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LIGHT, LIFE, AND LOVE
Selections from the German Mystics of the Middle Ages
W. R. Inge
MEDITATIONS ON THE SEVEN WORDS FROM THE CROSS SUSO
Sect. 1. THE PRECURSORS OF THE GERMAN MYSTICS
TO most English readers the “Imitation of Christ” is the representative of mediaeval German mysticism. In reality, however, this beautiful little treatise belongs to a period when that movement had nearly spent itself. Thomas a Kempis, as Dr. Bigg has said, was only a semi-mystic. He tones down the most characteristic doctrines of Eckhart, who is the great original thinker of the German mystical school, and seems in some ways to revert to an earlier type of devotional literature. The “Imitation” may perhaps be described as an idealised picture of monastic piety, drawn at a time when the life of the cloister no longer filled a place of unchallenged usefulness in the social order of Europe. To find German mysticism at its strongest we must go back a full hundred years, and to understand its growth we must retrace our steps as far as the great awakening of the thirteenth century–the age of chivalry in religion–the age of St. Louis, of Francis and Dominic, of Bonaventura and Thomas Aquinas. It was a vast revival, bearing fruit in a new ardour of pity and charity, as well as in a healthy freedom of thought. The Church, in recognising the new charitable orders of Francis and Dominic, and the Christianised Aristotelianism of the schoolmen, retained the loyalty and profited by the zeal of the more sober reformers, but was unable to prevent the diffusion of an independent critical spirit, in part provoked and justified by real abuses. Discontent was aroused, not only by the worldiness of the hierarchy, whose greed and luxurious living were felt to be scandalous, but by the widespread economic distress which prevailed over Western Europe at this period. The crusades periodically swept off a large proportion of the able-bodied men, of whom the majority never returned to their homes, and this helped to swell the number of indigent women, who, having no male protectors, were obliged to beg their bread. The better class of these female mendicants soon formed themselves into uncloistered charitable Orders, who were not forbidden to marry, and who devoted themselves chiefly to the care of the sick. These Beguines and the corresponding male associations of Beghards became very numerous in Germany. Their religious views were of a definite type. Theirs was an intensely inward religion, based on the longing of the soul for immediate access to God. The more educated among them tended to embrace a vague idealistic Pantheism. Mechthild of Magdeburg (1212-1277), prophetess, poetess, Church reformer, quietist, was the ablest of the Beguines. Her writings prove to us that the technical terminology of German mysticism was in use before Eckhart, and also that the followers of what the “Theologia Germanica” calls the False Light, who aspired to absorption in the Godhead, and despised the imitation of the incarnate Christ, were already throwing discredit on the movement. Mechthild’s independence, and her unsparing denunciations of corruption in high places, brought her into conflict with the secular clergy. They tried to burn her books–those religious love songs which had already endeared her to German popular sentiment. It was then that she seemed to hear a voice saying to her:
Lieb’ meine, betrbe dich nicht zu sehr,
Die Wahrheit mag niemand verbrennen!
The rulers of the Church, unhappily, were not content with burning books. Their hostility towards the unrecognised Orders became more and more pronounced: the Beghards and Beguines were harried and persecuted till most of them were driven to join the Franciscans or Dominicans, carrying with them into those Orders the ferment of their speculative mysticism. The more stubborn “Brethren and Sisters of the Free Spirit” were burned in batches at Cologne and elsewhere. Their fate in those times did not excite much pity, for many of the victims were idle vagabonds of dissolute character, and the general public probably thought that the licensed begging friars were enough of a nuisance without the addition of these free lances.
The heretical mystical sects of the thirteenth century are very interesting as illustrating the chief dangers of mysticism. Some of these sectaries were Socialists or Communists of an extreme kind; others were Rationalists, who taught that Jesus Christ was the son of Joseph and a sinner like other men; others were Puritans, who said that Church music was “nothing but a hellish noise” (nihil nisi clamor inferni), and that the Pope was the magna meretrix of the Apocalypse. The majority were Anti-Sacramentalists and Determinists; and some were openly Antinomian, teaching that those who are led by the Spirit can do no wrong. The followers of Amalric of Bena believed that the Holy Ghost had chosen their sect in which to become incarnate; His presence among them was a continual guarantee of sanctity and happiness. The “spiritual Franciscans” had dreams of a more apocalyptic kind. They adopted the idea of an “eternal Gospel,” as expounded by Joachim of Floris, and believed that the “third kingdom,” that of the Spirit, was about to begin among themselves. It was to abolish the secular Church and to inaugurate the reign of true Christianity–i.e. “poverty” and asceticism.
Such are some of the results of what our eighteenth-century ancestors knew and dreaded as “Enthusiasm”–that ferment of the spirit which in certain epochs spreads from soul to soul like an epidemic, breaking all the fetters of authority, despising tradition and rejecting discipline in its eagerness to get rid of formalism and unreality; a lawless, turbulent, unmanageable spirit, in which, notwithstanding, is a potentiality for good far higher than any to which the lukewarm “religion of all sensible men” can ever attain. For mysticism is the raw material of all religion; and it is easier to discipline the enthusiast than to breathe enthusiasm into the disciplinarian.
Meanwhile, the Church looked with favour upon the orthodox mystical school, of which Richard and Hugo of St. Victor, Bonaventura, and Albertus Magnus were among the greatest names. These men were working out in their own fashion the psychology of the contemplative life, showing how we may ascend through “cogitation, meditation, and speculation” to “contemplation,” and how we may pass successively through jubilus, ebrietas spiritus, spiritualis jucunditas, and liquefactio, till we attain raptus or ecstasy. The writings of the scholastic mystics are so overweighted with this pseudo-science, with its wire-drawn distinctions and meaningless classifications, that very few readers have now the patience to dig out their numerous beauties. They are, however, still the classics of mystical theology in the Roman Church, so far as that science has not degenerated into mere miracle-mongering.
Sect. 2. MEISTER ECKHART
It was in 1260, when Mechthild of Magdeburg was at the height of her activity, that Meister Eckhart, next to Plotinus the greatest philosopher-mystic, was born at Hocheim in Thuringia. It seems that his family was in a good position, but nothing is known of his early years. He entered the Dominican Order as a youth, perhaps at sixteen, the earliest age at which novices were admitted into that Order. The course of instruction among the Dominicans was as follows:–After two years, during which the novice laid the foundations of a good general education, he devoted the next two years to grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic, and then the same amount of time to what was called the Quadrivium, which consisted of “arithmetic, mathematics, astronomy, and music.” Theology, the queen of the sciences, occupied three years; and at the end of the course, at the age of twenty-five, the brothers were ordained priests. We find Eckhart, towards the end of the century, Prior of Erfurt and Vicar of Thuringia, then Lector Biblicus at Paris, then Provincial Prior of Saxony. In 1307 the master of the Order appointed him Vicar-General for Bohemia, and in 1311 he returned to Paris. We find him next preaching busily at Strassburg, and after a few more years, at Cologne, where the persecution of the Brethren of the Free Spirit was just then at its height. At Strassburg there were no less than seven convents of Dominican nuns, for since 1267 the Order had resumed the supervision of female convents, which it had renounced a short time after its foundation. Many of Eckhart’s discourses were addressed to these congregations of devout women, who indeed were to a large extent the backbone of the mystical movement, and it is impossible not to see that the devotional treatises of the school are strongly coloured by feminine sentiment. A curious poem, written by a Dominican nun of this period, celebrates the merits of three preachers, the third of whom is a Master Eckhart, “who speaks to us about Nothingness. He who understands him not, in him has never shone the light divine.” These nuns seem to have been fed with the strong meat of Eckhart’s mystical philosophy; in the more popular sermons he tried to be intelligible to all. It was not very long after he took up his residence at Cologne that he was himself attacked for heresy. In 1327 he read before his own Order a retractation of “any errors which might be found” (si quid errorum repertum fuerit) in his writings, but withdrew nothing that he had actually said, and protested that he believed himself to be orthodox. He died a few months later, and it was not till 1329 that a Papal bull was issued, enumerating seventeen heretical and eleven objectionable doctrines in his writings.
This bull is interesting as showing what were the points in Eckhart’s teaching which in the fourteenth century were considered dangerous. They also indicate very accurately what are the real errors into which speculative mysticism is liable to fall, and how thinkers of this school may most plausibly be misrepresented by those who differ from them. After expressing his sorrow that “a certain Teuton named Ekardus, doctor, ut fertur, sacrae paginae, has wished to know more than he should,” and has sown tares and thistles and other weeds in the field of the Church, the Pope specifies the following erroneous statements as appearing in Eckhart’s writings:–1. “God created the world as soon as God was. 2. In every work, bad as well as good, the glory of God is equally manifested. 3. A man who prays for any particular thing prays for an evil and prays ill, for he prays for the negation of good and the negation of God, and that God may be denied to him. 4. God is honoured in those who have renounced everything, even holiness and the kingdom of heaven. 5. We are transformed totally into God, even as in the Sacrament the bread is converted into the Body of Christ. Unum, non simile. 6. Whatever God the Father gave to His only-begotten Son in His human nature, He has given it all to me. 7. Whatever the Holy Scripture says about Christ is verified in every good and godlike man. 8. External action is not, properly speaking, good nor divine; God, properly speaking, only works in us internal actions. 9. God is one, in every way and according to every reason, so that it is not possible to find any plurality in Him, either in the intellect or outside it; for he who sees two, or sees any distinction, does not see God; for God is one, outside number and above number, for one cannot be put with anything else, but follows it; therefore in God Himself no distinction can be or be understood. 10. All the creatures are absolutely nothing: I say not that they are small or something, but that they are absolutely nothing.” All these statements are declared to have been found in his writings. It is also “objected against the said Ekardus” that he taught the following two articles in these words:–1. “There is something in the soul, which is uncreated and uncreatable: if the whole soul were such, it would be uncreated and uncreatable: and this is the intelligence. 2. God is not good or better or best: I speak ill when I call God good; it is as if I called white black.” The bull declares all the propositions above quoted to be heretical, with the exception of the three which I have numbered 8-10, and these “have an ill sound” and are “very rash,” even if they might be so supplemented and explained as to bear an orthodox sense.
This condemnation led to a long neglect of Eckhart’s writings. He was almost forgotten till Franz Pfeiffer in 1857 collected and edited his scattered treatises and endeavoured to distinguish those which were genuine from those which were spurious. Since Pfeiffer’s edition fresh discoveries have been made, notably in 1880, when Denifle found at Erfurt several important fragments in Latin, which in his opinion show a closer dependence on the scholastic theology, and particularly on St Thomas Aquinas, than Protestant scholars, such as Preger, had been willing to allow. But the attempt to prove Eckhart a mere scholastic is a failure; the audacities of his German discourses cannot be explained as an accommodation to the tastes of a peculiar audience. For good or evil Eckhart is an original and independent thinker, whose theology is confined by no trammels of authority.
Sect. 3. ECKHART’S RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY
The Godhead, according to Eckhart, is the universal and eternal Unity comprehending and transcending all diversity. “The Divine nature is Rest,” he says in one of the German discourses; and in the Latin fragments we find: “God rests in Himself, and makes all things rest in Him.” The three Persons of the Trinity, however, are not mere modes or accidents, but represent a real distinction within the Godhead. God is unchangeable, and at the same time an “everlasting process.” The creatures are “absolutely nothing”; but at the same time “God without them would not be God,” for God is love, and must objectify Himself; He is goodness, and must impart Himself. As the picture in the mind of the painter, as the poem in the mind of the poet, so was all creation in the mind of God from all eternity, in uncreated simplicity. The ideal world was not created in time; “the Father spake Himself and all the creatures in His Son”; “they exist in the eternal Now”–“a becoming without a becoming, change without change.” “The Word of God the Father is the substance of all that exists, the life of all that lives, the principle and cause of life.” Of creation he says: “We must not falsely imagine that God stood waiting for something to happen, that He might create the world. For so soon as He was God, so soon as He begat His coeternal and coequal Son, He created the world.” So Spinoza says: “God has always been before the creatures, without even existing before them. He precedes them not by an interval of time, but by a fixed eternity.” This is not the same as saying that the world of sense had no beginning; it is possible that Eckhart did not mean to go further than the orthodox scholastic mystic, Albertus Magnus, who says: “God created things from eternity, but the things were not created from eternity.” St Augustine (Conf. xi. 30) bids objectors to “understand that there can be no time without creatures, and cease to talk nonsense.” Eckhart also tries to distinguish between the “interior” and the “exterior” action of God. God, he says, is in all things, not as Nature, not as Person, but as Being. He is everywhere, undivided; yet the creatures participate in Him according to their measure. The three Persons of the Trinity have impressed their image upon the creatures, yet it is only their “nothingness” that keeps them separate creatures. Most of this comes from the Neoplatonists, and much of it through the pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, a Platonising Christian of the fifth century, whose writings were believed in the Middle Ages to proceed from St Paul’s Athenian convert. It would, however, be easy to find parallels in St Augustine’s writings to most of the phases quoted in this paragraph. The practical consequences will be considered presently.
The creatures are a way from God; they are also a way to Him. “In Christ,” he says, “all the creatures are one man, and that man is God.” Grace, which is a real self-unfolding of God in the soul, can make us “what God is by Nature”–one of Eckhart’s audacious phrases, which are not really so unorthodox as they sound. The following prayer, which appears in one of his discourses, may perhaps be defended as asking no more than our Lord prayed for (John xvii.) for His disciples, but it lays him open to the charge, which the Pope’s bull did not fail to urge against him, that he made the servant equal to his Lord. “Grant that I, by Thy grace, may be united to Thy Nature, as Thy Son is eternally one in Thy Nature, and that grace may become my nature.”
The ethical aim is to be rid of “creatureliness,” and so to be united to God. In Eckhart’s system, as in that of Plotinus, speculation is never divorced from ethics. On our side the process is a negative one. All our knowledge must be reduced to not-knowledge; our reason and will, as well as our lower faculties, must transcend themselves, must die to live. We must detach ourselves absolutely “even from God,” he says. This state of spiritual nudity he calls “poverty.” Then, when our house is empty of all else, God can dwell there: “He begets His Son in us.” This last phrase has always been a favourite with the mystics. St Paul uses very similar language, and the Epistle to Diognetus, written in the second century, speaks of Christ as, “being ever born anew in the hearts of the saints.” Very characteristic, too, is the doctrine that complete detachment from the creatures is the way to union with God. Jacob Bhme has arrived independently at the same conclusion as Eckhart. “The scholar said to his master: How may I come to the supersensual life, that I may see God and hear Him speak? The master said: When thou canst throw thyself but for a moment into that place where no creature dwelleth, then thou hearest what God speaketh. The scholar asked: Is that near or far off? The master replied: It is in thee, and if thou canst for a while cease from all thy thinking and willing, thou shalt hear unspeakable words of God. The scholar said: How can I hear, when I stand still from thinking and willing? The master answered: When thou standest still from the thinking and willing of self, the eternal hearing, seeing, and speaking will be revealed to thee, and so God heareth and seeth through thee.”
In St Thomas Aquinas it is “the will enlightened by reason” which unites us to God. But there are two sorts of reason. The passive reason is the faculty which rises through discursive thinking to knowledge. The active reason is a much higher faculty, which exists by participation in the divine mind, “as the air is light by participation in the sunshine.” When this active reason is regarded as the standard of moral action, it is called by Aquinas synteresis. Eckhart was at first content with this teaching of St Thomas, whom he always cites with great reverence; but the whole tendency of his thinking was to leave the unprofitable classification of faculties in which the Victorine School almost revelled, and to concentrate his attention on the union of the soul with God. And therefore in his more developed teaching, the “spark” which is the point of contact between the soul and its Maker is something higher than the faculties, being “uncreated.” He seems to waver about identifying the “spark” with the “active reason,” but inclines on the whole to regard it as something even higher still. “There is something in the soul,” he says, “which is so akin to God that it is one with Him and not merely united with Him.” And again: “There is a force in the soul; and not only a force, but something more, a being; and not only a being, but something more; it is so pure and high and noble in itself that no creature can come there, and God alone can dwelt there. Yea, verily, and even God cannot come there with a form; He can only come with His simple divine nature.” And in the startling passage often quoted against him, a passage which illustrates admirably his affinity to one side of Hegelianism, we read: “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which He sees me. Mine eye and God’s eye are one eye and one sight and one knowledge and one love.”
I do not defend these passages as orthodox; but before exclaiming “rank Pantheism!” we ought to recollect that for Eckhart the being of God is quite different from His personality. Eckhart never taught that the Persons of the Holy Trinity become, after the mystical Union, the “Form” of the human soul. It is the impersonal light of the divine nature which transforms our nature; human personality is neither lost nor converted into divine personality. Moreover, the divine spark at the centre of the soul is not the soul nor the personality. “The soul,” he says in one place, using a figure which recurs in the “Theologia Germanica,” “has two faces. One is turned towards this world and towards the body, the other towards God.” The complete dominion of the “spark” over the soul is an unrealised ideal.
The truth which he values is that, as Mr Upton has well expressed it, “there is a certain self-revelation of the eternal and infinite One to the finite soul, and therefore an indestructible basis for religious ideas and beliefs as distinguished from what is called scientific knowledge. . . . This immanent universal principle does not pertain to, and is not the property of any individual mind, but belongs to that uncreated and eternal nature of God which lies deeper than all those differences which separate individual minds from each other, and is indeed that incarnation of the Eternal, who though He is present in every finite thing, is still not broken up into individualities, but remains one and the same eternal substance, one and the same unifying principle, immanently and indivisibly present in every one of the countless plurality of finite individuals.” It might further be urged that neither God nor man can be understood in independence of each other. A recent writer on ethics, not too well disposed towards Christianity, is, I think, right in saying: “To the popular mind, which assumes God and man to be two different realities, each given in independence of the other, . . . the identification of man’s love of God with God’s love of Himself has always been a paradox and a stumbling-block. But it is not too much to say that until it has been seen to be no paradox, but a simple and fundamental truth, the masterpieces of the world’s religious literature must remain a sealed book to us.”
Eckhart certainly believed himself to have escaped the pitfall of Pantheism; but he often expressed himself in such an unguarded way that the charge may be brought against him with some show of reason.
Love, Eckhart teaches, is the principle of all virtues; it is God Himself. Next to it in dignity comes humility. The beauty of the soul, he says in the true Platonic vein, is to be well ordered, with the higher faculties above the lower, each in its proper place. The will should be supreme over the understanding, the understanding over the senses. Whatever we will earnestly, that we have, and no one can hinder us from attaining that detachment from the creatures in which our blessedness consists.
Evil, from the highest standpoint, is only a means for realising the eternal aim of God in creation; all will ultimately be overruled for good. Nevertheless, we can frustrate the good will of God towards us, and it is this, and not the thought of any insult against Himself, that makes God grieve for our sins. It would not be worth while to give any more quotations on this subject, for Eckhart is not more successful than other philosophers in propounding a consistent and intelligible theory of the place of evil in the universe.
Eckhart is well aware of the two chief pitfalls into which the mystic is liable to fall–dreamy inactivity and Antinomianism. The sects of the Free Spirit seem to have afforded a good object-lesson in both these errors, as some of the Gnostic sects did in the second century. Eckhart’s teaching here is sound and good. Freedom from law, he says, belongs only to the “spark,” not to the faculties of the soul, and no man can live always on the highest plane. Contemplation is, in a sense, a means to activity; works of charity are its proper fruit. “If a man were in an ecstasy like that of St Paul, when he was caught up into the third heaven, and knew of a poor man who needed his help, he ought to leave his ecstasy and help the needy.” Suso tells us how God punished him for disregarding this duty. True contemplation considers Reality (or Being) in its manifestations as well as in its origin. If this is remembered, there need be no conflict between social morality and the inner life. Eckhart recognises that it is a harder and a nobler task to preserve detachment in a crowd than in a cell; the little daily sacrifices of family life are often a greater trial than self-imposed mortifications. “We need not destroy any little good in ourselves for the sake of a better, but we should strive to grasp every truth in its highest meaning, for no one good contradicts another.” “Love God, and do as you like, say the Free Spirits. Yes; but as long as you like anything contrary to God’s will, you do not love Him.”
There is much more of the same kind in Eckhart’s sermons–as good and sensible doctrine as one could find anywhere. But what was the practical effect of his teaching as a whole? It is generally the case that the really weak points of any religious movement are exposed with a cruel logicality most exasperating to the leaders by the second generation of its adherents. The dangerous side of the Eckhartian mysticism is painfully exhibited in the life of his spiritual daughter, “Schwester Katrei,” the saint of the later Beguines. Katrei is a rather shadowy person; but for our present purpose it does not much matter whether the story of her life has been embroidered or not. Her memory was revered for such sayings and doings as these which follow. On one occasion she exclaimed: “Congratulate me; I have become God!” and on another she declared that “not even the desire of heaven should tempt a good man towards activity.” It was her ambition to forget who were her parents, to be indifferent whether she received absolution and partook of the Holy Communion or not; and she finally realised her ambition by falling into a cataleptic state in which she was supposed to be dead, and was carried out for burial. Her confessor, perceiving that she was not really dead, awoke her: “Art thou satisfied?” “I am satisfied at last,” said Katrei: she was now “dead all through,” as she wished to be.
Are we to conclude that the logical outcome of mysticism is this strange reproduction, in Teutonic Europe, of Indian Yogism? Many who have studied the subject have satisfied themselves that Schwester Katrei is the truly consistent mystic. They have come to the conclusion that the real attraction of mysticism is a pining for deliverance from this fretful, anxious, exacting, individual life, and a yearning for absorption into the great Abyss where all distinctions are merged in the Infinite. According to this view, mysticism in its purest form should be studied in the ancient religious literature of India, which teaches us how all this world of colour and diversity, of sharp outlines and conflicting forces, may be lost and swallowed up in the “white radiance,” or black darkness (it does not really matter which we call it) of an empty Infinite.
The present writer is convinced that this is not the truth about mysticism. Eckhart may have encouraged Schwester Katrei in her attempt to substitute the living death of the blank trance for the dying life of Christian charity; but none the less she caricatured and stultified his teaching. And I think it is possible to lay our finger on the place where she and so many others went wrong. The aspiration of mysticism is to find the unity which underlies all diversity, or, in religious language, to see God face to face. From the Many to the One is always the path of the mystic. Plotinus, the father of all mystical philosophy in Europe (unless, as he himself would have wished, we give that honour to Plato), mapped out the upward road as follows:–At the bottom of the hill is the sphere of the “merely many”–of material objects viewed in disconnection, dull, and spiritless. This is a world which has no real existence; it may best be called “not-being” (“ein lauteres Nichts,” as Eckhart says), and as the indeterminate, it can only be apprehended by a corresponding indeterminateness in the soul. The soul, however, always adds some form and determination to the abstract formlessness of the “merely many.” Next, we rise to, or project for ourselves, the world of “the one and the many.” This is the sphere in which our consciousness normally moves. We are conscious of an overruling Mind, but the creatures still seem external to and partially independent of it. Such is the temporal order as we know it. Above this is the intelligible world, the eternal order, “the one-many,” das ewige Nu, the world in which God’s will is done perfectly and all reflects the divine mind. Highest of all is “the One,” the, Absolute, the Godhead, of whom nothing can be predicated, because He is above all distinctions. This Neoplatonic Absolute is the Godhead of whom Eckhart says: “God never looked upon deed,” and of whom Angelus Silesius sings:
“Und sieh, er ist nicht Wille,
Er ist ein’ ewige Stille.”
Plotinus taught that the One, being superessential, can only be apprehended in ecstasy, when thought, which still distinguishes itself from its object, is transcended, and knower and known become one. As Tennyson’s Ancient Sage says:
“If thou would’st hear the Nameless, and descend Into the Temple-cave of thine own self, There, brooding by the central altar, thou May’st haply learn the Nameless hath a voice, By which thou wilt abide, if thou be wise; For knowledge is the swallow on the lake, That sees and stirs the surface-shadow there But never yet hath dipt into the Abysm.”
In the same way Eckhart taught that no creature can apprehend the Godhead, and, therefore, that the spark in the centre of the soul (this doctrine, too, is found in Plotinus) must be verily divine. The logic of the theory is inexorable. If only like can know like, we cannot know God except by a faculty which is itself divine. The real question is whether God, as an object of knowledge and worship for finite beings, is the absolute Godhead, who transcends all distinctions. The mediaeval mystics held that this “flight of the alone to the alone,” as Plotinus calls it, is possible to men, and that in it consists our highest blessedness. They were attracted towards this view by several influences. First, there was the tradition of Dionysius, to whom (e.g.) the author of the “Theologia Germanica” appeals as an authority for the possibility of “beholding the hidden things of God by utter abandonment of thyself, and of entering into union with Him who is above all existence, and all knowledge.” Secondly, there was what a modern writer has called “the attraction of the Abyss,” the longing which some persons feel very strongly to merge their individuality in a larger and better whole, to get rid not only of selfishness but of self for ever. “Leave nothing of myself in me,” is Crashaw’s prayer in his wonderful poem on St Teresa. Thirdly, we may mention the awe and respect long paid to ecstatic trances, the pathological nature of which was not understood. The blank trance was a real experience; and as it could be induced by a long course of ascetical exercises and fervid devotions, it was naturally regarded as the crowning reward of sanctity on earth. Nor would it be at all safe to reject the evidence, which is very copious, that the “dreamy state” may issue in permanent spiritual gain. The methodical cultivation of it, which is at the bottom of most of the strange austerities of the ascetics, was not only (though it was partly) practised in the hope of enjoying those spiritual raptures which are described as being far more intense than any pleasures of sense: it was the hope of stirring to its depths the subconscious mind and permeating the whole with the hidden energy of the divine Spirit that led to the desire for visions and trances. Lastly, I think we must give a place to the intellectual attraction of an uncompromising monistic theory of the universe. Spiritualistic monism, when it is consistent with itself, will always lean to semi-pantheistic mysticism rather than to such a compromise with pluralism as Lotze and his numerous followers in this country imagine to be possible.
But it is possible to go a long way with the mystics and yet to maintain that under no conditions whatever can a finite being escape from the limitations of his finitude and see God or the world or himself “with the same eye with which God sees” all things. The old Hebrew belief, that to see the face of God is death, expresses the truth under a mythical form. That the human mind, while still “in the body pent,” may obtain glimpses of the eternal order, and enjoy foretastes of the bliss of heaven, is a belief which I, at least, see no reason to reject. It involves no rash presumption, and is not contrary to what may be readily believed about the state of immortal spirits passing through a mortal life. But the explanation of the blank trance as a temporary transit into the Absolute must be set down as a pure delusion. It involves a conception of the divine “Rest” which in his best moments Eckhart himself repudiates. “The Rest of the Godhead,” he says, “is not in that He is the source of being, but in that He is the consummation of all being.” This profound saying expresses the truth, which he seems often to forget, that the world-process must have a real value in God’s sight–that it is not a mere polarisation of the white radiance of eternity broken up by the imperfection of our vision. Whatever theories we may hold about Absolute Being, or an Absolute that is above Being, we must make room for the Will, and for Time, which is the “form” of the will, and for the creatures who inhabit time and space, as having for us the value of reality. Nor shall we, if we are to escape scepticism, be willing to admit that these appearances have no sure relation to ultimate reality. We must not try to uncreate the world in order to find God. We were created out of nothing, but we cannot return to nothing, to find our Creator there. The still, small voice is best listened for amid the discordant harmony of life and death.
The search for God is no exception to the mysterious law of human nature, that we cannot get anything worth having–neither holiness nor happiness nor wisdom–by trying for it directly. It must be given us through something else. The recluse who lives like Parnell’s “Hermit”:
“Prayer all his business, all his pleasure praise,”
is not only a poor sort of saint, but he will offer a poor sort of prayers and praises. He will miss real holiness for the same reason that makes the pleasure-seeker miss real happiness. We must lose ourselves in some worthy interest in order to find again both a better self and an object higher than that which we sought. This the German mystics in a sense knew well. There is a noble sentence of Suso to the effect that “he who realises the inward in the outward, to him the inward becomes more inward than to him who only recognises the inward in the inward.” Moreover, the recognition that “God manifests Himself and worketh more in one creature than another” (“Theologia Germanica”), involves a denial of the nihilistic view that all the creatures are “ein lauteres Nichts.” It would be easy to find such passages in all the fourteenth-century mystics, but it cannot be denied that on the whole their religion is too self-centred. There are not many maxims so fundamentally wrong-headed and un-Christian as Suso’s advice to “live as if you were the only person in the world.” The life of the cloistered saint may be abundantly justified–for the spiritual activity of some of them has been of far greater service to mankind than the fussy benevolence of many “practical” busybodies–but the idea of social service, whether in the school of Martha or of Mary, ought surely never to be absent. The image of Christ as the Lover of the individual soul rather than as the Bridegroom of the Church was too dear to these lonely men and women. Unconsciously, they looked to their personal devotions to compensate them for the human loves which they had forsworn. The raptures of Divine Love, which they regarded as signal favours bestowed upon them, were not very wholesome in themselves, and diverted their thoughts from the needs of their fellow-men. They also led to most painful reactions, in which the poor contemplative believed himself abandoned by God and became a pray to terrible depression and melancholy. These fits of wretchedness came indeed to be recognised as God’s punishment for selfishness in devotion and for too great desire for the sweetness of communing with God, and so arose the doctrine of “disinterested love,” which was more and more emphasised in the later mysticism, especially by the French Quietists.
I have spoken quite candidly of the defects of Eckhart’s mystical Christianity. As a religious philosophy it does not keep clear of the fallacy that an ascent though the unreal can lead to reality. “To suppose, as the mystic does, that the finite search has of itself no Being at all, is illusory, is Maya, is itself nothing, this is also to deprive the Absolute of even its poor value as a contrasting goal. For a goal that is a goal of no real process has as little value as it has content.” But, as Prof. Royce says, mysticism furnishes us with the means of correcting itself. It supplies an obvious reductio ad absurdum of the theory with which it set out, that “Immediacy is the one test of reality,” and is itself forced to give the world of diversity a real value as manifesting in different degrees the nature of God. Those who are acquainted with the sacred books of the East will recognise that here is the decisive departure from real Pantheism. And it may be fairly claimed for the German mystics that though their speculative teaching sometimes seems to echo too ominously the apathetic detachment of the Indian sage, their lives and example, and their practical exhortations, preached a truer and a larger philosophy. Eckhart, as we have seen, was a busy preacher as well as a keen student, and some of the younger members of his school were even more occupied in pastoral work. If the tree is to be judged by its fruits, mysticism can give a very good account of itself to the Marthas as well as the Marys of this world.
Sect. 4. THE GERMAN MYSTICS AS GUIDES TO HOLINESS
THIS little volume is a contribution to a “Library of Devotion,” and in the body of the work the reader will be seldom troubled by any abstruse philosophising. I have thought it necessary to give, in this Introduction, a short account of Eckhart’s system, but the extracts which follow are taken mainly from his successors, in whom the speculative tendency is weaker and less original, while the religious element is stronger and more attractive. It is, after all, as guides to holiness that these mystics are chiefly important to us. This side of their life’s work can never be out of date, for the deeper currents of human nature change but little; the language of the heart is readily understood everywhere and at all times. The differences between Catholic and Protestant are hardly felt in the keen air of these high summits. It was Luther himself who discovered the “Theologia Germanica” and said of it that, “next to the Bible and St Augustine, no book hath ever come into my hands whence I have learnt or would wish to learn more of what God and Christ and man and all things are. I thank God that I have heard and found my God in the German tongue, as I have not yet found Him in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew.” The theology of these mystics takes us straight back to the Johannine doctrine of Christ as the all-pervading Word of God, by whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together. He is not far from any one of us if we will but seek Him where He is to be found–in the innermost sanctuary of our personal life. In personal religion this means that no part of revelation is to be regarded as past, isolated, or external. “We should mark and know of a very truth,” says the author of the “Theologia Germanica,” “that all manner of virtue and goodness, and even the eternal Good which is God Himself, can never make a man virtuous, good, or happy, so long as it is outside the soul.” In the same spirit Jacob Bhme, 250 years later, says: “If the sacrifice of Christ is to avail for me, it must be wrought in me.” Or, as his English admirer, William Law, puts it: “Christ given for us is neither more nor less than Christ given into us. He is in no other sense our full, perfect, and sufficient Atonement than as His nature and spirit are born and formed in us.” The whole process of redemption must in a sense be reenacted in the inner life of every Christian. And as Christ emptied Himself for our sakes, so must we empty ourselves of all self-seeking. “When the creature claimeth for its own anything good, such as life, knowledge, or power, and in short whatever we commonly call good, as if it were that, or possessed that–it goeth astray.” Sin is nothing else but self-assertion, self-will. “Be assured,” says the “Theologia Germanica,” “that he who helpeth a man to his own will, helpeth him to the worst that he can.” He, therefore, who is “simply and wholly bereft of self” is delivered from sin, and God alone reigns in his inmost soul. Concerning the highest part or faculty of the soul, the author of this little treatise follows Eckhart, but cautiously. “The True Light,” he says, “is that eternal Light which is God; or else it is a created light, but yet Divine, which is called grace.” In either case, “where God dwells in a godly man, in such a man somewhat appertaineth to God which is His own, and belongs to Him only and not to the creature.” This doctrine of divine immanence, for which there is ample warrant in the New Testament, is the real kernel of German mysticism. It is a doctrine which, when rightly used, may make this world a foretaste of heaven, but alas! the “False Light” is always trying to counterfeit the true. In the imitation of the suffering life of Christ lies the only means of escaping the deceptions of the Evil One. “The False Light dreameth itself to be God, and sinless”; but “none is without sin; if any is without consciousness of sin, he must be either Christ or the Evil Spirit.”
Very characteristic is the teaching of all these writers about rewards and punishments. Without in any way impugning the Church doctrine of future retribution, they yet agree with Benjamin Whichcote, the Cambridge Platonist, that “heaven is first a temper, then a place”; while of hell there is much to recall the noble sentence of Juliana of Norwich, the fourteenth-century visionary, “to me was showed no harder hell than sin.” “Nothing burneth in hell but self-will,” is a saying in the “Theologia Germanica.” They insist that the difference between heaven and hell is not that one is a place of enjoyment, the other of torment; it is that in the one we are with Christ, in the other without Him. “The Christlike life is not chosen,” to quote the “Theologia Germanica” once more, “in order to serve any end, or to get anything by it, but for love of its nobleness, and because God loveth and esteemeth it so highly. He who doth not take it up for love, hath none of it at all; he may dream indeed that he hath put it on, but he is deceived. Christ did not lead such a life as this for the sake of reward, but out of love, and love maketh such a life light, and taketh away all its hardships, so that it becometh sweet and is gladly endured.” The truly religious man is always more concerned about what God will do in him than what He will do to him; in his intense desire for the purification of his motives he almost wishes that heaven and hell were blotted out, that he might serve God for Himself alone.
Sect. 5. WRITERS OF THE SCHOOL OF ECKHART–TAULER
Such are the main characteristics of the religious teachings which we find in the German mystics. Among the successors of Eckhart, from whose writings the following extracts are taken, the most notable names are those of Tauler, Suso, and Ruysbroek. From Tauler I have taken very little, because a volume of selections from his sermons has already appeared in this series. Accordingly, it will only be necessary to mention a very few facts about his life.
John Tauler was born at Strassburg about 1300, and studied at the Dominican convents of Strassburg and Cologne. At both places he doubtless heard the sermons of Eckhart. In 1329 the great interdict began at Strassburg, and was stoutly resisted by many of the clergy. It is a disputed point whether Tauler himself obeyed the Papal decree or not. His uneventful life, which was devoted to study, preaching, and pastoral work, came to an end in 1361. Like Eckhart, he had a favourite “spiritual daughter,” Margaret Ebner, who won a great reputation as a visionary.
Sect. 6. SUSO
Henry Suso was born in 1295 and died in 1365. His autobiography was published not long before his death. He is the poet of the band. The romance of saintship is depicted by him with a strange vividness which alternately attracts and repels, or even disgusts, the modern reader. The whole-hearted devotion of the “Servitor” to the “Divine Wisdom,” the tender beauty of the visions and conversations, and the occasional naveté of the narrative, which shows that the saint remained very human throughout, make Suso’s books delightful reading; but the accounts of the horrible macerations to which he subjected himself for many years shock our moral sense almost as much as our sensibilities; we do not now believe that God takes pleasure in sufferings inflicted in His honour. Moreover, the erotic symbolism of the visions is occasionally unpleasant: we are no longer in the company of such sane and healthy people as Eckhart and Tauler. The half-sensuous pleasure of ecstasy was evidently a temptation to Suso, and the violent alternations of rapture and misery which he experienced suggest a neurotic and ill-balanced temperament.
On this subject–the pathological side of mysticism–a few remarks will not be out of place, for there has been much discussion of it lately. A great deal of nonsense has been written on the connexion between religion and neuroticism. To quote Professor James’ vigorous protest, “medical materialism finishes up St Paul by calling his vision on the road to Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipital cortex, he being an epileptic. It snuffs out St Teresa as an hysteric, St Francis of Assisi as an hereditary degenerate. George Fox’s discontent with the shams of his age, and his pining for spiritual veracity, it treats as a symptom of a disordered colon. Carlyle’s organ-tones of misery it accounts for by a gastro-duodenal catarrh. All such mental over-tensions, it says, are, when you come to the bottom of the matter, mere affairs of diathesis (auto-intoxications most probably), due to the perverted action of various glands which physiology will yet discover.” Now, even if it were true that most religious geniuses, like most other geniuses, have been “psychopaths” of one kind or another, this fact in no way disposes of the value of their intuitions and experiences. Nearly all the great benefactors of humanity have been persons of one-sided, and therefore ill-balanced, characters. Even Maudsley admits that “Nature may find an incomplete mind a more suitable instrument for a particular purpose. It is the work that is done, and the quality in the worker by which it is done, that is alone of moment; and it may be no great matter from a cosmical standpoint, if in other qualities of character he (the genius) was singularly defective.” Except in the character of our Lord Himself, there are visible imperfections in the record of every great saint; but that is no reason for allowing such traces of human infirmity to discredit what is pure and good in their work. More particularly, it would be a great pity to let our minds dwell on the favourite materialistic theory that saintliness, especially as cultivated and venerated by Catholicism, has its basis in “perverted sexuality.” There is enough plausibility in the theory to make it mischievous. The allegorical interpretation of the Book of Canticles was in truth the source of, or at least the model for, a vast amount of unwholesome and repulsive pietism. Not a word need be said for such a paltry narrative of endearments and sickly compliments as the “Revelations of the Nun Gertrude,” in the thirteenth century. Nor are we concerned to deny that the artificially induced ecstasy, which is desired on account of the intense pleasure which is said to accompany it, nearly always contains elements the recognition of which would shock and distress the contemplatives themselves. There are, however, other elements, of a less insidious kind, which make the ecstatic trance seem desirable. These are, according to Professor Leuba, the calming of the restless intellect by the concentration of the mind on one object; the longing for a support and comfort more perfect than man can give; and, thirdly, the consecration and strengthening of the will, which is often a permanent effect of the trance. These are legitimate objects of desire, and in many of the mystics they are much more prominent than any tendencies which might be considered morbid. As regards the larger question, about the alleged pathological character of all distinctively religious exaltation, I believe that no greater mistake could be made than to suppose that the religious life flourishes best in unnatural circumstances. Religion, from a biological standpoint, I take to be the expression of the racial will to live; its function (from this point of view) is the preservation and development of humanity on the highest possible level. If this is true, a simple, healthy, natural life must be the most favourable for religious excellence–and this I believe to be the case. Poor Suso certainly did not lead a healthy or natural life. But in his case, though the suppressed natural instincts obviously overflow into the religious consciousness and in part determine the forms which his devotion assumes, we can never forget that we are in the company of a poet and a saint who will lift us, if we can follow him, into a very high region of the spiritual life, an altitude which he has himself climbed with bleeding feet.
The simple confidence which at the end of the dialogue he expresses in the value of his work is, I think, amply justified. “Whoever will read these writings of mine in a right spirit, can hardly fail to be stirred to the depths of his soul, either to fervent love, or to new light, or to hunger and thirst for God, or to hatred and loathing for his sins, or to that spiritual aspiration by which the soul is renewed in grace.”
Sect. 7. RUYSBROEK
[Note: the Ruysbroek selection has not been reproduced in this electronic edition. An electronic text of a larger collection of Ruysbroek’s works may be available.]
Sect. 8. THEOLOGIA GERMANICA
The “Theologia Germanica,” an isolated treatise of no great length by an unknown author, was written towards the end of the fourteenth century by one of the Gottesfreunde, a widespread association of pious souls in Germany. He is said to have been “a priest and warden of the house of the Teutonic Order at Frankfort.” His book is both the latest and one of the most important productions of the German mystical school founded by Eckhart. The author is a deeply religious philosopher, as much interested in speculative mysticism as Eckhart himself, but as thoroughly penetrated with devout feeling as Thomas Kempis. The treatise should be read by all, as one of the very best devotional works in any language. My only reason for not translating it in full here is that a good English translation already exists, so that it seemed unnecessary to offer a new one to the public. I have therefore only translated a few characteristic passages, which are very far from exhausting its beauties, and a few of the more striking aphorisms, which indicate the main points in the religious philosophy of the writer.
Sect. 9. MODERN MYSTICISM
The revival of interest in the old mystical writers is not surprising when we consider the whole trend of modern thought. Among recent philosophers–though Lotze, perhaps the greatest name among them, is unsympathetic, in consequence of his over-rigid theory of personality–the great psychologist Fechner, whose religious philosophy is not so well known in this country as it deserves to be, has with some justice been called a mystic. And our own greatest living metaphysician, Mr F.H. Bradley, has expounded the dialectic of speculative mysticism with unequalled power, though with a bias against Christianity. Another significant fact is the great popularity, all over Europe, of Maeterlinck’s mystical works, “Le Trésor des Humbles,” “La Sagesse et la Destinée,” and “Le Temple Enseveli.”
The growing science of psychology has begun to turn its attention seriously to the study of the religious faculty. Several able men have set themselves to collect material which may form the basis of an inductive science. Personal experiences, communicated by many persons of both sexes and of various ages, occupations, and levels of culture, have been brought together and tabulated. It is claimed that important facts have already been established, particularly in connexion with the phenomena of conversion, by this method. The results have certainly been more than enough to justify confidence in the soundness of the method, and hope that the new science may have a great future before it. Towards mysticism, recent writers on the psychology of religion have been less favourable than the pure metaphysicians. While the latter have shown a tendency towards Pantheism and Determinism, which makes them sympathise with the general trend of speculative mysticism, psychology seems just at present to lean towards a pluralistic metaphysic and a belief in free-will or even in chance. This attitude is especially noticeable in the now famous Gifford Lectures of Professor William James and in the recent volume of essays written at Oxford. But even if the rising tide of neo-Kantianism should cause the speculative mystics to be regarded with disfavour, nothing can prevent the religion of the twentieth century from being mystical in type. The strongest wish of a vast number of earnest men and women to-day is for a basis of religious belief which shall rest, not upon tradition or external authority or historical evidence, but upon the ascertainable facts of human experience. The craving for immediacy, which we have seen to be characteristic of all mysticism, now takes the form of a desire to establish the validity of the God-consciousness as a normal part of the healthy inner life. We may perhaps venture to predict that the Christian biologist of the future will turn the Pauline Christology into his own dialect somewhat after the following fashion:–“The function of religion in the human race is closely analogous to, if not identical with, that of instinct in the lower animals. Religion is the racial will to live; not, however, to live anyhow and at all costs, but to live as human beings, conforming as far as possible to the highest type of humanity. Religion, therefore, acts as a higher instinct, inhibiting all self-destroying and race-destroying impulses in the interest of a larger self than the individual life.” To turn this statement into theological form it is only necessary to claim that the “perfect man” which the religious instinct is trying to form is “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,” that that perfect humanity was once realised in the historical Christ, and that the higher instinct within us–ourselves, yet not ourselves–which makes for life and righteousness, and is the source of all the good that we can think, say, or do, may (in virtue of that historical incarnation) be justly called the indwelling Christ. This is all that the Christian mystic needs.
Sect. 10. SPECIMENS OF MODERN MYSTICISM
I conclude this introductory essay with a few extracts from recent American books on the psychology of religion. It is interesting to find some of the strangest experiences of the cloister reproduced under the very different conditions of modern American life. The quotations will serve to show how far Tauler and the “Theologia Germanica” are from being out of date.
“The thing which impressed me most” (says a correspondent of Professor William James) “was learning the fact that we must be in absolutely constant relation or mental touch with that essence of life which permeates all and which we call God. This is almost unrecognisable unless we live into it ourselves actually–that is, by a constant turning to the very innermost, deepest consciousness of our real selves or of God in us, for illumination from within, just as we turn to the sun for light, warmth, and invigoration without. When you do this consciously, realising that to turn inward to the light within you is to live in the presence of God or of your Divine self, you soon discover the unreality of the objects to which you have hitherto been turning and which have engrossed you without.”
The next quotation comes from a small book by one of the “New Thought” or “Mind Cure” school in America. The enormous sale of the volume testifies to the popularity of the teaching which it contains.
“Intuition is an inner spiritual sense through which man is opened to the direct revelation and knowledge of God, the secret of nature and life, and through which he is brought into conscious unity and fellowship with God, and made to realise his own deific nature and supremacy of being as the son of God. Spiritual supremacy and illumination thus realised through the development and perfection of intuition under divine inspiration gives the perfect inner vision and direct insight into the character, properties, and purpose of all things to which the attention and interest are directed. It is, we repeat, a spiritual sense opening inwardly, as the physical senses open outwardly; and because it has the capacity to perceive, grasp, and know the truth at first hand, independent of all external sources of information, we call it intuition. All inspired teaching and spiritual revelations are based upon the recognition of this spiritual faculty of the soul and its power to receive and appropriate them. Conscious unity of man in spirit and purpose with the Father, born out of his supreme desire and trust, opens his soul through this inner sense to immediate aspiration and enlightenment from the divine omniscience, and the co-operative energy of the divine omnipotence, under which he becomes a seer and a master. On this higher plane of realised spiritual life in the flesh the mind acts with unfettered freedom and unbiassed vision, grasping truth at first hand, independent of all external sources of information. Approaching all beings and things from the divine side, they are seen in the light of the divine omniscience. God’s purpose in them, and so the truth concerning them, as it rests in the mind of God, are thus revealed by direct illumination from the divine mind, to which the soul is opened inwardly through this spiritual sense we call intuition.”
The practice of meditation “without images,” as the mediaeval mystics called it, is specially recommended. “Many will receive great help, and many will be entirely healed by a practice somewhat after the following nature:–With a mind at peace, and with a heart going out in love to all, go into the quiet of your own interior self, holding the thought, I am one with the Infinite Spirit of Life, the life of my life. I now open my body, in which disease has gotten a foothold, I open it fully to the inflowing tide of this infinite life, and it now, even now, is pouring in and coursing through my body, and the healing process is going on.” “If you would find the highest, the fullest, and the richest life that not only this world but that any world can know, then do away with the sense of the separateness of your life from the life of God. Hold to the thought of your oneness. In the degree that you do this, you will find yourself realising it more and more, and as this life of realisation is lived, you will find that no good thing will be withheld, for all things are included in this.”
This modern mysticism is very much entangled with theories about the cure of bodily disease by suggestion; and it is fair to warn those who are unacquainted with the books of this sect that they will find much fantastic superstition mixed with a stimulating faith in the inner light as the voice of God.
But whatever may be the course of this particular movement there can be no doubt that the Americans, like ourselves, are only at the beginning of a great revival of mystical religion. The movement will probably follow the same course as the mediaeval movement in Germany, with which this little book is concerned. It will have its philosophical supportees, who will press their speculation to the verge of Pantheism, perhaps reviving the Logos-cosmology of the Christian Alexandrians under the form of the pan-psychism of Lotze and Fechner. It will have its evangelists like Tauler, who will carry to our crowded town populations the glad tidings that the kingdom of God is not here or there, but within the hearts of all who will seek for it within them. It will assuredly attract some to a life of solitary contemplation; while others, intellectually weaker or less serious, will follow the various theosophical and theurgical delusions which, from the days of Iamblichus downward, have dogged the heels of mysticism. For the “False Light” against which the “Theologia Germanica” warns us is as dangerous as ever; we may even live to see some new “Brethren of the Free Spirit” turning their liberty into a cloak of licentiousness. If so, the world will soon whistle back the disciplinarian with his traditions of the elders; prophesying will once more be suppressed and discredited, and a new crystallising process will begin. But before that time comes some changes may possibly take place in the external proportions of Christian orthodoxy. The appearance of a vigorous body of faith, standing firmly on its own feet, may even have the effect of relegating to the sphere of pious opinion some tenets which have hitherto “seemed to be pillars.”
For these periodical returns to the “fresh springs” of religion never leave the tradition exactly where it was before. The German movement of the fourteenth century made the Reformation inevitable, and our own age may be inaugurating a change no less momentous, which will restore in the twentieth century some of the features of Apostolic Christianity.
LIGHT, LIFE AND LOVE
GOD is nameless, for no man can either say or understand aught about Him. If I say, God is good, it is not true; nay more; I am good, God is not good. I may even say, I am better than God; for whatever is good, may become better, and whatever may become better, may become best. Now God is not good, for He cannot become better. And if He cannot become better, He cannot become best, for these three things, good, better, and best, are far from God, since He is above all. If I also say, God is wise, it is not true; I am wiser than He. If I also say, God is a Being, it is not true; He is transcendent Being and superessential Nothingness. Concerning this St Augustine says: the best thing that man can say about God is to be able to be silent about Him, from the wisdom of his inner judgement. Therefore be silent and prate not about God, for whenever thou dost prate about God, thou liest, and committest sin. If thou wilt be without sin, prate not about God. Thou canst understand nought about God, for He is above all understanding. A master saith: If I had a God whom I could understand, I would never hold Him to be God. (318)
God is not only a Father of all good things, as being their First Cause and Creator, but He is also their Mother, since He remains with the creatures which have from Him their being and existence, and maintains them continually in their being. If God did not abide with and in the creatures, they must necessarily have fallen back, so soon as they were created, into the nothingness out of which they were created. (610)
REST ONLY IN GOD
IF I had everything that I could desire, and my finger ached, I should not have everything, for I should have a pain in my finger, and so long as that remained, I should not enjoy full comfort. Bread is comfortable for men, when they are hungry; but when they are thirsty, they find no more comfort in bread than in a stone. So it is with clothes, they are welcome to men, when they are cold; but when they are too hot, clothes give them no comfort. And so it is with all the creatures. The comfort which they promise is only on the surface, like froth, and it always carries with it a want. But God’s comfort is clear and has nothing wanting: it is full and complete, and God is constrained to give it thee, for He cannot cease till He have given thee Himself. (300)
It is only in God that are collected and united all the perfections, which in the creatures are sundered and divided. (324)
Yet all the fulness of the creatures can as little express God, as a drop of water can express the sea. (173)
GOD IS ALWAYS READY
NO one ought to think that it is difficult to come to Him, though it sounds difficult and is really difficult at the beginning, and in separating oneself from and dying to all things. But when a man has once entered upon it, no life is lighter or happier or more desirable; for God is very zealous to be at all times with man, and teaches him that He will bring him to Himself if man will but follow. Man never desires anything so earnestly as God desires to bring a man to Himself, that he may know Him. God is always ready, but we are very unready; God is near to us, but we are far from Him; God is within, but we are without; God is at home, but we are strangers. The prophet saith: God guideth the redeemed through a narrow way into the broad road, so that they come into the wide and broad place; that is to say, into true freedom of the spirit, when one has become a spirit with God. May God help us to follow this course, that He may bring us to Himself. Amen. (223)
THE masters say: That is young, which is near its beginning. Intelligence is the youngest faculty in man: the first thing to break out from the soul is intelligence, the next is will, the other faculties follow. Now he saith: Young man, I say unto thee, arise. The soul in itself is a simple work; what God works in the simple light of the soul is more beautiful and more delightful than all the other works which He works in all creatures. But foolish people take evil for good and good for evil. But to him who rightly understands, the one work which God works in the soul is better and nobler and higher than all the world. Through that light comes grace. Grace never comes in the intelligence or in the will. If it could come in the intelligence or in the will, the intelligence and the will would have to transcend themselves. On this a master says: There is something secret about it; and thereby he means the spark of the soul, which alone can apprehend God. The true union between God and the soul takes place in the little spark, which is called the spirit of the soul. Grace unites not to any work. It is an indwelling and a living together of the soul in God. (255)
Every gift of God makes the soul ready to receive a new gift, greater than itself. (15)
Yea, since God has never given any gift, in order that man might rest in the possession of the gift, but gives every gift that He has given in heaven and on earth, in order that He might be able to give one gift, which is Himself, so with this gift of grace, and with all His gifts He will make us ready for the one gift, which is Himself. (569)
No man is so boorish or stupid or awkward, that he cannot, by God’s grace, unite his will wholly and entirely with God’s will. And nothing more is necessary than that he should say with earnest longing: O Lord, show me Thy dearest will, and strengthen me to do it. And God does it, as sure as He lives, and gives him grace in ever richer fulness, till he comes to perfection, as He gave to the woman at Jacob’s well. Look you, the most ignorant and the lowest of you all can obtain this from God, before he leaves this church, yea, before I finish this sermon, as sure as God lives and I am a man. (187)
O almighty and merciful Creator and good Lord, be merciful to me for my poor sins, and help me that I may overcome all temptations and shameful lusts, and may be able to avoid utterly, in thought and deed, what Thou forbiddest, and give me grace to do and to hold all that Thou hast commanded. Help me to believe, to hope, and to love, and in every way to live as Thou willest, as much as Thou willest, and what Thou willest. (415)
THEN is the will perfect, when it has gone out of itself, and is formed in the will of God. The more this is so, the more perfect and true is the will, and in such a will thou canst do all things. (553)
SURRENDER OF THE WILL
YOU should know, that that which God gives to those men who seek to do His will with all their might, is the best. Of this thou mayest be as sure, as thou art sure that God lives, that the very best must necessarily be, and that in no other way could anything better happen. Even if something else seems better, it would not be so good for thee, for God wills this and not another way, and this way must be the best for thee. Whether it be sickness or poverty or hunger or thirst, or whatever it be, that God hangs over thee or does not hang over thee–whatever God gives or gives not, that is all what is best for thee; whether it be devotion or inwardness, or the lack of these which grieves thee–only set thyself right in this, that thou desirest the glory of God in all things, and then whatever He does to thee, that is the best.
Now thou mayest perchance say: How can I tell whether it is the will of God or not? If it were not the will of God, it would not happen. Thou couldst have neither sickness nor anything else unless God willed it. But know that it is God’s will that thou shouldst have so much pleasure and satisfaction therein, that thou shouldst feel no pain as pain; thou shouldst take it from God as the very best thing, for it must of necessity be the very best thing for thee. Therefore I may even wish for it and desire it, and nothing would become me better than so to do.
If there were a man whom I were particularly anxious to please, and if I knew for certain that he liked me better in a grey cloak than in any other, there is no doubt that however good another cloak might be, I should be fonder of the grey than of all the rest. And if there were anyone whom I would gladly please, I should do nothing else in word or deed than what I knew that he liked.
Ah, now consider how your love shows itself! If you loved God, of a surety nothing would give you greater pleasure than what pleases Him best, and that whereby His will may be most fully done. And, however great thy pain or hardship may be, if thou hast not as great pleasure in it as in comfort or fulness, it is wrong.
We say every day in prayer to our Father, Thy will be done. And yet when His will is done, we grumble at it, and find no pleasure in His will. If our prayers were sincere, we should certainly think His will, and what He does, to be the best, and that the very best had happened to us. (134)
Those who accept all that the Lord send, as the very best, remain always in perfect peace, for in them God’s will has become their will. This is incomparably better than for our will to become God’s will. For when thy will becomes God’s will–if thou art sick, thou wishest not to be well contrary to God’s will, but thou wishest that it were God’s will that thou shouldest be well. And so in other things. But when God’s will becomes thy will–then thou art sick: in God’s name; thy friend dies: in God’s name! (55)
MEN who love God are so far from complaining of their sufferings, that their complaint and their suffering is rather because the suffering which God’s will has assigned them is so small. All their blessedness is to suffer by God’s will, and not to have suffered something, for this is the loss of suffering. This is why I said, Blessed are they who are willing to suffer for righteousness, not, Blessed are they who have suffered. (434)
All that a man bears for God’s sake, God makes light and sweet for him. (45)
If all was right with you, your sufferings would no longer be suffering, but love and comfort. (442)
If God could have given to men anything more noble than suffering, He would have redeemed mankind with it: otherwise, you must say that my Father was my enemy, if he knew of anything nobler than suffering. (338)
True suffering is a mother of all the virtues. (338)
DEADLY sin is a death of the soul. To die is to lose life. But God is the life of the soul; since then deadly sin separates us from God, it is a death of the soul.
Deadly sin is also an unrest of the heart. Everything can rest only in its proper place. But the natural place of the soul is God; as St Augustine says, Lord, thou hast made us for Thyself, and our heart is restless till it finds rest in Thee. But deadly sin separates us from God; therefore it is an unrest of the heart. Deadly sin is also a sickness of the faculties, when a man can never stand up alone for the weight of his sins, nor ever resist falling into sin. Therefore deadly sin is a sickness of the faculties. Deadly sin is also a blindness of the sense, in that it suffers not a man to know the shortness of the pleasures of lust, nor the length of the punishment in hell, nor the eternity of joys in heaven. Deadly sin is also a death of all graces; for as soon as a deadly sin takes place, a man becomes bare of all graces. (217)
Every creature must of necessity abide in God; if we fall out of the hands of his mercy, we fall into the hands of His justice. We must ever abide in Him. What madness then is it to wish not to be with Him, without whom thou canst not be! (169)
A GREAT teacher once told a story in his preaching about a man who for eight years besought God to show him a man who would make known to him the way of truth. While he was in this state of anxiety there came a voice from God and spake to him: Go in front of the church, and there shalt thou find a man who will make known to thee the way of truth. He went, and found a poor man whose feet were chapped and full of dirt, and all his clothes were hardly worth twopence-halfpenny. He greeted this poor man and said to him, God give thee a good morning. The poor man answered, I never had a bad morning. The other said, God give thee happiness. How answerest thou that? The poor man answered, I was never unhappy. The first then said, God send thee blessedness. How answerest thou that? I was never unblessed, was the answer. Lastly the questioner said, God give thee health! Now enlighten me, for I cannot understand it. And the poor man replied, When thou saidst to me, may God give thee a good morning, I said I never had a bad morning. If I am hungry, I praise God for it; if I am cold, I praise God for it; if I am distressful and despised, I praise God for it; and that is why I never had a bad morning. When thou askedst God to give me happiness, I answered that I had never been unhappy; for what God gives or ordains for me, whether it be His love or suffering, sour or sweet, I take it all from God as being the best, and that is why I was never unhappy. Thou saidst further, May God make thee blessed, and I said, I was never unblessed, for I have given up my will so entirely to God’s will, that what God wills, that I also will, and that is why I was never unblessed, because I willed alone God’s will. Ah! dear fellow, replied the man; but if God should will to throw thee into hell, what wouldst thou say then? He replied, Throw me into hell! Then I would resist Him. But even if He threw me into hell, I should still have two arms wherewith to embrace Him. One arm is true humility, which I should place under Him, and with the arm of love I should embrace Him. And he concluded, I would rather be in hell and possess God, than in the kingdom of heaven without Him. (623)
THE man who has submitted his will and purposes entirely to God, carries God with him in all his works and in all circumstances. Therein can no man hinder him, for he neither aims at nor enjoys anything else, save God. God is united with Him in all his purposes and designs. Even as no manifoldness can dissipate God, so nothing can dissipate such a man, or destroy his unity. Man, therefore, should take God with him in all things; God should be always present to his mind and will and affections. The same disposition that thou hast in church or in thy cell, thou shouldst keep and maintain in a crowd, and amid the unrest and manifoldness of the world.
Some people pride themselves on their detachment from mankind, and are glad to be alone or in church; and therein lies their peace. But he who is truly in the right state, is so in all circumstances, and among all persons; he who is not in a good state, it is not right with him in all places and among all persons. He who is as he should be has God with him in truth, in all places and among all persons, in the street as well as in the church; and then no man can hinder him. (547)
It is often much harder for a man to be alone in a crowd than in the desert; and it is often harder to leave a small thing than a great, and to practise a small work than one which people consider very great. (565)
GOOD and earnest prayer is a golden ladder which reaches up to heaven, and by which man ascends to God.
The man who will pray aright should ask for nothing except what may promote God’s honour and glory, his own profit and the advantage of his neighbours. When we ask for temporal things we should always add, if it be God’s will and if it be for my soul’s health. But when we pray for virtues, we need add no qualification, for these are God’s own working. (359)
LOVE OF OUR NEIGHBOUR
IT is a hard thing to practise this universal love, and to love our neighbours as ourselves, as our Lord commanded us. But if you will understand it rightly, there is a greater reward attached to this command, than to any other. The commandment seems hard, but the reward is precious indeed. (135)
HE who has found this way of love, seeketh no other. He who turns on this pivot is in such wise a prisoner that his foot and hand and mouth and eyes and heart, and all his human faculties, belong to God. And, therefore, thou canst overcome thy flesh in no better way, so that it may not shame thee, than by love. This is why it is written, Love is as strong as death, as hard as hell. Death separates the soul from the body, but love separates all things from the soul. She suffers nought to come near her, that is not God nor God-like. Happy is he who is thus imprisoned; the more thou art a prisoner, the more wilt thou be freed. That we may be so imprisoned, and so freed, may He help us, Who Himself is Love. (30)
THE UNION WITH GOD
THE union of the soul with God is far more inward than that of the soul and body. (566)
Now I might ask, how stands it with the soul that is lost in God? Does the soul find herself or not? To this will I answer as it appears to me, that the soul finds herself in the point, where every rational being understands itself with itself. Although it sinks and sinks in the eternity of the Divine Essence, yet it can never reach the ground. Therefore God has left a little point wherein the soul turns back upon itself and finds itself, and knows itself to be a creature. (387)
God alone must work in thee without hindrance, that He may bring to perfection His likeness in thee. So thou mayest understand with Him, and love with Him. This is the essence of perfection. (471)
THE LAST JUDGMENT
PEOPLE say of the last day, that God shall give judgment. This is true. But it is not true as people imagine. Every man pronounces his own sentence; as he shows himself here in his essence, so will he remain everlastingly. (471)
PRECEPT AND PRACTICE
BETTER one life-master than a thousand reading-masters (wger wre ein lebemeister denne tûsent lesemeister). If I sought a master in the scriptures, I should seek him in Paris and in the high schools of high learning. But if I wished to ask questions about the perfect life, that he could not tell me. Where then must I go? Nowhere at all save to an utterly simple nature; he could answer my question. (599)
MY people, why seek ye after dead bones? Why seek ye not after living holiness, which might give you everlasting life? The dead can neither give nor take away. (599)
SAYINGS OF ECKHART
MASTER ECKHART saith: He who is always alone, he is worthy of God; and he who is always at home, to him is God present; and be who abides always in a present now, in him doth God beget His Son without ceasing. (600)
Master Eckhart saith: I will never pray to God to give Himself to me: I will pray Him to make me purer. If I were purer, God must give Himself to me, of His own nature, and sink into me. (601)
Master Eckhart was asked, what were the greatest goods, that God had done to him. He said, there are three. The first is, that the lusts and desires of the flesh have been taken away from me. The second is, that the Divine Light shines and gives me light in all my doings. The third is, that I am daily renewed in virtue, grace and holiness. (602)
THINK, and think earnestly, how great, how unutterable will be the joy and blessedness, the glory and honour of those who shall see clearly and without veil the gladsome and beauteous face of God, how they will enjoy the best and highest good, which is God Himself. For in Him is included all pleasure, might, joy, and all beauty, so that the blessed in God will possess everything that is good and desirable, with everlasting joy and security, without fear lest they should ever be parted from Him. (138)
CONSEQUENCES OF THE FALL
FROM the time when the first man gave a ready ear to the words of the enemy, mankind have been deaf, so that none of us can hear or understand the loving utterances of the eternal Word. Something has happened to the ears of man, which has stopped up his ears, so that he cannot hear the loving Word; and he has also been so blinded, that he has become stupid, and does not know himself. If he wished to speak of his own inner life, he could not do it; he knows not where he is, nor what is his state. (91)
How can it be that the noble reason, the inner eye, is so blinded that it cannot see the true light? This great shame has come about, because a thick coarse skin and a thick fur has been drawn over him, even the love and the opinion of the creatures, whether it be the man himself or something that belongs to him; hence man has become blind and deaf, in whatever position he may be, worldly or spiritual. Yes, that is his guilt, that many a thick skin is drawn over him, as thick as an ox’s forehead, and it has so covered up his inner man, that neither God nor himself can get inside; it has grown into him. (92)
THROUGH two things man fell in Paradise–through pride, and through inordinate affection. Therefore we too must return by two things, that nature may recover her power: we must first sink our nature and bring it down under God and under all men in deep humility, against whom it had exalted itself in pride. We must also manfully die to all inordinate lusts. (1)
LIFE A BATTLE
NOTHING in the world is so necessary for man as to be constantly assailed; for in fighting he learns to know himself. As grace is necessary to a man, so also is fighting. Virtue begins in fighting, and is developed in fighting. In every state to which a man is called, inward and outward, he must of necessity be assailed. A high Master said: As little as meat can remain without salt and yet not become corrupt, so little can a man remain without fighting. (104)
A man should in the first place act as when a town is besieged, and it is certain that the besieging army is stronger than the town. When the town is weakest, men take the very greatest care to guard and defend the town; if they neglected to do so, they would lose the town, and with it their lives and properties. So should every man do: he should be most careful to find out in what things the evil spirit most often besets him–that is, on what side the man is weakest, and to what kind of errors and failings he is most prone, and should manfully defend himself at those points.
Next, turn thyself earnestly away from sin; for I tell you of a truth, by whatever temptation a man is assailed, if he turns not from it heartily, but stands in it vacillating, he has no wholehearted desire to leave his sins by God’s will, and without doubt the evil spirit is close upon him, who may make him fall into endless perdition.
Know of a truth, that if thou wouldst truly overcome the evil spirit, this can only be done by a complete manful turning away from sin. Say then with all thy heart: Oh, everlasting God, help me and give me Thy Divine grace to be my help, for it is my steadfast desire never again to commit any deadly sin against Thy Divine will and Thine honour. So with thy good will and intention thou entirely overcomest the evil spirit, so that he must fly from thee ashamed.
Understand, however, that it is a miserable and pitiable thing for a reasonable man to let himself be overcome by the evil spirit, and in consequence of his attacks to fall voluntarily into grievous and deadly sin, whereby man loses the grace of God. A reasonable man, who allows himself voluntarily to be overcome by the evil spirit, is like a well-armed man who voluntarily lets a fly bite him to death. For man has many great and strong weapons, wherewith he may well and manfully withstand the evil spirit–the holy faith, the blessed sacrament, the holy word of God, the model and example of all good and holy men, the prayers of holy Church, and other great supports against the power of the evil spirit, whose power is much less than that of a fly against a great bear. If a man will manfully and boldly withstand the evil spirit, the evil one can gain no advantage against his free will.
Turn, therefore, manfully and earnestly from your sins, and watch diligently and earnestly; for I tell you of a truth, that when you have come to the next world, if you have not withstood the evil spirit, and if you are found there without repentance and sorrow, you will be a mockery to all the devils and to yourself, and you will be eternally punished and tormented. And it will then be a greater woe to you, that you have followed the evil spirit, than all the external pains that you must endure eternally for your sins.
Thirdly, a man should diligently attend to his inner Ground, that there shall be nothing in it save God alone, and His eternal glory. For alas! there are many men, both lay and clerical, who live falsely beneath a fair show, and imagine that they can deceive the everlasting God. No, in truth, thou deceivest thyself, and losest the day of grace, and the favour of God, and makest thyself guilty towards God, in that He gives the evil spirits power over thee, so that thou canst do no good work. Therefore, watch while it is day, that the hour of darkness and God’s disfavour may not overtake thee, and take heed that in thy inner ground God may dwell, and nought besides. (75)
Even as each man in his baptism is placed under the charge of a special angel, who is with him always and never leaves him, and protects him waking and sleeping in all his ways and in all his works, so every man has a special devil, who continually opposes him and exercises him without ceasing. But if the man were wise and diligent, the opposition of the devil and his exercises would be much more profitable to him than the aid of the good angel; for if there were no struggle, there could be no victory. (139)
WHEN a man has had the fair net of his soul torn by sin, he must patch and mend it by a humble, repentant return to the grace and mercy of God. He must act like one who wishes to make a crooked stick straight: he bends the stick further back than it ought to go, and by being thus bent back it becomes straight again. So must a man do to his own nature. He must bend himself under all things which belong to God, and break himself right off, inwardly and outwardly, from all things which are not God.
Every deadly sin causes the precious blood of Christ to be shed afresh. Jesus Christ is spiritually crucified many times every day. (75)
FISHING FOR SOULS
THE fisherman throws his hook, that he may catch the fish; but the fish itself takes the hook. When the fish takes the hook, the fisherman is sure of the fish, and draws it to him. Even so, God has thrown His hook and His net into all the world, before our feet, before our eyes, before our minds, and He would gladly draw us securely to Himself by means of all His creatures. By pleasurable things He draws us on; by painful things He drives us on. He who will not be drawn, is in fault; for he has not taken God’s hook, nor will he be caught in God’s net. If he came therein, beyond doubt he would be caught by God and would be drawn by God. It is not God’s fault if we will not be drawn; we should grasp the hand held out to us. If a man were in a deep pool, and one tried to help him and pull him out, would he not gladly grasp his hand and allow himself to be pulled out? (42)
Where two things are so related to each other, that one may receive something for the other, there must be something in common between them. If they had nothing in common, there must be a middle term between them, which has something in common both with the higher, from which it may receive, and with the lower, to which it may impart. Now God hath created all things, and especially mankind, immediately for Himself. He created man for His pleasure. But by sin, human nature was so far estranged from God, that it was impossible for a man to attain to that, for which he was made. Now Aristotle says that God and Nature are not unprofitable workers–that is, what they work at, they carry to its end. Now God created man that He might have pleasure in him. If then God’s work in creating mankind was not to be unprofitable, when they were so far estranged from God by sin, that they could not receive that by which they might return and attain the enjoyment of eternal happiness, a Mediator was necessary between us and God, one who has something in common with us and our natures, and also shares in the nature of God. In order that on the one side, He might in Himself destroy our sickness, which was a cause of all our sins, and also destroy all our sins, to which our weakness has brought us; and on the other side that He might include in Himself all the treasure of grace and of God’s honour, that He might be able to give us grace richly, and forgiveness of our sins, and eternal glory hereafter, this could only be, if the Son of God became man. (90)
Yea, the highest God and Lord of all lords, the Son of God, in His deep love felt pity for us poor, sinful men, condemned to the flames of hell. Though He was in the form of God, He thought it not robbery (as St Paul says) to be equal with God, and He annihilated Himself, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made like any other man, being found in fashion as a man. He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (117)
THE EFFICACY OF DIVINE GRACE
ALL works which men and all creatures can ever work even to the end of the world, without the grace of God–all of them together, however great they may be, are an absolute nothing, as compared with the smallest work which God has worked in men by His grace. As much as God is better than all His creatures, so much better are His works than all the works, or wisdom, or designs, which all men could devise. Even the smallest drop of grace is better than all earthly riches that are beneath the sun. Yea, a drop of grace is more noble than all angels and all souls, and all the natural things that God has made. And yet grace is given more richly by God to the soul than any earthly gift. It is given more richly than brooks of water, than the breath of the air, than the brightness of the sun; for spiritual things are far finer and nobler than earthly things. The whole Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, give grace to the soul, and flow immediately into it; even the highest angel, in spite of his great nobility, cannot do this. Grace looses us from the snares of many temptations; it relieves us from the heavy burden of worldly cares, and carries the spirit up to heaven, the land of spirits. It kills the worm of conscience, which makes sins alive. Grace is a very powerful thing. The man, to whom cometh but a little drop of the light of grace, to him all that is not God becomes as bitter as gall upon the tongue. (86)
Grace makes, contrary to nature, all sorrows sweet, and brings it about that a man no longer feels any relish for things which formerly gave him great pleasure and delight. On the other hand, what formerly disgusted him, now delights him and is the desire of his heart–for instance, weakness, sorrow, inwardness, humility, self-abandonment, and detachment from all the creatures. All this is in the highest degree dear to him, when this visitation of the Holy Ghost, grace, has in truth come to him. Then the sick man, that is to say the external man, with all his faculties is plunged completely into the pool of water, even as the sick man who had been for thirty-eight years by the pool at Jerusalem, and there washes himself thoroughly in the exalted, noble, precious blood of Christ Jesus. For grace in manifold ways bathes the soul in the wounds and blood of the holy Lamb, Jesus Christ. (22)
THE essence of prayer is the ascent of the mind to God, as holy teachers tell us. Therefore every good man, when he wishes to pray, ought to collect his outer senses into himself, and look into his mind, to see whether it be really turned to God. He who wishes that his prayers may be truly heard, must keep himself turned away from all temporal and external things, and all that is not Divine, whether it be friend or joy (Freund oder Freude), and all vanities, whether they be clothes or ornaments, and from everything of which God is not the true beginning and ending, and from everything that does not belong to Him. He must cut off his words and his conduct, his manners and his demeanour, from all irregularity, inward or outward. Dream not that that can be a true prayer, when a man only babbles outwardly with his mouth, and reads many psalms, gabbling them rapidly and hastily, while his mind wanders this way and that, backwards and forwards. Much rather must the true prayer be, as St Peter tells us, “one-minded”that is, the mind must cleave to God alone, and a man must look with the face of his soul turned directly towards God, with a gentle, willing dependence on Him. (80)
If thy prayer has these conditions, thou mayst with true humility fall at the feet of God, and pray for the gentle succour of God; thou mayest knock at His fatherly heart, and ask for breadthat is, for love. If a man had all the food in the world, and had not bread, his food would be neither eatable, nor pleasant, nor useful. So it is with all things, without the Love of God. Knock also at the door through which we must go–namely, Christ Jesus. At this door, the praying man must knock for three ends, if he wishes to be really admitted. First he must knock devoutly, at the broken heart and the open side, and enter in with all devotion, and in recognition of his unfathomable poverty and nothingness, as poor Lazarus did at the rich man’s gate, and ask for crumbs of His grace. Then again, he should knock at the door of the holy open wounds of His holy hands, and pray for true Divine knowledge, that it may enlighten him and exalt him. Finally, knock at the door of His holy feet, and pray for true Divine love, which may unite thee with Him, and immerse and cover thee in Him. (57)
MEDITATIONS ON THE SEVEN WORDS FROM THE CROSS
[From a devotional treatise on the Passion of Christ, published in a Latin translation, by Surius, in 1548, and wrongly ascribed by him to Tauler. The author was an unknown German of the fourteenth century.]
THE FIRST WORD
NOW, O my soul, and all ye who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, come, and let us go with inward compassion and fervent devotion to the blessed palm-tree of the Cross, which is laden with the fairest fruit. Let us pass like the bee from flower to flower, for all are full of honey. Let us consider and ponder with the greatest care the sacred words of Christ, which He spoke upon the Cross; for everything that comes From this blessed Tree is wholesome and good. In the Cross of our Lord and Saviour are centred all our salvation, all our health, all our life, all our glory; and, “if we suffer with Him,” saith the Apostle, “we shall also reign with Him.” That we may not be found ungrateful for these inestimable benefits, let us call upon heaven and earth, and all that in them is, to join us in praising and blessing and giving thanks to God. Let us invite them to come and look upon this wondrous sight, and say: “Magnify the Lord with me, for He hath done marvellous things. O praise and bless the Lord with me, for great is His mercy toward us.” Come up with me, I pray you, ye angelic spirits, to Mount Calvary, and see your King Solomon on His throne, wearing the diadem wherewith His mother has crowned Him. Let us weep in the presence of the Lord who made us, the Lord our God. O all mankind, and all ye who are members of Christ, behold your Redeemer as He hangs on high; behold and weep. See if any sorrow is like unto His sorrow. Acknowledge the heinousness of your sins, which needed such satisfaction. Go to every part of His body; you will find only wounds and blood. Cry to Him with lamentations and say, “O Jesus, our redemption, our love, our desire, what mercy has overcome Thee, that Thou shouldest bear our sins, and endure a cruel death, to rescue us from everlasting death?” And Thou, O God, the almighty Father of heaven, look down from Thy sanctuary upon Thine innocent Son Joseph, sold and given over unjustly to the hands of bloody men, to suffer a shameful death. See whether this be Thy Son’s coat or not. Of a truth an evil beast hath devoured Him. The blood of our sins is sprinkled over His garments, and all the coverings of His good name are defiled by it. See how Thy holy Child has been condemned with the wicked, how Thy royal Son has been crowned with thorns. Behold His innocent hands, which have known no sin, dripping with blood; behold His sacred feet, which have never turned aside from the path of justice, pierced through by a cruel nail; behold His defenceless side smitten with a sharp spear; behold His fair face, which the angels desire to look upon, marred and shorn of all its beauty; behold His blessed heart, which no impure thought ever stained, weighed down with inward sorrow. Behold, O loving Father, Thy sweet Son, stretched out upon the harp of the Cross, and harping blessings on Thee with all His members. Wherefore, O my God, I pray Thee to forgive me, for the sake of Thy Son’s Passion, all the sins that I have committed in my members. O merciful Father, look on Thy only-begotten Son, that Thou mayst have compassion on Thy servant. Whenever that red blood of Thy Son speaks in Thy sight, do Thou wash me from every stain of sin. Whenever Thou beholdest the wounds of this Thy Son, open to me the bosom of Thy fatherly compassion. Behold, O tender Father, how Thy obedient Son does not cry, “Bind my hands and my feet, that I may not rebel against Thee,” but how of His own will He extends His hands and feet, and gladly allows them to be pierced with nails. Look down, I pray Thee, not on the brazen serpent hanging on a pole for the salvation of Israel, but on Thine only Son hanging on the Cross for the salvation of all men. It is not Moses who now stretches out his hand to heaven, that the thunder and lightning and the other plagues may cease, but it is Thy beloved Son, who lovingly stretches out His bleeding arms to Thee, that Thy wrath may depart from the human race. Aaron and Hur are not now holding up the hands of Moses that he may pray more unweariedly for Israel; but hard and cruel nails have fastened the hands of Thy only Son to the Cross, that He may wait with long-suffering for our repentance, and receive us back into His grace, and that He may not turn away in wrath from our prayers. This is that faithful David, who now strings tight the harp-strings of His body, and makes sweet melody before Thee, singing to Thee the sweetest song that has been ever sung to Thee: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is that High Priest, who by His own blood has entered into the Holy of Holies, to offer Himself as a peace-offering for the sins of the whole world. This is that innocent Lamb, who has washed us in His own precious blood, who, Himself without spot of sin, has taken away the sins of the world. Therefore from the storehouse of His Passion I borrow the price of my debt, and I count out before Thee all its merits, to pay what I owe Thee. For He has done all in my nature, and for my sake. O merciful Father, if Thou weighest all my sins on one side of the balance, and in the other scale the Passion of Thy Son, the last will outweigh the first. For what sin can be so great, that the innocent blood of Thy Son has not washed it out? What pride, or disobedience, or lust, is so unchecked or so rebellious, that such lowliness, obedience, and poverty cannot abolish it? O merciful Father, accept the deeds of Thy beloved Son, and forgive the errors of Thy wicked servant. For the innocent blood of our brother Abel crieth to Thee from the Cross, not for vengeance, but for grace and mercy, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
THE SECOND WORD
NOW the thieves who were crucified with Jesus reviled Him. But after a while, the one who hung on the right side of Christ, when he saw His great patience and long-suffering, wherewith He so lovingly prayed to His Father for those who cast reproaches upon Him and cruelly tortured Him, became entirely changed, and began to be moved with very great sorrow and repentance for his sins. And he showed this outwardly, when he rebuked his fellow-thief, who continued to revile Christ, saying: “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?” “Although” (he would say) “thou art so obstinate as not to fear men, and thinkest nought of thy bodily pain, yet surely thou must fear God, in the last moments of thy life–God, who hath power to destroy both thy body and soul in hell. And though we suffer the same punishment with Him, our deserts are very different. We, indeed, suffer justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds, but this man hath done nothing amiss.” He, who but lately was a blasphemer, is now a confessor and preacher, he distinguishes good from evil, blaming the sinner, and excusing the innocent: the unbelieving thief has become the confessor of almighty God. O good Jesus, this sudden change is wrought by Thy right hand, at which he hung. Thy right hand touched him inwardly, and forthwith he is changed into another man. O Lord, in this Thou hast declared Thy patience, out of a stone Thou hast raised up a child unto Abraham. Verily, the penitent thief received the light of faith solely from that bright light on the candlestick of the Cross, which shone there in the darkness and scattered the shades of night. But what does this signify, save that our Lord Jesus, out of the greatness of His goodness, looked upon him with the eyes of His mercy, although He found no merit in him, except what it pleased Him out of His goodness to bestow? For as God gives to His elect, out of His goodness alone, what no one has a right to demand, so out of His justice He gives to the wicked what they deserve. For this cause David says: “He saved me because He desired me.” And this is why the thief, before the Lord touched his heart with the beams of His grace and love, joined the other thief in reviling Christ, thus showing first what his own character was, and afterwards what was wrought in him by grace. At first he acted like the other, being, like him, a child of wrath; but when the precious blood of Christ was shed as the price of our redemption and paid to the Father for our debt, then the thief asked God to give him an alms for his good, and at once received it. For how can one alms diminish that inexhaustible treasure? How could our tender Lord, whose property is always to have mercy, have refused his request? Indeed He gave him more than he asked. Yet how could the thief escape the glow of the fire which was burning so near him? Truly this was the fire, which the Father had sent down from heaven to earth, which had long smouldered, but now, kindled anew, and fed by the wood of the Cross, and sprinkled with the oil of mercy, and fanned, as it were, by the reproaches and blasphemies of the Jews, sent up its flames to heaven, by which that thief was quite kindled and set on fire, and his love became as strong as death, so that he said: “I indeed suffer no grievous penalty, for it is less than I deserve; but that this innocent One, who has done no wrong, should be so tortured, contrary to justice and righteousness, this, truly, adds grievous sorrow to my sorrow.” O splendid faith of this thief! He contemned all the punishment that might be inflicted on him: he feared not the rage of the people, who were barking like mad dogs against Jesus: he cared not for the chief priests: he feared not the executioners with their weapons and instruments of torture; but in the presence of them all, with a fearless heart he confessed that Christ was the true Son of God, and Lord of the whole world: and at the same time he confounded the Jews by confessing that He had done nothing amiss, and therefore that they had crucified Him unjustly. O wondrous faith! O mighty constancy! O amazing love of this poor thief, love that cast out all fear! He was indeed well drunken with that new wine which in the wine-press of the Cross had been pressed out of that sweet cluster, Jesus Christ, and therefore he confessed Christ without shame before all the people. At the very beginning of the Passion, the apostles and disciples had forsaken Christ and fled; even St Peter, frightened by the voice of one maidservant, had denied Christ. But this poor thief did not forsake Him even in death, but confessed Him to be the Lord of heaven in the presence of all those armed men. Who can do justice to the merits of this man? Who taught him so quickly that faith of his, and his clear knowledge of all the virtues, save the very Wisdom of the Father, Jesus Christ, who hung near him on the Cross? Him whom the Jews could not or would not know, in spite of the promises made to the patriarchs, the fulfilment of prophecies, the teaching of the Scriptures, and the interpretation of allegories, this poor thief learned to know by repentance. He confessed Christ to be the Son of God, though he saw Him full of misery, want, and torment, and dying from natural weakness. He confessed Him at a time when the apostles, who had seen His mighty works, denied Him. The nails were holding his hands and feet fixed to the cross; he had nothing free about him, except his heart and his tongue; yet he gave to God all that he could give to Him, and, in the words of Scripture, “with his heart he believed unto righteousness, and with his tongue he made confession of Christ unto salvation.” O infinite and unsearchable mercy of God! For what manner of man was he when he was sent to the cross, and what when he left it? (Not that it was his own cross, that wrought this change, but the power of Christ crucified.) He came to the cross stained with the blood of his fellow-man; he was taken down from it cleansed by the blood of Christ. He came to the cross still savage and full of rage, and while he was upon it he became so meek and pitiful that he lamented for the sufferings of another more than for his own. One member only was left to him, and at the eleventh hour he came to work in God’s vineyard, and yet so eagerly did he labour that he was the first to finish his work and receive his reward. Indeed he behaved like a just man; for he first accused himself and confessed his sins, saying, “and we, indeed, justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds.” Secondly, he excused Christ, and confessed that He was the Just One when he said “but this Man hath done nothing amiss.” Thirdly, he showed brotherly love, for he said, “dost not thou fear God?” Fourthly, with all his members, or at least with all that he could offer, and with loving eyes and a devout heart and a humble spirit, he turned himself to Christ and prayed earnestly, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom.” How great was the justice and humility and resignation