Extratos de Aspects of Christian mysticism
Many critics of mysticism have alleged that the only pathway to the universal, acknowledged by the mystic, is that of the negation of the individual. As we have had occasion to observe already, this is a pure misapprehension, where it is not a wilful perversion of mysticism. That this false idea has existed so long is doubtless due to the contradictions, sometimes real, but more often apparent, in the language employed by mystical writers. To avoid this altogether is difficult, if not impossible, " because the phrases that do well enough in space and time are inadequate with the things of eternity. There the contradictions must meet and be reconciled." (Professor Ritchie, Philosophical Studies, p. 241. 53)
Eckhart has suffered much on account of, not the obscurity, but the apparent contradictions in his statement of the truth. He wrote in German, and for the general public; and as Dr. Inge has pointed out, Eckhart's "desire to be intelligible to the general reader led him to adopt an epigrammatic, antithetic style, and to omit qualifying phrases. This is one reason why he laid himself open to so many accusations of heresy."
As a Dominican monk, sometime prior of Erfurt and vicar-general of Thüringen in later years, vicar-general of Bohemia, he lived a strenuous and consecrated life. He was influenced greatly by the writings of Dionysius and Augustine, Erigena and Aquinas; and the inner life of his spirit was greatly enlarged by the societies of those of his day who followed the gleam of the inward light. A few years before his death he preached frequently at Cologne—his discourses attracting much attention. They were as strong spirit music, hard for tongue to utter and difficult for ear to understand.
Eckhart, in common with all the mystics, regards the supreme satisfaction of the soul as dependent upon a true knowledge of God. He grounds the possibility of such knowledge on the fact that God being immanent as well as transcendent, may be known in all things. To apprehend God better in one thing than in another, is perhaps the lot of the many; but the more excellent way is to apprehend God everywhere, " for to that end do all things exist." In God, says Eckhart, all things are one, from angel to spider, yet not all the fulness of the creatures can express God any more than a drop of water can express the ocean.
Notwithstanding the soul's necessity of a knowledge of God, it is better, says Eckhart, to be silent about Him : " God cannot be named, because no man can say anything or understand anything about Him. If I say, ' God is good,' it is not true; nay further, I am good, God is not good. I might further say, ' I am better than God,' for whatever is good may become better, and whatever may become better may become best. Now God is not good, because He cannot become better; and since He cannot become better He cannot become best, for these things ' good,' ' better,' and ' best' are far from God, since He is above all… . Thou canst understand nothing about God, because He is above all understanding."
Now, such teaching as this has its dangers, and it is easy to see how the mystic is led to such extravagances of statement as : " God in Himself was not God—in the creature only hath He become God." Thus the whole creation is an expression of the divine life and personality, and to apprehend and to share in this is man's highest good. That man to whom God is seen alike in all things is on the way to the attainment of the soul's purpose. Yet this achievement is in reality only the first sense of the soul's divine quest. To trace the correspondences in the material world with the high and supreme truth beyond is indeed a praiseworthy occupation ; but, as Saint-Martin asks : "If this world will seem to us, after our death, as nothing but magical illusion, why do we regard it otherwise at present ? The nature of things does not change."
Despite the foregoing, the knowledge of divine truth and its apprehension by man is desired by God, though it can be attained only through the abandonment of earthly things. Man never desires anything so earnestly, affirms Eckhart, as God desires to bring a man to Himself that he may know Him—the Alpha and Omega of the mystery of divine and spiritual things. In this divine disclosure nothing is lacking; "it is full and complete, and God is constrained to give it thee, since He cannot cease till He hath given thee Himself."
Eckhart writes: " As the soul, through God, loses itself and abandons all things, so does it find itself again in God. When it knows God it knows itself—as well as all the things from which it has disjoined itself—perfectly in God." This is simply another form of the mystic doctrine of dying to self and living in God. By abandoning all things the soul finds itself in God, for 11 in every man who hath utterly abandoned self, God must communicate Himself according to all His power." Nothing is more deplorable in the life of man than the fact that it is the man himself who prevents the approach of the divine. Thus an unhesitating abandonment is the nearest way to God. But the work of divine union can only be accomplished by a strong and constant resolution on the part of the soul that desires it, in true humility which is capable of utter abasement. God is nigh unto us, but we are far from Him; yet, according to the constitution of His nature, God must give, and His very essence inclines Him to give His good gift to us when we are humble. The mystic knows that if ever the soul is to know God it must forget itself—yea, lose itself, for when the soul knows and sees itself it does not see and know God.
This knowledge of God, Eckhart teaches, is confirmed by inner experience. " How can any external revelation help me unless it be verified by inner experience ? The last appeal must always be to the deepest part of my own being." It is the inner voice which is the voice of God, and to hear that we must resolve to descend into ourselves. And this interior light of our being is kindled by God and leads us to Him.
By this knowledge of God, which is one of " the mysteries of our fundamental being," the soul of man is enabled to return to its divine source, and by the inward secret way union with God is made possible.
There is, moreover, something in the soul which is so akin to God that it is one with Him, and not merely united with Him. " I have a power in my soul," writes Eckhart, "which is thoroughly susceptible to and re-ceptible of God : I am as certain as that I live that nothing whatever is so near to me as God. God is nearer to me than I am to myself." The natural abode of the soul is God, and away from Him it can find no rest.
In storm, in darkness and in stress, In languor and deep weariness, What wonder if, o'er life's dark deep— That tossing sea which dare not sleep— From time to time on each should come An exile's sickness for his home.
" That which God works in the simple light of the soul is more beautiful and more pleasing than all the other works which He performs in all creatures ; only foolish people take evil for good and good for evil. But to the man who rightly understands, the one work which God effects in the soul is better and nobler and higher than all the world, for through that light comes grace. This never comes in the intelligence or in the will, for if this should come to pass the intelligence and the will would need to transcend themselves." In another place Eckhart says : " Since God has never bestowed any gift simply that man may rest in the possession of it, and since every gift He has bestowed in heaven and on earth has been given in order that He may be able to give one gift which is Himself, so … He will prepare us for the one gift, which is Himself."
The union of the soul with God takes place, according to Eckhart, in 11 the little spark." This " spark" is called also the spirit of the soul. There is, then, an experience possible to the exercised believer in which he realises that he has become one spirit with the Lord. It carries with it its own certainty, a deepening certainty growing out of the mystic consciousness of divine sonship. Eckhart constantly emphasises the mystical doctrine of regeneration, in which divine grace aids human weakness, and by the spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirit seals us as sons of God. That which is the essence of all creatures is eternally a divine life in Deity, and the flaming consummation and holy perfection of such a life proceeds from that vital union with God initiated in time in " the little spark." This spark, says Eckhart, rejecteth all creatures, and will have only God simply as He is in Himself. The union is so truly one between life and life that Eckhart enunciates the famous mystical saying: " The eye with which I see God is the same as that with which He sees me." Many have stumbled at this word, some have even wrested it to their own destruction; but the mystics of every age have understood its truth and accepted it, because, as Saint-Martin has said, " all men who are instructed in fundamental truths speak the same language, for they are inhabitants of the same country."
A favourite and constantly recurring doctrine of all mystics is that of the birth of the Son of God in the soul of the Christian. Eckhart states it boldly in the following words : "When the soul is freed from time and space, the Father sends and begets His Son in the soul." The Holy Father begets the divine Son in us, and M as fire turns all that it touches into itself, so the birth of the Son of God in the soul turns us into God, so that God no longer knows anything in us but His Son."
Such language as this is doubtless unguarded, but the profound truth it embodies is central, and Eckhart himself safeguards the doctrine by his teaching concerning the necessity of the human will obeying the divine behests so perfectly and gladly, that it becomes one with the will of God. He points out that no man is so boorish or stupid or awkward that he cannot, by God's grace, unite his will wholly and entirely with God's will; and when dealing with the problem of pain, Eckhart says that those who accept all that the Lord sends as the very best, remain always in perfect peace, for in them God's will has become their will. This is incomparably better than that our will should become God's will. The ideal to set before us is the full surrender of the will: " The will is perfect when it has gone forth from itself, and is formed into the will of God. The more truly this is effected, the more perfect is the will. In such a will thou canst do all things." The union of the divine and human will is a work which can be accomplished only by the fervent and persistent resolution of those who desire it, and in fear and trembling pray that God will work His perfect will in them without let or hindrance.
Eckhart insists that it is by divine grace that we are united to the divine nature, united as the Son is eternally one with the divine nature. If God, says Eckhart, did not abide with and in the creatures, they must necessarily have fallen back, so soon as they were created, into the nothingness out of which they were created; and in order that God's likeness may be brought to perfection in them, " God alone must work in them without hindrance." In this way the soul is brought to understand with God, to will with God, and to love with God. This is the essence of perfection.
Although Eckhart has no systematic, no formulated doctrine of sin, we may gather up and down his pages sayings showing so much insight into the nature and character of moral evil, that we are constrained to admit his teaching under this head to be very profound. Eckhart goes much further than many of the mystics: fop, while he believes that for every soul good is the fulfilment of God's law, and evil that which is opposed thereto, he goes deeper when he says that sin which is deadly separates us from God. Thus, not only does sin hinder man from the attainment of light and truth and produce confusion and disorder both in the universe and in himself, but it hides God's face from him. Eckhart teaches that sin is not only derangement, but the death of the soul. As the natural place of the soul is God, and as sin entering within is like a fire, foreign to the soul's true essence, it is not wonderful that the heart of man should be saddened by weariness and afflicted by torment. Again, Eckhart calls sin a sickness of the faculties. The soul constantly suffers from this sickness, and languishes, until it is perfectly delivered from it and made whole by the Divine Physician and Repairer. Sin is also a blindness of the sense—a blindness in which man can neither discriminate nor discern between good and evil. Sin separates us from God, who is the life of the soul; therefore Eckhart describes it as a death of all graces. For, if the soul is cut off from the source of all life, it must inevitably follow that the fruits and graces, which are the sign and expression of vital forces working within, will be wanting. Where sin abounds the graces of the soul can never be found.
We ought to pray, Eckhart teaches, both for temporal blessings and spiritual virtues; but he takes care to point out that when we ask for material things we should always add, " if it be God's will and if it be for my soul's health." When, however, we pray for Christian virtues and graces, " we need add no qualification, for these are God's own working." When asked what were the greatest goods that God had done to him, Eckhart said they were these three: First, that the lusts and desires of the flesh had been taken away from him ; second, that the divine light continually shone and gave him light in all his doings; third, that he was daily renewed in virtue, grace, and holiness.
In prayer the mystic does not cry to the heavens, he does not call to a God far off, but to One who is within the soul, an " ever-present Deity." He can pray, therefore, " in all places and among all persons, in the street as well as in the church." Thus the life of the mystic is one of unceasing and prevailing prayer.
The mysticism of Eckhart, like that of all true initiates, had its essentially practical effects in character. What a man has taken in by contemplation, says Eckhart, that he pours out in love. To be a true mystic, one need not go into a desert and fast; "a crowd is often more lonely than a wilderness, and small things harder to do than great." One is reminded of the deep saying of Ewald, that the true mystic never withdraws himself wilfully from the business of life—no, not even from the smallest business. If, says Eckhart, a man were in an ecstasy like that of St. Paul when he was caught up into the third heaven, and knew of a poor man who needed his help, he ought to leave his ecstasy and help the needy. "It is better to feed the hungry than to see even such visions as St. Paul saw."
The following prayer of Eckhart expresses very truly both the creed and character of the man:—" O Almighty and Merciful Creator and Good Lord, be merciful to me for my miserable sins, and help me that I may overcome every temptation and shameful lust, and may be able to avoid utterly, in thought and deed, what Thou forbiddest; and give me grace to do and to hold all that Thou hast commanded. Help me to believe, to hope, and to love, and in every way to live as Thou wiliest, as much as Thou wiliest, and what Thou wiliest."
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