Chapter 17

W hat is the Unitive Life? We have referred to it often enough in the course
of this inquiry. At last we are face to face with the necessity of defining
its nature if we can. Since the normal man knows little about his own true
personality and nothing at all about that of Deity, the orthodox description
of it as “the life in which man’s will is united with God,” does but echo
the question in an ampler form, and conveys no real meaning to the
student’s mind.

That we should know, by instinct, its character from within—as we know, if
we cannot express, the character of our own normal human lives—is of course
impossible. We deal here with the final triumph of the spirit, the flower of
mysticism, humanity’s top note: the consummation towards which the
contemplative life, with its long slow growth and costly training, has moved
from the first. We look at a small but ever-growing group of heroic figures,
living at transcendent levels of reality which we immersed in the poor life
of illusion, cannot attain: breathing an atmosphere whose true quality we
cannot even conceive. Here, then, as at so many other points in our study of
the spiritual consciousness, we must rely for the greater part of our
knowledge upon the direct testimony of the mystics; who alone can tell the
character of that “more abundant life” which they enjoy.

Yet we are not wholly dependent on this source of information. It is the
peculiarity of the Unitive Life that it is often lived, in its highest and
most perfect forms, in the world; and exhibits its works before the eyes of
men. As the law of our bodies is “earth to earth” so, strangely enough, is
the law of our souls. The spirit of man having at last come to full
consciousness of reality, completes the circle of Being; and returns to
fertilize those levels of existence from which it sprang. Hence, the enemies
of mysticism, who have easily drawn a congenial moral from the “morbid and
solitary” lives of contemplatives in the earlier and educative stages of the
Mystic Way, are here confronted very often by the disagreeable spectacle of
the mystic as a pioneer of humanity, a sharply intuitive and painfully
practical person: an artist, a discoverer, a religious or social reformer, a
national hero, a “great active” amongst the saints. By the superhuman nature
of that which these persons accomplish, we can gauge something of the
super-normal vitality of which they partake. The things done, the victories
gained over circumstances by St. Bernard or St. Joan of Arc, by St.
Catherine of Siena, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Teresa, George Fox, are hardly
to be explained unless these great spirits had indeed a closer, more
intimate, more bracing contact than their fellows with that Life “which is
the light of men.”

Use have, then, these two lines of investigation open to us: first, the
comparison and elucidation of that which the mystics tell us concerning
their transcendent experience, secondly, the testimony which is borne by
their lives to the existence within them of supernal springs of action,
contact set up with deep levels of vital power. In the third place, we have
such critical machinery as psychology has placed at our disposal; but this,
in dealing with these giants of the spirit, must be used with peculiar
caution and humility.

The Unitive Life, though so often lived in the world, is never of it. It
belongs to another plane of being, moves securely upon levels unrelated to
our speech; and hence eludes the measuring powers of humanity. We, from the
valley, can only catch a glimpse of the true life of these elect spirits,
transfigured upon the mountain. They are far away, breathing another air: we
cannot reach them. Yet it is impossible to over-estimate their importance
for the race. They are our ambassadors to the Absolute. They vindicate
humanity’s claim to the possible and permanent attainment of Reality; bear
witness to the practical qualities of the transcendental life. In Eucken’s
words, they testify to “the advent of a triumphing Spiritual Power, as
distinguished from a spirituality which merely lays the foundations of life
or struggles to maintain them”: [842] to the actually life-enhancing power
of the Love of God, once the human soul is freely opened to receive it.

Coming first to the evidence of the mystics themselves, we find that in
their attempts towards describing the Unitive Life they have recourse to two
main forms of symbolic expression, both very dangerous, and liable to be
misunderstood, both offering ample opportunity for harsh criticism to
hostile investigators of the mystic type. We find also, as we might expect
from our previous encounters with the symbols used by contemplatives and
ecstatics, that these two forms of expression belong respectively to mystics
of the transcendent-metaphysical and of the intimate-personal type: and that
their formulae if taken alone, appear to contradict one another.

(1) The metaphysical mystic, for whom the Absolute is impersonal and
transcendent, describes his final attainment of that Absolute as
deification, or the utter transmutation of the self in God. (2) The mystic
for whom intimate and personal communion has been the mode under which he
best apprehended Reality speaks of the consummation of this communion, its
perfect and permanent form, as the Spiritual Marriage of his soul with God.
Obviously, both these terms are but the self’s guesses concerning the
intrinsic character of a state which it has felt in its wholeness rather
than analysed: and bear the same relation to the ineffable realities of that
state, as our clever theories concerning the nature and meaning of life bear
to the vital processes of men. It is worth while to examine them but we
shall not understand them till we have also examined the life which they
profess to explain.

The language of “deification” and of “spiritual marriage,” then, is
temperamental language: and is related to subjective experience rather than
to objective fact. It describes on the one hand the mystic’s astonished
recognition of a profound change effected in his own personality [843] —the
transmutation of his salt, sulphur, and mercury into Spiritual Gold—on the
other, the rapturous consummation of his love. Hence by a comparison of
these symbolic reconstructions, by the discovery and isolation of the common
factor latent in each, we may perhaps learn something of the fundamental
fact which each is trying to portray.

Again, the mystics describe certain symptoms either as the necessary
preliminaries or as the marks and fruits of the Unitive State: and these too
may help us to fix its character.

The chief, in fact the one essential, preliminary is that pure surrender of
selfhood, or “self-naughting,” which the trials of the Dark Night tended to
produce. “This,” says Julian of Norwich, “is the cause why that no soul is
rested till it is naughted of all things that are made. When it is willingly
made naught for love to have Him that is all, then is it able to receive
spiritual rest.” [844] Only the thoroughly detached, “naughted soul” is
“free,” says “The Mirror of Simple Souls,” and the Unitive State is
essentially a state of free and filial participation in Eternal Life. The
capital marks of the state itself are (1) a complete absorption in the
interests of the Infinite, under whatever mode It is apprehended by the
self; (2) a consciousness of sharing Its strength, acting by Its authority,
which results in a complete sense of freedom, an invulnerable serenity, and
usually urges the self to some form of heroic effort or creative activity;
(3) the establishment of the self as a “power for life,” a centre of energy,
an actual parent of spiritual vitality in other men. By assembling these
symptoms and examining them, and the lives of those who exhibit them, in the
light of psychology, we can surely get some news—however
fragmentary—concerning the transcendent condition of being which involves
these characteristic states and acts. Beyond this even Dante himself could
not go:

‘Transumanar significar per verba

non si poria.” [845]

We will then consider the Unitive Life (1) As it appears from the standpoint
of the psychologist. (2) As it is described to us by those mystics who use
(a) the language of Deification, (b) that of Spiritual Marriage. (3)
Finally, we will turn to those who have lived it; and try, if we can, to
realize it as an organic whole.

(1) From the point of view of the pure psychologist, what do the varied
phenomena of the Unitive Life, taken together, seem to represent? He would
probably say that they indicate the final and successful establishment of
that higher form of consciousness which has been struggling for supremacy
during the whole of the Mystic Way. The deepest, richest levels of human
personality have now attained to light and freedom. The self is remade,
transformed, has at last unified itself; and with the cessation of stress,
power has been liberated for new purposes.

“The beginning of the mystic life,” says Delacroix, “introduced into the
personal life of the subject a group of states which are distinguished by
certain characteristics, and which form, so to speak, a special
psychological system. At its term, it has, as it were, suppressed the
ordinary self, and by the development of this system has established a new
personality with a new method of feeling and of action. Its growth results
in the transformation of personality: it abolishes the primitive
consciousness of selfhood, and substitutes for it a wider consciousness, the
total disappearance of selfhood in the divine, the substitution of a Divine
Self for the primitive self.” [846] We give a philosophic content to this
conception if we say further that man, in this Unitive State, by this
substitution of the divine for the “primitive” self, has at last risen to
true freedom; “entered on the fruition of reality.” [847] Hence he has
opened up new paths for the inflow of that Triumphing Power which is the
very substance of the Real; has remade his consciousness, and in virtue of
this total regeneration is “transplanted into that Universal Life, which is
yet not alien but our own.” [848] From contact set up with this Universal
Life, this “Energetic Word of God, which nothing can contain”—from those
deep levels of Being to which his shifting, growing personality is fully
adapted at last—he draws that amazing strength, that immovable peace, that
power of dealing with circumstance, which is one of the most marked
characteristics of the Unitive Life. “That secret and permanent personality
of a superior type” [849] which gave to the surface-self constant and ever
more insistent intimations of its existence at every stage of the mystic’s
growth—his real, eternal self—has now consciously realized its destiny: and
begins at last fully to be. In the travail of the Dark Night it has
conquered and invaded the last recalcitrant elements of character. It is no
more limited to acts of profound perception, overpowering intuitions of the
Absolute: no more dependent for its emergence on the psychic states of
contemplation and ecstasy. Anima and Animus are united. The mystic has at
last resolved the Stevensonian paradox; and is not truly two, but truly one.

(2) The mystic, I think, would acquiesce in these descriptions, so far as
they go: but he would probably translate them into his own words and gloss
them with an explanation which is beyond the power and province of
psychology. He would say that his long-sought correspondence with
Transcendental Reality, his union with God, has now been finally
established: that his self, though intact, is wholly penetrated—as a sponge
by the sea—by the Ocean of Life and Love to which he has attained. “I live,
yet not I but God in me.” He is conscious that he is now at length cleansed
of the last stains of separation, and has become, in a mysterious manner,
“that which he beholds.”

In the words of the Sufi poet, the mystic’s journey is now prosecuted not
only to God but in God. He has entered the Eternal Order, attained here and
now the state to which the Magnet of the Universe draws every living thing.
Moving through periods of alternate joy and anguish, as his spiritual self
woke, stretched, and was tested in the complementary fires of love and pain,
he was inwardly conscious that he moved towards a definite objective. In so
far as he was a great mystic, he was also conscious that this objective was
no mere act of knowing, however intense, exultant, and sublime, but a
condition of being, fulfilment of that love which impelled him, steadily and
inexorably, to his own place. In the image of the alchemists, the Fire of
Love has done its work: the mystic Mercury of the Wise—that little hidden
treasure, that scrap of Reality within him—has utterly transmuted the salt
and sulphur of his mind and his sense. Even the white stone of illumination,
once so dearly cherished, he has resigned to the crucible. Now, the great
work is accomplished, the last imperfection is gone, and he finds within
himself the “Noble Tincture”—the gold of spiritual humanity.

(A) We have said that the mystic of the impersonal type—the seeker of a
Transcendent Absolute—tends to describe the consummation of his quest in the
language of deification. The Unitive Life necessarily means for him, as for
all who attain it, something which infinitely transcends the sum total of
its symptoms: something which normal men cannot hope to understand. In it he
declares that he “partakes directly of the Divine Nature,” enjoys the
fruition of reality. Since we “only behold that which we are,” the doctrine
of deification results naturally and logically from this claim.

“Some may ask,” says the author of the “Theologia Germanica” “what is it to
be a partaker of the Divine Nature, or a Godlike [ vergottet , literally
deified] man? Answer: he who is imbued with or illuminated by the Eternal or
Divine Light and inflamed or consumed with Eternal or Divine Love, he is a
deified man and a partaker of the Divine Nature.” [850]

Such a word as “deification” is not, of course, a scientific term. It is a
metaphor, an artistic expression which tries to hint at a transcendent fact
utterly beyond the powers of human understanding, and therefore without
equivalent in human speech: that fact of which Dante perceived the “shadowy
preface” when he saw the saints as petals of the Sempiternal Rose. [851]
Since we know not the Being of God, the mere statement that a soul is
transformed in Him may convey to us an ecstatic suggestion, but will never
give exact information: except of course to those rare selves who have
experienced these supernal states. Such selves, however—or a large
proportion of them—accept this statement as approximately true. Whilst the
more clear-sighted are careful to qualify it in a sense which excludes
pantheistic interpretations, and rebuts the accusation that extreme mystics
preach the annihilation of the self and regard themselves as co-equal with
the Deity, they leave us in no doubt that it answers to a definite and
normal experience of many souls who attain high levels of spiritual
vitality. Its terms are chiefly used by those mystics by whom Reality is
apprehended as a state or place rather than a Person: [852] and who have
adopted, in describing the earlier stages of their journey to God, such
symbols as those of rebirth or transmutation.

The blunt and positive language of these contemplatives concerning
deification has aroused more enmity amongst the unmystical than any other of
their doctrines or practices. It is of course easy, by confining oneself to
its surface sense, to call such language blasphemous: and the temptation to
do so has seldom been resisted. Yet, rightly understood, this doctrine lies
at the heart, not only of all mysticism, but also of much philosophy and
most religion. It pushes their first principles to a logical end. Christian
mysticism, says Delacroix with justice, springs from “that spontaneous and
half-savage longing for deification which all religion contains.” [853]
Eastern Christianity has always accepted it and expressed it in her rites.
“The Body of God deifies me and feeds me,” says Simeon Metaphrastes, “it
deifies my spirit and it feeds my soul in an incomprehensible manner.” [854]

The Christian mystics justify this dogma of the deifying of man, by
exhibiting it as the necessary corollary of the Incarnation—the humanizing
of God. They can quote the authority of the Fathers in support of this
argument. “He became man that we might be made God,” says St. Athanasius.
[855] “I heard,” says St. Augustine, speaking of his pre-converted period,
“Thy voice from on high crying unto me, ‘I am the Food of the fullgrown:
grow, and then thou shalt feed on Me. Nor shalt thou change Me into thy
substance as thou changest the food of thy flesh, but thou shalt be changed
into Mine.’” [856] Eckhart therefore did no more than expand the patristic
view when he wrote, “Our Lord says to every living soul, ‘I became man for
you. If you do not become God for me, you do me wrong.’” [857]

If we are to allow that the mystics have ever attained the object of their
quest, I think we must also allow that such attainment involves the
transmutation of the self to that state which they call, for want of exact
language, “deified.” The necessity of such transmutation is an implicit of
their first position: the law that “we behold that which we are, and are
that which we behold.” Eckhart, in whom the language of deification assumes
its most extreme form, justifies it upon this necessity. “If,” he says, “I
am to know God directly, I must become completely He and He I: so that this
He and this I become and are one I.” [858]

God, said St. Augustine, is the Country of the soul: its Home, says
Ruysbroeck. The mystic in the unitive state is living in and of his native
land; no exploring alien, but a returned exile, now wholly identified with
it, part of it, yet retaining his personality intact. As none know the
spirit of England but the English; and they know it by intuitive
participation, by mergence, not by thought; so none but the “deified” know
the secret life of God. This, too, is a knowledge conferred only by
participation: by living a life, breathing an atmosphere, “union with that
same Light by which they see, and which they see.” [859] It is one of those
rights of citizenship which cannot be artificially conferred. Thus it
becomes important to ask the mystics what they have to tell us of their life
lived upon the bosom of Reality: and to receive their reports without
prejudice, however hard the sayings they contain.

The first thing which emerges from these reports, and from the choice of
symbols which we find in them, is that the great mystics are anxious above
all things to establish and force on us the truth that by deification they
intend no arrogant claim to identification with God, but as it were a
transfusion of their selves by His Self: an entrance upon a new order of
life, so high and so harmonious with Reality that it can only be called
divine. Over and over again they assure us that personality is not lost, but
made more real. “When,” says St. Augustine, “I shall cleave to Thee with all
my being, then shall I in nothing have pain and labour; and my life shall be
a real life, being wholly full of Thee.” [860] “My life shall be a real
life” because it is “full of Thee.” The achievement of reality, and
deification, are then one and the same thing: necessarily so, since we know
that only the divine is the real. [861]

Mechthild of Magdeburg, and after her Dante, saw Deity as a flame or river
of fire that filled the Universe, and the “deified” souls of the saints as
ardent sparks therein, ablaze with that fire, one thing with it, yet
distinct. [862] Ruysbroeck, too, saw “Every soul like a live coal, burned up
by God on the heart of His Infinite Love.” [863] Such fire imagery has
seemed to many of the mystics a peculiarly exact and suggestive symbol of
the transcendent state which they are struggling to describe. No longer
confused by the dim Cloud of Unknowing, they have pierced to its heart, and
there found their goal: that uncreated and energizing Fire which guided the
children of Israel through the night. By a deliberate appeal to the parallel
of such great impersonal forces—to Fire and Heat, Light, Water, Air—mystic
writers seem able to bring out a perceived aspect of the Godhead, and of the
transfigured soul’s participation therein, which no merely personal
language, taken alone, can touch. Thus Boehme, trying to describe the union
between the Word and the soul, says, “I give you an earthly similitude of
this. Behold a bright flaming piece of iron, which of itself is dark and
black, and the fire so penetrateth and shineth through the iron, that it
giveth light. Now, the iron doth not cease to be, it is iron still: and the
source (or property) of the fire retaineth its own propriety: it doth not
take the iron into it, but it penetrateth (and shineth) through the iron;
and it is iron then as well as before, free in itself: and so also is the
source or property of the fire. In such a manner is the soul set in the
Deity; the Deity penetrateth through the soul, and dwelleth in the soul, yet
the soul doth not comprehend the Deity, but the Deity comprehendeth the
soul, but doth not alter it (from being a soul) but only giveth it the
divine source (or property) of the Majesty.” [864]

Almost exactly the same image of deification was used, five hundred years
before Boehme’s day, by Richard of St. Victor; a mystic whom he is hardly
likely to have read. “When the soul is plunged in the fire of divine
love,” he says, “like iron, it first loses its blackness, and then growing
to white heat, it becomes like unto the fire itself. And lastly, it grows
liquid, and losing its nature is transmuted into an utterly different
quality of being.” “As the difference between iron that is cold and iron
that is hot,” he says again, “so is the difference between soul and soul:
between the tepid soul and the soul made incandescent by divine love.” [865]
Other contemplatives say that the deified soul is transfigured by the
inundations of the Uncreated Light: that it is like a brand blazing in the
furnace, transformed to the likeness of the fire. “These souls,” says the
Divine voice to St. Catherine of Siena, “thrown into the furnace of My
charity, no part of their will remaining outside but the whole of them being
inflamed in Me, are like a brand, wholly consumed in the furnace, so that no
one can take hold of it to extinguish it, because it has become fire. In the
same way no one can seize these souls, or draw them outside of Me, because
they are made one thing with Me through grace, and I never withdraw Myself
from them by sentiment, as in the case of those whom I am leading on to
perfection.” [866]

For the most subtle and delicate descriptions of the Unitive or Deified
State, understood as self-loss in the “Ocean Pacific” of God, we must go to
the great genius of Ruysbroeck. He alone, whilst avoiding all its pitfalls,
has conveyed the suggestion of its ineffable joys in a measure which seems,
as we read, to be beyond all that we had supposed possible to human
utterance. Awe and rapture, theological profundity, keen psychological
insight, are here tempered by a touching simplicity. We listen to the report
of one who has indeed heard “the invitation of love” which “draws interior
souls towards the One” and says “Come home.” A humble receptivity, a meek
self-naughting is with Ruysbroeck, as with all great mystics, the gate of
the City of God. “Because they have abandoned themselves to God in doing, in
leaving undone, and in suffering,” he says of the deified souls, “they have
steadfast peace and inward joy, consolation and savour, of which the world
cannot partake; neither any dissembler, nor the man who seeks and means
himself more than the glory of God. Moreover, those same inward and
enlightened men have before them in their inward seeing, whenever they will,
the Love of God as something drawing or urging them into the Unity; for they
see and feel that the Father with the Son through the Holy Ghost, embrace
Each Other and all the chosen, and draw themselves back with eternal love
into the unity of Their Nature. Thus the Unity is ever drawing to itself and
inviting to itself everything that has been born of It, either by nature or
by grace. And therefore, too, such enlightened men are, with a free spirit,
lifted up above reason into a bare and imageless vision, wherein lives the
eternal indrawing summons of the Divine Unity; and, with an imageless and
bare understanding, they pass through all works, and all exercises, and all
things, until they reach the summit of their spirits. There, their bare
understanding is drenched through by the Eternal Brightness, even as the air
is drenched through by the sunshine. And the bare, uplifted will is
transformed and drenched through by abysmal love, even as iron is by fire.
And the bare, uplifted memory feels itself enwrapped and established in an
abysmal Absence of Image. And thereby the created image is united above
reason in a threefold way with its Eternal Image, which is the origin of its
being and its life. . . . Yet the creature does not become God, for the
union takes place in God through grace and our homeward-turning love: and
therefore the creature in its inward contemplation feels a distinction and
an otherness between itself and God. And though the union is without means,
yet the manifold works which God works in heaven and on earth are
nevertheless hidden from the spirit. For though God gives Himself as He is,
with clear discernment, He gives Himself in the essence of the soul, where
the powers of the soul are simplified above reason, and where, in
simplicity, they suffer the transformation of God. There all is full and
overflowing, for the spirit feels itself to be one truth and one richness
and one unity with God. Yet even here there is an essential tending forward,
and therein is an essential distinction between the being of the soul and
the Being of God; and this is the highest and finest distinction which we
are able to feel.” [867]

“When love has carried us above and beyond all things,” he says in another
place, “above the light, into the Divine Dark, there we are wrought and
transformed by the Eternal Word Who is the image of the Father; and as the
air is penetrated by the sun, thus we receive in idleness of spirit the
Incomprehensible Light, enfolding us and penetrating us. And this flight is
nothing else but an infinite gazing and seeing. We behold that which we are,
and we are that which be behold; because our thought, life and being are
uplifted in simplicity and made one with the Truth which is God.” [868]

Here the personal aspect of the Absolute seems to be reduced to a minimum:
yet all that we value in personality—love, action, will—remains unimpaired.
We seem caught up to a plane of vision beyond the categories of the human
mind: to the contemplation of a Something Other—our home, our hope, and our
passion, the completion of our personality, and the Substance of all that
Is. Such an endless contemplation, such a dwelling within the substance of
Goodness, Truth and, Beauty, is the essence of that Beatific Vision, that
participation of Eternity, “of all things most delightful and desired, of
all things most loved by them who have it,” [869] which theology presents to
us as the objective of the soul.

Those mystics of the metaphysical type who tend to use these impersonal
symbols of Place and Thing often see in the Unitive Life a foretaste of the
Beatific Vision: an entrance here and now into that absolute life within the
Divine Being, which shall be lived by all perfect spirits when they have
cast off the limitations of the flesh and re-entered the eternal order for
which they were made. For them, in fact, the “deified man,” in virtue of his
genius for transcendental reality, has run ahead of human history: and
attained a form of consciousness which other men will only know when earthly
life is past.

In the “Book of Truth” Suso has a beautiful and poetic comparison between
the life of the blessed spirits dwelling within the Ocean of Divine Love,
and that approximate life which is lived on earth by the mystic who has
renounced all selfhood and merged his will in that of the Eternal Truth.
Here we find one of the best of many answers to the ancient but apparently
immortal accusation that the mystics teach the total annihilation of
personality as the end and object of their quest. “Lord, tell me,” says the
Servitor, “what remains to a blessed soul which has wholly renounced
itself.” Truth says, “When the good and faithful servant enters into the joy
of his Lord, he is inebriated by the riches of the house of God; for he
feels, in an ineffable degree, that which is felt by an inebriated man. He
forgets himself, he is no longer conscious of his selfhood; he disappears
and loses himself in God, and becomes one spirit with Him, as a drop of
water which is drowned in a great quantity of wine. For even as such a drop
disappears, taking the colour and the taste of wine, so it is with those who
are in full possession of blessedness. All human desires are taken from them
in an indescribable manner, they are rapt from themselves, and are immersed
in the Divine Will. If it were otherwise, if there remained in the man some
human thing that was not absorbed, those words of Scripture which say that
God must be all in all would be false. His being remains, but in another
form, in another glory, and in another power. And all this is the result of
entire and complete renunciation. . . . Herein thou shalt find an answer to
thy question; for the true renunciation and veritable abandonment of a man
to the Divine Will in the temporal world is an imitation and reduction of
that self-abandonment of the blessed, of which Scripture speaks: and this
imitation approaches its model more or less, according as men are more or
less united with God and become more or less one with God. Remark well that
which is said of the blessed: they are stripped of their personal
initiative, and changed into another form, another glory, another power.
What then is this other form, if it be not the Divine Nature and the Divine
Being whereinto they pour themselves, and which pours Itself into them, and
becomes one thing with them? And what is that other glory, if it be not to
be illuminated and made shining in the Inaccessible Light? What is that
other power, if it be not that by means of his union with the Divine
Personality, there is given to man a divine strength and a divine power,
that he may accomplish all which pertains to his blessedness and omit all
which is contrary thereto? And thus it is that, as has been said, a man
comes forth from his selfhood.” [870]

All the mystics agree that the stripping off of the I, the Me, the Mine,
utter renouncement, or “self-naughting”—self-abandonment to the direction of
a larger Will—is an imperative condition of the attainment of the unitive
life. The temporary denudation of the mind, whereby the contemplative made
space for the vision of God, must now be applied to the whole life. Here,
they say, there is a final swallowing up of that wilful I-hood, that surface
individuality which we ordinarily recognize as ourselves. It goes for ever,
and something new is established in its room. The self is made part of the
mystical Body of God; and, humbly taking its place in the corporate life of
Reality, would “fain be to the Eternal Goodness what his own hand is to a
man.” [871] That strange “hunger and thirst of God for the soul,” “at once
avid and generous,” of which they speak in their profoundest passages, here
makes its final demand and receives its satisfaction. “All that He has, all
that He is He gives: all that we have, all that we are, He takes.” [872] The
self, they declare, is devoured, immersed in the Abyss; “sinks into God, Who
is the deep of deeps.” In their efforts towards describing to us this, the
supreme mystic act, and the new life to which it gives birth, they are often
driven to the use of images which must seem to us grotesque, were it not for
the flame which burns behind: as when Ruysbroeck cries, “To eat and be
eaten! this is Union! . . . Since His desire is without measure, to be
devour of of Him does not greatly amaze me.” [873]

(B) At this point we begin to see that the language of deification, taken
alone, will not suffice to describe the soul’s final experience of Reality.
The personal and emotional aspect of man’s relation with his Source is also
needed if that which he means by “union with God” is to be even partially
expressed. Hence, even the most “transcendental” mystic is constantly
compelled to fall back on the language of love in the endeavour to express
the content of his metaphysical raptures: and forced in the end to
acknowledge that the perfect union of Lover and Beloved cannot be suggested
in the precise and arid terms of religious philosophy. Such arid language
eludes the most dangerous aspects of “divine union,” the pantheistic on one
hand, the “amoristic” on the other; but it also fails to express the most
splendid side of that amazing experience. It needs some other, more personal
and intimate vision to complete it: and this we shall find in the reports of
those mystics of the “intimate” type to whom the Unitive Life has meant not
self-loss in an Essence, but self-fulfilment in the union of heart and will.

The extreme form of this kind of apprehension of course finds expression in
the well-known and heartily abused symbolism of the Spiritual Marriage
between God and the Soul: a symbolism which goes back to the Orphic
Mysteries, and thence descended via the Neoplatonists into the stream of
Christian tradition. But there are other and less concrete embodiments of
it, wholly free from the dangers which are supposed to lurk in “erotic”
imagery of this kind. Thus Jalalu ‘d Din, by the use of metaphors which are
hardly human yet charged with passionate feeling, tells, no less
successfully than the writer of the Song of Songs, the secret of “his union
in which “heart speaks to heart.”

With Thy Sweet Soul, this soul of mine

Hath mixed as Water doth with Wine.

Who can the Wine and Water part,

Or me and Thee when we combine?

Thou art become my greater self;

Small bounds no more can me confine.

Thou hast my being taken on,

And shall not I now take on Thine?

Me Thou for ever hast affirmed

That I may ever know Thee mine

Thy Love has pierced me through and through,

Its thrill with Bone and Nerve entwine.

I rest a Flute laid on Thy lips;

A lute, I on Thy breast recline.

Breathe deep in me that I may sigh;

Yet strike my strings, and tears shall shine.” [874]

What the mystic here desires to tell us is, that his new life is not only a
free and conscious participation in the life of Eternity—a fully-established
existence on real and transcendental levels—but also the conscious sharing
of an inflowing personal life greater than his own; a tightening of the
bonds of that companionship which has been growing in intimacy and splendour
during the course of the Mystic Way. This companionship, at once the most
actual and most elusive fact of human experience, is utterly beyond the
resources of speech. So too are those mysteries of the communion of love,
whereby the soul’s humble, active and ever-renewed self-donation becomes the
occasion of her glory: and “by her love she is made the equal of Love”—the
beggar maid sharing Cophetua’s throne.

Thus the anonymous author of the “Mirror” writes, in one of his most daring
passages, “‘I am God,’ says Love, ‘for Love is God, and God is Love. And
this soul is God by condition of love: but I am God by Nature Divine. And
this [state] is hers by righteousness of love, so that this precious beloved
of me is learned, and led of Me without her [working]. . . . This [soul] is
the eagle that flies high, so right high and yet more high than doth any
other bird; for she is feathered with fine love.’” [875]

The simplest expression of the Unitive Life, the simplest interpretation
which we can put on its declarations, is that it is the complete and
conscious fulfilment here and now of this Perfect Love. In it certain elect
spirits, still in the flesh, “fly high and yet more high,” till “taught and
led out of themselves,” they become, in the exaggerated language of the
“Mirror,” “God by condition of love.” Home-grown English mysticism tried as
a rule to express the inexpressible in homelier, more temperate terms than
this. “I would that thou knew,” says the unknown author of the “Epistle of
Prayer,” “what manner of working it is that knitteth man’s soul to God, and
that maketh it one with Him in love and accordance of will after the word of
St. Paul, saying thus: ‘ Qui adhaeret Deo, unus spiritus est cum illo ’ ;
that is to say: ‘Whoso draweth near to God as it is by such a reverent
affection touched before, he is one spirit with God.’ That is, though all
that God and he be two and sere in kind, nevertheless yet in grace they are
so knit together that they are but one in spirit; and all this is one for
onehead of love and accordance of will; and in this onehead is the marriage
made between God and the soul the which shall never be broken, though all
that the heat and the fervour of this work cease for a time, but by a deadly
sin. In the ghostly feeling of this onehead may a loving soul both say and
sing (if it list) this holy word that is written in the Book of Songs in the
Bible, ‘Dilectus meus mihi et ego illi, ’ that is, My loved unto me, and I
unto Him; understanding that God shall be knitted with the ghostly glue of
grace on His party, and the lovely consent in gladness of spirit on thy
party.” [876]

I think no one can deny that the comparison of the bond between the soul and
the Absolute to “ghostly glue,” though crude, is wholly innocent. Its
appearance in this passage as an alternative to the symbol of wedlock may
well check the uncritical enthusiasm of those who hurry to condemn at sight
all “sexual” imagery. That it has seemed to the mystics appropriate and
exact is proved by its reappearance in the next century in the work of a
greater contemplative. “Thou givest me,” says Petersen, “Thy whole Self to
be mine whole and undivided, if at least I shall be Thine whole and
undivided. And when I shall be thus all Thine, even as from everlasting Thou
hast loved Thyself, so from everlasting Thou hast loved me: for this means
nothing more than that Thou enjoyest Thyself in me, and that I by Thy grace
enjoy Thee in myself and myself in Thee. And when in Thee I shall love
myself, nothing else but Thee do I love, because Thou art in me and I in
Thee, glued together as one and the selfsame thing, which henceforth and
forever cannot be divided.” [877]

From this kind of language to that of the Spiritual Marriage, as understood
by the pure minds of the mystics, is but a step. [878] They mean by it no
rapturous satisfactions, no dubious spiritualizing of earthly ecstasies, but
a life-long bond “that shall never be lost or broken,” a close personal
union of will and of heart between the free self and that “Fairest in
Beauty” Whom it has known in the act of contemplation.

The Mystic Way has been a progress, a growth in love: a deliberate fostering
of the inward tendency of the soul towards its source, an eradication of its
disorderly tendencies to “temporal goods.” But the only proper end of love
is union: “a perfect uniting and coupling together of the lover and the
loved into one.” [879] It is “a unifying principle,” the philosophers say:
[880] life’s mightiest agent upon every plane. Moreover, just as earthly
marriage is understood by the moral sense less as a satisfaction of personal
desire, than as a part of the great process of life—the fusion of two selves
for new purposes—so such spiritual marriage brings with it duties and
obligations. With the attainment of a new order, the new infusion of
vitality, comes a new responsibility, the call to effort and endurance on a
new and mighty scale. It is not an act but a state. Fresh life is imparted,
by which our lives are made complete: new creative powers are conferred. The
self, lifted to the divine order, is to be an agent of the divine fecundity:
an energizing centre, a parent of transcendental life. “The last
perfection,” says Aquinas, “to supervene upon a thing, is its becoming the
cause of other things. While then a creature tends by many ways to the
likeness of God, the last way left open to it is to seek the divine likeness
by being the cause of other things, according to what the Apostle says, Dei
enim sumus adjutores .” [881]

We find as a matter of fact, when we come to study the history of the
mystics, that the permanent Unitive State, or spiritual marriage, does mean
for those who attain to it, above all else such an access of creative
vitality. It means man’s small derivative life invaded and enhanced by the
Absolute Life: the appearance in human history of personalities and careers
which seem superhuman when judged by the surface mind. Such activity, such a
bringing forth of “the fruits of the Spirit,” may take many forms: but where
it is absent, where we meet with personal satisfactions, personal visions or
raptures—however sublime and spiritualized—presented as marks of the Unitive
Way, ends or objects of the quest of Reality, we may be sure that we have
wandered from the “strait and narrow road” which leads, not to eternal rest,
but to Eternal Life. “The fourth degree of love is spiritually fruitful,”
[882] said Richard of St. Victor. Wherever we find a sterile love, a “holy
passivity,” we are in the presence of quietistic heresy; not of the Unitive
Life. “I hold it for a certain truth,” says St. Teresa, “that in giving
these graces our Lord intends, as I have often told you, to strengthen our
weakness so that we may imitate Him by suffering much. . . . Whence did St.
Paul draw strength to support his immense labours? We see clearly in him the
effects of visions and contemplations which come indeed from our Lord, and
not from our own imagination or the devil’s fraud. Do you suppose St. Paul
hid himself in order to enjoy in peace these spiritual consolations, and did
nothing else? You know that on the contrary he never took a day’s rest so
far as we can learn, and worked at night in order to earn his bread. . . .
Oh my sisters! how forgetful of her own ease, how careless of honours,
should she be whose soul God thus chooses for His special dwelling place!
For if her mind is fixed on Him, as it ought to be, she must needs forget
herself; all her thoughts are bent on how to please Him better, and when and
how she may show Him her love. This is the end and aim of prayer, my
daughters; this is the object of that spiritual marriage whose children are
always good works. Works are the best proof that the favours which we
receive have come from God.” [883] “To give our Lord a perfect
hospitality” she says in the same chapter, “Mary and Martha must combine.”

When we look at the lives of the great theopathetic mystics, the true
initiates of Eternity—inarticulate as these mystics often are—we find
ourselves in the presence of an amazing, a superabundant vitality: of a
“triumphing force” over which circumstance has no power. The incessant
production of good works seems indeed to be the object of that Spirit, by
Whose presence their interior castle is now filled.

We see St. Paul, abruptly enslaved by the First and Only Fair, not hiding
himself to enjoy the vision of Reality, but going out single-handed to
organize the Catholic Church. We ask how it was possible for an obscure
Roman citizen, without money, influence, or good health, to lay these
colossal foundations: and he answers “Not I, but Christ in me.”

We see St. Joan of Arc, a child of the peasant class, leaving the sheepfold
to lead the armies of France. We ask how this incredible thing can be: and
are told “Her Voices bade her.” A message, an overpowering impulse, came
from the supra-sensible: vitality flowed in on her, she knew not how or why.
She was united with the Infinite Life, and became Its agent, the medium of
Its strength, “what his own hand is to a man.”

We see St. Francis, “God’s troubadour,” marked with His wounds, inflamed
with His joy—obverse and reverse of the earnest-money of eternity—or St.
Ignatius Loyola, our Lady’s knight, a figure at once militant and romantic,
go out to change the spiritual history of Europe. Where did they find—born
and bred to the most ordinary of careers, in the least spiritual of
atmospheres—that superabundant energy, that genius for success which
triumphed best in the most hopeless situations? Francis found it before the
crucifix in St. Damiano, and renewed it in the ineffable experience of La
Verna; when “by mental possession and rapture he was transfigured of God.”
Ignatius found it in the long contemplations and hard discipline of the cave
of Manresa, after the act of surrender in which he dedicated his knighthood
to the service of the Mother of God.

We see St. Teresa, another born romantic, pass to the Unitive State after
long and bitter struggles between her lower and higher personality. A
chronic invalid over fifty years of age, weakened by long ill-health and the
mortifications of the Purgative Way she deliberately breaks with her old
career in obedience to the inward Voice, leaves her convent, and starts a
new life: coursing through Spain, and reforming a great religious order in
the teeth of the ecclesiastical world. Yet more amazing, St. Catherine of
Siena, an illiterate daughter of the people, after a three years’ retreat
consummates the mystic marriage, and emerges from the cell of self-knowledge
to dominate the politics of Italy. How came it that these apparently
unsuitable men and women, checked on every side by inimical environment,
ill-health, custom, or poverty achieved these stupendous destinies? The
explanation can only lie in the fact that all these persons were great
mystics, living upon high levels the theopathetic life. In each a character
of the heroic type, of great vitality, deep enthusiasms, unconquerable will,
was raised to the spiritual plane, remade on higher levels of consciousness.
Each by surrender of selfhood, by acquiescence in the large destinies of
life, had so furthered that self’s natural genius for the Infinite that
their human limitations were overpassed. Hence they rose to freedom and
attained to the one ambition of the “naughted soul,” “I would fain be to the
Eternal Goodness what his own hand is to a man.”

Even Madame Guyon’s natural tendency to passive states breaks down with her
entrance on the Unitive Way. Though she cannot be classed amongst the
greatest of its initiates, she too felt its fertilizing power, was stung
from her “holy indifference” to become, as it were, involuntarily true to

“The soul,” she says of the self entering upon Union—and we cannot doubt
that as usual she is describing her own carefully docketed “states”—“feels a
secret vigour taking more and more strongly possession of all her being: and
little by little she receives a new life, never again to be lost, at least
so far as one can be assured of anything in this life. . . . This new life
is not like that which she had before. It is a life in God. It is a perfect
life. She no longer lives or works of herself: but God lives, acts and works
in her, and this grows little by little till she becomes perfect with God’s
perfection, is rich with His riches, and loves with His love.” . . . [884]

This new, intense, and veritable life has other and even more vital
characteristics than those which lead to “the performance of acts” or “the
incessant production of good works.” It is, in an actual sense, as Richard
of St. Victor reminded us, fertile, creative, as well as merely active. In
the fourth degree of love, the soul brings forth its children. It is the
agent of a fresh outbirth of spiritual vitality into the world; the helpmate
of the Transcendent Order, the mother of a spiritual progeny. The great
unitive mystics are each of them the founders of spiritual families, centres
wherefrom radiates new transcendental life. The “flowing light of the
Godhead” is focussed in them, as in a lens, only that it may pass through
them to spread out on every side. So, too, the great creative seers and
artists are the parents, not merely of their own immediate works, but also
of whole schools of art, whole groups of persons who acquire or inherit
their vision of beauty or truth. Thus within the area of influence of a
Paul, a Francis, an Ignatius, a Teresa, an atmosphere of reality is created;
and new and vital spiritual personalities gradually appear, meet for the
work which these great founders set in hand. The real witness to St. Paul’s
ecstatic life in God, is the train of Christian churches by which his
journeyings are marked. Wherever Francis passed, he left Franciscans,
“fragrant with a wondrous aspect,” where none had been before. [885] The
Friends of God spring up, individual mystics, here and there through the
Rhineland and Bavaria. Each becomes the centre of an ever widening circle of
transcendent life, the parent of a spiritual family. They are come like
their Master, that men may have life more abundantly: from them new mystic
energy is actually born into the world. Again, Ignatius leaves Manresa a
solitary: maimed, ignorant, and poor. He comes to Rome with his company
already formed, and ablaze with his spirit; veritably his children, begotten
of him, part and parcel of his life.

Teresa finds the order of Mount Carmel hopelessly corrupt: its friars and
nuns blind to reality, indifferent to the obligations of the cloistered
life. She is moved by the Spirit to leave her convent and begin, in abject
poverty, the foundation of new houses, where the most austere and exalted
life of contemplation shall be led. She enters upon this task to the
accompaniment of an almost universal mockery. Mysteriously, as she proceeds,
novices of the spiritual life appear and cluster around her. They come into
existence, one knows not how, in the least favourable of atmospheres: but
one and all are salted with the Teresian salt. They receive the infection of
her abundant vitality: embrace eagerly and joyously the heroic life of the
Reform. In the end, every city in Spain has within it Teresa’s spiritual
children: a whole order of contemplatives, as truly born of her as if they
were indeed her sons and daughters in the flesh. Well might the Spiritual
Alchemists say that the true “Lapis Philosophorum” is a tinging stone: which
imparts its goldness to the base metals brought within its sphere of

This reproductive power is one of the greatest marks of the theopathetic
life: the true “mystic marriage” of the individual soul with its Source.
Those rare personalities in whom it is found are the media through which
that Triumphing Spiritual Life which is the essence of reality forces an
entrance into the temporal order and begets children; heirs of the
superabundant vitality of the transcendental universe.

But the Unitive Life is more than the sum total of its symptoms: more than
the heroic and apostolic life of the “great active”: more than the divine
motherhood of new “sons and daughters of the Absolute.” These are only its
outward signs, its expression in time and space. I have first laid stress
upon that expression, because it is the side which all critics and some
friends of the mystics persistently ignore. The contemplative’s power of
living this intense and creative life within the temporal order, however, is
tightly bound up with that other life in which he attains to complete
communion with the Absolute Order, and submits to the inflow of its supernal
vitality. In discussing the relation of the mystical experience to
philosophy, [886] we saw that the complete mystic consciousness, and
therefore, of course, the complete mystic world, had a twofold character
which could hardly be reconciled with the requirements of monism. It
embraced a Reality which seems from the human standpoint at once static and
dynamic, transcendent and immanent, eternal and temporal: accepted both the
absolute World of Pure Being and the unresting World of Becoming as integral
parts of its vision of Truth, demanding on its side a dual response. All
through the Mystic Way we caught glimpses of the growth and exercise of this
dual intuition of the Real. Now, the mature mystic, having come to his full
stature, passed through the purifications of sense and of spirit and entered
on his heritage, must and does take up as a part of that heritage not merely
( a ) a fruition of the Divine Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, his place within
the Sempiternal Rose, nor ( b ) the creative activity of an agent of the
Eternal Wisdom, still immersed in the River of Life: but both together—the
twofold destiny of the spiritual man, called to “incarnate the Eternal in
time.” To use the old scholastic language, he is at once patient and agent:
patient as regards God, agent as regards the world.

In a deep sense it may be said of him that he now participates according to
his measure in that divine-human life which mediates between man and the
Eternal, and constitutes the “salvation of the world.” Therefore, though his
outward heroic life of action, his divine fecundity, may seem to us the best
evidence of his state, it is the inner knowledge of his mystical sonship
whereby “we feel eternal life in us above all other thing,” [887] which is
for him the guarantee of absolute life. He has many ways of describing this
central fact; this peculiar consciousness of his own transcendence, which
coexists with, and depends on, a complete humility. Sometimes he says that
whereas in the best moments of his natural life he was but the “faithful
servant” of the eternal order, and in the illuminated way became its “secret
friend,” he is now advanced to the final, most mysterious state of “hidden
child.” “How great,” says Ruysbroeck, “is the difference between the secret
friend and the hidden child! For the friend makes only loving, living, but
measured ascents towards God. But the child presses on to lose his own life
upon the summits, in that simplicity which knoweth not itself. . . . When we
transcend ourselves and become in our ascent towards God so simple that the
bare supreme Love can lay hold of us, then we cease, and we and all our
selfhood die in God. And in this death we become the hidden children of God,
and find a new life within us.” [888]

Though the outer career of the great mystic, then, be one of superhuman
industry, a long fight with evil and adversity, his real and inner life
dwells securely upon the heights; in the perfect fruition which he can only
suggest to us by the paradoxical symbols of ignorance and emptiness. He
dominates existence because he thus transcends it: is a son of God, a member
of the eternal order, shares its substantial life. “Tranquillity according
to His essence, activity according to His Nature: absolute repose, absolute
fecundity”: this, says Ruysbroeck again, is the twofold property of Godhead:
and the secret child of the Absolute participates in this dual character of
Reality—“for this dignity has man been made.” [889]

Those two aspects of truth which he has so clumsily classified as static and
dynamic, as Being and Becoming, now find their final reconciliation within
his own nature: for that nature has become conscious in all its parts, has
unified itself about its highest elements. That strange, tormenting vision
of a perfect peace, a joyous self-loss, annihilation in some mighty Life
that overpassed his own, which haunts man throughout the whole course of his
history, and finds a more or less distorted expression in all his creeds, a
justification in all his ecstasies, is now traced to its source: and found
to be the inevitable expression of an instinct by which he recognized,
though he could not attain, the noblest part of his inheritance. This
recognition of his has of necessity been imperfect and oblique. It has taken
in many temperaments an exaggerated form, and has been further disguised by
the symbolic language used to describe it. The tendency of Indian mysticism
to regard the Unitive Life wholly in its passive aspect, as a total
self-annihilation, a disappearance into the substance of the Godhead,
results, I believe, from such a distortion of truth. The Oriental mystic
“presses on to lose his life upon the heights”; but he does not come back
and bring to his fellow-men the life-giving news that he has transcended
mortality in the interests of the race. The temperamental bias of Western
mystics towards activity has saved them as a rule from such one-sided
achievement as this; and hence it is in them that the Unitive Life, with its
“dual character of activity and rest,” has assumed its richest and noblest

Of these Western mystics none has expressed more lucidly or splendidly than
Ruysbroeck the double nature of man’s reaction to Reality. It is the heart
of his vision of truth. In all his books he returns to it again and again:
speaking, as none familiar with his writings can doubt, the ardent, joyous,
vital language of firsthand experience, not the platitudes of philosophy. He
might say with Dante, his forerunner into the Empyrean:—

“La forma universal di questo nodo

credo ch’ io vidi, perchè più di largo

dicendo questo, mi sento ch’ io godo.” [890]

It is then from Ruysbroeck that I shall make my quotations: and if they be
found somewhat long and difficult of comprehension, their unique importance
for the study of man’s spiritual abilities must be my excuse.

First, his vision of God:—

“The Divine Persons,” he says, “Who form one sole God, are in the fecundity
of their nature ever active: and in the simplicity of their essence they
form the Godhead and eternal blessedness. Thus God according to the Persons
is Eternal Work: but according to the essence and Its perpetual stillness,
He is Eternal Rest. Now love and fruition live between this activity and
this rest. Love would ever be active: for its nature is eternal working with
God. Fruition is ever at rest, for it consists above all will and all
desire, in the embrace of the well-beloved by the well-beloved in a simple
and imageless love; wherein the Father, together with the Son, enfolds His
beloved ones in the fruitive unity of His Spirit, above the fecundity of
nature. And that same Father says to each soul in His infinite loving
kindness, ‘Thou art Mine and I am thine: I am thine and thou art Mine, for I
have chosen thee from all eternity.’” [891]

Next the vision of the self’s destiny: “Our activity consists in loving God
and our fruition in enduring God and being penetrated by His love. There is
a distinction between love and fruition, as there is between God and His
Grace. When we unite ourselves to God by love, then we are spirit: but when
we are caught up and transformed by His Spirit, then we are led into
fruition. And the spirit of God Himself breathes us out from Himself that we
may love, and may do good works; and again He draws us into Himself, that we
may rest in fruition. And this is Eternal Life; even as our mortal life
subsists in the indrawing and outgoing of our breath.” [892]

“Understand,” he says again, “God comes to us incessantly, both with means
and without means; and He demands of us both action and fruition, in such
away that the action never hinders the fruition, nor the fruition the
action, but they strengthen one another. And this is why the interior man [
i.e., the contemplative] lives his life according to these two ways; that is
to say, in rest and in work. And in each of them he is wholly and
undividedly; for he dwells wholly in God in virtue of his restful fruition
and wholly in himself in virtue of his active love. And God, in His
communications, perpetually calls and urges him to renew both this rest and
this work. And because the soul is just, it desires to pay at every instant
that which God demands of it; and this is why each time it is irradiated of
Him, the soul turns inward in a manner that is both active and fruitive, and
thus it is renewed in all virtues and ever more profoundly immersed in
fruitive rest. . . . It is active in all loving work, for it sees its rest.
It is a pilgrim, for it sees its country. For love’s sake it strives for
victory, for it sees its crown. Consolation, peace, joy, beauty and riches,
all that can give delight, all this is shown to the mind illuminated in God,
in spiritual similitudes and without measure. And through this vision and
touch of God, love continues active. For such a just man has built up in his
own soul, in rest and in work, a veritable life which shall endure for ever,
but which shall be transformed after this present life to a state still more
sublime. Thus this man is just, and he goes towards God by inward love, in
eternal work, and he goes in God by his fruitive inclination in eternal
rest. And he dwells in God; and yet he goes out towards all creatures, in a
spirit of love towards all things, in virtue and in works of righteousness.
And this is she supreme summit of the inner life .” [893]

Compare this description with the careers of the theopathetic mystics, in
whom, indeed, “action has not injured fruition, nor fruition action,” who
have by some secret adjustment contrived to “possess their lives in rest and
in work” without detriment to inward joy or outward industry. Bear in mind
as you read these words—Ruysbroeck’s supreme effort to tell the true
relation between man’s created spirit and his God—the great public ministry
of St. Catherine of Siena, which ranged from the tending of the
plague-stricken to the reforming of the Papacy; and was accompanied by the
inward fruitive consciousness of the companionship of Christ. Remember the
humbler but not less beautiful and significant achievement of her Genoese
namesake: the strenuous lives of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius, St.
Teresa, outwardly cumbered with much serving, observant of an infinitude of
tiresome details, composing rules, setting up foundations, neglecting no
aspect of their business which could conduce to its practical success, yet
“altogether dwelling in God in restful fruition.” Are not all these supreme
examples of the state in which the self, at last fully conscious, knowing
Reality because she is wholly real, pays her debt? Unable to rest entirely
either in work or in fruition, she seizes on this twofold expression of the
superabundant life by which she is possessed: and, on the double wings of
eagerness and effort, takes flight towards her Home.

In dwelling, as we have done, on the ways in which the great mystic makes
actual to himself the circumstances of the Unitive State, we must not forget
that this state is, in essence, a fulfilment of love; the attainment of a
“heart’s desire.” By this attainment, this lifting of the self to free union
with the Real—as by the earthly marriage which dimly prefigures it—a new
life is entered upon, new powers, new responsibilities are conferred. But
this is not all. The three prime activities of the normal self, feeling,
intellect, and will, though they seem to be fused, are really carried up to
a higher term. They are unified, it is true, but still present in their
integrity; and each demands and receives full satisfaction in the attainment
of this fillal “honour for which man has been made.” The intellect is
immersed in that mighty vision of truth, known now not as a vision but as a
home; where St. Paul saw things which might not be uttered, St. Teresa found
the “perpetual companionship of the Blessed Trinity,” and Dante, caught to
its heart for one brief moment, his mind smitten by the blinding flash of
the Uncreated light, knew that he had resolved Reality’s last paradox: the
unity of “cerchio” and “imago” — the infinite and personal aspects of God.
[894] The enhanced will, made over to the interests of the Transcendent,
receives new worlds to conquer, new strength to match its exalted destiny.
But the heart too here enters on a new order, begins to live upon high
levels of joy. “This soul, says Love, swims in the sea of joy: that is, in
the sea of delight, the stream of divine influences.” [895]

“Amans volat, currit et laetatur: liber est et non tenetur ,” [896] said à
Kempis: classic words, which put before us once and for ever the inward
joyousness and liberty of the saints. They “fly, run, and rejoice”—those
great, laborious souls, often spent with amazing mortifications, vowed to
hard and never-ending tasks. They are “free, and nothing can hold them,”
though they seem to the world fenced in by absurd renunciations and
restrictions, deprived of that cheap licence which it knows as liberty.

That fruition of joy of which Ruysbroeck speaks in majestic phrases, as
constituting the interior life of mystic souls immersed in the Absolute—the
translation of the Beatific Vision into the terms of a supernal
feeling-state—is often realized in the secret experience of those same
mystics, as the perennial possession of a childlike gaiety, an
inextinguishable gladness of heart. The transfigured souls move to the
measures of a “love dance” which persists in mirth without comparison,
through every outward hardship and tribulation. They enjoy the high spirits
peculiar to high spirituality: and shock the world by a delicate
playfulness, instead of exhibiting the morose resignation which it feels to
be proper to the “spiritual life.” Thus St. Catherine of Siena, though
constantly suffering, “was always jocund and of a happy spirit.” When
prostrate with illness she overflowed with gaiety and gladness, and “was
full of laughter in the Lord, exultant and rejoicing. “ [897]

Moreover, the most clear-sighted amongst the mystics declare such joy to be
an implicit of Reality. Thus Dante, initiated into Paradise, sees the whole
Universe laugh with delight as it glorifies God: [898] and the awful
countenance of Perfect Love adorned with smiles. [899] Thus the souls of the
great theologians dance to music and laughter in the Heaven of the Sun;
[900] the loving seraphs, in their ecstatic joy, whirl about the Being of
God. [901] “O luce sterna che . . . ami ed arridi, ” exclaims the pilgrim,
as the Divine Essence is at last revealed to him, [902] and he perceives
love and joy as the final attributes of the Triune God. Thus Beatrice with
“suoi occhi ridenti”— so different from the world’s idea of a suitable
demeanour for the soul’s supreme instructress—laughs as she mounts with him
the ladder to the stars. So, if the deified soul has indeed run ahead of
humanity and “according to his fruition dwells in heaven,” he too, like
Francis, will run, rejoice and make merry: join the eager dance of the
Universe about the One. “If,” says Patmore, “we may credit certain hints
contained in the lives of the saints, love raises the spirit above the
sphere of reverence and worship into one of laughter and dalliance: a sphere
in which the soul says:—

“‘Shall I, a gnat which dances in Thy ray,

Dare to be reverent?’” [903]

Richard Rolle has expressed this exultant “spirit of dalliance” with
peculiar insight and delicacy. “Among the delights which he tastes in so
sweet love burning,” he says of the true lover who “in the bond of the
lovers’ will stably is confirmed,” “a heavenly privity inshed he feels, that
no man can know but he that has received it, and in himself bears the
electuary that anoints and makes happy all joyful lovers in Jesu; so that
they cease not to hie in heavenly seats to sit, endlessly their Maker to
enjoy. Hereto truly they yearn in heavenly sights abiding; and inwardly set
afire, all their inward parts are glad with pleasant shining in light. And
themselves they feel gladdened with merriest love, and in joyful song
wonderfully melted. . . . But this grace generally and to all is not given,
but to the holy soul imbued with the holiest is taught; in whom the
excellence of love shines, and songs of lovely loving, Christ inspiring,
commonly burst up, and being made as it were a pipe of love, in sight of God
more goodly than can be said, joying sounds. The which (soul) the mystery of
love knowing, with great cry to its Love ascends, in wit sharpest, and in
knowledge and in feeling subtle; not spread in things of this world but into
God all gathered and set, that in cleanness of conscience and shining of
soul to Him it may serve Whom it has purposed to love, and itself to Him to
give. Surely the clearer the love of the lover is, the nearer to him and the
more present God is. And thereby more clearly in God he joys, and of the
sweet Goodness the more he feels, that to lovers is wont Itself to inshed,
and to mirth without comparison the hearts of the meek to turn.” [904]

The state of burning love, said Rolle, than which he could conceive no
closer reaction to Reality, was the state of Sweetness and Song: the welling
up of glad music in the simple soul, man’s natural expression of a joy which
overpasses the descriptive powers of our untuneful speech. In the gay
rhythms of that primordial art he may say something of the secret which the
more decorous periods of religion and philosophy will never let him tell:
something, too, which in its very childishness, its freedom from the taint
of solemnity and self-importance, expresses the quality of that inward life,
that perpetual youth, which the “secret child” of the Transcendent Order
enjoys. “As it were a pipe of love” in the sight of God he “joying
sounds.” The music of the spheres is all about him: he is a part of the
great melody of the Divine. “Sweetest forsooth,” says Rolle again, “is the
rest which the spirit takes whilst sweet goodly sound comes down, in which
it is delighted: and in most sweet song and playful the mind is ravished to
sing likings of love everlasting.” [905]

When we come to look at the lives of the mystics, we find it literally true
that such “songs of lovely loving commonly burst up” whenever we can catch
them unawares; see behind the formidable and heroic activities of reformer,
teacher, or leader of men the vie intime which is lived at the hearth of
Love. “What are the servants of the Lord but His minstrels?” said St.
Francis, [906] who saw nothing inconsistent between the Celestial Melodies
and the Stigmata of Christ. Moreover the songs of such troubadours, as the
hermit of Hampole learned in his wilderness, are not only sweet but playful.
Dwelling always in a light of which we hardly dare to think, save in the
extreme terms of reverence and awe, they are not afraid with any amazement:
they are at home.

The whole life of St. Francis of Assisi, that spirit transfigured in God,
who “loved above all other birds a certain little bird which is called the
lark,” [907] was one long march to music through the world. To sing seemed
to him a primary spiritual function: he taught his friars in their preaching
to urge all men to this. [908] It appeared to him appropriate and just to
use the romantic language of the troubadours in praise of the perfect Love
which had marked him as Its own. “Drunken with the love and compassion of
Christ, blessed Francis on a time did things such as these. For the most
sweet melody of spirit boiling up within him, frequently broke out in French
speech, and the veins of murmuring which he heard secretly with his ears
broke forth into French-like rejoicing. And sometimes he picked up a branch
from the earth, and laying it on his left arm, he drew in his right hand
another stick like a bow over it, as if on a viol or other instrument, and,
making fitting gestures, sang with it in French unto the Lord Jesus
Christ.” [909]

Many a time has the romantic quality of the Unitive Life—its gaiety,
freedom, assurance, and joy—broken out in “French-like rejoicings”; which
have a terribly frivolous sound for worldly ears, and seem the more
preposterous as coming from people whose outward circumstances are of the
most uncomfortable kind. St. John of the Cross wrote love songs to his Love.
St. Rose of Lima sang duets with the birds. St. Teresa, in the austere and
poverty-stricken seclusion of her first foundation, did not disdain to make
rustic hymns and carols for her daughters’ use in the dialect of Old
Castile. Like St. Francis, she had a horror of solemnity. It was only fit
for hypocrites, thought these rejuvenators of the Church. The hard life of
prayer and penance on Mount Carmel was undertaken in a joyous spirit to the
sound of many songs. Its great Reformer was quick to snub the too-spiritual
sister who “thought it better to contemplate than to sing”: and was herself
heard, as she swept the convent corridor, to sing a little ditty about the
most exalted of her own mystical experiences: that ineffable
transverberation, in which the fiery arrow of the seraph pierced her heart.

But the most lovely and real, most human and near to us, of all these
descriptions of the celestial exhilaration which mystic surrender brings in
its train, is the artless, unintentional self-revelation of St. Catherine of
Genoa, whose inner and outer lives in their balanced wholeness provide us
with one of our best standards by which to judge the right proportions of
the Mystic Way. Here the whole essence of the Unitive Life is summed up and
presented to us by one who lived it upon heroic levels: and who was, in
fruition and activity, in rest and in work, not only a great active and a
great ecstatic, but one of the deepest gazers into the secrets of Eternal
Love that the history of Christian mysticism contains. Yet perhaps there is
no passage in the works of these same mystics which comes to so unexpected,
so startling a conclusion as this; in which St. Catherine, with a fearless
simplicity, shows to her fellow-men the nature of the path that she has
trodden and the place that she has reached.

“When,” she says, in one of her reported dialogues—and though the tone be
impersonal it is clearly personal experience which speaks—“the loving
kindness of God calls a soul from the world, He finds it full of vices and
sins; and first He gives it an instinct for virtue, and then urges it to
perfection, and then by infused grace leads it to true self-naughting, and
at last to true transformation. And this noteworthy order serves God to lead
the soul along the Way: but when the soul is naughted and transformed, then
of herself she neither works nor speaks nor wills, nor feels nor hears nor
understands, neither has she of herself the feeling of outward or inward,
where she may move. And in all things it is God Who rules and guides her,
without the mediation of any creature. And the state of this soul is then a
feeling of such utter peace and tranquillity that it seems to her that her
heart, and her bodily being, and all both within and without is immersed in
an ocean of utmost peace; from when she shall never come forth for anything
that can befall her in this life. And she stays immovable, imperturbable,
impassible. So much so, that it seems to her in her human and her spiritual
nature, both within and without, she can feel no other thing than sweetest
peace. And she is so full of peace that though she press her flesh, her
nerves, her bones, no other thing comes forth from them than peace. Then
says she all day for joy such rhymes as these, making them according to her

“‘Vuoi tu che tu mostr’io

Presto che cosa è Dio?

Pace non trova chi da lui si partiò.’” [911]

“Then says she all day for joy such rhymes as these”—nursery rhymes, one
might almost call them: so infantile, so naive is their rhythm. Who would
have suspected this to be the secret manner of communion between the exalted
soul of Catherine and her Love? How many of those who actually saw that
great and able woman labouring in the administration of her hospital—who
heard that profound and instinctive Christian Platonist instructing her
disciples, and declaring the law of universal and heroic love—how many of
these divined that “questa santa benedetta” who seemed to them already
something more than earthly, a matter of solemn congratulation and
reverential approach, went about her work with a heart engaged in no lofty
speculations on Eternity; no outpourings of mystic passion for the Absolute;
but “saying all day for joy,” in a spirit of childlike happiness, gay and
foolish little songs about her Love?

Standing at the highest point of the mystic ladder which can be reached by
human spirits in this world of time and space, looking back upon the course
of that slow interior alchemy, that “noteworthy order” of organic
transformation, by which her selfhood had been purged of imperfection,
raised to higher levels, compelled at last to surrender itself to the
all-embracing, all-demanding life of the Real; this is St. Catherine’s
deliberate judgment on the relative and absolute aspects of the mystic life.
The “noteworthy order” which we have patiently followed, the psychic growth
and rearrangement of character, the visions and ecstasies, the joyous
illumination and bitter pain—these but “served to lead the soul along the
way.” In the mighty transvaluation of values which takes place when that way
has at last been trod, these “abnormal events” sink to insignificance. For
us, looking out wistfully along the pathway to reality, they stand out, it
is true, as supreme landmarks, by which we may trace the homeward course of
pilgrim man. Their importance cannot be overrated for those who would study
the way to that world from this. But the mystic, safe in that silence where
lovers lose themselves, “his cheek on Him Who for his coming came,”
remembers them no more. In the midst of his active work, his incessant
spiritual creation, joy and peace enfold him. He needs no stretched and
sharpened intuition now: for he dwells in that “most perfect form of
contemplation” which “consists in simple and perceived contact of the
substance of the soul with that of the divine.” [912]

The wheel of life has made its circle. Here, at the last point of its
revolution, the extremes of sublimity and simplicity are seen to meet. It
has swept the soul of the mystic through periods of alternate stress and
glory; tending ever to greater transcendence, greater freedom, closer
contact with “the Supplier of true life.” He emerges from that long and
wondrous journey to find himself in rest and in work, a little child upon
the bosom of the Father. In that most dear relation all feeling, will, and
thought attain their end. Here all the teasing complications of our
separated selfhood are transcended. Hence the eager striving, the sharp
vision, are not wanted any more. In that mysterious death of selfhood on the
summits which is the medium of Eternal Life, heights meet the deeps: supreme
achievement and complete humility are one.

In a last brief vision, a glimpse as overpowering to our common minds as
Dante’s final intuition of reality to his exalted and courageous soul, we
see the triumphing spirit, sent out before us the best that earth can offer,
stoop and strip herself of the insignia of wisdom and power. Achieving the
highest, she takes the lowest place. Initiated into the atmosphere of
Eternity, united with the Absolute, possessed at last of the fullness of Its
life, the soul, self-naughted becomes as a little child: for of such is the
kingdom of heaven.

[842] Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens,” p. 140.

[843] Compare Dante’s sense of a transmuted personality when he first
breathed the air of Paradise:— “S’ io era sol di me quel che creasti
novellamente, Amor che il ciel governi tu il sai, che cot tuo lume mi
levasti” (Par. i. 73). “If I were only that of me which thou didst new
create, oh Love who rulest heaven, thou knowest who with thy light didst
lift me up.”

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

[845] Par. I. 70.

[846] Delacroix. “Études sur le Mysticism,” p. 197.

[847] Eucken, “Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens,” p. 12.

[848] Ibid. , p. 96.

[849] Delacroix, op. cit ., p. 114 ( vide supra , p . 273).

[850] “Theologia Germanica,” cap. xli.

[851] Par. xxx. 115-130 and xxxi. 1-12.

[852] Compare, p. 128.

[853] Op. cit ., ix. But it is difficult to see why we need stigmatize as
“half-savage” man’s primordial instinct for his destiny.

[854] Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Eastern Church. Prayers before

[855] Athanasius, De Incarn. Verbi, i. 108.

[856] Aug. Conf., bk. vii. cap. x.

[857] Pred. lvii.

[858] Pred. xcix. (“Mystische Schriften,” p. 122).

[859] Ruysbroeck, “De Ornatu Spiritalium Nuptiarum,” I. iii. cap. iii.

[860] Aug. Conf., bk. x. cap. xxviii.

[861] Cf. Coventry Patmore, “The Rod, the Root, and the Flower,” “Magna
Moralia,” xxii.

[862] Par. xxx. 64.

[863] “De Septem Gradibus Amoris,” cap. xiv.

[864] “The Threefold Life of Man,” cap. vi. 88.

[865] “De Quatuor Gradibus Violentae Charitatis” (Migne, Patrologia Latina

[866] Dialogo, cap. lxxviii.

[867] Ruysbroeck. “Samuel,” cap. xi. (English translation: “The Book of

[868] Ibid ., “De Calculo,” cap. ix.

[869] St. Thomas Aquinas, “Summa Contra Gentiles,” bk. iii. cap. lxii.

[870] Suso, “Buchlein von der Wahrheit,” cap. iv.

[871] “Theologia Germanica,” cap. x.

[872] Ruysbroeck, “Speculum Aeternae e Salutis,” cap. vii.

[873] “Regnum Deum Amantium,” cap xxii.

[874] Jalalu ‘d Din, “The Festival of Spring” (Hastie’s translation p. 10).

[875] “The Mirror of Simple Souls,” Div. iv. cap. i.

[876] “The Epistle of Prayer.” Printed from Pepwell’s edition in “The Cell
of Self-knowledge,” edited by Edmund Gardner, p. 88.

[877] Gerlac Petersen, “Ignitum cum Deo Soliloqium,” cap. xv.

[878] Compare Pt. i. Cap. vi. It seems needless to repeat here the examples
there given.

[879] Hilton, “The Treatise written to a Devout Man,” cap. viii.

[880] Cf. Ormond, “Foundations of Knowledge,” p. 442. “When we love any
being, we desire either the unification of its life with our own or our own
unification with its life. Love in its innermost motive is a unifying

[881] “Summa Contra Gentiles,” bk. ii. cap. xxi.

[882] “De Quatuor Gradibus Violentae Charitatis” (Migne, Patrologia Latina
cxcvi. col. 1216 D).

[883] “El Castillo Interior,” Moradas Sétimas, cap. iv.

[884] “Les Torrents,” pt. i. cap. ix.

[885] Thomas of Celano, Legenda Secunda, cap. xii.

[886] Supra , Pt. I. Cap. II.

[887] Ruysbroeck, “De Calculo,” cap. ix.

[888] Op. cit ., cap viii. and ix. (condensed).

[889] Vide supra p. 35.

[890] Par. xxxiii. 91. “I believe that I beheld the universal form of this
knot: because in saying this I feel my joy increased.”

[891] “De Septem Gradibus Amoris,” Cap. xiv .

[892] Ibid., loc. cit.

[893] Ruysbroeck “Do Ornatu Spiritalium Nuptiarum,”” I. ii cap. lxv.

[894] Par. xxxiii. 137.

[895] “The Mirror of Simple Souls.” p. 161.

[896] “De Imitatione Christi,” I. iii. cap. v.

[897] Contestatio Fr. Thomae Caffarina, Processus, col. 1258 (E. Gardner,
“St. Catherine of Siena,” p. 48).

[898] Par. xxvii. 4.

[899] Ibid ., xx. 13.

[900] Ibid ., x. 76, 118.

[901] Ibid., xxviii. 100.

[902] Ibid., xxxiii. 124-26.

[903] Coventry Patmore, “The Rod, the Root, and the Flower,” “Aurea

[904] Richard Rolle, “The Fire of Love,” bk. ii. cap. vii.

[905] Op. cit ., bk. i. cap. xi.

[906] “Speculum Perfectionis,” cap, c. (Steele’s translation).

[907] “Speculum,” cap. cxiii.

[908] Ibid. , cap. c.

[909] Ibid. , cap. xciii., also Thomas of Celano, Vita Secunda, cap. xc.

[910] Cf . G. Cunninghame Graham, “Santa Teresa,” vol. i. pp. 180, 300, 304.

[911] “Dost thou wish that I should show All God’s Being thou mayst know?
Peace is not found of those who do not with Him go.” (Vita e Dottrina, cap.
xviii.) Here, in spite of the many revisions to which the Vita has been
subjected, I cannot but see an authentic report of St. Catherine’s inner
mind; highly characteristic of the personality which “came joyous and
rosy-faced” from its ecstatic encounters with Love. The very unexpectedness
of its conclusion, so unlike the expressions supposed to be proper to the
saints, is a guarantee of its authenticity. On the text of the “Vita” see
Von Hügel, “The Mystical Element of Religion,” vol. i., Appendix.

[912] Coventry Patmore, “The Rod, the Root, and the Flower,” “Magna
Moralia,” xv.