Chapter 5

I n the last chapter we tried to establish a distinction between the mystic
who tastes supreme experience and the mystical philosopher who cogitates
upon the data so obtained. We have now, however, to take account of the fact
that often the true mystic is also a mystical philosopher; though there are
plenty of mystical philosophers who are not and could never be mystics.

Because it is characteristic of the human self to reflect upon its
experience, to use its percepts as material for the construction of a
concept, most mystics have made or accepted a theory of their own
adventures. Thus we have a mystical philosophy or theology—the comment of
the intellect on the proceedings of spiritual intuition—running side by side
with true or empirical mysticism: classifying its data, criticizing it,
explaining it, and translating its vision of the supersensible into symbols
which are amenable to dialectic.

Such a philosophy is most usually founded upon the formal creed which the
individual mystic accepts. It is characteristic of him that in so far as his
transcendental activities are healthy he is generally an acceptor and not a
rejector of such creeds. The view which regards the mystic as a spiritual
anarchist receives little support from history; which shows us, again and
again, the great mystics as faithful sons of the great religions. Almost any
religious system which fosters unearthly love is potentially a nursery for
mystics: and Christianity, Islam, Brahmanism, and Buddhism each receives its
most sublime interpretation at their hands. Thus St. Teresa interprets her
ecstatic apprehension of the Godhead in strictly Catholic terms, and St.
John of the Cross contrives to harmonize his intense transcendentalism with
incarnational and sacramental Christianity. Thus Boehme believed to the last
that his explorations of eternity were consistent with the teaching of the
Lutheran Church. The Sufis were good Mohammedans, Philo and the Kabalists
were orthodox Jews. Plotinus even adapted—though with what difficulty—the
relics of paganism to his doctrine of the Real.

Attempts, however, to limit mystical truth—the direct apprehension of the
Divine Substance—by the formula of any one religion, are as futile as the
attempt to identify a precious metal with the die which converts it into
current coin. The dies which the mystics have used are many. Their
peculiarities and excrescences are always interesting and sometimes highly
significant. Some give a far sharper, more coherent, impression than others.
But the gold from which this diverse coinage is struck is always the same
precious metal: always the same Beatific Vision of a Goodness, Truth, and
Beauty which is one. Hence its substance must always be distinguished from
the accidents under which we perceive it: for this substance has an
absolute, and not a denominational, importance.

Nevertheless, if we are to understand the language of the mystics, it is
evident that we must know a little of accident as well as of substance: that
is to say, of the principal philosophies or religions which they have used
in describing their adventures to the world. This being so, before we
venture to apply ourselves to the exploration of theology proper, it will be
well to consider the two extreme forms under which both mystics and
theologians have been accustomed to conceive Divine Reality: that is to say,
the so-called “emanation-theory” and “immanence-theory” of the
transcendental world.

Emanation and Immanence are formidable words; which though perpetually
tossed to and fro by amateurs of religious philosophy, have probably, as
they stand, little actuality for practical modern men. They are, however,
root-ideas for the maker of mystical diagrams: and his best systems are but
attempts towards their reconciliation. Since the aim of every mystic is
union with God, it is obvious that the vital question in his philosophy must
be the place which this God, the Absolute of his quest, occupies in the
scheme. Briefly, He has been conceived—or, it were better to say,
presented—by the great mystics under two apparently contradictory modes.

(1) The opinion which is represented in its most extreme form by the theory
of Emanations, declares His utter transcendence. This view appears early in
the history of Greek philosophy. It is developed by Dionysius, by the
Kabalists, by Dante: and is implied in the language of Rulman Merswin, St.
John of the Cross and many other Christian ecstatics.

The solar system is an almost perfect symbol of this concept of Reality;
which finds at once its most rigid and most beautiful expression in Dante’s
“Paradiso.” [182] The Absolute Godhead is conceived as removed by a vast
distance from the material world of sense; the last or lowest of that system
of dependent worlds or states which, generated by or emanating from the
Unity or Central Sun, become less in spirituality and splendour, greater in
multiplicity, the further they recede from their source. That Source—the
Great Countenance of the Godhead—can never, say the Kabalists, be discerned
by man. It is the Absolute of the Neoplatonists, the Unplumbed Abyss of
later mysticism: the Cloud of Unknowing wraps it from our sight. Only by its
“emanations” or manifested attributes can we attain knowledge of it. By the
outflow of these same manifested attributes and powers the created universe
exists, depending in the last resort on the latens Deitas: Who is therefore
conceived as external to the world which He illuminates and vivifies.

St. Thomas Aquinas virtually accepts the doctrine of Emanations when he
writes: [183] “As all the perfections of Creatures descend in order from
God, who is the height of perfection, man should begin from the lower
creatures and ascend by degrees, and so advance to the knowledge of God. . .
. And because in that roof and crown of all things, God, we find the most
perfect unity, and everything is stronger and more excellent the more
thoroughly it is one; it follows that diversity and variety increase in
things, the further they are removed from Him who is the first principle of
all.” Suso, whose mystical system, like that of most Dominicans, is entirely
consistent with Thomist philosophy, is really glossing Aquinas when he
writes: “The supreme and superessential Spirit has ennobled man by
illuminating him with a ray from the Eternal Godhead. . . . Hence from out
the great ring which represents the Eternal Godhead there flow forth . . .
little rings, which may be taken to signify the high nobility of natural
creatures.” [184]

Obviously, if this theory of the Absolute be accepted the path of the
soul’s ascent to union with the divine must be literally a transcendence: a
journey “upward and outward,” through a long series of intermediate states
or worlds till, having traversed the “Thirty-two paths of the Tree of
Life,” she at last arrives, in Kabalistic language, at the Crown: fruitive
knowledge of God, the Abyss or Divine Dark of the Dionysian school, the
Neoplatonic One. Such a series of worlds is symbolized by the Ten Heavens of
Dante, the hierarchies of Dionysius, the Tree of Life or Sephiroth of the
Kabalah: and receives its countersign in the inward experience, in the long
journey of the self through Purgation and Illumination to Union. “We
ascend,” says St. Augustine, “thy ways that be in our heart, and sing a song
of degrees; we glow inwardly with thy fire, with thy good fire, and we go,
because we go upwards to the peace of Jerusalem.” [185]

This theory postulates, under normal and non-mystical conditions, the
complete separation of the human and the divine; the temporal and the
eternal worlds. “Never forget,” says St. John of the Cross, “that God is
inaccessible. Ask not therefore how far your powers may comprehend Him, your
feeling penetrate Him. Fear thus to content yourself with too little, and
deprive your soul of the agility which it needs in order to mount up to
Him.” [186] The language of pilgrimage, of exile, comes naturally to the
mystic who apprehends reality under these terms. To him the mystical
adventure is essentially a “going forth” from his normal self and from his
normal universe. Like the Psalmist “in his heart he hath disposed to ascend
by steps in this vale of tears” from the less to the more divine. He, and
with him the Cosmos—for to mystical philosophy the soul of the individual
subject is the microcosm of the soul of the world—has got to retrace the
long road to the Perfection from which it originally came forth; as the fish
in Rulman Merswin’s Vision of Nine Rocks must struggle upwards from pool to
pool until they reach their Origin.

Such a way of conceiving Reality accords with the type of mind which William
James called the “sick soul.” [187] It is the mood of the penitent; of the
utter humility which, appalled by the sharp contrast between itself and the
Perfect which it contemplates, can only cry “out of the depths.” It comes
naturally to the temperament which leans to pessimism, which sees a “great
gulf fixed” between itself and its desire, and is above all things sensitive
to the elements of evil and imperfection in its own character and in the
normal experience of man. Permitting these elements to dominate its field of
consciousness, wholly ignoring the divine aspect of the World of Becoming,
such a temperament constructs from its perceptions and prejudices the
concept of a material world and a normal self which are very far from God.

(2) Immanence. At the opposite pole from this way of sketching Reality is
the extreme theory of Immanence, which plays so large a part in modern
theology. To the holders of this theory, who commonly belong to James’s
“healthy minded” or optimistic class, the quest of the Absolute is no long
journey, but a realization of something which is implicit in the self and in
the universe: an opening of the eyes of the soul upon the Reality in which
it is bathed. For them earth is literally “crammed with heaven.” “Thou wert
I, but dark was my heart, I knew not the secret transcendent,” says Téwekkul
Bég, a Moslem mystic of the seventeenth century. [188] This is always the
cry of the temperament which leans to a theology of immanence, once its eyes
are opened on the light. “God,” says Plotinus, “is not external to anyone,
but is present with all things, though they are ignorant that He is so.”
[189] In other and older words, “The Spirit of God is within you.” The
Absolute Whom all seek does not hold Himself aloof from an imperfect
material universe, but dwells within the flux of things: stands as it were
at the very threshold of consciousness and knocks awaiting the self’s slow
discovery of her treasures. “He is not far from any one of us, for in Him we
live and move and have our being,” is the pure doctrine of Immanence: a
doctrine whose teachers are drawn from amongst the souls which react more
easily to the touch of the Divine than to the sense of alienation and of
sin, and are naturally inclined to love rather than to awe.

Unless safeguarded by limiting dogmas, the theory of Immanence, taken alone,
is notoriously apt to degenerate into pantheism; and into those extravagant
perversions of the doctrine of “deification” in which the mystic holds his
transfigured self to be identical with the Indwelling God. It is the
philosophical basis of that practice of introversion, the turning inward of
the soul’s faculties in contemplation, which has been the “method” of the
great practical mystics of all creeds. That God, since He is in all—in a
sense, is all—may most easily be found within ourselves, is the doctrine of
these adventurers; [190] who, denying or ignoring the existence of those
intervening “worlds” or “planes” between the material world and the
Absolute, which are postulated by the theory of Emanations, claim with
Ruysbroeck that “by a simple introspection in fruitive love” they “meet God
without intermediary.” [191] They hear the Father of Lights “saying
eternally, without intermediary or interruption, in the most secret part of
the spirit, the one, unique, and abysmal Word.” [192]

This discovery of a “divine” essence or substance, dwelling, as Ruysbroeck
says, at the apex of man’s soul is that fundamental experience—found in some
form or degree in all genuine mystical religion—which provides the basis of
the New Testament doctrine of the indwelling spirit. It is, variously
interpreted, the “spark of the soul” of Eckhart, the “ground” of Tauler, the
Inward Light of the Quakers, the “Divine Principle” of some modern
transcendentalists; the fount and source of all true life. At this point
logical exposition fails mystic and theologian alike. A tangle of metaphors
takes its place. We are face to face with the “wonder of wonders”—that most
real, yet most mysterious, of all the experiences of religion, the union of
human and divine, in a nameless something which is “great enough to be God,
small enough to be me.” In the struggle to describe this experience, the
“spark of the soul,” the point of juncture, is at one moment presented to us
as the divine to which the self attains: at another, as that transcendental
aspect of the self which is in contact with God. On either hypothesis, it is
here that the mystic encounters Absolute Being. Here is his guarantee of
God’s immediate presence in the human heart; and, if in the human heart,
then in that universe of which man’s soul resumes in miniature the essential

According to the doctrine of Immanence, creation, the universe, could we see
it as it is, would be perceived as the self-development, the self-revelation
of this indwelling Deity. The world is not projected from the Absolute, but
immersed in God. “I understood,” says St. Teresa, “how our Lord was in all
things, and how He was in the soul: and the illustration of a sponge filled
with water was suggested to me.” [193] The world-process, then, is the slow
coming to fruition of that Divine Spark which is latent alike in the Cosmos
and in man. “If,” says Boehme, “thou conceivest a small minute circle, as
small as a grain of mustard seed, yet the Heart of God is wholly and
perfectly therein: and if thou art born in God, then there is in thyself (in
the circle of thy life) the whole Heart of God undivided.” [194] The idea of
Immanence has seldom been more beautifully expressed.

It is worth noticing that both the theological doctrines of reality which
have been acceptable to the mystics implicitly declare, as science does,
that the universe is not static but dynamic; a World of Becoming. According
to the doctrine of Immanence this universe is free, self-creative. The
divine action floods it: no part is more removed from the Godhead than any
other part. “God,” says Eckhart, “is nearer to me than I am to myself; He is
just as near to wood and stone, but they do not know it.” [195]

These two apparently contradictory explanations of the Invisible have both
been held, and that in their extreme form, by the mystics: who have found in
both adequate, and indeed necessary, diagrams by which to suggest something
of their rich experience of Reality. [196] Some of the least lettered and
most inspired amongst them—for instance, St. Catherine of Siena, Julian of
Norwich—and some of the most learned, as Dionysius the Areopagite and
Meister Eckhart, have actually used in their rhapsodies language appropriate
to both the theories of Emanation and of Immanence. It would seem, then,
that both these theories convey a certain truth; and that it is the business
of a sound mystical philosophy to reconcile them. It is too often forgotten
by quarrelsome partisans of a concrete turn of mind that at best all these
transcendental theories are only symbols, methods, diagrams; feebly
attempting the representation of an experience which in its fullness is
always the same, and of which the dominant characteristic is ineffability.
Hence they insist with tiresome monotony that Dionysius must be wrong if
Tauler be right: that it is absurd to call yourself the Friend of God if
unknowableness be that God’s first attribute: that Plato’s Perfect Beauty
and St. Catherine of Siena’s Accepter of Sacrifices cannot be the same: that
the “courteous and dear-worthy Lord” who said to Lady Julian, “My darling, I
am glad that thou art come to Me, in all thy woe I have ever been with
thee,” [197] rules out the formless and impersonal One of Plotinus, the
“triple circle” of Suso and Dante. Finally, that if God be truly immanent in
the material world it is either sin or folly to refuse that world in order
that we may find Him; and if introversion be right, a plan of the universe
which postulates intervening planes between Absolute Being and the
phenomenal world must be wrong.

Now as regards the mystics, of whom we hold both these doctrines, these ways
of seeing truth—for what else is a doctrine but that?—it is well to remind
ourselves that their teaching about the relation of the Absolute to the
finite, of God to the phenomenal world, must be founded in the first
instance on what they know by experience of the relation between that
Absolute and the individual self. This experience is the valid part of
mysticism, the thing which gives to it its unique importance amongst systems
of thought, the only source of its knowledge. Everything else is really
guessing aided by analogy. When therefore the mystic, applying to the
universe what he knows to be true in respect of his own soul, describes
Divine Perfection as very far removed from the material world, yet linked
with it by a graduated series of “emanations”—states or qualities which have
each of them something of the godlike, though they be not God—he is trying
to describe the necessary life-process which he has himself passed through
in the course of his purgation and spiritual ascent from the state of the
“natural man” to that other state of harmony with the spiritual universe,
sometimes called “deification,” in which he is able to contemplate, and
unite with, the divine. We have in the “Divina Commedia” a classic example
of such a twofold vision of the inner and the outer worlds: for Dante’s
journey up and out to the Empyrean Heaven is really an inward alchemy, an
ordering and transmuting of his nature, a purging of his spiritual sight
till—transcending all derived beatitude—it can look for an instant on the
Being of God.

The mystic assumes—because he tends to assume an orderly basis for
things—that there is a relation, an analogy, between this microcosm of
man’s self and the macrocosm of the world-self. Hence his experience, the
geography of the individual quest, appears to him good evidence of the
geography of the Invisible. Since he must transcend his natural life in
order to attain consciousness of God, he conceives of God as essentially
transcendent to the natural world. His description of that geography,
however—of his path in a land where there is no time and space, no inner and
no outer, up or down—will be conditioned by his temperament, by his powers
of observation, by the metaphor which comes most readily to his hand, above
all by his theological education. The so-called journey itself is a
psychological and spiritual experience: the purging and preparation of the
self, its movement to higher levels of consciousness, its unification with
that more spiritual but normally unconscious self which is in touch with the
transcendental order, and its gradual or abrupt entrance into union with the
Real. Sometimes it seems to the self that this performance is a retreat
inwards to that “ground of the soul” where, as St. Teresa says, “His Majesty
awaits us”: sometimes a going forth from the Conditioned to the
Unconditioned, the “supernatural flight” of Plotinus and Dionysius the
Areopagite. Both are but images under which the self conceives the process
of attaining conscious union with that God who is “at once immanent and
transcendent in relation to the Soul which shares His life.” [198]

He has got to find God. Sometimes his temperament causes him to lay most
stress on the length of the search; sometimes the abrupt rapture which
brings it to a close makes him forget that preliminary pilgrimage in which
the soul is “not outward bound but rather on a journey to its centre.” The
habitations of the Interior Castle through which St. Teresa leads us to that
hidden chamber which is the sanctuary of the indwelling God: the hierarchies
of Dionysius, ascending from the selfless service of the angels, past the
seraphs’ burning love, to the God enthroned above time and space: the
mystical paths of the Kabalistic Tree of Life which lead from the material
world of Malkuth through the universes of action and thought, by Mercy,
Justice and Beauty, to the Supernal Crown; [199] all these are different
ways of describing this same pilgrimage.

As every one is born a disciple of either Plato or Aristotle, so every human
soul leans to one of these two ways of apprehending reality. The artist, the
poet, every one who looks with awe and rapture on created things,
acknowledges in this act the Immanent God. The ascetic, and that
intellectual ascetic the metaphysician, turning from the created, denying
the senses in order to find afar off the uncreated, unconditioned Source, is
really—though often he knows it not—obeying that psychological law which
produced the doctrine of Emanations.

A good map then, a good mystical philosophy, will leave room for both these
ways of interpreting our experience. It will mark the routes by which many
different temperaments claim to have found their way to the same end. It
will acknowledge both the aspects under which the patria splendida Truth has
appeared to its lovers: the aspects which have called forth the theories of
emanation and immanence and are enshrined in the Greek and Latin names of
God. Deus, whose root means day, shining, the Transcendent Light; and Theos,
whose true meaning is supreme desire or prayer—the Inward Love—do not
contradict, but complete each other. They form, when taken together, an
almost perfect definition of that Godhead which is the object of the
mystic’s desire: the Divine Love which, immanent in the soul spurs on that
soul to union with the transcendent and Absolute Light—at once the source,
the goal, the life of created things.

The true mystic—the person with a genius for God—hardly needs a map himself.
He steers a compass course across the “vast and stormy sea of the divine.”
It is characteristic of his intellectual humility, however, that he is
commonly willing to use the map of the community in which he finds himself,
when it comes to showing other people the route which he has pursued.
Sometimes these maps have been adequate. More, they have elucidated the
obscure wanderings of the explorer; helped him; given him landmarks; worked
out right. Time after time he puts his finger on some spot—some great hill
of vision, some city of the soul—and says with conviction, “Here have I
been.” At other times the maps have embarrassed him, have refused to fit in
with his description. Then he has tried, as Boehme did and after him Blake,
to make new ones. Such maps are often wild in drawing, because good
draughtsmanship does not necessarily go with a talent for exploration.
Departing from the usual convention, they are hard—sometimes impossible—to
understand. As a result, the orthodox have been forced to regard their
makers as madmen or heretics: when they were really only practical men
struggling to disclose great matters by imperfect means.

Without prejudice to individual beliefs, and without offering an opinion as
to the exclusive truth of any one religious system or revelation—for here we
are concerned neither with controversy nor with apologetics—we are bound to
allow as a historical fact that mysticism, so far, has found its best map in
Christianity. Christian philosophy, especially that Neoplatonic theology
which, taking up and harmonizing all that was best in the spiritual
intuitions of Greece, India, and Egypt, was developed by the great doctors
of the early and mediaeval Church, supports and elucidates the revelations
of the individual mystic as no other system of thought has been able to do.

We owe to the great fathers of the first five centuries—to Clement of
Alexandria and Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine; above all to
Dionysius the Areopagite, the great Christian contemporary of Proclus—the
preservation of that mighty system of scaffolding which enabled the Catholic
mystics to build up the towers and bulwarks of the City of God. The peculiar
virtue of this Christian philosophy, that which marks its superiority to the
more coldly self-consistent systems of Greece, is the fact that it re-states
the truths of metaphysics in terms of personality: thus offering a third
term, a “living mediator” between the Unknowable God, the unconditioned
Absolute, and the conditioned self. This was the priceless gift which the
Wise Men received in return for their gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This
solves the puzzle which all explorers of the supersensible have sooner or
later to face: come si convenne l’imago al cerchio, [200] the reconciliation
of Infinite and intimate, both known and felt, but neither understood. Such
a third term, such a stepping-stone, was essential if mysticism were ever to
attain that active union that fullness of life which is its object, and
develop from a blind and egoistic rapture into fruitful and self-forgetting

Where non-Christian mystics, as a rule, have made a forced choice between
the two great dogmatic expressions of their experience, ( a ) the long
pilgrimage towards a transcendent and unconditioned Absolute, ( b ) the
discovery of that Absolute in the “ground” or spiritual principle of the
self; it has been possible to Christianity, by means of her central doctrine
of the Trinity, to find room for both of them and to exhibit them as that
which they are in fact—the complementary parts of a whole. Even Dionysius,
the godfather of the emanation doctrine, combines with his scheme of
descending hierarchies the dogma of an indwelling God: and no writer is more
constantly quoted by Meister Eckhart, who is generally considered to have
preached immanence in its most extreme and pantheistic form.

Further, the Christian atmosphere is the one in which the individual mystic
has most often been able to develop his genius in a sane and fruitful way;
and an overwhelming majority of the great European contemplatives have been
Christians of a strong impassioned and personal type. This alone would
justify us in regarding it as embodying, at any rate in the West, the
substance of the true tradition: providing the “path of least resistance”
through which that tradition flows. The very heretics of Christianity have
often owed their attraction almost wholly to the mystical element in their
teachings. The Gnostics, the Fraticelli, the Brethren of the Free Spirit,
the Quietists, the Quakers, are instances of this. In others, it was to an
excessive reliance on reason when dealing with the suprarational, and a
corresponding absence of trust in mystical intuition that heresy was due.
Arius and Pelagius are heretics of this type.

The greatest mystics, however, have not been heretics but Catholic saints.
In Christianity the “natural mysticism” which like “natural religion,” is
latent in humanity, and at a certain point of development breaks out in
every race, came to itself; and attributing for the first time true and
distinct personality to its Object, brought into focus the confused and
unconditioned God which Neoplatonism had constructed from the abstract
concepts of philosophy blended with the intuitions of Indian ecstatics, and
made the basis of its meditations on the Real. It is a truism that the chief
claim of Christian philosophy on our respect does not lie in its
exclusiveness but in its Catholicity: in the fact that it finds truth in a
hundred different systems, accepts and elucidates Greek, Jewish, and Indian
thought, fuses them in a coherent theology, and says to speculative thinkers
of every time and place, “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare
I unto you.”

The voice of that Truth which spoke once for all on Calvary, and there
declared the ground plan of the universe, was heard more or less perfectly
by all the great seers, the intuitive leaders of men, the possessors of
genius for the Real. There are few of the Christian names of God which were
not known to the teachers of antiquity. To the Egyptians He was the Saviour,
to the Platonists the Good, Beautiful and True, to the Stoics the Father and
Companion. The very words of the Fourth Gospel are anticipated by Cleanthes.
Heracleitus knew the Energizing Fire of which St. Bonaventura and Mechthild
of Magdeburg speak. Countless mystics, from St. Augustine to St. John of the
Cross, echo again and again the language of Plotinus. It is true that the
differentia which mark off Christianity from all other religions are strange
and poignant: but these very differentia make of it the most perfect of
settings for the mystic life. Its note of close intimacy, of direct and
personal contact with a spiritual reality given here and now—its astonishing
combination of splendour and simplicity, of the sacramental and
transcendent—all these things minister to the needs of the mystical type.

Hence the Christian system, or some colourable imitation of it, has been
found essential by almost all the great mystics of the West. They adopt its
nomenclature, explain their adventures by the help of its creed, identify
their Absolute with the Christian God. Amongst European mystics the most
usually quoted exception to this rule is Blake; yet it is curious to notice
that the more inspired his utterance, the more passionately and dogmatically
Christian even this hater of the Churches becomes:—

“We behold

Where Death eternal is put off eternally. O Lamb

Assume the dark satanic body in the Virgin’s womb!

O Lamb divine ! it cannot thee annoy! O pitying One

Thy pity is from the foundation of the world, and thy Redemption

Begins already in Eternity.” [201]

This is the doctrine of the Incarnation in a nutshell: here St. Thomas
himself would find little to correct. Of the two following extracts from
“Jerusalem,” the first is but a poet’s gloss on the Catholic’s cry, “O felix
culpa!” the second is an almost perfect epitome of Christian theology and

“If I were pure, never could I taste the sweets

Of the forgiveness of sins. If I were holy I never could behold the tears

Of Love . . . O Mercy! O divine Humanity!

O Forgiveness, O Pity and Compassion! If I were pure I should never

Have known Thee.”

“Wouldst thou love one who never died

For thee, or ever die for one who had not died for thee?

And if God dieth not for man, and giveth not Himself

Eternally for Man, Man could not exist, for Man is Love

As God is Love. Every kindness to another is a little death

In the Divine Image, nor can Man exist but by brotherhood.” [202]

Whether the dogmas of Christianity be or be not accepted on the scientific
and historical plane, then, those dogmas are necessary to an adequate
description of mystical experience—at least, of the fully developed dynamic
mysticism of the West. We must therefore be prepared in reading the works of
the contemplatives for much strictly denominational language; and shall be
wise if we preface the encounter by some consideration of this language, and
of its real meaning for those who use and believe it.

No one needs, I suppose, to be told that the two chief features of Christian
schematic theology are the dogmas of the Trinity and the Incarnation. They
correlate and explain each other: forming together, for the Christian, the
“final key” to the riddle of the world. The history of practical and
institutional Christianity is the history of the attempt to exhibit their
meaning in space and time. The history of mystical philosophy is the
history—still incomplete—of the demonstration of their meaning in eternity.

Some form of Trinitarian dogma is found to be essential, as a method of
describing observed facts, the moment that mysticism begins either ( a ) to
analyse its own psychological conditions, or ( b ) to philosophize upon its
intuitive experience of God. It must, that is to say, divide the aspects
under which it knows the Godhead, if it is to deal with them in a fruitful
or comprehensible way. The Unconditioned One, which is, for Neoplatonic and
Catholic mystic alike, the final object of their quest, cannot of itself
satisfy the deepest instincts of humanity: for man is aware that diversity
in unity is a necessary condition if perfection of character is to be
expressed. Though the idea of unity alone may serve to define the End—and
though the mystics return to it again and again as a relief from that
“heresy of multiplicity” by which they are oppressed—it cannot by itself be
adequate to the description of the All.

The first question, then, must be—How many of such aspects are necessary to
a satisfactory presentment of the mystic’s position? How many faces of
Reality does he see? We observe that his experience involves at least a
twofold apprehension. ( a ) That Holy Spirit within, that Divine Life by
which his own life is transfused and upheld, and of which he becomes
increasingly conscious as his education proceeds. ( b ) That Transcendent
Spirit without, the “Absolute,” towards union with which the indwelling and
increasingly dominant spirit of love presses the developing soul. In his
ecstasy, it seems to the mystic that these two experiences of God become
one. But in the attempt to philosophize on his experiences he is bound to
separate them. Over and over again the mystics and their critics
acknowledge, explicitly or implicitly, the necessity of this discrimination
for human thought.

Thus even the rigid monotheism of Israel and Islam cannot, in the hands of
the Kabalists and the Sufis, get away from an essential dualism in the
mystical experience. According to the Zohar “God is considered as immanent
in all that has been created or emanated, and yet is transcendent to all.”
[203] So too the Sufis. God, they say, is to be contemplated (a) outwardly
in the imperfect beauties of the earth; (b) inwardly, by meditation.
Further, since He is One, and in all things, “to conceive one’s self as
separate from God is an error: yet only when one sees oneself as separate
from God, can one reach out to God. ” [204]

Thus Delacroix, speaking purely as a psychologist, and denying to the
mystical revelation—which he attributes exclusively to the normal content of
the subliminal mind—any transcendental value, writes with entire approval of
St. Teresa, that she “set up externally to herself the definite God of the
Bible, at the same time as she set up within her soul the confused God of
the Pseudo-Areopagite: the One of Neoplatonism. The first is her guarantee
of the orthodoxy of the second, and prevents her from losing herself in an
indistinction which is non-Christian. The confused God within is highly
dangerous. . . . St. Teresa knew how to avoid this peril, and, served by her
rich subconscious life, by the exaltation of her mental images, by her
faculty of self-division on the one hand, on the other by her rare powers of
unification, she realized simultaneously a double state in which the two
Gods [ i.e. , the two ways of apprehending God, transcendence and immanence]
were guarantees of each other, mutually consolidating and enriching one
another: such is the intellectual vision of the Trinity in the Seventh
Habitation.” [205]

It is probable that St. Teresa, confronted by this astonishing analysis,
would have objected that her Trinity, unlike that of her eulogist, consisted
of three and not two Persons. His language concerning confused interior and
orthodox exterior Gods would certainly have appeared to her delicate and
honest mind both clumsy and untrue: nor could she have allowed that the
Unconditioned One of the Neoplatonists was an adequate description of the
strictly personal Divine Majesty, Whom she found enthroned in the inmost
sanctuary of the Castle of the Soul. What St. Teresa really did was to
actualize in her own experience, apprehend in the “ground of her soul” by
means of her extraordinarily developed transcendental perceptions, the three
distinct and personal Aspects of the Godhead which are acknowledged by the
Christian religion.

First, the Father, pure transcendent Being, creative Source and Origin of
all that Is: the Unconditioned and Unknowable One of the Neoplatonists: Who
is “neither This nor That” and must be conceived, pace M. Delacroix, as
utterly transcendent to the subject rather than “set up within the soul.”

Secondly, in the Person of Christ, St. Teresa isolated and distinguished the
Logos or Creative Word; the expression, or outbirth, of the Father’s
thought. Here is the point at which the Divine Substance first becomes
apprehensible by the spirit of man; that mediating principle “raised up
between heaven and earth” which is at once the Mirror of Pure Being and the
Light of a finite world. The Second Person of the Christian Trinity is for
the believer not only the brightness or express image of Deity, but also the
personal, inexhaustible, and responsive Fount of all life and Object of all
love: Who, because of His taking up (in the Incarnation) of humanity into
the Godhead, has become the Bridge between finite and infinite, between the
individual and the Absolute Life, and hence in mystic language the “true
Bridegroom” of every human soul.

Thirdly, she recognized within herself the germ of that Absolute Life, the
indwelling Spirit which is the source of man’s transcendental consciousness
and his link with the Being of God. That is to say, the Holy Spirit of
Divine Love, the Real Desirous seeking for the Real Desired, without Whose
presence any knowledge of or communion with God on man’s part would be

In the supreme Vision of the Trinity which was vouchsafed to St. Teresa in
the Seventh Habitation of the soul, these three aspects became fused in One.
In the deepest recesses of her spirit, in that abyss where selfhood ceases
to have meaning, and the individual soul touches the life of the All,
distinction vanished and she “saw God in a point.” Such an experience, such
an intuition of simple and undifferentiated Godhead—the Unity—beyond those
three centres of Divine Consciousness which we call the Trinity of Persons,
is highly characteristic of mysticism. The German mystics—temperamentally
miles asunder from St. Teresa—described it as the attainment of the “still
wilderness” or “lonely desert of Deity”: the limitless Divine Abyss,
impersonal, indescribable, for ever hid in the Cloud of Unknowing, and yet
the true Country of the Soul. [206]

These statements, which appear when thus laid down to be hopelessly
academic, violently divorced from life, were not for St. Teresa or any other
Christian mystic abstract propositions; but attempts towards the description
of first-hand experience.

“By some mysterious manifestation of the truth,” she says, “the three
Persons of the most Blessed Trinity reveal themselves, preceded by an
illumination which shines on the spirit like a most dazzling cloud of light.
The three Persons are distinct from one another; a sublime knowledge is
infused into the soul, imbuing it with a certainty of the truth that the
Three are of one substance, power, and knowledge, and are one God. Thus that
which we hold as a doctrine of faith, the soul now, so to speak, understands
by sight, though it beholds the Blessed Trinity neither by the eyes of the
body nor of the soul, this being no imaginary vision. All the Three Persons
here communicate Themselves to the soul, speak to it, and make it understand
the words of our Lord in the Gospel, that He and the Father and the Holy
Ghost will come and make their abode with the soul which loves Him and keeps
His commandments.

O my God, how different from merely hearing and believing these words is it
to realize their truth in this way! Day by day a growing astonishment takes
possession of this soul, for the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity seem
never to depart; that They dwell far within its own centre and depths;
though for want of learning it cannot describe how, it is conscious of the
indwelling of these divine Companions.” [207]

Mystical writers constantly remind us that life as perceived by the human
minds shows an inveterate tendency to arrange itself in triads: that if they
proclaim the number Three in the heavens, they can also point to it as
dominating everywhere upon the earth. Here Christianity did but give form to
a deep instinct of the human mind: an instinct which made Pythagoras call
Three the number of God, because beginning, middle, and end were contained
therein. Thus to Hindu thought the Absolute Godhead was unknowable, but He
disclosed three faces to man—Brahma the Creator, Shiva the Destroyer,
Krishna the Repairer—and these three were One. So too the Neoplatonists
distinguished three worlds; the Sensible or Phenomenal, the Rational or
Intellectual, the Intelligible or Spiritual; and three aspects of God—the
Unconditioned Absolute, the Logos or Artificer, and the divine Essence or
Soul of the World which is both absolute and created. Perhaps we have in
such triads a first sketch of the Christian Trinity; though falling far
short of the requirements of man’s spiritual experience. The dry bones await
the breath of more abundant life. Corresponding with this diagram of God’s
nature the Platonists see also three grades of beauty; the Corporeal, the
Spiritual, and the Divine.

Man, that “thing of threes,” of body, soul and spirit, of understanding,
memory and will, follows in his path towards unity the Threefold Way: for
“our soul,” says Lady Julian, “is made-trinity like to the unmade blissful
Trinity, known and loved from without beginning, and in the making oned to
the Maker.” [208] We still tend to analyse our psychic life into emotional,
volitional, and intellectual elements. Even the Subject and Object implied
in every experience required a third term, the relation between them,
without which no thought can be complete. Thus the very principle of analogy
imposes upon man a Trinitarian definition of Reality as the one with which
his mind is best able to cope. [209] It is easy for the hurried rationalist
to demonstrate the absurdity of this fact but he will find it a very
different matter when it comes to disproving it.

“I could wish,” says St. Augustine, “that men would consider these three
things that are in themselves . . . To Be, to Know, and to Will. For I am,
and I know, and I will, I am knowing and willing, and I know myself to be
and to will; and I will to be and to know. In these three therefore let him
who can, see how inseparable a life there is—even one life, one mind, one
essence: finally how inseparable is the distinction, and yet a distinction.
Surely a man hath it before him: let him look into himself and see and tell
me. But when he discovers and can see anything of these, let him not think
that he has discovered that which is above these Unchangeable: which Is
unchangeably and Knows unchangeably and Wills unchangeably.” [210]

In a well-known passage, Julian of Norwich tells us how she saw the Trinity
of the Divine Nature shining in the phenomenal as well as in the spiritual
world. “He showed me,” she says, “a little thing, the quantity of an hazel
nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked
thereupon with the eye of my understanding, and thought, What may this be?
And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. . . . In this
Little Thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the
second is that God loveth it, the third is that God keepeth it. But what is
to me verily the Maker, the Keeper, and the Lover, I cannot tell.” [211]

Julian, a simple and deeply human Englishwoman of middle age dwelling alone
in her churchyard cell, might well be called the poet of the Trinity. She
treats this austere and subtle dogma—of which the mediaeval mystics write
with a passion little understood by those who look upon it as “orthodoxy
reduced to mathematics”—with an intimacy and vigour which carry with them a
conviction of her own direct and personal apprehension of the theological
truth she struggles to describe. “I beheld,” she says of a vision which is
close to that of St. Teresa in the “Seventh Habitation of the Soul,” and
more lucidly if less splendidly expressed, “the working of all the blessed
Trinity: in which beholding, I saw and understood these three properties:
the property of the Fatherhood, the property of the Motherhood, and the
property of the Lordhood, in one God. In our Father Almighty we have our
keeping and our bliss as anent our natural Substance, [212] which is to us
by our making, without beginning. And in the Second Person in wit and wisdom
we have our keeping as anent our Sense-soul: our restoring and our saving;
for He is our Mother, Brother, and Saviour. And in our good Lord, the Holy
Ghost, we have our rewarding and our meed-giving for our living and our
travail, and endless overpassing of all that we desire, in His marvellous
courtesy of His high plenteous grace. For all our life is in three: in the
first we have our Being, in the second we have our Increasing, and in the
third we have our Fulfilling; the first is Nature, the second is Mercy, and
the third is Grace. [213] . . . The high Might of the Trinity is our Father,
and the deep Wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, and the great Love of the
Trinity is our Lord: and all this we have in Nature and in our Substantial
Making.” [214]

Again, in a passage of exquisite tenderness, “As verily as God is our
Father, so verily God is our Mother; and that shewed He in all [her
revelations] and especially in these sweet words where He saith: I it am.
That is to say, I it am, the Might and the Goodness of the Fatherhood; I it
am, the Wisdom of the Motherhood, I it am the Light and the Grace that is
all blessed Love. I it am, the Trinity, I it am, the Unity: I am the
sovereign Goodness of all manner of things. I am that maketh thee to love. I
am that maketh thee to long: I it am, the endless fulfilling of all true
desires. ” [215]

So Christopher Hervey—

“The whole world round is not enough to fill

The heart’s three corners, but it craveth still.

Only the Trinity that made it can

Suffice the vast triangled heart of Man.” [216]

Any attempt towards a definition of God which does not account for and
acknowledge these three aspects is found in experience to be incomplete.
They provide objectives for the heart, the intellect, and the will: for they
offer to the Self material for its highest love, its deepest thought, its
act of supreme volition. Under the familiar Platonic terms of Goodness,
Truth, and Beauty, they represent the divine source and end of Ethics,
Science, and Art, the three supreme activities of man. Thus the ideals of
artist, student, and philanthropist, who all seek under different modes the
same reality, are gathered up in the mystic’s One; as the pilgrimage of the
three kings ended in the finding of one Star

“What is God?” says St. Bernard. “Length, breadth, height, and depth.
‘What,’ you say, ‘you do after all profess to believe in the fourfold
Godhead which was an abomination to you?’ Not in the least. . . . God is
designated One to suit our comprehension, not to describe his character. His
character is capable of division, He Himself is not. The words are
different, the paths are many, but one thing is signified; the paths lead to
one Person.” [217]

All possible ways of conceiving this One Person in His living richness are
found in the end to range themselves under three heads. He is “above all and
through all and in you all,” [218] said St. Paul, anticipating the Councils
in a flash of mystic intuition and giving to the infant Church the shortest
and most perfect definition of its Triune God. Being, which is above all,
manifests itself as Becoming; as the dynamic omnipresent Word of Life. The
Divine Love immanent in the heart and in the world comes forth from, and
returns to, the Absolute One. “Thou, my God, who art Love,” says Nicolas of
Cusa, “art Love that loveth, and Love that is loveable, and Love that is the
bond between these twain.” [219] Thus is completed “the Eternal Circle from
Goodness, through Goodness, to Goodness.” It is true that to these
fundamental respects of the perceived Godhead—that Being, Becoming, and
Desire whereto the worlds keep time—the mystics have given many and various
names; for they have something of the freedom of true intimates in treating
of the Reality which they love. In particular, those symbols of the Absolute
which are drawn from the great and formless forces of the universe, rather
than from the orthodox but necessarily anthropomorphic imagery of human
relationship, have always appealed to them. Their intense apprehension of
Spirit seems to find freer and more adequate expression in such terms, than
in those in which the notion of space is involved, or which suggest a
concrete picture to the mind. Though they know as well as the philosophers
that “there must always he something symbolic in our way of expressing the
spiritual life,” since “that unfathomable infinite whose spiritual character
is first recognized in our human experience, can never reveal itself fully
and freely under the limitations of our earthly existence”; [220] yet they
ever seek, like the artists they are, some new and vital image which is not
yet part of the debased currency of formal religion, and conserves its
original power of stinging the imagination to more vivid life.

Thus “the Kingdom of Heaven,” says Law, “stands in this threefold life,
where three are one, because it is a manifestation of the Deity, which is
Three and One; the Father has His distinct manifestation in the Fire, which
is always generating the Light; the Son has His distinct manifestation in
the Light, which is always generated from the Fire; the Holy Ghost has His
manifestation in the Spirit, that always proceeds from both, and is always
united with them. It is this eternal unbeginning Trinity in Unity of Fire,
Light, and Spirit, that constitutes Eternal Nature, the Kingdom of Heaven,
the heavenly Jerusalem, the Divine Life, the Beatific Visibility, the
majestic Glory and Presence of God. Through this Kingdom of Heaven, or
Eternal Nature, is the invisible God, the incomprehensible Trinity,
eternally breaking forth and manifesting itself in a boundless height and
depth of blissful wonders, opening and displaying itself to all its
creatures as in an infinite variation and endless multiplicity of its
powers, beauties, joys, and glories.” [221]

Perhaps an easier, better, more beautiful example of these abstract symbols
of the Trinity than Law’s Fire, Light, and Spirit is that of Light, Life,
and Love: a threefold picture of the Real which is constantly dwelt upon and
elaborated by the Christian mystics. Transcendent Light, intangible but
unescapable, ever emanating Its splendour through the Universe: indwelling,
unresting, and energizing Life: desirous and directive Love—these are
cardinal aspects of Reality to which they return again and again in their
efforts to find words which will express something of the inexpressible

( a ) LIGHT, ineffable and uncreated, the perfect symbol of pure
undifferentiated Being: above the intellect, as St. Augustine reminds us,
but known to him who loves. [222] This Uncreated Light is the “deep yet
dazzling darkness” of the Dionysian school, “dark from its surpassing
brightness . . . as the shining of the sun on his course is as darkness to
weak eyes.” [223] It is St. Hildegarde’s lux vivens, Dante’s somma luce,
wherein he saw multiplicity in unity, the ingathered leaves of all the
universe [224] : the Eternal Father, or Fount of Things. “For well we
know,” says Ruysbroeck “that the bosom of the Father is our ground and
origin, wherein our life and being is begun.” [225]

( b ) LIFE, the Son, hidden Steersman of the Universe, the Logos, Fire, or
cosmic Soul of Things. This out-birth or Concept of the Father’s Mind, which
He possesses within Himself, as Battista Vernazza was told in her ecstasy,
[226] is that Word of Creation which since It is alive and infinite, no
formula can contain. the Word eternally “spoken” or generated by the
Transcendent Light. “This is why,” says Ruysbroeck again, “all that lives in
the Father unmanifested in the Unity, is also in the Son actively poured
forth in manifestation.” [227] This life, then, is the flawless expression
or character of the Father, Sapientia Patris. It is at once the personal and
adorable comrade of the mystic’s adventure and the inmost principle, the
sustaining power, of a dynamic universe; for that which intellect defines as
the Logos or Creative Spirit, contemplative love knows as Wonderful,
Counsellor, and Prince of Peace.

Since Christ, for the Christian philosopher, is Divine Life Itself—the drama
of Christianity expressing this fact and its implications “in a point”—it
follows that His active spirit is to be discerned, not symbolically, but in
the most veritable sense, in the ecstatic and abounding life of the world.
In the rapturous vitality of the birds, in their splendid glancing flight:
in the swelling of buds and the sacrificial beauty of the flowers: in the
great and solemn rhythms of the sea—there is somewhat of Bethlehem in all
these things, somewhat too of Calvary in their self-giving pains. It was
this re-discovery of Nature’s Christliness which Blake desired so
passionately when he sang—

“I will not cease from mental fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England’s green and pleasant land.”

Here then it is, on this pinnacle of faith, at the utmost boundaries of
human speech, that mystical theology suddenly shows herself—not as the
puzzle-headed constructor of impossible creeds, but as accepting and
transmuting to a more radiant life those two profound but apparently
contradictory metaphysical definitions of Reality which we have already
discussed. [228] Eternal Becoming, God immanent and dynamic, striving with
and in His world: the unresting “flux of things” of Heracleitus, the crying
aloud of that Word “which is through all things everlastingly”—the
evolutionary world-process beloved of modern philosophers—is here placed
once for all in true relation with pure transcendent and unmoved Being; the
Absolute One of Xenophanes and the Platonists. This Absolute is discerned by
mystic intuition as the “End of Unity” in whom all diversities must cease;
[229] the Ocean to which that ceaseless and painful Becoming, that unresting
river of life, in which we are immersed, tends to return: the Son going to
the Father.

( c ) LOVE, the principle of attraction, which seems to partake at once of
the transcendental and the created worlds. If we consider the Father as
Supreme Subject—“origin,” as Aquinas says, “of the entire procession of
Deity” [230] —and the Son or generated Logos as the Object of His thought,
in whom, says Ruysbroeck, “He contemplates Himself and all things in an
eternal Now”; [231] then this personal Spirit of Love, il desiro e il velle,
represents the relation between the two, and constitutes the very character
of God. “The heavenly Father,” says Ruysbroeck, “as a living Ground, with
all that lives in Him, is actively turned towards His Son as to His own
Eternal Wisdom. And that same Wisdom, with all that lives in it, is actively
turned back towards the Father, that is towards that very ground from which
it comes forth. And of this meeting is born the third Person, between the
Father and the Son, that is the Holy Spirit, their mutual Love.” [232]
Proceeding, according to Christian doctrine, from Light and Life, the Father
and Son—implicit, that is, in both the Absolute Source and dynamic flux of
things—this divine spirit of desire is found enshrined in our very selfhood;
and is the agent by which that selfhood is merged in the Absolute Self. “My
love is my weight,” said St. Augustine. [233] It is the spiritual equivalent
of that gravitation which draws all things to their place. Thus Bernard
Holland says in his Introduction to Boehme’s “Dialogues,” “In a deep sense,
the desire of the Spark of Life in the Soul to return to its Original Source
is part of the longing desire of the universal Life for its own heart or
centre. Of this longing, the universal attraction striving against
resistance, towards a universal centre, proved to govern the phenomenal or
physical world, is but the outer sheath and visible working.” Again, “Desire
is everything in Nature; does everything. Heaven is Nature filled with
divine Life attracted by Desire.” [234]

“The best masters say,” says Eckhart, “that the love wherewith we love is
the Holy Spirit. [235] Some deny it. But this is always true: all those
motives by which we are moved to love, in these is nothing else than the
Holy Spirit.” [236]

“God wills,” says Ruysbroeck, gathering these scattered symbols to unity
again, “that we should come forth from ourselves in this Eternal Light; that
we should reunite ourselves in a supernatural manner with that image which
is our true Life, and that we should possess it with Him actively and
fruitively in eternal blessedness . . . this going forth of the
contemplative is also in Love: for by fruitive love he overpasses his
created being and finds and tastes the riches and delights which are God
Himself, and which He causes to pour forth without ceasing in the most
secret chamber of the soul, at that place where it is most like unto the
nobility of God.” [237]

Here only, in the innermost sanctuary of being, the soul’s “last
habitation,” as St. Teresa said, is the truth which these symbols express
truly known: for “as to how the Trinity is one and the Trinity in the Unity
of the nature is one, whilst nevertheless the Trinity comes forth from the
Unity, this cannot be expressed in words,” says Suso, “owing to the
simplicity of that deep abyss. Hither it is, into this intelligible where
that the spirit, spiritualizing itself, soars up; now flying in the
measureless heights, now swimming in the soundless deeps, of the sublime
marvels of the Godhead!” [238]

Mystical philosophy, then, has availed itself gladly of the doctrine of the
Trinity in expressing its vision of the nature of that Absolute which is
found, by those who attain the deep Abyss of the Godhead, to be essentially
One. But it is by the complementary Christian dogma of the Incarnation that
it has best been able to describe and explain the nature of the inward and
personal mystic experience. The Incarnation, which is for traditional
Christianity synonymous with the historical birth and earthly life of
Christ, is for mystics of a certain type, not only this but also a perpetual
Cosmic and personal process. It is an everlasting bringing forth, in the
universe and also in the individual ascending soul, of the divine and
perfect Life, the pure character of God, of which the one historical life
dramatized the essential constituents. Hence the soul, like the physical
embryo, resumes in its upward progress the spiritual life-history of the
race. “The one secret, the greatest of all,” says Patmore, is “the doctrine
of the Incarnation, regarded not as an historical event which occurred two
thousand years ago, but as an event which is renewed in the body of every
one who is in the way to the fulfilment of his original destiny.” [239]

We have seen that for mystical theology the Second Person of the Trinity is
the Wisdom of the Father, the Word of Life. The fullness of this Word could
therefore only be communicated to the human consciousness by a Life. In the
Incarnation this Logos, this divine character of Reality, penetrated the
illusions of the sensual world—in other words, the illusions of all the
selves whose ideas compose that world—and “saved” it by this infusion of
truth. A divine, suffering, self-sacrificing Personality was then shown as
the sacred heart of a living, striving universe: and for once the Absolute
was exhibited in the terms of finite human existence. Some such event as
this breaking through of the divine and archetypal life into the temporal
world is perceived by the mystical philosopher to be a necessity, if man was
ever to see in terms of life that greatness of life to which he belongs:
learn to transcend the world of sense, and rebuild his life upon the levels
of reality. “For Thou art,” says Nicolas of Cusa, “the Word of God
humanified, and Thou art man deified.” [240] Thus it is that the Catholic
priest in the Christmas Mass gives thanks, not for the setting in hand of
any commercial process of redemption, but for a revelation of reality, “Quia
per incarnati Verbi mysterium nova mentis nostrae oculis lux tuae claritatis
infulsit: ut dum visibiliter Deum cognoscimus, per hunc in invisibilium
amorem rapiamur.” The essence of mystical Christianity seems to be summed up
in these lovely words. [241]

“The Son of God, the Eternal Word in the Father, who is the glance, or
brightness, and the power of the light eternity” says Boehme, “must become
man and be born in you, if you will know God: otherwise you are in the dark
stable and go about groping.” [242] “The Word,” says Ruysbroeck finely, “is
no other than See. And this is the coming forth and the birth of the Son of
the Eternal Light, in Whom all blessedness is seen and known.” [243] Once at
any rate, they say in effect, the measure of that which it was possible for
the Spirit of Life to do and for living creatures to be, was filled to the
brim. By this event, all were assured that the ladder of Creation was made
whole; in this hypostatic union, the breach between appearance and reality,
between God and man, was healed. The Bridge so made—to use St. Catherine of
Siena’s allegory again—is eternal, since it was “laid before the foundation
of the world” in the “Eternal Now.” Thus the voice of the Father says to her
in that vision, “I also wish thee to look at the Bridge of My only-begotten
Son, and see the greatness thereof, for it reaches from Heaven to earth;
that is, that the earth of your humanity is joined to the greatness of the
Deity thereby. I say, then, that this Bridge reaches from Heaven to earth,
and constitutes the union which I have made with man. . . . So the height of
the Divinity, humbled to the earth, and joined with your humanity made the
Bridge and reformed the road. Why was this done? In order that man might
come to his true happiness with the angels. And observe that it is not
enough, in order that you should have life, that My son should have made you
this Bridge, unless you walk thereon.” [244] “Our high Father God Almighty,
which is Being,” says Lady Julian, “He knew and loved us from afore any
time. Of which knowing, in His marvellous deep charity, and the foreseeing
counsel of all the blessed Trinity, He willed that the Second Person should
become our Mother.” [245]

It is of course this assertion of the quickening communication of grace to
nature, of God to man—an influx of ultimate reality, possible of
assimilation by all—which constitutes the strength of the Christian
religion. Instead of the stony diet of the philosophers, it offers to the
self hungry for the Absolute that Panis Angelorum, the vivifying principle
of the world. That is to say, it gives concrete and experimental knowledge
of a supreme Personality—absorption into His mystical body—instead of the
artificial conviction produced by concentration on an idea. It knits up the
universe; shows the phenomenal pierced in all directions by the real, the
natural as the vehicle of the supernatural. It provides a solid basis for
mysticism, a basis which is at once metaphysical and psychological: and
shows that state towards which the world’s deepest minds have always
instinctively aspired, as a part of the cosmic return through Christ to God.

“Quivi è la sapienza e la possanza

ch’ aprì le strade intra il cielo e la terra

onde fu già sì lunga disianza.” [246]

This is what the Christian mystics mean to express when they declare over
and over again that the return to the Divine Substance, the Absolute, which
is the end of the soul’s ascent, can only be made through the humanity of
Christ. The Son, the Word, is the character of the Father: that in which the
Ineffable Godhead knows Himself, as we only know ourselves in our own
characters. He is thus a double link: the means of God’s self-consciousness,
the means of man’s consciousness of God. How then, asks mystic theology,
could such a link complete its attachments without some such process as that
which the Incarnation dramatized in time and space? The Principle of Life is
also the Principle of Restitution; by which the imperfect and broken life of
sense is mended and transformed into the perfect life of spirit. Hence the
title of Repairer applied by Boehme to the Second Person of the Trinity.

In the last resort, the doctrine of the Incarnation is the only safeguard of
the mystics against the pantheism to which they always tend. The
Unconditioned Absolute, so soon as it alone becomes the object of their
contemplation, is apt to be conceived merely as Divine Essence; the idea of
Personality evaporates. The union of the soul with God is then thought of in
terms of absorption. The distinction between Creator and creature is
obliterated and loving communion is at an end. This is probably the reason
why many of the greatest contemplatives—Suso and St. Teresa are cases in
point—have found that deliberate meditation upon the humanity of Christ,
difficult and uncongenial as this concrete devotion sometimes is to the
mystical temperament, was a necessity if they were to retain a healthy and
well-balanced inner life.

Further, these mystics see in the historic life of Christ an epitome—or if
you will, an exhibition—of the essentials of all spiritual life. There they
see dramatized not only the cosmic process of the Divine Wisdom, but also
the inward experience of every soul on her way to union with that Absolute
“to which the whole Creation moves.” This is why the expressions which they
use to describe the evolution of the mystical consciousness from the birth
of the divine in the spark of the soul to its final unification with the
Absolute Life are so constantly chosen from the Drama of Faith. In this
drama they see described under veils the necessary adventures of the spirit.
Its obscure and humble birth, its education in poverty, its temptation,
mortification and solitude, its “illuminated life” of service and
contemplation, the desolation of that “dark night of the soul” in which it
seems abandoned by the Divine: the painful death of the self, its
resurrection to the glorified existence of the Unitive Way, its final
reabsorption in its Source—all these, they say, were lived once in a supreme
degree in the flesh. Moreover, the degree of closeness with which the
individual experience adheres to this Pattern is always taken by them as a
standard of the healthiness, ardour, and success of its transcendental

“Apparve in questa forma

Per dare a noi la norma.”

sang Jacopone da Todi. “And he who vainly thinketh otherwise,” says the
“Theologia Germanica” with uncompromising vigour, “is deceived. And he who
saith otherwise, lieth.” [247]

Those to whom such a parallel seems artificial should remember that
according to the doctrine of mysticism that drama of the self-limitation and
self-sacrifice of the Absolute Life, which was once played out in the
phenomenal world—forced, as it were, upon the consciousness of dim-eyed
men—is eternally going forward upon the plane of reality. To them the Cross
of Calvary is implicit in the Rose of the World. The law of this Infinite
Life which was in the Incarnation expressing Its own nature in human terms,
must then also be the law of the finite life; in so far as that life aspires
to transcend individual limitations, rise to freedom, and attain union with
Infinity. It is this governing idea which justifies the apparently fanciful
allegorizations of Christian history which swarm in the works of the

To exhibit these allegorizations in detail would be tedious. All that is
necessary is that the principle underlying them should be understood. I
give, then, but one example: that which is referred by mystical writers to
the Nativity, and concerns the eternal Birth or Generation of the Son or
Divine Word.

This Birth is in its first, or cosmic sense, the welling forth of the Spirit
of Life from the Divine Abyss of the unconditioned Godhead. “From our proper
Ground, that is to say from the Father and all that which lives in Him,
there shines,” says Ruysbroeck, “an eternal Ray, the which is the Birth of
the Son.” [248] It is of this perpetual generation of the Word that Meister
Eckhart speaks, when he says in his Christmas sermon, “We are celebrating
the feast of the Eternal Birth which God the Father has borne and never
ceases to bear in all Eternity: whilst this birth also comes to pass in Time
and in human nature. Saint Augustine says this Birth is ever taking
place.” At this point, with that strong practical instinct which is
characteristic of the mystics, Eckhart turns abruptly from speculation to
immediate experience, and continues “But if it takes not place in me, what
avails it? Everything lies in this, that it should take place in me.” [249]
Here in a few words the two-fold character of this Mystic Birth is
exhibited. The interest is suddenly deflected from its cosmic to its
personal aspect; and the individual is reminded that in him, no less than in
the Archetypal Universe, real life must be born if real life is to be lived.
“When the soul brings forth the Son,” says Eckhart in another place, “it is
happier than Mary.” [250]

Since the soul, according to mystic principles, can only perceive Reality in
proportion as she is real, know God by becoming Godlike, it is clear that
this birth is the initial necessity. The true and definitely directed
mystical life does and must open with that most actual, though indescribable
phenomenon, the coming forth into consciousness of man’s deeper, spiritual
self, which ascetical and mystical writers of all ages have agreed to call
Regeneration or Re-birth. Nothing that is within him is able of its own
power to achieve this. It must be evoked by an energy, a quickening Spirit,
which comes from beyond the soul, and “secretly initiates what He openly
crowns.” [251]

We nave already considered [252] the New Birth in its purely psychological
aspect, as the emergence of the transcendental sense. Here its more profound
and mystical side is exhibited. By a process which may indifferently be
described as the birth of something new or the coming forth of something
which has slept—since both these phrases are but metaphors for another and
more secret operation—the eye is opened on Eternity, the self, abruptly made
aware of Reality, comes forth from the cave of illusion like a child from
the womb and begins to live upon the supersensual plane. Then she feels in
her inmost part a new presence, a new consciousness—it were hardly an
exaggeration to say a new Person—weak, demanding nurture, clearly destined
to pass through many phases of development before its maturity is reached;
yet of so strange a nature, that in comparison with its environment she may
well regard it as Divine.

“This change, this upsetting, is called re-birth. To be born simply means to
enter into a world in which the senses dominate, in which wisdom and love
languish in the bonds of individuality. To be re-born means to return to a
world where the spirit of wisdom and love governs and animal-man obeys.”
[253] So Eckartshausen. It means, says Jane Lead, “the bringing forth of a
new-created Godlike similitude in the soul.” [254] He is brought forth, says
Eckartshausen again, in the stable previously inhabited by the ox of passion
and the ass of prejudice. [255] His mother, says Boehme, is the Virgin
Sophia, the Divine Wisdom, or Mirror of the Being of God. With the emergence
of this new factor into the conscious field—this spiritual birth—the mystic
life begins: as the Christian epoch began with the emergence of Divine
Spirit in the flesh. Paradise, says Boehme, is still in the world, but man
is not in Paradise unless he be born again. In that case, he stands therein
in the New Birth, [256] and tastes here and now that Eternal Life for which
he has been made.

Here then are some characteristics of the map which the Christian mystics
are most inclined to use. There are, of course, other great landmarks upon
it: and these we shall meet as we follow in detail the voyages of the
questing soul. One warning, however, must be given to amateur geographers
before we go on. Like all other maps, this one at its best can but represent
by harsh outline and conventional colour the living earth which those
travellers trod and the mysterious seas on which they sailed. It is a
deliberately schematic representation of Reality, a flat and sometimes arid
symbol of great landscapes, rushing rivers, awful peaks: dangerous unless
these its limitations be always kept in mind. The boy who defined Canada as
“very pink” was not much further off the track than those who would limit
the Adorable Trinity to the definitions of the “Athanasian” Creed; however
useful that chart may be, and is, within the boundaries imposed by its form.

Further, all such maps, and we who treat of them, can but set down in cold
blood and with a dreadful pretence of precision, matters which the true
explorers of Eternity were only able to apprehend in the ardours of such a
passion, in the transports of such a union as we, poor finite slaves of our
frittered emotions, could hardly look upon and live. “If you would truly
know how these things come to pass,” says St. Bonaventura, in a passage
which all students of theology should ever keep in mind, “ask it of grace,
not of doctrine; of desire, not of intellect; of the ardours of prayer, not
of the teachings of the schools; of the Bridegroom, not of the Master; of
God, not of man; of the darkness, not of the day; not of illumination, but
of that Fire which enflames all and wraps us in God with great sweetness and
most ardent love. The which Fire most truly is God, and the hearth thereof
is in Jerusalem.” [257]

[182] “La gloria di colui che tutto move per l’universo penetra, e resplende
in una parte più e meno altrove” (Par. i. 1-3). The theological ground-plan
of the Cantica is epitomized in this introductory verse.

[183] “Summa Contra Gentiles,” 1. iv. cap. 1. (Rickaby’s translation).

[184] Leben, cap. lvi.

[185] Aug. Conf., bk. xiii. cap. xi.

[186] Avisos y Sentencias Espirituales, N. 51.

[187] “Varieties of Religious Experience,” Lecture vi.

[188] Quoted by W. L. Lilly, “Many Mansions,” p. 140.

[189] Ennead vi. 9.

[190] Thus Aquinas says, “Since God is the universal cause of all Being, in
whatever region Being can be found, there must be the Divine Presence”
(“Summa Contra Gentiles,” 1. iii. cap. lxviii.). And we have seen that the
whole claim of the mystics ultimately depends on man’s possession of pure
being in “the spark of the soul.”

[191] “De Ornatu Spiritualium Nuptiarum,” I. ii. cap. lxvii.

[192] Op. cit., I. iii. cap. i.

[193] Relaccion ix. 10. But this image of a sponge, which also suggested
itelf to St. Augustine, proved an occasion of stumbling to his more
metaphysical mind: tending to confuse his idea of the nature of God with the
category of space. Vide Aug. Conf., bk. vii. cap. v.

[194] “The Threefold Life of Man,” cap. vi. § 71.

[195] Eckhart, Pred, lxix. So too we read in the Oxyrhyncus Papyri, “Raise
the stone and there thou shalt find Me. Cleave the wood and there am I.”

[196] Compare above, cap. ii.

[197] “Revelations of Divine Love,” cap. xl.

[198] Boyce Gibson, “God with Us,” p. 24.

[199] See A. E. Waite, “ TheDoctrine and Literature of the Kabalah,” pp.

[200] Par. xxxiii. 137.

[201] “Vala,” viii. 237.

[202] “Jerusalem,” lxi. 44 and xcv. 23.

[203] A. E. Waite, “The Doctrine and Literature of the Kabalah,” p. 35.

[204] Palmer. “Oriental Mysticism,” pt. i. cap. i

[205] Delacroix, “Études sur le Mysticisme,” p. 75. The reference in the
last sentence is to St. Teresa’s “Castillo Interior.”

[206] See Tauler, Sermon on St. John Baptist, and Third Instruction (“ The
Inner Way,” pp. 97 and 321); Suso, “Buchlein von der Warheit,” cap. v.;
Ruysbroeck, “De Ornatu Spiritalium Nuptiarum,” 1. iii. caps, ii. and vi.

[207] St. Teresa, “El Castillo Interior,” Moradas; Sétimas, cap. i.

[208] Julian of Norwich, “Revelations of Divine Love.” cap. lv. Julian here
repeats a familiar Patristic doctrine. So St. Thomas says (“Summa Contra
Gentiles,” 1. iv. cap. xxvi), “A likeness of the Divine Trinity is
observable in the human mind.”

[209] “The three Persons of the Trinity,” said John Scotus Erigena, “are
less modes of the Divine Substance than modes under which our mind conceives
the Divine Substance”—a stimulating statement of dubious orthodoxy.

[210] Aug. Conf., bk. xiii. cap. xi.

[211] Op. cit., cap. v.

[212] Substance is here, of course, to be understood in the scholastic
sense, as the reality which underlies merely phenomenal existence.

[213] I.e. , the Second Person of the Christian Trinity is the redemptive,
“fount of mercy,” the medium by which Grace, the free gift of transcendental
life, reaches and vivifies human nature: “permeates it,” in Eucken’s words,
“with the Infinite and Eternal” (“Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens,” p. 181).

[214] “Revelations of Divine Love,” cap. lviii.

[215] Op. cit. , cap. lix.

[216] “The School of the Heart,” Epigram x. This book, which is a free
translation of the “Scola Cordis” of Benedict Haeften (1635), is often, but
wrongly attributed to Francis Quarles.

[217] “De Consideratione,” bk. v. cap. viii.

[218] Ephesians iv. 6.

[219] “De Visione Dei,” cap. xvii.

[220] Eucken, “Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens,” p. 131.

[221] “An Appeal to All who Doubt” (“Liberal and Mystical Writings of
William Law” p. 54). Law’s symbols are here borrowed from the system of his
master, Jacob Boehme. (See the “De Signatura Rerum” of Boehme, cap. xiv.)

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

[223] Tauler, 3rd Instruction (“The Inner Way,” p. 324).

[224] Par. xxxiii 67, 85.

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

[226] Von Hügel, “The Mystical Element of Religion,” vol. i. p. 357.

[227] Ruysbroeck, op. cit. ., loc. cit.

[228] Supra, Cap. II.

[229] Tauler, op. cit., loc. cit.

[230] “Summa Contra Gentiles,” I. iv. cap. xxvi.

[231] “De Ornatu Spiritalium Nuptiarum,” I. ii. cap. iv.

[232] Op. cit., I. ii. cap. xxxvii.

[233] Aug. Conf., bk. xiii. cap. ix.

[234] Introduction to “Three Dialogues of the Supersensual Life,” p. xxx.

[235] The doctrine is found in St. Augustine, and is frequently reproduced
by the mediaeval mystics. Eckhart is perhaps here quoting St. Thomas
Aquinas, a usual source of his more orthodox utterances. Compare “Summa
Contra Gentiles,” I. iv. cap. xxiii: “Since the Holy Ghost proceeds as the
love wherewith God loves Himself, and since God loves with the same love
Himself and other beings for the sake of His own goodness, it is clear that
the love wherewith God loves us belongs to the Holy Ghost. In like manner
also the love wherewith we love God.”

[236] Pred. xii.

[237] “De Ornatu Spiritalium Nuptiarum “ I. iii. cap. iii.

[238] Suso, Leben, cap. lvi.

[239] “The Rod, the Root, and the Flower,” “Homo,” xix.

[240] “De Visione Dei,” cap. xxiii.

[241] “Because by the mystery of the Incarnate Word the new light of Thy
brightness hath shone upon the eyes of our mind: that we, knowing God seen
of the eyes, by Him may be snatched up into the love of that which eye hath
not seen” (Missale Romanum. Praefatio Solemnis de Nativitate).

[242] “The Threefold Life of Man, cap. iii. § 31.

[243] Ruysbroeck, op. cit ., 1. iii. cap. i.

[244] Dialogo, cap. xxii.

[245] “Revelations of Divine Love,” cap. lix.

[246] Par. xxiii. 37. “Here is the Wisdom and the Power which opened the
ways betwixt heaven and earth, for which there erst had been so long a

[247] “Theologia Germanica,” cap. xviii.

[248] “De Ornatu Spiritalium Nuptiarum,” 1. iii. cap. v. The extreme
antiquity of this idea is illustrated by the Catholic practice, dating from
Patristic times, of celebrating three Masses on Christmas Day. Of these the
first, at midnight, commemorates the Eternal Generation of the Son; the
second, at dawn, His incarnation upon earth; the third His birth in the
heart of man. Compare the Roman Missal: also Kellner, “Heortology” (English
translation, London, 1908), p. 156.

[249] Eckhart, Pred. i., “Mystische Schriften,” p. 13. Compare Tauler,
Sermon on the Nativity of Our Lady (“The Inner Way,” p. 167).

[250] This idea of re-birth is probably of Oriental origin. It can be traced
back to Egypt, being found in the Hermetic writings of the third century,
B.C. See Petrie, “Personal Religion in Egypt before Christianity,” p. 167.

[251] F. von Hügel, “The Life of Prayer,” p. 24.

[252] Supra , p. 53.

[253] “The Cloud upon the Sanctuary,” p. 77.

[254] The Enochian Walks with God,” p. 3.

[255] Op. cit ., p. 81.

[256] “De Signatura Rerum,” viii. 47.

[257] “De Itinerado Mentis in Deo,” cap. vii.