On The Psychology Of Mysticism
GOD has spoken by the prophets at sundry times and in divers manners. He fulfils Himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world. Revelation—the unveiling of the Divine to human apprehension —should not be regarded as a particular mode of communicating Divine truth, differing from other modes by its immediacy or externality. The antithesis between natural and revealed is misleading, for the religion of nature, so far as it is true, is one kind of revealed religion. The antithesis of " natural " is not "revealed," but non-natural or supernatural the classification implies an exclusive claim on behalf of certain facts to be unique and incommensurable with other facts. But in the truest sense, all religion is natural, and all religion is revealed.
Our nature is what God intended us to grow into; and since, in the beautiful words of Augustine, He "made us for Himself, our hearts are unquiet until they rest in Him." But if we thus claim for our nature its royal rights, if we say that our nature is to be like God, to attain the stature of the fulness of Christ ; if we assert that the whole law may be briefly comprehended in the old sayings "know thyself" and "be thyself," we are at once confronted with the paradox that the self centred life is spiritual death. As individuals we are not self - sufficing, we are not in - dependent. Our minds are no pure mirrors in which the beauty and wisdom of the Divine mind may shine reflected. We cannot, for the most part, find God unaided. He has spoken to the prophets, not to us. This is why we have needed, and still need, the word revelation. Revelation is the unveiling of some Divine truth which we could not have discovered for ourselves, but which, when it is shown to us by others to whom God has spoken, we can recognise as Divine. There can be no revelation which is purely external ; such a communication would be partly unnoticed, and partly misunderstood. There must be the answering witness of the Spirit within us that this is the voice of God ; but the voice comes to us first from without, through the mouth of those whom God has honoured by making them His spokesmen. A " mystery," in the New Testament, is always something which has been revealed, but in this manner.
It is therefore necessary for us, who are neither saints nor prophets, to sit at the feet of those who have seen the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. It may be that we shall never share their higher experiences. Strictly speaking, visions of Divine truth are not communicable. What can be described and handed on is not the vision itself, but the inadequate symbols in which the seer tries - to represent what he has experienced, to preserve it in his memory, and to impart it to others. But such experiences, which rather possess a man than are possessed by him, are in their nature as transient as the glories of a sunset. Memory preserves only a pale reflection of them, and language, which was not made for such purposes, fails lamentably to reproduce even that pale reflection. Those only can understand the mind of the prophet or saint who can supply what is lacking in his words from their own hearts, renewing from the fire within them the lustre and the glow which his descriptions strive ineffectually to render permanent. But, nevertheless, the fact that such experiences have been enjoyed by many, who have expressed their unshaken conviction that God has thus spoken to them, is of the greatest value to us. These revelations may guide and encourage and comfort us throughout our lives. They may give us confidence to believe in some dim whispers which have come to ourselves, and which otherwise we might hardly dare to trust. Moreover, their lives and their counsels may show us under what conditions such revelations are possible. They may tell us where to look, how to look, and what to look for. The lives of the saints are thus a very important part of religious literature. Hagiology has fallen into discredit because in time past it was written for edification, and not for truth. Any story that the biographer thought honourable to the saint, and conducive to faith and devotion, was inserted without investigation. What Newman called the "illative" faculty was allowed to run riot. We desire no more religious romances of the old sort. The strict truth is good enough for us. If we can arrive at it, we shall find a reinforcement to Christian faith of enormous value. For Christianity is a very concrete practical thing. It is, as John Smith, the Cambridge Platonist, said, a Divine life, not a Divine science. It is embodied in great personalities more adequately than in any philosophical systems or doctrinal formulas. It found its complete expression in the Person, of the Incarnate Christ ; and, after the Gospels, it is in the lives of His best disciples that we shall find its brightest illustrations. Those who have the privilege of knowing a living saint in the flesh have the best opportunities of all, of understanding what Christianity is. The great saints of the past can only be known by their books, or by the books of others about them ; and those books will be most valuable which more fully and clearly reveal the personality of their authors.
Since the vision of God is the culminating point, not of any one faculty, even of the moral conscience, but of our whole nature, transfigured into the likeness of Him whom, unless we are like Him, we cannot see as He is ; and since the diverse faculties, which in their several ways bear witness to God, are developed in very different proportions by different individuals, 'we should expect to find that there are many paths up God's holy hill, though all meet at the top. The conditions laid down in Psalm xv. are no doubt inexorable. Only he who has clean hands and a pure heart, who is humble and sincere, charitable and upright, can ascend into the hill of the Lord, 'or rise up in His holy place. But the intuition of eternal truth is no monopoly of the contemplative recluse, or of the philosopher, or of the poet, or of the man of action. The perfect Christian would cultivate and consecrate heart, intellect, imagination, practical energy, in an harmonious manner, and would be brought near to God by all parts of his nature acting together.
But non amnia possumus omnes. God gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. All these worketh one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.
The life of devotion has its mystical state, when the God whom the saint has striven to love with all his heart and mind and soul and strength, for whom he has renounced all dear domestic ties, all ambition, and all pleasure, reveals Himself, in mysterious intercourse to the inner consciousness, in a vision, perhaps, of the suffering Redeemer, or as an unseen presence speaking words of love and comfort.
The intellectual life has its mystical state, when the religious philosopher, whose thoughts have long been concentrated upon the deeper problems of existence, endeavouring to find the unity which underlies all diversity, the harmony which reconciles all contradictions, seems to behold what he sought in a blank trance which imposes silence on all the faculties, even the restless discursive intellect, and unites the thinker for a few moments with the primal source of all thought, the ineffable One. Such was the goal of the " intellect in love" of Plotinus, and the amor intellectualis Dei of Spinoza.
The poet's worship of nature has its mystical state, when in Platonic fashion the admiration of beautiful forms, either human or in God's other handiwork, has led him up to a vision of Divine beauty. As Spenser sings
" The meanes, therefore, which unto us is lent
The scientific worship of nature has its 'mystical state. Science is a patient conversion of insight into sight, and the investigator is lighted throughout his labours by the torch of the imagination, without which natural phenomena are disconnected, dull, and spirit-less. The scientific imagination creates a religion—not the old religion of nature, which peopled the woods with Dryads, and saw "old Proteus rising from the sea," but a pure, humble, disinterested reverence and worship for the vastness and splendour and majesty of the universe. This worship may daunt and oppress the spirit, as in Tennyson's fine poem called Vastness :
" Spring and summer and autumn and winter, and all these old revolutions of earth,
All new-old revolutions of empire—change of the tide, what is all of it worth ?
What is it all if we all of us end but in being our own corpse-coffins at last,
Swallowed in vastness, lost in silence, drown'd in the depths of a meaningless past ?
Or it may awaken a sense of sublimity and magnificence such as the cramped universe of pre-scientific thought and imagination could hardly inspire. Such is the inspiration of Victor Hugo's tremendous poem, L'Abîme, in which the cosmical feeling for nature receives perhaps its grandest expression.
First, the spirit of Man boasts of his conquests:
" Le monde â ma voix tremble et change ..
Then the Earth-spirit mocks his pride :
"Tu t'en vas dans la cendre, et moi je reste au jour;
But Saturn reduces the earth to insignificance, and the Sun Saturn. The glorious stars Sirius, Aldebaran, and Arcturus despise the sun, with its dim light and paltry cluster of attendant planets ; the bird-like comet, terror of the night, speeds past the stars like so many grains of mustard seed ; the Zodiac, the Milky Way, the spectral "worlds not realised" of Nebulæ that whiten the darkness, a boundless ocean of dream-worlds, utter their vaunts as they pass before the poet's eye : till the Infinite speaks one line:
" L'être multiple vît dans mon unité sombre,"
and God says :
" Je n'aurais que souffler, et tout serait de l'ombre."
The immanent pantheism, or "monism" as its votaries prefer to call it, which is the creed of most scientists who are religious, is a real religion, which only ignorance and prejudice can stigmatise as "infidelity." In so far as it culminates in an immediate feeling of being enveloped by the all-embracing Spirit of the cosmos, or, in Huxley's words, "in the sense of growing oneness with the great Spirit of abstract truth," it is a mystical religion.
The sympathetic study of human character, in much the same spirit in which Wordsworth studied nature, may lead to a kind of mysticism of a distinctive type, as we shall see in a later lecture devoted to Robert Browning.
The active life also may issue in a thoroughly mystical faith, as may be seen in the lives of soldier mystics like Colonel Gardiner, who was slain at Prestonpans in 1745, and Charles Gordon, the knight with-out fear and without reproach, who fell at Khartoum. Men of this type see the hand of God everywhere. Life for them is as sacramental, as full of "mysteries" in the Greek sense of the word, as to the Platonic philosopher or the poet of nature. But there is a very striking difference in the kind of sacramental symbolism which these two classes of mystics seek and find in the external world. The active, practical worker demands a spiritual world-order in which spiritual facts happen in time, just as his own spiritual activities are devoted to making things happen in time. The philosopher and the poet do not want to make anything happen, but to discover and understand and set a value upon what always happens. Hence their religious symbols are quite different. The active man craves for evidences of Divine intervention — for supernaturalism in some form ; the philosopher and poet make no such demand, and the religious man of science regards belief in miracle as a kind of blasphemy. Amiel says that "miracle is a vision of the Divine behind nature." Yes ; but of the Divine energising and altering the face of nature, even as the active man would fain leave his mark on the world, as an unique force acting upon it. This is no place for a discussion upon miracles, a subject which lies quite outside the scope of these lectures ; but for those who are interested in current controversies I would suggest that much light is thrown upon the attitude of the two parties ,by the considerations which I have just suggested. The man who wishes to under-stand the world will have different religious symbols from him who wishes to leave his mark upon it.
Does this enumeration exhaust the varieties of mystical religion ? I think not. A recent writer on the psychology of religion gives us the following definition. " Mysticism is that attitude of mind which divines and moves toward the 'spiritual in the common things of life, not a partial and occasional operation of the mind under the guidance of far-fetched analogies." 1 The last clause is directed against that bastard type of mysticism which flourishes luxuriantly among the Neo-Catholic litérateurs in France, and which is illustrated by the later novels of Huysmans. The definition is a good one, and is valuable as claiming for the trivial round, the common task, the power to waft us upward to the very footstool of God's throne. It is most important that we should recognise the sacra-mental value of mere right action, even of the most commonplace kind. Not, of course, that the action itself has this value ; it is valuable because it is the expression of our habitual view of things and events and men and ourselves. Our habitual point of view is fatally incomplete unless it finds expression in habitual action. "The intellect by itself moves nothing," as Aristotle said. Beautiful thoughts hardly bring us any nearer to God until they are acted upon. " No one," says Martineau, " can have a true idea of right, until he does it ; any genuine reverence for it, till he does it often, and with cost ; any peace ineffable in it, till he does it always and with alacrity." The religion of right conduct is no doubt frequently contrasted with the mystical type. The religious man who begins and ends with obedience to his conscience, and devotion to duty, is not a mystic. There are many noble characters who have little or no affinity to mystical religion. Such persons will echo the words of Christina Rossetti:
" We are of those who tremble at thy Word,
Nevertheless it is the fact that the habitual performance of the humblest daily duties has often developed the highest spirituality of character, with a vivid consciousness of the presence of God within and around us, a profound conviction that communion with Him takes place by prayer, and an intuitive certainty of Divine truth which is essentially mystical.
We have seen that this intuitive certainty or conviction, this sense of immediate contact with the supersensual world, is common to many classes of minds. The next question will naturally be, what authority do these intuitions carry with them ? There are some who think that the whole assumption of an inner light, granted to favoured persons, is a mischievous delusion, and that the only safe guides to Divine truth are external revelation and common-sense. Such would seem to be the opinion which underlies John Stuart Mill's definition of mysticism, as being " neither more nor less than ascribing objective existence to the subjective creations of our own faculties, to ideas and feelings of the mind ; and believing that by watching and contemplating those ideas of its own making, it can read in them what takes place in the world without." Even Mill, however, in his dry way, cannot help appreciating the economic value, so to speak, of an inexhaustible fund of inward happiness which enriches A without impoverishing B ; and accordingly he recommends the study of Wordsworth's poems. " From them," he says, " I seemed to learn what would be the perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed. And I felt myself at once better and happier as I came under their influence." This experience should have taught Mill that we cannot trust commonsense to draw the line sharply and infallibly between dreams and realities, when the higher spiritual truths are in question. No doubt, as Leslie Stephen says, "all mixture of dreams and realities involves distortion of facts." But what he calls dreams are not necessarily phantoms of the imagination. They may be symbols inadequately representing a higher order of reality than the system which we call matter of fact. It is by no means certain that the analogy of dreams (for, of course, it is only an analogy) makes against mysticism. The fact of dreams makes us familiar with the conception of different grades and orders of reality. We do not live always in the same world. There are breaches of continuity, and even contradictions, in our experience, which may cause us to doubt whether our normal states are absolutely trustworthy. We pass from one state to another without change of place. May there not be other and higher orders of reality into which some persons have entered in the same manner? Philosophers have found radical contradictions in some of the conceptions which form the very warp and woof of our thought—time, space, and the self. May not these contradictions be an indication that the world of common-sense is itself a dream rather than reality—a system, that is, which would appear unsubstantial if viewed from the standpoint of a higher reality ?
It must be remembered that the application of the standard of naive sensationism to spiritual things is as fatal to art and poetry as to religion. We have no single weighing-machine for gauging the, amount of substance in every kind of experience. The world as projected by the ethical or the æsthetic faculties has as good a right to claim reality as that which the natural sciences reveal to us. No science which deals with one aspect of reality (as molecular physics deals with the relations which atoms, if there were such things, would hold to each other) exhausts what may be truly said about things. More-over, in the higher spheres of experience especially, a man sees what it is in him to see, not all that is there to see. And he can only describe what he sees symbolically and inadequately. Language, which was framed to express daily needs and common ideas, breaks down when it is called upon to describe the deeper experiences of the soul. It struggles to find similes for what cannot be said directly. If the poet, and sometimes the artist—William Blake, for instance—are driven to use strange symbols to express their ideas, personifying the forces of nature and hunting everywhere for metaphors and analogies, even more must this be so with the religious genius. To him the vision is very real, so real that (as I have said) it possesses him rather than is possessed by him ; but it is not given in words, and cannot be adequately rendered by words.
The often repeated complaint of the mystics, that they cannot express what they have seen, is not to be ridiculed. Dante, who knew both the psychology of the schools and the psychology of the saints, shows us that so it must be
"E vidi cose che redire
"Quai e colui che somniando vede,
If we understand what the mystic tells us, it is largely because we have experienced something of the same kind ourselves, and are able by sympathy to fill up for ourselves what words and images only give in a blurred and dim picture. The same is true of art also. No one, I think, would enjoy or appreciate a fine sea-picture if he had never seen the sea. The finest lyric poetry is tedious to those whose emotional nature is undeveloped.
The parallel between the artistic and the religious representation of things is very significant. They are akin in that both are essentially unselfish. The selfish man re-members and observes only what has served or baffled him. But art is the wide world's memory of things. It values the things of experience according as they are good or bad ; that is, according as they fulfil their proper end or not. Even so religion, which is the negation of selfishness, views things sub specie aeternitatis, and not according as they cause pleasure or pain to ourselves. But the religious representation of reality is subject to more stringent restrictions than the artistic, in that, since the main end of art is enjoyment, there is an element of play, of conscious illusion, in its productions. Art accepts gladly its own limitations. But there is no element of play in religious symbolism. The religious attitude is one of the highest conceivable seriousness. Its subject is reality in the final and highest sense. It can acknowledge its own imperfection, but not acquiesce in its illusions. It reverences its symbols while admitting their inadequacy. We know that they are not creations of our fancy, like artistic symbols, but the spontaneous projections of a deeper faculty which we dare not trifle with. Hence comes that reluctance to subject religious symbols to rationalistic tests, which we observe everywhere in human history. If we remember this peculiar attitude of the religious consciousness towards symbolism, we shall find a ready solution of one of the apparent inconsistencies in mystical thought, which even a sympathetic critic of mysticism such as Royce regards as a fundamental contradiction. I mean the fact that mysticism, the differentia of which is the craving for immediacy in the knowledge or vision of God, is at the same time intimately associated with symbolism. Mysticism has no love for symbols that are merely symbols —" loose types of things through all degrees." It rests in no half-lights ; it longs to tear the heart out of every experience. It longs to dive into the hidden reality behind phenomena, and, in so far as it succeeds, it treats the phenomena as symbols. But the temper which makes playthings of symbols-which finds an æsthetic or fanciful pleasure in them—is above all things alien to it.
But we are, likely to hear the following objection. Before attributing to mystical intuitions or visions an even higher authority than belongs to the reflections of the philosopher or the imagination of the poet, should we not remember that recent investigations have made it more than probable that all such experiences are pathological, being invariably found to be associated with more or less morbid conditions of the mind or body? Was not St Paul, the mystic of the New Testament, probably an epileptic, and certainly a neurotic subject? Are not the records of monastic mysticism full of symptoms which are now known to indicate loss of mental balance? Nay, is it not probable that the religious experience is essentially of the nature of a self-induced trance, the empirical wisdom of the nations having discovered in the production of this trance one of the most efficacious means of stamping on the mind such suggestions as shall secure the triumph of the dearest wishes of the human heart? What evidence can be more conclusive than. that notable mystics like Jacob Böhme admit that they induced their visions by what would now be called , self - hypnotisation — gazing fixedly at a point of light shining through a keyhole, and the like ?
Well, these objections are made by specialists, and deserve to be treated with respect. But the real question is, whether our higher endowments are best interpreted from above or from below. Is their true nature to be found by enquiring what they grew out of, and with what physical conditions they are associated, or by enquiring what they may grow into, and to what regions of spiritual truth they may conduct us? The former is the method of pessimism. Lucretius, Swift, and Scopenhauer try to make the passion of love odious and contemptible in this way. The more a thing is good, the higher it has risen from its first state, and consequently the more it can be degraded by identifying it with its original forms. It is essentially the pessimistic method. Pessimism maintains that all human endeavour is futile, all progress illusory ; that the attractiveness of physical or moral beauty is merely a bait by which Nature entices us to subserve her purposes to our own hurt ; and that the mystics are persons who, by reason of their unstable nervous system, are more completely duped than their neighbours. But Christianity agrees with Aristotelianism in teaching that the nature of a thing is its ultimate potentiality of development. The tree is to be known by its fruits, not by its roots. Nor can the products of religious genius be discredited by pointing to the frail and suffering lives of their authors. We do not judge poetry in this way, though eccentricity has been common enough amongst poets. Even if it were true that religious genius appears only in an abnormal physical and mental constitution, that would not destroy the value of what the religious genius has revealed to us. Nature often gives with one hand what she takes away with the other. It is not the harmoniously developed men to whom the world owes most. But, in point of fact, the great saints have been no more eccentric than other men of exceptional gifts—I would even say, less so.
Our English saints have been very sane and sensible, even when most clearly belonging to the mystical type. Those whom I have chosen as specimens in these lectures, whether recluses, or philosophers, or poets, might have defied even a mad-doctor to do his worst.
I am not altogether holding a brief for mysticism. It is a type of religion which no one would wish to see in possession of the whole field, and which is very liable to per-versions. It cannot be an accident that it has been generally treated as the religion of pure feeling, and opposed to ethical theism on the one side, and to intellectual systems, such as absolute idealism, on the other. I have tried to show that the moral sense and the speculative faculty both have their mystical states, and that both types have, in point of fact, contributed to the literature and hagiology of mysticism. But, in spite of this, the trend of mysticism in the direction of pure feeling has been so marked, that the name is not likely to be readily given to piety of another type. In modern times, it will be said, the typical mystical divine is Schleiermacher, the founder of romanticism in theology. He opposed the intellectual idealism of Hegel, disparaging knowledge as of very subordinate importance to faith, and making faith to consist entirely of devout feeling. The sum total of religion," he says, " is to feel that in its highest unity all that moves us in feeling is one — to feel, that is to say, that our being and living is a being and living in and through God."
And again he says that, in the religious experience, "You become sense, and the whole becomes object. Sense and object mingle and unite, and then each returns to its place, and the object rent from sense is a perception, and you rent from the object are, for yourselves, a feeling. It is this earlier moment I mean, which you always experience, yet never experience. The phenomena of your life is just its constant departure and return. I t is scarcely in time at all, so quickly does it pass ; it can scarcely be described, so little does it properly exist. Would that I could hold it fast, and refer to it your commonest as well as your highest activities. . . . It is the first contact of the universal life with the individual. . It is immediate, raised above all error and misunderstanding. You lie directly on the bosom of the infinite world. In that moment you are its soul. Through one part of your nature you feel, as your own, all its powers and its endless life. In this way every living original movement in your life is first conceived. It is the source of every religious emotion."
This extract from Schleiermacher would, I think, be very widely accepted as typical mystical teaching. The revelation of God is said to be given in immediate feeling, and in no other way. That this account of religious experience is one-sided and inadequate almost all would admit ; does the admission condemn mysticism, or not?
I do not like the quasi-personification of our faculties which is so common in discussions on the borderland between metaphysics and psychology. Men champion the cause of the Will, or the Intellect, or the Feeling, as if they were three rival powers contending for the supremacy over our lives. The unity of our personality is often lost sight of. Still, the classification is convenient for certain purposes, and we may use it if we always remember that it involves us in unreal abstractions. With this caution, we may say that the religious consciousness begins as pure feeling. It begins with a lower kind of immediacy, which I should express in religious phraseology by saying that it begins with God's self- revealing presence in our consciousness. God lends us a portion of His eternal life, that we may at length make it our own. But it can only become our own by passing for a while quite out of the sphere of immediate perception. Feeling must pass into will. In so passing it does not cease to be feeling, but becomes conscious of itself as feeling. And Will, when it becomes conscious of itself as will, passes into intelligence, without ceasing to be will. The reconciling principle between will and intelligence or knowledge is love, as has been recently well shown by McTaggart (Studies in Hegelian Dialectic). This corresponds with the thesis of some mystical theologians, that what they called the "mixed" state is higher than contemplation, being the perfect union of contemplation and action. But this "intellectual love of God," as Spinoza called it, is a reversion, on a much higher plane, to the pure feeling, or immediacy, with which we said religion begins. The religious experience has described a full circle, and has entered into the inheritance which was shown to it, as its own, at the beginning of its course. " The highest and lowest things are simple," says Proclus the Neo-Platonist ; " the inter-mediate are complex."
The danger to which the mystics have often fallen victims is the temptation to clutch at the fruition of the spiritual union before they have gone through the toilsome preparation and discipline of the will and intellect. They have tried to live throughout in the pleasant region of devout feeling. The result of this impatience is sometimes that the intellect is sacrificed or remains outside the religious life. In such cases there is no check upon superstitious beliefs, which often take the form of fantastic theosophy or magic ; and no check upon such excesses of emotionalism as are frequently witnessed at religious revivals. Sometimes it is the ethical faculty which is starved. This very serious omission has in history issued in two perversions — anti-nomianism and quietism. The former teaches that he who is led by the Spirit can do no wrong, or that the sins of the body cannot stain the soul, The latter teaches that we can "hearken what the Lord God will say concerning us " most satisfactorily if we sit with folded arms. It must be admitted that those schools of philosophy which are most in sympathy with mysticism have been on the whole ethically weak. The classical form of mystical philosophy is Oriental pantheism, which by obliterating all outlines makes all things equally divine, and leaves no room for distinctions between right and wrong. Emerson has drunk deeply of this intoxicating draught of self-deification :----
"There is no great and no small
"I am the owner of the sphere,
Most mystical philosophers have been determinists. Plotinus cannot be considered an exception; and the systems of Spinoza and Hegel are found unsatisfactory by all who lay much stress on human volition. Hence perhaps comes the extreme dislike of mysticism expressed by many ethical theists, especially by the German Ritschlians. A form of religion which tends to mix up man and God, to break down the rigid limits of individuality, and to make evil an unreal appearance, must, they think, be morally injurious. But there is no real inconsistency between mysticism and the strictest ethics, or the keenest speculation. Mysticism repudiates intellectualism, not intellect, moralism, not morality. It insists, no doubt, on personal inspiration as the source of religion. As Emerson says--
" This communication is an influx of the Divine mind into our mind. It is an ebb of the individual rivulet before the flowing surges of the sea of life. . . . The character and duration of this enthusiasm varies with the state of the individual, from an ecstasy and trance and prophetic inspiration, to the faintest glow of virtuous emotion, in which form it warms, like our household fires, all the families and associations of men, and makes society possible."
But this glow rapidly becomes extinct unless it kindles a flame in the will and intellect. All mysticism which seeks its life in inactive contemplation only, is a failure. The God who " worketh hitherto " is not to be found or known by any who leave their practical energies unused. Those who desire above all things to feel and enjoy their power of communion with God, are bound to remember that our relation to' God must be that of finite and dependent beings. On one side we have fellowship with the Father ; on the other we are very far removed and even estranged from Him.
Does not this throw more light on that feature in mystical literature which seems so self contradictory ? I mean, the claim to immediate contact with the Divine, combined with a chart of spiritual progress representing a very long ladder of ascent ? Such is indeed the course of the spiritual life. It is an infinite progress within the sphere of Divine love and knowledge. And in its development it uses, and in using hallows, all our faculties.
In asking you, as I shall ask you, to listen to two lectures upon the older mystical literature in our language, I am not trying to interest you in dead theology. There is a great deal of dead theology ; most of it died at a very early age ; some was alive for centuries and is now dead. But the books of the great mystics do not die. They may be forgotten, so the Theologia Germanica was forgotten ; but so soon as they become known again, they are found to be very much alive. " A book only grows old," says Maeterlinck, " by reason of its anti-mysticism."
" Those books which vividly depict in some fashion or other the felt presence of the Divine and the Universal in human natures have a perennial charm, and are among the most precious of the treasures which the world will not willingly let die."'
I think you will be surprised at the freshness and modernity of the extracts which I shall read you next week and the week after from the Ancren Riwle, Julian of Norwich, and Walter Hylton. Human nature is said to be much the same everywhere at the bottom. It is also so at the top. We need not trouble ourselves to ask, and we could seldom guess without asking, whether a paragraph describing the highest spiritual experiences was written in the Middle Ages or in modern times, in the north or south of Europe, by a Catholic or by a Protestant.
The fourth lecture I shall devote to the eighteenth-century divine, William Law, who from the seclusion of a remote village issued several treatises of a mystical type which are unsurpassed for robustness of thought and beauty of expression, in the sacred literature of our country.
In the two last lectures I shall take two poets — Wordsworth and Browning--as my subjects. The poets have been our most influential prophets and preachers in the nineteenth century ; and it so happens that these two furnish us with the best possible examples of certain kinds of mystical thought and feeling.
Among such a variety of testimony, con-verging from many sides towards one central truth, most of my hearers should be able to find some message which they can take home to themselves. With all of us, the range of spiritual vision is extremely limited. We are like persons gazing at the moonlight on the sea. Every wave and wavelet reflects the light, but each spectator sees only one narrow silvery path, that which stretches to the horizon straight out from his own feet. Only those who lean entirely on external authority are likely to be disappointed with, and to disapprove of, all the mystics. And to them I will read, in conclusion, a few wise words from a very eminent and thoughtful philosopher, the late Professor Wallace.
"In the Kingdom of God are many mansions ; and while some are content, as it were, to live on tradition and authority, to believe on trust, to repose on the common strength, it is necessary that there should also be from time to time a few, a select number, who resolve, or rather are compelled by a necessity naturally laid upon them, to see for themselves. Theirs also is faith ; but it is the faith of insight and of knowledge, the faith which is gnosis. Hard things have been said of gnosis, and harder things of gnosticism ; but it cannot be too clearly seen that gnosis is the very life of the Church, the blood of religion. It is the faith which is not merely hearsay and dependence, but which really envisages the unseen for itself. It does not believe on a Person ; it believes in and into Him: it becomes, by an act at once voluntary and impelled from without (as all human action that is really entitled to that name), participant with Him and through Him of a force of life and conduct.
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Studies of English Mystics:
On The Psychology Of Mysticism
The Ancren Riwle And Julian Of Norwich
Mystical Phenomena With Walter Hylton
William Law On English Mystics
The Mysticism Of Wordsworth
The Mysticism Of Robert Browning