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Title: Ruysbroeck
Author: Underhill, Evelyn, 1875-1941
Language: English
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                            THE QUEST SERIES

                        Edited by G. R. S. MEAD,
                         EDITOR OF ‘THE QUEST.’

                     _Crown 8vo. 2s. 6d. net each._

                         FIRST LIST OF VOLUMES.

        Secretary of Psychical Research Society of America.

THE QUEST OF THE HOLY GRAIL. By Jessie L. Weston, Author of ‘The Legend
        of Sir Perceval.’

JEWISH MYSTICISM. By J. Abelson, M.A., D.Lit, Principal of Aria College,

THE MYSTICS OF ISLAM. By Reynold A. Nicholson, M.A., Litt.D, LL.D.,
        Lecturer on Persian, Cambridge University.

BUDDHIST PSYCHOLOGY. By C. A. F. Rhys Davids, M.A., Lecturer on Indian
        Philosophy, Manchester University.

RUYSBROECK. By Evelyn Underhill, Author of ‘Mysticism,’ ‘The Mystic Way,’

        Weltenmantel und Himmelszelt.’    [_In the Press._

                     London: G. BELL AND SONS LTD.


                            EVELYN UNDERHILL
                               AUTHOR OF
               ‘MYSTICISM,’ ‘THE MYSTIC WAY,’ ETC., ETC.

                         G. BELL AND SONS LTD.

                        TO WHOM IT OWES SO MUCH

                             EDITOR’S NOTE

A glance at the excellent Bibliographical Note at the end of the volume
will reveal the surprising paucity of literature on Ruysbroeck in this
country. A single version from the original of one short treatise,
published in the present year, is all that we possess of direct
translation; even in versions from translation there is only one treatise
represented; add to this one or two selections of the same nature, and
the full tale is told. We are equally poorly off for studies of the life
and doctrine of the great Flemish contemplative of the fourteenth
century. And yet Jan van Ruusbroec is thought, by no few competent
judges, to be the greatest of all the mediæval Catholic mystics; and,
indeed, it is difficult to point to his superior. Miss Evelyn Underhill
is, therefore, doing lovers not only of Catholic mysticism, but also of
mysticism in general, a very real service by her monograph, which deals
more satisfactorily than any existing work in English with the life and
teachings of one of the most spiritual minds in Christendom. Her book is
not simply a painstaking summary of the more patent generalities of the
subject, but rather a deeply sympathetic entering into the mind of
Ruysbroeck, and that, too, with no common insight.

                             PREFATORY NOTE

I owe to the great kindness of my friend, Mrs. Theodore Beck, the
translation of several passages from Ruysbroeck’s _Sparkling Stone_ given
in the present work; and in quoting from _The Twelve Béguines_ have
often, though not always, availed myself of the recently published
version by Mr. John Francis. For all other renderings I alone am

                                                               E. U.


  CHAP.                                                               PAGE
     I. Ruysbroeck the Man                                               1
    II. His Works                                                       36
   III. His Doctrine of God                                             52
    IV. His Doctrine of Man                                             66
     V. The Active Life                                                 94
    VI. The Interior Life: Illumination and Destitution                115
   VII. The Interior Life: Union and Contemplation                     136
  VIII. The Superessential Life                                        164

        Bibliographical Note                                           187

      Luce divina sopra me s’ appunta,
      penetrando per questa ond’ io m’ inventro;
  La cui virtù, col mio veder conguinta,
      mi leva sopra me tanto, ch’ io veggio
      la somma essenza della quale è munta.
  Quinci vien l’ allegrezza, ond’ io fiammeggio;
      perchè alla vista mia, quant’ ella è chiara,
      la chiarità della fiamma pareggio.

                                                       Par. xxi. 83.

  [Divine Light doth focus itself upon me, piercing through that wherein
  I am enclosed; the power of which, united with my sight, so greatly
  lifts me up above myself that I see the Supreme Essence where from it
  is drawn. Thence comes the joy wherewith I flame; for to my vision,
  even as it is clear, I make the clearness of the flame respond.]


                               CHAPTER I
                           RUYSBROECK THE MAN

  The tree Igdrasil, which has its head in heaven and its roots in hell
  (the lower parts of the earth), is the image of the true man.... In
  proportion to the divine heights to which it ascends must be the
  obscure depths in which the tree is rooted, and from which it draws the
  mystic sap of its spiritual life.

                                                     Coventry Patmore.

In the history of the spiritual adventures of man, we find at intervals
certain great mystics, who appear to gather up and fuse together in the
crucible of the heart the diverse tendencies of those who have preceded
them, and, adding to these elements the tincture of their own rich
experience, give to us an intensely personal, yet universal, vision of
God and man. These are constructive spirits, whose creations in the
spiritual sphere sum up and represent the best achievement of a whole
epoch; as in other spheres the great artist, musician, or poet—always the
child of tradition as well as of inspiration—may do.

John Ruysbroeck is such a mystic as this. His career, which covers the
greater part of the fourteenth century—that golden age of Christian
mysticism—seems to exhibit within the circle of a single personality, and
carry up to a higher term than ever before, all the best attainments of
the Middle Ages in the realm of Eternal Life. Rooted firmly in history,
faithful to the teachings of the great Catholic mystics of the primitive
and mediæval times, Ruysbroeck does not merely transmit, but
transfigures, their principles: making from the salt, sulphur, and
mercury of their vision, reason, and love, a new and living jewel—or, in
his own words, a ‘sparkling stone’—which reflects the actual radiance of
the Uncreated Light. Absorbing from the rich soil of the Middle Ages all
the intellectual nourishment which he needs, dependent too, as all real
greatness is, on the human environment in which he grows—that mysterious
interaction and inter-penetration of personalities without which human
consciousness can never develop its full powers—he towers up from the
social and intellectual circumstances that conditioned him: a living,
growing, unique and creative individual, yet truly a part of the earth
from which he springs.

To speak of Ruysbroeck, as some enthusiastic biographers have done, as an
isolated spiritual phenomenon totally unrelated to the life of his time,
an ‘ignorant monk’ whose profound knowledge of reality is entirely the
result of personal inspiration and independent of human history, is to
misunderstand his greatness. The ‘ignorant monk’ was bound by close links
to the religious life of his day. He was no spiritual individualist; but
the humble, obedient child of an institution, the loyal member of a
Society. He tells us again and again that his spiritual powers were
nourished by the sacramental life of the Catholic Church. From the
theologians of that Church came the intellectual framework in which his
sublime intuitions were expressed. All that he does—though he does this
to a degree perhaps unique in Christian history—is to carry out into
action, completely actualise in his own experience, the high vision of
the soul’s relation to Divine Reality by which that Church is possessed.
The central Christian doctrine of Divine Fatherhood, and of the soul’s
‘power to become the son of God’: it is this, raised to the _n_th degree
of intensity, experienced in all its depth and fullness, and demonstrated
with the exactitude of a mathematician and the passion of a poet, which
Ruysbroeck gives us. Thus tradition and authority, no less than the
abundant inspiration, the direct ecstatic knowledge of God to which his
writings bear witness, have their part in his achievement. His
theological culture was wide and deep. Not only the Scriptures and the
Liturgy, but St. Augustine, Dionysius the Areopagite, Richard of St.
Victor, St. Bernard, St. Bonaventura, St. Thomas Aquinas, and many others
have stimulated and controlled his thought; interpreting to him his
ineffable adventures, and providing him with vessels in which the fruit
of those adventures could be communicated to other men.

Nor is Catholic tradition the only medium through which human life has
exercised a formative influence upon Ruysbroeck’s genius. His worldly
circumstances, his place within and reaction to the temporal order, the
temper of those souls amongst which he grew—these too are of vital
importance in relation to his mystical achievements. To study the
interior adventures and formal teachings of a mystic without reference to
the general trend and special accidents of his outer life, is to neglect
our best chance of understanding the nature and sources of his vision of
truth. The angle from which that vision is perceived, the content of the
mind which comes to it, above all the concrete activities which it
induces in the growing, moving, supple self: these are primary _data_
which we should never ignore. Action is of the very essence of human
reality. Where the inner life is genuine and strong the outer life will
reflect, however faintly, the curve on which it moves; for human
consciousness is a unit, capable of reacting to and synthesising two
orders, not an unresolved dualism—as it were, an angel and an
animal—condemned to lifelong battle within a narrow cage.

Therefore we begin our study of Ruysbroeck the mystic by the study of
Ruysbroeck the man: the circumstances of his life and environment, so far
as we can find them out. For the facts of this life our chief authority
will be the Augustinian Canon Pomerius, who was Prior and chronicler of
Ruysbroeck’s own community of Groenendael. Born in 1382, a year after
Ruysbroeck’s death, and entering Groenendael early in the fifteenth
century, he knew and talked with at least two of the great mystic’s
disciples, John of Hoelaere and John of Scoonhoven. His life of
Ruysbroeck and history of the foundation of the monastery was finished
before 1420; that is to say, within the lifetime of the generation which
succeeded the first founders of the house.[1] It represents the careful
gathering up, sifting, and arranging of all that was remembered and
believed by the community—still retaining several members who had known
him in the flesh—of the facts of Ruysbroeck’s character and career.

Pomerius was no wild romancer, but a reasonably careful as well as a
genuinely enthusiastic monastic chronicler. Moderation is hardly the
outstanding virtue of such home-made lives of monastic founders. They are
inevitably composed in surroundings where any criticism of their subject
or scepticism as to his supernatural peculiarities is looked upon as a
crime; where every incident has been fitted with a halo, and the
unexplained is indistinguishable from the miraculous. Nevertheless the
picture drawn by Pomerius—exaggerated though it be in certain respects—is
a human picture; possessed of distinct characteristics, some natural and
charming, some deeply impressive. It is completed by a second documentary
source: the little sketch by Ruysbroeck’s intimate friend, Gerard Naghel,
Prior of the Carthusian monastery of Hérines near Groenendael, which
forms the prologue to our most complete MS. collection of his writings.

Ruysbroeck’s life, as it is shown to us by Pomerius and Gerard, falls
into three main divisions, three stages of ascent: the natural active
life of boyhood; the contemplative, disciplined career of his middle
period; the superessential life of supreme union which governed his
existence at Groenendael. This course, which he trod in the temporal
order, seems like the rough sketch of that other course trodden by the
advancing soul within the eternal order—the Threefold Life of man which
he describes to us in _The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage_ and other
of his works.

Now the details of that career are these: John Ruysbroeck was born in
1293 at the little village of Ruysbroeck or Ruusbroec, between Brussels
and Hal, from which he takes his name. We know nothing of his father; but
his mother is described as a good and pious woman, devoted to the
upbringing of her son—a hard task, and one that was soon proved to be
beyond her. The child Ruysbroeck was strong-willed, adventurous,
insubordinate; already showing signs of that abounding vitality, that
strange restlessness and need of expansion which children of genius so
often exhibit. At eleven years of age he ran away from home, and found
his way to Brussels; where his uncle, John Hinckaert, was a Canon of the
Cathedral of St. Gudule. Pomerius assures us that this escapade, which
would have seemed a mere naughtiness in normal little boys, was in fact a
proof of coming sanctity; that it was not the attraction of the city but
a precocious instinct for the religious life—the first crude stirrings of
the love of God—which set this child upon the road. Such a claim is
natural to the hagiographer; yet there lies behind it a certain truth.
The little John may or may not have dreamed of being a priest; he did
already dream of a greater, more enticing life beyond the barriers of use
and wont. Though he knew it not, the vision of a spiritual city called
him. Already the primal need of his nature was asserting itself—the
demand, felt long before it was understood, for something beyond the
comfortable world of appearance—and this demand crystallised into a
concrete act. In the sturdy courage which faced the unknown, the
practical temper which translated dream into action, we see already the
germ of those qualities which afterwards gave to the great contemplative
power to climb up to the ‘supreme summits of the inner life’ and face the
awful realities of God.

Such adventures are not rare in the childhood of the mystics. Always of a
romantic temperament, endowed too with an abounding vitality, the craving
for some dimly-guessed and wonderful experience often shows itself early
in them; as the passion for music, colour or poetry is sometimes seen in
embryo in artists of another type. The impact of Reality seems to be felt
by such spirits in earliest childhood. Born susceptible in a special
degree to the messages which pour in on man from the Transcendent, they
move from the first in a different universe from that of other boys and
girls; subject to experiences which they do not understand, full of
dreams which they are unable to explain, and often impelled to strange
actions, extremely disconcerting to the ordinary guardians of youth. Thus
the little Catherine of Siena, six years old, already lived in a world
which was peopled with saints and angels; and ruled her small life by the
visions which she had seen. Thus the baby Teresa, mysteriously attracted
by sacrifice, as other children are attracted by games and toys, set out
to look for ‘the Moors and martyrdom.’ So too the instinct for travel,
for the remote and unknown, often shows itself early in these wayfarers
of the spirit; whose destiny it is to achieve a more extended life in the
interests of the race, to find and feel that Infinite Reality which alone
can satisfy the heart of man. Thus in their early years Francis, Ignatius
and many others were restless, turbulent, eager for adventure and change.

This first adventure brought the boy Ruysbroeck to a home so perfectly
fitted to his needs, that it might seem as though some secret instinct,
some overshadowing love, had indeed guided his steps. His uncle, John
Hinckaert, at this time about forty years of age, had lately been
converted—it is said by a powerful sermon—from the comfortable and
easy-going life of a prosperous ecclesiastic to the austere quest of
spiritual perfection. He had distributed his wealth, given up all
self-indulgence, and now, with another and younger Canon of the Cathedral
named Francis van Coudenberg, lived in simplest, poorest style a
dedicated life of self-denial, charity and prayer. He received his
runaway nephew willingly. Perhaps he saw in this strange and eager child,
suddenly flung upon his charity, an opportunity for repairing some at
least amongst the omissions of his past—that terrible wreck of wasted
years which torments the memory of those who are converted in middle
life. His love and remorse might spend themselves on this boy. He might
make of him perhaps all that he now longed to be, but could never wholly
achieve: a perfect servant of the Eternal Goodness, young, vigorous,
ardent, completely responsive to the touch of God.

Ruysbroeck, then, found a home soaked in love, governed by faith,
renunciation, humility; a forcing-house of the spiritual life. In the
persons of these two grown men, who had given up all outward things for
the sake of spiritual realities, he was brought face to face—and this in
his most impressionable years—with the hard facts, the concrete
sacrifices, the heroic life of deliberate mortification, which underlay
the lovely haunting vision, the revelation of the Divine beauty and love
that had possessed him. No lesson is of higher value to the natural
mystic than this. The lovers of Ruysbroeck should not forget how much
they owe to the men who received, loved, influenced, educated the
brilliant wayward and impressionable child. His attainment is theirs. His
mysticism is rooted in their asceticism; a flower directly dependent for
its perfection on that favouring soil. Though his achievement, like that
of all men of genius, is individual, and transcends the circumstances and
personalities which surround it; still, from those circumstances and
personalities it takes its colour. It represents far more than a personal
and solitary experience. Behind it lies the little house in Brussels, the
supernatural atmosphere which filled it, and the fostering care of the
two men whose life of external and deliberate poverty only made more
plain the richness of the spirits who could choose, and remain constant
to, this career of detachment and love.

The personal influence of Hinckaert and Coudenberg, the moral disciplines
and perpetual self-denials of the life which he shared with them, formed
the heart of Ruysbroeck’s education; helping to build up that manly and
sturdy character which gave its special temper to his mystical outlook.
Like so many children destined to greatness, he was hard to educate in
the ordinary sense; uninterested in general knowledge, impatient of
scholastic drudgery. Nothing which did not minister to his innate passion
for ultimates had any attraction for him. He was taught grammar with
difficulty; but on the other hand his astonishing aptitude for religious
ideas, even of the most subtle kind, his passionate clear vision of
spiritual things, was already so highly developed as to attract general
attention; and his writings are sufficient witness to the width and depth
of his theological reading. With such tastes and powers as these, and
brought up in such a household, governed by religious enthusiasms and
under the very shadow of the Cathedral walls, it was natural that he
should wish to become a priest; and in 1317 he was ordained and given,
through the influence of his uncle, a prebend in St. Gudule.

Now a great mystic is the product not merely of an untamed genius for the
Transcendent, but of a moral discipline, an interior education, of the
most strenuous kind. All the varied powers and tendencies of a nature
which is necessarily strong and passionate, must be harnessed, made
subservient to this one central interest. The instinctive egotism of the
natural man—never more insidious than when set upon spiritual things—must
be eradicated. So, behind these few outward events of Ruysbroeck’s
adolescence, we must discern another growth; a perpetual interior
travail, a perpetual slow character-building always going forward in him,
as his whole personality is moulded into that conformity to the vision
seen which prepares the way of union, and marks off the mystical saint
from the mere adept of transcendental things. We know from his writings
how large a part such moral purifications, such interior adjustments,
played in his concept of the spiritual life; and the intimacy with which
he describes each phase in the battle of love, each step of the spiritual
ladder, the long process of preparation in which the soul adorns herself
for the ‘spiritual marriage,’ guarantees to us that he has himself
trodden the path which he maps out. That path goes the whole way from the
first impulse of ‘goodwill,’ of glad acquiescence in the universal
purpose, through the taming of the proud will to humility and suppleness,
and of the insurgent heart to gentleness, kindness, and peace, to that
last state of perfect charity in which the whole spirit of man is one
will and one love with God.

Though his biographers have left us little material for a reconstruction
of his inner development, we may surely infer something of the course
which it followed from the vividly realistic descriptions in _The Kingdom
of Lovers_ and _The Spiritual Marriage_. Personal experience underlies
the wonderful account of the ascent of the Spiritual Sun in the heavens
of consciousness; the rapture, wildness and joy, the ‘fever of love’
which fulfils the man who feels its light and heat. Experience, too,
dictates these profound passages which deal with the terrible spiritual
reaction when the Sun declines in the heavens, and man feels cold, dead,
and abandoned of God. Through these phases, at least, Ruysbroeck had
surely passed before his great books came to be written.

One or two small indications there are which show us his progress on the
mystic way, the development in him of those secondary psychic characters
peculiar to the mystical type. It seems that by the time of his
ordination that tendency to vision which often appears in the earliest
youth of natural mystics, was already established in him. Deeply
impressed by the sacramental side of Catholicism, and finding in it
throughout his life a true means of contact with the Unseen, the
priesthood was conceived by him as bringing with it a veritable access of
grace; fresh power poured in on him from the Transcendent, an increase of
strength wherewith to help the souls of other men. This belief took, in
his meditations, a concrete and positive form. Again and again he saw in
dramatic vision the soul specially dear to him, specially dependent on
him—that of his mother, who had lately died in the Brussels
Béguinage—demanding how long she must wait till her son’s ordination made
his prayers effectual for her release from Purgatory. At the moment in
which he finished saying his first Mass, this vision returned to him; and
he saw his mother’s spirit, delivered from Purgatory by the power of the
sacrifice which he had offered, entering into Heaven—an experience
originating in, and giving sharp dramatic expression to, that sense of
new and sacred powers now conferred on him, which may well at such a
moment have flooded the consciousness of the young priest. This story was
repeated to Pomerius by those who had heard it from Ruysbroeck himself;
for “he often told it to the brothers.”

For twenty-six years—that is to say, until he was fifty years of
age—Ruysbroeck lived in Brussels the industrious and inconspicuous life
of a secular priest. It was not the solitude of the forest, but the
normal, active existence of a cathedral chaplain in a busy capital city
which controlled his development during that long period, stretching from
the very beginnings of manhood to the end of middle age; and it was in
fact during these years, and in the midst of incessant distractions, that
he passed through the great oscillations of consciousness which mark the
mystic way. It is probable that when at last he left Brussels for the
forest, these oscillations were over, equilibrium was achieved; he had
climbed ‘to the summits of the mount of contemplation.’ It was on those
summits that he loved to dwell, absorbed in loving communion with Divine
Reality; but his career fulfilled that ideal of a synthesis of work and
contemplation, an acceptance and remaking of the whole of life, which he
perpetually puts before us as the essential characteristic of a true
spirituality. No mystic has ever been more free from the vice of
other-worldliness, or has practised more thoroughly and more unselfishly
the primary duty of active charity towards men which is laid upon the

The simple and devoted life of the little family of three went on year by
year undisturbed; though one at least was passing through those profound
interior changes and adventures which he has described to us as governing
the evolution of the soul, from the state of the ‘faithful servant’ to
the transfigured existence of the ‘God-seeing man.’ Ruysbroeck grew up to
be a simple, dreamy, very silent and totally unimpressive person, who,
‘going about the streets of Brussels with his mind lifted up into God,’
seemed a nobody to those who did not know him. Yet not only a spiritual
life of unequalled richness, intimacy and splendour, but a penetrating
intellect, a fearless heart, deep knowledge of human nature, remarkable
powers of expression, lay behind that meek and unattractive exterior. As
Paul’s twelve years of quiet and subordinate work in Antioch prepared the
way of his missionary career; so during this long period of service, the
silent growth of character, the steady development of his mystical
powers, had gone forward in Ruysbroeck. When circumstances called them
into play he was found to be possessed of an unsuspected passion,
strength and courage, a power of dealing with outward circumstances,
which was directly dependent on his inner life of contemplation and

The event into which the tendencies of this stage of his development
crystallised, is one which seems perhaps inconsistent with the common
idea of the mystical temperament, with its supposed concentration on the
Eternal, its indifference to temporal affairs. As his childhood was
marked by an exhibition of adventurous love, so his manhood was marked by
an exhibition of militant love; of that strength and sternness, that
passion for the true, which—no less than humility, gentleness, peace—is
an integral part of that paradoxical thing, the Christian character.

The fourteenth century, like all great spiritual periods, was a century
fruitful in mystical heresies as well as in mystical saints. In
particular, the extravagant pantheism preached by the Brethren of the
Free Spirit had become widely diffused in Flanders, and was responsible
for much bad morality as well as bad theology; those on whom the ‘Spirit’
had descended believing themselves to be already divine, and emancipated
from obedience to all human codes of conduct. Soon after Ruysbroeck came
as a boy to Brussels, a woman named Bloemardinne placed herself at the
head of this sect, and gradually gained extraordinary influence. She
claimed supernatural and prophetic powers, was said to be accompanied by
two Seraphim whenever she went to the altar to receive Holy Communion,
and preached a degraded eroticism under the title of ‘Seraphic love,’
together with a quietism of the most exaggerated and soul-destroying
type. All the dangers and follies of a false mysticism, dissociated from
the controlling influence of tradition and the essential virtue of
humility, were exhibited in her. Against this powerful woman, then at the
height of her fame, Ruysbroeck declared war; and prosecuted his campaign
with a violence and courage which must have been startling to those who
had regarded him only as a shy, pious, rather negligible young man. The
pamphlets which he wrote against her are lost; but the passionate
denunciations of pantheism and quietism scattered through his later works
no doubt have their origin in this controversy, and represent the angle
from which his attacks were made.

Pantheists, he says in _The Book of Truth_, are “a fruit of hell, the
more dangerous because they counterfeit the true fruit of the Spirit of
God.” Far from possessing that deep humility which is the soul’s
inevitable reaction to the revelation of the Infinite, they are full of
pride and self-satisfaction. They claim that their imaginary identity
with the Essence of God emancipates them from all need of effort, all
practice of virtue, and leaves them free to indulge those inclinations of
the flesh which the ‘Spirit’ suggests. They “believe themselves sunk in
inward peace; but as a matter of fact they are deep-drowned in error.”[2]

Against all this the stern, virile, ardent spirituality of Ruysbroeck
opposed itself with its whole power. Especially did he hate and condemn
the laziness and egotism of the quietistic doctrine of contemplation: the
ideal of spiritual immobility which it set up. That ‘love cannot be lazy’
is a cardinal truth for all real mystics. Again and again it appears in
their works. Even that profound repose in which they have fruition of
God, is but the accompaniment or preliminary of work of the most
strenuous kind, and keeps at full stretch the soul which truly tastes it;
and this supernatural state is as far above that self-induced quietude of
‘natural repose’—“consisting in nothing but an idleness and interior
vacancy, to which they are inclined by nature and habit”—in which the
quietists love to immerse themselves, as God is above His creatures.

Here is the distinction, always needed and constantly ignored, between
that veritable fruition of Eternal Life which results from the
interaction of will and grace, and demands of the soul the highest
intensity and most active love, and that colourable imitation of it which
is produced by a psychic trick, and is independent alike of the human
effort and the divine gift. Ruysbroeck in fighting the ‘Free Spirit’ was
fighting the battle of true mysticism against its most dangerous and
persistent enemy,—mysticality.

His attack upon Bloemardinne is the one outstanding incident in the long
Brussels period which has been preserved to us. The next great outward
movement in his steadily evolving life did not happen until the year
1343, when he was fifty years of age. It was then that the three
companions decided to leave Brussels, and live together in some remote
country place. They had long felt a growing distaste for the noisy and
distracting life of the city; a growing dissatisfaction with the
spiritual apathy and low level of religious observance at the Cathedral
of St. Gudule; the need of surroundings in which they might devote
themselves with total concentration to the contemplative life. Hinckaert
and Coudenberg were now old men; Ruysbroeck was advanced in middle age.
The rhythm of existence, which had driven him as a child from country to
town, and harnessed him during long years to the service of his
fellow-men, now drew him back again to the quiet spaces where he might be
alone with God. He was approaching those heights of experience from which
his greatest mystical works proceed; and it was in obedience to a true
instinct that he went away to the silent places of the forest—as Anthony
to the solitude of the desert, Francis to the ‘holy mountain’ of La
Verna—that, undistracted by the many whom he had served so faithfully, he
might open his whole consciousness to the inflow of the One, and receive
in its perfection the message which it was his duty to transmit to the
world, He went, says Pomerius, “not that he might hide his light; but
that he might tend it better and make it shine more brightly.”

By the influence of Coudenberg, John III., Duke of Brabant, gave to the
three friends the old hermitage of Groenendael, or the Green Valley, in
the forest of Soignes, near Brussels. They entered into possession on the
Wednesday of Easter week, 1343; and for five years lived there, as they
had lived in the little house in Brussels, with no other rule save their
own passion for perfection. But perpetual invasions from the outer world,
not only of penitents and would-be disciples—for their reputation for
sanctity grew quickly—but of huntsmen in the forest and pleasure parties
from the town, who demanded and expected hospitality, soon forced them to
adopt some definite attitude towards the question of enclosure. It is
said that Ruysbroeck begged for an entire seclusion; but Coudenberg
insisted that this was contrary to the law of charity, and that some at
least of those who sought them must be received. In addition to these
practical difficulties, the Prior of the Abbey of St. Victor at Paris had
addressed to them strong remonstrances, on account of the absence of rule
in their life and the fact that they had not even adopted a religious
habit; a proceeding which in his opinion savoured rather of the
ill-regulated doings of the heretical sects, than of the decorum proper
to good Catholics. As a result of these various considerations, the
simple and informal existence of the little family was re-modelled in
conformity with the rule of the Augustinian Canons, and the Priory of
Groenendael was formally created. Coudenberg became its provost, and
Ruysbroeck, who had refused the higher office, was made prior; but
Hinckaert, now a very old man in feeble health, refused to burden the
young community with a member who might be a drag upon it and could not
keep the full rigour of the rule. In a spirit of renunciation which
surely touches the heroic, he severed himself from his lifelong friend
and his adopted son, and went away to a little cell in the forest, where
he lived alone until his death.

The story of the foundation and growth of the Priory of Groenendael, the
saintly personalities which it nourished, is not for this place; except
in so far as it affects our main interest, the story of Ruysbroeck’s
soul. Under the influences of the forest, of the silent and regular life,
those supreme contemplative powers which belong to the ‘Superessential
Life’ of Unity now developed in him with great rapidity. It is possible,
as we shall see, that some at least of his mystical writings may date
from his Brussels period; and we know that at the close of this period
his reputation as an ‘illuminated man’ was already made. Nevertheless it
seems safe to say that the bulk of his works, as we now possess them,
represent him as he was during the last thirty years of his life, rather
than during his earlier and more active career; and that the intense
certitude, the wide deep vision of the Infinite which distinguishes them,
are the fruits of those long hours of profound absorption in God for
which his new life found place. In the silence of the woods he was able
to discern each subtle accent of that Voice which “is heard without
utterance, and without the sound of words speaks all truth.”

Like so many of the greatest mystics, Ruysbroeck, drawing nearer to
Divine Reality, drew nearer to nature too; conforming to his own ideal of
the contemplative, who, having been raised to the simple vision of God
Transcendent, returns to find His image reflected by all life. Many
passages in his writings show the closeness and sympathy of his
observation of natural things: the vivid description in _The Spiritual
Marriage_ of the spring, summer and autumn of the fruitful soul, the
constant insistence on the phenomena of growth, the lessons drawn from
the habits of ants and bees, the comparison of the surrendered soul to
the sunflower, ‘one of nature’s most wonderful works’; the three types of
Christians, compared with birds who can fly but prefer hopping about the
earth, birds who swim far on the waters of grace, and birds who love only
to soar high in the heavens. For the free, exultant life of birds he felt
indeed a special sympathy and love; and ‘many-feathered’ is the best name
that he can find for the soul of the contemplative ascending to the glad
vision of God.

It is probably a true tradition which represents him as having written
his greatest and most inspired pages sitting under a favourite tree in
the depths of the woods. When the ‘Spirit’ came on him, as it often did
with a startling suddenness, he would go away into the forest carrying
his tablet and stylus. There, given over to an ecstasy of
composition—which seems often to have approached the limits of automatic
writing, as in St. Teresa, Boehme, Blake and other mystics—he would write
that which was given to him, without addition or omission; breaking off
even in the middle of a sentence when the ‘Spirit’ abruptly departed, and
resuming at the same point, though sometimes after an interval which
lasted several weeks, when it returned. In his last years, when eyesight
failed him, he would allow a younger brother to go with him into the
woods, and there to take down from dictation the fruits of those
meditations in which he ‘saw without sight’; as the illiterate Catherine
of Siena dictated in ecstasy the text of her Divine Dialogue.

Two witnesses have preserved Ruysbroeck’s solemn affirmation, given first
to his disciple Gerard Groot ‘in great gentleness and humility,’ and
repeated again upon his death-bed in the presence of the whole community,
that every word of his writings was thus composed under the immediate
domination of an inspiring power; that ‘secondary personality of a
superior type,’ in touch with levels of reality beyond the span of the
surface consciousness, which governs the activities of the great mystics
in their last phases of development. These books are not the fruit of
conscious thought, but ‘God-sent truths,’ poured out from a heart
immersed in that Divine Abyss of which he tries to tell.

That a saint must needs be a visionary, is a conviction deeply implanted
in the mind of the mediæval hagiographer; who always ascribes to these
incidents an importance which the saints themselves are the first to
deny. Pomerius thus attributes to Ruysbroeck not only those profound and
direct experiences of Divine Reality to which his works bear witness; but
also numerous visions of a conventional and anthropomorphic type, in
which he spoke with Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, ecstasies
which fell upon him when saying Mass—and the passionate devotion to the
Eucharist which his writings express makes these at least probable—a
certain faculty of clairvoyance, and a prophetic knowledge of his own
death. Further, it is said that once, being missed from the priory, he
was found after long search by one of the brothers he loved best, sitting
under his favourite tree, rapt in ecstasy and surrounded by an _aura_ of
radiant light; as the discerning eyes of those who loved them have seen
St. Francis, St. Teresa, and other contemplatives transfigured and made
shining by the intensity of their spiritual life. I need not point out
that the fact that these things are common form in the lives of the
mystics, does not necessarily discredit them; though in any case their
interest is less of a mystical than of a psychological kind.

Not less significant, and to us perhaps more winning, is that side of
Ruysbroeck’s personality which was turned towards the world of men. In
his own person he fulfilled that twofold duty of the deified soul which
he has described to us: the in-breathing of the Love of God, the
out-breathing of that same radiant charity towards the race. “To give and
receive, both at once, is the essence of union,” he says; and his whole
career is an illustration of these words. He took his life from the
Transcendent; he was a focus of distribution, which gave out that joyous
life again to other souls. His retreat at Groenendael, his ecstasies of
composition, never kept him from those who wanted his help and advice. In
his highest ascents towards Divine Love, the rich complexities of human
love went with him. Other men always meant much to Ruysbroeck. He had a
genius for friendship, and gave himself without stint to his friends; and
those who knew him said that none ever went to him for consolation
without returning with gladness in their hearts. There are many tales in
the _Vita_ of his power over and intuitive understanding of other minds;
of conversions effected, motives unveiled and clouds dispelled. His great
friend, Gerard Naghel, the Carthusian prior—at whose desire he wrote one
of the most beautiful of his shorter works, _The Book of Supreme
Truth_—has left a vivid little account of the impression which his
personality created: “his peaceful and joyful countenance, his humble
good-humoured speech.” Ruysbroeck spent three days in Gerard’s monastery,
in order to explain some difficult passages in his writings, “and these
days were too short, for no one could speak to him or see him without
being the better for it.”

By this we may put the description of Pomerius, founded upon the
reminiscences of Ruysbroeck’s surviving friends. “The grace of God shone
in his face; and also in his modest speech, his kindly deeds, his humble
manners, and in the way that every action of his life exhibited
uprightness and radiant purity. He lived soberly, neglected his dress,
and was patient in all things and with all people.”

Plainly the great contemplative who had seemed in Brussels a ‘negligible
man,’ kept to the end a great simplicity of aspect; closely approximating
to his own ideal of the ‘really humble man, without any pose or
pretence,’ as described in _The Spiritual Marriage_. That profound
self-immersion in God which was the source of his power, manifested
itself in daily life under the least impressive forms; ever seeking
embodiment in little concrete acts of love and service, “ministering, in
the world without, to all who need, in love and mercy.”[3] We see him in
his Franciscan love of living things, his deep sense of kinship with all
the little children of God, ‘going to the help of the animals in all
their needs’; thrown into a torment of distress by the brothers who
suggested to him that during a hard winter the little birds of the forest
might die, and at once making generous and successful arrangements for
their entertainment. We see him ‘giving Mary and Martha _rendez-vous_ in
his heart’; working in the garden of the community, trying hard to be
useful, wheeling barrow-loads of manure, and emerging from profound
meditation on the Infinite to pull up young vegetables under the
impression that they were weeds. He made, in fact, valiant efforts to
achieve that perfect synthesis of action and contemplation ‘ever abiding
in the simplicity of the Spirit, and perpetually flowing forth in
abundant acts of love towards heaven and earth,’ which he regarded as the
proper goal of human growth—efforts constantly thwarted by his own
growing concentration on the Transcendent, the ease and frequency with
which his consciousness now withdrew from the world of the senses to
immerse itself in Spiritual Reality. In theory there was for him no
cleavage between the two: Being and Becoming, the Temporal and the
Eternal, were but two moods within the mind of God, and in the
superessential life of perfect union these completing opposites should
merge in one.

A life which shall find place for the activities of the lover, the
servant, and the apostle, is the goal towards which the great mystics
seem to move. We have seen how the homely life of the priory gave to
Ruysbroeck the opportunity of service, how the silence of the forest
fostered and supported his secret life of love. As the years passed, the
third side of his nature, the apostolic passion which had found during
his long Brussels period ample scope for its activities, once more came
into prominence. He was sought out by numbers of would-be disciples, not
only from Belgium itself, but from Holland, Germany and France; and
became a fountainhead of new life, the father of many spiritual children.
The tradition which places among these disciples the great Dominican
mystic Tauler is probably false; though many passages in Tauler’s later
sermons suggest that he was strongly influenced by Ruysbroeck’s works,
which had already attained a wide circulation. But Gerard Groot,
afterwards the founder of the Brothers of the Common Life, and spiritual
ancestor of Thomas à Kempis, went to Groenendael shortly after his
conversion in 1374, that he might there learn the rudiments of a sane and
robust spirituality. Ruysbroeck received him with a special joy,
recognising in him at first sight a peculiar aptitude for the things of
the Spirit. A deep friendship grew up between the old mystic and the
young and vigorous convert. Gerard stayed often at the priory, and
corresponded regularly with Ruysbroeck; whose influence it was which
conditioned his subsequent career as a preacher, and as founder of a
congregation as simple and unconventional in its first beginnings, as
fruitful in its later developments, as that of Groenendael itself.

The penetrating remarks upon human character scattered through his works,
and the anecdotes of his dealings with disciples and penitents preserved
by Pomerius, suggest that Ruysbroeck, though he might not always
recognise the distinction between the weeds and vegetables of the garden,
was seldom at fault in his judgment of men. An instinctive knowledge of
the human heart, an unerring eye for insincerity, egotism,
self-deception, is a power which nearly all the great contemplatives
possess, and often employed with disconcerting effect. I need refer only
to the caustic analysis of the ‘false contemplative’ contained in _The
Cloud of Unknowing_, and the amusing sketches of spiritual
self-importance in St. Teresa’s letters and life. The little tale, so
often repeated, of the somewhat self-conscious priests who came from
Paris to consult Ruysbroeck on the state of their souls, and received
from him only the blunt observation—apparently so careless, yet really
plumbing human nature to its deeps—“You are as holy as you wish to be,”
shows him possessed of this same power of stripping off the husks of
unreality and penetrating at once to the fundamental facts of the soul’s
life: the purity and direction of its will and love.

The life-giving life of union, once man has grown up to it, clarifies,
illuminates, raises to a higher term, all aspects of the self:
intelligence, no less than love and will. That self is now harmonised
about its true centre, and finding ‘God in all creatures and all
creatures in God’ finds them in their reality. So it is that Ruysbroeck’s
long life of growth, his long education in love, bringing him to that
which he calls the ‘God-seeing’ stage, brings him to a point in which he
finds everywhere Reality: in those rhythmic seasonal changes of the
forest life which have inspired his wonderful doctrine of the perpetual
rebirth and re-budding of the soul; in the hearts of men—though often
there deep buried—above all, in the mysteries of the Christian faith.
Speaking with an unequalled authority and intimacy of those supersensuous
regions, those mysterious contacts of love which lie beyond and above all
thought, he is yet firmly rooted in the concrete; for he has reconciled
in his own experience the paradox of a Transcendent yet Immanent God.
There is no break in the life-process which begins with the little
country boy running away from home in quest of some vaguely felt object
of desire, some ‘better land,’ and which ends with the triumphant passing
over of the soul of the great contemplative to the perfect fruition of
Eternal Love.

Ruysbroeck died at Groenendael on December 2, 1381. He was eighty-eight
years old; feeble in body, nearly blind, yet keeping to the last his
clear spiritual vision, his vigour and eagerness of soul. His death, says
Pomerius, speaking on the authority of those who had seen it, was full of
peaceful joy, of gaiety of heart; not the falling asleep of the tired
servant, but the leap to more abundant life of the vigorous child of the
Infinite, at last set free. With an immense gladness he went out from
that time-world which, in his own image, is ‘the shadow of God,’ to
“those high mountains of the land of promise where no shadow is, but only
the Sun.” One of the greatest of Christian seers, one of the most manly
and human of the mystics, it is yet as a lover, in the noblest and most
vital sense of the word, that his personality lives for us. From first to
last, under all its external accidents, we may trace in his life the
activity—first instinctive, and only gradually understood—of that
‘unconquerable love,’ ardent, industrious, at last utterly surrendered,
which he describes in the wonderful tenth chapter of _The Sparkling
Stone_, as the unique power which effects the soul’s union with God. “For
no man understandeth what love is in itself, but such are its workings:
which giveth more than one can take, and asketh more than one can pay.”
That love it was which came out from the Infinite, as a tendency, an
instinct endowed with liberty and life, and passed across the stage of
history, manifested under humblest inconspicuous forms, but ever growing
in passion and power; till at last, achieving the full stature of the
children of God, it returned to its Source and Origin again. When we
speak of the mysticism of Ruysbroeck, it is of this that we should think:
of this growing spirit, this ardent, unconquerable, creative thing. A
veritable part of our own order, therein it was transmuted from unreal to
real existence; putting on Divine Humanity, and attaining the goal of all
life in the interests of the race.

                               CHAPTER II
                               HIS WORKS

  In all that I have understood, felt, or written, I submit myself to the
  judgment of the saints and of Holy Church, for I would live and die
  Christ’s servant in Christian Faith.

                                            The Book of Supreme Truth.

Before discussing Ruysbroeck’s view of the spiritual world, his doctrine
of the soul’s development, perhaps it will be well to consider the
traditional names, general character, and contents of his admittedly
authentic works. Only a few of these works can be dated with precision;
for recent criticism has shown that the so-called chronological list
given by Pomerius[4] cannot be accepted. As to several of them, we cannot
tell whether they were composed at Brussels or at Groenendael, at the
beginning, middle or end of his mystical life. All were written in the
Flemish vernacular of his own day—or, strictly speaking, in the dialect
of Brabant—for they were practical books composed for a practical object,
not academic treatises on mystical theology. Founded on experience, they
deal with and incite to experience; and were addressed to all who felt
within themselves the stirrings of a special grace, the call of a
superhuman love, irrespective of education or position—to hermits,
priests, nuns, and ardent souls still in the world who were trying to
live the one real life—not merely to learned professors trying to
elucidate the doctrines of that life. Ruysbroeck therefore belongs to
that considerable group of mystical writers whose gift to the history of
literature is only less important than their gift to the history of the
spiritual world; since they have helped to break down the barrier between
the written and the spoken word.

At the moment in which poetry first forsakes the ‘literary’ language and
uses the people’s speech, we nearly always find a mystic thus trying to
tell his message to the race. His enthusiasm it is which is equal to the
task of subduing a new medium to the purposes of art. Thus at the very
beginning of Italian poetry we find St. Francis of Assisi singing in the
popular tongue his great Canticle of the Sun, and soon after him come the
sublime lyrics of Jacopone da Todì. Thus German literature owes much to
Mechthild of Magdeburg, and English to Richard Rolle—both forsaking Latin
for the common speech of their day. Thus in India the poet Kabir,
obedient to the same impulse, sings in Hindi rather than in Sanscrit his
beautiful songs of Divine Love.

In Ruysbroeck, as in these others, a strong poetic inspiration mingled
with and sometimes controlled the purely mystical side of his genius.
Often his love and enthusiasm break out and express themselves, sometimes
in rough, irregular verse, sometimes in rhymed and rhythmic prose: a kind
of wild spontaneous chant, which may be related to the ‘ghostly song’
that ‘boiled up’ within the heart of Richard Rolle. It is well-known that
automatic composition—and we have seen that the evidence of those who
knew him suggests the presence of an automatic element in Ruysbroeck’s
creative methods—tends to assume a rhythmic character; being indeed
closely related to that strange chanted speech in which religious
excitement frequently expresses itself. Released from the control of the
surface-intellect, the deeper mind which is involved in these mysterious
processes tends to present its intuitions and concepts in measured waves
of words; which sometimes, as in Rolle’s ‘ghostly song’ and perhaps too
in Ruysbroeck’s ‘Song of Joy,’ are actually given a musical form. In such
rhythm the mystic seems to catch something of the cadences of that
far-off music of which he is writing, and to receive and transmit a
message which exceeds the possibilities of speech. Ruysbroeck was no
expert poet. Often his verse is bad; halting in cadence, violent and
uncouth in imagery, like the stammering utterance of one possessed. But
its presence and quality, its mingled simplicity and violence, assure us
of the strong excitement that fulfilled him, and tend to corroborate the
account of his mental processes which we have deduced from the statements
in Pomerius’ _Life_.

Eleven admittedly authentic books and tracts survive in numerous MS.
collections,[5] and from these come all that we know of his vision and
teaching. _The Twelve Virtues_, and the two Canticles often attributed to
him, are probably spurious; and the tracts against the Brethren of the
Free Spirit, which are known to have been written during his Brussels
period, have all disappeared. I give here a short account of the
authentic works, their names and general contents; putting first in order
those of unknown date, some of which may possibly have been composed
before the foundation of Groenendael. In each case the first title is a
translation of that used in the best Flemish texts; the second, that
employed in the great Latin version of Surius. Ruysbroeck himself never
gave any titles to his writings.

1. The Spiritual Tabernacle (called by Surius _In Tabernaculum
Mosis_).—The longest, most fantastic, and, in spite of some fine
passages, the least interesting of Ruysbroeck’s works. Probably founded
upon the _De Arca Mystica_ of Hugh of St. Victor, this is an elaborate
allegory, thoroughly mediæval in type, in which the Tabernacle of the
Israelites becomes a figure of the spiritual life; the details of its
construction, furniture and ritual being given a symbolic significance,
in accordance with the methods of interpretation popular at the time. In
this book, and perhaps in the astronomical treatise appended to _The
Twelve Béguines_ (No. 11), I believe that we have the only surviving
works of Ruysbroeck’s first period; when he had not yet ‘transcended
images,’ but was at that point in his mystical development in which the
young contemplative loves to discern symbolic meanings in all visible

2. The Twelve Points of True Faith (_De Fide et Judicio_).—This little
tract is in form a gloss upon the Nicene Creed; in fact, a
characteristically Ruysbroeckian confession of faith. Without ever
over-passing the boundaries of Catholic doctrine, Ruysbroeck is here able
to turn all its imagery to the purposes of his own vision of truth.

3. The Book of the Four Temptations (_De Quatuor Tentationibus_).—The
Four Temptations are four manifestations of the higher egotism specially
dangerous to souls entering on the contemplative life: first, the love of
ease and comfort, as much in things spiritual as in things material;
secondly, the tendency to pose as the possessor of special illumination,
with other and like forms of spiritual pretence; thirdly, intellectual
pride, which seeks to understand unfathomable mysteries and attain to the
vision of God by the reason alone; fourthly,—most dangerous of all—that
false ‘liberty of spirit’ which was the mark of the heretical mystic
sects. This book too may well have been written before the retreat to

4. The Book of the Kingdom of God’s Lovers (_Regnum Deum Amantium_).—This
and the following work, _The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage_,
contain Ruysbroeck’s fullest and most orderly descriptions of the
mystical life-process. The ‘Kingdom’ which God’s lovers may inherit is
the actual life of God, infused into the soul and deifying it. This
essential life reveals itself under five modes: in the sense world, in
the soul’s nature, in the witness of Scripture, in the life of grace or
‘glory,’ and in the Superessential Kingdom of the Divine Unity. By the
threefold way of the Active, Contemplative, and Superessential Life, here
described as the steady and orderly appropriation of the Seven Gifts of
the Holy Spirit, the spirit of man may enter into its inheritance and
attain at last to the perfect fruition of God. To the Active Life belong
the gifts of Holy Fear, Godliness, and Knowledge; to the Contemplative
those of Strength and Counsel; to the Superessential those of
Intelligence and Wisdom. _The Kingdom of God’s Lovers_ was traditionally
regarded as Ruysbroeck’s earliest work. It was more probably written
during the early years at Groenendael. Much of it, like _The Twelve
Béguines_, is in poetical form. This was the book which, falling into the
hands of Gerard Naghel, made him seek Ruysbroeck’s acquaintance, in order
that he might ask for an explanation of several profound and difficult

5. The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage (_De Ornatu Spiritalium
Nuptiarum_).—This is the best known and most methodical of Ruysbroeck’s
works. In form a threefold commentary upon the text, “Behold, the
bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him,” it is divided into three
books, tracing out in great detail, and with marvellous psychological
insight, those three stages of Active, Contemplative and Superessential
Life, which appear again and again in his writings. Paying due attention
to the aberrations of the quietists, he exhibits—with an intimacy which
surely reflects his own personal experience of the Way—the conditions
under which selves in each stage of development may see, encounter, and
at last unite with, the Divine Bridegroom of the soul. A German
translation of several of its chapters, preserved in MS. at Munich,
states that Ruysbroeck sent this book to the Friends of God in 1350. In
this case it belongs to the years immediately preceding or succeeding his

We now come to the works which were certainly composed at Groenendael,
though probably some of those already enumerated also belong to the last
thirty years of Ruysbroeck’s life. First come the three treatises
apparently written for Margaret van Meerbeke, a choir nun of the Convent
of Poor Clares at Brussels; who seems to have been to him what St. Clare
was to St. Francis, Elizabeth Stägel to Suso, Margaret Kirkby to Richard
Rolle—first a spiritual daughter, then a valued and sympathetic friend.

6. The Mirror of Eternal Salvation or Book of the Blessed Sacrament
(_Speculum Æternæ Salutis_).—This, the first of the three, was written in
1359. It is addressed to one who is evidently a beginner in the spiritual
life, as she is yet a novice in her religious community; but whom
Ruysbroeck looks upon as specially ‘called, elect and loved.’ In simplest
language, often of extreme beauty, he puts before her the magnitude of
the vocation she has accepted, the dangers she will encounter, and the
great source from which she must draw her strength: the sacramental
dispensation of the Church. In a series of magnificent chapters, he
celebrates the mystical doctrine of the Eucharist, the feeding of the
ever-growing soul on the substance of God; following this by a
digression, full of shrewd observation, on the different types of
believers who come to communion. We see them through his eyes: the
religious sentimentalists, ‘who are generally women and only very seldom
men’; the sturdy normal Christian, who does his best to struggle against
sin; the humble and devout lover of God; the churchy hypocrite, who
behaves with great reverence at Mass and then goes home and scolds the
servants; the heretical mystic full of spiritual pride; the easy-going
worldling, who sins and repents with equal facility. The book ends with a
superb description of the goal towards which the young contemplative is
set: the ‘life-giving life’ of perfect union with God in which that
‘higher life’ latent in every soul at last attains to maturity.

7. The Seven Cloisters (_De Septem_ _Custodiis_).—This was written before
1363, and preserves its address to ‘The Holy Nun, Dame Margaret van
Meerbeke, Cantor of the Monastery of St. Clare at Brussels.’ The novice
of the ‘Mirror’ is now a professed religious; and her director instructs
her upon the attitude of mind which she should bring to the routine
duties of a nun’s day, the opportunity they offer for the enriching and
perfecting of love and humility. He describes the education of the human
spirit up to that high point of consciousness where it knows itself
established ‘between Eternity and Time’: one of the fundamental thoughts
of Flemish and German mysticism. This education admits her successively
into the seven cloisters which kept St. Clare, Foundress of the Order,
unspotted from the world. The first is the physical enclosure of the
convent walls; the next the moral and volitional limitation of
self-control. The third is ‘the open door of the love of Christ,’ which
crowns man’s affective powers, and leads to the fourth—total dedication
of the will. The fifth and sixth represent the two great forms of the
Contemplative Life as conceived by Ruysbroeck: the ecstatic and the
deiform. The seventh admits to Abyss of Being itself: that ‘dim silence’
at the heart of which, as in the Seventh Habitation of St. Teresa’s
‘Interior Castle,’ he will find himself alone with God. There the mystic
union is consummated, and the Divine activity takes the place of the
separate activity of man, in “a simple beatitude which transcends all
sanctity and the practice of virtue, an Eternal Fruition which satisfies
all hunger and thirst, all love and all craving, for God.” Finally, he
returns to the Active Life; and ends with a practical chapter on clothes,
and a charming instruction, full of deep poetry, on the evening
meditation which should close the day.

8. The Seven Degrees of the Ladder of Love (_De Septem Gradibus
Amoris_).—This book, which was written before 1372, is believed by the
Benedictines of Wisques, the latest and most learned of Ruysbroeck’s
editors, to complete the trilogy of works addressed to Dame Margaret van
Meerbeke. It traces the soul’s ascent to the height of Divine love by way
of the characteristic virtues of asceticism, under the well-known
mediæval image of the ‘ladder of perfection’ or ‘stairway of love’—a
metaphor, originating in Jacob’s Dream, which had already served St.
Benedict, Richard of St. Victor, St. Bonaventura and many others as a
useful diagram of the mystic way. Originality of form, however, is the
last thing we should look for in Ruysbroeck’s works. He pours his strange
wine into any vessel that comes to hand. As often his most sublime or
amazing utterances originate in commentaries upon some familiar text, or
the deepest truths are hidden under the most grotesque similitudes; so
this well-worn metaphor gives him the opportunity for some of his finest
descriptions of the soul’s movement to that transmutation in which all
ardent spirits ‘become as live coals in the fire of Infinite Love.’ This
book, in which the influence of St. Bernard is strongly marked, contains
some beautiful passages on the mystic life considered as a ‘heavenly
song’ of faithfulness and love, which “Christ our Cantor and our Choragus
has sung from the beginning of things,” and which every Christian soul
must learn.

9. The Book of the Sparkling Stone (_De Calculo, sive de Perfectione
Filiorum Dei_).—This priceless work is said to have been written by
Ruysbroeck at the request of a hermit, who wished for further light on
the high matters of which it treats. It contains the finest flower of his
thought, and shows perhaps more clearly than any other of his writings
the mark of direct inspiration. Here again the scaffolding on which he
builds is almost as old as Christian mysticism itself: that three-fold
division of men into the ‘faithful servants, secret friends, and hidden
sons’ of God, which descended through the centuries from Clement of
Alexandria. But the tower which he raises with its help ascends to
heights unreached by any other writer: to the point at which man is given
the supreme gift of the Sparkling Stone, or Nature of Christ, the goal of
human transcendence. I regard the ninth and tenth chapters of _The
Sparkling Stone_—‘How we may become Hidden Sons of God and live the
Contemplative Life,’ and ‘How we, though one with God, must eternally
remain other than Him’—as the high-water mark of mystical literature.
Nowhere else do we find such a marvellous combination of wide and soaring
vision with the most delicate and intimate psychological analysis. The
old mystic, sitting under his friendly tree, seems here to be gazing at
and reporting to us the final secrets of that eternal world, where “the
Incomprehensible Light enfolds and penetrates us, as the air is
penetrated by the light of the sun.” There he tastes and apprehends, in
‘an unfathomable seeing and beholding,’ the inbreathing and the
outbreathing of the Love of God—that double movement which controls the
universe; yet knows, along with this great cosmic vision, that intimate
and searching communion in which “the Beloved and the Lover are immersed
wholly in love, and each is all to the other in possession and in rest.”

10. The Book of Supreme Truth (called in some collections _The Book of
Retractations_, and by Surius, _Samuel_.)—This is the tract written by
Ruysbroeck, at the request of Gerard Naghel, to explain certain obscure
passages in _The Book of the Kingdom of God’s Lovers_. In it he is
specially concerned to make clear the vital distinction between his
doctrine of the soul’s union with God—a union in which the primal
distinction between Creator and created is never overpassed—and the
pantheistic doctrine of complete absorption in Him, with cessation of all
effort and striving, preached by the heretical sects whose initiates
claim to ‘be God.’ By the time that this book was written, careless
readers had already charged Ruysbroeck with these pantheist tendencies
which he abhorred and condemned; and here he sets out his defence. He
discusses also the three degrees of union with God which correspond to
the ‘three lives’ of the growing soul: union by means of sacraments and
good deeds; union achieved in contemplative prayer ‘without means,’ where
the soul learns its double vocation of action and fruition; and the
highest union of all, where the spirit which has swung pendulum-like
between the temporal and eternal worlds, achieves its equilibrium and
dwells wholly in God, ‘drunk with love, and sunk in the Dark Light.’

11. The Twelve Béguines (_De Vera Contemplatione_).—This is a long,
composite book of eighty-four chapters, which apparently consists of at
least three distinct treatises of different dates. The first, _The Twelve
Béguines_, which ends with chapter xvi., contains the longest consecutive
example of Ruysbroeck’s poetic method; its first eight chapters being
written in irregular rhymed verse. It is believed to be one of his last
compositions. Its doctrine differs little from that already set forth in
his earlier works; though nowhere, perhaps, is the development of the
spiritual consciousness described with greater subtlety. The soul’s
communion with and feeding on the Divine Nature in the Eucharist and in
contemplative prayer; its acquirement of the art of introversion; the Way
of Contemplation with its four modes, paralleled by the Way of Love with
its four modes; these lead up to the perfect union of the spirit with God
“in one love and one fruition with Him, fulfilled in everlasting bliss.”
The seventeenth chapter begins a new treatise, with a description of the
Active Life on Ruysbroeck’s usual lines; and at the thirtieth there is
again a complete change of subject, introducing a mystical and symbolic
interpretation of the science of astronomy. This section, so unlike his
later writings, somewhat resembles _The Spiritual Tabernacle_, and may
perhaps be a work of the same period. A collection of Meditations upon
the Passion of Christ, arranged according to the Seven Hours of the Roman
Breviary (capp. lxxiii. to end), completes the book; and also the tale of
Ruysbroeck’s authentic works. A critical list of the reprints and
translations in which these may best be studied will be found in the
Bibliographical Note.

                              CHAPTER III
                          HIS DOCTRINE OF GOD

  My words are strange; but those who love will understand.

                                      The Mirror of Eternal Salvation.

Mystical writers are of two kinds. One kind, of which St. Teresa is
perhaps the supreme type, deals almost wholly with the personal and
interior experiences of the soul in the states of contemplation, and the
psychological rules governing those states; above all, with the emotional
reactions of the self to the impact of the Divine. This kind of
mystic—whom William James accused, with some reason, of turning the
soul’s relation with God into a ‘duet’—makes little attempt to describe
the ultimate Object of the self’s love and desire, the great movements of
the spiritual world; for such description, the formulæ of existing
theology are felt to be enough. Visions of Christ, experiences of the
Blessed Trinity—these are sufficient names for the personal and
impersonal aspects of that Reality with which the contemplative seeks to
unite. But the other kind of mystic—though possibly and indeed usually as
orthodox in his beliefs, as ardent in his love—cannot, on the one hand,
remain within the circle of these subjective and personal conceptions,
and, on the other, content himself with the label which tradition has
affixed to the Thing that he has known. He may not reject the label, but
neither does he confuse it with the Thing. He has the wide vision, the
metaphysical passion of the philosopher and the poet; and in his work he
is ever pressing towards more exact description, more suggestive and
evocative speech. The symbols which come most naturally to him are
usually derived from the ideas of space and of wonder; not from those of
human intimacy and love. In him the intellect is active as well as the
heart; sometimes, more active. Plotinus is an extreme example of
mysticism of this type.

The greatest mystics, however, whether in the East or in the West, are
possessed of a vision and experience of God so deep and rich that it
embraces at once the infinite and the intimate aspects of Reality;
illuminating those religious concepts which are, as it were, an artistic
reconstruction of the Transcendent, and at the same time having contact
with that vast region above and beyond reason whence come the fragmentary
intimations of Reality crystallised in the formulæ of faith. For them, as
for St. Augustine, God is both near and far; and the paradox of
transcendent-immanent Reality is a self-evident if an inexpressible
truth. They swing between hushed adoration and closest communion, between
the divine ignorance of the intellect lifted up into God and the divine
certitude of the heart in which He dwells; and give us by turns a
subjective and psychological, an objective and metaphysical, reading of
spiritual experience. Ruysbroeck is a mystic of this type. The span of
his universe can include—indeed demand—both the concept of that Abyss of
Pure Being where all distinctions are transcended, and the soul is
immersed in the ‘dark light’ of the One, and the distinctively Christian
and incarnational experience of loving communion with and through the
Person of Christ. For him the ladder of contemplation is firmly planted
in the bed-rock of human character—goes the whole way from the heart of
man to the Essence of God—and every stage of it has importance for the
eager and ascending soul. Hence, when he seems to rush out to the
farthest limits of the cosmos, he still remains within the circle of
Catholic ideas; and is at once ethical and metaphysical, intensely
sacramental and intensely transcendental too.

Nor is this result obtained—as it sometimes seems to be, for instance, in
such a visionary as Angela of Foligno—by a mere heaping up of the various
and inconsistent emotional reactions of the self. There is a fundamental
orderliness in the Ruysbroeckian universe which, though it may be
difficult to understand, and often impossible for him to express without
resort to paradox, yet reveals itself to careful analysis. He tries hard
to describe, or at least suggest, it to us, because he is a mystic of an
apostolic type. Even where he is dealing with the soul’s most ineffable
experiences and seems to hover over that Abyss which is ‘beyond Reason,’
stammering and breaking into wild poetry in the desperate attempt to
seize the unseizable truth he is ever intent on telling us how these
things may be actualised, this attitude attained by other men. The note
is never, as with many subjective visionaries, “_I_ have seen,” but
always “_We_ shall or may see.”

Now such an objective mystic as this, who is not content with retailing
his private experiences and ecstasies, but accepts the great vocation of
revealer of Reality, is called upon to do certain things. He must give
us, not merely a static picture of Eternity, but also a dynamic ‘reading
of life’; and of a life more extended than that which the moralist, or
even the philosopher, offers to interpret. He must not only tell us what
he thinks about the universe, and in particular that ultimate Spiritual
Reality which all mysticism discerns within or beyond the flux. He must
also tell us what he thinks of man, that living, moving, fluid
spirit-thing: his reactions to this universe and this Reality, the
satisfaction which it offers to his thought, will and love, the
obligations laid upon him in respect of it. We, on our part, must try to
understand what he tells us of these things; for he is, as it were, an
organ developed by the race for this purpose—a tentacle pushed out
towards the Infinite, to make, in our name and in our interest, fresh
contacts with Reality. He performs for us some of the functions of the
artist extending our universe, the pioneer cutting our path, the hunter
winning food for our souls.

The clue to the universe of such a mystic will always be the vision or
idea which he has of the Nature of God; and there we must begin, if we
would find our way through the tangle of his thought. From this Centre
all else branches out, and to this all else must conform, if it is to
have for him realness and life; for truth, as Aquinas teaches, is simply
the reality of things as they are in God. We begin, then, our exploration
of Ruysbroeck’s doctrine by trying to discover the character of his
vision of the Divine Nature, and man’s relation with it.

That vision is so wide, deep and searching, that only by resort to the
language of opposites, by perpetual alternations of spatial and personal,
metaphysical and passionate speech, is he able to communicate it to us.
His fortunate and profound acquaintance with the science of theology—his
contact through it with the formulæ of Christian Platonism—has given him
the framework on which he stretches out his wonderful and living picture
of the Infinite. This picture is personal to himself, the fruit of a
direct and vivid inspiration; not so the terms by which it is
communicated. These for the most part are the common property of
Christian theology; though here used with a consummate skill, often with
an apparent originality. Especially from St. Augustine, Dionysius the
Areopagite, Richard of St. Victor, St. Bernard and the more orthodox
utterances of his own immediate predecessor, Meister Eckhart—sometimes
too from his contemporaries, Suso and Tauler—has he taken the
intellectual concepts, the highly-charged poetic metaphors, in which his
perceptions are enshrined. So close does he keep to these masters, so
frequent are his borrowings, that almost every page of his writings might
be glossed from their works. It is one of the most astonishing features
of the celebrated and astonishing essay of M. Maeterlinck that, bent on
vindicating the inspiration of his ‘simple and ignorant monk,’ he
entirely fails to observe the traditional character of the formulæ which
express it. No student of the mystics will deny the abundant inspiration
by which Ruysbroeck was possessed; but this inspiration is spiritual, not
intellectual. The truth was told to him in the tongue of angels, and he
did his best to translate it into the tongue of the Church; perpetually
reminding us, as he did so, how great was the difference between vision
and description, how clumsy and inadequate those concepts and images
wherewith the artist-seer tried to tell his love.

This distinction, which the reader of Ruysbroeck should never forget, is
of primary importance in connection with his treatment of the Nature of
God; where the disparity between the thing known and the thing said is
inevitably at a maximum. The high nature of the Godhead, he says, in a
string of suggestive and paradoxical images, to which St. Paul, Dionysius
and Eckhart have all contributed, is, in itself, “Simplicity and
One-foldness; inaccessible height and fathomless deep; incomprehensible
breadth and eternal length; a dim silence, and a wild desert”—oblique,
suggestive, musical language which enchants rather than informs the soul;
opens the door to experience, but does not convey any accurate knowledge
of the Imageless Truth, “Now we may experience many wonders in that
fathomless Godhead; but although, because of the coarseness of the human
intellect, when we would describe such things outwardly, we must use
images, in truth that which is inwardly perceived and beheld is nought
else but a Fathomless and Unconditioned Good.”[6]

Yet this primal Reality, this ultimately indivisible One, has for human
consciousness a two-fold character; and though for the intuition of the
mystic its fruition is a synthetic experience, it must in thought be
analysed if it is ever to be grasped. God, as known by man, exhibits in
its perfection the dual property of Love; on the one hand active,
generative, creative; on the other hand a still and ineffable possession
or _Fruition_—one of the master-words of Ruysbroeck’s thought. He is,
then, the Absolute One, in whom the antithesis of Eternity and Time, of
Being and Becoming, is resolved; both static and dynamic, transcendent
and immanent, impersonal and personal, undifferentiated and
differentiated; Eternal Rest and Eternal Work, the Unmoved Mover, yet
Movement itself. “Although in our way of seeing we give God many names,
His nature is One.”

He transcends the storm of succession, yet is the inspiring spirit of the
flux. According to His fruitful nature, “He works without ceasing, for He
is Pure Act”—a reminiscence of Aristotle which seems strange upon the
lips of the ‘ignorant monk.’ He is the omnipotent and ever-active Creator
of all things; ‘an immeasurable Flame of Love’ perpetually breathing
forth His energetic Life in new births of being and new floods of grace,
and drawing in again all creatures to Himself. Yet this statement
defines, not His being, but one manifestation of His being. When the soul
pierces beyond this ‘fruitful’ nature to His simple essence—and ‘simple’
is here and throughout to be understood in its primal meaning of
‘synthetic’—He is that absolute and abiding Reality which seems to man
Eternal Rest, the ‘Deep Quiet of the Godhead,’ the ‘Abyss,’ the ‘Dim
Silence’; and which we can taste indeed but never know. There, ‘all
lovers lose themselves’ in the consummation of that experience at which
our fragmentary intuitions hint.

The active and fertile aspect of the Divine Nature is manifested in
differentiation: for Ruysbroeck the Catholic, in the Trinity of Persons,
as defined by Christian theology. The static and absolute aspect is the
‘calm and glorious Unity of the Godhead’ which he finds beyond and within
the Trinity, “the fathomless Abyss that _is_ the Being of God,”—an idea,
familiar to Indian mysticism and implicit in Christian Neoplatonism,
which governed all Meister Eckhart’s speculations upon the Divine Nature.
There is, says Ruysbroeck in one of his most Eckhartian passages, “a
distinction and differentiation, according to our reason, between God and
the Godhead, between action and rest. The fruitful nature of the Persons,
of whom is the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity, ever worketh in a
living differentiation. But the Simple Being of God, according to the
nature thereof, is an Eternal Rest of God and of all created things.”[7]

In differentiating the three great aspects of the Divine Life, as known
by the love and thought of man, Ruysbroeck keeps close to formal
theology; though investing its academic language with new and deep
significance, and constantly reminding us that such language, even at its
best, can never get beyond the region of image and similitude or provide
more than an imperfect reflection of the One who is ‘neither This nor
That.’ On his lips, credal definitions are perpetually passing over from
the arid region of theological argument to the fruitful one of spiritual
experience. There they become songs, as ‘new’ as the song heard by the
Apocalyptist; real channels of light, which show the mind things that it
never guessed before. For the ‘re-born’ man they have a fresh and
immortal meaning; because that ‘river of grace,’ of which he perpetually
speaks as pouring into the heart opened towards the Infinite,
transfigures and irradiates them. Thus the illuminated mind knows in the
Father, not a confusingly anthropomorphic metaphor, but the uniquely
vital Source and unconditioned Origin of all things “in whom our life and
being is begun.” He is the “Strength and Power, Creator, Mover, Keeper,
Beginning and End, Cause and Existence of all creatures.”[8] Further, the
intuition of the mystic discerns in the Son the Eternal Word and
fathomless Wisdom and Truth perpetually generated of the Father, shining
forth in the world of conditions: the Pattern or Archetype of creation
and of life, the image of God which the universe reflects back before the
face of the Absolute, the Eternal Rule incarnate in Christ. And this same
‘light wherein we see God’ also shows to the enlightened mind the
veritable character of the Holy Spirit; the Incomprehensible Love and
Generosity of the Divine Nature, which emanates in an eternal procession
from the mutual contemplation of Father and Son, “for these two Persons
are always hungry for love.” The Holy Spirit is the source of the Divine
vitality immanent in the universe. It is an outflowing torrent of Good
which streams through all heavenly spirits; it is a Flame of Fire that
consumes all in the One; it is also the Spark of transcendence latent in
man’s soul. The Spirit is the personal, Grace the impersonal, side of
that energetic Love which enfolds and penetrates all life; and “all this
may be perceived and beheld, inseparable and without division, in the
Simple Nature of the Godhead.”[9]

The relations which form the character of these Three Persons exist in an
eternal distinction for that world of conditions wherein the human soul
is immersed, and where things happen ‘in some wise.’ There, from the
embrace of the Father and Son and the outflowing of the Spirit in ‘waves
of endless love,’ all created things are born; and God, by His grace and
His death, recreates them, and adorns them with love and goodness, and
draws them back to their source. This is the circling course of the
Divine life-process ‘from goodness, through goodness, to goodness,’
described by Dionysius the Areopagite. But beyond and above this plane of
Divine differentiation is the superessential world, transcending all
conditions, inaccessible to thought—“the measureless solitude of the
Godhead, where God possesses Himself in joy.” This is the ultimate world
of the mystic, discerned by intuition and love “in a simple seeing,
beyond reason and without consideration.” There, within the ‘Eternal
Now,’ without either before or after, released from the storm of
succession, things happen indeed, ‘yet in no wise,’ There, “we can speak
no more of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, nor of any creature; but only of
one Being, which is the very substance of the Divine Persons. There were
we all one before our creation; for this is our _superessence_.... There
the Godhead is, in simple essence, without activity; Eternal Rest,
Unconditioned Dark, the Nameless Being, the Superessence of all created
things, and the simple and infinite Bliss of God and of all Saints.”[10]

Ruysbroeck here brings us to the position of Dante in the last canto of
the _Paradiso_, when, transcending those partial apprehensions of Reality
which are figured by the River of Becoming and the Rose of Beatitude, he
penetrated to the swift vision of “that Eternal Light which only in
Itself abideth”—discerned best by man under the image of the three
circles, yet in its ‘profound and clear substance’ indivisibly One.

“The simple light of this Being is limitless in its immensity, and
transcending form, includes and embraces the unity of the Divine Persons
and the soul with all its faculties; and this to such a point that it
envelopes and irradiates _both_ the natural tendency of our ground
[_i.e._ its dynamic movement to God—the River] and the fruitive adherence
of God and all those who are united with Him in this Light [_i.e._
Eternal Being—the Rose]. And this is the union of God and the souls that
love Him.”[11]

                               CHAPTER IV
                          HIS DOCTRINE OF MAN

  That which was begun by Grace, is accomplished by Grace and Free-will;
  so that they work mixedly not separately, simultaneously not
  successively, in each and all of their processes.

                                                          St. Bernard.

The concept of the Nature of God which we have traced through its three
phases—out from the unchanging One to the active Persons and back to the
One again—gives us a clue to Ruysbroeck’s idea of the nature and destiny
of man. In man, both aspects of Divine Reality, active and fruitive, are
or should be reflected; for God is the ‘Living Pattern of Creation’ who
has impressed His image on each soul, and in every adult spirit the
character of that image must be brought from the hiddenness and realised.
Destined to be wholly real, though yet in the making, there is in man a
latent Divine likeness, a ‘spark’ of the primal fire. Created for union
with God, already in Eternity that union is a fact.

“The creature is in Brahma and Brahma is in the creature; they are ever
distinct yet ever united,” says the Indian mystic. Were it translated
into Christian language, it is probable that this thought—which does
_not_ involve pantheism—would have been found acceptable by Ruysbroeck;
for the interpenetration yet eternal distinction of the human and Divine
spirits is the central fact of his universe. Man, he thinks, is already
related in a threefold manner to his Infinite Source; for “we have our
being in Him as the Father, we contemplate Him as does the Son, we
ceaselessly tend to return to Him as does the Spirit.”

“The first property of the soul is a _naked being_, devoid of all image.
Thereby do we resemble, and are united to, the Father and His nature
Divine.” This is the ‘ground of the soul’ perpetually referred to by
mystics of the Eckhartian School; the bare, still place to which
consciousness retreats in introversion, image of the static and absolute
aspect of Reality. “The second property might be called the _higher
understanding_ of the soul. It is a mirror of light, wherein we receive
the Son of God, the Eternal Truth. By this light we are like unto Him;
but in the act of receiving, we are one with Him.” This is the power of
knowing Divine things by intuitive comprehension: man’s fragmentary share
in the character of the Logos, or Wisdom of God. “The third property we
call the _spark_ of the soul. It is the inward and natural tendency of
the soul towards its Source; and here do we receive the Holy Spirit, the
Charity of God. By this inward tendency we are like the Holy Spirit; but
in the act of receiving, we become one spirit and one love with God.”[12]
Here the Divine image shows itself in its immanent and dynamic aspect, as
the ‘internal push’ which drives Creation back to the Father’s heart.

The soul then is, as Julian of Norwich said, “made Trinity, like to the
unmade Blessed Trinity.” Reciprocally, there is in the Eternal World the
uncreated Pattern or Archetype of man—his ‘Platonic idea.’ Now man must
bring from its hiddenness the latent likeness, the germ of Divine
humanity that is in him, and develop it until it realises the ‘Platonic
idea’; achieving thus the implicit truth of his own nature as it exists
in the mind of God. This, according to Ruysbroeck, is the whole art and
object of the spiritual life; this actualisation of the eternal side of
human nature, atrophied in the majority of men—the innate Christliness in
virtue of which we have power to become ‘Sons’ of God.

“Lo! thus are we all one with God in our Eternal Archetype, which is His
Wisdom who hath put on the nature of us all. And although we are already
one with Him therein by that putting on of our nature, we must also be
like God in grace and virtue, if we would find ourselves one with Him in
our Eternal Archetype, which is Himself.”[13]

Under the stimulus of Divine Love perpetually beating in on him, feeding
perpetually on the substance of God, perpetually renewed and ‘reborn’ on
to ever higher levels through the vivifying contact of reality, man must
grow up into the ‘superessential life’ of complete unity with the
Transcendent. There, not only the triune aspect but the dual character of
God is reproduced in him, reconciled in a synthesis beyond the span of
thought; and he becomes ‘deiform’—both active and fruitive, ‘ever at work
and ever at rest’—at once a denizen of Eternity and of Time. Every aspect
of his being—love, intellect and will—is to be invaded and enhanced by
the new life-giving life; it shall condition and enrich his
correspondences with the sense-world as well as with the world of soul.

Man is not here invited to leave the active life for the contemplative,
but to make the active life perfect within the contemplative; carrying up
these apparent opposites to a point at which they become one. It is one
of Ruysbroeck’s characteristics that he, as few others, followed
mysticism out to this, its last stage; where it issues in a balanced,
divine-human life. The energetic Love of God, which flows perpetually
forth from the Abyss of Being to the farthest limits of the universe,
enlightening and quickening where it goes, and ‘turns again home’ as a
strong tide drawing all things to their Origin, here attains equilibrium;
the effort of creation achieves its aim.

Now this aim, this goal, is already realised within God’s nature, for
there all perfection eternally Is. But to man it is super-nature; to
achieve it he must transcend the world of conditions in which he lives
according to the flesh, and grow up to fresh levels of life. Under the
various images of sonship, marriage, and transmutation, this is the view
of human destiny which Ruysbroeck states again and again: the creative
evolution of the soul. His insistence on the completeness of the Divine
Union to which the soul attains in this final phase, his perpetual resort
to the dangerous language of deification in the effort towards describing
it, seems at first sight to expose him to the charge of pantheism; and,
as a matter of fact, has done so in the past. Yet he is most careful to
guard himself at every point against this misinterpretation of his vision
of life. In his view, by its growth towards God, personality is not lost,
but raised to an ever higher plane. Even in that ecstatic fruition of
Eternal Life in which the spirit passes above the state of Union to the
state of Unity, and beyond the Persons to the One, the ‘eternal
otherness’ of Creator and created is not overpassed; but, as in the
perfect fulfilment of love, utter fusion and clear differentiation
mysteriously co-exist. It is, he says, not a mergence but a ‘mutual
inhabitation.’ In his attempts towards the description of this state, he
borrows the language of St. Bernard, most orthodox of the mystics;
language which goes back to primitive Christian times. The Divine light,
love and being, he tells us, penetrates and drenches the surrendered,
naked, receptive soul, ‘as fire does the iron, as sunlight does the air’;
and even as the sunshine and the air, the iron and the fire, so are these
two terms distinct yet united. “The iron doth not become fire nor the
fire iron; but each retaineth its substance and its nature. So likewise
the spirit of man doth not become God, but is God-formed, and knoweth
itself breadth and length and height and depth.”[14] Again, “this union
is _in_ God, through grace and our homeward-tending love. Yet even here
does the creature feel a distinction and otherness between itself and God
in its inward ground.”[15] The dualistic relation of lover and beloved,
though raised to another power and glory, is an eternal one.

I have spoken of Ruysbroeck’s concept of God, his closely related concept
of man’s soul; the threefold diagram of Reality within which these terms
are placed, the doctrine of transcendence he deduced therefrom. But such
a diagram cannot express to us the rich content, the deeply personal
character of his experience and his knowledge. It is no more than a map
of the living land he has explored, a formal picture of the Living One
whom he has seen without sight. For him the landscape lived and flowered
in endless variety of majesty and sweetness; the Person drew near in
mysterious communion, and gave to him as food His very life.

All that this meant, and must mean, for our deeper knowledge of Reality
and of man’s intuitive contacts with the Divine Life, we must find if we
can in his doctrine of Love. Love is the ‘very self-hood’ of God, says
Ruysbroeck in strict Johannine language. His theology is above all the
theology of the Holy Spirit, the immanent Divine Energy and Love. It is
Love which breaks down the barrier between finite and infinite life. But
Love, as he understands it, has little in common with the feeling-state
to which many of the female mystics have given that august name. For him,
it is hardly an emotional word at all, and never a sentimental one;
rather the title of a mighty force, a holy energy that fills the
universe—the essential activity of God. Sometimes he describes it under
the antique imagery of Light; imagery which is more than a metaphor, and
is connected with that veritable consciousness of enhanced radiance, as
well in the outer as in the inner world, experienced by the ‘illuminated’
mystic. Again it is the ‘life-giving Life,’ hidden in God and the
substance of our souls, which the self finds and appropriates; the whole
Johannine trilogy brought into play, to express its meaning for heart,
intellect and will. This Love, in fact, is the dynamic power which St.
Augustine compared with gravitation, ‘drawing all things to their own
place,’ and which Dante saw binding the multiplicity of the universe into
one. All Ruysbroeck’s images for it turn on the idea of force. It is a
raging fire, a storm, a flood. He speaks of it in one great passage as
‘playing like lightning’ between God and the soul.

Whoever will look at William Blake’s great picture of the Creation of
Adam, may gain some idea of the terrific yet infinitely compassionate
character inherent in this concept of Divine Love: the agony, passion,
beauty, sternness, and pity of the primal generating force. This love is
eternally giving and taking—it is its very property, says Ruysbroeck,
‘ever to give and ever to receive’—pouring its dower of energy into the
soul, and drawing out from that soul new vitality, new love, new
surrender. ‘Hungry love,’ ‘generous love,’ ‘stormy love,’ he calls it
again and again. Streaming out from the heart of Reality, the impersonal
aspect of the very Spirit of God, its creative touch evokes in man, once
he becomes conscious of it, an answering storm of love. The whole of our
human growth within the spiritual order is conditioned by the quality of
this response; by the will, the industry, the courage, with which man
accepts his part in the Divine give-and-take.

“That measureless Love which is God Himself, dwells in the pure deeps of
our spirit, like a burning brazier of coal. And it throws forth brilliant
and fiery sparks which stir and enkindle heart and senses, will and
desire, and all the powers of the soul, with a fire of love; in a storm,
a rage, a measureless fury of love. These be the weapons with which we
fight against the terrible and immense Love of God, who would consume all
loving spirits and swallow them in Himself. Love arms us with its own
gifts, and clarifies our reason, and commands, counsels and advises us to
oppose Him, to fight against Him, and to maintain against Him our right
to love, so long as we may.”[16] In the spiritual realm, giving and
receiving are one act, for God is an ‘ocean that ebbs and flows’; and it
is only by opposing love to love, by self-donation to His mysterious
movements, that the soul appropriates new force, invigorating and
fertilising it afresh. Thus, and thus alone, it lays hold on eternal
life; sometimes sacramentally, under external images and accidents;
sometimes mystically, in the communion of deep prayer. “Every time we
think with love of the Well-beloved, He is anew our meat and drink”—more,
we too are His, for the love between God and man is a mutual love and
desire. As we lay hold upon the Divine Life, devour and assimilate it, so
in that very act the Divine Life devours us, and knits us up into the
mystical Body of Reality. “Thou shalt not change Me into thine own
substance, as thou dost change the food of thy flesh, but thou shalt be
changed into Mine,” said the Spirit of God to St. Augustine; and his
Flemish descendant announces this same mysterious principle of life with
greater richness and beauty.

“It is the nature of love ever to give and to take, to love and to be
loved, and these two things meet in whomsoever loves. Thus the love of
Christ is both avid and generous ... as He devours us, so He would feed
us. If He absorbs us utterly into Himself, in return He gives us His very
self again.”[17]

This is but another aspect of that great ‘inbreathing and outbreathing’
of the Divine nature which governs the relation between the Creator and
the flux of life; for Ruysbroeck’s Christological language always carries
with it the idea of the Logos, the Truth and Wisdom of Deity, as revealed
in the world of conditions,—not only in the historical Jesus, but also in
the eternal generation of the Son. St. Francis of Assisi had said that
Divine Love perpetually swings between and reconciles two mighty
opposites: “What is God? and, What am I?” For Ruysbroeck, too, that Love
is a unifying power, manifested in motion itself, “an outgoing
attraction, which drags us out of ourselves and calls us to be melted and
naughted in the Unity”;[18] and all his deepest thoughts of it are
expressed in terms of movement.

The relation between the soul and the Absolute, then, is a love
relation—as in fact all the mystics have declared it to be. Man, that
imperfectly real thing, has an inherent tendency towards God, the Only
Reality. Already possessed of a life within the world of conditions, his
unquiet heart reaches out towards a world that transcends conditions. How
shall he achieve that world? In the same way, says Ruysbroeck, as the
child achieves the world of manhood: by the double method of growth and
education, the balanced action of the organism and its environment. In
its development and its needs, spirit conforms to the great laws of
natural life. Taught by the voices of the forest and that inward Presence
who ‘spoke without utterance’ in his soul, he is quick to recognise the
close parallels between nature and grace. His story of the mystical life
is the story of birth, growth, adolescence, maturity: a steady progress,
dependent on food and nurture, on the ‘brooks of grace’ which flow from
the Living Fountain and bring perpetual renovation to help the wise
disciplines and voluntary choices that brace and purge our expanding will
and love.

Ruysbroeck’s universe, like that of Kabir and certain other great
mystics, has three orders: Becoming, Being, God. Parallel with this, he
distinguishes three great stages in the soul’s achievement of complete
reality: the Active, the Interior, and the Superessential Life, sometimes
symbolised by the conditions of Servant, Friend, and Son of God. These,
however, must be regarded rather as divisions made for convenience of
description, answering to those divisions which thought has made in the
indivisible fact of the universe, than as distinctions inherent in the
reality of things. The spiritual life has the true character of duration;
it is one indivisible tendency and movement towards our source and home,
in which the past is never left behind, but incorporated in the larger

In the Active Life, the primary interest is ethical. Man here purifies
his normal human correspondences with the world of sense, approximates
his will to the Will of God. Here, his contacts with the Divine take
place within that world of sense, and ‘by means.’ In the Interior Life,
the interest embraces the intellect, upon which is now conferred the
vision of Reality. As the Active Life corresponded to the world of
Becoming, this Life corresponds with the supersensual world of Being,
where the self’s contacts with the Divine take place ‘without means.’ In
the Superessential Life, the self has transcended the intellectual plane
and entered into the very heart of Reality; where she does not behold,
but has fruition of, God in one life and one love. The obvious parallel
between these three stages and the traditional ‘threefold way’ of
Purgation, Illumination and Union is, however, not so exact as it
appears. Many of the characters of the Unitive Way are present in
Ruysbroeck’s ‘second life’; and his ‘third life’ takes the soul to
heights of fruition which few amongst even the greatest unitive mystics
have attained or described.

(A) When man first feels upon his soul the touch of the Divine Light, at
once, and in a moment of time, his will is changed; turned in the
direction of Reality and away from unreal objects of desire. He is, in
fact, ‘converted’ in the highest and most accurate sense of that ill-used
word. Seeing the Divine, he wants the Divine, though he may not yet
understand his own craving; for the scrap of Divine Life within him has
emerged into the field of consciousness, and recognises its home. Then,
as it were, God and the soul rush together, and of their encounter
springs love. This is the New Birth; the ‘bringing forth of the Son in
the ground of the soul,’ its baptism in the fountain of the Life-giving

The new force and tendency received into the self begins to act on the
periphery, and thence works towards the centre of existence. First, then,
it attacks the ordinary temporal life in all its departments. It pours in
fresh waves of energy which confer new knowledge and hatred of sin,
purify character, bring fresh virtues into being. It rearranges the
consciousness about new and higher centres, gathering up all the
faculties into one simple state of ‘attention to God.’ Thence results the
highest life which is attainable by ‘nature.’ In it, man is united with
God ‘through means,’ acts in obedience to the dictates of Divine Love and
in accordance with the tendency of the Divine Will, and becomes the
‘Faithful Servant’ of the Transcendent Order. Plainly, the Active Life,
thus considered, has much in common with the ‘Purgative Way’ of ascetic

(B) When this growth has reached its term, when “Free-will wears the
crown of Charity, and rules as a King over the soul,” the awakened and
enhanced consciousness begins to crave a closer contact with the
spiritual: that unmediated and direct contact which is the essence of the
Contemplative or Interior Life, and is achieved in the deep state of
recollection called ‘unitive prayer.’ Here voluntary and purposive
education takes its place by the side of organic development. The way
called by most ascetic writers ‘Illumination’—the state of ‘proficient’
in monastic parlance—includes the _training_ of the self in the
contemplative art as well as its _growth_ in will and love. This training
braces and purifies intellect, as the disciplines of the active life
purified will and sense. It teaches introversion, or the turning inward
of the attention from the distractions of the sense-world; the cleansing
of the mirror of thought, thronged with confusing images; the production
of that silence in which the music of the Infinite can be heard. Nor is
the Active Life here left behind; it is carried up to, and included in,
the new, deepened activities of the self, which are no longer ruled by
the laws, but by the ‘quickening counsels’ of God.

Of this new life, interior courage is a first necessity. It is no easy
appropriation of supersensual graces, but a deeper entering into the
mystery of life, a richer, more profound, participation in pain, effort,
as well as joy. There must be no settling down into a comfortable sense
of the Divine Presence, no reliance on the ‘One Act’; but an incessant
process of change, renewal, re-emergence. Sometimes Ruysbroeck appears to
see this central stage in the spiritual life-process in terms of upward
growth toward transcendent levels; sometimes in terms of recollection,
the steadfast pressing inwards of consciousness towards that bare ground
of the soul where it unites with immanent Reality, and finds the Divine
Life surging up like a ‘living fountain’ from the deeps. This double way
of conceiving one process is puzzling for us; but a proof that for
Ruysbroeck no one concept could suggest the whole truth, and a useful
reminder of the symbolic character of all these maps and itineraries of
the spiritual life.

As the sun grows in power with the passing seasons, so the soul now
experiences a steady increase in the power and splendour of the Divine
Light, as it ascends in the heavens of consciousness and pours its heat
and radiance into all the faculties of man. The in-beating of this energy
and light brings the self into the tempestuous heats of high summer, or
full illumination—the ‘fury of love,’ most fertile and dangerous epoch of
the spiritual year. Thence, obedient to those laws of movement, that
‘double rhythm of renunciation and love’ which Kabir detected at the
heart of the universal melody, it enters on a negative period of psychic
fatigue and spiritual destitution; the ‘dark night of the soul.’ The sun
descends in the heavens, the ardours of love grow cold. When this stage
is fully established, says Ruysbroeck, the ‘September of the soul’ is
come; the harvest and vintage—raw material of the life-giving
Eucharist—is ripe. The flowering-time of spiritual joy and beauty is as
nothing in its value for life compared with this still autumnal period of
true fecundity, in which man is at last ‘affirmed’ in the spiritual life.

This, then, is the curve of the self’s growth. Side by side with it runs
the other curve of deliberate training: the education by which our
wandering attention, our diffused undisciplined consciousness, is
sharpened and focussed upon Reality. This training is needed by intellect
and feeling; but most of all by the _will_, which Ruysbroeck, like the
great English mystics, regards as the gathering-point of personality, the
‘spiritual heart.’ On every page of his writings the reference to that
which the spiritual Light and Love do for man, is balanced by an
insistence on that which man himself must do: the choices to be made, the
‘exercises’ to be performed, the tension and effort which must
characterise the mystic way until its last phase is reached. Morally,
these exercises consist in progressive renunciations on the one hand and
acceptances on the other ‘for Love’s sake’; intellectually, in
introversion, that turning inwards and concentration of consciousness,
the stripping off of all images and emptying of the mind, which is the
psychological method whereby human consciousness transcends the
conditioned universe to which it has become adapted, and enters the
contemplative world. Man’s attention to life is to change its character
as he ascends the ladder of being. Therefore the old attachments must be
cut before the new attachments can be formed. This is, of course, a
commonplace of asceticism; and much of Ruysbroeck’s teaching on
detachment, self-naughting and contemplation, is indeed simply the
standard doctrine of Christian asceticism seen through a temperament.

When the self has grown up from the ‘active’ to the ‘contemplative’ state
of consciousness, it is plain that his whole relation to his environment
has changed. His world is grouped about a new centre. It now becomes the
supreme business of intellect to ‘gaze upon God,’ the supreme business of
love to stretch out towards Him. When these twin powers, under the
regnancy of the enhanced and trained will, are set towards Reality, then
the human creature has done his part in the setting up of the relation of
the soul to its Source, and made it possible for the music of the
Infinite to sound in him. “For this intellectual gazing and this
stretching forth of love are two heavenly pipes, sounding without the
need of tune or of notes; they ever go forward in that Eternal Life,
neither straying aside nor returning backward again; and ever keeping
harmony and concord with the Holy Church, for the Holy Spirit gives the
wind that sings in them.”[19] Observe, that _tension_ is here a condition
of the right employment of both faculties, and ensures that the Divine
music shall sound true; one of the many implicit contradictions of the
quietist doctrine of spiritual limpness, which we find throughout
Ruysbroeck’s works.

(C) When the twofold process of growth and education has brought the self
to this perfection of attitude as regards the Spiritual Order—an attitude
of true _union_, says Ruysbroeck, but not yet of the unthinkable _unity_
which is our goal—man has done all that he can do of himself. His
‘Interior Life’ is complete, and his being is united through grace with
the Being of God, in a relation which is the faint image of the mutual
relations of the Divine Persons; a conscious sonship, finding expression
in the mutual interchange of the spirit of will and love. This existence
is rooted in ‘grace,’ the unconditioned life-force, intermediary between
ourselves and God,’ as the active stage was rooted in ‘nature.’ Yet there
is something beyond this. As beyond the Divine Persons there is the
Superessential Unity of the Godhead, so beyond the plane of Being
(_Wesen_) Ruysbroeck apprehends a reality which is ‘more than Being’
(_Overwesen_). Man’s spirit, having relations with every grade of
reality, has also in its ‘fathomless ground’ a potential relation with
this superessential sphere; and until this be actualised he is not wholly
real, nor wholly _deiform_. Ruysbroeck’s most original contribution to
the history of mysticism is his description of this supreme state; in
which the human soul becomes truly free, and is made the ‘hidden child’
of God. Then only do we discern the glory of our full-grown human nature;
when, participating fully in the mysterious double life of God, the
twofold action of true love, we have perfect fruition of Him as Eternal
Rest, and perfect sharing in that outgoing love which is His eternal
Work: “God with God, one love and one life, in His eternal

The consummation of the mystic way, then, represents not merely a state
of ecstatic contemplation, escape from the stream of succession, the
death of self-hood, joyous self-immersion in the Abyss; not merely the
enormously enhanced state of creative activity and energetic love which
the mystics call ‘divine fecundity’; but _both_—the flux and reflux of
supreme Reality. It is the synthesis of contemplation and action, of
Being and Becoming: the discovery at last of a clue—inexpressible indeed,
but really held and experienced—to the mystery which most deeply torments
us, the link between our life of duration and the Eternal Life of God.
This is the Seventh Degree of Love, “noblest and highest that can be
realised in the life of time or of eternity.”

That process of enhancement whereby the self, in its upward progress,
carries with it all that has been attained before, here finds its
completion. The active life of Becoming, and the essential life of Being,
are not all. “From beyond the Infinite the Infinite comes,” said the
Indian; and his Christian brother, in parallel terms, declares that
beyond the Essence is the Superessence of God, His ‘simple’ or synthetic
unity. It is for fruition of this that man is destined; yet he does not
leave this world for that world, but knows them as one. Totally
surrendered to the double current of the universe, the inbreathing and
outbreathing of the Spirit of God, “his love and fruition live between
labour and rest.” He goes up and down the mountain of vision, a living
willing tool wherewith God works. “Hence, to enter into restful fruition
and come forth again in good works, and to remain ever one with God—this
is the thing that I would say. Even as we open our fleshly eyes to see,
and shut them again so quickly that we do not even feel it, thus we die
into God, we live of God, and remain ever one with God. Therefore we must
come forth in the activities of the sense-life, and again re-enter in
love and cling to God; in order that we may ever remain one with Him
without change.”[21]

All perfect lives, says Ruysbroeck, conform to this pattern, follow this
curve; though such perfect lives are rare amongst men. They are the
fruit, not of volition, but of vocation; of the mysterious operations of
the Divine Light which—perpetually crying through the universe the
“unique and fathomless word ‘Behold! behold!’” and “therewith giving
utterance to itself and all other things”—yet evokes only in some men an
answering movement of consciousness, the deliberate surrender which
conditions the new power of response and of growth. “To this divine
vision but few men can attain, because of their own unfitness and because
of the darkness of that Light whereby we see: and therefore no one shall
thoroughly understand this perception by means of any scholarship, or by
their own acuteness of comprehension. For all words, and all that men may
learn and understand in a creaturely fashion, is foreign to this and far
below the truth that I mean. To understand and lay hold of God as He is
in Himself above all images—this is _to be God with God_, without
intermediary or any difference that might become an intermediary or an
obstacle. And therefore I beg each one, who can neither understand this,
nor feel it by the way of spiritual union, that he be not grieved
thereby, and let it be as it is.”[22]

I end this chapter by a reference to certain key-words frequent in
Ruysbroeck’s works, which are sometimes a source of difficulty to his
readers. These words are nearly always his names for inward experiences.
He uses them in a poetic and artistic manner, evocative rather than
exact; and we, in trying to discover their meaning, must never forget the
coloured fringe of suggestion which they carry for the mystic and the
poet, and which is a true part of the message he intends them to convey.

The first of these words is Fruition. Fruition, a concept which Eucken’s
philosophy has brought back into current thought, represents a total
attainment, complete and permanent participation and possession. It is an
absolute state, transcending all succession, and it is applied by
Ruysbroeck to the absolute character of the spirit’s life in God; which,
though it seem to the surface consciousness a perpetually renewed
encounter of love, is in its ground ‘fruitive and unconditioned,’ a
timeless self-immersion in the Dark, the ‘glorious and essential
Oneness.’ Thus he speaks of ‘fruitive love,’ ‘fruitive possession’; as
opposed to striving, dynamic love, partial, progressive and conditioned
possession. Perfect contemplation and loving dependence are the eternal
fruition of God’: the Beatific Vision of theology. “Where we are one with
God, without intermediary, beyond all separation; there is God our
fruition and His own in an eternal and fathomless bliss.”[23]

Next perhaps in the power of provoking misunderstanding is the weight
attached by Ruysbroeck to the adjective Simple. This word, which
constantly recurs in his descriptions of spiritual states, always conveys
the sense of wholeness, completeness, synthesis; not of poverty,
thinness, subtraction. It is the white light in which all the colours of
the spectrum are included and fused. ‘Simple Union,’ ‘Simple
Contemplation,’ ‘Simple Light’—all these mean the total undifferentiated
act or perception from which our analytic minds subtract aspects. “In
simplicity will I unite with the Simple One,” said Kabir. So Ruysbroeck:
“We behold His face in a simple seeing, beyond reason and without

Another cause of difficulty to those unfamiliar with the mystics is the
constant reference to Bareness or Nudity, especially in descriptions of
the contemplative act. This is, of course, but one example of that
negative method of suggestion—darkness, bareness, desolation, divine
ignorance, the ‘rich nothing,’ the ‘naked thought’—which is a stock
device of mysticism, and was probably taken by Ruysbroeck from Dionysius
the Areopagite. It represents, first, the bewildering emptiness and
nakedness of consciousness when introduced into a universe that
transcends our ordinary conceptual world; secondly, the necessity of such
transcendence, of emptying the field of consciousness of ‘every vain
imagining,’ if the self is to have contact with the Reality which these

With the distinction between Essence (_Wesen_) and Superessence
(_Overwesen_) I have already dealt; and this will appear more clearly
when we consider Ruysbroeck’s ‘second’ and ‘third’ stages of the mystic

There remains the great pair of opposites, fundamental for his thought,
called in the Flemish vernacular _Wise_ and _Onwise_, and generally
rendered by translators as ‘Mode’ and ‘Modeless.’ Wherever possible I
have replaced these tasteless Latinisms by the Old English equivalents
‘in some wise’ and ‘in no wise,’ occasionally by ‘conditioned’ and
‘unconditioned’; though perhaps the colloquial ‘somehow’ and ‘nohow’
would be yet more exactly expressive. Now this pair of opposites is
psychological rather than metaphysical, and has to do with the
characteristic phenomena of contemplation. It indicates the difference
between the universe of the normal man, living as the servant or friend
of God within the temporal order, and the universe of the true
contemplative, the ‘hidden child.’ The knowledge and love of the first is
a conditioned knowledge and love. Everything which happens to him happens
‘in some wise’; it has attachments within his conceptual world, is
mediated to him by symbols and images which intellect can grasp. “The
simple ascent into the Nude and the Unconditioned is unknown and unloved
of him”; it is through and amongst his ordinary mental furniture that he
obtains his contacts with Reality. But the knowledge and love of the
second, his contacts, transcend the categories of thought. He has escaped
alike from the tyrannies and comforts of the world of images, has made
the ‘ascent into the Nought,’ where all _is_, yet ‘in no wise.’ “The
power of the understanding is lifted up to that which is beyond all
conditions, and its seeing is in no wise, being without manner, and it is
neither thus nor thus, neither here nor there.”[24] This is the direct,
unmediated world of spiritual intuition; where the self touches a Reality
that has not been passed through the filters of sense and thought. There
man achieves a love, a vision, an activity which are ‘wayless,’ yet far
more valid than anything that can be fitted into the framework of our
conditioned world.

  “In a place beyond uttermost place, in a track without shadow of trace,
  Soul and body transcending, I live in the soul of my Loved One anew.”

Thus cries the great Sūfī poet, Jalālu’ddīn; and the suggestion which his
words convey is perhaps as close as speech can come to what Ruysbroeck
meant by _Onwise_. The change of consciousness which initiates man into
this inner yet unbounded world—the world that is ‘unwalled,’ to use his
own favourite metaphor—is the essence of contemplation; which consists,
not in looking at strange mysteries, but in a movement to fresh levels,
shut to the analytic intellect, open to adventurous love. There, without
any amazement, the self can ‘know in no wise’ that which it can never

  “Contemplation is a knowing that is in no wise,
  For ever dwelling above the Reason.
  Never can it sink down into the Reason,
  And above it can the Reason never climb.
  The shining forth of That which is in no wise is as a fair mirror.
  Wherein shines the Eternal Light of God.
  It has no attributes,
  And here all the works of Reason fail.
  It is not God,
  But it is the Light whereby we see Him.
  Those who walk in the Divine Light of it
  Discover in themselves the Unwalled.
  That which is in no wise, is above the Reason, not without it:
  It beholds all things without amazement.
  Amazement is far beneath it:
  The contemplative life is without amazement.
  That which is in no wise sees, it knows not what;
  For it is above all, and is neither This nor That.”[25]

                                    CHAPTER V

  If we would discover and know that Kingdom of God which is hidden in
  us, we must lead a life that is virtuous within, well-ordered without,
  and fulfilled with true charity. Thus imitating Christ in every way, we
  can, through grace, love and virtue, raise ourselves up to that apex of
  the soul where God lives and reigns.

                                      The Mirror of Eternal Salvation.

The beginning of man’s Active Life, says Ruysbroeck—that uplifting of the
diurnal existence into the Divine Atmosphere, which confers on it meaning
and reality—is a movement of response. Grace, the synthesis of God’s
love, energy and will, pours like a great river through the universe, and
perpetually beats in upon the soul. When man consents to receive it,
opens the sluices of the heart to that living water, surrenders to it;
then he opens his heart and will to the impact of Reality, his eyes to
the Divine Light, and in this energetic movement of acceptance begins for
the first time to live indeed. Hence it is that, in the varied ethical
systems which we find in his books, and which describe the active
crescent life of Christian virtue, the laborious adjustment of character
to the Vision of God, Ruysbroeck always puts first the virtue, or rather
the attitude, which he calls _good-will_: the voluntary orientation of
the self in the right direction, the eager acceptance of grace. As all
growth depends upon food, so all spiritual development depends upon the
self’s appropriation of its own share of the transcendent life-force, its
own ‘rill of grace’; and good-will breaks down the barrier which prevents
that stream from pouring into the soul.

Desire, said William Law, _is_ everything and _does_ everything; it is
the primal motive-power. Ruysbroeck, too, finds in desire turned towards
the best the beginning of human transcendence, and regards willing and
loving as the essence of life. Basing his psychology on the common
mediæval scheme of Memory, Intelligence and Will, he speaks of this last
as the king of the soul; dominating both the other powers, and able to
gather them in its clutch, force them to attend to the invitations and
messages of the eternal world. Thus in his system the demand upon man’s
industry and courage is made from the very first. The great mystical
necessity of self-surrender is shown to involve, not a limp acquiescence,
but a deliberate and heroic choice; the difficult approximation of our
own thoughts and desires to the thoughts and desires of Divine Reality.
“When we have but one thought and one will with God, we are on the first
step of the ladder of love and of sanctity; for good-will is the
foundation of all virtue.”[26]

In _The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage_, Ruysbroeck has used the
words said to the wise and foolish virgins of the parable—“Behold, the
bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him”—as an epitome of the self’s
relations with and reactions to Reality. First, all created spirits are
called to behold God, who is perpetually ‘coming’ to the world of
conditions, in a ceaseless procession of love; and in this seeing our
happiness consists. But in order really to see a thing, we need not only
light and clear sight, but the _will_ to look at it; every act of
perception demands a self-giving on the seer’s part. So here we need not
only the light of grace and the open eyes of the soul, but also the
_will_ turned towards the Infinite: our attention to life, the regnant
fact of our consciousness, must be focussed upon eternal things. Now,
when we see God, we cannot but love Him; and love is motion, activity.
Hence, this first demand on the awakened spirit, ‘Behold!’ is swiftly
followed by the second demand, ‘Go ye out!’ for the essence of love is
generous, outflowing, expansive, an “upward and outward tendency towards
the Kingdom of God, which is God Himself.” This outgoing, this concrete
act of response, will at once change and condition our correspondences
with and attitude towards God, ourselves and our neighbours; expressing
itself within the world of action in a new ardour for perfection—the
natural result of the ‘loving vision of the Bridegroom,’ the self’s first
glimpse of Perfect Goodness and Truth. We observe the continued
insistence on effort, act, as the very heart of all true self-giving to
transcendent interests.

Whilst in the volitional life drastic readjustments, stern
character-building, and eager work are the expression of goodwill, in the
emotional life it is felt as a profound impulse to self-surrender: a
loving yielding up of the whole personality to the inflow and purging
activities of the Absolute Life. “This good-will is nought else but the
infused Love of God, which causes him to apply himself to Divine things
and all virtues; ... when it turns towards God, it crowns the spirit with
Eternal Love, and when it returns to outward things it rules as a
mistress over his external good deeds.”[27]

We have here, then, a disposition of heart and mind which both receives
and responds to the messages of Reality; making it possible for the self
to begin to grow in the right direction, to enter into possession of its
twofold heritage. That completely human life of activity and
contemplation which moves freely up and down the ladder of love between
the temporal and eternal worlds, and reproduces in little the ideal of
Divine Humanity declared in Christ, is the ideal towards which it is set;
and already, even in this lowest phase, the double movement of the
awakened consciousness begins to show itself. Our love and will, firmly
fastened in the Eternal World, are to swing like a pendulum between the
seen and the unseen spheres; in great ascending arcs of balanced
adoration and service, which shall bring all the noblest elements of
human character into play. Therefore the pivoting of life upon Divine
Reality, which is the result of good-will—the setting up of a right
relation with the universe—is inevitably the first condition of virtue,
the ‘root of sanctity,’ the beginning of spiritual growth, the act which
makes man free; translating him, in Ruysbroeck’s image, from the state of
the slave to that of the conscious and willing servant of Eternal Truth.
“From the hour in which, with God’s help, he transcends his self-hood ...
he feels true love, which overcomes doubt and fear and makes man trust
and hope; and so he becomes a true servant, and means and loves God in
all that he does.”[28]

So man, emerging from the shell of selfhood, makes—of his own free
choice, by his own effort—his first timid upward beat to God; and,
following swiftly upon it, the compensating outward beat of charity
towards his fellow-men. We observe how tight a hold has this most
transcendental of the mystics on the _wholeness_ of all healthy human
life: the mutual support and interpenetration of the active and
contemplative powers. ‘Other-worldliness’ is decisively contradicted from
the first. It is the appearance of this eager active charity—this
imitation in little of the energetic Love of God—which assures us that
the first stage of the self’s growth is rightly accomplished; completing
its first outward push in that new direction to which its good-will is
turned. “For charity ever presses towards the heights, towards the
Kingdom of God, the which is God Himself.”

In the practical counsels given to the young novice to whom _The Mirror
of Salvation_ is addressed, we may see Ruysbroeck’s ideal of that active
life of self-discipline and service which the soul has now set in hand;
and which he describes in greater detail in _The Adornment of the
Spiritual Marriage_ and _The Kingdom of God’s Lovers_. Total
self-donation, he tells her, is her first need—‘choosing God, for love’s
sake’ without hesitations or reserves; and this dedication to the
interests of Reality must be untainted by any spiritual selfishness, any
hint of that insidious desire for personal beatitude which ‘fades the
flower of true love.’ This done, self-conquest and self-control become
the novice’s primary duties: the gradual subduing and rearrangement of
character about its new centre, the elimination of all tendencies
inimical to the demands of Eternal Life; the firm establishment upon its
throne of that true free-will which desires only God’s will. This
self-conquest, the essence of the ‘Way of Purgation,’ as described and
experienced by so many ascetics and mystics, includes not only the
eradication of sins, but the training of the attention, the adaptation of
consciousness to its new environment; the killing-out of inclinations
which, harmless in themselves, compete with the one transcendent interest
of life.

Like all great mystics, Ruysbroeck had a strong ‘sense of sin.’ This is
merely a theological way of stating the fact that his intense realisation
of Perfection involved a vivid consciousness of the imperfections,
disharmonies, perversities, implicit in the human creature; the need of
resolving them if the soul was to grow up to the stature of Divine
Humanity. Yet there is in his writings a singular absence of that
profound preoccupation with sin found in so many mediæval ascetics. His
attitude towards character was affirmative and robust; emphasising the
possibilities rather than the disabilities of man. Sin, for him, was
egotism; showing itself in the manifold forms of pride, laziness,
self-indulgence, coldness of heart, or spiritual self-seeking, but always
implying a central wrongness of attitude, resulting in a wrong employment
of power. Self-denials and bodily mortifications he regarded partly as
exercises in self-control—spiritual athletics—useful because educative of
the will; partly as expressions of love. At best they are but the means
of sanctity, and never to be confused with its end; for the man who
deliberately passed the greater part of his life in the bustle of the
town was no advocate of a cloistered virtue or a narrow perfectionism.

Morbid piety is often the product of physical as well as spiritual
stuffiness; and Ruysbroeck wrote his great books out of doors, with light
and air all round him, and the rhythmic life of trees to remind him how
much stronger was the quiet law of growth than any atavism, accident, or
perversion by which it could be checked. Thus, throughout his works, the
accent always falls upon power rather than weakness: upon the spiritual
energy pouring in like sunshine; the incessant growth which love sets
going; the perpetual rebirths to ever higher levels, as the young sapling
stretches upward every spring. What he asks of the novice is contrition
without anxiety, self-discipline without fuss; the steady, all-round
development of her personality, stretching and growing towards God. She
is to be the mistress of her soul, never permitting it to be drawn hither
and thither by the distractions and duties of external life. Keeping
always in the atmosphere of Reality, she shall bring therefrom truth and
frankness to all her words and deeds; and perform her duties with that
right and healthy detachment which springs, not from a contempt of the
Many, but from the secure and loving possession of the One.

The disciplines to which she must subject herself in the effort towards
attainment of this poise, will, like a wise gymnastic, produce in her a
suppleness of soul; making the constant and inevitable transition from
interior communion to outward work, which charity and good sense demand,
easy and natural, and causing the spirit to be plastic in the hand of
God. Such suppleness—the lightness and lissomeness which comes from
spiritual muscles exercised and controlled—was one of the favourite
qualities of that wise trainer of character, St. François de Sales; and
the many small and irritating mortifications with which he was accustomed
to torment his disciples had no other aim than to produce it.

In the stage of development to which the Active Life belongs, the soul
enjoys communion with Reality, not with that directness proper to the
true contemplative, but obliquely, by ‘means,’ symbols and images;
especially by the sacramental dispensation of the Church, a subject to
which Ruysbroeck devotes great attention. As always in his system, growth
from within is intimately connected with the reception of food and power
from without. The movement of the self into God, the movement of God into
the self, though separable in thought, are one in fact: will and grace
are two aspects of one truth. Only this paradox can express the relation
between that Divine Love which is ‘both avid and generous,’ and the self
that is destined both to devour and be devoured by Reality.

In the beautiful chapters on the Eucharist which form the special feature
of _The Mirror of Eternal Salvation_, Ruysbroeck develops this idea. “If
He gives us all that He has and all that He is, in return He takes from
us all that we have and all that we are, and demands of us more than we
are capable of giving.... Even in devouring us, He desires to feed us. If
He absorbs us utterly into Himself, He gives Himself in return. He causes
to be born in us the hunger and thirst of the spirit, which shall make us
savour Him in an eternal fruition; and to this spiritual hunger, as well
as to the love of our heart, He gives His own Body as food.... Thus does
He give us His life full of wisdom, truth and knowledge, in order that we
may imitate Him in all virtues; and then He lives in us and we in Him.
Then do we grow, and raise ourselves up above the reason into a Divine
Love which causes us to take and consume that Food in a spiritual manner,
and stretch out in pure love towards the Divinity. There takes place that
encounter of the spirit, that is to say of measureless love, which
consumes and transforms our spirit with all its works; drawing us with
itself towards the Unity, where we taste beatitude and rest. Herein
therefore is our eternal life: ever to devour and be devoured, to ascend
and descend with love.”[29]

The soul, then, turned in the direction of the Infinite, ‘having God for
aim,’ and with her door opened to the inflowing Divine Life, begins to
grow. Her growth is up and out; from that temporal world to which her
nature is adapted, and where she seems full of power and efficiency, to
that eternal world to which the ‘spark’ within her belongs, but where she
is as yet no more than a weak and helpless child. Hence the first state
of mind and heart produced in her, if the ‘new birth’ has indeed taken
place, will be that humility which results from all real self-knowledge;
since “whoso might verily see and feel himself as he _is_, he should
verily be meek.” This clear acknowledgment of facts, this finding of
one’s own place, Ruysbroeck calls ‘the solid foundation of the Kingdom of
the Soul.’ In thus discerning love and humility as the governing
characteristics of the soul’s reaction to Reality, he is of course
keeping close to the great tradition of Christian mysticism; especially
to the teaching of Richard of St. Victor, which we find constantly
repeated in the ascetic literature of the Middle Ages.

From these two virtues, then, of humble self-knowledge and God-centred
love, are gradually developed all those graces of character which ‘adorn
the soul for the spiritual marriage,’ mark her ascent of the first
degrees of the ‘ladder of love,’ and make possible the perfecting of her
correspondences with the ‘Kingdom.’ This development follows an orderly
course, as subject to law as the unfolding of the leaves and flowers upon
the growing plant; and though Ruysbroeck in his various works uses
different diagrams wherewith to explain it, the psychological changes
which these diagrams demonstrate are substantially the same. In each case
we watch the opening of man’s many-petalled heart under the rays of the
Divine Light, till it blossoms at last into the rose of Perfect Charity.

Thus in _The Seven Degrees of Love_, since he is there addressing a
cloistered nun, he accommodates his system to that threefold monastic vow
of voluntary poverty or perfect renunciation, chastity or singleness of
heart, and obedience or true humility in action, by which she is bound.
When the reality which these vows express is actualised in the soul, and
dominates all her reactions to the world, she wears the ‘crown of
virtue’; and lives that ‘noble life’ ruled by the purified and enhanced
will, purged of all selfish desires and distractions, which—seeking in
all things the interests of the spiritual world—is ‘full of love and
charity, and industrious in good works.’

In _The Spiritual Marriage_ a more elaborate analysis is possible; based
upon that division of man’s moral perversities into the ‘seven mortal
sins’ or seven fundamental forms of selfishness, which governed, and
governs yet, the Catholic view of human character. After a preliminary
passage in which the triple attitude of love as towards God, humility as
towards self, justice as towards other men, is extolled as the only
secure basis of the spiritual life, Ruysbroeck proceeds to exhibit the
seven real and positive qualities which oppose the seven great abuses of
human freedom. As Pride is first and worst of mortal sins and follies, so
its antithesis Humility is again put forward as the first condition of
communion with God. This produces in the emotional life an attitude of
loving adoration; in the volitional life, obedience. By _obedience_,
Ruysbroeck means that self-submission, that wise suppleness of spirit,
which is swayed and guided not by its own tastes and interests but by the
Will of God; as expressed in the commands and prohibitions of moral and
spiritual law, the interior push of conscience. This attitude, at first
deliberately assumed, gradually controls all the self’s reactions, and
ends by subduing it entirely to the Divine purpose. “Of this obedience
there grows the abdication of one’s own will and one’s own opinion; ...
by this abdication of the will in all that one does, or does not do, or
endures, the substance and occasion of pride are wholly driven out, and
the highest humility is perfected.”[30]

This movement of renunciation brings—next phase in the unselfing of the
self—a compensating outward swing of love; expressed under the beautiful
forms of _patience_, ‘the tranquil tolerance of all that can happen,’ and
hence the antithesis of Anger; _gentleness_, which “with peace and calm
bears vexatious words and deeds”; _kindness_, which deals with the
quarrelsome and irritable by means of “a friendly countenance,
affectionate persuasion and compassionate acts”; and _sympathy_, “that
inward movement of the heart which compassionates the bodily and
spiritual griefs of all men,” and kills the evil spirit of Envy and hate.
This fourfold increase in disinterested love is summed up in the
condition which Ruysbroeck calls _supernatural generosity_; that
largeness of heart which flows out towards the generosity of God, which
is swayed by pity and love, which embraces all men in its sweep. By this
energetic love which seeks not its own, “all virtues are increased, and
all the powers of the spirit are adorned”; and Avarice, the fourth great
mortal sin, is opposed.

Generosity is no mere mood; it is a motive-force, demanding expression in
action. From the emotions, it invades the will, and produces _diligence_
and _zeal_: an ‘inward and impatient eagerness’ for every kind of work,
and for the hard practice of every kind of virtue, which makes impossible
that slackness and dulness of soul which is characteristic of the sin of
Sloth. It is dynamic love; and the spirit which is fired by its ardours,
has reached a degree of self-conquest in which the two remaining evil
tendencies—that to every kind of immoderate enjoyment, spiritual,
intellectual or physical, which is the essence of Gluttony, and that to
the impure desire of created things which is Lust—can be met and
vanquished. The purged and strengthened will, crowned by unselfish love,
is now established on its throne; man has become captain of his soul, and
rules all the elements of his character and that character’s expression
in life—not as an absolute monarch, but in the name of Divine Love.[31]
He has done all he can do of himself towards the conforming of his life
to Supreme Perfection; has opposed, one after another, each of those
exhibitions of the self’s tendency to curl inwards, to fence itself in
and demand, absorb, enjoy as a separate entity, which lie at the root of
sin. The constructive side of the Purgative Way has consisted in the
replacement of this egoistic, indrawing energy by these outflowing
energies of self-surrender, kindness, diligence and the rest; summed up
in that perfection of humility and love, which “in all its works, and
always, stretches out towards God.”

The first three gifts of the Holy Spirit are possessed by the soul which
has reached this point, says Ruysbroeck in _The Kingdom of God’s Lovers_:
that loving Fear, which includes true humility with all its ancillary
characteristics; that general attitude of charity which makes man gentle,
patient and docile, ready to serve and pity every one, and is called
Godliness, because there first emerges in it his potential likeness to
God; and finally that Knowledge or discernment of right and prudent
conduct which checks the disastrous tendency to moral fussiness, helps
man to conform his life to supreme Perfection, and gives the calmness and
balance which are essential to a sane and manly spirituality. Thus the
new life-force has invaded and affected will, feeling and intellect;
raised the whole man to fresh levels of existence, and made possible
fresh correspondences with Reality. “Hereby are the three lower powers of
the soul adorned with Divine virtues. The Irascible [_i.e._ volitional
and dynamic] is adorned with loving and filial fear, humility, obedience
and renunciation. The Desirous is adorned with kindness, pity, compassion
and generosity. Finally, the Reasonable with knowledge and discernment,
and that prudence which regulates all things.”[32] The ideal of character
held out and described under varying metaphors in Ruysbroeck’s different
works, is thus seen to be a perfectly consistent one.

Now when the growing self has actualised this ideal, and lives the Active
Life of the faithful servant of Reality, it begins to feel an ardent
desire for some more direct encounter with That which it loves. Since it
has now acquired the ‘ornaments of the virtues’—cleansed its mirror,
ordered its disordered loves—this encounter may and does in a certain
sense take place; for every Godward movement of the human is met by a
compensating movement of the Divine. Man now begins to find God in all
things: in nature, in the soul, in works of charity. But in the turmoil
and bustle of the Active Life such an encounter is at best indirect; a
sidelong glimpse of the ‘first and only Fair.’ That vision can only be
apprehended in its wholeness by a concentration of all the powers of the
self. If we would look the Absolute in the eyes, we must look at nothing
else; the complete opening of the eye of Eternity entails the closing of
the eye of Time. Man, then, must abstract himself from multiplicity, if
only for a moment, if he would catch sight of the unspeakable Simplicity
of the Real. Longing to ‘know the nature of the Beloved,’ he must act as
Zacchæus did when he wished to see Christ:

“He must run before the crowd, that is to say the multiplicity of created
things; for these make us so little and low that we cannot perceive God.
And he must climb up on the Tree of Faith, which grows from above
downwards, for its root is in the Godhead. This tree has twelve branches,
which are the twelve articles of the Creed. The lower branches speak of
the Humanity of God; ... the upper branches, however, speak of the
Godhead: of the Trinity of Persons and the Unity of the Divine Nature.
Man must cling to the Unity which is at the top of the tree, for it is
here that Jesus will pass by with all His gifts. And now Jesus comes, and
He sees man, and shows him in the light of faith that He is, according to
His Divinity, unmeasured and incomprehensible, inaccessible and
fathomless, and that He overpasses all created light and all finite
comprehension. This is the highest knowledge of God which man can acquire
in the Active Life: thus to recognise by the light of faith that God is
inconceivable and unknowable. In this light God says to the desire of
man: “Come down quickly, for I would dwell in your house to-day.” And
this quick descent, to which God invites him, is nought else but a
descent, by love and desire, into the Abyss of the Godhead, to which no
intellect can attain by its created light. But here, where intellect must
rest without, love and desire may enter in. When the soul thus leans upon
God by intention and love, above all that she understands, then she rests
and dwells in God, and God in her. When the soul mounts up by desire,
above the multiplicity of things, above the activities of the senses and
above the light of external nature, then she encounters Christ by the
light of faith, and is illuminated; and she recognises that God is
unknowable and inconceivable. Finally, stretching by desire towards this
incomprehensible God, she meets Christ and is fulfilled with His gifts.
And loving and resting above all gifts, above herself and above all
things, she dwells in God and God in her. According to this manner Christ
may be encountered upon the summit of the Active Life.”[33]

This, then, is the completion of the first stage in the mystic way; this
showing to the purified consciousness of the helplessness of the analytic
intellect, the dynamic power of self-surrendered love. “Where intellect
must rest without, love and desire may enter in.” The human creature,
turning towards Reality, has pressed up to the very edge of the ‘Cloud of
Unknowing’ in which the goal of transcendence is hid. If it is to go
further it must bring to the adventure not knowledge but divine
ignorance, not riches but poverty; above all, an eager and industrious

  “A fiery flame of devotion leaping and ascending into the very goodness
              of God Himself,
  A loving longing of the soul to be with God in His Eternity,
  A turning from all things of self into the freedom of the Will of God;
  With all the forces of the soul gathered into the unity of the

                                    CHAPTER VI

  Let whoso thirsts to see his God cleanse his mirror, purge his spirit;
  and when thus he has cleansed his mirror, and long and diligently gazed
  in it, a certain brightness of divine light begins to shine through
  upon him, and a certain immense ray of unwonted vision to appear before
  his eyes.... From the beholding of this light, which it sees within
  itself with amazement, the mind is mightily set on fire, and lifted up
  to behold that Light which is above itself.

                                                Richard of St. Victor.

It is plain that the Active Life in Ruysbroeck’s system answers more or
less to the Purgative Way, considered upon its affirmative and
constructive side, as a building up of the heroic Christian character.
So, too, the life which he calls Interior or Contemplative, and which
initiates man into the friendship of God, corresponds in the main with
the Illuminative Way of orthodox mysticism; though it includes in its
later stages much that is usually held to belong to the third, or
Unitive, state of the soul. The first life has, as it were, unfolded to
the sunlight the outer petals of the mystic rose; exhibiting in their
full beauty, adjusting to their true use, the normally-apparent
constituents of man’s personality. All his relations with the given world
of sense, the sphere of Becoming, have been purified and adjusted. Now
the expansive and educative influence of the Divine Light is able to
penetrate nearer to the heart of his personality; is brought to bear upon
those interior qualities which he hardly knows himself to possess, and
which govern his relation with the spiritual world of Being. The flower
is to open more widely; the inner ring of petals must uncurl.

As the primary interest of the Active Life was ethical purification, so
the primary interest of this Second Life is intellectual purification.
Intellect, however, is here to be understood in its highest sense; as
including not only the analytic reason which deals with the problems of
our normal universe, but that higher intelligence, that contemplative
mind, which—once it is awakened to consciousness—can gather news of the
transcendental world. The development and clarification of this power is
only possible to those who have achieved, and continue to live at full
stretch, the high, arduous and unselfish life of Christian virtue. Again
we must remind ourselves that Ruysbroeck’s theory of transcendence
involves, not the passage from one life to another, but the _adding_ of
one life to another: the perpetual deepening, widening, heightening and
enriching of human experience. As the author of _The Cloud of Unknowing_
insists that none can be truly contemplative who is not also active, so
Ruysbroeck says that no man ever rises above the ordinary obligations of
Christian kindness and active good works.

“We find nowadays many silly men who would be so interior and so
detached, that they will not be active or helpful in any way of which
their neighbours are in need. Know, such men are neither hidden friends
nor yet true servants of God, but are wholly false and disloyal; for none
can follow His counsels but those who obey His laws.”[35]

Nevertheless it would be generally true to say that, whilst the aim of
the Active Life is right conduct, the aim of the Interior Life is right
vision and thought. As, in that first life, all the perversions of man’s
ordinary powers and passions were rectified, all that was superfluous and
unreal done away, and his nature set right with God; now—still holding
and living in its fulness this purified active life—he is to press deeper
and deeper into the resources of his being, finding there other powers
and cravings which must be brought within the field of consciousness, and
set up those relations with the Transcendent of which they are capable.
This deepening and enlarging of man’s universe, together with the further
and more drastic discarding of illusions and unrealities, is the business
of the Second Life, considered on its impersonal side.

“If thou dost desire to unfold in thyself the Contemplative Life, thou
must enter within, beyond the sense-life; and, on that apex of thy being,
adorned with all the virtues of which I have spoken, looking unto God
with gratitude and love and continual reverence, thou must keep thy
thoughts bare, and stripped of every sensible image, thine understanding
open and lifted up to the Eternal Truth, and thy spirit spread out in the
sight of God as a living mirror to receive His everlasting likeness.
Behold, therein appears a light of the understanding, which neither
sense, reason, nature, nor the clearest logic can apprehend, but which
gives us freedom and confidence towards God. It is nobler and higher than
all that God has created in nature; for it is the perfection of nature,
and transcends nature, and is the clear-shining intermediary between
ourselves and God. Our thoughts, bare and stripped of images, are
themselves the living mirror in which this light shines: and the light
requires of us that we should be like to and one with God, in this living
mirror of our bare thoughts.”[36]

In this strongly Victorine passage, the whole process of the Second Life
is epitomised; but in _The Spiritual Marriage_, where its description
occupies the seventy-three chapters of the second book, we see how long
is the way which stretches from that first ‘entering in beyond the sense
life’ to the point at which the soul’s mirror is able to receive in its
fullness that Light wherein alone it can apprehend Reality.

Considered upon its organic side, as a growth and movement of the soul,
this Way, as conceived, and probably experienced, by Ruysbroeck, can be
divided into three great phases. We might call these Action, Reaction and
Equilibrium. Broadly speaking, they answer to the Illumination, Dark
Night and Simple Union of orthodox mystical science. Yet since in his
vivid description of these linked states he constantly departs from the
formulæ of his predecessors, and as constantly illustrates their
statements by intimate and homely touches only possible to one who has
endured the adventures of which he tells, we are justified in claiming
the description as the fruit of experience rather than of tradition; and
as evidence of the course taken by his own development.

It is surely upon his own memory that he is relying, when he tells us
that the beginning of this new life possesses something of the abrupt
character of a second conversion. It happens, he says, when we least
expect it; when the self, after the long tension and struggle of moral
purgation, has become drowsy and tired. Then, suddenly, “a spiritual cry
echoes through the soul,” announcing a new encounter with Reality, and
demanding a new response; or, to put it in another way, consciousness on
its ascending spiral has pushed through to another level of existence,
where it can hear voices and discern visions to which it was deaf and
blind before. This sudden clarity of mind, this new vivid apprehension of
Divine Love, is the first indication of man’s entrance on the
Illuminative Way. It is introversive rather than out-going in type.
Changing the character of our attention to life, we discern within us
something which we have always possessed and always ignored: a secret
Divine energy, which is now to emerge from the subconscious deeps into
the area of consciousness. There it stimulates the will, evicts all
lesser images and interests from the heart, and concentrates all the
faculties into a single and intense state, pressing towards the Unity of
God, the synthetic experience of love; for perpetual movement towards
that unity—not achievement of it—is the mark of this Second Life, in
which the separation of God and the soul remains intact. In Victorine
language, it is the period of spiritual betrothal, not of spiritual
marriage; of a vision which, though wide, rich and wonderful, is mirrored
rather than direct.

The new God-inspired movement, then, begins within, like a spring
bubbling from the deeps; and thrusts up and out to the consciousness
which it is destined to clarify and enhance. “The stream of Divine grace
swiftly stirs and moves a man inwardly, and from within outwards; and
this swift stirring is the first thing that makes us _see_. Of this swift
stirring is born from the side of man the second point: that is, a
gathering together of all the inward and outward powers in spiritual
unity and in the bonds of love. The third is that liberty which enables
man to retreat into himself, without images or obstacles, whensoever he
wills and thinks of his God.”[37]

So we may say that an enhancement of the conative powers, a greater
control over the attention, are the chief marks of the Illuminative Way
as perceived by the growing self. But the liberty here spoken of has a
moral as well as a mental aspect. It is a freeing of the whole man from
the fetters of illusion, and involves that perfect detachment of heart,
that self-naughting, which makes him equally willing to have joy or pain,
gain or loss, esteem or contempt, peace or fear, as the Divine Will may
ordain. Thus is perfected that suppleness of soul which he began to
acquire in the Active Life: a gradual process, which needs for its
accomplishment the negative rhythm of renunciation, testing the manliness
and courage of the self, as well as the positive movement of love. Hence
the Contemplative Life, as Ruysbroeck knows and describes it, has, and
must have, its state of pain as well as its state of joy. With him,
however, as with nearly all the mystics, the state of joy comes first:
the glad and eager reaction to those new levels of spiritual reality
disclosed to consciousness when the struggles and readjustments of the
Active Life have done their work. This is the phase in the self’s
progress which mystical writers properly mean by Illumination: a
condition of great happiness, and of an intuition of Reality so vivid and
joyous, that the soul often supposes that she has here reached the goal
of her quest. It is in the spiritual year, says Ruysbroeck, that which
the month of May is in the seasons of the earth: a wholesome and
necessary time of sunshine, swift growth and abundant flowers, when the
soul, under the influence of ‘the soft rain of inward consolations and
the heavenly dew of the Divine sweetness’ blossoms in new and lovely

Illumination is an unstable period. The sun is rising swiftly in the
heaven of man’s consciousness; and as it increases in power, so it calls
forth on the soul’s part greater ardours, more intense emotional
reactions. Once more the flux of God is demanding its reflux. The soul,
like the growing boy suddenly made aware of the beauty, romance and
wonder—the intense and irresistible appeal—of a world that had seemed
ordinary before, flows out towards this new universe with all the
enthusiasm and eagerness of its young fresh powers. Those powers are so
new to it, that it cannot yet control or understand them. Vigorous and
ungovernable, they invade by turns the heart, the will, the mind, as do
the fevers and joys of physical adolescence; inciting to acts and
satisfactions for which the whole self is hardly ready yet. “Then is
thrown wide,” says Ruysbroeck, “the heaven which was shut, and from the
face of Divine Love there blazes down a sudden light, as it were a
lightning flash.” In the meeting of this inward and outward spiritual
force—the Divine Light without, the growing Divine Spark within—there is
great joy. Ecstasy, and that state of musical rapture, exceeding the
possibilities of speech, which Ruysbroeck like Richard Rolle calls
‘ghostly song,’ are the natural self-expressions of the soul in this
moment of its career.[38]

In more than one book we find references to this ecstatic period: a
period so strongly marked in his own case, that it became for him—though
he was under no illusions as to its permanent value—one of the landmarks
in man’s journey to his home. Looking back on it in later life, he sees
in it two great phases, of which the earlier and lower at any rate is
dangerous and easily misunderstood; and is concerned to warn those who
come after him of its transitory and imperfect character. The first phase
is that of ‘spiritual inebriation,’ in which the fever, excitement and
unrest of this period of growth and change—affecting as they do every
aspect of personality—show themselves in the psycho-physical phenomena
which are well-known accompaniments of religious emotion in selves of a
certain temperament. This spiritual delirium, which appears to have been
a common phase in the mystical revivals of the fourteenth century, is
viewed by Ruysbroeck with considerable distrust; and rightly attributed
by him to an excitement of the senses rather than of the soul. At best it
is but ‘children’s food,’ given to those who cannot yet digest ‘the
strong food of temptation and the loss of God.’ Its manifestations, as he
describes them, overpass the limits not merely of common sense but also
of sanity; and are clearly related to the frenzies of revivalists and the
wild outbreaks of songs, dance and ecstatic speech observed in nearly all
non-Christian religions of an enthusiastic type. In this state of
rapture, “a man seems like a drunkard, no longer master of himself.” He
sings, shouts, laughs and cries both at once, runs and leaps in the air,
claps his hands, and indulges in absurdly exaggerated gestures ‘with many
other disagreeable exhibitions.’[39] These he may not be able to help;
but is advised to control them as soon as he can, passing from the merely
sensuous emotion which results when the light of Eternal Love invades the
‘inferior powers’ of the soul, to the spiritual emotion, amenable to
reason, which is the reaction of the ‘higher powers’ of the self to that
same overwhelming influx of grace.

That inpouring grace grows swiftly in power, as the strength of the sun
grows with the passing of the year. The Presence of God now stands over
the soul’s supreme summits, in the zenith: the transcendent fact of the
illuminated consciousness. His power and love shine perpetually upon the
heart, ‘giving more than we can take, demanding more than we can pay’;
and inducing in the soul upon which this mighty energy is playing, a
strange unrest, part anguish and part joy. This is the second phase of
the ecstatic period, and gives rise to that which Ruysbroeck, and after
him Tauler, have called the ‘storm of love’: a wild longing for union
which stretches to the utmost the self’s powers of response, and
expresses itself in violent efforts, impassioned ascents towards the
Spirit that cries without ceasing to our spirit: “Pay your debt! Love the
Love that has loved you from Eternity.”[40]

Now the vigorous soul begins to find within itself the gift of Spiritual
Strength; that enthusiastic energy which is one of the characters of all
true love. This is the third of the ‘Seven Gifts of the Spirit,’ and the
first to be actualised in the Illuminated Life.[41] From this strong and
ardent passion for the Transcendent, adoration and prayer stream forth;
and these again react upon the self, forming the fuel of the fire of
love. The interior invitation of God, His attractive power, His delicate
yet inexorable caress, is to the loving heart the most pure delight that
it has ever known. It responds by passionate movements of adoration and
gratitude, opening its petals wide to the beams of the Eternal Sun.

This is the joy; and close behind it comes the anguish, ‘sweetest and
heaviest of all pains.’ It is the sense of unsatisfied desire—the pain of
love—which comes from the enduring consciousness of a gulf fixed between
the self and That with which it desires to unite. “Of this inward demand
and compulsion, which makes the creature to rise up and prepare itself to
the utmost of its power, without yet being able to reach or attain the
Unity—of this, there springs a spiritual pain. When the heart’s core, the
very source of life, is wounded by love, and man cannot attain that thing
which he desires above else; when he must stay ever where he desires no
more to be, of these feelings comes this pain.... When man cannot achieve
God, and yet neither can nor will do without Him; in such men there
arises a furious agitation and impatience, both within and without. And
whilst man is in this tumult, no creature in heaven or earth can help him
or give him rest.”[42]

The sensible heat of love is felt with a greater violence now than at any
other period of life; the rays of the Spiritual Sun strike the soul with
terrific force, ripening the fruits of the virtues, yet bringing danger
to the health, both mental and physical, of those who are not properly
prepared, and who faint under the exhaustion of this ‘intense fury of
Divine Love,’ this onslaught which ‘eats up the heart.’ These are ‘the
dog-days of the spiritual year.’ As all nature languishes under their
stifling heat, so too long an exposure to their violence may mean ruin to
the physical health of the growing self. Yet those who behave with
prudence need not take permanent harm; a kind of wise steadfastness will
support them throughout this turbulent period. “Following through all
storms the path of love, they will advance towards that place whither
love leadeth them.”[43]

To this period of vivid illumination and emotional unrest belongs the
development of those ‘secondary automatisms’ familiar to all students of
mysticism: the desperate efforts of the mind to work up into some
intelligible shape—some pictured vision or some spoken word—the
overwhelming intuitions of the Transcendent by which it is possessed; the
abrupt suspension of the surface-consciousness in rapture and ecstasy,
when that overwhelming intuition develops into the complete mono-ideism
of the ecstatic, and cuts off all contacts with the world of sense. Of
these phenomena Ruysbroeck speaks with intimacy, and also with much
common sense. He distinguishes visions into those pictures or material
images which are ‘seen in the imagination,’ and those so-called
‘intellectual visions,’—of which the works of Angela of Foligno and St.
Teresa provide so rich a series of examples,—which are really direct and
imageless messages from the Transcendent; received in those supersensuous
regions where man has contact with the Incomprehensible Good and “seeing
and hearing are one thing.” To this conventional classification he adds a
passage which must surely be descriptive of his own experiences in this

“Sometimes God gives to such men swift spiritual glimpses, like to the
flash of lightning in the sky. It comes like a sudden flash of strange
light, streaming forth from the Simple Nudity. By this is the spirit
uplifted for an instant above itself; and at once the light passes, and
the man again comes to himself. This is God’s own work, and it is
something most august; for often those who experience it afterwards
become illuminated men. And those who live in the violence and fervour of
love have now and then another manner, whereby a certain light shines
_in_ them; and this God works by means. In this light, the heart and the
desirous powers are uplifted toward the Light; and in this encounter the
joy and satisfaction are such that the heart cannot contain itself, but
breaks out in loud cries of joy. And this is called _jubilus_ or
jubilation; and it is a joy that cannot be expressed in words.”[44]

Here the parallel with Richard Rolle’s ‘ghostly song, with great voice
outbreaking’ will strike every reader of that most musical of the
mystics; and it is probable that in both cases the prominence given to
this rather uncommon form of spiritual rapture points back to personal
experience. “Methinketh,” says Rolle, “that contemplation is this
heavenly song of the Love of God, which is called _jubilus_, taken of the
sweetness of a soul by praising of God. This song is the end of perfect
prayer, and of the highest devotion that may be here. This gladness of
soul is had of God, and it breaketh out in a ghostly voice

This exultant and lyrical mood then, this adoring rapture, which only the
rhythm of music can express, is the emotional reaction which indicates
the high summer of the soul. It will be seen that each phase of its
seasonal progress has been marked by a fresh inflow of grace and gifts, a
fresh demand upon its power of response. The tension never slackens; the
need for industry is never done away. The gift of Strength, by which the
self presses forward, has now been reinforced by the gift of Counsel,
_i.e._ by the growth and deepening of that intuition which is its medium
of contact with the spiritual world. The Counsel of the Spirit, says
Ruysbroeck, is like a stirring or inspiration, deep within the soul. This
stirring, this fresh uprush of energy, is really a ‘new birth’ of the
Son, the Divine Wisdom; lighting up the intelligence so that it perceives
its destiny, and perceives too that the communion it now enjoys is but an
image of the Divine Union which awaits it.[46] God is counselling the
soul with an inward secret insistence to rush out towards Him,
stimulating her hunger for Reality; or, to put it otherwise, the Divine
Spark is growing swiftly, and pressing hard against the walls of its
home. Therefore the culmination of this gift, and the culmination too of
the illuminated consciousness, brings to the soul a certitude that she
must still press on and out; that nothing less than God Himself can
suffice her, or match the mysterious Thing which dwells in her deeps.

Now this way of love and ecstasy and summer heats has been attended
throughout by grave dangers for the adolescent spirit; above all by the
primary danger which besets the mystical life, of mistaking spiritual joy
for spiritual reality, desiring ‘consolations’ and ‘illuminations’ for
their own sake, and resting in the gift instead of the Giver. “Though he
who dedicates himself to love ever experiences great joy, he must never
seek this joy.” All those tendencies grouped by St. John of the Cross
under the disagreeable name of ‘spiritual gluttony,’ those further
temptations to self-indulgent quietism which are but an insidious form of
sloth, are waiting to entrap the self on the Illuminative Way. But there
is a way beyond this, another ‘Coming of the Bridegroom,’ which
Ruysbroeck describes as ‘eternally safe and sure.’ This is the way of
pain and deprivation; when the Presence of God seems to be withdrawn, and
the fatigue and reaction consequent on the violent passions and energies
of the illuminated state make themselves felt as a condition of misery,
aridity and impotence,—all, in fact, that the Christian mystics mean by
the ‘Spiritual Death’ or ‘Dark Night of the Soul,’ and which Ruysbroeck’s
contemporaries, the Friends of God, called ‘the upper school of perfect

The mirror is now to be cleansed of all false reflections, all beautiful
prismatic light; the thoughts stripped bare of the consolations they have
enjoyed. Summer is over, and autumn begins; when the flowers indeed die
down, but the fruits which they heralded are ripe. Now is the time when
man can prove the stuff of which he is made; and the religious amorist,
the false mystic, is distinguished from the heroic and long-suffering
servant of God. “In this season is perfected and completed all the work
that the sun has accomplished during the year. In the same manner, when
Christ the glorious Sun has risen to His zenith in the heart of man and
then begins to descend, and to hide the radiance of His Divine light, and
to abandon the man; then the impatience and ardour of love grow less. And
this concealment of Christ, and this withdrawal of His light and heat,
are the first working and the new coming of this degree. And now Christ
says spiritually within the man: ‘Go forth, in the way which I now teach
you.’ And the man goes forth, and finds himself poor, wretched and
abandoned. And here the tempest, the ardour, the impatience of love grows
cold; and the hot summer becomes autumn, and its riches turn to great
poverty. Then man begins to lament in his distress—where now has gone
that ardent love, that intimacy, that gratitude, that all-sufficing
adoration? And that interior consolation, that intimate joy, that
sensible savour, how has he lost all this?”[47]

The veil that had seemed so transparent now thickens again; the
certitudes that made life lovely all depart. Small wonder if the tortured
spirit of the mystic fails to recognise this awful destitution as a
renewed caress from the all-demanding Lover of the Soul; an education in
courage, humility and selflessness; a last purification of the will. The
state to which that self is being led is a renewed self-donation on new
and higher levels: one more of those mystical deaths which are really
mystical births; a giving-up, not merely of those natural tastes and
desires which were disciplined in the Active Life, but of the higher
passions and satisfactions of the spirit too. He is to be led to a state
of such complete surrender to the Divine purposes that he is able to say:
“Lord, not my will according to nature, but Thy will and my will
according to spirit be done.” The darkness, sorrow and abandonment
through which this is accomplished are far more essential to his
development than the sunshine and happiness that went before. It is not
necessary, says Ruysbroeck, that all should know the ecstasies of
illumination; but by this dark stairway every man who would attain to God
must go.

When man has achieved this perfect resignation and all tendency to
spiritual self-seeking is dead, the September of the soul is come. The
sun has entered the sign of the Balance, when days and nights are equal;
for now the surrendered self has achieved equilibrium, and endures in
peace and steadfastness the alternations of the Divine Dark and Divine
Light. Now the harvest and the vintage are ripe: “That is to say, all
those inward and outward virtues, which man has practised with delight in
the fire of love, these, now that he knows them and is able to accomplish
them, he shall practise diligently and dutifully and offer them to God.
And never were they so precious in His sight: never so noble and so fair.
And all those consolations which God gave him before, he will gladly give
up, and will empty himself for the glory of God. This is the harvest of
the wheat and the many ripe fruits which make us rich in God, and give to
us Eternal Life. Thus are the virtues perfected; and the absence of
consolation is turned to an eternal wine.”[48]

                              CHAPTER VII

  _Lume è lassu, che visibile face_
    _lo Creatore a quella creatura_
    _che solo in lui vedere ha la sua pace._

                                                      Par, xxx. 100.

  And the Light floweth forth in similitude, and indraweth Itself in
  unity; which we perceive, beyond the reason, in that high point of our
  understanding which is bare and turned within.

                                                  The Twelve Béguines.

The soul which has endured with courage and humility the anguish of the
Dark Night, actualising within its own experience the double rhythm of
love and renunciation, now enters upon a condition of equilibrium; in
which it perceives that all its previous adventures and apprehensions
were but episodes of growth, phases in the long preparation of character
for those new levels of life on which it is now to dwell.

Three points, says Ruysbroeck, must characterise the truly interior man.
First, his mind must be detached from its natural inclination to rest in
images and appearances, however lovely; and must depend altogether upon
that naked Absence of Images, which is God. This is the ‘ascent to the
Nought’ preached by the Areopagite. Secondly, by means of his spiritual
exercises, his progressive efforts to correspond with that Divine Life
ever experienced by him with greater intensity, he must have freed
himself from all taint of selfhood, all personal desire; so that in true
inward liberty he can lift himself up unhindered towards God, in a spirit
of selfless devotion. Plainly, the desolations of the Dark Night are
exactly adapted to the production within the self of these two
characters; which we might call purity of intelligence and purity of
will. Directly resulting from their actualisation, springs the third
point: the consciousness of inward union with God.[49] This consciousness
of union, which we must carefully distinguish from the _Unity_ that is
Ruysbroeck’s name for the last state of the transfigured soul, is the
ruling character of that state of equilibrium to which we have now come;
and represents the full achievement of the Interior Life.

In many of his works, under various images, Ruysbroeck tries to tell us
what he means by this inward union with God, this ‘mutual inhabitation,’
as he calls it in one passage of great beauty, which is the goal of the
‘Second Life.’ He reminds us again of that remote point of the spirit,
that ‘apex’ of our being, where our life touches the Divine Life; where
God’s image ‘lives and reigns.’ With the cleansing of the heart and mind,
the heightening and concentration of the will, which the disciplines of
the Active Life and Dark Night have effected, this supreme point of the
spirit is brought at last within the conscious field. Then man feels and
knows the presence there of an intense and creative vitality, an Eternal
Essence, from which all that is worth having in his selfhood flows. This
is the Life-giving Life (_Levende Leven_), where the created and
Uncreated meet and are one: a phrase, apparently taken by Ruysbroeck from
St. Bernard, which aptly expresses an idea familiar to all the great
contemplatives. It is the point at which man’s separate spirit, as it
were, emerges from the Divine Spirit: the point through which he must at
last return to his Source. Here the Father has impressed His image, the
Son is perpetually born, the Spirit wells up;[50] and here the Divine
Unity dwells and calls him to the One. Here Eternity and Time are
intertwined. Here springs the fountain of ‘Living Water’—grace,
transcendent vitality—upon which the mystic life of man depends.

Now the self, because it is at last conformed to the demands of the
spiritual world, feels new powers from this life-giving source streaming
into all departments of its being. The last barriers of self-will are
broken; and the result is an inrush of fresh energy and light. Whereas in
the ‘First Life’ God fed and communed with him by ‘means,’ and was
revealed under images appropriate to a consciousness still immersed in
the world of appearance; now man receives these gifts and messages, makes
his contacts with Reality, ‘without means,’ or ‘by grace’—_i.e._ in a
spiritual and interior manner. Those ‘lightning flashes from the face of
Divine Love,’ those abrupt and vivid intuitions which he enjoyed during
illumination, have given way before the steady shining of the Uncreated
Light. Though light-imagery is never long absent from Ruysbroeck’s pages,
it is, however, the spring of Living Water ever welling up, the rills or
brooks which flow from it, and take its substance to the farthest
recesses of the thirsty land, which seems to him the best image of this
new inpouring of life. He uses it in all his chief works, perhaps most
successfully in _The Spiritual Marriage_. Faithful to the mediæval
division of personality into Memory or Mind, Intelligence or
Understanding, and Will,—influenced too by his deep conviction that all
Divine activity is threefold in type,—he describes the Well-spring as
breaking into three Brooks of Grace, which pour their waters into each
department of the self. The duct through which these waters come, ‘living
and foaming’ from the deeps of the Divine Riches, is the Eternal Christ;
who ‘comes anew’ to the purified soul, and is the immediate source of its
power and happiness.

The first of the brooks which flow from Him is called ‘Pure Simplicity.’
It is a ‘simple light,’ says Ruysbroeck in another place; the white
radiance of Eternity which, streaming into the mind, penetrates
consciousness from top to bottom, and unifies the powers of the self
about the new and higher centre now established. This simple light, in
which we see things as they are—and therefore see that only one thing
truly _is_—delivers us from that slavery to the multiplicity of things,
which splits the attention and makes concentration upon Reality
impossible to the soul. The achievement of such mental simplicity,
escaping the prismatic illusion of the world, is the first condition of
contemplation. “Thanks to this simple light which fills him, the man
finds himself to be unified, established, penetrated and affirmed in the
unity of his mind or thought. And thereby he is uplifted and established
in a _new condition_; and he turns inward upon himself, and stays his
mind upon the Nudity, above all the pressure of sensual images, above all

The second stream which pours out from that Transcendent Life is a
‘Spiritual Clarity,’ which illuminates the intelligence and shows it all
good. This clarity is a new and heightened form of intuition: a lucid
understanding, whereby the self achieves clear vision of its own life,
and is able to contemplate the sublime richness of the Divine Nature;
gazing upon the mystery of the Trinity, and finding everywhere the
Presence of God. Those who possess this light do not need ecstasies and
revelations—sudden uprushes towards the supernal world—for their life and
being is established in that world, above the life of sense. They have
come to that state which Eckhart calls ‘finding all creatures in God and
God in all creatures.’ They see things at last in their native purity.
The heart of that vision, says Ruysbroeck, is their perception of “the
unmeasured loyalty of God to His creation”—one of his deepest and most
beautiful utterances—“and therefrom springs a deep inward joy of the
spirit, and a high trust in God; and this inward joy embraces and
penetrates all the powers of the soul, and the most secret part of the

The third Brook of Grace irrigates the conative powers of the self;
strengthens the will in all perfection, and energises us anew. “Like
fire, this brook enkindles the will, and swallows up and absorbs all
things in the unity of the spirit ... and now Christ speaks inwardly in
the spirit by means of this burning brook, saying, ‘Go forth, in
exercises proper to this gift and this coming.’ By the first brook, which
is a _Simple Light_, the Mind is freed from the invasions of the senses,
and grounded and affirmed in spiritual unity. And by the second brook,
which is a _Spreading Light_, the Reason and Understanding are
illuminated, that they may know and distinguish all manner of virtues and
exercises, and the mysteries of Scripture. And by the third brook, which
is an _Infused Heat_, the heights of the Will are enkindled with quiet
love and adorned with great riches. And thus does man become spiritually
illuminate; for the grace of God dwells like a fountain-head in the unity
of his spirit, and the brooks cause a flowing forth of all virtues from
the powers of the soul. And the fountain-head of grace demands a
back-flowing into that same ground from whence the flood has come.”[53]

So the Interior Life, now firmly established, is found to conform to
those great laws which have guided the growing spirit from the first.
Again, the dual property of love, possession and action, satisfaction and
fecundity, is to be manifested upon new levels. The pendulum motion of
life, swinging between the experience of union with God to which ‘the
Divine Unity ever calls us,’ and its expression in active charity to
which the multiplicity of His creatures and their needs ever entreat us,
still goes on. The more richly and strongly the life-giving Life wells up
within the self, the greater are the demands made upon that self’s
industry and love. In the establishment of this balance, in this
continual healthy act of alternation, this double movement into God and
out to men, is the proof that the soul has really centred itself upon the
spiritual world—is, as Ruysbroeck puts it, confirmed in love. “Thus do
work and union perpetually renew themselves; and this renewal in work and
in union, _this_ is a spiritual life.”[54]

Now the self which has achieved this degree of transcendence has
achieved, too, considerable experience in that art of contemplation or
introversion which is the mode of its communion with God. Throughout,
training and development have gone hand in hand; and the fact that
Ruysbroeck seldom troubles to distinguish between them, but accepts them
as two aspects of one thing—the gradual deification of the
soul—constitutes one of the great obstacles to an understanding of his
works. Often he describes the whole spiritual life as consisting in
introversion, an entering of consciousness into the supersensuous regions
beyond thought; in defiance of his own principle of active charity,
movement, work, as the essential reaction to the universe which
distinguishes a ‘deified’ man. The truth is that the two processes run
side by side; and now one, now the other, is in the foreground of his
thought. Therefore all that I shall now say of the contemplative art must
be understood as describing acts and apprehensions taking place
throughout the whole course of the Interior Life.

What, then, is introversion? It is one of the two great modes under which
the spiritual consciousness works. Plainly, any living sense of God’s
presence must discern that Circle whose centre is everywhere, as both
exterior and interior to the self. In Ruysbroeck’s own works we find a
violent effort to express this ineffable fact of omnipresence, of a truly
Transcendent yet truly Immanent Reality; an effort often involving a
collision of imagery. God, he says, may be discovered at the soul’s apex,
where He ‘eternally lives and reigns’; and the soul itself dwells _in_
God, ebbing and flowing, wandering and returning, within that Fathomless
Ground. Yet none the less He comes to that soul from without; pouring in
upon it like sunshine, inundating it with torrents of grace, seizing the
separate entity and devouring whilst He feeds it; flashing out upon it in
a tempest of love from the Empyrean Heaven, the Abyss of Being, where He
dwells. “Present, yet absent; near, yet far!” exclaims St. Augustine.
“Thou art the sky, and Thou art the nest as well!” says the great mystic
poet of our own day.

Whilst nearly all the mystics have possessed clear consciousness of this
twofold revelation of the Divine Nature, and some have experienced by
turns the ‘outward and upward’ rush and the inward retreat,
temperamentally they usually lean towards one or other form of communion
with God,—ecstasy or introversion. For one class, contact with Him seems
primarily to involve an outgoing flight towards Transcendent Reality; an
attitude of mind strongly marked in all contemplatives who are near to
the Neoplatonic tradition—Plotinus, St. Basil, St. Macarius—and also in
Richard Rolle and a few other mediæval types. These would agree with
Dionysius the Areopagite that “we must contemplate things divine by our
whole selves standing _out_ of our whole selves.” For the other class,
the first necessity is a retreat of consciousness from the periphery,
where it touches the world of appearance, to the centre, the Unity of
Spirit or ‘Ground of the Soul,’ where human personality buds forth from
the Essential World. True, this inturning of attention is but a
preliminary to the self’s entrance upon that same Transcendent Region
which the ecstatic claims that he touches in his upward flights. The
introversive mystic, too, is destined to ‘sail the wild billows of the
Sea Divine’; but here, in the deeps of his nature, he finds the door
through which he must pass. Only by thus discovering the unity of his own
nature can he give himself to that ‘tide of light’ which draws all things
back to the One.

Such is Ruysbroeck’s view of contemplation. This being so, introversion
is for him an essential part of man’s spiritual development. As the Son
knows the Father, so it is the destiny of all spirits created in that
Pattern to know Him; and the mirror which is able to reflect that Divine
Light, the Simple Eye which alone can bear to gaze on it, lies in the
deeps of human personality. The will, usually harnessed to the
surface-consciousness, devoted to the interests of temporal life; the
love, so freely spent on unreal and imperfect objects of desire; the
thought which busies itself on the ceaseless analysis and arrangement of
passing things—all these are to be swept inwards to that gathering-point
of personality, that Unity of the Spirit, of which he so often speaks;
and there fused into a single state of enormously enhanced consciousness,
which, withdrawn from all attention to the changeful world of
‘similitudes,’ is exposed to the direct action of the Eternal World of
spiritual realities. The pull of Divine Love—the light that ever flows
back into the One—is to withdraw the contemplative’s consciousness from
multiplicity to unity. His progress in contemplation will be a progress
towards that complete mono-ideism in which the Vision of God—and here
_vision_ is to be understood in its deepest sense as a totality of
apprehension, a ‘ghostly sight’—dominates the field of consciousness to
the exclusion, for the time of contemplation, of all else.

Psychologically, Ruysbroeck’s method differs little from that described
by St. Teresa. It begins in recollection, the first drawing inwards of
attention from the world of sense; passes to meditation, the centring of
attention on some intellectual formula or mystery of faith; and thence,
by way of graduated states, variously divided and described in his
different works, to contemplation proper, the apprehension of God ‘beyond
and above reason.’ All attempts, however, to map out this process, or
reduce it to a system, must necessarily have an arbitrary and symbolic
character. True, we are bound to adopt some system, if we describe it at
all; but the dangers and limitations of all formulas, all concrete
imagery, where we are dealing with the fluid, living, changeful world of
spirit, should never be absent from our minds. The bewildering and often
inconsistent series of images and numbers, arrangements and
rearrangements of ‘degrees,’ ‘states,’ ‘stirrings,’ and ‘gifts,’ in which
Ruysbroeck’s sublime teachings on contemplation are buried, makes the
choice of some one formula imperative for us; though none will reduce his
doctrines to a logical series, for he is perpetually passing over from
the dialectic to the lyrical mood, and forgets to be orderly as soon as
he begins to be subjective. I choose, then, to base my classification on
that great chapter (xix.) in _The Seven Cloisters_, where he
distinguishes three stages of contemplation; finding in them the
responses of consciousness to the special action of the Three Persons of
the Blessed Trinity. These three stages in the soul’s apprehension of
God, are: the Emotional, the Intellectual, the Intuitive. I think that
most of the subtly distinguished interior experiences of the mystic, the
‘comings’ of the Divine Presence, the ‘stirrings’ and contacts which he
describes in his various books, can be ranged under one or other of them.

1. First comes that loving contemplation of the ‘uplifted heart’ which is
the work of the Holy Spirit, the consuming fire of Divine Love. This
ardent love, invading the self, and satisfying it in that intimate
experience of personal communion so often described in the writings of
the mystics, represents the self’s first call to contemplation and first
natural response; made with “so great a joy and delight of soul and body,
in his uplifted heart, that the man knoweth not what hath befallen him,
nor how he may endure it.” For Ruysbroeck this purely emotional reaction
to Reality, this burning flame of devotion—which seemed to Richard Rolle
the essence of the contemplative life—is but its initial phase. It
corresponds with—and indeed generally accompanies—those fever-heats,
those ‘tempests’ of impatient love endured by the soul at the height of
the Illuminative Way. Love, it is true, shall be from first to last the
inspiring force of the contemplative’s ascents: his education is from one
point of view simply an education in love. But this love is a passion of
many degrees; and the ‘urgency felt in the heart,’ the restlessness and
hunger of this spiritual feeling-state, is only its lowest form. The love
which burns like white fire on the apex of the soul, longs for sacrifice,
inspires heroic action, and goes forward without fear, ‘holy, strong and
free,’ to brave the terrors of the Divine Dark, is of another temper than
this joyful sentiment.

2. A loving stretching out into God, and an intellectual gazing upon Him,
says Ruysbroeck, in a passage which I have already quoted, are the ‘two
heavenly pipes’ in which the wind of the Spirit sings. So the next phase
in the contemplative’s development is that enhancement of the intellect,
the power of perceiving, as against desiring and loving Reality, which is
the work of the Logos, the Divine Wisdom. As the cleansed and detached
heart had been lifted up to _feel_ the Transcendent; now the
understanding, stripped of sense-images, purged of intellectual
arrogance, clarified by grace, is lifted up to _apprehend_ it. This
degree has two phases. First, that enlargement of the understanding to an
increased comprehension of truth, the finding of deeper and diviner
meanings in things already known, which Richard of St. Victor called
_mentis dilatatio_. Next, that further uplift of the mind to a state in
which it is able to contemplate things above itself whilst retaining
clear self-consciousness, which he called _mentis sublevatio_.
Ruysbroeck, however, inverts the order given by Richard; for him the
uplift comes first, the dilation of consciousness follows from it. This
is a characteristic instance of the way in which he uses the Victorine
psychology; constantly appropriating its terms but never hesitating to
modify, enrich or misuse them as his experience or opinions may dictate.

The first phase of Intellectual Contemplation, then, is a lifting of the
mind to a swift and convincing vision of Reality: one of those sudden,
incommunicable glimpses of Truth so often experienced early in the
contemplative’s career. The veil parts, and he sees a “light and vision,
which give to the contemplating spirit a conscious certitude that she
sees God, so far as man may see Him in mortal life.”[55] That strange
mystical light of which all contemplatives speak, and which Ruysbroeck
describes in a passage of great subtlety as ‘the intermediary between the
seeing thought and God,’ now floods his consciousness. In it “the Spirit
of the Father speaks in the uplifted thought which is bare and stripped
of images, saying, ‘Behold Me as I behold thee.’ Then the pure and single
eyes are strengthened by the inpouring of that clear Light of the Father,
and they behold His face, in a simple vision, beyond reason, and without

It might be thought that in this ‘simple vision’ of Supreme Reality, the
spirit of the contemplative reached its goal. It has, indeed, reached a
point at which many a mystic stops short. I think, however, that a
reference to St. Augustine, whose influence is so strongly marked in
Ruysbroeck’s works, will show what he means by this phase of
contemplation; and the characters which distinguish it from that infused
or unitive communion with God which alone he calls _Contemplatio_. In the
seventh book of his _Confessions_, Augustine describes just such an
experience as this. By a study of the books of the Platonists he had
learned the art of introversion, and achieved by its aid a fleeting
‘Intellectual Contemplation’ of God; in his own words, a “hurried vision
of That which Is.” “Being by these books,” he says, “admonished to return
into myself, I entered into the secret closet of my soul, guided by Thee
... and beheld the Light that never changes, above the eye of my soul,
above the intelligence.”[57] It was by “the withdrawal of thought from
experience, its abstraction from the contradictory throng of sensuous
images,” that he attained to this transitory apprehension; which he
describes elsewhere as “the _vision_ of the Land of Peace, but not the
_road_ thereto.” But intellect alone could not bear the direct impact of
the terrible light of Reality; his “weak sight was dazzled by its
splendour,” he “could not sustain his gaze,” and turned back to that
humble discovery of the Divine Substance by means of Its images and
attributes, which is proper to the intellectual power.[58]

Now surely this is the psychological situation described by Ruysbroeck.
The very images used by Augustine are found again in him. The mind of the
contemplative, purified, disciplined, deliberately abstracted from
images, is inundated by the divine sunshine, “the Light which is not God,
but that whereby we see Him”; and in this radiance achieves a hurried but
convincing vision of Supreme Reality. But “even though the eagle, king of
birds, can with his powerful sight gaze steadfastly upon the brightness
of the sun; yet do the weaker eyes of the bat fail and falter in the
same.”[59] The intellectual vision is dazzled and distressed, like a man
who can bear the diffused radiance of sunshine but is blinded if he dares
to follow back its beams to the terrible beauty of their source. “Not for
this are my wings fitted,” says Dante, drooping to earth after his
supreme ecstatic flight. Because it cannot sustain its gaze, then, the
intelligence falls back upon the second phase of intellectual
contemplation: _Speculatio_, the deep still brooding in which the soul,
‘made wise by the Spirit of Truth,’ contemplates God and Creation as He
and it are reflected in the clear mirror of her intellectual powers,
under ‘images and similitudes’—the Mysteries of Faith, the Attributes of
the Divine Nature, the forms and manners of created things. As the Father
contemplates all things in the Son, ‘Mirror of Deity,’ so now does the
introverted soul contemplate Him in this ‘living mirror of her
intelligence’ on which His sunshine falls. Because her swift vision of
That which Is has taught her to distinguish between the ineffable Reality
and the Appearance which shadows it forth, she can again discover Him
under those images which once veiled, but now reveal His presence. The
intellect which has apprehended God Transcendent, if only for a moment,
has received therefrom the power of discerning God Immanent. “He shows
Himself to the soul in the living mirror of her intelligence; not as He
is in His nature, but in images and similitudes, and in the degree in
which the illuminated reason can grasp and understand Him. And the wise
reason, enlightened of God, sees clearly and without error in images of
the understanding all that she has heard of God, of faith, of truth,
according to her longing. But that image which is God Himself, although
it is held before her, she cannot comprehend; for the eyes of her
understanding must fail before that Incomparable Light.”[60]

In _The Kingdom of God’s Lovers_ Ruysbroeck pours forth a marvellous list
of the attributes under which the illuminated intelligence now
contemplates and worships That Which she can never comprehend; that
“Simple One in whom all multitude and all that multiplies, finds its
beginning and its end.” From this simple Being of the Godhead the
illuminated reason abstracts those images and attributes with which it
can deal, as the lower reason abstracts from the temporal flux the
materials of our normal universe. Such a loving consideration of God
under His attributes is the essence of meditation: and meditation is in
fact the way in which the intellectual faculties can best contemplate
Reality. But “because all things, when they are considered in their
inwardness, have their beginning and their ending in the Infinite
Being as in an Abyss,” here again the contemplative is soon led
above himself and beyond himself, to a point at which intellect and
‘consideration’—_i.e._ formal thought—fail him; because “here we touch
the Simple Nature of God.” When intellectual contemplation has brought
the self to this point, it has done its work; for it has “excited in the
soul an eager desire to lift itself up by contemplation into the
simplicity of the Light, that thereby its avid desire of infinite
fruition may be satisfied and fulfilled”;[61] _i.e._ it has performed the
true office of meditation, induced a shifting of consciousness to higher

We observe that the emphasis, which in the First Degree of Contemplation
fell wholly on feeling, in the Second Degree falls wholly upon knowledge.
We are not, however, to suppose from this that emotion has been left
behind. As the virtues and energies of the Active Life continue in the
Contemplative Life, so the ‘burning love’ which distinguished the first
stage of communion with the Transcendent, is throughout the source of
that energy which presses the self on to deeper and closer
correspondences with Reality. Its presence is presupposed in all that is
said concerning the development of the spiritual consciousness.
Nevertheless Ruysbroeck, though he cannot be accused of intellectualism,
is led by his admiration for Victorine ideas to lay great stress upon the
mental side of contemplation, as against those emotional reactions to the
Transcendent which are emphasised—almost to excess—by so many of the
saints. His aim was the lifting of the _whole man_ to Eternal levels: and
the clarifying of the intelligence, the enhancement of the understanding,
seemed to him a proper part of the deification of human nature, the
bringing forth in the soul’s ground of that Son who is the Wisdom of God
as well as the Pattern of Man. Though he moves amongst deep mysteries,
and in regions beyond the span of ordinary minds, there is always
apparent in him an effort towards lucidity of expression, sharp
definition, plain speech. Sometimes he is wild and ecstatic, pouring
forth his vision in a strange poetry which is at once uncouth and
sublime; but he is never woolly or confused. His prose passages owe much
of their seeming difficulty to the passion for exactitude which
distinguishes and classifies the subtlest movements of the spiritual
atmosphere, the delicately graded responses of the soul.

3. Now the Third Degree of Contemplation lifts the whole consciousness to
a plane of perception which transcends the categories of the intellect:
where it deals no longer with the label but with the Thing. It has passed
beyond image and also beyond thought; to that knowledge by contact which
is the essence of intuition, and is brought about by the higher powers of
love. Such contemplation is regarded by Ruysbroeck as the work of the
Father, “Who strips from the mind all forms and images and lifts up the
Naked Apprehension [_i.e._ intuition] into its Origin, that is
Himself.”[62] It is effected by concentration of all the powers of the
self into a single state ‘uplifted above all action, in a bare
understanding and love,’ upon that apex of the soul where no reason can
ever attain, and where the ‘simple eye’ is ever open towards God. There
the loving soul apprehends Him, not under conditions, ‘in some wise,’ but
as a _whole_, without the discrete analysis of His properties which was
the special character of intellectual contemplation; a synthetic
experience which is ‘in no wise.’ This is for Ruysbroeck the
contemplative act _par excellence_. It is ‘an intimacy which is
ignorance,’ a ‘simple seeing,’ he says again and again; “and the name
thereof is _Contemplatio_; that is, the seeing of God in simplicity.”[63]

“Here the reason no less than all separate acts must give way, for our
powers become simple in Love; they are silent and bowed down in the
Presence of the Father. And this revelation of the Father lifts the soul
above the reason into the Imageless Nudity. There the soul is simple,
pure, spotless, empty of all things; and it is in this state of perfect
emptiness that the Father manifests His Divine radiance. To this radiance
neither reason nor sense, observation nor distinction, can attain. All
this must stay below; for the measureless radiance blinds the eyes of the
reason, they cannot bear the Incomprehensible Light. But above the
reason, in the most secret part of the understanding, the _simple eye_ is
ever open. It contemplates and gazes at the Light with a pure sight that
is lit by the Light itself: eye to eye, mirror to mirror, image to image.
This threefold act makes us like God, and unites us to Him; for the sight
of the _simple eye_ is a living mirror, which God has made for His image,
and whereon He has impressed it.”[64]

Intuitive or infused contemplation is the form of communion with the
Transcendent proper to those who have grown up to the state of Union; and
feel and know the presence of God within the soul, as a love, a life, an
‘indrawing attraction,’ calling and enticing all things to the still
unachieved consummation of the Divine Unity. He who has reached this
pitch of introversion, and is able, in his spiritual exercises, to
withdraw himself thus to the most secret part of his spirit, feels—within
the Eternal Light which fills his mirror and is ‘united with it,’—this
perpetual demand of the Divine Unity, entreating and urging him towards a
total self-loss. In the fact that he knows this demand and impulsion as
other than himself, we find the mark which separates this, the highest
contemplation proper to the Life of Union, from that ‘fruitive
contemplation’ of the spirit which has died into God which belongs to the
Life of Unity.[65] When the work of transmutation is finished and he has
received the ‘Sparkling Stone of Divine Humanity,’ this subject-object
distinction—though really an eternal one, as Ruysbroeck continually
reminds us—will no longer be possible to his consciousness. Then he will
live at those levels to which he now makes impassioned ascents in his
hours of unitive prayer: will be immersed in the Beatific Vision on which
he now looks, and ‘lose himself in the Imageless Nudity.’

This is the clue to the puzzling distinction made by Ruysbroeck between
the contemplation which is ‘without conditions,’ and that which is
‘beyond and above conditions’ and belongs to the Superessential Life
alone. In Intuitive Contemplation the seeing self apprehends the
Unconditioned World, _Onwise_, and makes ‘loving ascents thereto.’ It
‘finds within itself the unwalled’; yet is still anchored to the
conditioned sphere. In Superessential Contemplation, it _dies into_ that
‘world which is in no wise.’ In the great chapter of _The Sparkling
Stone_[66] where he struggles to make this distinction clear, Ruysbroeck
says that the Friends of God (_i.e._ the Interior Men) “cannot with
themselves and all their works penetrate to that Imageless Nudity.”
Although they feel united with God, yet they feel in that union an
otherness and difference between themselves and God; and therefore “the
ascent into the Nought is unknown to them.” They feel themselves carried
up towards God in the tide of His all-subduing Fire of Love; but they
retain their selfhood, and may not be consumed and burned to nothing in
the Unity of Love. They do not yet desire to die into God, that they may
receive a deiform life from Him; but they are in the way which leads to
this fulfilment of their destiny, and are “following back the light to
its Origin.”

This following-back is one continuous process, in which we, for
convenience of description, have made artificial breaks. It is the thrust
of consciousness deeper and deeper into the heart of Reality. As in the
stream of physical duration, so in this ceaseless movement of the spirit,
there is a persistence of the past in the present, a carrying through and
merging of one state in the next. Thus the contemplation which is
‘wayless,’ the self’s intuitive communion with the Infinite Life and
Light, growing in depth and richness, bridges the gap which separates the
Interior and the Superessential Life.

We find in Ruysbroeck’s works indications of a transitional state, in
which the soul “is guided and lost, wanders and returns, ebbs and flows,”
within the ‘limitless Nudity,’ to which it has not yet wholly surrendered
itself. “And its seeing is in no wise, being without manner, and it is
neither thus nor thus, neither here nor there; for that which is in no
wise hath enveloped all, and the vision is made high and wide. It knows
not itself where That is which it sees; and it cannot come thereto, for
its seeing is in no wise, and passes on, beyond, for ever, and without
return. That which it apprehends it cannot realise in full, nor wholly
attain, for its apprehension is wayless, and without manner, and
therefore it is apprehended of God in a higher way than it can apprehend
Him. Behold! such a following of the Way that is Wayless, is intermediary
between contemplation in images and similitudes of the intellect, and
unveiled contemplation beyond all images in the Light of God.”[67]

                              CHAPTER VIII
                        THE SUPERESSENTIAL LIFE

  If, therefore, thou art become the throne of God and the Heavenly
  Charioteer hath seated Himself within thee, and thy soul is wholly
  become a spiritual eye and is wholly made into light; if, too, thou art
  nourished with the heavenly food of that Spirit and hast drunk of the
  Living Water and put on the secret vesture of light—if thine inward man
  has experienced all these things and is established in abundant faith,
  lo! thou livest indeed the Eternal Life and thy soul rests even in this
  present time with the Lord.

                                                St. Macarius of Egypt.

We have seen that Ruysbroeck, in common with a few other supreme mystics,
declares to us as veritably known and experienced by him, a universe of
three orders—Becoming, Being, God—and further, three ways of life whereby
the self can correspond to these three orders, and which he calls the
life of nature, the life of grace, the life of glory. ‘Glory,’ which has
been degraded by the usage of popular piety into a vague superlative, and
finally left in the hands of hymn-writers and religious revivalists, is
one of the most ancient technical terms of Christian mysticism. Of
Scriptural origin, from the fourth century to the fifteenth it was used
to denote a definite kind of enhanced life, a final achievement of
Reality—the unmediated radiance of God—which the gift of ‘divine sonship’
made possible to the soul. In the life of grace, that soul transcends
conditions in virtue of a Divine vitality poured in from the Absolute
Sphere, and actualises its true being, (_Wesen_); in the life of glory,
it becomes a denizen of that sphere, and achieves an existence that is
‘more than being’ (_Overwesen_). The note of the first state is
contemplation, awareness; the note of the second is fruition, possession.

That power of making ‘swift and loving ascents’ to the plane of _Onwise_
to which man attained at the end of the Interior Life, that conscious
harmony with the Divine Will which then became the controlling factor of
his active career, cannot be the end of the process of transcendence. The
soul now hungers and thirsts for a more intense Reality, a closer contact
with ‘Him who is measureless’; a deeper and deeper penetration into the
burning heart of the universe. Though contemplation seems to have reached
its term, love goes on, to ‘lose itself upon the heights.’ Beyond both
the conditioned and unconditioned world, beyond the Trinity Itself, that
love discerns its ultimate objective—the very Godhead, the Divine Unity,
“where all lines find their end”; where “we are satisfied and
overflowing, and with Him beyond ourselves eternally fulfilled.”[68] The
abiding life which is there discoverable, is not only ‘without manner’
but ‘above manner’—the ‘deified life,’ indescribable save by the oblique
methods of music or poetry, wherein, in Maeterlinck’s great phrase, “the
psychology of man mingles with the psychology of God.” All Ruysbroeck’s
most wonderful passages are concerned with the desperate attempt to tell
us of this ‘life,’ this utter fruition of Reality: which seems at one
time to involve for the contemplative consciousness a self-mergence in
Deity, so complete as to give colour to that charge of pantheism which is
inevitably flung at all mystics who try to tell what they have known; at
others, to represent rather the perfect consummation of that ‘union in
separateness’ which is characteristic of all true love.

This is but one instance of that perpetual and inevitable resort to
paradox which torments all who try to follow him along this ‘track
without shadow of trace’; for the goal towards which he is now enticing
us is one in which all the completing opposites of our fragmentary
experience find their bourne. Hence the rapid alternation of spatial and
personal symbols which confuses our industrious intellects, is the one
means whereby he can suggest its actuality to our hungry hearts.

As we observed in Ruysbroeck’s earlier teaching on contemplation three
distinct forms, in which the special work that theology attributes to the
three Divine Persons seemed to him to be reflected; now, in this
Superessential Contemplation, or Fruition, we find the work of the
Absolute Godhead Itself, energising upon a plane of intensity which so
utterly transcends our power of apprehension, that it seems to the
surface consciousness—as Dionysius the Areopagite had named it—a negation
of all things, a Divine Dark.

This Fruition, says Ruysbroeck, “is wild and desolate as a desert, and
therein is to be found no way, no road, no track, no retreat, no measure,
no beginning, no end, nor any other thing that can be told in words. And
this is for all of us Simple Blessedness, the Essence of God and our
superessence, above reason and beyond reason. To know it we must be in
it, beyond the mind and above our created being; in that Eternal Point
where all our lines begin and end, that Point where they lose their name
and all distinction, and become one with the Point itself, and that very
One which the Point is, yet nevertheless ever remain in themselves nought
else but lines that come to an end.”[69]

What, then, is the way by which the soul moves from that life of intense
contemplation in which the ‘spreading light’ of the Spirit shows her the
universe fulfilled with God, to this new transfigured state of joy and
terror? It is a way for which her previous adventures might have prepared
us. As each new ascent, new inflow of grace, was prepared by a time of
destitution and stress—as the compensating beats of love and renunciation
have governed the evolving melody of the inner life—so here a last death
of selfhood, a surrender more absolute than all that has gone before,
must be the means of her achievement of absolute life.

“Dying, and behold I live!” says Paul of his own attainment of supernal
life in Christ. Ruysbroeck, who never strays far from the vital and
heroic mysticism of the New Testament saints, can find no other language
for this last crisis of the spirit—its movement from the state of _Wesen_
to that of _Overwesen_—than the language of death. The ever-moving line,
though its vital character of duration continues, now seems to itself to
swoon into the Point; the separate entity which has felt the flood of
grace pour into it to energise its active career, and the ebb of
homeward-tending love draw it back towards the One, now feels itself
pouring into the Infinite Sea. Our personal activity, he says, has done
all that it can: as the separate career of Christ our Pattern closed with
His voluntary death, so the death of our selfhood on that apex of
personality where we have stretched up so ardently toward the Father,
shall close the separate career of the human soul and open the way to its
new, God-driven career, its resurrection-life. “None is sure of Eternal
Life unless he has died with all his own attributes wholly into
God”[70]—all else falls short of the demands of supreme generosity.

It is _The Book of the Sparkling Stone_ which contains Ruysbroeck’s most
wonderful descriptions of the consciousness peculiar to these souls who
have grown up to ‘the fulness of the stature of Christ’; and since this
is surely the finest and perhaps the least known of his writings, I offer
no apology for transcribing a long passage from its ninth chapter: ‘How
we may become the Hidden Sons of God.’

“When we soar up above ourselves, and become, in our upward striving
towards God, so simple, that the naked Love in the Heights can lay hold
on us, there where Love cherishes Love, above all activity and all virtue
(that is to say, in our Origin, wherefrom we are spiritually born)—then
we cease, and we and all that is our own die into God. And in this death
we become hidden Sons of God, and find in ourselves a new life, and that
is Eternal Life. And of these Sons, St. Paul says: ‘Ye are dead, and your
life is hid with Christ in God.’ In our approach to God we must bear with
us ourselves and all that we do, as a perpetual sacrifice to God; and in
the Presence of God we must leave ourselves and all our works, and, dying
in love, soar up above all created things into the Superessential Kingdom
of God. And of this the Spirit of God speaks in the Book of Hidden
Things, saying: ‘Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.’... If we
would _taste_ God, and feel in ourselves Eternal Life above all things,
we must go forth into God with a faith that is far above our reason, and
there dwell, simple, idle, without image, lifted up by love into the
Unwalled Bareness of our intelligence. For when we go out from ourselves
in love, and die to all observances in ignorance and darkness, then we
are made complete, and transfigured by the Eternal Word, Image of the
Father. And in this emptiness of spirit we receive the Incomprehensible
Light, which enfolds and penetrates us as air is penetrated by the light
of the sun; and this Light is nought else but a fathomless gazing and
seeing. What we are, that we gaze at; and what we gaze at, that we are.
For our thought, our life, our being, are lifted up in simplicity, and
united with the Truth, that is God. Therefore in this simple gazing we
are one life and one spirit with God—and this I call the _seeing

Such a passage as this lies beyond our poor attempts at analysis. Those
only will understand it who yield themselves to it; entering into its
current, as we enter into the music that we love. It tells us all it can
of this life which is ‘more than being,’ as _felt_ in the supreme
experience of love. Life and Death, Dark and Light, Idleness,
Bareness—these are but images of the feeling-states that accompany it.
But here, more than elsewhere in Ruysbroeck’s writings, we must remember
the peril which goes with all subjective treatment of mystical truth.
Each state which the unitive mystic experiences is so intense, that it
monopolises for the time being his field of consciousness. Writing under
the ‘pressure of the Spirit’ he writes of it—as indeed it seems to him at
the moment—as ultimate and complete. Only by a comparison of different
and superficially inconsistent descriptions of this enhanced life—which
must harmonise and fulfil _all_ the needs of our complex personality,
providing inexhaustible objectives for love, intelligence and will—can we
form any true idea concerning it.

When we do this, we discover that the side of it which _seems_ a static
beatitude, still Fruition, perfect Rest, is always balanced by the other
side; which _seems_ a perpetual and progressive attainment, a seeking and
finding, a hungering and feeding, a giving and taking. These coexist; as
the ever-renewed ‘coming of the Bridegroom,’ the welling-up of the
Spirit, the stormy, eager, unsatisfied love of the soul do as a matter of
experience coexist within that perfect and personal union wherein Love
and Fruition, as Ruysbroeck puts it, ‘live between action and rest.’ The
alternate consciousness of the line and the Point, the moving river and
the Sea, the relative and the Absolute, persists so long as consciousness
persists at all; it is no Christianised Nirvana into which he seeks to
induct us, but that mysterious synthesis of Being and Becoming, ‘eternal
stillness and eternal work’—a movement into God which is already a
complete achievement of Him—which certain other great mystics have
discerned beyond the ‘flaming ramparts’ of the common life.

The unbreakable unity with God, which constitutes the mark of the Third
Life, exists in the ‘essential ground of the soul’; where the river flows
into the Sea, the line into the Point; where the pendulum of self has its
attachment to Reality. _There_, the hidden child of the Absolute is ‘one
with God in restful fruition’; there, his deep intuition of Divine
things—that ‘Savouring Wisdom’ which is the last supreme gift of the
Spirit[72]—is able to taste and apprehend the sweetness of Infinite
Reality. But at the other end, where he still participates in the
time-process, where his love and will are a moving river, consciousness
hungers for that total Attainment still; and attention will swing between
these two extremes, now actualised within the living soul, which has put
on the dual character of ‘Divine Humanity’ and is living Eternal Life,
not in some far-off celestial region, but here, where Christ lived it, in
the entangled world of Time. Thus active self-mergence, incessant
re-birth into God, perpetual eager feeding on Him, is implicit in all
spiritual life. Even for the souls of the ‘deified,’ quietism is never
right. “For love cannot be lazy, but would search through and through,
and taste through and through, the fathomless kingdom that lives in her
ground; and this hunger shall _never_ be stilled.”[73]

The soul, whenever it attends to itself—withdraws itself, so to speak,
from the Divine Synthesis, dwells in itself, and beholds instead of
being—feels again the ‘eternal unrest of love’; the whip of the Heavenly
Charioteer, driving all spirits in towards the heart of God, where they
are ‘one fire with Him.’ “This stirring, that mediates between ourselves
and God, we can never pass beyond; and what that stirring is in its
essence, and what love is in itself, we can never know.”[74] But when it
dwells beyond itself, and in the supreme moments of ecstasy merges its
consciousness in the Universal Consciousness, it transcends succession
and centres itself in the Divine Selfhood—the ‘still, glorious, and
absolute One-ness.’ Then it feels, not hunger but satisfaction, not
desire but fruition; and knows itself beyond reason ‘one with the abysmal
depth and breadth,’ in “a simple fathomless savouring of all good and of
Eternal Life. And in this savouring we are swallowed up, above reason and
beyond reason, in the deep Quiet of the Godhead which is never

Such experiences however, such perfect fruition, in which the self dies
into the overwhelming revelation of the Transcendent, and its rhythm is
merged in the Divine Rhythm, cannot be continuous for those still living
in the flesh. There is in Ruysbroeck no foolish insistence on any
impossible career of ceaseless ecstasy; but a robust acceptance of the
facts and limitations of life. Man cannot, he says, “perpetually
contemplate with attention the superessential Being of God in the Light
of God. But whosoever has attained to the gift of Intelligence [_i.e._
the sixth of the Seven Gifts of the Spirit] attains this power, which
becomes habitual to him; and whensoever he will, he can wholly absorb
himself in this manner of contemplation, in so far as it is possible in
this life.”[76]

The superessential man, in fact, is, as Francis Thompson said of the
soul, a

  “... swinging-wicket set
  The Unseen and Seen.”

He is to move easily and at will between these two orders, both actual,
both God-inhabited, the complementary expressions of One Love;
participating both in the active, industrious, creative outflow in
differentiation, and the still indrawing attraction which issues in the
supreme experience of Unity. For these two movements the Active and
Interior Lives have educated him. The truly characteristic experience of
the Third Life is the fruition of that Unity or Simplicity in which they
are harmonised, beyond the balanced consciousness of the indrawing and
outdrawing tides.[77]

Ruysbroeck discerns three moments in this achievement. First, a negative
movement, the introversive sinking-down of our created life into God’s
absolute life, which is the consummation of self-naughting and surrender
and the essence of dark contemplation. Next, the positive ecstatic
stretching forth above reason into our ‘highest life,’ where we undergo
complete transmutation in God and feel ourselves wholly enfolded in Him.
Thirdly, from these ‘completing opposites’ of surrender and love springs
the perfect fruition of Unity, so far as we may know it here; when “we
feel ourselves to be one with God, and find ourselves transformed of God,
and immersed in the fathomless Abyss of our Eternal Blessedness, where we
can find no further separation between ourselves and God. So long as we
are lifted up and stretched forth into this height of feeling, all our
powers remain idle, in an essential fruition; for where our powers are
utterly naughted, there we lose our activity. And so long as we remain
idle, without observation, with outstretched spirit and open eyes, so
long can we see and have fruition. But in that same moment in which we
would test and comprehend _What_ that may be which we feel, we fall back
upon reason; and there we find distinction and otherness between God and
ourselves, and find God as an Incomprehensible One exterior to us.”[78]

It is clear from this passage that such ‘utterness’ of fruition is a
fleeting experience; though it is one to which the unitive mystic can
return again and again, since it exists as a permanent state in his
essential ground, ever discoverable by him when attention is focussed
upon it. Further, it appears that the ‘absence of difference’ between God
and the soul, which the mystic in these moments of ecstasy feels and
enjoys, is a psychological experience, not an absolute truth. It is the
only way in which his surface-mind is able to realise on the one side the
overwhelming apprehension of God’s Love, that ‘Yes’ in which all other
syllables are merged; on the other the completeness of his being’s
self-abandonment to the Divine embrace—“that Superessential Love with
which we are one, and which we possess more deeply and widely than any
other thing.”[79] It was for this experience that Thomas à Kempis prayed
in one of his most Ruysbroeckian passages: “When shall I at full gather
myself in Thee, that for Thy love I feel not myself, but Thee only, above
all feeling and all manner, in a _manner not known to all_?”[80] It is to
this same paradoxical victory-in-surrender—this apparent losing which is
the only real finding—that Francis Thompson invites the soul:

  “To feel thyself and be
  His dear nonentity—
  Beyond human thought

  In the thunder-spout of Him,
  Until thy being dim,
        And be
  Dead deathlessly.”

Now here it is, in these stammered tidings of an adventure ‘far outside
and beyond our spirit,’ in ‘the darkness at which reason gazes with wide
eyes,’[81] that we must look for the solution of that problem which all
high mystic states involve for analytic thought: how can the human soul
become one with God ‘without intermediary, beyond all separation,’[82]
yet remain eternally distinct from Him? How can the ‘deification,’ the
‘union with God without differentiation’ on which the great mystics
insist, be accepted, and pantheism be denied?

First, we notice that in all descriptions of Unity given us by the
mystics, there is a strong subjective element. Their first concern is
always with the experience of the heart and will, not with the deductions
made by the intelligence. It is at our own peril that we attach
ontological meaning to their convinced and vivid psychological
statements. Ruysbroeck in particular makes this quite clear to us; says
again and again that he has ‘_felt_ unity without difference and
distinction,’ yet that he _knows_ that ‘otherness’ has always remained,
and “that this is true we can only know by feeling it, and in no other

In certain great moments, he says, the purified and illuminated soul
which has died into God does achieve an Essential Stillness; which seems
to human thought a static condition, for it is that Eternal Now of the
Godhead which embraces in its span the whole process of Time. Here we
find nothing but God: the naked and ultimate Fact or Superessential Being
‘whence all Being has come forth,’ stripped of academic trimmings and
experienced in its white-hot intensity. Here, far beyond the range of
thought, unity and otherness, like hunger and fulfilment, activity and
rest, _can_ co-exist in love. The ultimate union is a love-union, says
Ruysbroeck. “The Love of God is a consuming Fire, which draws us out of
ourselves and swallows us up in unity with God, where we are satisfied
and overflowing, and with Him, beyond ourselves, eternally

This hungry and desirous love, at once a personal passion and a cosmic
force, drenches, transfigures and unites with the soul, as sunlight does
the air, as fire does the iron flung into the furnace; so that the molten
metal ‘changed into another glory’ is both iron and fire ‘ever distinct
yet ever united’—an antique image of the Divine Union which he takes
direct from a celebrated passage in St. Bernard’s works. “As much as is
iron, so much is fire; and as much as is fire, so much is iron; yet the
iron doth not become fire, nor the fire iron, but each retains its
substance and nature. So likewise the spirit of man doth not become God,
but is deified, and knows itself breadth, length, height and depth: and
as far as God is God, so far the loving spirit is made one with Him in
love.”[85] The iron, the air, represent our created essence; the fire,
the sunlight, God’s Essence, which is added to our own—our
_superessence_. The two are held in a union which, when we try to see it
under the symbolism of space, appears a mingling, a self-mergence; but,
when we feel it under the symbolism of personality, is a marriage in
which the lover and beloved are ‘distinct yet united.’ “Then are we one
being, one love, and one beatitude with God ... a joy so great and
special that we cannot even think of any other joy. For then one is one’s
self a Fruition of Love, and can and should want nothing beyond one’s

It follows from all this that when the soul, coming to the Fourth State
of Fruitive Love, enters into the Equilibrium which supports and
penetrates the flux, it does and must reconcile the opposites which have
governed the earlier stages of its career. The communion reached is with
a Wholeness; the life which flows from it must be a wholeness too. Full
surrender, harmonised with full actualisation of all our desires and
faculties; not some thin, abstract, vertical relation alone, but an
all-round expansion, a full, deep, rich giving and taking, a complete
correspondence with the infinitely rich, all-demanding and all-generous
God whose “love is measureless for it is Himself.” Thus Ruysbroeck
teaches that love static and love dynamic must coexist for us as for Him;
that the ‘eternal hunger and thirst’ of the God-demanding soul continues
within its ecstatic satisfaction; because, however deeply it may love and
understand, the Divine Excess will always baffle it. It is destined ‘ever
to go forward within the Essence of God,’ to grow without ceasing deeper
and deeper into this life, in “the eternal longing to follow after and
attain Him Who is measureless.” “And we learn this truth from His sight:
that all we taste, in comparison with that which remains out of our
reach, is no more than a single drop of water compared with the whole
sea.... We hunger for God’s Infinity, which we cannot devour, and we
aspire to His Eternity, which we cannot attain.... In this storm of love,
our activity is above reason and is in no wise. Love desires that which
is impossible to her; and reason teaches that love is within her rights,
but can neither counsel nor persuade her.”[87]

Hence an eternal desire and an eternal satisfaction are preserved within
the circle of the deified life. The full-grown self feels, in its most
intense degree, the double movement of the Divine Love and Light, the
flux and reflux; and in its perfect and ever-renewed responses to the
‘indrawing and outflowing attraction’ of that Tide, the complete
possession of the Superessential Life consists.

“The indrawing attraction drags us out of ourselves, and calls us to be
melted away and naughted in the Unity. And in this indrawing attraction
we feel that God wills that we should be His, and for this we must
abnegate ourselves and let our beatitude be accomplished in Him. But when
He attracts us by flowing out towards us, He gives us over to ourselves
and makes us free, and sets us in Time.”[88]

Thus is accomplished that paradoxical synthesis of ‘Eternal Rest and
Eternal Work’ which Ruysbroeck regards as the essential character of God,
and towards which the whole of his system has been educating the human
soul. The deified or ‘God-formed’ soul is for him the spirit in which
this twofold ideal is actualised: this is the Pattern, the Likeness of
God, declared in Christ our Archetype, towards which the Indwelling
Spirit presses the race. Though there are moments in which, carried away
as it seems by his almost intolerable ecstasy, he pushes out towards
‘that unwalled Fruition of God,’ where all fruition begins and ends,
where ‘one is all and all is one,’ and Man is himself a ‘fruition of
love’;[89] yet he never forgets to remind us that, as love is not love
unless it looks forward towards the creation of new life, so here, “when
love falls in love with love, and each is all to the other in possession
and in rest,” the _object_ of this ecstasy is not a permanent self-loss
in the Divine Darkness, a ‘slumbering in God,’ but a “new life of virtue,
such as love and its impulses demand.”[90] “To be a living, willing Tool
of God, wherewith God works what He will and how He will,” is the goal of
transcendence described in the last chapter of _The Sparkling Stone_.
“Then is our life a _whole_, when contemplation and work dwell in us side
by side, and we are perfectly in both of them at once”;[91] for then the
separate spirit is immersed in, and part of, the perpetual creative act
of the Godhead—the flowing forth and the drawing back, which have at
their base the Eternal Equilibrium, the unbroken peace, wherein “God
contemplates Himself and all things in an Eternal Now that has neither
beginning nor end.”[92] On that Unbroken Peace the spirit hangs; and
swings like a pendulum, in wide arcs of love and service, between the
Unconditioned and the Conditioned Worlds.

So the Superessential Life is the simple, the synthetic life, in which
man actualises at last all the resources of his complex being. The active
life of response to the Temporal Order, the contemplative life of
response to the Transcendent Order are united, firmly held together, by
that ‘eternal fixation of the spirit’; the perpetual willed dwelling of
the being of man within the Incomprehensible Abyss of the Being of God,
_qui est per omnia saecula benedictus_.

                          BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

                            I. Flemish Text

  _Werken van Jan van Ruusbroec_. Ed. J. David. 6 vols. (Maetschappy der
  Vlaemsche Bibliophilen). (Gent, 1858-68.)

This edition, based on the MSS. preserved at Brussels and Ghent, and the
foundation of all the best translations, is now rare. It may be consulted
at the British Museum.

A re-issue of the Flemish text is now in progress; the first volume being
_Jan van Ruysbroeck, Van den VII. Trappen_ (i.e. _The Seven Degrees of
Love_) _met Geert Groote’s latijnsche Vertaling_. Ed. Dom. Ph. Müller
(Brussels, 1911).

                            II. Translations

                               A. _Latin_

The chief works of Ruysbroeck were early translated into Latin, some
during their author’s lifetime, and widely circulated in this form. Three
of these early translations were printed in the sixteenth century: the
_De Ornatu Spiritualium Nuptiarum_ of Jordaens, at Paris, in 1512; and
the _De Septem Scalæ Divini Amoris Gradibus_ of Gerard Groot, together
with the _De Perfectione Filiorum Dei_ (i.e. _The Sparkling Stone_), at
Bologna, in 1538.

The standard Latin translation, however—indispensable to all students of
Ruysbroeck—is the great work of the Carthusian monk, Laurentius Surius:
_D. Joannis Rusbrochii Opera Omnia_ (Cologne, 1552).

This was reprinted in 1609 (the best edition), and again in 1692. It
contains all Ruysbroeck’s authentic works, and some that are doubtful; in
a translation singularly faithful to the sense of the original, though it
fails to reproduce the rugged sublimity, the sudden lapses into crude and
homely metaphor, so characteristic of his style.

                              B. _English_

  _The Book of the Twelve Béguines_ (the first sixteen chapters only).
  Translated from the Flemish, by John Francis (London, 1913).

A useful translation of one of Ruysbroeck’s most difficult treatises.

                              C. _French_

  _Œuvres de Ruysbroeck l’Admirable. Traduction du Flamand par les_
  Bénédictins de Saint Paul de Wisques.

    Vol. I.: _Le Miroir du Salut Éternel_; _Les Sept Clôtures_; _Les Sept
    Degrés de l’Êchelle d’Amour Spirituel_ (Brussels, 1912, in progress).

This edition, when completed, will form the standard text of Ruysbroeck
for those unable to read Flemish. The translation is admirably lucid, and
a short but adequate introduction is prefixed to each work.

  _L’Ornement des Noces Spirituelles. Traduit du Flamand par_ Maurice
  Maeterlinck (Brussels, 1900).

This celebrated book, still more its beautiful though unreliable
introduction, is chiefly responsible for the modern interest in
Ruysbroeck. The translation, exquisite as French prose, over-emphasises
the esoteric element in his teaching. Those unable to read Flemish should
check it by Lambert’s German text (see below).

  _Vie de Rusbroch suivie de son Traité des Sept Degrés de l’Amour.
  Traduction littérale du Texte Flamand-Latin, par_ R. Chamonal (Paris,
  1909). _Traité du Royaume des Amants de Dieu. Traduit par_ R. Chamonal
  (Paris, 1911). _De la Vraie Contemplation_ (i.e. _The Twelve
  Béguines_). _Traduit par_ R. Chamonal. 3 vols. (Paris, 1912).

These are the first volumes of a proposed complete translation; which is,
however, far from literal, and replaces the rough vigour of the original
by the insipid language of conventional French piety.

  _Livre des XII. Béguines ou de la Vraie Contemplation_ (first sixteen
  chapters only). _Traduit du Flamand, avec Introduction, par_ L’Abbé P.
  Cuylits (Brussels, 1909).

This also contains a French version of the _Vita_ of Pomerius. The
translator is specially successful in rendering the peculiar quality of
Ruysbroeck’s verse; but the statements in his introduction must be
accepted with reserve.

                              D. _German_

  _Drei Schriften des Mystikers Johann van Ruysbroeck, aus dem Vlämischen
  übersetzt von_ Franz A. Lambert (Leipzig, 1902).

A vigorous and accurate translation of _The Adornment of the Spiritual
Marriage_, _The Sparkling Stone_ and _The Book of Supreme Truth_.

Ruysbroeck translates better into German than into any other language;
and this volume is strongly recommended to all who can read that tongue.

                            III. Selections

  _Rusbrock l’Admirable: Œuvres Choisies. Traduit par_ E. Hello (Paris,

A series of short passages, paraphrased (_not_ translated) from the Latin
of Surius. There are two English versions of this unsatisfactory book,
the second being the best:

    _Reflections from the Mirror of a Mystic._ Translated by Earle
    Baillie (London, 1905).

    _Flowers of a Mystic Garden._ Translated by C. E. S. (London, 1912).

  _Life, Light, and Love: Selections from the German Mystics._ By the
  Very Rev. W. R. Inge, D.D., Dean of St. Paul’s (London, 1905).

Contains an abridged version of _The Adornment of the Spiritual

                        Biography and Criticism

                            (_A Selection_)

  Auger, A.—_De Doctrina et Meritis Joannis van Ruysbroeck_ (Louvain,

  Engelhardt, J. G. von.—_Richard von St. Victor und J. Ruysbroeck_
  (Erlangen, 1838).

Useful for tracing the correspondences between the Victorines and

  Maeterlinck, Maurice.—_Ruysbroeck and the Mystics._ Translated by Jane
  Stoddart (London, 1908).

An English version of the Introduction to _L’Ornement des Noces
Spirituelles_, above-mentioned; with many fine passages translated from
Ruysbroeck’s other works.

  Pomerius, H.—_De Origine Monasterii Viridisvallis una cum Vitis Joannis

Printed in _Analecta Bollandiana_, vol. iv. (Brussels, 1885). The chief
authority for all biographical facts.

  Scully, Dom Vincent.—_A Mediæval Mystic_ (London, 1910).

A biographical account, founded on Pomerius, with a short analysis of
Ruysbroeck’s works. Popular and uncritical.

  Vreese, Dr. W. L. de.—_Jean de Ruysbroeck_ (_Biographie Nationale de
  Belgique_, vol. xx.) (Brussels, 1907).

An important and authoritative article with analysis of all Ruysbroeck’s
works and full bibliography.

  ——_Bijdragen tot de Kennis van het Leven en de Werken van Jan van
  Ruusbroec_ (Gent, 1896).

Contains Gerard Naghel’s sketch of Ruysbroeck’s life, with other useful

  ——_De Handschriften van Jan van Ruusbroec’s Werken._ 2 vols. (Gent,

An important and scholarly study of the manuscript sources by the
greatest living authority.

Notices of Ruysbroeck will be found in the following works:—

  Auger, A.—_Étude sur les Mystiques des Pays Bas au Moyen Age_
  (_Académie Royale de Belgique_, vol. xlvi., 1892).

  Fleming, W. K.—_Mysticism in Christianity_ (London, 1913).

  Inge, Very Rev. W. R., D.D., Dean of St. Paul’s.—_Christian Mysticism_
  (London, 1899).

  Jones, Dr. Rufus M.—_Studies in Mystical Religion_ (London, 1909).

Applications of his doctrine to the spiritual life in:—

  Baker, Venerable Augustin.—_Holy Wisdom; or Directions for the Prayer
  of Contemplation_ (London, 1908).

  Blosius, F. V.—_Book of Spiritual Instruction_ (London, 1900); _A
  Mirror for Monks_ (London, 1901); _Comfort for the Faint-hearted_
  (London, 1903); _Sanctuary of the Faithful Soul_ (London, 1905).

  Denis the Carthusian.—_Opera Omnia_ (Monstrolii, 1896), in progress.

  Petersen, Gerlac.—_The Fiery Soliloquy with God_ (London, 1872).

  Poulain, Aug., S.J.—_The Graces of Interior Prayer_ (London, 1910).

  Underhill, E.—_Mysticism_, 5th ed. (London, 1914).


Much light is thrown on Ruysbroeck’s doctrine by a study of the authors
who influenced him; especially:

  St. Augustine; Migne, _P.L._, xxvii.-xlvii.; Eng. Trans., edited by M.
  Dods (Edinburgh, 1876).

  Dionysius the Areopagite; Migne, _P.G._, iii., iv.; Eng. Trans., by
  Parker (Oxford, 1897).

  Hugh and Richard of St. Victor; Migne, _P.L._, clxxv.-clxxvii. and

  St. Bernard; Migne, _P.L._, clxxxii.-clxxxv.; Eng. Trans., by Eales
  (London, 1889-96).

  St. Thomas Aquinas; _Opera_ (Romæ, 1882-1906); Eng. Trans., by the
  Dominican Fathers (in progress).

  St. Bonaventura; _Opera_ (Paris, 1864-71).

  Meister Eckhart; _Schriften und Predigten_ (Leipzig, 1903).

  Suso; _Schriften_, ed. Denifle (Munich, 1876). Eng. Trans., _Life_, ed.
  by W. R. Inge (London, 1913); _Book of Eternal Wisdom_ (London, 1910).

  Tauler, _Predigten_ (Prague, 1872); Eng. Trans., _Twenty-five Sermons_,
  trans. by Winkworth (London, 1906); _The Inner Way_, edited by A. W.
  Hutton (London, 1909).


[1]The _Vita_ of Pomerius is printed in the _Analecta Bollandiana_, vol.
   iv. pp. 257 ff.

[2]_The Book of Supreme Truth_, cap. iv.

[3]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. vii.

[4]_Vita_, cap. xv.

[5]De Vreese has identified 160 Flemish and 46 Latin MSS. of Ruysbroeck.

[6]_The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. ii. cap. xxxvii.

[7]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. xiv.

[8]_The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. ii. cap. xxxvii.

[9]_Op. cit._, _ibid._

[10]_The Seven Degrees of Love_, cap. xiv.

[11]_The Kingdom of God’s Lovers_, cap. xxix.

[12]_The Mirror of Eternal Salvation_, cap. viii.

[13]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. ix.

[14]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. xiv.

[15]_The Book of Truth_, cap. xi.

[16]_The Mirror of Eternal Salvation_, cap. xvii.

[17]_Op. cit._, cap. vii.

[18]_The Sparkling Stone_, cap. x.

[19]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. xiv.

[20]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. xiii.

[21]_The Seven Degrees of Love_, cap. xiv.

[22]_The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. iii. cap. i.

[23]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. xvi.

[24]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. xii.

[25]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. viii.

[26]_The Seven Degrees of Love_, cap. i.

[27]_The Mirror of Eternal Salvation_, cap. xvi.

[28]_The Sparkling Stone_, cap. vi.

[29]_The Mirror of Eternal Salvation_, cap. vii.

[30]_The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. i. cap. xiv.

[31]_The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. i. capp. xii.-xxiv.

[32]_The Kingdom of God’s Lovers_, cap. xviii.

[33]_The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. i. cap. xxvi.

[34]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. vii.

[35]_The Sparkling Stone_, cap. vii.

[36]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. ix.

[37]_The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. ii. cap. iv.

[38]Cf. _The Twelve Béguines_, cap. x.

[39]_The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. ii. cap. xix.; _The Book of Truth_,
   cap. ix.

[40]_The Seven Degrees of Love_, cap. xiv.

[41]_The Kingdom of God’s Lovers_, cap. xx.

[42]_The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. ii. cap. xxiii.

[43]_Op. cit._, lib. ii. cap. xxvii.

[44]_The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. ii. cap. xxiv.

[45]Richard Rolle; _The Mending of Life_, cap. xii. (Harford’s edition,
   p. 82).

[46]_The Kingdom of God’s Lovers_, cap. xxv.

[47]_The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. ii. cap. xxviii.

[48]_The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. ii. cap. xxix.

[49]_The Sparkling Stone_, cap. ii.

[50]Cp. _The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. ii. cap. lvii.

[51]_The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. ii. cap. xxxvi.

[52]_The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. ii. cap. xxxviii.

[53]_The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. ii. cap. xxxix.

[54]_The Sparkling Stone_, cap. ii.

[55]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. xi.

[56]_Loc. cit._

[57]St. Augustine, _Confessions_, lib. vii. cap. x.

[58]St. Augustine, _Confessions_, lib. vii. capp. xvii. and xx.

[59]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. xii.

[60]_Loc. cit._

[61]_The Kingdom of God’s Lovers_, cap. xxxiv.

[62]_The Seven Cloisters_, cap. xix.

[63]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. xii.

[64]_The Mirror of Eternal Salvation_, cap. xvii.

[65]_The Sparkling Stone_, cap. iii.

[66]Cap. viii.: ‘Of the Difference between the Secret Friends and the
   Hidden Sons of God.’

[67]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. xii.

[68]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. xvi.

[69]_The Seven Cloisters_, cap. xix.

[70]_The Sparkling Stone_, cap. viii.

[71]_The Sparkling Stone_, cap. ix.

[72]_The Kingdom of God’s Lovers_; cap. xxxiii.

[73]_The Sparkling Stone_, cap. ix.; cp. also _The Twelve Béguines_, cap.

[74]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. xvi.

[75]_The Sparkling Stone_, cap. ix.; cp. also _The Book of Truth_, cap.

[76]_The Kingdom of God’s Lovers_, cap. xxxi.

[77]_The Book of Truth_, cap. xii.

[78]_The Sparkling Stone_, cap. x.

[79]_Op. cit._ cap. ix.

[80]_The Imitation of Christ_, lib. iii. cap. xxiii.

[81]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. xiv., and _The Sparkling Stone_, cap. ix.

[82]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. xvi.

[83]_The Sparkling Stone_, cap. ix.; cp. _The Book of Truth_, cap. xi.

[84]_The Twelve Béguines_, cap. xvi.

[85]_Ibid._ cap. xiv.; cp. St. Bernard, _De Diligendo Deo_, cap. x. The
   same image is found in St. Macarius and many other writers.

[86]_The Sparkling Stone_, cap. xii.

[87]_The Sparkling Stone_, cap. x.

[88]_The Sparkling Stone_, cap. x.

[89]_Op. cit._ cap. xii.

[90]_Op. cit._ cap. xiii.; cp. also _The Seven Degrees_, cap. xiv.

[91]_The Sparkling Stone_, cap. xiv.

[92]_The Spiritual Marriage_, lib. iii. cap. v.

                              _Printed by_
                        Morrison & Gibb Limited

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