Jacques Maritain Center : Mysticism: Its True Nature and Value




MYSTICISM, in the wide and somewhat loose sense in which the term is commonly used, may be considered as the final outcome of a congenital desire for knowledge which appears in all animate creatures. In children and savages, as also in the lower animals, it takes the rudimentary form of sensitive curiosity; in more fully developed rational natures it becomes the desire to understand the inner nature of things and finally extends itself to that obscure region, dimly recognised by all men, which lies beyond the sphere of things, and of the senses by which things are perceived. But knowledge is of two kinds -- abstract and concrete, or experimental and theoretical. We know for certain in one way that there are coins in the Bank of England, but we know that there are similar coins in our own pockets in quite another way: in the one we have the direct evidence of our senses, and in the other the senses indeed have their necessary part, but not by way of direct contact with the object of our knowledge. It is scarcely necessary to remark that these two kinds of knowledge go hand in hand: the theoretical in the last resort depends on the experimental and certain as we may be of the correctness of our theoretical knowledge, we are seldom content without putting it in practice, when it is in our power to do so, and thus proving it by experiment. There is, however a point at which the experimental test ceases to be possible, and that point is fixed by the limits of our senses: we cannot know anything experimentally which is not sensible, or capable of being embodied in sensible things, as a mechanical or chemical principle is embodied in the substances with which experiments are made, But our senses take us only a very short distance into the nature of things -- what things are "in themselves" -- on what principle they are what they are -- what is the inward nature of the perpetual changes they undergo; on such questions as these we can theorise freely, and can no doubt reach some conclusions which we are able to regard as absolutely certain. But we must be content with theoretical certainty at most, since experiment in these matters is out of our power. But theory itself -- founded as it necessarily is on experimental knowledge -- must also have a limit, which it reaches when it has exhausted the implications of sense experience -- when it has, so to speak, used up the raw material of thought supplied by sensation. We can make no theory about a thing we have never seen or with which we have never been brought into contact by any of the organs of sense. Such a thing is merely x; we must know what x stands for, before we can say anything at all about it. Our imagination may make it stand or anything we please, but what we make it represent can only be some sense impression that we recall from the past, or some ides that we have at some time abstracted from our sense knowledge.

Now we obviously reach the limit of theoretical knowledge when we come to the end (which from another point of view is the beginning) of everything. Here we are indeed far beyond the bounds of sense but we can go no farther. There may be a great deal beyond the end, or before the beginning, of what we understand by everything but we ran find out nothing about it -- for we have no means of doing so. We cannot, properly speaking, even imagine anything about it; for imagination can only repeat for us what we already know; and that can have no place beyond the beginning of all knowable things. When we see a stream of water, we can be quite certain that it has a source, and we may be able to perceive indications of the source's nature and immediate surroundings: but the stream can tell us nothing of what lies beyond its source -- of the geography of the country. the character of the inhabitants, their political organisation and the like. All these are beyond the beginning of the stream; we can find out what they are only by going there and seeing for ourselves, or by getting some one who has been there to tell us about them.

Now the limit of our theoretica] knowledge in this world is reached when we attain to the concept of a First Cause, or the necessary being which produces, underlies and upholds the contingent and changeable universe; and that cause and necessary being, needless to say, is God. We have an absolute theoretical certainty of the existence of God, depending ultimately on facts of experience; and we have, or may have, many practical evidences of His power, wisdom and goodness. Moreover, He has by various means told us things about Himself which we could not otherwise have known. But direct experimental knowledge of Him we have and can have none, in the ordinary course of things. We cannot see Him or touch Him, or hear Him. Yet the more certain men are of His existence, the more conscious they are of His love and goodness and the more deeply their minds are penetrated by the idea of His perfection, the more they inevitably long for some such experimental knowledge of Him as, within our earthly experience, the senses alone can obtain for us. But this, from the nature of the case, is impossible; God is no more to be directly apprehended by our senses than an idea, a thought or an emotion.

Is there then no third way by which we may not only know but feel the presence of God -- by which all that He is to us may become not merely theoretical certainty, but a fact of direct experience? Is there, that is to say, any means by which, though we cannot bring Him down to the world of sense, we may ourselves, in virtue of our partially spiritual nature, ascend to the spiritual world and there behold Him?

It is the desire and the search for such a means of approach to God that has produced Mysticism or "Mystical Theology," which in its general aspect is the experience, real or supposed, of actual quasi-physical contact with God -- an experience undoubtedly known in reality by many, though by many more it has beyond question been merely imagined. Speculative" or Dogmatic Theology is like the theory of optics, which tells us what the eye is, and how it sees; mystical theology is the sight itself, with all that it involves of exercise and training. Speculative theology is a science; mystical theology is an art.

There are two points of view from which this art may be regarded, the natural and the supernatural. They do not by any means necessarily exclude one another; each, indeed, in point of fact, implies the other. But neglect of the supernatural side of mysticism has led to an altogether mistaken notion of what mysticism has always, until very recently, been held to mean; and it must be admitted that forgetfulness of the natural side, consisting of the limitations, necessities and obligations of humanity, has too often been the cause of degenerate and extravagant superstition, with its many attendant evils.

Viewed simply on its natural side, mysticism appears as an attempt, more or less successful, to pass through or overleap the barrier of material things, and so to enter the presence from the sight of which we are ordinarily excluded by our subjection to the senses. There are two ways in which this attempt may be and has been made. One is by an endeavour to pass beyond the finite and sensible world by the concentration upon one point of those mental or spiritual forces which in every individual man appear to belong more to the world of permanent reality than to that of transient appearance in which our bodily life is spent. The mind resolutely casts out all figures and ideas of sensible things; it empties itself, by a powerful effort, of all its acquired furniture, and strives in its own original nakedness to behold the naked reality that exists behind the many-coloured vesture of sense. Plotinus, Proclus and their disciples, travelling by this difficult road, found, or seemed to find, the springs of being in the abstract and absolute unity which lies behind the ever-expanding variety of the created world. But whether in that remote and desolate region to which they penetrated they found anything which they had not brought with them from the world of light, colour and warmth which they sought to abandon, may be considered doubtful. That they did not is at any rate the view of those whose object is the same, but who adopt a method the reverse of theirs. That method, by some considered the only true one, is to look for mystical knowledge not beyond, but in the material, intellectual and emotional life in which our lot is cast. It regards this world as but a small fragment of a much larger whole, and as made up of many elements, all of which are not discoverable, so at least as to be clearly distinguished by either our bodily or our intellectual faculties, But every part of it is, in this view, connected with and symbolic of something infinitely greater than itself. It embodies and illustrates the operation of vast cosmic laws; it gives evidence of a divine benevolence which reaches further than our utmost vision can follow; it is lit by a ray from the sun of perfect beauty that lies below the horizon of earthly existence. Thus "a man's reach must exceed his grasp" as he goes through life; his mind constructs from the "broken arc" of natural experience the "perfect round" of heavenly beatitude in the discords of earth his ear catches echoes of celestial harmonies, and the darkest places of this world are invested with "clouds of glory" for those who thus "see into the life of things."

Thus mysticism has been called "the attempt to realise the presence of the living God in the soul and in nature, or, more generally, the attempt to realise in thought and feeling the immanence of the temporal in the eternal, and of the eternal in the temporal."{1}

No one can dispute the universal right of defining terms according to taste and fancy; and those who define or describe mysticism in this way have a perfect right to do so. But if this is mysticism, then surely we ought to have another name for the other method -- the "tremendous journey towards the mysterious Isles of Fire, the Icelands of abstraction and of love" undertaken by Philo, Plotinus or Proclus.{2}

There would seem to be little in common between the suggestive and symbolic aspect of things in which the world appears as the true manifestation of God, and that in which the same world is felt to be the one great obstacle which conceals the eternal reality from the sight.

But whichever method may be considered the right one, mysticism, considered as a purely natural phenomenon (i.e. as consisting in a peculiar exercise of the natural powers), is necessarily limited to the interaction of human reason and emotion and those natural objects with which reason and emotion are concerned and in which suggestions of something supernatural may be more or less clearly perceived. Mysticism so understood is merely a certain attitude of the mind towards its surroundings and what it perceives is proved, it is thought, to be thereby really there. Its outlook may be partial, and its ideas consequently one-sided, and the expression of them may need correction. But it is all true, whether as fact or as symbol -- which may, though itself literally untrue, yet be more true than the literal truth. "The true is, for us, the good."{3} All that can be discerned in the nature which half conceals and half reveals the Deity, so far as it is beautiful, attractive and ennobling, is in some sense true, and in some degree a vision of God. Such visions, therefore, as seen by different minds and by whatever method, need only to be compared correlated and mutually adjusted, in order to form all that from this point of view can be rightly called a body of Mystical Theology.

The second view which may he taken of the subject as a whole is that of Dionysius, and of the long succession of mystics who have consciously or unconsciously adopted the principles laid down in his Mystical Theology. Its basis is a profound conviction of the uniqueness and incommunicability of the Divine nature. However exalted creatures may be in nature, and however perfect in relation to their place and function, there is a chasm between them and their Divine Creator which cannot be closed or bridged even in thought. However sharply any one form of existence may be distinguished from all others, this distinction cannot even approach the fundamental character of the distinction between all creatures on the one side and their Creator on the other. There cannot even, properly speaking, be so near a rapprochment of the two as to make a real distinction possible -- God can be related, in His essence, to creatures only by a fiction of the mind: they are to his absolute independence and self-sufficiency as nothing. But on the other hand, God is not separated from Creation by time or space -- by which His being is, indeed, not affected in any way.

All creatures are in a state of immediate dependence upon Him, and it is only in virtue of this dependence that they exist. In a certain sense, therefore. God is immediately present among and in creatures they are the continual offspring of His power and wisdom; and where these are at work, there God in His uncreated essence must also be. Consequently, God is in a true sense immanent in creation; He is not indeed mixed with it, and it is and must be the one thing that in His uncreated being He cannot resemble; yet all creation has the distant likeness to Him which mere being imparts and in all its parts reflects however dimly, His wisdom and beauty. Therefore that God is may be clearly known from the "visible things" of creation. But what God is in Himself, no man can know, unless God Himself reveals it to him. To see the reflection of Divine beauty is one thing: to see God is another. For all man's natural knowledge comes from creatures and by way of sensation: and God is the one being that is not a creature and of whom sensation can directly tell us nothing.

This being so, the only direct, immediate or experimental knowledge of God that man can attain to must be supernaturally bestowed upon him. Naturally, man is enclosed within the iron walls of sense and sensible things, through which no sound or ray of light can penetrate; their solid metal vibrates, so to speak. and the warmth from without is felt in the air they enclose. But all is silence and darkness, unless the solid barrier is removed by some power greater than man's. To supernatural mysticism it seems that such power is from time to time exerted for man's benefit; the walls of his prison, are parted for a moment at least, and he sees something of what lies outside. And if any true vision of God has ever been obtained by those who have sought it through the exertion of their natural powers -- whether negatively, as the Neoplatonist ascetics, or positively as the nature mystics and symbolists -- it has come directly, not from the exertion of those powers but from His spontaneous bounty alone.

Such is the theory of mysticism which obtains in the Catholic Church. It does not dispute the genuineness or the attractiveness of the symbolical view of life, nor does it deny the necessity of personal effort as a condition (though not the cause) of the supenatural vision; but it holds that merely natural contemplation is based on association and feeling, and is incapable of leading the soul beyond the confines of the material world. Natural symbolism will make known much of God's action and of His nature but it cannot bring man face to face with Him. The supernatural conception of mysticism, moreover, admits fully the existence of a constant need and desire a mankind for God, even far beyond the Christian pale it is also ready to admit, where sufficient evidence can be shown, that this desire has in any given case received some degree of satisfaction in the only way in which such satisfaction is possible. God's condescension Is not to be confined within any narrower limits than those He has Himself imposed; and there is nothing contrary to possibility in the Alexandrian opinion that such a mystical knowledge of God had been attained by some Neoplatonists as many Christians had failed to reach. The one point insisted on is that such knowledge is and must be essentially supernatural; that is, that it cannot be obtained by means of any created thing, or by any effort of the human powers, since the thing known is itself, in Dionysius' words, epekeina pantôn -- beyond all that man can of himself see or know,

The first thing that strikes one about these two general views of the subject would seem to be their quite obvious incompatibility. More than one praiseworthy attempt has been made to treat them together, as two varieties of the same thing. But the only way in which this can possibly be done is by taking one as the genuine theory of Mysticism, and the other as spurious.

Mysticism might conceivably be either natural or supernatural; it cannot possibly be both. If God can be seen or known in and by nature, then the supernatural contemplation of Him as essentially apart from and above all creatures can only be a delusion. For the two methods are directly opposed to one another and two opposite processes cannot possibly have an identical result. If, on the other hand, the Dionysian method of abstraction can, by the aid of Divine Grace, enable man to transcend created nature and to behold the absolute uncreated existence, then the method which looks for an intuition of God in nature may indeed have a high value as poetry or romance, or as a way of appreciating the evidence for God's existence, but it cannot, in that case, be mysticism. However strongly based on experience, or however deeply emotional in its mental reactions, It is in the last analysis merely a process of inference; and any appearance it may give rise to of intuitive knowledge must be capable of analysis into the component parts of an inductive syllogism. "The mystic," it has been said, "is the only thorough-going empiricist;"{4} and indeed, in regard to his transcendental intuitions he can be nothing else. In the vision claimed by supernatural mysticism -- and there alone -- the "that" and the "what" are identical; essence and existence are one in God, and experimental knowledge of His existence must necessarily preclude all discursive reasoning as to His essence. Hence both the certitude of mystics as to the reality of their knowledge, and their total incapacity to explain it. Thorough empiricism is really possible only at the two ends of the scale of human experience -- in mystical contemplation and in sensation. In sensation, as in mysticism, empiricism is the only possible attitude; sensations in themselves, and as they appear grouped in consciousness, are complete and immediate; they cannot be explained, idealised or analysed. But the moment sensations become the subject of thought, pure empiricism is no longer possible; sense-experience must depend for its continuity upon some kind of ideal constructions; and the poetry and romance of life and nature, and even the "Ascensio mentis in Deum per scalam rerum creatarum," are no more than modes of the mind's perpetual wrestling with its environment. It is only when "the wheel has come full circle" in the intuition of mysticism that the unquestionable immediacy, finality and certainty of sensation are brought back in the higher sphere of the intelligence.

Such, at least, is the contention on behalf of supernatural mysticism and the only real alternative to it is complete surrender of all that mysticism has been held to connote. For a confused consciousness of the divine or the supernatural, as symbolised or suggested by certain fragmentary aspects of nature, or art, or social existence, is at bottom a perfectly different thing from the direct vision of and intercourse with a divine person. "I talk not with thy dreams," supernatural mysticism replies to the imaginative outpourings of the nature mystic, the philanthropist or the lover.{5}

Beautiful or pathetic or true as those dreams may be, they have no other origin than that of dreams which are none of those things; and if supernatural mysticism is only another kind of dream -- if its origin can be traced to the same turbid stream of mingled experience and thought -- well then, there is no such thing as true mysticism; we must revert to the opinion of those to whom mysticism was only a name for an ignoble kind of self-delusion, and relegate both name and thing to the secular lumber-room which has already received such outworn mental furniture as astrology, alchemy and necromancy. Romanticism will doubtless always hold a certain place in human thought and feeling; for thatever new aspects nature and life may have in store, there can hardly fail at any time to be numbers of men and women whose sensibility is more readily awakened by the contact of their surroundings than by interior reflection. But mysticism is, as we have seen, either supernatural or nothing. Our enquiry must therefore he directed to the conditions which supernatural mysticism claims for itself, whh the view of determining whether or not its pretensions have a sufficient basis in observable facts to entitle to credence those transcendental experiences for which we can have no evidence beyond the bare word of the mystic himself. We shall have therefore to consider whether and how far the Dionysian principles are identical with those which are discernible in the ordinary course of nature whether mystical states, as described by those who have experienced them, are compatible with the nature and normal action of the human faculties; and whether those states -- if we find them to rest on a solid theory, and to be in harmony with the verified results of psychological investigatlon -- may or may not be adequately accounted for by merely natural agency.

As to these three questions, which will be discussed in some detail further on, it will be sufficient to note here first, that ordinary cognition and reflection require as their starting-point some contact with external matter (what such contant, externality and matter may be in themselves we need not, for our present purpose. enquire) by means of which the mind may form ideas, to be subsequently dealt with by way of reflection. Consequently ideas or thoughts which are not related in this manner and degree to external material things are simply inconceivable in the natural order: and if it is granted that the mind may by any means so abstract itself from the external world that it has no image of any external thing before it, either directly as a "phantasm," or indirectly as an abstract idea formed on a basis of sense-experience, then, naturally speaking, it has nothing before it but an absolute blank. But this is precisely the condition in which the mind is conceived by supernatural mystics to be during the time -- generally a very brief one -- of contemplation. So far as the natural world and all images derived from it are concerned, there is nothing but a blank. But the void is filled by the divine presence, and by supernatural agency. We are not, however, led to suppose by anything mystical writers tell us that the state of mere negative abstraction ever actually exists.{6} One may well doubt whether it is possible that it should and certainly the mystic does not suppose himself to create a mental blank which, after being so created, is supernaturally filled. On the contrary, the fundamental notion of the mystical state is "Rapture" -- the mind does not extricate itself but is taken out of its normal relations with the external world by that very presence and influence which supplies their place. The mystical knowledge of God is in regard to all natural knowledge and light, merely "Ignorance" and "Darkness"; and this is the only condition under which such knowledge could conceivably be imparted. The soul, as it were, looks over the extreme edge of the phenomenal world, and has no use whatever for anything belonging to that world; if it had any, it could not really be at the edge, but would be the subject of a delusion. Mystical knowledge, therefore in no way contradicts the principles which appear necessarily to govern the ordinary cognition of human beings; it does not even imply emancipation from them, it merely transfers them to another sphere.

But a word must be said as to the nature of this sphere. It is, of course, what is commonly called the supernatural: and the supernatural sphere is conceived unquestionably by the mystic as distinct from and excluding the natural. The supernatural begins where the natural ends. If this is denied, then of course there is an end of supernatural mysticism as a genuine thing -- and, by consequence. as we have seen, of anything whatever that can be clearly connoted by the term. Mr Inge, indeed, in his otherwise admirable Bampton Lectures, strongly opposes this theory on what grounds it is not easy to see. He, with other modern upholders of mysticism in the sense in which it is understood by them, regards the phenomenal world interpreted by reason as a true manifestation of the divine ideas and nature; it is the imperfection of human reason, caused by sin and ignorance, that prevents men in general from "seeing the world as God sees it" -- as, in fact, it really exists in the mind of God -- and as being spiritual in its nature, by reason of its creation by His thought and will. We may pass over the latent Spinozism of these and similar phrases, which, taken literally, would seem to identify spirit and matter, the created universe and God. The point where this theory manifestly falls short of true mysticism is that it takes something created, no matter what, for its final object. Supernatural mysticism, as we have said already, has no objection to offer to the notion that something of the nature and will of God can be discerned in all created things, that He is truly reflected in them, and that this reflection can he distinguished with increasing clearness as we draw near to the perfect human state.{7} All this is as true from the point of view of supernatural myticism as from that of its rival.

But "realisation in thought and feeling" is not experimental knowledge of God: thought and feeling may perceive quod est -- that He exists, in the plenitude of the divine attributes; but they cannot see quid est -- what He is in His own absolute being. At most, natural mysticism is a true vision of creation: what supernatural mysticism claims to be is the vision of the Creator. The two views so far from being mutually exclusive, are mutually complementary; the error lies in denial of the possibility of the supernatvral knowledge, not in assertion of the natural. Moreover, there is really no difference of principle or method between the two; the difference is in the object at which each, in point of fact, aims. For there is, after all, only one way in which the being of God can be inferred from visible things and that is the Via Remotionis -- the negative road which "nature mystics" depreciate as at most insufficient for its assumed purpose. Whatever is known by the senses can, indeed, or perhaps even must suggest a train of reasoning, conscious or subconscious, which ends in the concept of a spiritual and personal reality underlying the manifestations of nature. But this can only be attained by abstracting from the impressions which furnish the suggestion; the concept itself is formed by the reason, though it is more or less confused, and reaches up to a sphere which neither reason nor sense can enter. But it is not intuitive or empirical; it is an idea evolved or constructed by a rational process which in no way differs from other rational processes: it is not an illumination from without. In other words, it is no more mystical than our thoughts about any matter of ordinary business or domestic economy, from which it differs only in its subject-matter.

Take, for example, the elevated emotions produced by to contemplation of the magnificent panorama of sunset. What we see is a shifting arrangement of colours -- blue red, purple and green. What we extract from it Is a particular sense of beauty and thence, by. associatton of ideas a confused concept of all the beautiful things in the world.

From this it is easy and natural to pass to thoughts of the mysteriousty elusive principle of beauty, of the source of that principte and of the creation in which it is embodied, and, lastly, of the natnre of that source, and of the absolute moral and spiritual beauty to which its works testify. But this train of thought is in reality a train of negations. We practically constder that beauty is not essentially of any colour -- it is a principle not embodied in any one form -- it cannot be self-caused but must have a source outside itself. This source indeed is God but He is not beautiful in the same way as the sunset -- He is not blue or red or green, nor is His beauty dependent on any material constitution. But He is that incomprehensible reality which gives beauty to the colours of the sunset and to all the good and beautiful things, of whatever kind, in the universe: He is not any one of those things, nor yet all of them together, but He contains in Himself the principle of them all: they are all, as scholastics say, eminenter in Him.

When we have reached this point we have got rid of everything that our senses tell us of and have erected for our contemplation a purely abstract conception, upon which the lights of sunset still seem to play and which therefore retains something of their charm so long as the impression lasts, but in itself is stripped of every image that in this world we know as beautiful.{8} The solemn and pious or romantic feelings which a brilliant Sunset calls into being are based on an inference of a nature in no respect differing from that of Paley's inference of a watchmaker from a watch. Natural mysticism is concerned with ideas and theories, not with actual experiences. Its method is identical with the Via Remotionis of speculative theology, of which the mystical or practical parallel is the withdrawal of the intelligence, under divine guidance, from the contemplation of any sensible image whatever, and its illumination, not by an abstract idea, but by an actual presence.

Secondly, it should be observed that the mode in which this illumination takes place is not to be considered abnormal in itself, though it obviously depends on abnormal conditions.

The mental faculties act, or may act, in the ordinary way. The difference between the mystical and the merely natural states lies, as we have seen, in the object of the faculties. not, so far as can he judged, in their mode of action.. The reason and intelligence under ordinary circumstances work upon a basis of sensation the reactions of the mind depend ultimately upon the cumulative reactions of the body; or, in other words, the mind can only act upon material furnished originally by the senses, In mystical states this material groundwork is, of course, absent, and in that fact lies their supernatural character. The place of the material is supplied by the presence and action of supernatural divine agency, but the mental and bodily reactions certainly need not differ essentially in character from those ordinarily set up by sensation. It would be perfectly true to say that the mind, or soul, can only act in one way and that consequently any theory which requires that it should act in a different way is thereby made absolutely incredible. For such a theory would imply a self-contradiction which is the one absolutely incredible thing. It would be like saying that one sees a sound, or hears an odour. If the soul were to act as a mere passive receptacle, and yet be conscious of that which it received, it would be an unmeaning contradiction of itself, such as could not possibly exist or be conceived. Consciousness is active; the mind can no more be a mere unresponsive receptacle than the body can experience sensation without being itself alive and active. The fact of consciousness necessarily implies the normal mental activity of the subject, with all the physical concomitants necessary to it. But the connection between consciousness and sensation -- the mode in which one is transferred to the other -- is still very obscure and the subject of many divergent theories: at any rate, there appears to be nothing impossible, or even irregular, in the idea that consciousness and intelligence may follow their normal course on a basis of supersensible ideas, presented to them, not by means of sense, but by supernatural and divine interposition.

If we can be conscious of the presence of a spiritual being by means of an inference from the sensations excited by his bodily presence, as we are conscious in our friend's presence of a spiritual personality inferred from sensible evidences, then it is at least quite conceivable that God may cause Himself to be apprehended as immediately present merely by stimulating the consciousness in the same way in which it is ordinarily stimulated by the idea (the species intelligibilis) abstracted from sense-impressions, which in this case may be given ready made instead of being constructed by the intellect.{9} There is equally, of course, no a priori impossibility in such communications being made by agencies other than divine, and it is difficult to see why any one who believes in the existence of created spiritual personalities other than human should regard them as being incapable under any circumstances of exercising direct influence upon mankind. All stories of angelic visitations, or of diabolical possession, may not be true and writers such as Görres, Schram and Ribet may be over-systematic and over-minute in dealing with this subject. But there can he no a priori reason for dismissing it as merely superstitious.

Of the visions and locutions, "imaginary" or "intellectual," by means of which mystical communications have not infrequently been conveyed, there is no need to speak here. They are not essential to mystical experience, and are held by mystical authorities to be of quite secondary importance at best. It is plain that the mode of communication we have been considering is quite capable of strongly affecting the imagination, and may do so either by creating fresh imaginary figures, or by recalling past impressions derived from such things as pictures and statues. Some of the visions of St Teresa, Julian of Norwich, Anne Catherine Emmerich and many others are frankly admitted to be of the latter kind.

Thirdly, the phenomena of mystical contemplation cannot be considered capable of explanation by any theory which excludes the supernatural. Two such theories have been suggested. The apparently infused supernatural object of contemplation has been thought to be merely an image drawn by the normal process of the understanding from past conscious experience; the supposed divine illumination is held to be, in fact, the result of self-delusion. Again, there are certain resemblances between mystical states and those induced by diseased conditions or drugs. which have suggested the theory that mystical states are really pathological, and are only abnormal in that sense. But in spite of such obvious resemblances as might naturally be expected to occur in all abnormal conditions of individual organisms of the same species, there are marked differences which absolutely preclude the possibility of explaining mystical conditions in any of these ways.

First, there is in these states (apart from the occurrence of visions) no figure or image whatever, such as necessarily occurs in any natural process of reasoning or imagination. Recorded mystical experiences, various as they are in type, uniformly fail to connect themselves with any preceding thought or experience of a natural kind. The assertion, frequently made, that they must be so connected is nothing but an arbitrary assumption; the evidence is all the other way. Then the visions or hallucinations proceeding from a drugged or otherwise pathological condition are characterised, as it seems, invariably, by monstrous or grotesque visual appearances, or by strange physical sensations which, though in some persons they have apparently exercised some power of spiritual suggestion, belong distinctly to the order of natural dreams their physical origin is manifest, though its precise locality is, naturally, not always ascertainable.{10} Moreover, mystics have always been remarkable for sanity and placidity even when invalids; the neurotic temperament which belongs to pathological states of consciousness is conspicuously rare, even if not entirely absent among them. Such a temperament can hardly be thought compatible with the "straightforwardness, simplicity and dauntless courage" of St Teresa, or the "tremendous moral force" of St John of the Cross,{11} or with the energetic activity and the tender human sympathy of St Catherine of Siena. Moreover, it is worth noticing in this connection that for the practical purposes of canonisation and beatification a clearly recognisable distinction is and has always been perceived by ecclesiastical authority -- depending more on common sense than on any psychological theory -- between experiences which may be classed as pathological, and those which must be considered supernatural?{12}

On the whole, therefore, it seems hardly too much to say that none of the proposed explanations would have any weight whatever, apart from the reluctance to admit the existence and possibility of supernatural experience which, by a natural swing of the pendulum, has superseded in our day the former too great readiness to seek a supernatural cause far any uncommon event.

But, it may be said, what does all this matter? The subject can be of direct interest only to those who have, or believe themselves to have, mystical experience of the supernatural kind and they are very few in number even if any of them are still extant. Moreover, mysticism, in that sense, is not part of the Christian religion; it is quite possible to be not merely a good Christian, but even a saint, without so much as knowing anything about the matter, Why not leave it to those, if any there are, who are the subjects of these abnormal experiences, and whose conviction as to the nature of them, is already unshakeable, and to those experts who from time to time may have to form a judgment about them? For the ordinary run of people there can be no use in considering a subject which in no way concerns either their faith or their duty. Now it is quite true that comparatively few are called to supernatural contemplation it is equally true that neither the faith nor the practical duty of Christians in general can in any way depend on "private revelations" or on mystical knowledge of any kind. Nevertheless, the subject has a distinct interest and importance of its own far all who desire to form a clear and correct judgment as to the true attitude of the Catholic Church in regard to human life in general, or who wish to appreciate fully the whole range of the evidence to be adduced in favour of her claims. For on the one hand, since mysticism is a constant feature -- though not equally prominent at all times -- of Christian life, it cannot rightly be neglected by any who wish to form a just estimate of the character of that life as a whole; and on the other hand, mysticism has a distinct evidential value whether considered in itself or in its relation to other factors of the Catholic system, which is by no means confined to those who have experimental knowledge of it. I will try to establish these two points.

1. Christianity, as fully represented and embodied in the Catholic Church, appeals to human nature as a whole, not to any part or aspect of it. That is to say, the Church deals with human nature in its completeness, apart from all individual, national or racial characteristics. It is therefore necessary that every factor in that nature should find itself recognised, and a place provided for it, with appropriate guidance and discipline, in due relation and harmony with all else that goes to make up humanity, in the system of the Church. In this sense the Church has affinities with all forms of religion and philosophy; for in each of them some modicum at least of truth is to be found, which, if the Church is truly what she represents herself to be, will be acknowledged and co-ordinated with other truths in the complete body of her doctrine. Error, even in its extremest forms, is not "a lie that is all a lie" -- it is truth torn from its natural place in the scheme of things, and so seen in false perspective; truth is only true when seen in its due relation to the whole. Men are misled, not by that which does not exist -- a thing we may well believe to be impossible -- but by following that which is true without regard to its complementary truths. This fact is nowhere so evident as in the case of mysticism, which, like liberty, has given the shelter of its name to almost every conceivable aberration of moral conduct. The desire for God, pursued often by the most extravagant methods and disguised under the most unlikely pretexts, is the real motive-power of all human activity whatsoever. Mysticism, on its purely human side, is one road by which men seek for the heart's rest which all, even in spite of themselves, desire. Whether within or without the Church men will strive to see God, because they must; the methods they adopt may be determined by varying temperaments or circumstances, but among them has always been and must always be the "inner way" -- the way of abstraction and contemplation, the effort to pass beyond the many-coloured dome of life into the "white radiance" of true reality beyond it.

Now if the Church had nothing to say to this deeply rooted and constantly manifest human desire, she would surely fall far short of the place that she claims, and has held successfully from the first. Still more, if, like some, she had condemned, as merely presumptuous and delusive, the efforts of mankind to realise in some faint degree now the very life which she promises hereafter, she would have come perilously near to denying her own authority and commission. She would have said in effect to mankind, You are made for God; you are to look forward to the supernatural enjoyment of Him in Eternity, and there is no limit to the favours which He can and may bestow on you here and now, But one thing you may not have, one thing He shall not do for you -- and that the one which you most desire -- you shall not have the briefest or slightest foretaste here of the blessedness that is to be yours hereafter; God Himself, though He may do miracles of all sorts but this, shall not pierce the crust of material things which hides Him from you, or show you the faintest spark of the radiance that lies beyond it -- "d'efense à Dieu de faire miracles en ce lieu." But the Church has never done anything of the kind. Mystical knowledge has always been fully recognised by her as possible, and as existing -- whether in the Hebrew prophets, the Apostles of Christ, or the contemplatives of successive ages since their day. Even for mystics, as such, without her pale she has had no condemnation; she has condemned their misbelief, but has kept silence about their mysticism; and in her theology and philosophy the phenomena of mysticism have been dealt with and explained in accordance with the methods which were applied to all other phases of human experience. Not only a professed mystic like Dionysius, but a Clement, an Augustine, a Thomas Aquinas, has each had his word to say and his ray, more or less brilliant, of light to contribute to the sum total of the Church's wisdom, ever growing with the increasing experience of the human race. The aspirations of man towards immediate knowledge of God and union with Him are therefore recognised and adopted by the Church as a true part of that multifarious human energy which it is her function bo direct, regulate and enlighten. Such aspirations are to find full satisfaction hereafter for those who are willing to be guided in their exercise; they are partially to he satisfied here, in a certain degree by the "natural" contemplation which is the common right of all Christians, and in a fuller measure, and after a higher and more perfect manner, in the supernatural contemplation which is the privilege of comparatively few. Thus the truth that underlies in different ways and degrees the mystical theories and ascetic practices of Neoplatonist, Gnostic or Buddhist, Parsee or Mohammedan, is cleared from its surroundings of mythological or theosophical imagination and set in its place in the harmony of truths which are made known by nature and by revelation, and preserved in the dogmatic structure of the Church's faith.

What scholastic philosophy has done for mysticism is to make clear the distinction between its natural and supernatural parts. St Augustine, no less than Dionysius, did indeed call attention to the necessarily supernatural character of any direct contemplation of the divine nature, but it was St Thomas whose analysis of the nature of the intellectual faculties in man made clear the reason why this must he so. Man's way of knowledge is inextricably involved with his bodily organism, since body and soul are not two substances but one. Consequently, immediate knowledge of that which is purely spiritual or immaterial cannot come to him by any exercise of his natural powers, but only by a "rapture" or "ecstasy" in which he is made to transcend his own present nature, and for a moment to enjoy the beatitude habitual to those who have attained the goal of their desires in the eternal vision of God. No instance of the way in which the magisterium of the Church has dealt with the impulses and feelings of humanity is clearer or more illuminating than this or more plainly illustrates the co-ordination and mutual support of the truths of nature and grace in that comprehensive view of man nature which is possible only to an organisation which, as being both fully human and at the same time truly divine, is able to maintain a perfect balance between the natural and the supernatural.

It is therefore plain that mystical theology is not the least precious of the Church's treasures. It resembles the way of life technically called religious in its relation to the general life of the faithful: it belongs not indeed to the esse, but to the bene esse of the Church -- it is necessary not to its existence, but to its integrity. The mere existence of the religious life, in its various forms, is undoubtedly a source of joy and consolation and a moral support to countless persons wtn are far from having a "vocation" themselves. In the same way, the recognition of the life of mystical contemplation is an encouragement and happiness to many who (like the present writer) know nothing of it by personal experience and it can hardly be doubted that its value in this respect would be more widely and deeply appreciated if its nature were better understood than it is. It completes the circle of the Church's adaptation to human needs, and brings together in the unity of a divinely human institution every temperament, as well as every class, occupation and moral character and is in this aspect an important factor in that kind of moral evidence of the justice of the Church's claims which is supplied by the practical services she has rendered, and is daily rendedng, to humanity in general.

2. The direct evidential value, as distinct from this indirect testimony of the Church's mystical theology, arises from its experimental character, as contrasted with the theoretical nature of "speculative" theology. The symmetry and completeness of the body of Catholic doctrine is admitted on all hands it is even said by some to he too complete and perfect to have any real bearing on a state of things so fragmentary and unsystematic as that of the world in which we have to live.

The question is, Is it really true? And to this question the answer is often given that nobody knows, because it cannot be submitted to any practical test. The complaint is, indeed, an unjust one, even on its own grounds. For the consistency of Catholic doctrine not merely with itself (though even that is something), but with other departments of knowledge, in which fresh forms of truth are continually emerging, really constitutes a practical test of the most stringent kind, and one which has been constantly repeated under ever-varying conditions from the first. But this is not a test of the kind which leaps to the eyes; it does not impress by any external signs, or arrest the attention of the careless and uninterested. It needs to be pondered and considered in the light of a degree of knowledge which is not universally possessed before its full significance can be appreciated. But the experience of the mystic is of quite a different character; though its testimony is perhaps less weighty in reality than that of the failure of twenty centuries of discovery to shake the credibility of revelation, it is more easily recognised and appeals to a different and iess purely rational order of intelligence. Mystics are, in fact, to the religion of the multitude very much what the pioneers of natural science are to the popular interest in that subject. The mystics are the experimentalists of religion. We cannot all be Newtons or Faradays or Huxleys; but our outlook on life is wider, and our appreciation of the wonders of nature is deeper for researches, of the nature and truth of which our knowledge may be somewhat vague and imperfect. So, though few indeed may have the gift or the merits of the great mystics, what they have seen is an assurance for all of the reality of the invisible universe, and of the truth of those experiences by which all, whether mystics or not, are enabled in some degree to share with their the knowledge and the enjoyment of divine things. For this purpose it is necessary indeed that the accounts given by mystics of their experiences should be as credible, at least, as those which scientific experts give of their researches. But that this is really the case no one who will give unprejudiced consideration to the question can seriously doubt. It is most unfortunate that the only two English authors who have dealt specifically with this aspect of the subject should have written under the influence of a parti pris which, notwithstanding the erudition and acumen displayed by them, has deprived their judgment of all value.

{1} W. R. Inge, "Christian Mysticism," Bampton Lectures, Lect. 1.

{2} Maeterlink, Ruysbroeck and the Mystics. Introd.

{3} Inge, op. cit., Lect. VII.

{4} Royce, The World and the Individual, vol. i., ch i.

{5} St John of the Cross brings the two methods into sharp contrast. "While created things furnish to the soul traces of the beloved, and exhibit the impress of His beauty and magnificence, the love of the soul increases, and consequently the pain of His absence; for the greater the soul's knowledge of God, thy greater is the desire to see Him, and its pain when it cannot; and while there is no remedy for this pain except in the presence of the Beloved, the soul, distrustful of every other remedy, prays for the fruition of His presence." It says. in effect, "Entertain me no more with any knowledge of Thee or with Thy communications or impressions of Thy grandeur, for these do but increase my longing and the pain of Thy absence; for Thy presence alone can satisfy my will and desire." The will cannot be satisfied with anything less than the vision of God, and therefore the soul prays that He may be pleased to give Himself to it perfectly in truth, in the consolation of love." -- Spiritual Canticle. Explanation of Stanza VI.

{6} Cf. Schopenhauer. "If something is none of all the things we know, it is certainly for us, speaking generally, nothing. But it does not follow from this that it is absolutely nothing, that from every possible point of view and in every possible sense it must he nothing, but only that we are limited to a completely negative knowledge of it, which may very well lie in the limitations of our point of view. Now it is just here that mysticism proceeds positively, and therefore it is just from this point that nothing but mysticism remains." -- World as Will and Idea, iv. 48.

{7} Cf. Summa, I. 2. 1. i. and 2. c.: also 12. 6. c.

{8} Cf. Illingworth, Divine Immanence, chap. iii.

{9} Cf. Bergson, Matière et Mémoire, p 33: "Que le matière puisse etre perçu sans le concours d'un systeme nerveux, sans organes de sens, cela n'est pas théoriquement inconcevable." If this abstract direct perceptability of matter by the soul be conceded, it would seem to follow, a fortiori that the soul may perceive that which is immaterial, like the soul itself, without any intermediate sensation.

{10} See the instances given by James, Varieties of Religious Experience (Mysticism).

{11} Inge, "Christian Mysticism," Lect. VI.

{12} See Benedict XIV. De Canonis.

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