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The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, by Jan van Ruysbroeck, [1916], at

1 Cf. The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. ii. caps. 66-67, and The Book of Truth, cap. 4.

2 H. Pomerius, De Origine Monasterii Viridisvallis una cum Vitis Joannis Rusbrochii (Analecta Bollandiana, vol. iv., Brussels, 1885).

3 The Twelve Béguines, cap. 2. Vide infra, p. xvii.

4 The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. i. cap. 24.

5 Cf. The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. iii., and The Sparkling Stone, caps. 3 and 9.

6 The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. ii. caps. 62 and 63. Cf. The Sparkling Stone, cap. 14.

7 The Twelve Béguines, cap. 2.

8 L. Surius, D. Joannis Rusbrockii Opera Omnia, Cologne, 1552.

9 The first and finest part of The Twelve Béguines, translated from the Flemish by John Francis, was published by J. M. Watkins in 1913.

10 This he evidently came to realise himself. Cf. the end of the 8th chapter of The Twelve Béguines, "Now I must cease from my rhyming, that I may show clearly the way of contemplation."

11 The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. i. cap. 21. Compare The Sparkling Stone, cap. 9.

12 Par. xxxiii. 124.

13 The student will find a fuller analysis in my monograph Ruysbroeck (Quest Series, 1915).

14 The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. ii. cap. 2.

15 The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. iii. cap. 3; and The Book of Truth, cap. 10.

16 The Sparkling Stone, caps. 3 and 10.

17 Cf. The Twelve Béguines, cap. 16.

18 The Twelve Béguines, cap. 8.

19 Cf. The Book of Truth, cap. 9.

20 Cf. St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, i., q. 12, a. 5.

21 The Book of Truth, cap. 11.

22 Ibid., cap. 8.

23 The Twelve Béguines, cap. 8.

24 The Sparkling Stone, caps. 9, 10 and 11. Compare The Twelve Béguines, caps. 5 and 15.

25 The Sparkling Stone, cap. 9.

26 Ibid., cap. 10.

27 Cf. The Sparkling Stone, caps. 8, 9, 10 and 13; and The Book of Truth, caps. 10, 11 and 12.

28 The Sparkling Stone, cap. 13.

29 The Twelve Béguines, cap. 8.

30 The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. iii. cap. 6.

31 The Sparkling Stone, caps. 9, 10 and I2. The Twelve Béguines, cap. 12. Compare Dante (Par. xxxiii. 97):

"Cosi la mente mia, tutta sospesa,
mirava fissa, immobile ed attenta,
e sempre del mirar faceasi accesa."

32 The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. iii. cap. 4.

33 The Sparkling Stone, cap. 12, and The Book of Truth, caps. 10 and 12.

34 The Sparkling Stone, cap. 14.

35 Ibid., cap. 10, and The Book of Truth, cap. 12.

36 The Twelve Béguines, cap. 16.

37 The Book of Truth, caps. 11 and 13.

38 "Light" is the second of the Divine Names which Dionysius the Areopagite attributes to the Godhead, being placed by him between "Goodness" and "Beauty"; and his influence may be traced in Ruysbroeck's frequent use of it. Thus he says, "Let us now extol the spiritual name of Light, under which we contemplate the Good; and declare that He is called spiritual Light because He fills every supercelestial mind with spiritual light, expelling ignorance and error from all souls in which they may be . . . the Good is therefore called spiritual Light above all other light: as fontal Ray and overflowing Stream of light, shining out of its fulness upon every mind above, around, and in the world, renewing all their powers, and embracing them in its span. (Divine Names, cap. 4.)

39 The word here translated "conditions" is Ruysbroeck's favourite term, "wise," meaning ways or modes of being; literally, "how" Christ was as regards each virtue. The Flemish of this passage reads, "Want alsoe menighe inwendighe doghet, alsoe menighe inwendighe wise hadde Christus."

40 "Righteousness" (gherechticheit) must be read here and onwards in the sense, not only of goodness, but of justice and rightness in the conduct of life. "It is meet and right so to do."

41 It will be seen that the description of the virtues in this section, like that of the terraces in Dante's Purgatorio, is arranged upon a definite plan. Each virtue or group of qualities opposes one of the seven mortal sins, and is associated with one of the Beatitudes.

42 The three points here described the enlightenment or impulse of grace, concentration of mind, and the deliberate expulsion of distracting thoughts and imagesare summed up in the exercise which ascetic writers call Recollection, and which prepares consciousness for the contemplative state.

43 The source of this image seems to be a well-known passage in Dionysius the Areopagite

"That brilliant likeness of the Divine Goodness, our great sun, all-radiant and ever-shining as a distant echo of the Good, enlightens all capable of receiving light . . . pouring upon the universe above and beneath the splendour of its rays. And if anything does not share in them this is not because of any lack in its distribution of light, but because of the inaptitude for light of those things which do not unfold themselves that they may participate in the light." (Divine Names, cap. 4.)

44 The word "weelden," here translated "rapturous delight," really means a luxury of enjoyment: an overpassing and voluptuous rapture, in which the soul partakes of the rich content of God.

45 The "wound of love" as a metaphor for the rapturous yet piercing entrance of Divine Love into the heart, meets us again and again in the literature of mysticism. "God," says St Basil, "is the Perfect Beauty which inflicts on the soul an ineffable wound of love." In many cases, as for instance in the celebrated "transverberation" of St Teresa, this image probably describes one of those psycho-physical parallelisms—not uncommon in the records of high religious experience—in which actual bodily pangs accompany the spiritual crisis. Thus Richard Rolle says, "O thou everlasting fairness, thou hast wounded my heart; scarcely I live for joy and almost I die, for I may not in my deadly flesh suffer such a sweetness of this great majesty." (The Mending of Life, cap. 11.)

Thus, too, St John of the Cross
"O burn that burns to heal!
O more than pleasant wound!
And O soft hand, O touch most delicate
That dost new life reveal,
That dost in grace abound,
And, slaying, dost from death to life translate."
(Llama de Amor Viva. Trans. by Arthur Symons.)

46 The Jubilus, or inarticulate song of joy, was recognised by medieval writers as a normal form of religious exaltation: there are many references to it in mystical literature. Thus Jacopone da Tod in the poem, "O jubilo del core"

"The Jubilus in fire awakes
And straight the man must sing and pray,
His tongue in childish stammering shakes,
Nor knows he what his lips may say;
He cannot quench nor hide away
That sweetness pure and infinite.
"The Jubilus in flame is lit
And straight the man must shout and sing;
So close to love his heart is knit
He scarce can bear the honeyed sting;
His clamour and his cries must ring
And shame for ever take its flight."
(Laude 76. Trans. by J. Beck.)

47 This is the traditional Christian test for all visions and revelations. Thus Richard of St. Victor, the source of so much of Ruysbroeck's teaching, says in a celebrated passage:

"Even though you believe that you have been taken up into the high mountain apart, even though you believe that you see Christ transfigured, be not too ready to believe anything you see in Him or hear from him, unless Moses and Elias run to meet Him. I hold all truth in suspicion which Scripture does not confirm: nor do I receive Christ in His glory unless Moses and Elias are talking with Him." (Benjamin Minor, cap. 81.)

48 Rolle's Fire of Love provides an apt commentary upon this chapter. Thus he says of the devout and ardent lover who "burns in the fire of the Holy Ghost"

"He utterly burns and longs for light while he thus fervently tastes of things heavenly . . . as the seraphim, to whom he is like in loving mind, he cries and says to his noble Lover, 'Behold, loving I burn, greedily desiring.' Thus with fire untrowed and thirling flame the soul of a lover is burned. It gladdens all things and heavenlike sparkles: nor happily do I long to make an end, but, always going to that which I love, death to me is sweet and sicker." (Incendium Amoris, I., cap. 14.)

49 Probably Ruysbroeck had here in mind such a "fountain" or lavabo as was to be seen in almost any fourteenth century cloister: a cistern or basin fed by a duct of running water, and pouring itself out in several streams into the lower basin or trough which provided washing-places for the brethren.

50 It should be remembered that for the medieval psychologist the term "memory" included all that we mean by "mind."

51 "The Godhead," says Dionysius, "is celebrated by religion as One and as Unity, because of the simplicity and oneness of its supernatural indivisibility. Thereby, as by a unifying power, we are unified; and, when our various diversities have been gathered together in a supernatural way, we are collected into a divine onefoldness and union wherein we are like unto God." (Divine Names, cap. 1.)

52 This wonderful description of the attributes of God contains many reminiscences of mystical writers, from St Paul onwards: especially St Augustine, Dionysius, St Bernard, and Meister Eckhart. Cf. St Augustine, Confessions, bk. 1. caps. 3 and 4, Dionysius the Areopagite, Divine Names, caps. 1 and 7, and Celestial Hierarchy, cap. 7, St. Bernard, de consideratione, bk. v. cap. 8, Meister Eckhart, Predichten. There are striking parallels to this and other similar passages in Ruysbroeck in the Book of Truth of his contemporary Suso.

53 The Flemish "welbehagen" is perhaps more accurately translated "well-being," "comfort" or "good pleasure." Cf. The Book of Truth, cap. 10. The idea intended is the complete and blissful self-comprehension and self-satisfaction of the Divine Essence; the "perfect round" which is enringed in love. So Dante

"O luce eterna, che sola in te sidi,
sola t'intendi, e, da te intelletta
ed intendente te, ami ed arridi!"
(Par. xxxiii. 124.)

54 Here again Ruysbroeck and Dante, both depending upon scholastic conceptions of the Universe, are in close agreement. Ruysbroeck's "heaven of unmingled radiance" is the Empyrean "ch' pura luce" (Par. xxx. 39): from this the Primum Mobile, or first revolving heaven, takes and distributes the power by which all creation is moved.

"E questo cielo non ha altro dove
che la mente divina, in che s'accende
l'amor che il volge e la virt ch' ei piove."
(Par. xxvii. 109.)

55 "Middel en sonder middel": i.e. mediated, through gifts, forms, symbols and conceptual images; and unmediated, being given as a direct intuitive experience to the soul in the unity of the spirit.

56 The word is "levendicheit," really meaning the vital essence of the soul: that "life-giving life" which Ruysbroeck, following St Bernard, regards as the link between the soul's essence and the Divine Essence, and the vivid source of our life in time. Thus for him the spiritual man is a "levende mensche": more vividly alive than those in whom this germ of Eternity has not been quickened.

57 Thus Dionysius

"Every essence, power, energy, condition, perception, reason, conception, contact, knowledge and union—in a word, all things existing—are from the Beautiful and Good, and in the Beautiful and Good, and return towards the Beautiful and Good." (Divine Names, cap. 4.)

58 This is the scholastic doctrine of the lumen gloriae. See Introduction, p. xxv.

59 "Onsinct die gheest hem selven in ghebrukeliker minnen"—the spirit, as regards its separate consciousness, drowns and loses itself in the Eternal Love of God. This immersion, self-mergence, or sinking of the spirit into the One which is its home, is the "completing opposite" of that other action of grace, which thrusts the self out with its powers as a free and energetic instrument of the Divine Will: thus perfecting the soul's dual likeness to God, in work and in rest. Compare Ch. LXIII, "The Gift of Understanding."

60 By the "effective understanding" Ruysbroeck probably meant the faculty, sometimes called the "higher reason" or "pure intellect" which the Victorine mystics described as "beyond and beside reason," and whereby the mind contemplates intellectibilia: the "invisible things which may not be comprehended by human reason." Cf. Richard of St Victor, Benjamin Major, bk. i. caps. 6 and 7.

61 "Ghebrukelike gheneychtheit." This, one of Ruysbroeck's favourite terms, is generally translated "inclination"; but really includes the meaning—so characteristic of his doctrine—of a perceptual willed and active tending or drawing-nigh of the spirit to the enjoyment and possession of God: and instinctive effort of the soul to achieve its goal. It is the tendency immortalised in St Augustine's saying, "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our heart can find no rest except in Thee." (Confessions, bk. i. cap. 7.)

62 So Dionysius: "God-receptive minds, being the images of God, are the Divine abodes wherein above all God rests." (Celestial Hierarchy, cap. 7.)

63 "Smakender wijsheit": "tasting wisdom." Taste and touch, the most intimate of the bodily senses, are those most frequently used by Ruysbroeck as images of the soul's apprehensions of God.

64 This is that "contemplation in caligine" celebrated by all Christian mystics of the Dionysian tradition. It introduces consciousness into a universe which seems dark, bare, and nought to the intellect, because it transcends all the conceptions with which that intellect is able to deal; being indeed "dark with excess of light." Thus Dionysius says:

"We pray that we may enter the Radiant Darkness, and through blindness and ignorance may see and know that this blindness and ignorance is itself above sight and knowledge" (Mystic Theology, cap. 1); and again, "The Divine Dark is the inaccessible Light in which God is said to dwell. Into this dark, invisible because of its surpassing brightness and unsearchable because of the abundance of its supernatural torrents of light, all enter who are deemed worthy to know and see God: and by the very fact of not seeing or knowing, are truly in Him Who is above all sight and knowledge." (Letter to Dorothy the Deacon.)

So, too, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing"Let be this everywhere and this aught, in comparison of this nowhere and this nought. Reck thee never if thy wits cannot reason of this nought; for surely I love it much the better. It is so worthy a thing in itself that they cannot reason thereupon. this nought may better be felt than seen: for it is full blind and full dark to them that have but little while looked thereupon. Nevertheless, if I shall soothlier say, a soul is more blinded in feeling of it for abundance of ghostly light, than for any darkness or wanting of bodily light."

(The Cloud of Unknowing, cap. 68.)

65 The Flemish "inblicke Gods" suggests the sudden flashing glance of Divine enlightenment: keen, vivid, but transitory, like lightning in the sky.

66 This conception of the dual life which man possesses in the likeness of God appears to be derived from Dionysius, who says:

"That which is established above both every rest and every movement, and moves each thing according to the law of its own being in its own movement, is both the Rest and the Movement of all." (Divine Names, cap. 1.)

67 This adherence or deliberate cleaving of the loving will to God is the supreme work of the self in the Divine union and is never transcended. Its absence marks the distinction between heretical quietism and true contemplation.

68 Ruysbroeck's word "ledich" means both empty and idle: a blank passivity of the mind and of the will.

69 "God-lidende": i.e. passively suffering God to act in and through them.

70 This entrance of the soul into the God-seeing life is the equivalent of Dante's entrance into the Empyrean.

". . . noi semo usciti fuore
del maggior corpo al ciel, ch' pura luce;
luce intellettual piena d'amore,
amor di vero ben pien di letizia,
letizia che trascende ogni dolzore."
(Par. xxx. 38.)

71 So Dionysius: "The Beginning and Cause beyond all beginning of every being, grasping all things superessentially in an irresistible embrace." (Celestial Hierarchy, cap. 7.)

72 "When this takes place," says Plotinus, "the soul will see both God and herself, so far as it is lawful for her to see Him. And she will see herself indeed illumined, and full of intelligible light; or rather, she will perceive herself to be pure light." (On the Good, or the One.)

73 "In levenden redenen," perhaps more exactly "in life-giving ideas." Surius, in his great Latin translation renders, this, "sub vividis rationibus." This is one of the passages in which the Platonic character of Ruysbroeck's doctrine is specially marked.

74 Suso expresses this doctrine with even greater daring

"Mark this: in eternity, all creatures are God in God; and there, there is no fundamental difference between them, save that which we have said. And in so much as they are in God, they are the same life, the same being, the same power: they are the same One, and nothing less. (Suso, The Book of Truth, cap. 3.)

75 Thus Dionysius says, "We should know that our mind has the power of thought, through which it perceives intellectual things: but the union through which it is brought into contact with things beyond itself surpasses the nature of the mind. We must therefore contemplate Divine things by means of this union; not in ourselves, but by standing out of ourselves with our whole selves and becoming wholly of God. For it is better to be of God than of ourselves." (Divine Names, cap 7.)

76 Cf. The Twelve Béguines, cap. 8

"That which is wayless is above reason, not without it,
And it perceives all things without wonder.
Wonder is far beneath it,
And the life of contemplation is without wonder."

77 The last phrases of this passage are written in the irregular rhymed verse which Ruysbroeck so often interpolated in his prose writings. It has been found impossible to give a sufficiently close English rendering of this. I therefore give the original Flemish as an example of his poetic style

"En dit is in dat wiselose wesen dat age ynnighe gheeste boven alle dinc hebben vercoren,
Dit is die donkere stille daer alle minnende in sijn verloren:
Maer moche wi ons aldus in doghenden ghereden,
Wi souden ons schiere van den live ontcleden,
En souden vlieten in wilde zeebaren:
Nemmermeer en mochte ons creature verhalen."

78 These are the mystical forms of the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience.

79 Ruysbroeck wrote, or dictated, terdelinc, literally "tread-ling," probably imagining some relation between calculus (pebble), from calx (stone), and calcare (to tread), from calx (knuckle, heel).

80 "Een eenformich leven met Gode draghen." Here Ruysbroeck accepts in the most extreme form possible to a Catholic Christian the dangerous doctrine of the "deification" of the soul; its total transformation in God. We must, however, read such passages in the light thrown upon them by his distinct declarations in other places concerning the "invincible otherness" of God and the human spirit. Cf. infra cap. 10, where it is shown that this transmutation within the Divine Essence cannot and does not involve identity. Compare The Book of Truth, cap. 11. So, too, in The Twelve Béguines, cap. 14: "The spirit of man doth not become God, but is God-formed, and knows itself to be breadth and length and height and depth."

81 This "death in God" or total self-loss in the Divine Abyss was one of the favourite doctrines of the Friends of God, with whom Ruysbroeck appears to have been closely connected.

Thus Tauler says

"Everything depends on this: a fathomless sinking into a fathomless nothingness. . . . The Heavenly Father says, 'Thou shalt call Me Father, and shalt never cease to enter in; entering ever further, ever nearer, so as to sink ever deeper into an unknown and unnamed Abyss, and, above all ways, images and forms, above an powers, to lose thyself, deny thyself, and even unform thyself.' In this lost state, nothing is seen but a ground which rests upon itself: everywhere one being, one life. Thus, man may say, he becomes without knowledge, without love, without feeling. But this does not come from our natural qualities; but from the transformation of the created spirit by the Spirit of God, in the fathomless self-immersion of the created spirit, and its fathomless resignation." (Sermon on St Matthew.)

82 Compare St Augustine

"In this seeing and beholding of Truth, which is the seventh and last stage of the soul (and not indeed a stage but a habitation to which she attains by these stages), what shall I say of the joys, of the fruition of the Supreme and True Good, of the perfect peace and breath of Eternity. (De Quantitate Animae, cap. 33.)

83 This, too, seems to have an Augustinian source

"I heard Thy voice from on high crying unto me, 'I am the Food of the full-grown: grow, and thou shalt feed on Me; nor shalt thou change Me into thine own substance, as thou changest the food of the flesh, but thou shalt be changed into Mine.'" (Confessions, bk. vii. cap. 10.)

84 Ruysbroeck wrote "bloter ghedacten"; probably meaning the simple and undifferentiated consciousness, above the discursive reason, which is attained in high contemplative states: the "pure intellect" of Plotinus.

85 "Dat wide onploken behagene Gods." Compare note 53.

86 It will be seen that this is another aspect of that balanced life of action and fruition described in The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, which parallels on the human plane the essentially static and personally dynamic aspects of the Divine life. Compare note 66.

87 This ancient simile for the union of the soul with God is constantly used by Ruysbroeck. It goes back at least to the fourth century A.D.; being found in the sermons of St Macarius. Ruysbroeck probably took it from St Bernard (De diligendo Deo, cap. 10), or possibly Richard of St Victor (De Quatuor Gradibus Violentae Charitatis).

88 "Hi gheeft hem in dat wesen der sielen, dar der sielen crachten, boven redene, gheenvoldicht sijn en ghedaghen die overforminghen Gods eenvoldigher wijs."

Reason, will and love must here be fused in one simple state, in order that they may apprehend the Unity in which an wisdom, love and will are resumed. This doctrine of self-simplification was well understood by the Platonic mystics and has passed from them into the Christian tradition. Thus Plotinus says, "The soul must ascend to the principle which is in herself, and become one instead of many, in order that she may contemplate the Principle of all things, and the One." (On the Good, or the One.)

89 The Flemish word "instaerne," which Ruysbroeck here uses, conveys the idea of an absorbed inward gazing, for which we have no exact expression in English.

90 "Staende in syn abijt." This phrase has puzzled all translators, from Surius onwards. Taken with its context, it seems to mean that the self's ascent to the heights of Divine fruition does not entail any impoverishment of the lower levels of existence. The senses, the intellect, the normal religious faculty, each continue to exist "in their own place." This is another statement of the profound truth insisted upon in The Sparkling Stone: that the completed life of man, like that of its Pattern Christ, is both active and contemplative, both human and divine"living wholly in God where we possess our blessedness, and wholly in ourselves where we exercise ourselves in love to God."