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Mysticism, by Evelyn Underhill, [1911], at

X. The Unitive Life

What is the Unitive Life? We have referred to it often enough in the course of this inquiry. At last we are face to face with the necessity of defining its nature if we can. Since the normal man knows little about his own true personality and nothing at all about that of Deity, the orthodox description of it as “the life in which man’s will is united with God,” does but echo the question in an ampler form, and conveys no real meaning to the student’s mind.

That we should know, by instinct, its character from within—as we know, if we cannot express, the character of our own normal human lives—is of course impossible. We deal here with the final triumph of the spirit, the flower of mysticism, humanity’s top note: the consummation towards which the contemplative life, with its long slow growth and costly training, has moved from the first. We look at a small but ever-growing group of heroic figures, living at transcendent levels of reality which we immersed in the poor life of illusion, cannot attain: breathing an atmosphere whose true quality we cannot even conceive. Here, then, as at so many other points in our study of the spiritual consciousness, we must rely for the greater part of our knowledge upon the direct testimony of the mystics; who alone can tell the character of that “more abundant life” which they enjoy. p. 414

Yet we are not wholly dependent on this source of information. It is the peculiarity of the Unitive Life that it is often lived, in its highest and most perfect forms, in the world; and exhibits its works before the eyes of men. As the law of our bodies is “earth to earth” so, strangely enough, is the law of our souls. The spirit of man having at last come to full consciousness of reality, completes the circle of Being; and returns to fertilize those levels of existence from which it sprang. Hence, the enemies of mysticism, who have easily drawn a congenial moral from the “morbid and solitary” lives of contemplatives in the earlier and educative stages of the Mystic Way, are here confronted very often by the disagreeable spectacle of the mystic as a pioneer of humanity, a sharply intuitive and painfully practical person: an artist, a discoverer, a religious or social reformer, a national hero, a “great active” amongst the saints. By the superhuman nature of that which these persons accomplish, we can gauge something of the super-normal vitality of which they partake. The things done, the victories gained over circumstances by St. Bernard or St. Joan of Arc, by St. Catherine of Siena, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Teresa, George Fox, are hardly to be explained unless these great spirits had indeed a closer, more intimate, more bracing contact than their fellows with that Life “which is the light of men.”

Use have, then, these two lines of investigation open to us: first, the comparison and elucidation of that which the mystics tell us concerning their transcendent experience, secondly, the testimony which is borne by their lives to the existence within them of supernal springs of action, contact set up with deep levels of vital power. In the third place, we have such critical machinery as psychology has placed at our disposal; but this, in dealing with these giants of the spirit, must be used with peculiar caution and humility.

The Unitive Life, though so often lived in the world, is never of it. It belongs to another plane of being, moves securely upon levels unrelated to our speech; and hence eludes the measuring powers of humanity. We, from the valley, can only catch a glimpse of the true life of these elect spirits, transfigured upon the mountain. They are far away, breathing another air: we cannot reach them. Yet it is impossible to over-estimate their importance for the race. They are our ambassadors to the Absolute. They vindicate humanity’s claim to the possible and permanent attainment of Reality; bear witness to the practical qualities of the transcendental life. In Eucken’s words, they testify to “the advent of a triumphing Spiritual Power, as distinguished from a spirituality which merely lays the foundations of life or struggles to maintain p. 415 them”:  842 to the actually life-enhancing power of the Love of God, once the human soul is freely opened to receive it.

Coming first to the evidence of the mystics themselves, we find that in their attempts towards describing the Unitive Life they have recourse to two main forms of symbolic expression, both very dangerous, and liable to be misunderstood, both offering ample opportunity for harsh criticism to hostile investigators of the mystic type. We find also, as we might expect from our previous encounters with the symbols used by contemplatives and ecstatics, that these two forms of expression belong respectively to mystics of the transcendent-metaphysical and of the intimate-personal type: and that their formulae if taken alone, appear to contradict one another.

(1) The metaphysical mystic, for whom the Absolute is impersonal and transcendent, describes his final attainment of that Absolute as deification, or the utter transmutation of the self in God. (2) The mystic for whom intimate and personal communion has been the mode under which he best apprehended Reality speaks of the consummation of this communion, its perfect and permanent form, as the Spiritual Marriage of his soul with God. Obviously, both these terms are but the self’s guesses concerning the intrinsic character of a state which it has felt in its wholeness rather than analysed: and bear the same relation to the ineffable realities of that state, as our clever theories concerning the nature and meaning of life bear to the vital processes of men. It is worth while to examine them but we shall not understand them till we have also examined the life which they profess to explain.

The language of “deification” and of “spiritual marriage,” then, is temperamental language: and is related to subjective experience rather than to objective fact. It describes on the one hand the mystic’s astonished recognition of a profound change effected in his own personality  843 —the transmutation of his salt, sulphur, and mercury into Spiritual Gold—on the other, the rapturous consummation of his love. Hence by a comparison of these symbolic reconstructions, by the discovery and isolation of the common factor latent in each, we may perhaps learn something of the fundamental fact which each is trying to portray.

Again, the mystics describe certain symptoms either as the p. 416 necessary preliminaries or as the marks and fruits of the Unitive State: and these too may help us to fix its character.

The chief, in fact the one essential, preliminary is that pure surrender of selfhood, or “self-naughting,” which the trials of the Dark Night tended to produce. “This,” says Julian of Norwich, “is the cause why that no soul is rested till it is naughted of all things that are made. When it is willingly made naught for love to have Him that is all, then is it able to receive spiritual rest.”  844 Only the thoroughly detached, “naughted soul” is “free,” says “The Mirror of Simple Souls,” and the Unitive State is essentially a state of free and filial participation in Eternal Life. The capital marks of the state itself are (1) a complete absorption in the interests of the Infinite, under whatever mode It is apprehended by the self; (2) a consciousness of sharing Its strength, acting by Its authority, which results in a complete sense of freedom, an invulnerable serenity, and usually urges the self to some form of heroic effort or creative activity; (3) the establishment of the self as a “power for life,” a centre of energy, an actual parent of spiritual vitality in other men. By assembling these symptoms and examining them, and the lives of those who exhibit them, in the light of psychology, we can surely get some news—however fragmentary—concerning the transcendent condition of being which involves these characteristic states and acts. Beyond this even Dante himself could not go:

‘Transumanar significar per verba
non si poria.”  845

We will then consider the Unitive Life (1) As it appears from the standpoint of the psychologist. (2) As it is described to us by those mystics who use (a) the language of Deification, (b) that of Spiritual Marriage. (3) Finally, we will turn to those who have lived it; and try, if we can, to realize it as an organic whole.

(1) From the point of view of the pure psychologist, what do the varied phenomena of the Unitive Life, taken together, seem to represent? He would probably say that they indicate the final and successful establishment of that higher form of consciousness which has been struggling for supremacy during the whole of the Mystic Way. The deepest, richest levels of human personality have now attained to light and freedom. The self is remade, transformed, has at last unified itself; and with the cessation of stress, power has been liberated for new purposes.

“The beginning of the mystic life,” says Delacroix, “introduced into the personal life of the subject a group of states which are distinguished by certain characteristics, and which form, so to p. 417 speak, a special psychological system. At its term, it has, as it were, suppressed the ordinary self, and by the development of this system has established a new personality with a new method of feeling and of action. Its growth results in the transformation of personality: it abolishes the primitive consciousness of selfhood, and substitutes for it a wider consciousness, the total disappearance of selfhood in the divine, the substitution of a Divine Self for the primitive self.”  846 We give a philosophic content to this conception if we say further that man, in this Unitive State, by this substitution of the divine for the “primitive” self, has at last risen to true freedom; “entered on the fruition of reality.”  847 Hence he has opened up new paths for the inflow of that Triumphing Power which is the very substance of the Real; has remade his consciousness, and in virtue of this total regeneration is “transplanted into that Universal Life, which is yet not alien but our own.”  848 From contact set up with this Universal Life, this “Energetic Word of God, which nothing can contain”—from those deep levels of Being to which his shifting, growing personality is fully adapted at last—he draws that amazing strength, that immovable peace, that power of dealing with circumstance, which is one of the most marked characteristics of the Unitive Life. “That secret and permanent personality of a superior type”  849 which gave to the surface-self constant and ever more insistent intimations of its existence at every stage of the mystic’s growth—his real, eternal self—has now consciously realized its destiny: and begins at last fully to be. In the travail of the Dark Night it has conquered and invaded the last recalcitrant elements of character. It is no more limited to acts of profound perception, overpowering intuitions of the Absolute: no more dependent for its emergence on the psychic states of contemplation and ecstasy. Anima and Animus are united. The mystic has at last resolved the Stevensonian paradox; and is not truly two, but truly one.

(2) The mystic, I think, would acquiesce in these descriptions, so far as they go: but he would probably translate them into his own words and gloss them with an explanation which is beyond the power and province of psychology. He would say that his long-sought correspondence with Transcendental Reality, his union with God, has now been finally established: that his self, though intact, is wholly penetrated—as a sponge by the sea—by the Ocean of Life and Love to which he has attained. “I live, yet not I but God in me.” He is conscious that he is now at length cleansed p. 418 of the last stains of separation, and has become, in a mysterious manner, “that which he beholds.”

In the words of the Sufi poet, the mystic’s journey is now prosecuted not only to God but in God. He has entered the Eternal Order, attained here and now the state to which the Magnet of the Universe draws every living thing. Moving through periods of alternate joy and anguish, as his spiritual self woke, stretched, and was tested in the complementary fires of love and pain, he was inwardly conscious that he moved towards a definite objective. In so far as he was a great mystic, he was also conscious that this objective was no mere act of knowing, however intense, exultant, and sublime, but a condition of being, fulfilment of that love which impelled him, steadily and inexorably, to his own place. In the image of the alchemists, the Fire of Love has done its work: the mystic Mercury of the Wise—that little hidden treasure, that scrap of Reality within him—has utterly transmuted the salt and sulphur of his mind and his sense. Even the white stone of illumination, once so dearly cherished, he has resigned to the crucible. Now, the great work is accomplished, the last imperfection is gone, and he finds within himself the “Noble Tincture”—the gold of spiritual humanity.

(A) We have said that the mystic of the impersonal type—the seeker of a Transcendent Absolute—tends to describe the consummation of his quest in the language of deification. The Unitive Life necessarily means for him, as for all who attain it, something which infinitely transcends the sum total of its symptoms: something which normal men cannot hope to understand. In it he declares that he “partakes directly of the Divine Nature,” enjoys the fruition of reality. Since we “only behold that which we are,” the doctrine of deification results naturally and logically from this claim.

“Some may ask,” says the author of the “Theologia Germanica” “what is it to be a partaker of the Divine Nature, or a Godlike [ vergottet , literally deified] man? Answer: he who is imbued with or illuminated by the Eternal or Divine Light and inflamed or consumed with Eternal or Divine Love, he is a deified man and a partaker of the Divine Nature.”  850

Such a word as “deification” is not, of course, a scientific term. It is a metaphor, an artistic expression which tries to hint at a transcendent fact utterly beyond the powers of human understanding, and therefore without equivalent in human speech: that fact of which Dante perceived the “shadowy preface” when he saw the saints as petals of the Sempiternal Rose.  851 Since we know not p. 419 the Being of God, the mere statement that a soul is transformed in Him may convey to us an ecstatic suggestion, but will never give exact information: except of course to those rare selves who have experienced these supernal states. Such selves, however—or a large proportion of them—accept this statement as approximately true. Whilst the more clear-sighted are careful to qualify it in a sense which excludes pantheistic interpretations, and rebuts the accusation that extreme mystics preach the annihilation of the self and regard themselves as co-equal with the Deity, they leave us in no doubt that it answers to a definite and normal experience of many souls who attain high levels of spiritual vitality. Its terms are chiefly used by those mystics by whom Reality is apprehended as a state or place rather than a Person:  852 and who have adopted, in describing the earlier stages of their journey to God, such symbols as those of rebirth or transmutation.

The blunt and positive language of these contemplatives concerning deification has aroused more enmity amongst the unmystical than any other of their doctrines or practices. It is of course easy, by confining oneself to its surface sense, to call such language blasphemous: and the temptation to do so has seldom been resisted. Yet, rightly understood, this doctrine lies at the heart, not only of all mysticism, but also of much philosophy and most religion. It pushes their first principles to a logical end. Christian mysticism, says Delacroix with justice, springs from “that spontaneous and half-savage longing for deification which all religion contains.”  853 Eastern Christianity has always accepted it and expressed it in her rites. “The Body of God deifies me and feeds me,” says Simeon Metaphrastes, “it deifies my spirit and it feeds my soul in an incomprehensible manner.”  854

The Christian mystics justify this dogma of the deifying of man, by exhibiting it as the necessary corollary of the Incarnation—the humanizing of God. They can quote the authority of the Fathers in support of this argument. “He became man that we might be made God,” says St. Athanasius.  855 “I heard,” says St. Augustine, speaking of his pre-converted period, “Thy voice from on high crying unto me, ‘I am the Food of the fullgrown: grow, and then thou shalt feed on Me. Nor shalt thou change Me into thy substance as thou changest the food of thy flesh, but thou shalt be changed into Mine.’”  856 Eckhart therefore did no more than expand the patristic view when he wrote, “Our Lord says to every living p. 420 soul, ‘I became man for you. If you do not become God for me, you do me wrong.’”  857

If we are to allow that the mystics have ever attained the object of their quest, I think we must also allow that such attainment involves the transmutation of the self to that state which they call, for want of exact language, “deified.” The necessity of such transmutation is an implicit of their first position: the law that “we behold that which we are, and are that which we behold.” Eckhart, in whom the language of deification assumes its most extreme form, justifies it upon this necessity. “If,” he says, “I am to know God directly, I must become completely He and He I: so that this He and this I become and are one I.”  858

God, said St. Augustine, is the Country of the soul: its Home, says Ruysbroeck. The mystic in the unitive state is living in and of his native land; no exploring alien, but a returned exile, now wholly identified with it, part of it, yet retaining his personality intact. As none know the spirit of England but the English; and they know it by intuitive participation, by mergence, not by thought; so none but the “deified” know the secret life of God. This, too, is a knowledge conferred only by participation: by living a life, breathing an atmosphere, “union with that same Light by which they see, and which they see.”  859 It is one of those rights of citizenship which cannot be artificially conferred. Thus it becomes important to ask the mystics what they have to tell us of their life lived upon the bosom of Reality: and to receive their reports without prejudice, however hard the sayings they contain.

The first thing which emerges from these reports, and from the choice of symbols which we find in them, is that the great mystics are anxious above all things to establish and force on us the truth that by deification they intend no arrogant claim to identification with God, but as it were a transfusion of their selves by His Self: an entrance upon a new order of life, so high and so harmonious with Reality that it can only be called divine. Over and over again they assure us that personality is not lost, but made more real. “When,” says St. Augustine, “I shall cleave to Thee with all my being, then shall I in nothing have pain and labour; and my life shall be a real life, being wholly full of Thee.”  860 “My life shall be a real life” because it is “full of Thee.” The achievement of reality, and deification, are then one and the same thing: necessarily so, since we know that only the divine is the real.  861

Mechthild of Magdeburg, and after her Dante, saw Deity as a p. 421 flame or river of fire that filled the Universe, and the “deified” souls of the saints as ardent sparks therein, ablaze with that fire, one thing with it, yet distinct.  862 Ruysbroeck, too, saw “Every soul like a live coal, burned up by God on the heart of His Infinite Love.”  863 Such fire imagery has seemed to many of the mystics a peculiarly exact and suggestive symbol of the transcendent state which they are struggling to describe. No longer confused by the dim Cloud of Unknowing, they have pierced to its heart, and there found their goal: that uncreated and energizing Fire which guided the children of Israel through the night. By a deliberate appeal to the parallel of such great impersonal forces—to Fire and Heat, Light, Water, Air—mystic writers seem able to bring out a perceived aspect of the Godhead, and of the transfigured soul’s participation therein, which no merely personal language, taken alone, can touch. Thus Boehme, trying to describe the union between the Word and the soul, says, “I give you an earthly similitude of this. Behold a bright flaming piece of iron, which of itself is dark and black, and the fire so penetrateth and shineth through the iron, that it giveth light. Now, the iron doth not cease to be, it is iron still: and the source (or property) of the fire retaineth its own propriety: it doth not take the iron into it, but it penetrateth (and shineth) through the iron; and it is iron then as well as before, free in itself: and so also is the source or property of the fire. In such a manner is the soul set in the Deity; the Deity penetrateth through the soul, and dwelleth in the soul, yet the soul doth not comprehend the Deity, but the Deity comprehendeth the soul, but doth not alter it (from being a soul) but only giveth it the divine source (or property) of the Majesty.”  864

Almost exactly the same image of deification was used, five hundred years before Boehme’s day, by Richard of St. Victor; a mystic whom he is hardly likely to have read. “When the soul is plunged in the fire of divine love,” he says, “like iron, it first loses its blackness, and then growing to white heat, it becomes like unto the fire itself. And lastly, it grows liquid, and losing its nature is transmuted into an utterly different quality of being.” “As the difference between iron that is cold and iron that is hot,” he says again, “so is the difference between soul and soul: between the tepid soul and the soul made incandescent by divine love.”  865 Other contemplatives say that the deified soul is transfigured by the inundations of the Uncreated Light: that it is like a brand blazing in the furnace, transformed to the likeness of the fire. “These souls,” says the Divine voice to St. Catherine of Siena, p. 422 “thrown into the furnace of My charity, no part of their will remaining outside but the whole of them being inflamed in Me, are like a brand, wholly consumed in the furnace, so that no one can take hold of it to extinguish it, because it has become fire. In the same way no one can seize these souls, or draw them outside of Me, because they are made one thing with Me through grace, and I never withdraw Myself from them by sentiment, as in the case of those whom I am leading on to perfection.”  866

For the most subtle and delicate descriptions of the Unitive or Deified State, understood as self-loss in the “Ocean Pacific” of God, we must go to the great genius of Ruysbroeck. He alone, whilst avoiding all its pitfalls, has conveyed the suggestion of its ineffable joys in a measure which seems, as we read, to be beyond all that we had supposed possible to human utterance. Awe and rapture, theological profundity, keen psychological insight, are here tempered by a touching simplicity. We listen to the report of one who has indeed heard “the invitation of love” which “draws interior souls towards the One” and says “Come home.” A humble receptivity, a meek self-naughting is with Ruysbroeck, as with all great mystics, the gate of the City of God. “Because they have abandoned themselves to God in doing, in leaving undone, and in suffering,” he says of the deified souls, “they have steadfast peace and inward joy, consolation and savour, of which the world cannot partake; neither any dissembler, nor the man who seeks and means himself more than the glory of God. Moreover, those same inward and enlightened men have before them in their inward seeing, whenever they will, the Love of God as something drawing or urging them into the Unity; for they see and feel that the Father with the Son through the Holy Ghost, embrace Each Other and all the chosen, and draw themselves back with eternal love into the unity of Their Nature. Thus the Unity is ever drawing to itself and inviting to itself everything that has been born of It, either by nature or by grace. And therefore, too, such enlightened men are, with a free spirit, lifted up above reason into a bare and imageless vision, wherein lives the eternal indrawing summons of the Divine Unity; and, with an imageless and bare understanding, they pass through all works, and all exercises, and all things, until they reach the summit of their spirits. There, their bare understanding is drenched through by the Eternal Brightness, even as the air is drenched through by the sunshine. And the bare, uplifted will is transformed and drenched through by abysmal love, even as iron is by fire. And the bare, uplifted memory feels itself enwrapped and established in an abysmal Absence of Image. And thereby the created image p. 423 is united above reason in a threefold way with its Eternal Image, which is the origin of its being and its life. . . . Yet the creature does not become God, for the union takes place in God through grace and our homeward-turning love: and therefore the creature in its inward contemplation feels a distinction and an otherness between itself and God. And though the union is without means, yet the manifold works which God works in heaven and on earth are nevertheless hidden from the spirit. For though God gives Himself as He is, with clear discernment, He gives Himself in the essence of the soul, where the powers of the soul are simplified above reason, and where, in simplicity, they suffer the transformation of God. There all is full and overflowing, for the spirit feels itself to be one truth and one richness and one unity with God. Yet even here there is an essential tending forward, and therein is an essential distinction between the being of the soul and the Being of God; and this is the highest and finest distinction which we are able to feel.”  867

“When love has carried us above and beyond all things,” he says in another place, “above the light, into the Divine Dark, there we are wrought and transformed by the Eternal Word Who is the image of the Father; and as the air is penetrated by the sun, thus we receive in idleness of spirit the Incomprehensible Light, enfolding us and penetrating us. And this flight is nothing else but an infinite gazing and seeing. We behold that which we are, and we are that which be behold; because our thought, life and being are uplifted in simplicity and made one with the Truth which is God.”  868

Here the personal aspect of the Absolute seems to be reduced to a minimum: yet all that we value in personality—love, action, will—remains unimpaired. We seem caught up to a plane of vision beyond the categories of the human mind: to the contemplation of a Something Other—our home, our hope, and our passion, the completion of our personality, and the Substance of all that Is. Such an endless contemplation, such a dwelling within the substance of Goodness, Truth and, Beauty, is the essence of that Beatific Vision, that participation of Eternity, “of all things most delightful and desired, of all things most loved by them who have it,”  869 which theology presents to us as the objective of the soul.

Those mystics of the metaphysical type who tend to use these impersonal symbols of Place and Thing often see in the Unitive Life a foretaste of the Beatific Vision: an entrance here and now p. 424 into that absolute life within the Divine Being, which shall be lived by all perfect spirits when they have cast off the limitations of the flesh and re-entered the eternal order for which they were made. For them, in fact, the “deified man,” in virtue of his genius for transcendental reality, has run ahead of human history: and attained a form of consciousness which other men will only know when earthly life is past.

In the “Book of Truth” Suso has a beautiful and poetic comparison between the life of the blessed spirits dwelling within the Ocean of Divine Love, and that approximate life which is lived on earth by the mystic who has renounced all selfhood and merged his will in that of the Eternal Truth. Here we find one of the best of many answers to the ancient but apparently immortal accusation that the mystics teach the total annihilation of personality as the end and object of their quest. “Lord, tell me,” says the Servitor, “what remains to a blessed soul which has wholly renounced itself.” Truth says, “When the good and faithful servant enters into the joy of his Lord, he is inebriated by the riches of the house of God; for he feels, in an ineffable degree, that which is felt by an inebriated man. He forgets himself, he is no longer conscious of his selfhood; he disappears and loses himself in God, and becomes one spirit with Him, as a drop of water which is drowned in a great quantity of wine. For even as such a drop disappears, taking the colour and the taste of wine, so it is with those who are in full possession of blessedness. All human desires are taken from them in an indescribable manner, they are rapt from themselves, and are immersed in the Divine Will. If it were otherwise, if there remained in the man some human thing that was not absorbed, those words of Scripture which say that God must be all in all would be false. His being remains, but in another form, in another glory, and in another power. And all this is the result of entire and complete renunciation. . . . Herein thou shalt find an answer to thy question; for the true renunciation and veritable abandonment of a man to the Divine Will in the temporal world is an imitation and reduction of that self-abandonment of the blessed, of which Scripture speaks: and this imitation approaches its model more or less, according as men are more or less united with God and become more or less one with God. Remark well that which is said of the blessed: they are stripped of their personal initiative, and changed into another form, another glory, another power. What then is this other form, if it be not the Divine Nature and the Divine Being whereinto they pour themselves, and which pours Itself into them, and becomes one thing with them? And what is that other glory, if it be not to be illuminated and made shining in the Inaccessible Light? What is p. 425 that other power, if it be not that by means of his union with the Divine Personality, there is given to man a divine strength and a divine power, that he may accomplish all which pertains to his blessedness and omit all which is contrary thereto? And thus it is that, as has been said, a man comes forth from his selfhood.”  870

All the mystics agree that the stripping off of the I, the Me, the Mine, utter renouncement, or “self-naughting”—self-abandonment to the direction of a larger Will—is an imperative condition of the attainment of the unitive life. The temporary denudation of the mind, whereby the contemplative made space for the vision of God, must now be applied to the whole life. Here, they say, there is a final swallowing up of that wilful I-hood, that surface individuality which we ordinarily recognize as ourselves. It goes for ever, and something new is established in its room. The self is made part of the mystical Body of God; and, humbly taking its place in the corporate life of Reality, would “fain be to the Eternal Goodness what his own hand is to a man.”  871 That strange “hunger and thirst of God for the soul,” “at once avid and generous,” of which they speak in their profoundest passages, here makes its final demand and receives its satisfaction. “All that He has, all that He is He gives: all that we have, all that we are, He takes.”  872 The self, they declare, is devoured, immersed in the Abyss; “sinks into God, Who is the deep of deeps.” In their efforts towards describing to us this, the supreme mystic act, and the new life to which it gives birth, they are often driven to the use of images which must seem to us grotesque, were it not for the flame which burns behind: as when Ruysbroeck cries, “To eat and be eaten! this is Union! . . . Since His desire is without measure, to be devour of of Him does not greatly amaze me.”  873

(B) At this point we begin to see that the language of deification, taken alone, will not suffice to describe the soul’s final experience of Reality. The personal and emotional aspect of man’s relation with his Source is also needed if that which he means by “union with God” is to be even partially expressed. Hence, even the most “transcendental” mystic is constantly compelled to fall back on the language of love in the endeavour to express the content of his metaphysical raptures: and forced in the end to acknowledge that the perfect union of Lover and Beloved cannot be suggested in the precise and arid terms of religious philosophy. Such arid language eludes the most dangerous aspects of “divine union,” the pantheistic on one hand, the “amoristic” on the other; but it also fails to express the most splendid side of that amazing p. 426 experience. It needs some other, more personal and intimate vision to complete it: and this we shall find in the reports of those mystics of the “intimate” type to whom the Unitive Life has meant not self-loss in an Essence, but self-fulfilment in the union of heart and will.

The extreme form of this kind of apprehension of course finds expression in the well-known and heartily abused symbolism of the Spiritual Marriage between God and the Soul: a symbolism which goes back to the Orphic Mysteries, and thence descended via the Neoplatonists into the stream of Christian tradition. But there are other and less concrete embodiments of it, wholly free from the dangers which are supposed to lurk in “erotic” imagery of this kind. Thus Jalalu ‘d Din, by the use of metaphors which are hardly human yet charged with passionate feeling, tells, no less successfully than the writer of the Song of Songs, the secret of “his union in which “heart speaks to heart.”

With Thy Sweet Soul, this soul of mine
Hath mixed as Water doth with Wine.
Who can the Wine and Water part,
Or me and Thee when we combine?
Thou art become my greater self;
Small bounds no more can me confine.
Thou hast my being taken on,
And shall not I now take on Thine?
Me Thou for ever hast affirmed
That I may ever know Thee mine
Thy Love has pierced me through and through,
Its thrill with Bone and Nerve entwine.
I rest a Flute laid on Thy lips;
A lute, I on Thy breast recline.
Breathe deep in me that I may sigh;
Yet strike my strings, and tears shall shine.”  874

What the mystic here desires to tell us is, that his new life is not only a free and conscious participation in the life of Eternity—a fully-established existence on real and transcendental levels—but also the conscious sharing of an inflowing personal life greater than his own; a tightening of the bonds of that companionship which has been growing in intimacy and splendour during the course of the Mystic Way. This companionship, at once the most actual and most elusive fact of human experience, is utterly beyond the resources of speech. So too are those mysteries of the communion of love, whereby the soul’s humble, active and ever-renewed self-donation becomes the occasion of her glory: and “by her love she is made the equal of Love”—the beggar maid sharing Cophetua’s throne.

Thus the anonymous author of the “Mirror” writes, in one of p. 427 his most daring passages, “‘I am God,’ says Love, ‘for Love is God, and God is Love. And this soul is God by condition of love: but I am God by Nature Divine. And this [state] is hers by righteousness of love, so that this precious beloved of me is learned, and led of Me without her [working]. . . . This [soul] is the eagle that flies high, so right high and yet more high than doth any other bird; for she is feathered with fine love.’”  875

The simplest expression of the Unitive Life, the simplest interpretation which we can put on its declarations, is that it is the complete and conscious fulfilment here and now of this Perfect Love. In it certain elect spirits, still in the flesh, “fly high and yet more high,” till “taught and led out of themselves,” they become, in the exaggerated language of the “Mirror,” “God by condition of love.” Home-grown English mysticism tried as a rule to express the inexpressible in homelier, more temperate terms than this. “I would that thou knew,” says the unknown author of the “Epistle of Prayer,” “what manner of working it is that knitteth man’s soul to God, and that maketh it one with Him in love and accordance of will after the word of St. Paul, saying thus: Qui adhaeret Deo, unus spiritus est cum illo; that is to say: ‘Whoso draweth near to God as it is by such a reverent affection touched before, he is one spirit with God.’ That is, though all that God and he be two and sere in kind, nevertheless yet in grace they are so knit together that they are but one in spirit; and all this is one for onehead of love and accordance of will; and in this onehead is the marriage made between God and the soul the which shall never be broken, though all that the heat and the fervour of this work cease for a time, but by a deadly sin. In the ghostly feeling of this onehead may a loving soul both say and sing (if it list) this holy word that is written in the Book of Songs in the Bible, ‘Dilectus meus mihi et ego illi, that is, My loved unto me, and I unto Him; understanding that God shall be knitted with the ghostly glue of grace on His party, and the lovely consent in gladness of spirit on thy party.”  876

I think no one can deny that the comparison of the bond between the soul and the Absolute to “ghostly glue,” though crude, is wholly innocent. Its appearance in this passage as an alternative to the symbol of wedlock may well check the uncritical enthusiasm of those who hurry to condemn at sight all “sexual” imagery. That it has seemed to the mystics appropriate and exact is proved by its reappearance in the next century in the work of a greater contemplative. “Thou givest me,” says Petersen, p. 428 “Thy whole Self to be mine whole and undivided, if at least I shall be Thine whole and undivided. And when I shall be thus all Thine, even as from everlasting Thou hast loved Thyself, so from everlasting Thou hast loved me: for this means nothing more than that Thou enjoyest Thyself in me, and that I by Thy grace enjoy Thee in myself and myself in Thee. And when in Thee I shall love myself, nothing else but Thee do I love, because Thou art in me and I in Thee, glued together as one and the selfsame thing, which henceforth and forever cannot be divided.”  877

From this kind of language to that of the Spiritual Marriage, as understood by the pure minds of the mystics, is but a step.  878 They mean by it no rapturous satisfactions, no dubious spiritualizing of earthly ecstasies, but a life-long bond “that shall never be lost or broken,” a close personal union of will and of heart between the free self and that “Fairest in Beauty” Whom it has known in the act of contemplation.

The Mystic Way has been a progress, a growth in love: a deliberate fostering of the inward tendency of the soul towards its source, an eradication of its disorderly tendencies to “temporal goods.” But the only proper end of love is union: “a perfect uniting and coupling together of the lover and the loved into one.”  879 It is “a unifying principle,” the philosophers say:  880 life’s mightiest agent upon every plane. Moreover, just as earthly marriage is understood by the moral sense less as a satisfaction of personal desire, than as a part of the great process of life—the fusion of two selves for new purposes—so such spiritual marriage brings with it duties and obligations. With the attainment of a new order, the new infusion of vitality, comes a new responsibility, the call to effort and endurance on a new and mighty scale. It is not an act but a state. Fresh life is imparted, by which our lives are made complete: new creative powers are conferred. The self, lifted to the divine order, is to be an agent of the divine fecundity: an energizing centre, a parent of transcendental life. “The last perfection,” says Aquinas, “to supervene upon a thing, is its becoming the cause of other things. While then a creature tends by many ways to the likeness of God, the last way left open to it is to seek the divine likeness by being the cause of other things, according to what the Apostle says, Dei enim sumus adjutores .”  881 p. 429

We find as a matter of fact, when we come to study the history of the mystics, that the permanent Unitive State, or spiritual marriage, does mean for those who attain to it, above all else such an access of creative vitality. It means man’s small derivative life invaded and enhanced by the Absolute Life: the appearance in human history of personalities and careers which seem superhuman when judged by the surface mind. Such activity, such a bringing forth of “the fruits of the Spirit,” may take many forms: but where it is absent, where we meet with personal satisfactions, personal visions or raptures—however sublime and spiritualized—presented as marks of the Unitive Way, ends or objects of the quest of Reality, we may be sure that we have wandered from the “strait and narrow road” which leads, not to eternal rest, but to Eternal Life. “The fourth degree of love is spiritually fruitful,”  882 said Richard of St. Victor. Wherever we find a sterile love, a “holy passivity,” we are in the presence of quietistic heresy; not of the Unitive Life. “I hold it for a certain truth,” says St. Teresa, “that in giving these graces our Lord intends, as I have often told you, to strengthen our weakness so that we may imitate Him by suffering much. . . . Whence did St. Paul draw strength to support his immense labours? We see clearly in him the effects of visions and contemplations which come indeed from our Lord, and not from our own imagination or the devil’s fraud. Do you suppose St. Paul hid himself in order to enjoy in peace these spiritual consolations, and did nothing else? You know that on the contrary he never took a day’s rest so far as we can learn, and worked at night in order to earn his bread. . . . Oh my sisters! how forgetful of her own ease, how careless of honours, should she be whose soul God thus chooses for His special dwelling place! For if her mind is fixed on Him, as it ought to be, she must needs forget herself; all her thoughts are bent on how to please Him better, and when and how she may show Him her love. This is the end and aim of prayer, my daughters; this is the object of that spiritual marriage whose children are always good works. Works are the best proof that the favours which we receive have come from God.”  883 “To give our Lord a perfect hospitality” she says in the same chapter, “Mary and Martha must combine.”

When we look at the lives of the great theopathetic mystics, the true initiates of Eternity—inarticulate as these mystics often are—we find ourselves in the presence of an amazing, a superabundant vitality: of a “triumphing force” over which circumstance has no power. The incessant production of good works seems indeed p. 430 to be the object of that Spirit, by Whose presence their interior castle is now filled.

We see St. Paul, abruptly enslaved by the First and Only Fair, not hiding himself to enjoy the vision of Reality, but going out single-handed to organize the Catholic Church. We ask how it was possible for an obscure Roman citizen, without money, influence, or good health, to lay these colossal foundations: and he answers “Not I, but Christ in me.”

We see St. Joan of Arc, a child of the peasant class, leaving the sheepfold to lead the armies of France. We ask how this incredible thing can be: and are told “Her Voices bade her.” A message, an overpowering impulse, came from the supra-sensible: vitality flowed in on her, she knew not how or why. She was united with the Infinite Life, and became Its agent, the medium of Its strength, “what his own hand is to a man.”

We see St. Francis, “God’s troubadour,” marked with His wounds, inflamed with His joy—obverse and reverse of the earnest-money of eternity—or St. Ignatius Loyola, our Lady’s knight, a figure at once militant and romantic, go out to change the spiritual history of Europe. Where did they find—born and bred to the most ordinary of careers, in the least spiritual of atmospheres—that superabundant energy, that genius for success which triumphed best in the most hopeless situations? Francis found it before the crucifix in St. Damiano, and renewed it in the ineffable experience of La Verna; when “by mental possession and rapture he was transfigured of God.” Ignatius found it in the long contemplations and hard discipline of the cave of Manresa, after the act of surrender in which he dedicated his knighthood to the service of the Mother of God.

We see St. Teresa, another born romantic, pass to the Unitive State after long and bitter struggles between her lower and higher personality. A chronic invalid over fifty years of age, weakened by long ill-health and the mortifications of the Purgative Way she deliberately breaks with her old career in obedience to the inward Voice, leaves her convent, and starts a new life: coursing through Spain, and reforming a great religious order in the teeth of the ecclesiastical world. Yet more amazing, St. Catherine of Siena, an illiterate daughter of the people, after a three years’ retreat consummates the mystic marriage, and emerges from the cell of self-knowledge to dominate the politics of Italy. How came it that these apparently unsuitable men and women, checked on every side by inimical environment, ill-health, custom, or poverty achieved these stupendous destinies? The explanation can only lie in the fact that all these persons were great mystics, living upon high levels the theopathetic life. In each a character of the p. 431 heroic type, of great vitality, deep enthusiasms, unconquerable will, was raised to the spiritual plane, remade on higher levels of consciousness. Each by surrender of selfhood, by acquiescence in the large destinies of life, had so furthered that self’s natural genius for the Infinite that their human limitations were overpassed. Hence they rose to freedom and attained to the one ambition of the “naughted soul,” “I would fain be to the Eternal Goodness what his own hand is to a man.”

Even Madame Guyon’s natural tendency to passive states breaks down with her entrance on the Unitive Way. Though she cannot be classed amongst the greatest of its initiates, she too felt its fertilizing power, was stung from her “holy indifference” to become, as it were, involuntarily true to type.

“The soul,” she says of the self entering upon Union—and we cannot doubt that as usual she is describing her own carefully docketed “states”—“feels a secret vigour taking more and more strongly possession of all her being: and little by little she receives a new life, never again to be lost, at least so far as one can be assured of anything in this life. . . . This new life is not like that which she had before. It is a life in God. It is a perfect life. She no longer lives or works of herself: but God lives, acts and works in her, and this grows little by little till she becomes perfect with God’s perfection, is rich with His riches, and loves with His love.” . . .  884

This new, intense, and veritable life has other and even more vital characteristics than those which lead to “the performance of acts” or “the incessant production of good works.” It is, in an actual sense, as Richard of St. Victor reminded us, fertile, creative, as well as merely active. In the fourth degree of love, the soul brings forth its children. It is the agent of a fresh outbirth of spiritual vitality into the world; the helpmate of the Transcendent Order, the mother of a spiritual progeny. The great unitive mystics are each of them the founders of spiritual families, centres wherefrom radiates new transcendental life. The “flowing light of the Godhead” is focussed in them, as in a lens, only that it may pass through them to spread out on every side. So, too, the great creative seers and artists are the parents, not merely of their own immediate works, but also of whole schools of art, whole groups of persons who acquire or inherit their vision of beauty or truth. Thus within the area of influence of a Paul, a Francis, an Ignatius, a Teresa, an atmosphere of reality is created; and new and vital spiritual personalities gradually appear, meet for the work which these great founders set in hand. The real witness to St. Paul’s ecstatic life in God, is the train of Christian churches by which his journeyings are marked. Wherever Francis passed, he left p. 432 Franciscans, “fragrant with a wondrous aspect,” where none had been before.  885 The Friends of God spring up, individual mystics, here and there through the Rhineland and Bavaria. Each becomes the centre of an ever widening circle of transcendent life, the parent of a spiritual family. They are come like their Master, that men may have life more abundantly: from them new mystic energy is actually born into the world. Again, Ignatius leaves Manresa a solitary: maimed, ignorant, and poor. He comes to Rome with his company already formed, and ablaze with his spirit; veritably his children, begotten of him, part and parcel of his life.

Teresa finds the order of Mount Carmel hopelessly corrupt: its friars and nuns blind to reality, indifferent to the obligations of the cloistered life. She is moved by the Spirit to leave her convent and begin, in abject poverty, the foundation of new houses, where the most austere and exalted life of contemplation shall be led. She enters upon this task to the accompaniment of an almost universal mockery. Mysteriously, as she proceeds, novices of the spiritual life appear and cluster around her. They come into existence, one knows not how, in the least favourable of atmospheres: but one and all are salted with the Teresian salt. They receive the infection of her abundant vitality: embrace eagerly and joyously the heroic life of the Reform. In the end, every city in Spain has within it Teresa’s spiritual children: a whole order of contemplatives, as truly born of her as if they were indeed her sons and daughters in the flesh. Well might the Spiritual Alchemists say that the true “Lapis Philosophorum” is a tinging stone: which imparts its goldness to the base metals brought within its sphere of influence.

This reproductive power is one of the greatest marks of the theopathetic life: the true “mystic marriage” of the individual soul with its Source. Those rare personalities in whom it is found are the media through which that Triumphing Spiritual Life which is the essence of reality forces an entrance into the temporal order and begets children; heirs of the superabundant vitality of the transcendental universe.

But the Unitive Life is more than the sum total of its symptoms: more than the heroic and apostolic life of the “great active”: more than the divine motherhood of new “sons and daughters of the Absolute.” These are only its outward signs, its expression in time and space. I have first laid stress upon that expression, because it is the side which all critics and some friends of the mystics persistently ignore. The contemplative’s power of living this intense and creative life within the temporal order, however, is tightly bound up with that other life in which he attains to p. 433 complete communion with the Absolute Order, and submits to the inflow of its supernal vitality. In discussing the relation of the mystical experience to philosophy,  886 we saw that the complete mystic consciousness, and therefore, of course, the complete mystic world, had a twofold character which could hardly be reconciled with the requirements of monism. It embraced a Reality which seems from the human standpoint at once static and dynamic, transcendent and immanent, eternal and temporal: accepted both the absolute World of Pure Being and the unresting World of Becoming as integral parts of its vision of Truth, demanding on its side a dual response. All through the Mystic Way we caught glimpses of the growth and exercise of this dual intuition of the Real. Now, the mature mystic, having come to his full stature, passed through the purifications of sense and of spirit and entered on his heritage, must and does take up as a part of that heritage not merely ( a ) a fruition of the Divine Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, his place within the Sempiternal Rose, nor ( b ) the creative activity of an agent of the Eternal Wisdom, still immersed in the River of Life: but both together—the twofold destiny of the spiritual man, called to “incarnate the Eternal in time.” To use the old scholastic language, he is at once patient and agent: patient as regards God, agent as regards the world.

In a deep sense it may be said of him that he now participates according to his measure in that divine-human life which mediates between man and the Eternal, and constitutes the “salvation of the world.” Therefore, though his outward heroic life of action, his divine fecundity, may seem to us the best evidence of his state, it is the inner knowledge of his mystical sonship whereby “we feel eternal life in us above all other thing,”  887 which is for him the guarantee of absolute life. He has many ways of describing this central fact; this peculiar consciousness of his own transcendence, which coexists with, and depends on, a complete humility. Sometimes he says that whereas in the best moments of his natural life he was but the “faithful servant” of the eternal order, and in the illuminated way became its “secret friend,” he is now advanced to the final, most mysterious state of “hidden child.” “How great,” says Ruysbroeck, “is the difference between the secret friend and the hidden child! For the friend makes only loving, living, but measured ascents towards God. But the child presses on to lose his own life upon the summits, in that simplicity which knoweth not itself. . . . When we transcend ourselves and become in our ascent towards God so simple that the bare supreme Love can lay hold of us, then we cease, and we and all our selfhood p. 434 die in God. And in this death we become the hidden children of God, and find a new life within us.”  888

Though the outer career of the great mystic, then, be one of superhuman industry, a long fight with evil and adversity, his real and inner life dwells securely upon the heights; in the perfect fruition which he can only suggest to us by the paradoxical symbols of ignorance and emptiness. He dominates existence because he thus transcends it: is a son of God, a member of the eternal order, shares its substantial life. “Tranquillity according to His essence, activity according to His Nature: absolute repose, absolute fecundity”: this, says Ruysbroeck again, is the twofold property of Godhead: and the secret child of the Absolute participates in this dual character of Reality—“for this dignity has man been made.”  889

Those two aspects of truth which he has so clumsily classified as static and dynamic, as Being and Becoming, now find their final reconciliation within his own nature: for that nature has become conscious in all its parts, has unified itself about its highest elements. That strange, tormenting vision of a perfect peace, a joyous self-loss, annihilation in some mighty Life that overpassed his own, which haunts man throughout the whole course of his history, and finds a more or less distorted expression in all his creeds, a justification in all his ecstasies, is now traced to its source: and found to be the inevitable expression of an instinct by which he recognized, though he could not attain, the noblest part of his inheritance. This recognition of his has of necessity been imperfect and oblique. It has taken in many temperaments an exaggerated form, and has been further disguised by the symbolic language used to describe it. The tendency of Indian mysticism to regard the Unitive Life wholly in its passive aspect, as a total self-annihilation, a disappearance into the substance of the Godhead, results, I believe, from such a distortion of truth. The Oriental mystic “presses on to lose his life upon the heights”; but he does not come back and bring to his fellow-men the life-giving news that he has transcended mortality in the interests of the race. The temperamental bias of Western mystics towards activity has saved them as a rule from such one-sided achievement as this; and hence it is in them that the Unitive Life, with its “dual character of activity and rest,” has assumed its richest and noblest forms.

Of these Western mystics none has expressed more lucidly or splendidly than Ruysbroeck the double nature of man’s reaction to Reality. It is the heart of his vision of truth. In all his books he returns to it again and again: speaking, as none familiar with his p. 435 writings can doubt, the ardent, joyous, vital language of firsthand experience, not the platitudes of philosophy. He might say with Dante, his forerunner into the Empyrean:—

“La forma universal di questo nodo
credo ch’ io vidi, perchè più di largo
dicendo questo, mi sento ch’ io godo.”  890

It is then from Ruysbroeck that I shall make my quotations: and if they be found somewhat long and difficult of comprehension, their unique importance for the study of man’s spiritual abilities must be my excuse.

First, his vision of God:—

“The Divine Persons,” he says, “Who form one sole God, are in the fecundity of their nature ever active: and in the simplicity of their essence they form the Godhead and eternal blessedness. Thus God according to the Persons is Eternal Work: but according to the essence and Its perpetual stillness, He is Eternal Rest. Now love and fruition live between this activity and this rest. Love would ever be active: for its nature is eternal working with God. Fruition is ever at rest, for it consists above all will and all desire, in the embrace of the well-beloved by the well-beloved in a simple and imageless love; wherein the Father, together with the Son, enfolds His beloved ones in the fruitive unity of His Spirit, above the fecundity of nature. And that same Father says to each soul in His infinite loving kindness, ‘Thou art Mine and I am thine: I am thine and thou art Mine, for I have chosen thee from all eternity.’”  891

Next the vision of the self’s destiny: “Our activity consists in loving God and our fruition in enduring God and being penetrated by His love. There is a distinction between love and fruition, as there is between God and His Grace. When we unite ourselves to God by love, then we are spirit: but when we are caught up and transformed by His Spirit, then we are led into fruition. And the spirit of God Himself breathes us out from Himself that we may love, and may do good works; and again He draws us into Himself, that we may rest in fruition. And this is Eternal Life; even as our mortal life subsists in the indrawing and outgoing of our breath.”  892

“Understand,” he says again, “God comes to us incessantly, both with means and without means; and He demands of us both action and fruition, in such away that the action never hinders the fruition, nor the fruition the action, but they strengthen one p. 436 another. And this is why the interior man [ i.e., the contemplative] lives his life according to these two ways; that is to say, in rest and in work. And in each of them he is wholly and undividedly; for he dwells wholly in God in virtue of his restful fruition and wholly in himself in virtue of his active love. And God, in His communications, perpetually calls and urges him to renew both this rest and this work. And because the soul is just, it desires to pay at every instant that which God demands of it; and this is why each time it is irradiated of Him, the soul turns inward in a manner that is both active and fruitive, and thus it is renewed in all virtues and ever more profoundly immersed in fruitive rest. . . . It is active in all loving work, for it sees its rest. It is a pilgrim, for it sees its country. For love’s sake it strives for victory, for it sees its crown. Consolation, peace, joy, beauty and riches, all that can give delight, all this is shown to the mind illuminated in God, in spiritual similitudes and without measure. And through this vision and touch of God, love continues active. For such a just man has built up in his own soul, in rest and in work, a veritable life which shall endure for ever, but which shall be transformed after this present life to a state still more sublime. Thus this man is just, and he goes towards God by inward love, in eternal work, and he goes in God by his fruitive inclination in eternal rest. And he dwells in God; and yet he goes out towards all creatures, in a spirit of love towards all things, in virtue and in works of righteousness. And this is she supreme summit of the inner life .”  893

Compare this description with the careers of the theopathetic mystics, in whom, indeed, “action has not injured fruition, nor fruition action,” who have by some secret adjustment contrived to “possess their lives in rest and in work” without detriment to inward joy or outward industry. Bear in mind as you read these words—Ruysbroeck’s supreme effort to tell the true relation between man’s created spirit and his God—the great public ministry of St. Catherine of Siena, which ranged from the tending of the plague-stricken to the reforming of the Papacy; and was accompanied by the inward fruitive consciousness of the companionship of Christ. Remember the humbler but not less beautiful and significant achievement of her Genoese namesake: the strenuous lives of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius, St. Teresa, outwardly cumbered with much serving, observant of an infinitude of tiresome details, composing rules, setting up foundations, neglecting no aspect of their business which could conduce to its practical success, yet “altogether dwelling in God in restful fruition.” Are not all these supreme examples of the state in which the self, at last fully conscious, knowing Reality because she is wholly real, p. 437 pays her debt? Unable to rest entirely either in work or in fruition, she seizes on this twofold expression of the superabundant life by which she is possessed: and, on the double wings of eagerness and effort, takes flight towards her Home.

In dwelling, as we have done, on the ways in which the great mystic makes actual to himself the circumstances of the Unitive State, we must not forget that this state is, in essence, a fulfilment of love; the attainment of a “heart’s desire.” By this attainment, this lifting of the self to free union with the Real—as by the earthly marriage which dimly prefigures it—a new life is entered upon, new powers, new responsibilities are conferred. But this is not all. The three prime activities of the normal self, feeling, intellect, and will, though they seem to be fused, are really carried up to a higher term. They are unified, it is true, but still present in their integrity; and each demands and receives full satisfaction in the attainment of this fillal “honour for which man has been made.” The intellect is immersed in that mighty vision of truth, known now not as a vision but as a home; where St. Paul saw things which might not be uttered, St. Teresa found the “perpetual companionship of the Blessed Trinity,” and Dante, caught to its heart for one brief moment, his mind smitten by the blinding flash of the Uncreated light, knew that he had resolved Reality’s last paradox: the unity of “cerchio” and “imago” the infinite and personal aspects of God.  894 The enhanced will, made over to the interests of the Transcendent, receives new worlds to conquer, new strength to match its exalted destiny. But the heart too here enters on a new order, begins to live upon high levels of joy. “This soul, says Love, swims in the sea of joy: that is, in the sea of delight, the stream of divine influences.”  895

“Amans volat, currit et laetatur: liber est et non tenetur ,”  896 said à Kempis: classic words, which put before us once and for ever the inward joyousness and liberty of the saints. They “fly, run, and rejoice”—those great, laborious souls, often spent with amazing mortifications, vowed to hard and never-ending tasks. They are “free, and nothing can hold them,” though they seem to the world fenced in by absurd renunciations and restrictions, deprived of that cheap licence which it knows as liberty.

That fruition of joy of which Ruysbroeck speaks in majestic phrases, as constituting the interior life of mystic souls immersed in the Absolute—the translation of the Beatific Vision into the terms of a supernal feeling-state—is often realized in the secret experience of those same mystics, as the perennial possession of a childlike gaiety, an inextinguishable gladness of heart. The p. 438 transfigured souls move to the measures of a “love dance” which persists in mirth without comparison, through every outward hardship and tribulation. They enjoy the high spirits peculiar to high spirituality: and shock the world by a delicate playfulness, instead of exhibiting the morose resignation which it feels to be proper to the “spiritual life.” Thus St. Catherine of Siena, though constantly suffering, “was always jocund and of a happy spirit.” When prostrate with illness she overflowed with gaiety and gladness, and “was full of laughter in the Lord, exultant and rejoicing. “  897

Moreover, the most clear-sighted amongst the mystics declare such joy to be an implicit of Reality. Thus Dante, initiated into Paradise, sees the whole Universe laugh with delight as it glorifies God:  898 and the awful countenance of Perfect Love adorned with smiles.  899 Thus the souls of the great theologians dance to music and laughter in the Heaven of the Sun;  900 the loving seraphs, in their ecstatic joy, whirl about the Being of God.  901 “O luce sterna che . . . ami ed arridi, ” exclaims the pilgrim, as the Divine Essence is at last revealed to him,  902 and he perceives love and joy as the final attributes of the Triune God. Thus Beatrice with “suoi occhi ridenti”— so different from the world’s idea of a suitable demeanour for the soul’s supreme instructress—laughs as she mounts with him the ladder to the stars. So, if the deified soul has indeed run ahead of humanity and “according to his fruition dwells in heaven,” he too, like Francis, will run, rejoice and make merry: join the eager dance of the Universe about the One. “If,” says Patmore, “we may credit certain hints contained in the lives of the saints, love raises the spirit above the sphere of reverence and worship into one of laughter and dalliance: a sphere in which the soul says:—

“‘Shall I, a gnat which dances in Thy ray,
Dare to be reverent?’”  903

Richard Rolle has expressed this exultant “spirit of dalliance” with peculiar insight and delicacy. “Among the delights which he tastes in so sweet love burning,” he says of the true lover who “in the bond of the lovers’ will stably is confirmed,” “a heavenly privity inshed he feels, that no man can know but he that has received it, and in himself bears the electuary that anoints and makes happy all joyful lovers in Jesu; so that they cease not to hie in heavenly seats to sit, endlessly their Maker to enjoy. Hereto truly they yearn in heavenly sights abiding; and inwardly set p. 439 afire, all their inward parts are glad with pleasant shining in light. And themselves they feel gladdened with merriest love, and in joyful song wonderfully melted. . . . But this grace generally and to all is not given, but to the holy soul imbued with the holiest is taught; in whom the excellence of love shines, and songs of lovely loving, Christ inspiring, commonly burst up, and being made as it were a pipe of love, in sight of God more goodly than can be said, joying sounds. The which (soul) the mystery of love knowing, with great cry to its Love ascends, in wit sharpest, and in knowledge and in feeling subtle; not spread in things of this world but into God all gathered and set, that in cleanness of conscience and shining of soul to Him it may serve Whom it has purposed to love, and itself to Him to give. Surely the clearer the love of the lover is, the nearer to him and the more present God is. And thereby more clearly in God he joys, and of the sweet Goodness the more he feels, that to lovers is wont Itself to inshed, and to mirth without comparison the hearts of the meek to turn.”  904

The state of burning love, said Rolle, than which he could conceive no closer reaction to Reality, was the state of Sweetness and Song: the welling up of glad music in the simple soul, man’s natural expression of a joy which overpasses the descriptive powers of our untuneful speech. In the gay rhythms of that primordial art he may say something of the secret which the more decorous periods of religion and philosophy will never let him tell: something, too, which in its very childishness, its freedom from the taint of solemnity and self-importance, expresses the quality of that inward life, that perpetual youth, which the “secret child” of the Transcendent Order enjoys. “As it were a pipe of love” in the sight of God he “joying sounds.” The music of the spheres is all about him: he is a part of the great melody of the Divine. “Sweetest forsooth,” says Rolle again, “is the rest which the spirit takes whilst sweet goodly sound comes down, in which it is delighted: and in most sweet song and playful the mind is ravished to sing likings of love everlasting.”  905

When we come to look at the lives of the mystics, we find it literally true that such “songs of lovely loving commonly burst up” whenever we can catch them unawares; see behind the formidable and heroic activities of reformer, teacher, or leader of men the vie intime which is lived at the hearth of Love. “What are the servants of the Lord but His minstrels?” said St. Francis,  906 who saw nothing inconsistent between the Celestial Melodies and the Stigmata of Christ. Moreover the songs of such troubadours, as p. 440 the hermit of Hampole learned in his wilderness, are not only sweet but playful. Dwelling always in a light of which we hardly dare to think, save in the extreme terms of reverence and awe, they are not afraid with any amazement: they are at home.

The whole life of St. Francis of Assisi, that spirit transfigured in God, who “loved above all other birds a certain little bird which is called the lark,”  907 was one long march to music through the world. To sing seemed to him a primary spiritual function: he taught his friars in their preaching to urge all men to this.  908 It appeared to him appropriate and just to use the romantic language of the troubadours in praise of the perfect Love which had marked him as Its own. “Drunken with the love and compassion of Christ, blessed Francis on a time did things such as these. For the most sweet melody of spirit boiling up within him, frequently broke out in French speech, and the veins of murmuring which he heard secretly with his ears broke forth into French-like rejoicing. And sometimes he picked up a branch from the earth, and laying it on his left arm, he drew in his right hand another stick like a bow over it, as if on a viol or other instrument, and, making fitting gestures, sang with it in French unto the Lord Jesus Christ.”  909

Many a time has the romantic quality of the Unitive Life—its gaiety, freedom, assurance, and joy—broken out in “French-like rejoicings”; which have a terribly frivolous sound for worldly ears, and seem the more preposterous as coming from people whose outward circumstances are of the most uncomfortable kind. St. John of the Cross wrote love songs to his Love. St. Rose of Lima sang duets with the birds. St. Teresa, in the austere and poverty-stricken seclusion of her first foundation, did not disdain to make rustic hymns and carols for her daughters’ use in the dialect of Old Castile. Like St. Francis, she had a horror of solemnity. It was only fit for hypocrites, thought these rejuvenators of the Church. The hard life of prayer and penance on Mount Carmel was undertaken in a joyous spirit to the sound of many songs. Its great Reformer was quick to snub the too-spiritual sister who “thought it better to contemplate than to sing”: and was herself heard, as she swept the convent corridor, to sing a little ditty about the most exalted of her own mystical experiences: that ineffable transverberation, in which the fiery arrow of the seraph pierced her heart.  910

But the most lovely and real, most human and near to us, of all these descriptions of the celestial exhilaration which mystic surrender brings in its train, is the artless, unintentional self-revelation p. 441 of St. Catherine of Genoa, whose inner and outer lives in their balanced wholeness provide us with one of our best standards by which to judge the right proportions of the Mystic Way. Here the whole essence of the Unitive Life is summed up and presented to us by one who lived it upon heroic levels: and who was, in fruition and activity, in rest and in work, not only a great active and a great ecstatic, but one of the deepest gazers into the secrets of Eternal Love that the history of Christian mysticism contains. Yet perhaps there is no passage in the works of these same mystics which comes to so unexpected, so startling a conclusion as this; in which St. Catherine, with a fearless simplicity, shows to her fellow-men the nature of the path that she has trodden and the place that she has reached.

“When,” she says, in one of her reported dialogues—and though the tone be impersonal it is clearly personal experience which speaks—“the loving kindness of God calls a soul from the world, He finds it full of vices and sins; and first He gives it an instinct for virtue, and then urges it to perfection, and then by infused grace leads it to true self-naughting, and at last to true transformation. And this noteworthy order serves God to lead the soul along the Way: but when the soul is naughted and transformed, then of herself she neither works nor speaks nor wills, nor feels nor hears nor understands, neither has she of herself the feeling of outward or inward, where she may move. And in all things it is God Who rules and guides her, without the mediation of any creature. And the state of this soul is then a feeling of such utter peace and tranquillity that it seems to her that her heart, and her bodily being, and all both within and without is immersed in an ocean of utmost peace; from when she shall never come forth for anything that can befall her in this life. And she stays immovable, imperturbable, impassible. So much so, that it seems to her in her human and her spiritual nature, both within and without, she can feel no other thing than sweetest peace. And she is so full of peace that though she press her flesh, her nerves, her bones, no other thing comes forth from them than peace. Then says she all day for joy such rhymes as these, making them according to her manner:—

“‘Vuoi tu che tu mostr’io
Presto che cosa è Dio?
Pace non trova chi da lui si partiò.’” 911
p. 442

“Then says she all day for joy such rhymes as these”—nursery rhymes, one might almost call them: so infantile, so naive is their rhythm. Who would have suspected this to be the secret manner of communion between the exalted soul of Catherine and her Love? How many of those who actually saw that great and able woman labouring in the administration of her hospital—who heard that profound and instinctive Christian Platonist instructing her disciples, and declaring the law of universal and heroic love—how many of these divined that “questa santa benedetta” who seemed to them already something more than earthly, a matter of solemn congratulation and reverential approach, went about her work with a heart engaged in no lofty speculations on Eternity; no outpourings of mystic passion for the Absolute; but “saying all day for joy,” in a spirit of childlike happiness, gay and foolish little songs about her Love?

Standing at the highest point of the mystic ladder which can be reached by human spirits in this world of time and space, looking back upon the course of that slow interior alchemy, that “noteworthy order” of organic transformation, by which her selfhood had been purged of imperfection, raised to higher levels, compelled at last to surrender itself to the all-embracing, all-demanding life of the Real; this is St. Catherine’s deliberate judgment on the relative and absolute aspects of the mystic life. The “noteworthy order” which we have patiently followed, the psychic growth and rearrangement of character, the visions and ecstasies, the joyous illumination and bitter pain—these but “served to lead the soul along the way.” In the mighty transvaluation of values which takes place when that way has at last been trod, these “abnormal events” sink to insignificance. For us, looking out wistfully along the pathway to reality, they stand out, it is true, as supreme landmarks, by which we may trace the homeward course of pilgrim man. Their importance cannot be overrated for those who would study the way to that world from this. But the mystic, safe in that silence where lovers lose themselves, “his cheek on Him Who for his coming came,” remembers them no more. In the midst of his active work, his incessant spiritual creation, joy and peace enfold him. He needs no stretched and sharpened intuition now: for he dwells in that “most perfect form of contemplation” which “consists in simple and perceived contact of the substance of the soul with that of the divine.”  912 p. 443

The wheel of life has made its circle. Here, at the last point of its revolution, the extremes of sublimity and simplicity are seen to meet. It has swept the soul of the mystic through periods of alternate stress and glory; tending ever to greater transcendence, greater freedom, closer contact with “the Supplier of true life.” He emerges from that long and wondrous journey to find himself in rest and in work, a little child upon the bosom of the Father. In that most dear relation all feeling, will, and thought attain their end. Here all the teasing complications of our separated selfhood are transcended. Hence the eager striving, the sharp vision, are not wanted any more. In that mysterious death of selfhood on the summits which is the medium of Eternal Life, heights meet the deeps: supreme achievement and complete humility are one.

In a last brief vision, a glimpse as overpowering to our common minds as Dante’s final intuition of reality to his exalted and courageous soul, we see the triumphing spirit, sent out before us the best that earth can offer, stoop and strip herself of the insignia of wisdom and power. Achieving the highest, she takes the lowest place. Initiated into the atmosphere of Eternity, united with the Absolute, possessed at last of the fullness of Its life, the soul, self-naughted becomes as a little child: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

p. 444



Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens,” p. 140.


Compare Dante’s sense of a transmuted personality when he first breathed the air of Paradise:—

“S’ io era sol di me quel che creasti

novellamente, Amor che il ciel governi

tu il sai, che cot tuo lume mi levasti” (Par. i. 73).

“If I were only that of me which thou didst new create, oh Love who rulest heaven, thou knowest who with thy light didst lift me up.”


“Revelations of Divine Love,” cap. v.


Par. I. 70.


Delacroix. “Études sur le Mysticism,” p. 197.


Eucken, “Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens,” p. 12.


Ibid. , p. 96.


Delacroix, op. cit ., p. 114 ( vide supra , p . 273).


“Theologia Germanica,” cap. xli.


Par. xxx. 115-130 and xxxi. 1-12.


Compare, p. 128.


Op. cit ., ix. But it is difficult to see why we need stigmatize as “half-savage” man’s primordial instinct for his destiny.


Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Eastern Church. Prayers before Communion.


Athanasius, De Incarn. Verbi, i. 108.


Aug. Conf., bk. vii. cap. x.


Pred. lvii.


Pred. xcix. (“Mystische Schriften,” p. 122).


Ruysbroeck, “De Ornatu Spiritalium Nuptiarum,” I. iii. cap. iii.


Aug. Conf., bk. x. cap. xxviii.


Cf. Coventry Patmore, “The Rod, the Root, and the Flower,” “Magna Moralia,” xxii.


Par. xxx. 64.


“De Septem Gradibus Amoris,” cap. xiv.


“The Threefold Life of Man,” cap. vi. 88.


“De Quatuor Gradibus Violentae Charitatis” (Migne, Patrologia Latina cxcvi.)


Dialogo, cap. lxxviii.


Ruysbroeck. “Samuel,” cap. xi. (English translation: “The Book of Truth.”)


Ibid ., “De Calculo,” cap. ix.


St. Thomas Aquinas, “Summa Contra Gentiles,” bk. iii. cap. lxii.


Suso, “Buchlein von der Wahrheit,” cap. iv.


“Theologia Germanica,” cap. x.


Ruysbroeck, “Speculum Aeternae e Salutis,” cap. vii.


“Regnum Deum Amantium,” cap xxii.


Jalalu ‘d Din, “The Festival of Spring” (Hastie’s translation p. 10).


“The Mirror of Simple Souls,” Div. iv. cap. i.


“The Epistle of Prayer.” Printed from Pepwell’s edition in “The Cell of Self-knowledge,” edited by Edmund Gardner, p. 88.


Gerlac Petersen, “Ignitum cum Deo Soliloqium,” cap. xv.


Compare Pt. i. Cap. vi. It seems needless to repeat here the examples there given.


Hilton, “The Treatise written to a Devout Man,” cap. viii.


Cf. Ormond, “Foundations of Knowledge,” p. 442. “When we love any being, we desire either the unification of its life with our own or our own unification with its life. Love in its innermost motive is a unifying principle.”


“Summa Contra Gentiles,” bk. ii. cap. xxi.


“De Quatuor Gradibus Violentae Charitatis” (Migne, Patrologia Latina cxcvi. col. 1216 D).


“El Castillo Interior,” Moradas Sétimas, cap. iv.


“Les Torrents,” pt. i. cap. ix.


Thomas of Celano, Legenda Secunda, cap. xii.


Supra , Pt. I. Cap. II.


Ruysbroeck, “De Calculo,” cap. ix.


Op. cit ., cap viii. and ix. (condensed).


Vide supra p. 35.


Par. xxxiii. 91. “I believe that I beheld the universal form of this knot: because in saying this I feel my joy increased.”


“De Septem Gradibus Amoris,” Cap. xiv .


Ibid., loc. cit.


Ruysbroeck “Do Ornatu Spiritalium Nuptiarum,”” I. ii cap. lxv.


Par. xxxiii. 137.


“The Mirror of Simple Souls.” p. 161.


“De Imitatione Christi,” I. iii. cap. v.


Contestatio Fr. Thomae Caffarina, Processus, col. 1258 (E. Gardner, “St. Catherine of Siena,” p. 48).


Par. xxvii. 4.


Ibid ., xx. 13.


Ibid ., x. 76, 118.


Ibid., xxviii. 100.


Ibid., xxxiii. 124-26.


Coventry Patmore, “The Rod, the Root, and the Flower,” “Aurea Dicta.”


Richard Rolle, “The Fire of Love,” bk. ii. cap. vii.


Op. cit ., bk. i. cap. xi.


“Speculum Perfectionis,” cap, c. (Steele’s translation).


“Speculum,” cap. cxiii.


Ibid. , cap. c.


Ibid. , cap. xciii., also Thomas of Celano, Vita Secunda, cap. xc.


Cf . G. Cunninghame Graham, “Santa Teresa,” vol. i. pp. 180, 300, 304.


“Dost thou wish that I should show

All God’s Being thou mayst know?

Peace is not found of those who do not with Him go.”

(Vita e Dottrina, cap. xviii.)

Here, in spite of the many revisions to which the Vita has been subjected, I cannot but see an authentic report of St. Catherine’s inner mind; highly characteristic of the personality which “came joyous and rosy-faced” from its ecstatic encounters with Love. The very unexpectedness of its conclusion, so unlike the expressions supposed to be proper to the saints, is a guarantee of its authenticity. On the text of the “Vita” see Von Hügel, “The Mystical Element of Religion,” vol. i., Appendix.


Coventry Patmore, “The Rod, the Root, and the Flower,” “Magna Moralia,” xv.

Next: Conclusion