work and ever at rest’—at once a denizen of Eternity and of Time. Every aspect of his being—love, intellect and will—is to be invaded and enhanced by the new life-giving life; it shall condition and enrich his correspondences with the sense-world as well as with the world of soul.

Man is not here invited to leave the active life for the contemplative, but to make the active life perfect within the contemplative; carrying up these apparent opposites to a point at which they become one. It is one of Ruysbroeck’s characteristics that he, as few others, followed mysticism out to 70 this, its last stage; where it issues in a balanced, divine-human life. The energetic Love of God, which flows perpetually forth from the Abyss of Being to the farthest limits of the universe, enlightening and quickening where it goes, and ‘turns again home’ as a strong tide drawing all things to their Origin, here attains equilibrium; the effort of creation achieves its aim.

Now this aim, this goal, is already realised within God’s nature, for there all perfection eternally Is. But to man it is super-nature; to achieve it he must transcend the world of conditions in which he lives according to the flesh, and grow up to fresh levels of life. Under the various images of sonship, marriage, and transmutation, this is the view of human destiny which Ruysbroeck states again and again: the creative evolution of the soul. His insistence on the completeness of the Divine Union to which the soul attains in this final phase, his perpetual resort to the dangerous language of deification in the effort towards describing it, seems at first sight to expose him to the charge of pantheism; and, as a matter of fact, has done so in the past. Yet he is most careful to guard himself at every point against this misinterpretation of his vision of life. In his view, by its growth towards God, personality is not lost, but raised to an ever higher plane. Even in that ecstatic 71 fruition of Eternal Life in which the spirit passes above the state of Union to the state of Unity, and beyond the Persons to the One, the ‘eternal otherness’ of Creator and created is not overpassed; but, as in the perfect fulfilment of love, utter fusion and clear differentiation mysteriously co-exist. It is, he says, not a mergence but a ‘mutual inhabitation.’ In his attempts towards the description of this state, he borrows the language of St. Bernard, most orthodox of the mystics; language which goes back to primitive Christian times. The Divine light, love and being, he tells us, penetrates and drenches the surrendered, naked, receptive soul, ‘as fire does the iron, as sunlight does the air’; and even as the sunshine and the air, the iron and the fire, so are these two terms distinct yet united. “The iron doth not become fire nor the fire iron; but each retaineth its substance and its nature. So likewise the spirit of man doth not become God, but is God-formed, and knoweth itself breadth and length and height and depth.”1414The Twelve Béguines, cap. xiv. Again, “this union is in God, through grace and our homeward-tending love. Yet even here does the creature feel a distinction and otherness between itself and God in its inward ground.”1515The Book of Truth, cap. xi. The dualistic relation of lover and beloved, 72 though raised to another power and glory, is an eternal one.

I have spoken of Ruysbroeck’s concept of God, his closely related concept of man’s soul; the threefold diagram of Reality within which these terms are placed, the doctrine of transcendence he deduced therefrom. But such a diagram cannot express to us the rich content, the deeply personal character of his experience and his knowledge. It is no more than a map of the living land he has explored, a formal picture of the Living One whom he has seen without sight. For him the landscape lived and flowered in endless variety of majesty and sweetness; the Person drew near in mysterious communion, and gave to him as food His very life.

All that this meant, and must mean, for our deeper knowledge of Reality and of man’s intuitive contacts with the Divine Life, we must find if we can in his doctrine of Love. Love is the ‘very self-hood’ of God, says Ruysbroeck in strict Johannine language. His theology is above all the theology of the Holy Spirit, the immanent Divine Energy and Love. It is Love which breaks down the barrier between finite and infinite life. But Love, as he understands it, has little in common with the feeling-state to which many of the female mystics have given that august name. For him, it 73 is hardly an emotional word at all, and never a sentimental one; rather the title of a mighty force, a holy energy that fills the universe—the essential activity of God. Sometimes he describes it under the antique imagery of Light; imagery which is more than a metaphor, and is connected with that veritable consciousness of enhanced radiance, as well in the outer as in the inner world, experienced by the ‘illuminated’ mystic. Again it is the ‘life-giving Life,’ hidden in God and the substance of our souls, which the self finds and appropriates; the whole Johannine trilogy brought into play, to express its meaning for heart, intellect and will. This Love, in fact, is the dynamic power which St. Augustine compared with gravitation, ‘drawing all things to their own place,’ and which Dante saw binding the multiplicity of the universe into one. All Ruysbroeck’s images for it turn on the idea of force. It is a raging fire, a storm, a flood. He speaks of it in one great passage as ‘playing like lightning’ between God and the soul.

Whoever will look at William Blake’s great picture of the Creation of Adam, may gain some idea of the terrific yet infinitely compassionate character inherent in this concept of Divine Love: the agony, passion, beauty, sternness, and pity of the primal generating force. This love is eternally 74 giving and taking—it is its very property, says Ruysbroeck, ‘ever to give and ever to receive’—pouring its dower of energy into the soul, and drawing out from that soul new vitality, new love, new surrender. ‘Hungry love,’ ‘generous love,’ ‘stormy love,’ he calls it again and again. Streaming out from the heart of Reality, the impersonal aspect of the very Spirit of God, its creative touch evokes in man, once he becomes conscious of it, an answering storm of love. The whole of our human growth within the spiritual order is conditioned by the quality of this response; by the will, the industry, the courage, with which man accepts his part in the Divine give-and-take.

“That measureless Love which is God Himself, dwells in the pure deeps of our spirit, like a burning brazier of coal. And it throws forth brilliant and fiery sparks which stir and enkindle heart and senses, will and desire, and all the powers of the soul, with a fire of love; in a storm, a rage, a measureless fury of love. These be the weapons with which we fight against the terrible and immense Love of God, who would consume all loving spirits and swallow them in Himself. Love arms us with its own gifts, and clarifies our reason, and commands, counsels and advises us to oppose Him, to fight against Him, and to maintain against Him our right to love, so long as we 75 may.”1616The Mirror of Eternal Salvation, cap. xvii. In the spiritual realm, giving and receiving are one act, for God is an ‘ocean that ebbs and flows’; and it is only by opposing love to love, by self-donation to His mysterious movements, that the soul appropriates new force, invigorating and fertilising it afresh. Thus, and thus alone, it lays hold on eternal life; sometimes sacramentally, under external images and accidents; sometimes mystically, in the communion of deep prayer. “Every time we think with love of the Well-beloved, He is anew our meat and drink”—more, we too are His, for the love between God and man is a mutual love and desire. As we lay hold upon the Divine Life, devour and assimilate it, so in that very act the Divine Life devours us, and knits us up into the mystical Body of Reality. “Thou shalt not change Me into thine own substance, as thou dost change the food of thy flesh, but thou shalt be changed into Mine,” said the Spirit of God to St. Augustine; and his Flemish descendant announces this same mysterious principle of life with greater richness and beauty.

“It is the nature of love ever to give and to take, to love and to be loved, and these two things meet in whomsoever loves. Thus the love of Christ is both avid and generous ... as He devours us, so He would feed us. 76 If He absorbs us utterly into Himself, in return He gives us His very self again.”1717Op. cit., cap. vii.

This is but another aspect of that great ‘inbreathing and outbreathing’ of the Divine nature which governs the relation between the Creator and the flux of life; for Ruysbroeck’s Christological language always carries with it the idea of the Logos, the Truth and Wisdom of Deity, as revealed in the world of conditions,—not only in the historical Jesus, but also in the eternal generation of the Son. St. Francis of Assisi had said that Divine Love perpetually swings between and reconciles two mighty opposites: “What is God? and, What am I?” For Ruysbroeck, too, that Love is a unifying power, manifested in motion itself, “an outgoing attraction, which drags us out of ourselves and calls us to be melted and naughted in the Unity”;1818The Sparkling Stone, cap. x. and all his deepest thoughts of it are expressed in terms of movement.

The relation between the soul and the Absolute, then, is a love relation—as in fact all the mystics have declared it to be. Man, that imperfectly real thing, has an inherent tendency towards God, the Only Reality. Already possessed of a life within the world of conditions, his unquiet heart reaches out towards a world that transcends conditions. How shall he achieve that world? 77 In the same way, says Ruysbroeck, as the child achieves the world of manhood: by the double method of growth and education, the balanced action of the organism and its environment. In its development and its needs, spirit conforms to the great laws of natural life. Taught by the voices of the forest and that inward Presence who ‘spoke without utterance’ in his soul, he is quick to recognise the close parallels between nature and grace. His story of the mystical life is the story of birth, growth, adolescence, maturity: a steady progress, dependent on food and nurture, on the ‘brooks of grace’ which flow from the Living Fountain and bring perpetual renovation to help the wise disciplines and voluntary choices that brace and purge our expanding will and love.

Ruysbroeck’s universe, like that of Kabir and certain other great mystics, has three orders: Becoming, Being, God. Parallel with this, he distinguishes three great stages in the soul’s achievement of complete reality: the Active, the Interior, and the Superessential Life, sometimes symbolised by the conditions of Servant, Friend, and Son of God. These, however, must be regarded rather as divisions made for convenience of description, answering to those divisions which thought has made in the indivisible fact of the universe, than as 78 distinctions inherent in the reality of things. The spiritual life has the true character of duration; it is one indivisible tendency and movement towards our source and home, in which the past is never left behind, but incorporated in the larger present.

In the Active Life, the primary interest is ethical. Man here purifies his normal human correspondences with the world of sense, approximates his will to the Will of God. Here, his contacts with the Divine take place within that world of sense, and ‘by means.’ In the Interior Life, the interest embraces the intellect, upon which is now conferred the vision of Reality. As the Active Life corresponded to the world of Becoming, this Life corresponds with the supersensual world of Being, where the self’s contacts with the Divine take place ‘without means.’ In the Superessential Life, the self has transcended the intellectual plane and entered into the very heart of Reality; where she does not behold, but has fruition of, God in one life and one love. The obvious parallel between these three stages and the traditional ‘threefold way’ of Purgation, Illumination and Union is, however, not so exact as it appears. Many of the characters of the Unitive Way are present in Ruysbroeck’s ‘second life’; and his ‘third life’ takes the soul to heights of fruition which few amongst even the 79 greatest unitive mystics have attained or described.

(A) When man first feels upon his soul the touch of the Divine Light, at once, and in a moment of time, his will is changed; turned in the direction of Reality and away from unreal objects of desire. He is, in fact, ‘converted’ in the highest and most accurate sense of that ill-used word. Seeing the Divine, he wants the Divine, though he may not yet understand his own craving; for the scrap of Divine Life within him has emerged into the field of consciousness, and recognises its home. Then, as it were, God and the soul rush together, and of their encounter springs love. This is the New Birth; the ‘bringing forth of the Son in the ground of the soul,’ its baptism in the fountain of the Life-giving Life.

The new force and tendency received into the self begins to act on the periphery, and thence works towards the centre of existence. First, then, it attacks the ordinary temporal life in all its departments. It pours in fresh waves of energy which confer new knowledge and hatred of sin, purify character, bring fresh virtues into being. It rearranges the consciousness about new and higher centres, gathering up all the faculties into one simple state of ‘attention to God.’ Thence results the highest life which is attainable by ‘nature.’ In it, man 80 is united with God ‘through means,’ acts in obedience to the dictates of Divine Love and in accordance with the tendency of the Divine Will, and becomes the ‘Faithful Servant’ of the Transcendent Order. Plainly, the Active Life, thus considered, has much in common with the ‘Purgative Way’ of ascetic science.

(B) When this growth has reached its term, when “Free-will wears the crown of Charity, and rules as a King over the soul,” the awakened and enhanced consciousness begins to crave a closer contact with the spiritual: that unmediated and direct contact which is the essence of the Contemplative or Interior Life, and is achieved in the deep state of recollection called ‘unitive prayer.’ Here voluntary and purposive education takes its place by the side of organic development. The way called by most ascetic writers ‘Illumination’—the state of ‘proficient’ in monastic parlance—includes the training of the self in the contemplative art as well as its growth in will and love. This training braces and purifies intellect, as the disciplines of the active life purified will and sense. It teaches introversion, or the turning inward of the attention from the distractions of the sense-world; the cleansing of the mirror of thought, thronged with confusing images; the production of that 81 silence in which the music of the Infinite can be heard. Nor is the Active Life here left behind; it is carried up to, and included in, the new, deepened activities of the self, which are no longer ruled by the laws, but by the ‘quickening counsels’ of God.

Of this new life, interior courage is a first necessity. It is no easy appropriation of supersensual graces, but a deeper entering into the mystery of life, a richer, more profound, participation in pain, effort, as well as joy. There must be no settling down into a comfortable sense of the Divine Presence, no reliance on the ‘One Act’; but an incessant process of change, renewal, re-emergence. Sometimes Ruysbroeck appears to see this central stage in the spiritual life-process in terms of upward growth toward transcendent levels; sometimes in terms of recollection, the steadfast pressing inwards of consciousness towards that bare ground of the soul where it unites with immanent Reality, and finds the Divine Life surging up like a ‘living fountain’ from the deeps. This double way of conceiving one process is puzzling for us; but a proof that for Ruysbroeck no one concept could suggest the whole truth, and a useful reminder of the symbolic character of all these maps and itineraries of the spiritual life.

As the sun grows in power with the passing 82 seasons, so the soul now experiences a steady increase in the power and splendour of the Divine Light, as it ascends in the heavens of consciousness and pours its heat and radiance into all the faculties of man. The in-beating of this energy and light brings the self into the tempestuous heats of high summer, or full illumination—the ‘fury of love,’ most fertile and dangerous epoch of the spiritual year. Thence, obedient to those laws of movement, that ‘double rhythm of renunciation and love’ which Kabir detected at the heart of the universal melody, it enters on a negative period of psychic fatigue and spiritual destitution; the ‘dark night of the soul.’ The sun descends in the heavens, the ardours of love grow cold. When this stage is fully established, says Ruysbroeck, the ‘September of the soul’ is come; the harvest and vintage—raw material of the life-giving Eucharist—is ripe. The flowering-time of spiritual joy and beauty is as nothing in its value for life compared with this still autumnal period of true fecundity, in which man is at last ‘affirmed’ in the spiritual life.

This, then, is the curve of the self’s growth. Side by side with it runs the other curve of deliberate training: the education by which our wandering attention, our diffused undisciplined consciousness, is sharpened and focussed upon Reality. This training is needed 83 by intellect and feeling; but most of all by the will, which Ruysbroeck, like the great English mystics, regards as the gathering-point of personality, the ‘spiritual heart.’ On every page of his writings the reference to that which the spiritual Light and Love do for man, is balanced by an insistence on that which man himself must do: the choices to be made, the ‘exercises’ to be performed, the tension and effort which must characterise the mystic way until its last phase is reached. Morally, these exercises consist in progressive renunciations on the one hand and acceptances on the other ‘for Love’s sake’; intellectually, in introversion, that turning inwards and concentration of consciousness, the stripping off of all images and emptying of the mind, which is the psychological method whereby human consciousness transcends the conditioned universe to which it has become adapted, and enters the contemplative world. Man’s attention to life is to change its character as he ascends the ladder of being. Therefore the old attachments must be cut before the new attachments can be formed. This is, of course, a commonplace of asceticism; and much of Ruysbroeck’s teaching on detachment, self-naughting and contemplation, is indeed simply the standard doctrine of Christian asceticism seen through a temperament.

When the self has grown up from the 84 ‘active’ to the ‘contemplative’ state of consciousness, it is plain that his whole relation to his environment has changed. His world is grouped about a new centre. It now becomes the supreme business of intellect to ‘gaze upon God,’ the supreme business of love to stretch out towards Him. When these twin powers, under the regnancy of the enhanced and trained will, are set towards Reality, then the human creature has done his part in the setting up of the relation of the soul to its Source, and made it possible for the music of the Infinite to sound in him. “For this intellectual gazing and this stretching forth of love are two heavenly pipes, sounding without the need of tune or of notes; they ever go forward in that Eternal Life, neither straying aside nor returning backward again; and ever keeping harmony and concord with the Holy Church, for the Holy Spirit gives the wind that sings in them.”1919The Twelve Béguines, cap. xiv. Observe, that tension is here a condition of the right employment of both faculties, and ensures that the Divine music shall sound true; one of the many implicit contradictions of the quietist doctrine of spiritual limpness, which we find throughout Ruysbroeck’s works.

(C) When the twofold process of growth and education has brought the self to this perfection of attitude as regards the Spiritual Order—an attitude of true union, says Ruysbroeck, 85 but not yet of the unthinkable unity which is our goal—man has done all that he can do of himself. His ‘Interior Life’ is complete, and his being is united through grace with the Being of God, in a relation which is the faint image of the mutual relations of the Divine Persons; a conscious sonship, finding expression in the mutual interchange of the spirit of will and love. This existence is rooted in ‘grace,’ the unconditioned life-force, intermediary between ourselves and God,’ as the active stage was rooted in ‘nature.’ Yet there is something beyond this. As beyond the Divine Persons there is the Superessential Unity of the Godhead, so beyond the plane of Being (Wesen) Ruysbroeck apprehends a reality which is ‘more than Being’ (Overwesen). Man’s spirit, having relations with every grade of reality, has also in its ‘fathomless ground’ a potential relation with this superessential sphere; and until this be actualised he is not wholly real, nor wholly deiform. Ruysbroeck’s most original contribution to the history of mysticism is his description of this supreme state; in which the human soul becomes truly free, and is made the ‘hidden child’ of God. Then only do we discern the glory of our full-grown human nature; when, participating fully in the mysterious double life of God, the twofold action of true love, we have perfect fruition of Him as Eternal 86 Rest, and perfect sharing in that outgoing love which is His eternal Work: “God with God, one love and one life, in His eternal manifestation.”2020The Twelve Béguines, cap. xiii.

The consummation of the mystic way, then, represents not merely a state of ecstatic contemplation, escape from the stream of succession, the death of self-hood, joyous self-immersion in the Abyss; not merely the enormously enhanced state of creative activity and energetic love which the mystics call ‘divine fecundity’; but both—the flux and reflux of supreme Reality. It is the synthesis of contemplation and action, of Being and Becoming: the discovery at last of a clue—inexpressible indeed, but really held and experienced—to the mystery which most deeply torments us, the link between our life of duration and the Eternal Life of God. This is the Seventh Degree of Love, “noblest and highest that can be realised in the life of time or of eternity.”

That process of enhancement whereby the self, in its upward progress, carries with it all that has been attained before, here finds its completion. The active life of Becoming, and the essential life of Being, are not all. “From beyond the Infinite the Infinite comes,” said the Indian; and his Christian brother, in parallel terms, declares that beyond the Essence is the Superessence of 87 God, His ‘simple’ or synthetic unity. It is for fruition of this that man is destined; yet he does not leave this world for that world, but knows them as one. Totally surrendered to the double current of the universe, the inbreathing and outbreathing of the Spirit of God, “his love and fruition live between labour and rest.” He goes up and down the mountain of vision, a living willing tool wherewith God works. “Hence, to enter into restful fruition and come forth again in good works, and to remain ever one with God—this is the thing that I would say. Even as we open our fleshly eyes to see, and shut them again so quickly that we do not even feel it, thus we die into God, we live of God, and remain ever one with God. Therefore we must come forth in the activities of the sense-life, and again re-enter in love and cling to God; in order that we may ever remain one with Him without change.”2121The Seven Degrees of Love, cap. xiv.

All perfect lives, says Ruysbroeck, conform to this pattern, follow this curve; though such perfect lives are rare amongst men. They are the fruit, not of volition, but of vocation; of the mysterious operations of the Divine Light which—perpetually crying through the universe the “unique and fathomless word ‘Behold! behold!’” and “therewith giving utterance to itself and all other things”—yet evokes only in some men an 88 answering movement of consciousness, the deliberate surrender which conditions the new power of response and of growth. “To this divine vision but few men can attain, because of their own unfitness and because of the darkness of that Light whereby we see: and therefore no one shall thoroughly understand this perception by means of any scholarship, or by their own acuteness of comprehension. For all words, and all that men may learn and understand in a creaturely fashion, is foreign to this and far below the truth that I mean. To understand and lay hold of God as He is in Himself above all images—this is to be God with God, without intermediary or any difference that might become an intermediary or an obstacle. And therefore I beg each one, who can neither understand this, nor feel it by the way of spiritual union, that he be not grieved thereby, and let it be as it is.”2222The Spiritual Marriage, lib. iii. cap. i.

I end this chapter by a reference to certain key-words frequent in Ruysbroeck’s works, which are sometimes a source of difficulty to his readers. These words are nearly always his names for inward experiences. He uses them in a poetic and artistic manner, evocative rather than exact; and we, in trying to discover their meaning, must never forget the coloured fringe of suggestion which they carry for the mystic and the 89 poet, and which is a true part of the message he intends them to convey.

The first of these words is Fruition. Fruition, a concept which Eucken’s philosophy has brought back into current thought, represents a total attainment, complete and permanent participation and possession. It is an absolute state, transcending all succession, and it is applied by Ruysbroeck to the absolute character of the spirit’s life in God; which, though it seem to the surface consciousness a perpetually renewed encounter of love, is in its ground ‘fruitive and unconditioned,’ a timeless self-immersion in the Dark, the ‘glorious and essential Oneness.’ Thus he speaks of ‘fruitive love,’ ‘fruitive possession’; as opposed to striving, dynamic love, partial, progressive and conditioned possession. Perfect contemplation and loving dependence are the eternal fruition of God’: the Beatific Vision of theology. “Where we are one with God, without intermediary, beyond all separation; there is God our fruition and His own in an eternal and fathomless bliss.”2323The Twelve Béguines, cap. xvi.

Next perhaps in the power of provoking misunderstanding is the weight attached by Ruysbroeck to the adjective Simple. This word, which constantly recurs in his descriptions of spiritual states, always conveys the sense of wholeness, completeness, synthesis; 90 not of poverty, thinness, subtraction. It is the white light in which all the colours of the spectrum are included and fused. ‘Simple Union,’ ‘Simple Contemplation,’ ‘Simple Light’—all these mean the total undifferentiated act or perception from which our analytic minds subtract aspects. “In simplicity will I unite with the Simple One,” said Kabir. So Ruysbroeck: “We behold His face in a simple seeing, beyond reason and without consideration.”

Another cause of difficulty to those unfamiliar with the mystics is the constant reference to Bareness or Nudity, especially in descriptions of the contemplative act. This is, of course, but one example of that negative method of suggestion—darkness, bareness, desolation, divine ignorance, the ‘rich nothing,’ the ‘naked thought’—which is a stock device of mysticism, and was probably taken by Ruysbroeck from Dionysius the Areopagite. It represents, first, the bewildering emptiness and nakedness of consciousness when introduced into a universe that transcends our ordinary conceptual world; secondly, the necessity of such transcendence, of emptying the field of consciousness of ‘every vain imagining,’ if the self is to have contact with the Reality which these veil.

With the distinction between Essence (Wesen) and Superessence (Overwesen) I have 91 already dealt; and this will appear more clearly when we consider Ruysbroeck’s ‘second’ and ‘third’ stages of the mystic life.

There remains the great pair of opposites, fundamental for his thought, called in the Flemish vernacular Wise and Onwise, and generally rendered by translators as ‘Mode’ and ‘Modeless.’ Wherever possible I have replaced these tasteless Latinisms by the Old English equivalents ‘in some wise’ and ‘in no wise,’ occasionally by ‘conditioned’ and ‘unconditioned’; though perhaps the colloquial ‘somehow’ and ‘nohow’ would be yet more exactly expressive. Now this pair of opposites is psychological rather than metaphysical, and has to do with the characteristic phenomena of contemplation. It indicates the difference between the universe of the normal man, living as the servant or friend of God within the temporal order, and the universe of the true contemplative, the ‘hidden child.’ The knowledge and love of the first is a conditioned knowledge and love. Everything which happens to him happens ‘in some wise’; it has attachments within his conceptual world, is mediated to him by symbols and images which intellect can grasp. “The simple ascent into the Nude and the Unconditioned is unknown and unloved of him”; it is through and amongst his ordinary mental furniture 92 that he obtains his contacts with Reality. But the knowledge and love of the second, his contacts, transcend the categories of thought. He has escaped alike from the tyrannies and comforts of the world of images, has made the ‘ascent into the Nought,’ where all is, yet ‘in no wise.’ “The power of the understanding is lifted up to that which is beyond all conditions, and its seeing is in no wise, being without manner, and it is neither thus nor thus, neither here nor there.”2424The Twelve Béguines, cap. xii. This is the direct, unmediated world of spiritual intuition; where the self touches a Reality that has not been passed through the filters of sense and thought. There man achieves a love, a vision, an activity which are ‘wayless,’ yet far more valid than anything that can be fitted into the framework of our conditioned world.

“In a place beyond uttermost place, in a track without shadow of trace,

Soul and body transcending, I live in the soul of my Loved One anew.”

Thus cries the great Sūfī poet, Jalālu’ddīn; and the suggestion which his words convey is perhaps as close as speech can come to what Ruysbroeck meant by Onwise. The change of consciousness which initiates man into this inner yet unbounded world—the world that is ‘unwalled,’ to use his own 93 favourite metaphor—is the essence of contemplation; which consists, not in looking at strange mysteries, but in a movement to fresh levels, shut to the analytic intellect, open to adventurous love. There, without any amazement, the self can ‘know in no wise’ that which it can never understand.

“Contemplation is a knowing that is in no wise,

For ever dwelling above the Reason.

Never can it sink down into the Reason,

And above it can the Reason never climb.

The shining forth of That which is in no wise is as a fair mirror.

Wherein shines the Eternal Light of God.

It has no attributes,

And here all the works of Reason fail.

It is not God,

But it is the Light whereby we see Him.

Those who walk in the Divine Light of it

Discover in themselves the Unwalled.

That which is in no wise, is above the Reason, not without it:

It beholds all things without amazement.

Amazement is far beneath it:

The contemplative life is without amazement.

That which is in no wise sees, it knows not what;

For it is above all, and is neither This nor That.”2525The Twelve Béguines, cap. viii.


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