Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Religious Fiction > The Varieties of Religious Experience > Lectures XVII MYSTICISM
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】
Lectures XVII MYSTICISM
  This incommunicableness of the transport is the keynote of all mysticism. Mystical truth existsfor the individual who has the transport, but for no one else. In this, as I have said, it resembles theknowledge given to us in sensations more than that given by conceptual thought. Thought, with itsremoteness and abstractness, has often enough in the history of philosophy been contrastedunfavorably with sensation.

It is a commonplace of metaphysics that God's knowledge cannot be discursive but must beintuitive, that is, must be constructed more after the pattern of what in ourselves is calledimmediate feeling, than after that of proposition and judgment. But our immediate feelings have nocontent but what the five senses supply; and we have seen and shall see again that mystics mayemphatically deny that the senses play any part in the very highest type of knowledge which theirtransports yield.

In the Christian church there have always been mystics. Although many of them have beenviewed with suspicion, some have gained favor in the eyes of the authorities. The experiences ofthese have been treated as precedents, and a codified system of mystical theology has been basedupon them, in which everything legitimate finds its place.[250] The basis of the system is "orison"or meditation, the methodical elevation of the soul towards God. Through the practice of orison thehigher levels of mystical experience may be attained. It is odd that Protestantism, especiallyevangelical Protestantism, should seemingly have abandoned everything methodical in this line.

Apart from what prayer may lead to, Protestant mystical experience appears to have been almostexclusively sporadic. It has been left to our mind-curers to reintroduce methodical meditation intoour religious life.

[250] Gorres's Christliche Mystik gives a full account of the facts. So does Ribet's MystiqueDivine, 2 vols., Paris, 1890. A still more methodical modern work is the Mystica Theologia ofVallgornera, 2 vols., Turin, 1890.

The first thing to be aimed at in orison is the mind's detachment from outer sensations, for theseinterfere with its concentration upon ideal things. Such manuals as Saint Ignatius's SpiritualExercises recommend the disciple to <398> expel sensation by a graduated series of efforts toimagine holy scenes. The acme of this kind of discipline would be a semi-hallucinatory monoideism--an imaginary figure of Christ, for example, coming fully to occupy the mind. Sensorialimages of this sort, whether literal or symbolic, play an enormous part in mysticism.[251] But incertain cases imagery may fall away entirely, and in the very highest raptures it tends to do so. Thestate of consciousness becomes then insusceptible of any verbal description. Mystical teachers areunanimous as to this. Saint John of the Cross, for instance, one of the best of them, thus describesthe condition called the "union of love," which, he says, is reached by "dark contemplation." In thisthe Deity compenetrates the soul, but in such a hidden way that the soul-"finds no terms, no means, no comparison whereby to render the sublimity of the wisdom andthe delicacy of the spiritual feeling with which she is filled. . . . We receive this mysticalknowledge of God clothed in none of the kinds of images, in none of the sensible representations,which our mind makes use of in other circumstances. Accordingly in this knowledge, since thesenses and the imagination are not employed, we get neither form nor impression, nor can we giveany account or furnish any likeness, although the mysterious and sweet-tasting wisdom comeshome so clearly to the inmost parts of our soul. Fancy a man seeing a certain kind of thing for thefirst time in his life. He can understand it, use and enjoy it, but he cannot apply a name to it, norcommunicate any idea of it, even though all the while it be a mere thing of sense. How muchgreater will be his powerlessness when it goes beyond the senses! This is the peculiarity of thedivine language. The more infused, intimate, spiritual, and supersensible it is, the more does itexceed the senses, both inner and outer, and impose silence upon them. . . .

The soul then feels as if placed in a vast and profound solitude, to which no created thing hasaccess, in an immense and boundless desert, desert the more delicious the more solitary it is.

There, in this abyss of wisdom, the soul grows by what it drinks in from the well-springs of thecomprehension of love, . . . and recognizes, however sublime and learned may be the terms weemploy, how utterly vile, insignificant, and improper they are, when we seek to discourse of divinethings by their means."[252]

[251] M. ReCeJac, in a recent volume, makes them essential. Mysticism he defines as "thetendency to draw near to the Absolute morally AND BY THE AID OF SYMBOLS." See hisFondements de la Connaissance mystique, Paris, 1897, p. 66. But there are unquestionablymystical conditions in which sensible symbols play no part.

[252] Saint John of the Cross: The Dark Night of the Soul, book ii. ch. xvii., in Vie et Oeuvres,3me edition, Paris, 1893, iii. 428-432. Chapter xi. of book ii. of Saint John's Ascent of Carmel isdevoted to showing the harmfulness for the mystical life of the use of sensible imagery.

I cannot pretend to detail to you the sundry stages of the Christian mystical life.[253] Our timewould not suffice, for one thing; and moreover, I confess that the subdivisions and names whichwe find in the Catholic books seem to me to represent nothing objectively distinct. So many men,so many minds: I imagine that these experiences can be as infinitely varied as are theidiosyncrasies of individuals.

[253] In particular I omit mention of visual and auditory hallucinations, verbal and graphicautomatisms, and such marvels as "levitation," stigmatization, and the healing of disease. Thesephenomena, which mystics have often presented (or are believed to have presented), have noessential mystical significance, for they occur with no consciousness of illumination whatever,when they occur, as they often do, in persons of non-mystical mind. Consciousness of illuminationis for us the essential mark of "mystical" states.

The cognitive aspects of them, their value in the way of revelation, is what we are directlyconcerned with, and it is easy to show by citation how strong an impression they leave of beingrevelations of new depths of truth. Saint Teresa is the expert of experts in describing suchconditions, so I will turn immediately to what she says of one of the highest of them, the "orison ofunion.""In the orison of union," says Saint Teresa, "the soul is fully awake as regards God, but whollyasleep as regards things of this world and in respect of herself. During the short time the unionlasts, she is as it were deprived of every feeling, and even if she would, she could not think of anysingle thing. Thus she needs to employ no artifice in order to arrest the use of her understanding: itremains so stricken with inactivity that she neither knows what she loves, nor in what manner sheloves, nor what she wills. In short, she is utterly dead to the things of the world and lives solely inGod. . . . I do not even know whether in this state she has enough life left to breathe. It seems tome she has not; or at least that if she does breathe, she is unaware of it. Her intellect would fainunderstand something of what is going on within her, but it has so little force now that it can act inno way whatsoever. So a person who falls into a deep faint appears as if dead. . . .

"Thus does God, when he raises a soul to union with himself, suspend the natural action of allher faculties. She neither sees, hears, nor understands, so long as she is united with God. But thistime is always short, and it seems even shorter than it is. God establishes himself in the interior ofthis soul in such a way, that when she returns to herself, it is wholly impossible for her to doubtthat she has been in God, and God in her. This truth remains so strongly impressed on her that,even though many years should pass without the condition returning, she can neither forget thefavor she received, nor doubt of its reality. If you, nevertheless, ask how it is possible that the soulcan see and understand that she has been in God, since during the union she has neither sight norunderstanding, I reply that she does not see it then, but that she sees it clearly later, after she hasreturned to herself, not by any vision, but by a certitude which abides with her and which Godalone can give her.

I knew a person who was ignorant of the truth that God's mode of being in everything must beeither by presence, by power, or by essence, but who, after having received the grace of which Iam speaking, believed this truth in the most unshakable manner. So much so that, having consulteda half-learned man who was as ignorant on this point as she had been before she was enlightened,when he replied that God is in us only by 'grace,' she disbelieved his reply, so sure she was of thetrue answer; and when she came to ask wiser doctors, they confirmed her in her belief, whichmuch consoled her. . . .

"But how, you will repeat, CAN one have such certainty in respect to what one does not see?

This question, I am powerless to answer. These are secrets of God's omnipotence which it does notappertain to me to penetrate. All that I know is that I tell the truth; and I shall never believe thatany soul who does not possess this certainty has ever been really united to God."[254]

[254] The Interior Castle, Fifth Abode, Ch. i., in Oeuvres, translated by BOUIX, iii. 421-424.

The kinds of truth communicable in mystical ways, whether these be sensible or supersensible,are various. Some of them relate to this world--visions of the future, the reading of hearts, thesudden understanding of texts, the knowledge of distant events, for example; but the mostimportant revelations are theological or metaphysical.

"Saint Ignatius confessed one day to Father Laynez that a single hour of meditation at Manresahad taught him more truths about heavenly things than all the teachings of all the doctors puttogether could have taught him. . . . One day in orison, on the steps of the choir of the Dominicanchurch, he saw in a distinct manner the plan of divine wisdom in the creation of the world. Onanother occasion, during a procession, his spirit was ravished in God, and it was given him tocontemplate, in a form and images fitted to the weak understanding of a dweller on the earth, thedeep mystery of the holy Trinity. This last vision flooded his heart with such sweetness, that themere memory of it in after times made him shed abundant tears."[255]

[255] Bartoli-Michel: vie de Saint Ignace de Loyola, i. 34-36. Others have had illuminationsabout the created world, Jacob Boehme for instance. At the age of twenty-five he was "surroundedby the divine light, and replenished with the heavenly knowledge, insomuch as going abroad intothe fields to a green, at Gorlitz, he there sat down and viewing the herbs and grass of the field, inhis inward light he saw into their essences, use, and properties, which was discovered to him bytheir lineaments, figures, and signatures." Of a later period of experience he writes: "In one quarterof an hour I saw and knew more than if I had been many years together at an university. For I sawand knew the being of all things, the Byss and the Abyss, and the eternal generation of the holyTrinity, the descent and original of the world and of all creatures through the divine wisdom. Iknew and saw in myself all the three worlds, the external and visible world being of a procreationor extern birth from both the internal and spiritual worlds; and I saw and knew the whole workingessence, in the evil and in the good, and the mutual original and existence, and likewise how thefruitful bearing womb of eternity brought forth. So that I did not only greatly wonder at it, but didalso exceedingly rejoice, albeit I could very hardly apprehend the same in my external man and setit down with the pen. For I had a thorough view of the universe as in a chaos, wherein all thingsare couched and wrapt up, but it was impossible for me to explicate the same." Jacob Behmen'sTheosophic Philosophy, etc., by Edward Taylor, London, 1691, pp. 425, 427, abridged.

So George Fox: "I was come up to the state of Adam in which he was before he fell. The creationwas opened to me; and it was showed me, how all things had their names given to them, accordingto their nature and virtue. I was at a stand in my mind, whether I should practice physic for thegood of mankind, seeing the nature and virtues of the creatures were so opened to me by the Lord."Journal, Philadelphia, no date, p. 69. Contemporary "Clairvoyance" abounds in similar revelations.

Andrew Jackson Davis's cosmogonies, for example, or certain experiences related in the delectable"Reminiscences and Memories of Henry Thomas Butterworth," Lebanon, Ohio, 1886.

Similarly with Saint Teresa. "One day, being in orison," she writes, "it was granted me toperceive in one instant how all things are seen and contained in God. I did not perceive them intheir proper form, and nevertheless the view I had of them was of a sovereign clearness, and hasremained vividly impressed upon my soul. It is one of the most signal of all the graces which theLord has granted me. . . . The view was so subtile and delicate that the understanding cannot graspit."[256]

[256] Vie, pp. 581, 582.

She goes on to tell how it was as if the Deity were an enormous and sovereignly limpid diamond,in which all our actions were contained in such a way that their full sinfulness appeared evident asnever before. On another day, she relates, while she was reciting the Athanasian Creed-"Our Lord made me comprehend in what way it is that one God can be in three persons. Hemade me see it so clearly that I remained as extremely surprised as I was comforted, . . . and now,when I think of the holy Trinity, or hear It spoken of, I understand how the three adorable Personsform only one God and I experience an unspeakable happiness."On still another occasion, it was given to Saint Teresa to see and understand in what wise theMother of God had been assumed into her place in Heaven.[257]

[257] Loc. cit., p. 574The deliciousness of some of these states seems to be beyond anything known in ordinaryconsciousness. It evidently involves organic sensibilities, for it is spoken of as something tooextreme to be borne, and as verging on bodily pain.[258] But it is too subtle and piercing a delightfor ordinary words to denote. God's touches, the wounds of his spear, references to ebriety and tonuptial union have to figure in the phraseology by which it is shadowed forth. Intellect and sensesboth swoon away in these highest states of ecstasy. "If our understanding comprehends," saysSaint Teresa, "it is in a mode which remains unknown to it, and it can understand nothing of whatit comprehends. For my own part, I do not believe that it does comprehend, because, as I said, itdoes not understand itself to do so. I confess that it is all a mystery in which I am lost."[259] In thecondition called raptus or ravishment by theologians, breathing and circulation are so depressedthat it is a question among the doctors whether the soul be or be not temporarily dissevered fromthe body. One must read Saint Teresa's descriptions and the very exact distinctions which shemakes, to persuade one's self that one is dealing, not with imaginary experiences, but withphenomena which, however rare, follow perfectly definite psychological types.

[258] Saint Teresa discriminates between pain in which the body has a part and pure spiritualpain (Interior Castle, 6th Abode, ch. xi.). As for the bodily part in these celestial joys, she speaksof it as "penetrating to the marrow of the bones, whilst earthly pleasures affect only the surface ofthe senses. I think," she adds, "that this is a just description, and I cannot make it better." Ibid., 5thAbode, ch. i.

[259] Vie, p. 198.

To the medical mind these ecstasies signify nothing but suggested and imitated hypnoid states,on an intellectual basis of superstition, and a corporeal one of degeneration and hysteria.

Undoubtedly these pathological conditions have existed in many and possibly in all the cases, butthat fact tells us nothing about the value for knowledge of the consciousness which they induce. Topass a spiritual judgment upon these states, we must not content ourselves with superficial medicaltalk, but inquire into their fruits for life.

Their fruits appear to have been various. Stupefaction, for one thing, seems not to have beenaltogether absent as a result. You may remember the helplessness in the kitchen and schoolroom ofpoor Margaret Mary Alacoque. Many other ecstatics would have perished but for the care taken ofthem by admiring followers. The "other-worldliness" encouraged by the mystical consciousnessmakes this over-abstraction from practical life peculiarly liable to befall mystics in whom thecharacter is naturally passive and the intellect feeble; but in natively strong minds and characterswe find quite opposite results. The great Spanish mystics, who carried the habit of ecstasy as far asit has often been carried, appear for the most part to have shown indomitable spirit and energy, andall the more so for the trances in which they indulged.

Saint Ignatius was a mystic, but his mysticism made him assuredly one of the most powerfullypractical human engines that ever lived. Saint John of the Cross, writing of the intuitions and"touches" by which God reaches the substance of the soul, tells us that-"They enrich it marvelously. A single one of them may be sufficient to abolish at a stroke certainimperfections of which the soul during its whole life had vainly tried to rid itself, and to leave itadorned with virtues and loaded with supernatural gifts. A single one of these intoxicatingconsolations may reward it for all the labors undergone in its life--even were they numberless.

Invested with an invincible courage, filled with an impassioned desire to suffer for its God, thesoul then is seized with a strange torment--that of not being allowed to suffer enough."[260]

[260] Oeuvres, ii. 320.

Saint Teresa is as emphatic, and much more detailed. You may perhaps remember a passage Iquoted from her in my first lecture.[261] There are many similar pages in her autobiography.

Where in literature is a more evidently veracious account of the formation of a new centre ofspiritual energy, than is given in her description of the effects of certain ecstasies which indeparting leave the soul upon a higher level of emotional excitement?

[261] Above, p. 22.

"Often, infirm and wrought upon with dreadful pains before the ecstasy, the soul emerges from itfull of health and admirably disposed for action . . . as if God had willed that the body itself,already obedient to the soul's desires, should share in the soul's happiness. . . . The soul after such afavor is animated with a degree of courage so great that if at that moment its body should be tornto pieces for the cause of God, it would feel nothing but the liveliest comfort. Then it is thatpromises and heroic resolutions spring up in profusion in us, soaring desires, horror of the world,and the clear perception of our proper nothingness. . . . What empire is comparable to that of a soulwho, from this sublime summit to which God has raised her, sees all the things of earth beneathher feet, and is captivated by no one of them? How ashamed she is of her former attachments!

How amazed at her blindness! What lively pity she feels for those whom she recognizes stillshrouded in the darkness! . . . She groans at having ever been sensitive to points of honor, at theillusion that made her ever see as honor what the world calls by that name. Now she sees in thisname nothing more than an immense lie of which the world remains a victim. She discovers, in thenew light from above, that in genuine honor there is nothing spurious, that to be faithful to thishonor is to give our respect to what deserves to be respected really, and to consider as nothing, oras less than nothing, whatsoever perishes and is not agreeable to God. . . . She laughs when shesees grave persons, persons of orison, caring for points of honor for which she now feelsprofoundest contempt. It is suitable to the dignity of their rank to act thus, they pretend, and itmakes them more useful to others. But she knows that in despising the dignity of their rank for thepure love of God they would do more good in a single day than they would effect in ten years bypreserving it. . . . She laughs at herself that there should ever have been a time in her life when shemade any case of money, when she ever desired it. . . . Oh! if human beings might only agreetogether to regard it as so much useless mud, what harmony would then reign in the world! Withwhat friendship we would all treat each other if our interest in honor and in money could butdisappear from earth! For my own part, I feel as if it would be a remedy for all our ills."[262]

[262] Vie, pp. 229, 230, 231-233, 243.

Mystical conditions may, therefore, render the soul more energetic in the lines which theirinspiration favors. But this could be reckoned an advantage only in case the inspiration were a trueone. If the inspiration were erroneous, the energy would be all the more mistaken and misbegotten.

So we stand once more before that problem of truth which confronted us at the end of the lectureson saintliness. You will remember that we turned to mysticism precisely to get some light on truth.

Do mystical states establish the truth of those theological affections in which the saintly life has itsroot?

In spite of their repudiation of articulate self-description, mystical states in general assert a prettydistinct theoretic drift. It is possible to give the outcome of the majority of them in terms that pointin definite philosophical directions. One of these directions is optimism, and the other is monism.

We pass into mystical states from out of ordinary consciousness as from a less into a more, as froma smallness into a vastness, and at the same time as from an unrest to a rest. We feel them asreconciling, unifying states. They appeal to the yes-function more than to the no-function in us. Inthem the unlimited absorbs the limits and peacefully closes the account. Their very denial of everyadjective you may propose as applicable to the ultimate truth--He, the Self, the Atman, is to bedescribed by "No! no!" only, say the Upanishads[263]--though it seems on the surface to be a no-function, is a denial made on behalf of a deeper yes. Whoso calls the Absolute anything inparticular, or says that it is THIS, seems implicitly to shut it off from being THAT --it is as if helessened it. So we deny the "this," negating the negation which it seems to us to imply, in theinterests of the higher affirmative attitude by which we are possessed. The fountain-head ofChristian mysticism is Dionysius the Areopagite.

He describes the absolute truth by negatives exclusively.

[263] Muller's translation, part ii. p. 180.

"The cause of all things is neither soul nor intellect; nor has it imagination, opinion, or reason, orintelligence; nor is it reason or intelligence; nor is it spoken or thought. It is neither number, nororder, nor magnitude, nor littleness, nor equality, nor inequality, nor similarity, nor dissimilarity. Itneither stands, nor moves, nor rests. . . . It is neither essence, nor eternity, nor time. Evenintellectual contact does not belong to it. It is neither science nor truth. It is not even royalty orwisdom; not one; not unity; not divinity or goodness; nor even spirit as we know it," etc., adlibitum.[264]

[264] T. Davidson's translation, in Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 1893, vol. xxii., p. 399.

But these qualifications are denied by Dionysius, not because the truth falls short of them, butbecause it so infinitely excels them. It is ab............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading
   
 

Login into Your Account

Email: 
Password: 
  Remember me on this computer.
Tools

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018 wenovel.com, All Rights Reserved