Chapter 13

I n our study of the First Mystic Life, its purification and illumination,
we have been analysing and considering a process of organic development; an
evolution of personality. We may treat this either as a movement of
consciousness towards higher levels, or as a remaking of consciousness
consequent on the emergence and growth of a factor which is dormant in
ordinary man, but destined to be supreme in the full-grown mystic type. We
have seen the awakening of this factor—this spark of the soul—with its
innate capacity for apprehending the Absolute. We have seen it attack and
conquer the old sense-fed and self-centred life of the normal self, and
introduce it into a new universe, lit up by the Uncreated Light. These were
the events which, taken together, constituted the “First Mystic Life”; a
complete round upon the spiral road which leads from man to God.

What we have been looking at, then, is a life-process, the establishment of
a certain harmony between the created self and that Reality whose invitation
it has heard: and we have discussed this life-process rather as if it
contained no elements which were not referable to natural and spontaneous
growth, to the involuntary adjustments of the organism to that extended or
transcendental universe of which it gradually becomes aware. But side by
side with this organic growth there always goes a specific kind of activity
which is characteristic of the mystic: an education which he is called to
undertake, that his consciousness of the Infinite may be stabilized,
enriched and defined. Already once or twice we have been in the presence of
this activity, have been obliged to take its influence into account: as,
were we studying other artistic types, we could not leave on one side the
medium in which they work.

Contemplation is the mystic’s medium. It is an extreme form of that
withdrawal of attention from the external world and total dedication of the
mind which also, in various degrees and ways, conditions the creative
activity of musician, painter and poet: releasing the faculty by which he
can apprehend the Good and Beautiful, enter into communion with the Real. As
“voice” or “vision” is often the way in which the mystical consciousness
presents its discoveries to the surface-mind, so contemplation is the way in
which it makes those discoveries, perceives the suprasensible over against
itself. The growth of the mystic’s effective genius, therefore, is connected
with his growth in this art: and that growth is largely conditioned by

The painter, however great his natural powers, can hardly dispense with some
technical training; the musician is wise if he acquaint himself at least
with the elements of counterpoint. So too the mystic. It is true that he
sometimes seems to spring abruptly to the heights, to be caught into ecstasy
without previous preparation: as a poet may startle the world by a sudden
masterpiece. But unless they be backed by discipline, these sudden and
isolated flashes of inspiration will not long avail for the production of
great works. “Ordina quest’ amore, o tu che m’ami” is the imperative demand
made by Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, by every aspect of Reality, upon the
human soul. Lover and philosopher, saint, artist, and scientist, must alike
obey or fail.

Transcendental genius, then, obeys the laws which govern all other forms of
genius, in being susceptible of culture: and, indeed, cannot develop its
full powers without an educative process of some kind. This strange art of
contemplation, which the mystic tends to practise during the whole of his
career—which develops step by step with his vision and his love—demands of
the self which undertakes it the same hard dull work, the same slow training
of the will, which lies behind all supreme achievement, and is the price of
all true liberty. It is the want of such training—such “supersensual
drill”—which is responsible for the mass of vague, ineffectual, and
sometimes harmful mysticism which has always existed: the dilute cosmic
emotion and limp spirituality which hang, as it were, on the skirts of the
true seekers of the Absolute, and bring discredit upon their science.

In this, as in all the other and lesser arts which have been developed by
the race, education consists largely in a humble willingness to submit to
the discipline, and profit by the lessons, of the past. Tradition runs side
by side with experience; the past collaborates with the present. Each new
and eager soul rushing out towards the only end of Love passes on its way
the landmarks left by others upon the pathway to Reality. If it be wise it
observes them: and finds in them rather helps towards attainment than
hindrances to that freedom which is of the essence of the mystic act. This
act, it is true, is in the last resort a solitary experience, “the flight of
the Alone to the Alone”; even though no achievement of the soul truly takes
place in vacao, or leaves the universe of souls unchanged. At the same time,
here as elsewhere, man cannot safely divorce his personal history from that
of the race. The best and truest experience does not come to the eccentric
and individual pilgrim whose intuitions are his only law: but rather to him
who is willing to profit by the culture of the spiritual society in which he
finds himself, and submit personal intuition to the guidance afforded by the
general history of the mystic type. Those who refuse this guidance expose
themselves to all the dangers which crowd about the individualist: from
heresy at one end of the scale to madness at the other. Vae Soli! Nowhere
more clearly than in the history of mysticism do we observe the essential
solidarity of mankind, the penalty paid by those who will not acknowledge

The education which tradition has ever prescribed for the mystic, consists
in the gradual development of an extraordinary faculty of concentration, a
power of spiritual attention. It is not enough that he should naturally be
“aware of the Absolute,” unless he be able to contemplate it: just as the
mere possession of eyesight or hearing, however acute, needs to be
supplemented by trained powers of perception and reception, if we are really
to appreciate—see or hear to any purpose—the masterpieces of Music or of
Art. More, Nature herself reveals little of her secret to those who only
look and listen with the outward ear and eye. The condition of all valid
seeing and hearing, upon every plane of consciousness, lies not in the
sharpening of the senses, but in a peculiar attitude of the whole
personality: in a self-forgetting attentiveness, a profound concentration, a
self-merging, which operates a real communion between the seer and the
seen—in a word, in Contemplation.

Contemplation, then, in the most general sense is a power which we may—and
often must—apply to the perception, not only of Divine Reality, but of
anything. It is a mental attitude under which all things give up to us the
secret of their life. All artists are of necessity in some measure
contemplative. In so far as they surrender themselves without selfish
preoccupation, they see Creation from the point of view of God. [630]
“Innocence of eye” is little else than this: and only by its means can they
see truly those things which they desire to show the world. I invite those
to whom these statements seem a compound of cheap psychology and cheaper
metaphysics to clear their minds of prejudice and submit this matter to an
experimental test. If they will be patient and honest—and unless they belong
to that minority which is temperamentally incapable of the simplest
contemplative act—they will emerge from the experiment possessed of a little
new knowledge as to the nature of the relation between the human mind and
the outer world.

All that is asked is that we shall look for a little time, in a special and
undivided manner, at some simple, concrete, and external thing. This object
of our contemplation may be almost anything we please: a picture, a statue,
a tree, a distant hillside, a growing plant, running water, little living
things. We need not, with Kant, go to the starry heavens. “A little thing
the quantity of an hazel nut” will do for us, as it did for Lady Julian long
ago. [631] Remember, it is a practical experiment on which we are set; not
an opportunity of pretty and pantheistic meditation.

Look, then, at this thing which you have chosen. Wilfully yet tranquilly
refuse the messages which countless other aspects of the world are sending;
and so concentrate your whole attention on this one act of loving sight that
all other objects are excluded from the conscious field. Do not think, but
as it were pour out your personality towards it: let your soul be in your
eyes. Almost at once, this new method of perception will reveal unsuspected
qualities in the external world. First, you will perceive about you a
strange and deepening quietness; a slowing down of our feverish mental time.
Next, you will become aware of a heightened significance, an intensified
existence in the thing at which you look. As you, with all your
consciousness, lean out towards it, an answering current will meet yours. It
seems as though the barrier between its life and your own, between subject
and object, had melted away. You are merged with it, in an act of true
communion: and you know the secret of its being deeply and unforgettably,
yet in a way which you can never hope to express.

Seen thus, a thistle has celestial qualities: a speckled hen a touch of the
sublime. Our greater comrades, the trees, the clouds, the rivers, initiate
us into mighty secrets, flame out at us “like shining from shook foil.” The
“eye which looks upon Eternity” has been given its opportunity. We have been
immersed for a moment in the “life of the All”: a deep and peaceful love
unites us with the substance of all things, a “Mystic Marriage” has taken
place between the mind and some aspect of the external world. Cor ad cor
loquitur :Life has spoken to life, but not to the surface-intelligence. That
surface-intelligence knows only that the message was true and beautiful: no

The price of this experience has been a stilling of that surface-mind, a
calling in of all our scattered interests: an entire giving of ourselves to
this one activity, without self-consciousness, without reflective thought.
To reflect is always to distort: our minds are not good mirrors. The
contemplative, on whatever level his faculty may operate, is contented to
absorb and be absorbed: and by this humble access he attains to a plane of
knowledge which no intellectual process can come near.

I do not suggest that this simple experiment is in any sense to be equated
with the transcendental contemplation of the mystic. Yet it exercises on a
small scale, and in regard to visible Nature, the same natural faculties
which are taken up and used—it is true upon other levels, and in subjection
to the transcendental sense—in his apprehension of the Invisible Real.
Though it is one thing to see truthfully for an instant the flower in the
crannied wall, another to be lifted up to the apprehension of “eternal
Truth, true Love and loved Eternity,” yet both according to their measure
are functions of the inward eye, operating in the “suspension of the

This humble receptiveness, this still and steady gazing, in which emotion,
will, and thought are lost and fused, is the secret of the great
contemplative on fire with love of that which he has been allowed to see.
But whilst the contemplation of Nature entails an outgoing towards somewhat
indubitably external to us, and has as its material the world of sensible
experience: the contemplation of Spirit, as it seems to those who practise
it, requires a deliberate refusal of the messages of the senses, an ingoing
or “introversion” of our faculties, a “journey towards the centre.” The
Kingdom of God, they say, is within you: seek it, then, in the most secret
habitations of the soul. The mystic must learn so to concentrate all his
faculties, his very self, upon the invisible and intangible, that all
visible things are forgot: to bring it so sharply into focus that everything
else is blurred. He must call in his scattered faculties by a deliberate
exercise of the will, empty his mind of its swarm of images, its riot of
thought. In mystical language he must “sink into his nothingness”: into that
blank abiding place where busy, clever Reason cannot come. The whole of this
process, this gathering up and turning “inwards” of the powers of the self,
this gazing into the ground of the soul, is that which is called

Introversion is an art which can be acquired, as gradually and as certainly,
by the born mystic, as the art of piano-playing can be acquired by the born
musician. In both cases it is the genius of the artist which makes his use
of the instrument effective: but it is also his education in the use of the
instrument which enables that genius to express itself in an adequate way.
Such mystical education, of course, presumes a something that can be
educated: the “New Birth,” the awakening of the deeper self, must have taken
place before it can begin. It is a psychological process, and obeys
psychological laws. There is in it no element of the unexpected or the
abnormal. In technical language, we are here concerned with “ordinary” not
“extraordinary” contemplation.

In its early stages the practice of introversion is voluntary, difficult,
and deliberate; as are the early stages of learning to read or write. But as
reading or writing finally becomes automatic, so as the mystic’s training in
introversion proceeds, habits are formed: and those contemplative powers
which he is educating establish themselves amongst his normal faculties.
Sometimes they wholly dominate these faculties, escape the control of the
will, and appear spontaneously, seizing upon the conscious field. Such
violent and involuntary invasions of the transcendental powers, when they
utterly swamp the surface-consciousness and the subject is therefore cut off
from his ordinary “external world,” constitute the typical experience of
rapture or ecstasy. It is under the expansive formula of such abrupt
ecstatic perception, “not by gradual steps, but by sudden ecstatic flights
soaring aloft to the glorious things on high,” [632] that the mystical
consciousness of Divine Transcendence is most clearly expressed. Those wide,
exalted apprehensions of the Godhead which we owe to the mystics have
usually been obtained, not by industrious meditation, but by “a transcending
of all creatures, a perfect going forth from oneself: by standing in an
ecstasy of mind.” [633] Hence the experiences peculiar to these ecstatic
states have a great value for the student of mysticism. It will be our duty
to consider them in detail in a later section of this book. The normal and
deliberate practice of introversion, on the contrary, is bound up with the
sense of Divine Immanence. Its emphasis is on the indwelling God Who may be
found “by a journey towards the centre”: on the conviction indeed that
“angels and archangels are with us, but He is more truly our own who is not
only with us but in us .” [634]

Contemplation—taking that term in its widest sense, as embracing all the
degrees and kinds of mystical prayer—establishes communion between the soul
and the Absolute by way of these complementary modes of apprehending that
which is One. A. The usually uncontrollable, definitely outgoing, ecstatic
experience; the attainment of Pure Being, or “flight to God.” B. The more
controllable ingoing experience; the breaking down of the barrier between
the surface-self and those deeper levels of personality where God is met and
known “in our nothingness,” and a mysterious fusion of divine and human life
takes place. The one, says the Christian mystic, is the “going forth to the
Father”; the other is the “marriage with the Son.” Both are operated by the
Spirit whose dwelling is in the “spark of the soul.” Yet it is probable, in
spite of the spatial language which the mystics always use concerning them,
that these two experiences, in their most sublime forms, are but opposite
aspects of one whole: the complementary terms of a higher synthesis beyond
our span. In that consummation of love which Ruysbroeck has called “the
peace of the summits” they meet: then distinctions between inward and
outward, near and far, cease to have any meaning, in “the dim silence where
lovers lose themselves.” “To mount to God,” says the writer of “De
Adhaerando Deo,” “is to enter into one’s self. For he who inwardly entereth
and intimately penetrateth into himself, gets above and beyond himself and
truly mounts up to God.” [635]

Says Tauler of this ineffable meeting-place, which is to the intellect an
emptiness, and to the heart a fulfillment of all desire, “All there is so
still and mysterious and so desolate: for there is nothing there but God
only, and nothing strange. . . . This Wilderness is the Quiet Desert of the
Godhead, into which He leads all who are to receive this inspiration of God,
now or in Eternity.” [636] From this “quiet desert,” this still plane of
being, so near to her though she is far from it, the normal self is
separated by all the “unquiet desert” of sensual existence. Yet it stretches
through and in her, the stuff of Reality, the very Ground of her being,
since it is, in Julian’s words, “the Substance of all that is”: linking that
being at once with the universe and with God. “God is near us, but we are
far from Him, God is within, we are without, God is at home, we are in the
far country,” said Meister Eckhart, struggling to express the nature of this
“intelligible where.” [637] Clearly, if the self is ever to become aware of
it, definite work must be undertaken, definite powers of perception must be
trained: and the consciousness which has been evolved to meet the exigencies
of the World of Becoming must be initiated into that World of Being from
which it came forth.

Plato long ago defined the necessity of such a perception, and the nature of
that art of contemplation by which the soul can feed upon the Real, when he
said in one of his most purely mystical passages, “When the soul returns
into itself and reflects, it passes into . . . the region of that which is
pure and everlasting, immortal and unchangeable: and, feeling itself kindred
thereto, it dwells there under its own control, and has rest from its
wanderings.” [638] In the “contemplation” of Plato and of the Platonic
Schools generally, however, the emphasis lies at least as much on intellect
as on intuition: with him the head and not the heart is the meeting-place
between man and the Real. “Anciently,” says Augustine Baker, “there was a
certain kind of false contemplation, which we may call philosophical,
practised by some learned heathens of old, and imitated by some in these
days, which hath for its last and best end only the perfection of knowledge,
and a delightful complacency in it. . . . To this rank of philosophical
contemplations may be referred those scholastic wits which spend much time
in the study and subtle examination of the mysteries of faith, and have not
for their end the increasing of divine love in their hearts.” [639]

We cannot long read the works of the mystics without coming across
descriptions—often first-hand descriptions of great psychological
interest—of the processes through which the self must pass, the discipline
which it must undertake, in the course of acquiring the art of
contemplation. Most of these descriptions differ in detail; in the divisions
adopted, the emotions experienced, the number of “degrees” through which the
subject passes, from the first painful attempt to gather up its faculties to
the supreme point at which it feels itself to be “lost in God.” In each
there is that quality of uniqueness which is inherent in every expression of
life: in each the temperamental bias and analytical powers of the writer
have exerted a further modifying influence. All, however, describe a
connected experience, the progressive concentration of the entire self under
the spur of love upon the contemplation of transcendental reality. As the
Mystic Way involves transcendence of character, the sublimation of the
instinctive life and movement of the whole man to higher levels of vitality,
his attainment of freedom, so the ascent of the ladder of contemplation
involves such a transcendence, or movement to high levels of liberty, of his
perceptive powers.

The steps of the ladder, the substance of the progressive exercises
undertaken by the developing self, its education in the art of
contemplation, are usually know by the Christian mystics as the “degrees of
prayer” or “orison.” But the common implications of the word “prayer,” with
its suggestions of formal devotion, detailed petition—a definite something
asked for, and a definite duty done, by means of extemporary or traditional
allocutions—do not really suggest the nature of those supersensual
activities which the mystics mean to express in their use of this term.

Mystical prayer, or “orison”—the term which I propose for the sake of
clearness to use here—has nothing in common with petition. It is not
articulate; it has no forms. “It is,” says “The Mirror of St. Edmund,”
“naught else but yearning of soul.” [640] —the expression of man’s
metaphysical thirst. In it, says Grou, “the soul is united to God in its
ground, the created intelligence to the Intelligence Increate, without the
intervention of imagination or reason, or of anything but a very simple
attention of the mind and an equally simple application of the will.” [641]
On the psychological side its development involves a steady discipline of
the mystic’s rich subliminal mind, slowly preparing the channels in which
the deeper consciousness is to flow. This discipline reduces to some sort of
order, makes effective for life, those involuntary states of passivity,
rapture and intuition which are the characteristic ways in which an
uncontrolled, uncultivated genius for the Absolute breaks out. To the
subject himself, however, his orison seems rather a free and mutual act of
love; a supernatural intercourse between the soul and the divine, or some
aspect of the divine, sometimes full of light and joy, sometimes dark and
bare. [642] In some of its degrees it is a placid, trustful waiting upon
messages from without. In others, it is an inarticulate communion, a
wordless rapture, a silent gazing upon God. The mystics have exhausted all
the resources of all tongues in their efforts to tell us of the rewards
which await those who will undertake this most sublime and difficult of

As we come to know our friends better by having intercourse with them, so by
this deliberate intercourse the self enters more and more deeply into the
Heart of Reality. Climbing like Dante step by step up the ladder of
contemplation, it comes at last to the Empyrean, “ivi è perfetta, matura ed
intera ciascuna disianza.” [643] The true end of orison, like the true end
of that mystical life within which it flowers, is the supreme meeting
between Lover and Beloved, between God and the soul. Its method is the
method of the mystic life, transcendence: a gradual elimination of sensible
image, and bit by bit approximation of the contemplative self to reality,
gradually producing within it those conditions in which union can take
place. This entails a concentration, a turning inwards, of all those
faculties which the normal self has been accustomed to turn outwards, and
fritter upon the manifold illusions of daily life. It means, during the
hours of introversion, a retreat from and refusal of the Many, in order that
the mind may be able to apprehend the One. “Behold,” says Boehme, “if thou
desirest to see God’s Light in thy Soul, and be divinely illuminated and
conducted, this is the short way that thou art to take; not to let the Eye
of thy Spirit enter into Matter or fill itself with any Thing whatever,
either in Heaven or Earth, but to let it enter by a naked faith into the
Light of the Majesty.” [644]

“What this opening of the ghostly eye is,” says Hilton, “the greatest clerk
on earth could not imagine by his wit, nor show fully by his tongue. For it
may not be got by study nor through man’s travail only, but principally by
grace of the Holy Ghost and with travail of man. I dread mickle to speak
aught of it, for me thinketh I cannot; it passeth mine assay, and my lips
are unclean. Nevertheless, for I expect love asketh and love biddeth,
therefore I shall say a little more of it as I hope love teacheth. This
opening of the ghostly eye is that lighty murkness and rich nought that I
spake of before, and it may be called: Purity of spirit and ghostly rest,
inward stillness and peace of conscience, highness of thought and onlyness
of soul, a lively feeling of grace and privily of heart, the waking sleep of
the spouse and tasting of heavenly savour burning in love and shining in
light, entry of contemplation and reforming in feeling . . . they are divers
in showing of words, nevertheless they are all one in sense of
soothfastness.” [645]

“Human industry,” says Hilton here, must be joined to “grace.” If the
spiritual eye is to be opened, definite work must be done. So long as the
“eye which looks upon Time” fills itself with things and usurps the
conscious field, that spiritual eye which “looks upon Eternity” can hardly
act at all: and this eye must not only be opened, it must be trained, so
that it may endure to gaze steadfastly at the Uncreated Light. This training
and purging of the transcendental sight is described under many images;
“diverse in showing of words, one in sense and soothfastness.” Its essence
is a progressive cleaning of the mirror, a progressive self-emptying of all
that is not real the attainment of that unified state of consciousness which
will permit a pure, imageless apprehension of the final Reality which “hath
no image” to be received by the self. “Naked orison,” “emptiness,”
“nothingness,” “entire surrender,” “peaceful love in life naughted,” say the
mystics again and again. Where apprehension of the divine comes by way of
vision or audition, this is but a concession to human weakness; a sign, they
think, that “sensitive nature” is not yet wholly transcended. It is a
translation of the true tongue of angels into a dialect that the normal mind
can understand. A steady abolition of sense imagery, a cutting off of all
possible sources of illusion, all possible encouragements of selfhood and
pride—the most fertile of all sources of deception—this is the condition of
pure sight; and the “degrees of orison,” the “steep stairs of love” which
they climb so painfully, are based upon this necessity.

The terms used by individual mystics, the divisions which they adopt in
describing the self’s progress in contemplation, are bewildering in their
variety. Here, more than elsewhere, the mania for classification has
obsessed them. We find, too, when we come to compare one with another, that
the language which they employ is not always so exact as it seems: nor are
traditional terms always used in the same sense. Sometimes by the word
“contemplation” they intend to describe the whole process of introversion:
sometimes they reserve it for the “orison of union,” sometimes identify it
with ecstasy. It has been pointed out by Delacroix that even St. Teresa’s
classification of her own states is far from lucid, and varies in each of
her principal works. [646] Thus in the “Life” she appears to treat
Recollection and Quiet as synonymous, whilst in “The Way of Perfection”
these conditions are sharply differentiated. In “The Interior Castle” she
adopts an entirely different system; the prayer of quiet being there called
“tasting of God.” [647] Finally, Augustine Baker, in treating of the “Prayer
of Interior Silence and Quiet,” insists that by the term “Quiet” St. Teresa
did not mean this at all, but a form of “supernatural contemplation.” [648]

Thus we are gradually forced to the conclusion that the so-called “degrees
of orison” so neatly tabulated by ascetic writers are largely artificial and
symbolic: that the process which they profess to describe is really, like
life itself, one and continuous—not a stairway but a slope—and the parts
into which they break it up are diagrammatic. Nearly every mystic makes
these breaks in a different place, though continuing to use the language of
his predecessors. In his efforts towards self-analysis he divides and
subdivides, combines and differentiates his individual moods. Hence the
confusion of mind which falls upon those who try to harmonize different
systems of contemplation: to identify St. Teresa’s “Four Degrees” [649] with
Hugh of St. Victor’s other four, [650] and with Richard of St. Victor’s
“four steps of ardent love”: [651] or to accommodate upon this diagram
Hilton’s simple and poetic “three steps of contemplations—Knowing, Loving,
and Knowing-and-Loving—where the adventurer rather than the map-maker
speaks. Such fine shades, says Augustine Baker in this connection, are
“nicely distinguished” by the author “rather out of a particular experience
of the effects passing in his own soul [652] which perhaps are not the same
in all” than for any more general reason. [653]

Some diagram, however, some set scheme, the writer on introversion must
have, if he is to describe with lucidity the normal development of the
contemplative consciousness: and so long as the methodological nature of
this diagram is kept in mind, there can be little objection to the use of
it. I propose then to examine under three divisions that continuous and
orderly growth, that gradual process of change, by which the mystical
consciousness matures, and develops its apprehension of God. We will give to
these three divisions names familiar to all readers of ascetic literature:
Recollection, Quiet, and Contemplation. Each of these three parts of the
introversive experience may be discerned in embryo in that little experiment
at which the reader has been invited to assist: the act of concentration,
the silence, the new perception which results. Each has a characteristic
beginning which links it with its predecessor, and a characteristic end
which shades off into the next state. Thus Recollection commonly begins in
Meditation and develops into the “Orison of Inward Silence or Simplicity,”
which again melts into the true “Quiet.” “Quiet” as it becomes deeper passes
into Ordinary Contemplation: and this grows through Contemplation proper to
that Orison of Passive Union which is the highest of the non-ecstatic
introversive states. Merely to state the fact thus is to remind ourselves
how smoothly continuous is this life-process of the soul.

It is the object of contemplative prayer, as it is the object of all
education, to discipline and develop certain growing faculties. Here, the
faculties are those of the “transcendental self,” the “new man”—all those
powers which we associate with the “spiritual consciousness.” The “Sons of
God,” however, like the sons of men, begin as babies; and their first
lessons must not be too hard. Therefore the educative process conforms to
and takes advantage of every step of the natural process of growth: as we,
in the education of our children, make the natural order in which their
faculties develop the basis of our scheme of cultivation. Recollection,
Quiet, and Contemplation, then, answer to the order in which the mystic’s
powers unfold. Roughly speaking, we shall find that the form of spiritual
attention which is called “Meditative” or “Recollective” goes side by side
with the Purification of the Self; that “Quiet” tends to be characteristic
of Illumination; that Contemplation proper—at any rate in its higher
forms—is most fully experienced by those who have attained, or nearly
attained, the Unitive Way. At the same time, just as the self in its “first
mystic life,” before it has passed through the dark night of the spirit,
often seems to run through the whole gamut of spiritual states, and attain
that immediate experience of the Absolute which it seeks—though as a fact it
has not reached those higher levels of consciousness on which true and
permanent union takes place—so too in its orison. At any point in its growth
it may experience for brief periods that imageless and overpowering sense of
identity with the Absolute Life—that loving and exalted absorption in
God—which is called “passive union,” and anticipates the consciousness which
is characteristic of the unitive life. Over and over again in its “prayerful
process” it recapitulates in little the whole great process of its life. It
runs up for an instant to levels where it is not yet strong enough to dwell:
“seeks God in its ground” and finds that which it seeks. Therefore we must
not be too strict in our identification of the grades of education with the
stages of growth.

This education, rightly understood, is one coherent process: it consists in
a steady and voluntary surrender of the awakened consciousness, its feeling,
thought, and will, to the play of those transcendental influences, that
inflowing vitality, which it conceives of as divine. In the preparative
process of Recollection, the unruly mind is brought into subjection. In
“Quiet” the eager will is silenced, the “wheel of imagination” is stilled.
In Contemplation, the heart at last comes to its own— Cor ad cor loquitur .
In their simplest forms, these three states involve the deliberate
concentration upon, the meek resting in, the joyous communing with, the
ineffable Object of man’s quest. They require a progressive concentration of
the mystic’s powers, a gradual handing over of the reins from the surface
intelligence to the deeper mind; that essential self which alone is capable
of God. In Recollection the surface-mind still holds, so to speak, the
leading strings: but in “Quiet” it surrenders them wholly, allowing
consciousness to sink into that “blissful silence in which God works and
speaks.” This act of surrender, this deliberate negation of thought, is an
essential preliminary of the contemplative state. “Lovers put out the
candles and draw the curtains when they wish to see the god and the goddess;
and in the higher communion the night of thought is the light of
perception.” [654]

The education of the self in the successive degrees of orison has been
compared by St. Teresa, in a celebrated passage in her Life, to four ways of
watering the garden of the soul so that it may bring forth its flowers and
fruits. [655] The first and most primitive of these ways is meditation.
This, she says, is like drawing water by hand from a deep well: the slowest
and most laborious of all means of irrigation. Next to this is the orison of
quiet, which is a little better and easier: for here soul seems to receive
some help, i.e. , with the stilling of the senses the subliminal faculties
are brought into play. The well has now been fitted with a windlass—that
little Moorish water-wheel possessed by every Castilian farm. Hence we get
more water for the energy we expend: more sense of reality in exchange for
our abstraction from the unreal. Also “the water is higher, and accordingly
the labour is much less than it was when the water had to be drawn out of
the depths of the well. I mean that the water is nearer to it, for grace now
reveals itself more distinctly to the soul.” In the third stage, or orison
of union, we leave all voluntary activities of the mind: the gardener no
longer depends on his own exertions, contact between subject and object is
established, there is no more stress and strain. It is as if a little river
now ran through our garden and watered it. We have but to direct the stream.
In the fourth and highest stage, God Himself waters our garden with rain
from heaven “drop by drop.” The attitude of the self is now that of perfect
receptivity, “passive contemplation,” loving trust. Individual activity is
sunk in the “great life of the All.” [656]

The measure of the mystic’s real progress is and must always be his progress
in love; for his apprehension is an apprehension of the heart. His
education, his watering of the garden of the soul, is a cultivation of this
one flower—this Rosa Mystica which has its root in God. His advance in
contemplation, then, will be accompanied step by step by those exalted
feeling-states which Richard of St. Victor called the Degrees of Ardent
Love. Without their presence, all the drill in the world will not bring him
to the time contemplative state; though it may easily produce abnormal
powers of perception of the kind familiar to students of the occult.

Thus our theory of mystic education is in close accord with our theory of
mystic life. In both, there is a progressive surrender of selfhood under the
steady advance of conquering love; a stilling of that “I, Me, and Mine,”
which is linked by all the senses, and by all its own desires, to the busy
world of visible things. This progressive surrender usually appears in the
practice of orison as a progressive inward retreat from circumference to
centre, to that ground of the soul, that substantial somewhat in man, deep
buried for most of us beneath the great rubbish heap of our
surface-interests, where human life and divine life meet. To clear away the
rubbish-heap so that he may get down to this treasure-house is from one
point of view the initial task of the contemplative. This clearing away is
the first part of “introversion”: that journey inwards to his own centre
where, stripped of all his cleverness and merit, reduced to his
“nothingness,” he can “meet God without intermediary.” This ground of the
soul, this strange inward sanctuary to which the normal man so seldom
penetrates, is, says Eckhart, “immediately receptive of the Divine Being,”
and “no one can move it but God alone.” [657] There the finite self
encounters the Infinite; and, by a close and loving communion with and
feeding on the attributes of the Divine Substance, is remade in the
interests of the Absolute Life. This encounter, the consummation of mystical
culture, is what we mean by contemplation in its highest form. Here we are
on the verge of that great self-merging act which is of the essence of pure
love: which Reality has sought of us, and we have unknowingly desired of It.
Here contemplation and union are one. “Thus do we grow,” says Ruysbroeck,
“and, carried above ourselves, above reason, into the very heart of love,
there do we feed according to the spirit; and taking flight for the Godhead
by naked love, we go to the encounter of the Bridegroom, to the encounter of
His Spirit, which is His love; and thus we are brought forth by God, out of
our selfhood, into the immersion of love, in which we possess blessedness
and are one with God.” [658]


The beginning of the process of introversion, the first deliberate act in
which the self turns towards the inward path, will not merely be the
yielding to an instinct, the indulgence of a natural taste for reverie; it
will be a voluntary and purposeful undertaking. Like conversion, it entails
a break with the obvious, which must, of necessity, involve and affect the
whole normal consciousness. It will be evoked by the mystic’s love, and
directed by his reason; but can only be accomplished by the strenuous
exercise of his will. These preparatory labours of the contemplative
life—these first steps upon the ladder—are, says St. Teresa, very hard, and
require greater courage than all the rest. [659] All the scattered interests
of the self have here to be collected; there must be a deliberate and
unnatural act of attention, a deliberate expelling of all discordant images
from the consciousness a hard and ungrateful task. Since the transcendental
faculties are still young and weak, the senses not wholly mortified, it
needs a stern determination, a “wilful choice,” if we are to succeed in
concentrating our attention upon the whispered messages from within,
undistracted by the loud voices which besiege us from without.

“How,” says the Disciple to the Master in one of Boehme’s “Dialogues,” “am I
to seek in the Centre this Fountain of Light which may enlighten me
throughout and bring my properties into perfect harmony? I am in Nature, as
I said before, and which way shall I pass through Nature and the light
thereof, so that I may come into the supernatural and supersensual ground
whence this true Light, which is the Light of Minds, doth arise; and this
without the destruction of my nature, or quenching the Light of it, which is
my reason?

“Master. Cease but from thine own activity, steadfastly fixing thine Eye
upon one Point. . . . For this end, gather in all thy thoughts, and by faith
press into the Centre, laying hold upon the Word of God, which is infallible
and which hath called thee. Be thou obedient to this call, and be silent
before the Lord, sitting alone with Him in thy inmost and most hidden cell,
thy mind being centrally united in itself, and attending His Will in the
patience of hope. So shall thy Light break forth as the morning, and after
the redness thereof is passed, the Sun himself, which thou waitest for,
shall arise unto thee, and under his most healing wings thou shalt greatly
rejoice: ascending and descending in his bright and health-giving beams.
Behold, this is the true Supersensual Ground of Life.” [660]

In this short paragraph Boehme has caught and described the psychological
state in which all introversion must begin: the primary simplification of
consciousness, steadfastly fixing the soul’s eye upon one point, and the
turning inwards of the whole conative powers for a purpose rather believed
in than known, “by faith pressing into the centre.”

The unfortunate word Recollection, which the hasty reader is apt to connect
with remembrance, is the traditional term by which mystical writers define
just such a voluntary concentration, such a first collecting or gathering in
of the attention of the self to its “most hidden cell.” That self is as yet
unacquainted with the strange plane of silence which so soon becomes
familiar to those who attempt even the lowest activities of the
contemplative life, where the self is released from succession, the noises
of the world are never heard, and the great adventures of the spirit take
place. It stands here between the two planes of its being; the Eye of Time
is still awake. It knows that it wants to enter the inner world, that
“interior palace where the King of Kings is guest”: [661] but it must find
some device to help it over the threshold—rather, in the language of
psychology, to shift that threshold and permit its subliminal intuition of
the Absolute to emerge.

This device is as a rule the practice of meditation, in which the state of
Recollection usually begins: that is to say, the deliberate consideration of
and dwelling upon some one aspect of Reality—an aspect most usually chosen
from amongst the religious beliefs of the self. Thus Hindu mystics will
brood upon a sacred word, whilst Christian contemplatives set before their
minds one of the names or attributes of God, a fragment of Scripture, an
incident of the life of Christ; and allow—indeed encourage—this
consideration and the ideas and feelings which flow from it, to occupy the
whole mental field. This powerful suggestion, kept before the consciousness
by an act of will, overpowers the stream of small suggestions which the
outer world pours incessantly upon the mind. The self, concentrated upon
this image or idea, dwelling on it more than thinking about it—as one may
gaze upon a picture that one loves—falls gradually and insensibly into the
condition of reverie; and, protected by this holy day-dream from the more
distracting dream of life, sinks into itself, and becomes in the language of
asceticism “recollected” or gathered together. Although it is deliberately
ignoring the whole of its usual “external universe,” its faculties are wide
awake: all have had their part in the wilful production of this state of
consciousness: and this it is which marks off meditation and recollection
from the higher or “infused” degrees of orison.

Such meditation as this, says Richard of St. Victor, is the activity proper
to one who has attained the first degree of ardent love. By it, “God enters
into the mind,” and “the mind also enters into itself”; and thus receives in
its inmost cell the “first visit of the Beloved.” It is a kind of half-way
house between the perception of Appearance and the perception of Reality. To
one in whom this state is established consciousness seems like a blank
field, save for the “one point” in its centre, the subject of the
meditation. Towards this focus the introversive self seems to press inwards
from every side; still faintly conscious of the buzz of the external world
outside its ramparts, but refusing to respond to its appeals. Presently the
subject of meditation begins to take on a new significance; to glow with
life and light. The contemplative suddenly feels that he knows it; in the
complete, vital, but indescribable way in which one knows a friend. More,
through it hints are coming to him of mightier, nameless things. It ceases
to be a picture, and becomes a window through which the mystic peers out
into the spiritual universe, and apprehends to some extent—though how, he
knows not—the veritable presence of God.

In these meditative and recollective states, the self still feels very
clearly the edge of its own personality: its separateness from the Somewhat
Other, the divine reality set over against the soul. It is aware of that
reality: the subject of its meditation becomes a symbol through which it
receives a distinct message from the transcendental world. But it is still
operating in a natural way—as mystical writers would say, “by means of the
faculties.” There is yet no conscious fusion with a greater Life; no resting
in the divine atmosphere, as in the “Quiet”; no involuntary and ecstatic
lifting up of the soul to direct apprehension of truth, as in contemplation.
Recollection is a definite psychic condition, which has logical psychic
results. Originally induced by meditation, or absorbed brooding upon certain
aspects of the Real, it develops in the Self, by way of the strenuous
control exercised by the will over the understanding, a power of cutting its
connection with the external world, and retreating to the inner world of the

“True recollection,” says St. Teresa, “has characteristics by which it can
be easily recognized. It produces a certain effect which I do not know how
to explain, but which is well understood by those who have experienced it. .
. . It is true that recollection has several degrees, and that in the
beginning these great effects are not felt, because it is not yet profound
enough. But support the pain which you first feel in recollecting yourself,
despise the rebellion of nature, overcome the resistance of the body, which
loves a liberty which is its ruin, learn self-conquest, persevere thus for a
time, and you will perceive very clearly the advantages which you gain from
it. As soon as you apply yourself to orison, you will at once feel your
senses gather themselves together: they seem like bees which return to the
hive and there shut themselves up to work at the making of honey: and this
will take place without effort or care on your part. God thus rewards the
violence which your soul has been doing to itself; and gives to it such a
domination over the senses that a sign is enough when it desires to
recollect itself, for them to obey and so gather themselves together. At the
first call of the will, they come back more and more quickly. At last, after
countless exercises of this kind, God disposes them to a state of utter rest
and of perfect contemplation.” [662]

This description makes it clear that “recollection” is a form of spiritual
gymnastics; less valuable for itself than for the training which it gives,
the powers which it develops. In it, says St. Teresa again, the soul enters
with its God into that Paradise which is within itself, and shuts the door
behind it upon all the things of the world. “You should know, my
daughters,” she continues, “that this is no supernatural act, but depends
upon our will, and that therefore we can do it with that ordinary assistance
of God which we need for all our acts and even for our good thoughts. For
here we are not concerned with the silence of the faculties, but with a
simple retreat of these powers into the ground of the soul. There are
various ways of arriving at it, and these ways are described in different
books. There it is said that we must abstract the mind from exterior things,
in order that we may inwardly approach God: that even in our work we ought
to retire within ourselves, though it be only for a moment: that this
remembrance of a God who companions us within, is a great help to us;
finally, that we ought little by little to habituate ourselves to gentle and
silent converse with Him, so that He may make us feel His presence in the
soul.” [663]


More important for us, because more characteristically mystical, is the next
great stage of orison: that curious and extremely definite mental state
which mystics call the Prayer of Quiet or Simplicity, or sometimes the
Interior Silence. This represents the result for consciousness of a further
degree of that inward retreat which Recollection began.

Out of the deep, slow brooding and pondering on some mystery, some
incomprehensible link between himself and the Real, or the deliberate
practice of loving attention to God, the contemplative—perhaps by way of a
series of moods and acts which his analytic powers may cause him “nicely to
distinguish”—glides, almost insensibly, on to a plane of perception for
which human speech has few equivalents. It is a plane which is apparently
characterized by an immense increase in the receptivity of the self and by
an almost complete suspension of the reflective powers. The strange silence
which is the outstanding quality of this state—almost the only note in
regard to it which the surface-intelligence can secure—is not describable.
Here, as Samuel Rutherford said of another of life’s secrets, “Come and see
willtell you much: come nearer will say more.” Here the self passes beyond
the stage at which its perceptions are capable of being dealt with by
thought. It can no longer “take notes”: can only surrender itself to the
stream of an inflowing life, and to the direction of a larger will.
Discursive thought would only interfere with this process: as it interferes
with the vital processes of the body if it once gets them under its control.
That thought, then, already disciplined by Recollection, gathered up, and
forced to work in the interests of the transcendental mind, is now to be
entirely inhibited.

As Recollection becomes deeper, the self slides into a certain dim yet vivid
consciousness of the Infinite. The door tight shut on the sensual world, it
becomes aware that it is immersed in a more real world which it cannot
define. It rests quietly in this awareness: quite silent, utterly at peace.
In the place of the struggles for complete concentration which mark the
beginning of Recollection, there is now “a living, somehow self-acting
recollection—with God, His peace, power, and presence, right in the midst of
this rose of spiritual fragrance.” [664] With this surrender to something
bigger, as with the surrender of conversion, comes an immense relief of
strain. This is “Quiet” in its most perfect form: this sinking, as it were,
of the little child of the Infinite into its Father’s arms. The giving up of
I-hood, the process of self-stripping, which we have seen to be the essence
of the purification of the self, finds its parallel in this phase of the
contemplative experience. Here, in this complete cessation of man’s proud
effort to do somewhat of himself, Humility, who rules the Fourth Degree of
Love, begins to be known in her paradoxical beauty and power. Consciousness
loses to find, and dies that it may live. No longer, in Rolle’s pungent
phrase, is it a “Raunsaker of the myghte of Godd and of His Majeste.” [665]
Thus the act by which it passes into the Quiet is a sacrament of the whole
mystic quest: of the turning from doing to being, the abolition of
separateness in the interests of the Absolute Life.

The state of “Quiet,” we have said, entails suspension of the
surface-consciousness: yet consciousness of the subject’s personality
remains. It follows, generally, on a period of deliberate and loving
recollection, of a slow and steady withdrawal of the attention from the
channels of sense. To one who is entering this state, the external world
seems to get further and further away: till at last nothing but the
paramount fact of his own existence remains. So startling, very often, is
the deprivation of all his accustomed mental furniture, of the noise and
flashing of the transmitting instruments of sense, that the negative aspect
of his condition dominates consciousness; and he can but describe it as a
nothingness, a pure passivity, an emptiness, a “naked” orison. He is there,
as it were poised, resting, waiting, he does not know for what: only he is
conscious that all, even in this utter emptiness, is well. Presently,
however, he becomes aware that Something fills this emptiness; something
omnipresent, intangible, like sunny air. Ceasing to attend to the messages
from without, he begins to notice That which has always been within. His
whole being is thrown open to its influence: it permeates his consciousness.

There are, then, two aspects of the Orison of Quiet: the aspect of
deprivation, of emptiness which begins it, and the aspect of acquisition, of
something found, in which it is complete. In its description, all mystics
will be found to lean to one side or the other, to the affirmative or
negative element which it contains. The austere mysticism of Eckhart and his
followers, their temperamental sympathy with the Neoplatonic language of
Dionysius the Areopagite, caused them to describe it and also very often the
higher state of contemplation to which it leads—as above all things an
emptiness, a divine dark, an ecstatic deprivation. They will not profane its
deep satisfactions by the inadequate terms proper to earthly peace and joy:
and, true to their school, fall back on the paradoxically suggestive powers
of negation. To St. Teresa, and mystics of her type, on the other hand, even
a little and inadequate image of its joy seems better than none. To them it
is a sweet calm, a gentle silence, in which the lover apprehends the
presence of the Beloved: a God-given state over which the self has little

In Eckhart’s writings enthusiastic descriptions of the Quiet, of inward
silence and passivity as the fruit of a deliberate recollection, abound. In
his view, the psychical state of Quiet is preeminently that in which the
soul of man begins to be united with its “ground,” Pure Being. It marks the
transition from “natural” to “supernatural” prayer. The emptying of the
field of consciousness, its cleansing of all images—even of those symbols of
Reality which are the objects of meditation—is the necessary condition under
which alone this encounter can take place.

“The soul,” he says, “with all its powers, has divided and scattered itself
in outward things, each according to its functions: the power of sight in
the eye, the power of hearing in the ear, the power of taste in the tongue,
and thus they are the less able to work inwardly, for every power which is
divided is imperfect. So the soul, if she would work inwardly, must call
home all her powers and collect them from all divided things to one inward
work. . . . If a man will work an inward work, he must pour all his powers
into himself as into a corner of the soul, and must hide himself from all
images and forms, and then he can work. Then he must come into a forgetting
and a not-knowing. He must be in a stillness and silence, where the Word may
be heard. One cannot draw near to this Word better than by stillness and
silence: then it is heard and understood in utter ignorance. When one knows
nothing, it is opened and revealed. Then we shall become aware of the Divine
Ignorance, and our ignorance will be ennobled and adorned with supernatural
knowledge. And when we simply keep ourselves receptive, we are more perfect
than when at work.” [666]

The psychic state of Quiet has a further value for the mystic, as being the
intellectual complement and expression of the moral state of humility and
receptivity: the very condition, says Eckhart, of the New Birth. “It may be
asked whether this Birth is best accomplished in Man when he does the work
and forms and thinks himself into God, or when he keeps himself in Silence,
stillness and peace, so that God may speak and work in him; . . . the best
and noblest way in which thou mayst come into this work and life is by
keeping silence, and letting God work and speak. When all the powers are
withdrawn from their work and images, there is this word spoken.” [667]

Eckhart’s view of the primary importance of “Quiet” as essentially the
introverted state is shared by all those mediaeval mystics who lay stress on
the psychological rather than the objective aspect of the spiritual life.
They regard it as the necessary preliminary of all contemplation; and
describe it as a normal phase of the inner experience, possible of
attainment by all those who have sufficiently disciplined themselves in
patience, recollection, and humility.

In an old English mystical tract by the author of “The Cloud of Unknowing”
there is a curious and detailed instruction on the disposition of mind
proper to this orison of silence. It clearly owes much to the teaching of
the Areopagite, and something surely—if we may judge by its vivid and exact
instructions—to personal experience. “When thou comest by thyself,” says the
master to the disciple for whom this “pystle” was composed, “think not
before what thou shalt do after: but forsake as well good thoughts as evil
thoughts, and pray not with thy mouth, but lift thee right well. . . . And
look that nothing live in thy working mind but a naked intent stretching
unto God, not clothed in any special thought of God in thyself, how He is in
Himself or in any of His works, but only that He is as He is. Let Him be so,
I pray thee, and make Him on none otherwise speech, nor search in Him by
subtilty of wit: but believe by thy ground. This naked intent freely
fastened and grounded by very belief, shall be nought else to thy thought
and thy feeling but a naked thought and a blind feeling of thine own being.
. . . That darkness be thy mirror and thy mind whole. Think no further of
thyself than I bid thee do of thy God, so that thou be oned with Him in
spirit as in thought, without departing and scattering, for He is thy being
and in Him thou art that thou art: not only by cause and by being, but also
He is in thee both thy cause and thy being. And therefore think on God as in
this work as thou dost on thyself, and on thyself as thou dost on God, that
He is as He is, and thou art as thou art, and that thy thought be not
scattered nor departed but privied in Him that is All.” [668]

“Let Him be so, I pray thee!” It is an admonition against spiritual worry,
an entreaty to the individual, already at work twisting experience to meet
his own conceptions, to let things be as they are, to receive and be
content. Leave off doing, that you may be. Leave off analysis, that you may
know. “That meek darkness be thy mirror”—humble receptivity is the watchword
of this state. “In this,” says Eckhart finely, “the soul is of equal
capacity with God. As God is boundless in giving, so the soul is boundless
in receiving. And as God is almighty in His work, se the soul is an abyss of
receptivity: and so she is formed anew with God and in God. . . . The
disciples of St. Dionysius asked him why Timotheus surpassed them all in
perfection. Then said Dionysius, ‘Timotheus is receptive of God.’ And thus
thine ignorance is not a defect but thy highest perfection, and thine
inactivity thy highest work. And so in this work thou must bring all thy
works to nought and all thy powers into silence, if thou wilt in truth
experience this birth within thyself.” [669]

It is interesting to contrast these descriptions of the Quiet with St.
Teresa’s subjective account of the same psychological state. Where the
English mystic’s teaching is full of an implied appeal to the will, the
Spanish saint is all for the involuntary, or, as she would call it, the
“supernatural” actions of the soul. “This true orison of quiet,” she says,
“has in it an element of the supernatural. We cannot, in spite of all our
efforts, procure it for ourselves. It is a sort of peace in which the soul
establishes herself, or rather in which God establishes the soul, as He did
the righteous Simeon. All her powers are at rest. She understands, but
otherwise than by the senses, that she is already near her God, and that if
she draws a little nearer, she will become by union one with Him. She does
not see this with the eyes of the body, nor with the eyes of the soul. . . .
It is like the repose of a traveller who, within sight of the goal stops to
take breath, and then continues with new strength upon his way. One feels a
great bodily comfort, a great satisfaction of soul: such is the happiness of
the soul in seeing herself close to the spring, that even without drinking
of the waters she finds herself refreshed. It seems to her that she wants
nothing more: the faculties which are at rest would like always to remain
still, for the least of their movements is able to trouble or prevent her
love. Those who are in this orison wish their bodies to remain motionless,
for it seems to them that at the least movement they will lose this sweet
peace . . . they are in the palace close to their King, and they see that He
begins to give them His kingdom. It seems to them that they are no longer in
the world, and they wish neither to hear nor to see it, but only God. . . .
There is this difference between the orison of quiet and that in which the
whole soul is united to God; that in this last the soul has not to absorb
the Divine Food. God deposits it with her, she knows not how. The orison of
quiet, on the other hand, demands, it seems to me, a slight effort; but it
is accompanied by so much sweetness that one hardly feels it.” [670]

“A slight effort,” says St. Teresa. “A naked intent stretching,” says the
“Pystle of Private Counsel.” These words mark the frontier between the true
and healthy mystic state of “Quiet” and its morbid perversion in
“Quietism”: the difference between the tense stillness of the athlete and
the limp passivity of the sluggard, who is really lazy, though he looks
resigned. True “Quiet” is a means, not an end: is actively embraced, not
passively endured. It is a phase in the self’s growth in contemplation; a
bridge which leads from its old and uncoordinated life of activity to its
new unified life of deep action—the real “mystic life” of man. This state is
desired by the mystic, not in order that consciousness may remain a blank,
but in order that the “Word which is Alive” may be written thereon. Too
often, however, this fact has been ignored; and the Interior Silence has
been put by wayward transcendentalists to other and less admirable use.

“Quiet” is the danger-zone of introversion. Of all forms of mystical
activity, perhaps this has been the most abused, the least understood. Its
theory, seized upon, divorced from its context, and developed to excess,
produced the foolish and dangerous exaggerations of Quietism: and these, in
their turn, caused a wholesale condemnation of the principle of passivity,
and made many superficial persons regard “naked orison” as an essentially
heretical act. [671] The accusation of Quietism has been hurled at mystics
whose only fault was a looseness of language which laid them open to
misapprehension. Others, however, have certainly contrived, by a perversion
and isolation of the teachings of great contemplatives on this point, to
justify the deliberate production of a half-hypnotic state of passivity.
With this meaningless state of “absorption in nothing at all” they were
content; claiming that in it they were in touch with the divine life, and
therefore exempt from the usual duties and limitations of human existence.
“Quietism,” usually, and rather unfairly, regarded as the special folly of
Madame Guyon and her disciples, already existed in a far more dangerous form
in the Middle Ages: and was described and denounced by Ruysbroeck, one of
the greatest masters of true introversion whom the Christian world has

“Such quietude,” he says, “is nought else but idleness, into which a man has
fallen, and in which he forgets himself and God and all things in all that
has to do with activity. This repose is wholly contrary to the supernatural
repose one possesses in God; for that is a loving self-mergence and simple
gazing at the Incomprehensible Brightness; actively sought with inward
desire, and found in fruitive inclination. . . . When a man possesses this
rest in false idleness, and all loving adherence seems a hindrance to him,
he clings to himself in his quietude and lives contrary to the first way in
which man is united with God; and this is the beginning of all ghostly
error.” [672]

There can be no doubt that for selves of a certain psychical constitution,
such a “false idleness” is only too easy of attainment. They can by wilful
self-suggestion deliberately produce this emptiness, this inward silence,
and luxuriate in its peaceful effects. To do this from self-regarding
motives, or to do it to excess—to let “peaceful enjoyment” swamp “active
love”—is a mystical vice: and this perversion of the spiritual faculties,
like perversion of the natural faculties, brings degeneration in its train.
It leads to the absurdities of “holy indifference,” and ends in the complete
stultification of the mental and moral life. The true mystic never tries
deliberately to enter the orison of quiet: with St. Teresa, he regards it as
a supernatural gift, beyond his control, though fed by his will and love.
That is to say, where it exists in a healthy form, it appears spontaneously,
as a phase in normal development; not as a self-induced condition, a psychic

The balance to be struck in this stage of introversion can only be
expressed, it seems, in paradox. The true condition of quiet according to
the great mystics, is at once active and passive: it is pure surrender, but
a surrender which is not limp self-abandonment, but rather the free and
constantly renewed self-giving and self-emptying of a burning love. The
departmental intellect is silenced, but the totality of character is flung
open to the influence of the Real. Personality is not lost: only its hard
edge is gone. A “rest most busy,” says Hilton. Like the soaring of an eagle,
says Augustine Baker, when “the flight is continued for a good space with a
great swiftness, but withal with great stillness, quietness and ease,
without any waving of the wings at all, or the least force used in any
member, being in as much ease and stillness as if she were reposing in her
nest.” [673]

“According to the unanimous teaching of the most experienced and explicit of
the specifically Theistic and Christian mystics,” says Von Hügel, “the
appearance, the soul’s own impression, of a cessation of life and energy of
the soul in periods of special union with God, or of great advance in
spirituality, is an appearance only. Indeed this, at such times strong,
impression of rest springs most certainly from an unusually large amount of
actualized energy, an energy which is now penetrating, and finding
expression by ever pore and fibre of the soul. The whole moral and spiritual
creature expands and rests, yes; but this very rest is produced by Action,
‘unperceived because so fleet, so near, so all-fulfilling.’” [674]

The great teachers of Quietism, having arrived at and experienced the
psychological state of “quiet”: having known the ineffable peace and
certainty, the bliss which follows on its act of complete surrender, its
utter and speechless resting in the Absolute Life, believed themselves to
have discovered in this halfway house the goal of the mystic quest.
Therefore, whilst much of their teaching remains true, as a real description
of a real and valid state experienced by almost all contemplatives in the
course of their development, the inference which they drew from it, that in
this mere blank abiding in the deeps the soul had reached the end of her
course, was untrue and bad for life.

Thus Molinos gives in the “Spiritual Guide” many unexceptional maxims upon
Interior Silence: “By not speaking nor desiring, and not thinking,” he says
justly enough of the contemplative spirit, “she arrives at the true and
perfect mystical silence wherein God speaks with the soul, communicates
Himself to it, and in the abyss of its own depth teaches it the most perfect
and exalted wisdom. He calls and guides it to this inward solitude and
mystical silence, when He says that He will speak to it alone in the most
secret and hidden part of the heart.” Here Molinos speaks the language of
all mystics, yet the total result of his teaching was to suggest to the
ordinary mind that there was a peculiar virtue in doing nothing at all, and
that all deliberate spiritual activities were bad. [675]

Much of the teaching of modern “mystical” cults is thus crudely quietistic.
It insists on the necessity of “going into the silence,” and even, with a
strange temerity, gives preparatory lessons in subconscious meditation: a
proceeding which might well provoke the laughter of the saints. The
faithful, being gathered together, are taught by simple exercises in
recollection the way to attain the “Quiet.” By this mental trick the modern
transcendentalist naturally attains to a state of vacant placidity, in which
he rests: and “remaining in a distracted idleness and misspending the time
in expectation of extraordinary visits,” believes—with a faith which many of
the orthodox might envy—that he is here “united with his Principle.” But,
though the psychological state which contemplatives call the prayer of quiet
is a common condition of mystical attainment, it is not by itself mystical
at all. It is a state of preparation: a way of opening the door. That which
comes in when the door is opened will be that which we truly and
passionately desire. The will makes plain the way: the heart—the whole
man—conditions the guest. The true contemplative, coming to this plane of
utter stillness, does not desire “extraordinary favours and visitations,”
but the privilege of breathing for a little while the atmosphere of Love. He
is about that which St. Bernard called “the business of all businesses”:
goes, in perfect simplicity, to the encounter of Perfection, not to the
development of himself.

So, even at this apparently “passive” stage of his progress, the mystic’s
operations are found on analysis to have a dynamic and purposive character:
his very repose is the result of stress. He is a pilgrim that still seeks
his country. Urged by his innate tendency to transcendence, he is on his way
to higher levels, more sublime fulfilments, greater self-giving acts. Though
he may have forsaken all superficial activity, deep, urgent action still
remains. “The possession of God,” says Ruysbroeck, “demands and supposes
active love. He who thinks or feels otherwise is deceived. All our life as
it is in God is immersed in blessedness: all our life as it is in ourselves
is immersed in active love. And though we live wholly in ourselves and
wholly in God, it is but one life, but it is twofold and opposite according
to our feeling—rich and poor hungry and fulfilled, active and quiet.” [676]
The essential difference between this true “active” Quiet and Quietism of
all kinds has been admirably expressed by Baron von Hügel. “Quietism, the
doctrine of the One Act; passivity in a literal sense, as the absence or
imperfection of the power or use of initiative on the soul’s part, in any
and every state; these doctrines were finally condemned, and most rightly
and necessarily condemned, the Prayer of Quiet and the various states and
degrees of an ever-increasing predominance of Action over Activity—an action
which is all the more the soul’s very own, because the more occasioned,
directed and informed by God’s action and stimulation—these and the other
chief lines of the ancient experience and practice remain as true, correct,
and necessary as ever.” [677]

The “ever-increasing predominance of Action over Activity”—the deep and
vital movement of the whole self, too utterly absorbed for
self-consciousness, set over against its fussy surface-energies—here is the
true ideal of orison. This must inform all the soul’s aspiration towards
union with the absolute Life and Love which waits at the door. It is an
ideal which includes Quiet, as surely as it excludes Quietism.

As for that doctrine of the One Act here mentioned, which was preached by
the more extreme quietists; it, like all else in this movement, was the
perversion of a great mystical truth. It taught that the turning of the soul
towards Reality, the merging of the will in God, which is the very heart of
the mystic life, was One Act, never to be repeated. This done, the self had
nothing more to do but to rest in the Divine Life, be its unresisting
instrument. Pure passivity and indifference were its ideal. All activity was
forbidden it, all choice was a negation of its surrender, all striving was
unnecessary and wrong. It needed only to rest for evermore and “let God work
and speak in the silence.” This doctrine is so utterly at variance with all
that we know of the laws of life and growth, that it hardly seems to stand
in need of condemnation. Such a state of indifference—which the quietists
strove in vain to identify with that state of Pure Love which “seeketh not
its own” in spiritual things—cannot coexist with any of those “degrees of
ardent charity” through which man’s spirit must pass on its journey to the
One: and this alone is enough to prove its non-mystical character.

It is only fair to Madame Guyon to say that she cannot justly be charged
with preaching this exaggeration of passivity, though a loose and fluid
style has allowed many unfortunate inferences to be drawn from her works.
“Some persons,” she says, “when they hear of the prayer of quiet, falsely
imagine that the soul remains stupid, dead, and inactive. But unquestionably
it acteth therein, more nobly and more extensively than it had ever done
before, for God Himself is the Mover and the soul now acteth by the agency
of His Spirit. . . . Instead, then, of promoting idleness we promote the
highest activity, by inculcating a total dependence on the Spirit of God as
our moving principle, for in Him we live and move and have our being. . . .
Our activity should therefore consist in endeavouring to acquire and
maintain such a state as may be most susceptible of divine impressions, most
flexile to all the operations of the Eternal Word. Whilst a tablet is
unsteady, the painter is unable to delineate a true copy: so every act of
our own selfish and proper spirit is productive of false and erroneous
lineaments, it interrupts the work and defeats the design of this Adorable
Artist.” [678]

The true mystics, in whom the Orison of Quiet develops to this state of
receptivity, seldom use in describing it the language of “holy
indifference.” Their love and enthusiasm will not let them do that. It is
true, of course, that they are indifferent to all else save the supreme
claims of love: but then, it is of love that they speak. Ego dormio et cor
meum vigilat . “This,” says St. Teresa, “is a sleep of the powers of the
soul, which are not wholly lost, nor yet understanding how they are at work.
. . . To me it seems to be nothing else than a death, as it were, to all the
things of this world, and a fruition of God. I know of no other words
whereby to describe it or explain it; neither does the soul then know what
to do—for it knows not whether to speak or be silent, whether it should
laugh or weep. It is a glorious folly, a heavenly madness wherein true
wisdom is acquired; and to the soul a kind of fruition most full of delight.
. . . The faculties of the soul now retain only the power of occupying
themselves wholly with God; not one of them ventures to stir, neither can we
move one of them without making great efforts to distract ourselves—and,
indeed, I do not think we can do it at all at this time.” [679]

Here, then, we see the Orison of Silence melting into true contemplation:
its stillness is ruffled by its joy. The Quiet reveals itself as an
essentially transitional state, introducing the self into a new sphere of

The second degree of ardent love, says Richard of St. Victor, binds , sothat
the soul which is possessed by it is unable to think of anything else: it is
not only “insuperable,” but also “inseparable.” [680] He compares it to the
soul’s bridal; the irrevocable act, by which permanent union is initiated.
The feeling-state which is the equivalent of the Quiet is just such a
passive and joyous yielding-up of the virgin soul to its Bridegroom; a
silent marriage-vow. It is ready for all that may happen to it, all that may
be asked of it—to give itself and lose itself, to wait upon the pleasure of
its Love. From this inward surrender the self emerges to the new life, the
new knowledge which is mediated to it under the innumerable forms of

[630] “The contemplative and the artist,” says Maritain, “are in a position
to sympathize. . . . The contemplative, having for object the causa
altissima from which all else depends, knows the place and value of art, and
understands the artist. The artist as such, cannot judge the contemplative,
but he can divine his greatness. If he indeed loves Beauty, and if some
moral vice does not chain his heart to dulness, going over to the side of
the contemplative he will recognize Love and Beauty” (J. Maritain, “Art et
Scholastique,” p. 139).

[631] “Revelations of Divine Love,” cap. v.

[632] St. Bernard, “De Consideratione,” bk. v. cap. iii.

[633] “De Imitatione Christi,” I. iii. cap. xxxi.

[634] St. Bernard, op. cit ., bk. v. cap. v. So Lady Julian, “We are all in
Him enclosed and He is enclosed in us” (“Revelations of Divine Love,” cap.

[635] Op. cit ., cap. vii.

[636] Third Instruction (“The Inner Way,” p. 323).

[637] Eckhart, Pred. lxix.

[638] Phaedo, 79c.

[639] “Holy Wisdom.” Treatise iii. § iv.cap. i.

[640] Cap. xvii.

[641] J. N. Grou, “L’Ecole de Jésus,” vol. ii., p. 8.

[642] “I discover all truths in the interior of my soul,” says Antoinette
Bourignan, “especially when I am recollected in my solitude in a
forgetfulness of all Things. Then my spirit communicates with Another
Spirit, and they entertain one another as two friends who converse about
serious matters. And this conversation is so sweet that I have sometimes
passed a whole day and a night in it without interruption or standing in
need of meat or drink” (MacEwen, “Antoinette Bourignan, Quietist,” p. 109).

[643] Par. xxii. 64.

[644] “Dialogues of the Supersensual Life,” p. 66.

[645] Hilton, “The Scale of Perfection,” bk. ii., cap. xi.

[646] “Études sur le Mysticisme,” p. 18.

[647] Vida, cap. xiv.; “Camino do Perfeccion,” cap. xxxi.; “El Castillo
Interior,” Moradas Cuartas, cap. ii.

[648] “Holy Wisdom,” Treatise iii. § ii. cap. vii.

[649] Meditation, Quiet, a nameless “intermediate” degree, and the Orison of
Union (Vida, cap. xi.).

[650] Meditation, Soliloquy, Consideration, Rapture (Hugh of St. Victor, “De

[651] “De Quatuor Gradibus Violentae Charitatis.” Vide supra, p. 139.

[652] “The Scale of Perfection,” bk. I. caps. iv. to viii.

[653] “Holy Wisdom,” loc. cit ., § ii. cap. i.

[654] Coventry Patmore, ‘The Rod, the Root, and the Flower,” “Aurea
Dicta,” xiii.

[655] Vida, cap. xi. §§ 10 and 11.

[656] The detailed analysis of these four degrees fills caps. xii.–xviii. of
the Vida .

[657] Pred. i. This doctrine of man’s latent absoluteness, expressed under a
multitude of different symbols, is the central dogma of mysticism, and the
guarantee of the validity of the contemplative process. In its extreme form,
it can hardly be defended from the charge of pantheism; but the Christian
mystics are usually careful to steer clear of this danger.

[658] Ruysbroeck, “De Calculo” (condensed).

[659] Vida, cap. xi. § 17.

[660] “Dialogues of the Supersensual Life,” p. 56.

[661] St. Teresa, “Camino de Perfeccion,” cap. xxx.

[662] “Camino de Perfeccion,” cap. xxx.

[663] Op. cit ., cap. xxxi.

[664] F. von Hügel. “Letters to a Niece,” p. 140.

[665] Prose Treatises of Richard Rolle (E.E.T.S. 20), p. 42.

[666] Meister Eckhart, Pred. ii.

[667] Ibid. , Pred. i.

[668] “An Epistle of Private Counsel” (B.M. Harl. 674). Printed, with slight
textual variations, in “The Cloud of Unknowing, and other Treatises,” edited
by Dom Justin McCann.

[669] Eckhart, Pred. ii.

[670] “Camino de Perfeccion,” cap. xxxiii. The whole chapter, which is a
marvel of subtle analysis, should be read in this connection.

[671] Note, for instance, the cautious language of “Holy Wisdom,” Treatise
iii. § III. cap. vii.

[672] Ruysbroeck, “De Ornatu Spiritalium Nuptiarum,” I. ii. caps. lxvi.

[673] “Holy Wisdom,” Treatise iii. § iii. cap. vii.

[674] Von Hügel, “The Mystical Element of Religion,” vol. ii. p. 132.

[675] He goes so far as to say in one of his “condemned” propositions ,
“Oportet hominem suas potentias anshilare,” and “velle operari active est
Deum offendere.”

[676] “De Calculo,” cap. ix.

[677] “The Mystical Element of Religion,” vol. ii. p. 143.

[678] “Moyen Court,” cap. xxi. Madame Guyon’s vague and shifting language,
however, sometimes lays her open to other and more strictly “quietistic”

[679] Vida, cap. xvi. §§ 1 and 4.

[680] “De Quatuor Gradibus Violentae Charitatis” (Migne, Patrologia Latina,
vol. cxcvi. col. 1215 b).