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The writings of the Mystics contain in the field of ethics many profound thoughts, though without rigidly scientific form. This is the case with Richard of St. Victor and Bonaventura. Less mystical than simply practical, and strongly emphasizing the subjective phase of morality, was the influence of Bernard of Clairvaux, and later, of Thomas à Kempis; while Eckart, and in part even Tauler, conceive the moral in the main negatively and quietistically (in the spirit of a Pantheistically-infected mysticism) as spiritual poverty,, as the turning-away of the spirit from all that is created. Occupying a mediating position between mysticism and scholasticism, also John Gerson seeks to give form to ethics, but he already begins to show signs of that paralysis of the moral spirit which had spread into the widest circles previously to the Reformation; Raymund de Sabunde deals in more popularly-practical modes of thought. In the spirit of the Reformation, and as its precursors, worked, in the field of ethics, also Wickliffe, Huss, John of Goch, and Savonarola.
In contrast to the growingly-Aristotelian, dialectical treatment of ethics, the mystical anti-scholastic current of theology clings, more or less closely, to the writings of the supposed Areopagite (§ 31), but keeps for the most part clear from the daring speculations of John Scotus Erigena, and gives, in general, thoughtful meditations and profound glances of insight rather than rigorous and clear processes of reasoning. The freedom of the will is, by most of the Mediaeval mystics, pretty strongly emphasized; but the active working 224in the outer world is made largely to give place to the purely contemplative life.
Richard of St. Victor (about 1150) treats, in several special works, of the inner life of the pious heart in its union with God,—a life which through contemplatio as distinguished from cogitatio and meditatio, passes over into self-forgetting love. The divine is not attained to by laborious thinking and doing, but by an immediate and spiritual, freely self-devoting vision or beholding, to which receptive state of the soul God lovingly manifests himself as in-streaming light. And the soul becomes receptive by the progressive cleansing of it from the dross of the earthly life, from the striving after the creature,—by self-immersion into itself, not in order to hold fast to itself in antithesis to God, but in order to aspire toward him in ardent love-desire; the goal is perfect, blissful rest in God; the condition is the operation of grace and the willing, joyous laying-hold upon the same on the part of the subject.—Bonaventura (ob. 1274) attempts to fuse dialectics with mysticism, but, notwithstanding his frequently almost overflowing subjectivity of feeling, his mysticism is less sustained and less deep than that of Richard St. Victor, and lingers more in the sphere of practical piety.—Bernard of Clairvaux (ob. 1153),—opposing scholasticism in many respects not without good grounds, and confining himself mainly to the practical sphere,—has also carefully examined the subject of ethics in some of its parts; (De diligendo deo; De gradibus humilitatis et superb.; De gratia et libero arbitrio; De consideratione.) To true virtue belong two things: divine grace and a free, active embracing of the same; without freedom there is no responsibility. But freedom is threefold: first, freedom of nature as opposed to necessity; second, freedom of grace,—attained to through Christ,—that is, emancipation from the bondage of sin; and, third, freedom of glory which is realized in eternal blessedness, but enjoyed here only in moments of spiritual vision. Freedom of choice is from nature, but by grace it is regulated and attracted toward the good, though not forced. By simple free-will we belong to ourselves; by the willing of the good we belong to God; by the willing of evil, to Satan. The decision lies in our own hand; no one is forced to salvation. Love, as constituting 225the essence of the moral, has four degrees: first, man loves himself for his own sake; second, he loves God, not, however, for God’s but for, his own sake, because without God he can do nothing; third, he loves God for God’s sake, out of thankfulness for experienced love; fourth, he loves also himself solely for God’s sake; this highest stage, that of true morality, is, however, but seldom enjoyed in this life. The essence of wisdom, on the whole, is, to behold and to love the invisible essence of God in all things, to give up all that we have to God, and to live only in God and for God. All true virtue is an expression of humility, whereby, in true self-knowledge man becomes nothing in his own eyes; humility leads in twelve stages to the truth, which truth in turn develops itself in three stages, the highest of which is the direct spiritual beholding of God. Humility, love, and the beholding of the truth, are the three aliments of the soul, corresponding to the Son, the Spirit, and the Father. The mystical element in Bernard shows itself mainly in the development of the doctrine of contemplation. Many of his principles he borrows from the ethics prevalent in his day, as, e. g., the four cardinal virtues, and also the notion of the middle-way as the essence of virtue.
Master Eckart (a Dominican at Cologne, ob. 1329),134134 Schriften, edited by Pfeiffer, 1847,—(mostly sermons; larger scientific works of his appear to be lost. C. Schmidt in Stud. u. Krit., 1839; Martensen, 1842; J. Back, 1864. distinguished for profound insight, but not unfrequently overpassing, in his fervid soarings, the limits of the Christian world-theory, was of very great influence on subsequent mystics; taking his departure from Dionysius the Areopagite, he pushes the thought of the union of the soul with God, as the highest good to such a height as almost to lose sight of the individual existence of the creature, and of its distinctness from God,— not, however, in the sense of modern Pantheism, but in that of John Scotus Erigena; The world is, strictly speaking, nothing at all,—is rather mere appearance than reality; God alone is real in whatever exists; God alone is the object of true love, and in this love all morality is comprehended. Hence the entire striving of man must be directed to this end, namely, to becoming at one with God, to laying aside his 226separate existence, to turning away from all that is created, to wishing nothing, loving nothing, knowing nothing but God alone—to merging himself into God, to transforming himself into God. If God is to come into the soul, then the creature must be driven out; if man is to become rich in God, then he must become poor in the creature. When man turns himself away from all that is finite, when he forgets himself and the world, and directs his soul exclusively toward God, then God pours himself into his soul,—God is born in the soul, and the soul has eternal rest in God. Virtuous working in the world is not the highest working, for in it man disperses himself into the multiplicity of the finite; he who has found God, who has God dwelling in himself, divests himself also of works,—seeks only the inner work, reposes in God alone; nay, he aims not at his own blessedness, for in fact this is also a clinging to self, to the created,—he aims only at giving himself wholly up to God, at sacrificing himself to God, at reducing himself to nothing, at cutting off and throwing away from himself whatever is finite or creature-like, or different from God; he breaks himself loose not only from sin, but also from the world and from his own self. Not man is to work, but he is to let God exclusively and alone work in him; such purity of heart, such freedom from all self, also from all personal volition, is the highest good, is the spiritual birth of God in the soul; we possess all good when we are united with God’s nature, and a single glance at God “in his nakedness” is of more avail, and unites the soul more with God, than all the works of Christendom could accomplish.
In a similar spirit, although less bold in emphasizing the mystical element, wrote and lived Tauler, Eckart’s disciple (a Dominican at Cologne and Strasburg, ob. 1361). He presented, in his “Imitation of the humble Life of Christ,”135135 Edited by Schlosser, 1833 (in modern German); his sermons are mostly practico-edificatory. The work, Medulla animae, is not by Tauler C. Schmidt: J. Tauler, 1841. a system of pure mysticism, and which, for that very reason, was one-sided and dangerous to the Christian consciousness. The essence of morality is spiritual poverty; the way to life, to “equality with God,” is to become spiritually poor, to be separated from all that belongs to the creature, to cling to 227nothing among finite things; as, however, all that is finite must cling to something, hence man is to cling only to that which is above himself, to God. The poorer man is in the creature, so much the richer is he in God; God is intuited only immediately, without ally intervention of the creature; in so far as man looks to the creature he is distant from God. Man must put off from himself all that is multiple, manifold, in order to become rich in the One,—must be poor in knowledge in so far as knowledge relates to the finite and is involved in finite forms,—poor in virtue in so far as it is an acting in the finite (only the disposition is divine),—poor even in grace in so far as the soul in its union with God stands no longer in a mere relation of grace to God, but is actively led by God in harmony with himself in a divine manner. The sole true knowledge is the direct spiritual beholding of God. The sole virtue is simple love to God. God is free from every thing that is creatural; in spiritual poverty man becomes also free from and divested of all things,—presses, as a free soul, into the uncreated good, into God, and is no longer affected by earthly pleasure or by pain. Hence true divine freedom springs from poverty and humility; false freedom, from pride. God is a pure activity—a mere working; therefore also poverty is a pure working with God; now there are three kinds of work: (1) natural work, in part bodily and sensuous; this work must take place with moderation and in the Holy Ghost, and the senses must be indulged in their necessary wants; and in part, spiritual, as knowledge and love; also this work must take place only in so far as necessary, must be turned aside from all not absolutely essential things; otherwise it leads to pride. (2) Grace-work; in man, this work is primarily learning, namely, acquiring a knowledge of the Scriptures and of all the efficacy of the Holy Spirit, and hence also a knowledge of good and evil. When man permits himself to be guided by the divine Spirit that dwells within him, then he becomes a friend of God; as such, he must divest himself of all temporal things, and renounce them, for they are all null and void; he must simply follow Christ, and in so doing he attains (3) to the divine work in man; man is now one spirit with God, and seeks nothing but God; his work is God's work, and God's work 228is his own work; and God’s spirit speaks to him no more in symbol and form, but in full life, light, and truth. All the powers of the soul keep holiday, arid are at rest, and let God alone work, and this is the highest work of which they are capable. The human spirit loses finally its own self, loses itself in God and knows no longer any thing but God; God puts himself in the place of reason in man, and works man’s works; the soul merges itself into God and remains eternally hovering in God,—drowns itself in the unfathomable sea of divinity. Hence by the renouncing of all that is temporal, by true poverty, man becomes divested also of outward works. He who has no longer any thing wherewith to help his fellow-man, is in fact no longer required to do so; also external works belong to the sphere of the temporal, and hence man must pass through them and beyond them up to true poverty and vision; in this one work he works all works, and in this one virtue he has all virtues.—In Tauler the one phase of the moral, namely, union with God, is pushed one-sidedly into untruth, so that the right of the creatural individuality is relatively lost sight of, and hence we find in many respects Pantheistical forms of thought.—John Ruisbroch of Brussels (ob. 1381) wrote in a similar spirit, but strayed into a still more transcendental heart-mysticism, though his, works abound rather in allegorizing portrayals and confident assertions than in scientific demonstration.
The comprehensiveness of a Gerson (ob. 1429) could not bring to a check the decline of the inner spirit of the church, which was now seriously affecting also the general moral consciousness. Scholasticism and casuistry had, by their interminable subtleties;. largely obscured the more simple moral modes of thought-;: and while puzzling themselves in fruitless speculation over the imaginary difficulties of cunningly-invented cases of conscience, they lost all sense for moral straightforwardness; and found abundant pretexts for making exceptions from the moral rule. The Franciscan, Jean Petit of Paris, was able, on occasion of the murder of the regent, the Duke of Orleans, in 1407, to find reasons for openly justifying the murder of tyrants, and the Council of Constance did not venture to pronounce a decided disapproval of this doctrine; and not only that, but it gave, for the first 229time, serious countenance to the notion of moral probabilism, that is, the doctrine that a morally doubtful action is permissible on condition that several esteemed Fathers can be cited in its favor.136136 Marheinecke: Gesch. d. christl Moral, etc., 1806, p. 161 sqq.; Stäudlin: Gesch. d. ch. Mor. seit. d. Wiederaufl., etc., p. 63 sqq.; Wessenberg: Kirschenversamml., 2, 247. Gerson, who opposed the doctrine of Petit with but half-heart, was also himself involved in the general laxity of the moral consciousness; he also countenanced probabilism. He held that the vow of celibacy was violated only by actual marriage but not by fornication, and for this sin he shows an excessive leniency.137137 Opp., Antv., 1706, t. iii, 917 sqq. The notorious morality of the Jesuits is not peculiar to them, but is only the further development of a spirit that was already powerful in the Romish church before the time of the Reformation. In other respects Gerson seeks, in his numerous writings on specific moral topics, to mitigate the erroneousness of the prevailing moral views; the monastic life and the doctrine of the divine counsels, he does not esteem so highly as did the spirit of his age; he finds the difference between venial and mortal sins rather in the subjective intention than in the objective nature of the sin. The mystical element appears in Gerson under a very moderated form.
Thomas à Kempis (ob. 1471), the author of the most widely known of all books of devotion: De imitatione Christi (translated into all European languages, and published nearly two thousand times), shows himself in this book as a thoroughly practical, moderated mystic, of deep moral life-experience, and of genuine, heart-felt, morally-vigorous piety; and hence his work is not less prized in the Protestant than in the Romish church. The thoughts are presented in a clear, genuinely-popular style, and the rich heart-depth is thereby thrown all the more brightly into relief.—The book known as German Theology, published first by Luther in 1516, but springing from an unknown author of the fifteenth century, is based on Tauler, and is characterized by a somewhat more strongly speculative mysticism than that of Kempis,—emphasizing in an almost one-sided manner the turning-away from self and from the world, and the becoming united with 230God as the one eternal good, so that the moral right of the personality is thrown quite too far into the back-ground, and too little distinction is made between the personality itself and the “selfhood” that is to be done away with.
Less peculiar in contents than in form, and differing equally from scholasticism and from mysticism, are the moral views of Raymund de Sabunde (of Toulouse, about 1430).138138 Theologia naturalis, Solisb., 1852.—Matzke: R. v. S., 1816. Appropriating to himself the results of preceding theological and philosophical thought, he undertook, rather from the stand-point of experience, of the observation of nature, and of the common sense of mankind, to place these results within reach of the understanding of the masses. The freedom of the will as directed toward the good is the highest possession of reason; called to the highest place in the scale of created beings, man should, by free conduct, show himself worthy of this calling,—should establish and preserve the harmony of the created. As man has received nothing from himself, but every thing from God alone, hence his first duty is thankful love to God who first loved him (tit. 96 sqq., 109 sqq.); love to self becomes moral only through love to God. Other creatures give us good only in so far as God works through them, and hence our love to them must be subordinated to our love to God; but out of this love to God follows also a love to that which He has created, and hence, first of all, to man as God’s image; hence the requirement to love one’s neighbor as one’s self (120 sqq). Through love to God, man constantly grows in God-likeness, for amor convertit amantem in rem amatam (129 sqq.), though this is not to be taken in the sweeping sense of the Mystics. Evil consists in this, that we honor and love the creature not in God but for itself, and is consequently idolatry; the root of all evil is this impious love to self, that is, it is self-seeking and self-will; the devil seeks nothing but himself.—As in consequence of sin a general corruption of man’s nature has been brought about, and as the power of sin over man is paralyzed only by redemption, hence Christian morality rests entirely on loving thankfulness to Christ, and involves a constant struggle against the remains of sin that still infect us.
The evangelical tendency which during the time of the 231universal domination of the Romish church had never entirely disappeared, and which, especially since the appearance of the Waldenses, had been growing more positive in its opposition to the corrupted church, directed its efforts from the very first against the anti-scriptural and arbitrary ordinances of said church, especially against the work-holiness of monastic morality, in order to vindicate the moral freedom of the Christian personality, and also against the sophistical laxity of the more recent period; this tendency insists above all upon faith-born love as the source and essence of all true morality, and rejects the notion of supererogatory merit as arising from the observance of the so-called evangelical counsels.—So taught Wickliffe in his Trialogus, but rather as assailing than as positively building up; all sin, he refers to a lack in true faith; a correct knowledge of faith precludes sin; true virtue is not possible without true faith; a correct knowledge of faith precludes sin; true virtue is not possible without true faith; hence by a man’s virtue one can judge of his faith. Wickliffe’s over-rigid and almost deterministic predestinarianism simply stands, unmediated, along-side of his moral views, and merely impedes their freer scope.—Also Huss combats, in the ethical field, chiefly only against the errors of Romish dogmas and morals, without himself establishing any thing essentially new.—Violent and keen, and generally, though not always, purely evangelical are also the assaults of Nicolas de Clamengis [Clemangis] in France—ob. about 1440—against the corruption of the moral consciousness of the church).139139 De corrupto eccl. statu, and in briefer essays and letters, Opp., 1613.—John of Goch, of Malines (ob. 1475) assailed, from an Augustinian stand-point, the commingling of the evangelical with the Mosaic law, also the system of vows, and outward work-holiness in general; faith as working by love is the essence of Christian freedom and morality.140140 Ullmann: Reformatoren vor d. Ref., 1841, i. The influence of Savonarola in Florence lay more in his fiery zeal for pure evangelical morality than in fruits of scientific thought; in his mode of thinking, the phase of the God-possessecl affections stands forth with most prominence; a mystical subjectiveness is combined with a fervent work-activity.141141 Rudelbach: Sav., 1835; F. C. Meier, 1836.232
If we leave out of view these teachers of the church who were forerunners of the Reformation, we find in general in the ecclesiastical ethics prevailing before the opening of this Reformation a threefold character: a casuistical, a scholastic, and a mystical one, corresponding to the three phases of the soul-life, namely, to the empirical understanding, to the speculative reason and to the loving heart. The mystical form of ethics is the pure antithesis to the casuistical; the former rests on heart-union with God, the latter on the analyzing understanding; the former, upon an inward ineffable vision, the latter, upon outward calculating observation; the former strays at times int6 the borders of Pantheism, and hence has some points of contact with the cosmic theory of India; the. latter is rather in danger of repeating, in the Christian sphere, the Jewish externality and chicanery of Pharisaism and Talmudism;—the former reduces all plurality, all heterogeneousness, to a homogeneous unity,—endangers the practically moral working-life in the world; the latter dissolves the moral idea into an atomistic plurality of single cases devoid of uniting bond;—mysticism turns itself away disdainfully from all objective reality even of the moral life; casuistry threatens to bind up and to smother the moral in narrow legal forms; mysticism turns away from the circumference toward the center, but does not return again from the center to the circumference; casuistry proceeds and stumbles by a reverse course;-the former tends to a lightly-esteeming of the active life, the latter to a hypocritical and external work-holiness. Speculative ethics, especially in Thomas Aquinas, stands higher than in either of the other two forms, but lacks too much in evangelical directness and simplicity; and because of its double dependence on Greek ethics, on the one hand, and on the evangelical church-creed, on the other, it has not only compromised its legitimate and essential freedom, but, at the same time, also its truth. Notwithstanding this, however, it stands (especially in its highest perfection in Thomas Aquinas) far more closely to the evangelical consciousness than the later form of Roman Catholic ethics as presented by the zealous champion of the Romish church, the Jesuits.233
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