Mystical Phenomena With Walter Hylton
THE picture of human life as a spiritual Jacob's ladder, on which angels are for ever ascending and descending, and which we all have to climb step by step, is as old as the rule of St Benedict. The idea of a gradual ascent, not in time or place, but from stage to stage of reality, leaving behind us the vain shadows of earth, and beholding ever more clearly the mysteries of Divine truth, has always been dear to mystics. Charts of spiritual progress have been drawn up in large numbers, till in the later Romanist theology a kind of geography of the saint's journey has been constructed, not less fanciful than Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. But it is not a sign of Protestant prejudice to assert that the mystical literature of the pre-Reformation period is more valuable and edifying than anything that the Roman Church has produced since. Nor is it, I hope, a sign of insular prejudice to prefer the writings of old English divines to anything of the same kind produced on the Continent For my own part, much as I admire the philosophical genius of Eckhart, the poetical fervour of Suso, and the robust eloquence of Tauler, I find in the Scale of Perfection, by Walter Hylton, Canon of Thurgarton, who died in 1396, teaching not less sound, not less winning, not less eloquent, than the best examples of the more celebrated German mystics. And so I have decided to devote one of my six lectures to a book which most of you, I dare say, have never even heard of. I cannot promise that there will be the same amount of personal interest as in Julian's Revelations. We have now to deal with a methodical treatise on the spiritual life, instead of with the record of a strange personal experience. Walter Hylton keeps his own individuality in the back-ground. We can only guess that he was not a stranger to some of the Divine favours which he describes. But the book has a charm of its own in the shrewd common-sense and flashes of humour which distinguish it from such scholastic treatises on mysticism as were written by Richard and Hugo of St Victor, Albertus Magnus, and Gerson. These latter are never likely to be disinterred except by a few scholars ; the Scale of Perfection only needs to be known, in order to take high rank among the best specimens of devotional literature.
I shall give you a brief analysis of the book, omitting some sections, which are of less interest than the rest.
The first step on the ladder of contemplation is knowledge of the facts of religion, which, however, is only a shadow of true contemplation, because it may be had without love. It is like the water at Cana, which must be turned into wine by grace.
The second part consists of mere feeling, without light in the understanding. A man " cannot tell what it is, but he feeleth it is well, for it is a gift of God." This part has two degrees. The lower degree cometh and goeth as He willeth who giveth it; "whoso bath it, let him be humble, and thank God and keep it secret." The higher part is rest and quietness, " when all the Church's prayers and hymns and ministrations are turned, as it were, into spiritual mirth and sweet harmony."
The third part consists in a combination of knowledge with perfect love. It may begin in this life, but in its fulness it is reserved for heaven, and can only be enjoyed there. In this state is fulfilled what St Paul says to the Corinthians : " He that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit," or as the same apostle says in his second epistle to the same church : "Whether we are beside ourselves, it is unto God ; or whether we are of sober mind, it is unto you. For the love of Christ constraineth us." In this blessed state we are made like to our Lord, and are transformed into His likeness. "We all with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit." Hylton does not profess to have experienced this rapturous condition : he speaks of it on the authority of others. "As I gather from holy men, the time of it is very short ; for he soon after returneth to a sobriety of bodily feeling." "The time is very short"; Hylton does not tell us how long it lasts, on an average. But there is a curious consensus among visionaries that the time occupied by a trance is "about half an hour." St Teresa is one of those who has named this duration. Hylton says that this is a special gift, not very common, and that, as we might expect, it is most fully enjoyed by those who lead a solitary life, devoted to religious exercises.
As for the strange physical and psychical phenomena which sometimes accompany this state—sights and sounds and odours, a sensation of burning heat in the breast, apparitions of various kinds—Hylton bids us "be wary.» He does not doubt that such things really take place, but it is by no means easy to determine whether they are sent by God or are a snare of the devil. The best test is to ask ourselves whether they tend to distract our minds from our devotions and from good actions, If they do, they are delusions sent by the Evil One, and should not be attended to. Here we see traces of a difficulty which has greatly exercised the minds of Roman Catholic directors in later times. Roman Catholic books on mysticism consist largely of descriptions of "mystical phenomena," and of cautions against being deceived by diabolical counterfeits. Nearly all the saints who have believed themselves to be the recipients of these special favours have also been plagued by the wiles of the devil, who is most active and insidious in his attempts to trip up the holiest characters. The criterion recommended by the mystics is much the same as in Hylton's advice. The vision, like other things, must be known by its fruits. The "mystical phenomena" described by Hylton are much the same as those which appear in the later history of mysticism—unaccountable sights, sounds, or smells, apparitions, and a strange feeling of burning heat in the breast.
The natural causes of these phenomena, which cannot be due entirely to suggestion and expectation, have not yet been fully ascertained. We may almost say that the worth of a mystical treatise varies inversely with the importance which it attaches to these experiences, which, of course, were formerly ascribed to supernatural agencies. Hylton gives them a very small place indeed.
The psychology of the Middle Ages was not quite in accordance with modern mental science. Memory was often elevated to the rank of a primary faculty, by the side of will and feeling, But Hylton's scheme of the faculties and their place in the spiritual life bears a curious resemblance to that of some recent Hegelians. Mr McTaggart, in his Studies in Hegelian Dialectic, holds that the will and the intellect are unharmonised factors in our personality, which partially contradict and thwart each other until they find their reconciling principle in love. Love is the supreme activity of the person, which transcends the disharmony between the ethical and the intellectual parts of our nature. Sc Hylton says that a man may have virtues it reason and will, without having the love of them in the affection. " But when, by the grace of Jesus, and by spiritual and bodily exercises, reason is turned into light, and will into love, then hath he virtues in affection." Until these virtues are thus turned into affection, a man may have what Hylton calls the second degree of contemplation, but not the third and highest.
Of Prayer, he says that it is not the cause of grace, but, the means by which it comes into the soul. Contemplatives should beware of the temptation to abandon vocal prayer for meditation. It is only those who are far advanced in the spiritual life who can safely allow the "prayer of quiet " to occupy the chief place in their devotions. When we meditate, the best subject on which to fix our thoughts is the humanity of Jesus Christ. Especially helpful are meditations on His Passion and death. We should remember how central this subject was in the teaching of St Paul. "We preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumbling - block, and unto Gentiles foolishness ; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God" This passage shows the normal and proper course of meditation on the Second \ Person of the Trinity. We should begin by dwelling on the human Christ, and especially on His sufferings for our redemption. We should not allow the Jewish craving for miracles, nor the Greek craving for philosophy, to distract our minds from the Cross on Calvary. But our devotion is not to end in pity and affection for the human Sufferer. We must not be content till we can see in Him the legitimate satisfaction of what both Jews and Greeks really desire for their soul's peace. Christ is no magician, no wonder-worker, but He is the Power of God. Christ is no abstract meta-physical principle, no logical category, but He is the Wisdom of God.
"The plain highway to contemplation is for a man to enter into himself, that he may know his own soul, and the powers thereof." The result of such introspection is to reveal to us at the same time the greatness and the littleness of man —his high calling and his low estate. We see the great nobility and dignity of the soul, and the wretchedness and into which we have brought it by creatures. We are not in birthright. How, then, are we to regain what of right belongs to us, and has been forfeited by us? "In one word—Jesus—thou hast all that thou hast lost." So speaks this truly evangelical Catholic. But "by the name of Jesus," he adds, "I mean all that the name betokens." He does not wish us to use the name as a spell to conjure with, but to find out what the name really means to us and all the world. The piece of money—the groat, as he calls it—is lost in thy house. That is to say, the Divine treasure lies hidden in thy soul. Jesus sleeps in thy ship, as He once slept in the little ship on the Lake of Gennesaret. "Wake Him!" But is it necessary to wake Him? "Hardly so," says Hylton. "Thou sleepest oftener to Him than He to thee." " As long as Jesus findeth not His image refound in thee, He is a stranger to thee and far from thee." Yes, it is not that the Christ in us :s asleep. We are asleep, He is awake. We miseries our sins.
We are fallen possession of our are abroad, He is at home. He is always ready ; it is we who are unready. When we desire to enter into ourselves, and search in our hearts for the hid treasure, we should cease for a time from bodily works and business, and think of nothing outside. Then, when our minds are fixed steadily on the unseen realities—on God and our own souls—what shall we see? Not the gracious figure of Jesus, at first, but another image, a dark and ill-favoured image,, the likeness of our own soul, which bath neither light of knowledge nor feeling of love for God. "If you look carefully," says Hylton to his reader, " you will see it all wrapped up and tied and bound with black and foul bands of sin." This is what St Paul calls the "body of sin" (Rom. vi. 6), and the "body of death." This dark shadow, the body of sin and death, you bear about with you always. What is it like? It is like no bodily thing ; for it is no real thing, as you will find at last if you follow my admonitions. It is not a real thing; it is nought else but darkness of conscience, and lack of light and love. It your soul were reformed, according to the image of Jesus, you would no longer find this ugly and negative shape, this nothingness made visible, but Jesus. Until this blessed change has happened in you, you find within yourself only emptiness, darkness, and heaviness. It is no wonder, then, that introspection seems to you irksome and depressing. " It seems a hundred years till you are out of yourself, in quest of some bodily delight or vain thought. He that cometh home and findeth nought there but dirt and smoke and a scolding wife, will quickly run out of it." " But do not you run out of it," says Hylton. " Stay at home, and endure the pains and the discomfort. For behind this nothingness, behind this dark and formless shape of evil, is Jesus hid in His joy."
The dark image, as I have said, is nothing. But how, then, can it be an image? It is a false inordinate love of thyself. The, body of sin and death is self-love or selfishness. Out of it come the seven deadly sins, flowing in seven channels. Thus regarded, it is not altogether nothing, but much that is bad.
But perhaps you will say,'" I have dedicated myself to God. I have forsaken the world and its temptations — I have no worldly business, no carnal pleasures. How, then, can this image be so strong in me?" "Alas!" says Hylton, "thou art like a man who had in his garden a foul cistern with many outlets ; and he went and stopped up the outlets, and thought that all was well." To retire from the world is only to stop the outlets of temptation. Beware of the spring within thee. If this is foul, its pollution will force its way out somehow. I will tell you how to stop up this spring. Pride is the principal river. If love and praise and other favours froth men be dear to thy heart, and if thou turn them into vain gladness and make them, as it were, thy payment and thy due, thinking seriously in thy heart that men ought to praise thy life, and attend to thy words more than to those of other men ; and if, on the contrary, when men reprove thee and set thee at nought, hold thee for a fool or a hypocrite, slander thee or speak evil of thee falsely, or in any other way annoy thee unreasonably, thou feelest in thy heart a great malice and rising in thy heart against them, with unwillingness to suffer any shame or disgrace in the eyes of the world ; if it be thus with thee, it is a token that there is much pride in that dark image of thine.
Now turn the dark image, the body of sin and death, upside down, and look well into it. There are two limbs, of anger and envy, fastened to it, which hinder charity. From them come a variety of evil things, hatred, suspicion, unkindness, evil speaking, and the like. Among the fruits of anger and envy he names one fault which prevents his injunctions under this head from being commonplace. We are to beware of "a harshness and bitterness to all sinful men, and others who will not do as we think they should, with a great desire and eagerness, under cover of charity and justice, that they should be well punished and chastised for their sins." This touches upon a very common weakness of good people, from which few of us, probably, are entirely free. Most of us have a favourite aversion among the vices, and take small shame to ourselves for the glee with which we hear of transgressors being " well punished and chastised." Aristotle regards it as a moral duty to rejoice at the misfortunes of the bad, and to grieve over the prosperity of the wicked. To sympathise whole - heartedly with right and justice, and to rejoice in every triumph of the good cause over the bad, without loss of Christian charity, is one of the most difficult moral tasks. " Thou shouldest love the man, be he ever so sinful," says Hylton, "and, hate the sin in every man, whatever he be." Then follows a sentence which reminds us of Eckhart's contemptuous reference to the dead bones of saints, which " can neither give nor take anything." " There is no great excellence in watching and fasting till thy head aches, nor in running to Rome or Jerusalem with bare feet, nor in building churches and hospitals." But it is a great sign of excellence if a man can love a sinner while yet hating the sin. Did not our Lord show love to Judas, though He knew of his covetousness and peculations in the present, and of his treason in the near future?
Covetousness is the next vice that we observe in the dark image of sin. It is easier to forsake worldly goods than the love of them. "Perhaps thou hast not forsaken thy covetousness, but only changed the object of it. Formerly it was a silver dish, now it is a copper. A foolish change, which shows thee to be no clever merchant!" Consider instead whether you would mind losing what you have, or whether you would be angry with him who took it. St Augustine says beautifully : "Too little doth he love Thee, O God, who loveth anything with Thee which he loves not for Thee." (From Augustine, Confessions x. 29.) "But God knows," says Hylton, "that I am teaching far more than I practise." This humble parenthesis is characteristic of our author, and is very appropriate after he has quoted so terribly exacting a demand as that of St Augustine's words. "But," he goes on in a graceful sentence, "it would be a comfort to my heart, if, though I have not this virtue myself, I should have it in thee."
To deal with the sin of Gluttony is difficult, says Hylton, because it is rooted in natural necessity. " Slay unreasonable delights and voluntary sensual pleasures. If you have given way to any indulgence which comes under this head, pray for forgiveness, and then set about some other business ; but think no further of thy frailty, for it is not worth such attention, and you will not destroy it in this way." This advice, indeed, may be applied to most kinds of temptation. " When thou attackest the root of sin, fix thy thoughts more upon the God whom thou desirest than upon the sin which thou abhorrest."
In concluding Book I. of the first part of his treatise, Hylton reminds us that parts of it pertain only to one in the contemplative (as opposed to the active) state of life. I have chosen the precepts which are of most general application ; but in truth there is not much of the Scale of Perfection which applies only to monks.
In Book II he returns to the "image of sin" which is disclosed to our introspective eye. The reformation of it must take place partly in this life and partly in the future life. As regards the present life, the reformation may be in faith, or in feeling. The former suffices for salvation, the latter earns a surpassing great reward, and may be had only through great spiritual pains. By the first, the "image of sin " is not destroyed, but is left intact in point of feeling. (That is, the commission of sin would still give pleasure, though it is avoided from a sense of duty.) The second puts out the pleasure felt in sin.
The paragraphs on the sacraments, which follow, are somewhat disappointing. There is more of superstitious, non-ethical, magical doctrine, especially in dealing with the Eucharist, than we should have expected in so enlightened and independent a thinker.
The soul that is "reformed in feeling," to adopt Hylton's phrase, must remember that such a state "lasteth not always." We must not expect to be delivered from the life and death struggle between the law in our members and law of our mind. St Paul himself was torn and tormented by this conflict ; and if St Paul so suffered, how can any of us hope to escape? The strife must needs be ; for our nature is the battle-ground of good and evil forces. "Fair is a man's soul, and foul is a man's soul ; foul without, like a beast ; and fair within, like an angel." Like the bride in the Canticles, the soul is "black, but comely." The pure brightness of the Divine image is encrusted with a foul covering of sin.
Some will say : " I would fain love God and be good if I could, but I have not the grace for it ; and so I hope I shall be excused." To such I answer : "True it is, as you say, that you have not grace, and that therefore you cannot be good. But it is your own fault that you have not grace. Men unfit themselves for receiving grace, and therefore do not receive it, in various ways. Some are froward, and think their sins so sweet that they will not part with them. They cannot bring themselves to submit to penance and mortification, and so they remain bound in their chains. Others begin to dispose them-selves for grace, but their will is weak. They condemn temptation when it comes, but do not put. it from them, and end by assenting to it. There are also some who are so blind and brutish as to say that there is no other life besides this. Their maxim is, ' Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.' Of such no more need be said."
Part II. of the Scale of Perfection deals with the higher rungs of the spiritual ladder. Again, he insists that without pains and industry none can attain to what he calls reformation in feeling as well as in faith. A man can no more make a sudden ascent from the lowest to the. highest than he can climb from the bottom to the top of a ladder at one step.
Why do so few attain to the higher stage of perfection? Many are satisfied if they can save their souls, and reach even the lowest degree in heaven. It is dangerous to aim at what is barely sufficient, as we may just miss it ; but in busy people who are living in the world such want of spiritual ambition is excusable. But it is perilous for a soul which feels itself to have arrived at the lower stage of "reformation in faith" to rest there, and be content to climb no further. For there is no standing still in the spiritual life : if we are not going on, we must be going back. So Augustine says : "Say but, It is sufficient, and you are lost. Ever increase, ever march on, ever advance" (Serm. 169). If a man has been drawn up out of a pit, will he refuse to go any further than the brink? Will he remain where one step must plunge him again into the depths? And how can a man have enough of God's grace? Grace is, no doubt, the free gift of God, but it is usually not given without the fullest co-operation on the part of the soul. True humility is a great help here. " Humility saith, ` I am nothing, I have nothing, I desire nothing, but Jesus.' This makes good music in the soul. Compared with Jesus, who is all, thou art nothing." The love of Jesus is thus the foundation of true humility.
And what are the enemies? Chiefly, carnal desires and vain fears. But hold thou on thy way, desiring nothing at all except the love of the Lord Jesus. When thou art tempted, answer the tempter always on this wise : " I am nothing, I have nothing, I desire nothing, save the love of Jesus only." Do not ransack thy memory to confess again what is past and gone. Hold on thy way, and think only of Jerusalem, the goal of thy journey. The tempting spirits will try to discourage thee. They will whisper in thine ear : " Thou canst never fulfil all these resolutions. Return to thine old life and do as others do." Then thou must answer them : " Since I was created to love God, I will ever desire and hope for it, even though I should never arrive at it." When discouragement has failed to shake thy resolution, they will try other methods. They will bring it about that all thy good shall be evil-spoken of, and that whatsoever thou doest shall be taken ill. In this way thy tempters will endeavour to stir thee up to anger or to melancholy, or to ill-will against thy neighbours. But do thou use this remedy. Take the Lord Jesus into thy mind, and trouble not thyself. Think of thy lesson—that thou art nothing, that thou hast nothing, and desirest nothing, save Jesus only. Do not dwell in thought on thy sins and defects, for fear of thine enemies. These enemies, when they have failed to achieve their purpose in this attempt also, will next try the effect of flattery. They will tell thee, and try to persuade thee, that all men praise and love and honour thee. They will not move thee ; for thou wilt reject all such suggestions, esteeming them to be mere stratagems of the enemy, as indeed they are, venom sweetened with honey. Refuse it and have none of it, and say that thy wish is to be with Jesus.
All these hindrances and temptations will beset thee. And yet, so long as a man suffers his thoughts to run at large, as it were, about the world, to wander unchecked whithersoever they choose to roam, he perceives few of these hindrances. But as soon as he withdraws his thoughts and desires from worldly things, and fixes them on one thing only—the love of Jesus—then he will feel many painful hindrances. It is not a sign that all is well with us if we feel no hindrances. We ought to feel many.
This desire which fills thy heart is verily Jesus. It is He who worketh it in thee ; it is He who giveth it thee. He desireth in thee, and He is desired. He is all, and loth all. Thou art only an instrument in His hands. " O send out Thy light and Thy truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to Thy holy hill, and to Thy dwelling."
The necessity of concentration, and the danger of indulging freely in discursive thought which dissipates our energies and distracts our attention, are topics which we encounter very frequently in the mystics. They are fond of using the metaphor of "darkness" for the state in which the mind is a tabula rasa, ready for any purely spiritual impression to act upon it. Hylton also uses this expression. The " good darkness," he says, is when the soul through grace is so free, so gathered up into itself, that it is not distracted by any earthly thing. " This is a rich nothing, when the soul is at rest as to earthly thoughts, but very busy in thinking of Jesus." " It is not all darkness or nothing, when the soul thinketh thus." "For Jesus, who is both love and light, is in this darkness, whether it be painful or restful." If thou wouldest know whether thou art in this secure darkness or not, ask whether thou covetest anything in this life for itself alone. Ask this question of each of thy five senses. If they make answer to thee honestly, " I would see nothing, hear nothing, taste and touch nothing, but would have my affections wholly fixed on God," then thou art in this profitable darkness. Although " this lasteth, whole and entire, but for a short time," accustom thyself to dwell in this profitable darkness, for little by little the light of spiritual knowledge will arise in thee. Then thou wilt experience the truth of those words of the prophet Isaiah : "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light, and they who walked in darkness and in the shadow of death, upon them bath the light shined." Thou art not yet at Jerusalem, the end of thy journey ; "but by some small flashes of light, which shine through the chinks of the city walls, thou wilt be able to see it long before thou comest to it."
In these paragraphs Hylton has been using the common language of the mystics. The "Divine darkness" is a familiar idea in Christian mysticism from Dionysius down - wards. Equally familiar is the warning which follows—against the "false light." Readers of the Theologia Germanica will remember how earnestly we are warned against the danger of mistaking some devil-sent ignis fatuus for the true light of the Divine Presence. This is how Hylton deals with it : "But now beware of the mid-day fiend, that feigneth light as if it came from Jerusalem, but does not so." How shall we distinguish between the true and the false light? Sometimes we see a light shining between two black rainy clouds, a light which looks like the sun, but is not. So it is in spiritual things. There are some men who, as far as externals go, have forsaken the pomps and vanities of the world, and have renounced all the deadly sins, but who give no industry to examining themselves and purging their hearts. Then, because they have made this external renunciation, they fancy themselves to be already holy, and "presently begin to preach, and teach other men, as if they had received the grace of understanding, to preach truth and righteousness to their neighbours." But their light comes from the mid-day fiend, as they will see if they look carefully. For it shines between two black rainy clouds, of which the upper is presumption and self-exaltation, and the lower undervaluing our neighbour. If these feelings are present, though the knowledge itself be true, "it is from the fiend if it comes all of a sudden, or from a man's own wit if it comes by study." Men of this kind are full of pride, and see it not; and all their preaching tends to strife and discord, and reproof of divers states and persons. "But where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work" ( James iii. 16). The true sun only shines in a clear sky. The "good darkness " is marked by humility and charity ; "and I believe," says Hylton, "that after true darkness has gone before, the false light never comes."
This, then, is to be our safeguard, if we wish to be led by the Spirit, instead of submitting ourselves to human guidance. We shall be led aright, and need not fear to be misled by the Evil One, if we are in humility and charity. They are also tests whether the light that is in us is in truth light, or something worse than darkness. If we are proud or uncharitable, we have not the Spirit of God, and should be far safer in leading-strings, obeying and following external authority.
But is it necessary to pass through the "good darkness" at all ? Is it necessary for us to abstract our minds from external things, as the mystics of the cloister seem always to recommend? We are not here concerned with the follies of the hesychasts and quietists, or with the death in life of the Indian yogi. Such a life is a mere reductio ad absurdum of the philosophy on which it is based. But is not the advice of the cloister-mystics infected by the same fallacy—that we can reach the infinite by mere negation of the finite, stripping ourselves bare of all that belongs to our terrestrial existence in the hope of anticipating the life which will be ours when we have passed beyond the bourne of time and space ? Is it not all part of that philosophy of dreams which teaches, with Shelley, that
" Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
I have said, in my introductory Lecture, that the temptation in mysticism is to grasp at immediate apprehension of Divine truth before the time. The error is not in believing that a real knowledge of and communion with God is possible to men, but in supposing that it is given to start with. The strength of the best mystical teaching lies just in the recognition that we must "die to live" in every part of our spiritual nature. Our earthly affections, our appreciation of natural beauty, our intellectual speculations, must all be baptized into Christ's death. They must pass through a transformation, they must be lost and found again. There must be an apparent loss, as part of the real gain. So long as this mysterious law of our being—death every-where the gate of life—is remembered, mystical theology is sane and sound ; when it is forgotten, dangerous tendencies always manifest themselves. This is the truth which under-lies the doctrine of the negative road, and of the Divine darkness. The perversions of it are partly due to the strange, psychological experience of the blank trance, a kind of self-hypnotisation in which the mind sometimes receives indelible impressions.
Violent emotional fervours, says Hylton, to whom I now return after a brief digression, do not belong to a high state, but are rather characteristic of beginners, " who for the littleness and weakness of their souls cannot bear the smallest touch of God." This is quite in accordance with what other authorities tell us ; though they more often suggest that these rapturous joys are given by God as an encouragement to those who are just beginning to advance on the way of holiness.
A soul that would know spiritual things must first know itself. I f we do not know ourselves, we cannot know anything above ourselves. Do not look for your soul inside your body, or you will never find it. The soul is not inside or outside your body. It is no bodily thing, with a spatial existence, but an invisible life. It would be truer to say that the body is in the soul, than that the soul is in the body. " Consider thy soul as a life, immortal and invisible, which has in itself the power to know the sovereign truth, and love the sovereign goodness, which is God. When thou feelest this, thou wilt feel some-thing of thy true self. Seek thyself in no other place. The more fully and worthily thou thinkest of the nature and worthiness of a reasonable soul, the better thou wilt see into thyself. Do not form any image of a bodily shape, when thou thinkest about thy soul." This caution is also valuable. Half-unconsciously we do often think of our souls as a kind of ghosts, shadowy creatures like phantasms of living men. It is worth while to remind ourselves that the soul, as soul, has nothing to do with the categories of space and time.
The soul must first know itself. But it must not rest in self-knowledge. For the soul is but a mirror in which to behold God. The soul is a mirror. Therefore the first requisite is that it should be kept bright and clean, and the second is that it should be held well up from the earth.
Hylton then proceeds to speak of the love of God. He says that there are three kinds, or degrees, in the love of man to God. The first is for faith only, without any devout imagination or spiritual knowledge. The second works upon us through the imagination of Jesus in His sacred humanity. The third comes through spiritual sight of the Godhead in the sacred humanity. This classification is worth quoting, because it shows that Hylton does not contemplate the possibility of the human Christ ever becoming unnecessary to us. The criticism has often been passed upon the Platonising theologians of the third century, Clement of Alexandria and Origen, that the " Gnostic," or perfect Christian in their system, needs Christ only as the Logos, and no longer as the Incarnate Son, Jesus. But Hylton, like Julian of Norwich in my last Lecture, knows that we can never get beyond the human Christ. " Thou art my heaven," says Julian ; and Hylton will be more than content if he can dwell with loving and clear sight upon the Godhead in the sacred humanity. Spiritual love that comes through the understanding is better than that which comes only through the imagination. All bodily beholdings are but means by which the soul is led to this. The words of our Lord to Mary Magdalene, " Touch me not," may be interpreted to mean, " Worship me in thine understanding." The outward manifestations of Divine favour, which in the later Roman Catholic mysticism play such a dominant part under the name of mystical phenomena, are for Hylton only tokens of inward grace, like the cloven tongues on the day of Pentecost, which were a purely external sign.
In Part III. Hylton begins by saying : " I would not by these discourses limit God's working by the law of my speaking. I do not wish to imply that God worketh so in a soul and no otherwise. No, I meant not so. I hope well also that He worketh otherwise, in ways which pass my wit and feeling."
The soul has two kinds of feelings : one external, through the five bodily senses, and one internal, through the spiritual senses or faculties of the soul. The spiritual senses or faculties Hylton considers to be four in number : wit, memory, understanding, and will. " When these faculties are through grace perfect in all understanding and spiritual wisdom, then the soul hath new feelings which are the offspring of grace." When St Paul bids the Ephesians to " be renewed in the spirit of your minds," he means " in the higher part of your reason." " Understanding is the mistress, imagination is the maid." Under-standing is strong meat for men, imagination is milk for babes. Whatever psychologists may think of Hylton's analysis of human faculties, it is plain that he is mainly concerned in exalting the inward as compared with the outward, and disparaging those sensible images which often float before the mental vision of the contemplative, and which he is frequently tempted to overvalue.
We speak sometimes of "heaven opening to the eye of the soul." This, again, is a mere metaphor, which we must beware of taking literally. It is not the heaven above the firmament, the depths of space above, our heads, which opens to the eye of the soul. " The higher the soul soareth above the sun to see Jesus as God, the lower it falls, by reason of such an imagination." Nevertheless, this kind of sight is tolerable in simple souls who have no better way of seeing Him who is invisible. Hylton here seems to go beyond Benjamin Whichcote's " Heaven is first a temper, and then a place," and to repudiate the idea of a local heaven altogether. But he would probably admit that for almost all persons, and not for "simple souls" alone, it is helpful and almost necessary to envisage the eternal world under the forms of space as well as of time. The natural impulse which bids us to "lift up our eyes," as well as our hearts, when we pray to God or praise Him, need not be resisted, though it is well to remember sometimes that God is here as much as any-where else, and that we need not send our prayers on a long journey to find Him. " Spiritual things," says Plotinus, "are separated from each other only by difference and antagonism of nature, not by place."
"What is heaven to a reasonable soul? Verily nought else but Jesus God." A striking sentence, which again reminds us of Hylton's contemporary Julian. God alone is above the nature of the soul ; whosoever seeth God seeth heaven. The soul is above every bodily thing ; no idea of local elevation should be entertained, as if we needed to be transported to some other part of space in order to come near to God. Similarly, we must be careful to remember that "within" is a mere metaphor when used of spiritual things. It is commonly said that the soul should see God "within" all things, and within " itself. We may use these expressions, but they are metaphors. God is not within the soul as a kernel is within a nut, or as a lesser bodily thing is within a greater.
Other expressions which we use about God are equally metaphorical, e.g., "God is Light." God is compared to light, because He is the Truth ; and He is compared to a consuming fire, because He cleanses the soul like fire. But let us not think much of fire the element, in connection with God. We must try to look not on the things that are seen, which are temporal, but on the things that are not seen, which are eternal. And eternity is the know-ledge, or rather the knowing, of God, and of Jesus Christ whom He sent.
What is the relation between the beatific vision and the fruition of Divine love? The full bliss of the soul, says Hylton, is the love that proceeds from sight. "Love proceeds from knowledge, and not knowledge from love." The more God is known, the more He is loved. Here some might object that the best way to get to know a person is to love him, and that those who reserve their affection till their companion's character is fully explored, will never either know or love him. And in the case of love to God felt by man, since our knowledge must always be so small, love must come first, and know-ledge follow as its reward. But our author is here speaking of the perfect love that casteth out fear. This can only be the result of knowledge. The assertion that love is the final crown, higher than knowledge, is necessary as a safeguard against intellectualism. We must not turn religion into philosophy. Hylton is here quite in agreement with the Christian Platonists, including Clement of Alexandria. They give knowledge a very high place, but not the highest.
"When God crowns our merits," says St Augustine, " He crowns only His own gifts." This maxim is thoroughly in accordance with Hylton's teaching. The greatest boon that God ever gives is the gift of Himself. First He gives us the lower love, which keeps us -rom sinning. Then He opens the eye of he soul, that it may see the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and adore His nature. Love s master of the soul when it makes the soul forget herself.
God gives us Himself. What does this mean? The gift of Himself, the gift of the Holy Ghost, is the gift of love. We should ask of God nothing except the gift of love, which is the Holy Ghost. There is no gift God which is both the giver and the gift, except this of love. This alone saveth from :11, and maketh the soul God's child and a receiver of the heavenly heritage. This love Lyeth all the strivings of pride, and makes the soul lose all relish for worldly honôurs. It slays "easily" all the stirrings of wrath and envy. Love alone can do this. He who loves can more easily forget the wrong done to him than another man can forgive it." The true lover forgets rather than for-gives, for there is no pride or contempt mixed with his forgiveness. Love also slays the other deadly sins. Covetousness, impurity, and gluttony cannot live in the soul where love reigns. Love sets all perishable thing: at one price, and values a precious stone no more than a piece of chalk.
What graces are those that the sou receiveth through love! I cannot speak c them, for they are more than I am able t express ; but Love asketh and biddeth that try to do so, and I hope that Love shall teach me. In the writings of holy men we fin various things spoken of as the fruit heavenly love—purity of spirit, rest, stillnes peace, burning affection, bright light--and there are many other words that they us These graces are diverse in speech, but or in meaning. He that bath one hath all is called rest by many holy men. It is called rest, not because it makes us idle, but because it makes the soul work gladly and softly. " It is a most busy rest." Hylton here anticipates the beautiful and helpful definition of rest as " unimpeded activity." We are at rest when what we do is no exertion to us ; when it makes us happy to do it ; when there is nothing within or without us that pulls us back and tries to stop us from doing it. So the Sabbath-rest of God, and of the Divine Word of God, is described in the verse, " My Father worketh hitherto, and I work."
But we must expect checks and disappointments in our ascent of the ladder of perfection.
Sometimes the grace to behold Jesus is for time withdrawn. Then we are painfully conscious of our own miserable existence, and we are assailed by carnal hopes and fears. Not that we are left altogether to ourselves i these states. It is the special, and not the common grace, which is then withdrawn from us. Common grace remains to us entire. It is never withdrawn so long as a man's eart is right with God.
Spiritual prayer does not consist of long petitions. The prayer of the contemplative is made up but of one word, says Hylton : as it is formed in the heart, so it sounds in the mouth. Both that which forms and that which utters it are the same thing ; for the soul is by grace made whole and one in itself. The soul then asks not how it shall pray, for its eye is turned inwards to Jesus. These directions about prayer are not quite so clear as is Hylton's wont. But the most intimate prayer is in truth an experience that baffle: description. I t "consists of one word," o rather of no words ; for words were invente( to communicate our ideas to others ; bu where the barrier between persons is broke] down by love and devotion, words become as unnecessary as they are inadequate.
When we feel our souls stirred by grace says Hylton, we need not be afraid of being; deceived. "Trust thy feeling fully when it is spiritual: keep it tenderly, and have great delicacy, not toward thyself, but it" then grace itself will go on teaching thee.
" Jesus sometimes shows Himself as a awful master, sometimes as a reverend teacher, and sometimes as a loving spouse." The spiritual things, shown by Jesus to the soul, may be said to consist of all the truths contained in Holy Scripture. But there are other truths also, which are not contained in Holy Scripture, but which Jesus shows to some of them that love Him. Such high truths; which are at times made clear by inward revelation, are the nature of all rational souls, )f the angels, and of the Trinity. " Love .and light go together in a pure soul."
Hylton is conscious that these last sections f his book are somewhat inconsecutive, and that they give an impression of superficial treatment. " I touch on these things lightly," e says, " for the soul may see more in an hour tat can be written in the longest book."
With these words we leave him. They are words which we should always remember when we read devotional literature. We should read such books on our knees, as it here, for otherwise we cannot understand or of it by them. Unless we bring a great knowledge of ourselves, we shall not get much from them. Cor ad cor loquitur; the hearts of the writer and reader must beat together, or the attempts of the saint to express what cannot be said in words will seem only dark and tiresome.
I have given two lectures to these mediaeval mystics of the cloister, with some doubt as to how far I should be able to enlist your sympathies with their type of piety. I have chosen exceptionally favourable specimens of monkish Christianity ; but perhaps after all you will say : These were lonely men an( women, and theirs is a lonely religion. " Wha dost thou desire to know ? " asks St Augustin, of himself. " God and thine own sou" Nothing else? Nothing else at all." BL we moderns desire to know some other thing besides God and our own souls. We desire to know the souls of other men, and the sou if it may be, of the external world, the so, of nature. The difference between the two views of life may be realised by comparing maxim which the saints of the cloister a rather fond of quoting from Seneca : " Whenever I have been with other men, I return less of a man than I was before," with the words of a typical nineteenth-century writer (Sir John Seeley) : "Solitude is the death of all but the strongest virtue." Rudyard Kipling thinks both are right :
" Down to Gehenna, or up to the throne,
But the cloistered mystics are best regarded as specialists, who have sacrificed breadth for intensity. In my last three lectures I shall deal with developments of mysticism with which more persons now will sympathise with that powerful and independent eighteenth-century thinker, William Law, Non - juror, moralist, and mystic ; with the religious poetry of nature, which will always have its classical example in Wordsworth; and with the mystical conception of human life and human love, which is the inspiration and main theme of Robert Browning's. poetry.
( 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