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Full text of "Ruysbroeck"



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Cornell University Library 
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3 1924 028 984 478 
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http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924028984478 



The Quest Series 
Edited by G. R. S. Mead 



RUYSBROECK 



THE QUEST SERIES 

Edited by G. R. S. MEAD, 

EDITOR OF ' THE QUEST.' 

Crown Svo. 2s. 6d. net each, 

FIRST LIST OF VOLUMES. 

PSYCHICAL RESEARCH AND SURVIVAL. By 
James H. Hyslop, Ph.D., LL.D., Secretary of the 
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, Portsmouth, 

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,' etc. 

THE SIDEREAL RELIGION OF THE ANCIENTS. 
By Robert Eisler, Ph.D., Author of 'Welten- 
mantel und Himmelsrelt.' [/» the Press. 

London: G. BELL AND SONS LTD. 



RUYSBROECK 



BY 



EVELYN UNDERHILL 

AUTHOR OF 
'MYSTICISM,' 'the MYSTIC WAV,' ETC., ETC. 




LONDON 

G. BELL AND SONS LTD. 

1915 



/\.Z'M%Z^ 



FOR 

JESSIE 

TO WHOM IT OWES SO MUCH 
THIS LITTLE TRIBUTE TO A MUTUAL FEIENI> 



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 ver- 
sion 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 com- 
petent judges, to be the greatest of all the 
mediaeval Catholic mystics ; and, indeed, it 
is difficult to point to his superior. Miss 
Evelyn Underbill is, therefore, doing lovers 



viii EDITOR'S NOTE 

not only of Catholic mysticism, but also of 
mysticism in general, a very real service by 
her monograph, which deals more satis- 
factorily 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 Spark- 
ling Stone given in the present work ; and 
in quoting from The Twelve Beguines have 
often, though not always, availed myself of 
the recently published version by Mr. John 
Francis. For all other renderings I alone 
am responsible. 

E. U. 



CONTENTS 



CHAP. 

I. RUYSBROECK THE MaN 

II, His Works 

III. His Doctrine of God 

IV. His Doctrine of Man 

V. The Active Life 

VI. The Interior Life : Illumination and 
Destitution 

VII. The Interior Life : Union and Con 
templation 

VIII. The Superessential Life 



Bibliographical Note 



PAGE 
1 

36 
52 
66 
94> 

115 

136 
164, 

187 



Luce divina sopra me s' appunta, 
penetrando per questa ond' io m invenlro ; 
La Old virtu, col mio veder conguinta, 

mi leva sopra me tanto, ch' io veggio 
la somma essenza della quale e munla, 
Quinci vien V allegrezsa, mid' io Jiammeggio ; 
perche alia vista mia, quanf ella e chiara, 
la chiaritd della Jlamma pareg^o. 

Par. xxi. 83. 

[Divine Light doth focus itself upon me, 
piercing through that wherein I am en- 
closed ; 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 where- 
with I flame ; for to my vision, even as it is 
clear, I make the clearness of the flame 
respond.] 



RUYSBROECK 

CHAPTER I 

RUYSBROECK THE MAN 

The tree Igtlrasil, 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 pre- 
ceded them, and, adding to these elements 
the tincture of their own rich experience, 
give to us an intensely personal, yet uni- 
versal, 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 



2 RUYSBROECK 

poet — ^always the child of tradition as well 
as oi 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 ex- 
hibit 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 mediaeval 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. Absorb- 
ing 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-pene- 
tration 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 enthusi- 



THE MAN 3 

astic 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 frame- 
work 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 nth 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 



4 RUYSBROECK 

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. 
Bona Ventura, 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 for- 
mative 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 in- 
terior 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 per- 
ceived, 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 



THE MAN S 

of human reality. "V^Tiere 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 — con- 
demned to lifelong battle within a narrow 
cage. 

Therefore we begin our study of Ruys- 
broeck the mystic by the study of Ruys- 
broeck 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 chroni- 
cler of Ruysbroeck's own community of 
Groenendael. Born in 1382, a year after 
Ruysbroeck's death, and entering Groenen- 
dael 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 monas- 
tery was finished before 1420 ; that is to 
say, within the lifetime of the generation 
which succeeded the first founders of the 
house.^ It represents the careful gathering 
up, sifting, and arranging of all that was 
remembered and believed by the community 

' The Viia of Pomerius is printed in the Analecta Bolland- 
iana, vol. iv. pp. 257 ff. 



6 RUYSBROECK 

— 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. Modera- 
tion is hardly the outstanding virtue of such 
home-made lives of monastic founders. 
They are inevitably composed in surround- 
ings where any criticism of their subject or 
scepticism as to his supernatural peculiari- 
ties 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 ; pos- 
sessed 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 Herines 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 



THE MAN 7 

governed his existence at Groenendael. 
This course, which he trod in the tem- 
poral order, seems like the rough sketch of 
that other course trodden by the advancing 
soul within the eternal order — ^the Three- 
fold 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 up- 
bringing of her son — a hard task, and one 
that was soon proved to be beyond her. The 
child Ruysbroeck was strong-willed, adventur- 
ous, insubordinate ; already showing signs of 
that abounding vitality, that strange restless- 
ness 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 — 



8 RUYSBROECK 

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 appear- 
ance — ^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 some- 
times 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 



THE MAN 9 

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 dis- 
concerting 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 martyr- 
dom.' 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 Ruys- 
broeck 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 



10 ntrVSBROECK 

age, had lately been converted — it is said 
by a powerful sermon — from the comfort- 
able 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 re- 
ceived his runaway nephew willingly. Per- 
haps he saw in this strange and eager child, 
suddenly flung upon his charity, an oppor- 
tunity 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 MAN 11 

the concrete sacrifices, the heroic life of 
dehberate 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, in- 
fluenced, 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 atmo- 
sphere 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 per- 
petual self-denials of the life which he shared 
with them, formed the heart of Ruysbroeck's 
education ; helping to build up that manly 



n RUYSBROECK 

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 ; un- 
interested in general knowledge, impatient 
of scholastic drudgery. Nothing which did 
not minister to his innate passion for ulti- 
mates 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 Tran- 
scendent, but of a moral discipline, an in- 
terior 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 sub- 
servient to this one central interest. The 



THE MAN 13 

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 Ruys- 
broeck's adolescence, we must discern an- 
other 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 pur- 
pose, through the taming of the proud will 
to humility and suppleness, and of the in- 
surgent 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 



14 RUYSBROECK 

development, we may surely infer something 
of the course which it followed from the 
vividly realistic descriptions in The King- 
dom 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 estab- 
lished 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 con- 
ceived 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 



THE MAN 15 

other men. This belief took, in his medita- 
tions, a concrete and positive form. Again 
and again he saw in dramatic vision the 
soul specially dear to him, specially depen- 
dent on him — ^that of his mother, who had 
lately died in the Brussels Beguinage — 
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 sacri- 
fice 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 con- 
ferred 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 soli- 
tude of the forest, but the normal, active 
existence of a cathedral chaplain in a busy 
capital city which controlled his develop- 
ment during that long period, stretching 
from the very beginnings of manhood to 



16 RUYSBROECK 

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 
God-possessed. 

The simple and devoted life of the little 
family of three went on year by year un- 
disturbed ; 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 trans- 
figured existence of the ' God-seeing man.' 
Ruysbroeck grew up to be a simple, dreamy, 
very silent and totally unimpressive person. 



THE MAN It 

who, 'going about the streets of Brussels 
with his mind hfted 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 pene- 
trating intellect, a fearless heart, deep know- 
ledge of human nature, remarkable powers 
of expression, lay behind that meek and un- 
attractive 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 cir- 
cumstances 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 prayer. 

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 



18 RUYSBROECK 

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 pan- 
theism 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 be- 
lieving themselves to be already divine, 
and emancipated from obedience to all 
human codes of conduct. Soon after Ruys- 
broeck 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 super- 
natural and prophetic powers, was said to 
be accompanied by two Seraphim whenever 
she went to the altar to receive Holy Com- 
munion, 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 



THE MAN 19 

his campaign with a violence and courage 
which must have been startUng to those 
who had regarded him only as a shy, pious, 
rather negligible young man. The pamph- 
lets which he wrote against her are lost ; 
but the passionate denvmciations of pan- 
theism 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 imagin- 
ary identity with the Essence of God emanci- 
pates 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 them- 
selves sunk in inward peace ; but as a matter 
of fact they are deep-drowned in error." ^ 

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 

1 The Book of Supreme Truth, cap. iv. 



20 RUYSBROECK 

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 incUned by nature and 
habit " — ^in which the quietists love to im- 
merse 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, — mystic- 
ahty. 

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 



THE MAN 21 

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 dis- 
tracting life of the city ; a growing dis- 
satisfaction with the spiritual apathy and 
low level of religious observance at the 
Cathedral of St. Gudule ; the need of surround- 
ings 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 faith- 
fully, 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 



22 RUYSBROECK 

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 in- 
vasions 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 Ruys- 
broeck begged for an entire seclusion ; but 
Coudenberg insisted that this was con- 
trary 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 pro- 
ceeding which in his opinion savoured rather 



THE MAN 23 

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 ex- 
istence 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 com- 
munity 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 per- 
sonalities 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 



24 RUYSBROECK 

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 IVanscendent, 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 com- 
parison of the surrendered soul to the sun- 
flower, 'one of nature's most wonderful 



THE MAN 25 

works ' ; the three types of Christians, com- 
pared with birds who canfly 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 repre- 
sents 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 
lyom dictation the fruits of those meditations 



26 RUYSBROECK 

in which he ' saw without sight ' ; as the 
iUiterate 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 com- 
munity, 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 mediaeval hagiographer ; who always 
ascribes to these incidents an importance 
which the saints themselves are the first 
to deny. Pomerius thus attributes to Ruys- 
broeck not only those profound and direct 
experiences of Divine Reality to which his 
works bear witness ; but also numerous 
visions of a conventional and anthropo- 
morphic type, in which he spoke with Christ, 
the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, ecstasies 



THE MAN 27 

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 clair- 
voyance, 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 in- 
tensity 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 ful- 
filled that twofold duty of the deified soul 
which he has described to us : the in- 
breathing of the Love of God, the out-breath- 
ing 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 Tran- 



28 RUYSBROECK 

scendent ; he was a focus of distribution, 
which gave out that joyous hfe again to other 
souls. His retreat at Groenendael, his ec- 
stasies 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 friend- 
ship, 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 under- 
standing of other minds ; of conversions 
effected, motives unveiled and clouds dis- 
pelled. 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 im- 
pression 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 
PomeriuSj founded upon the reminiscences 



THE MAN 29 

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 pre- 
tence,' 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." ^ We see him in his Franciscan 
love of living things, his deep sense of kin- 
ship 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 enter- 
tainment. We see him ' giving Mary and 
Martha rendez - vous in his heart ' ; 

» The Twelve Biguines, cap. vii. 



30 RUYSBROECK 

working in the garden of the community, 
trying hard to be useful, wheeling barrow- 
loads of manure, and emerging from pro- 
found 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 to- 
wards heaven and earth,' which he regarded 
as the proper goal of human growth — 
efforts constantly thwarted by his own grow- 
ing concentration on the Transcendent, the 
ease and frequency with which his con- 
sciousness 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 Be- 
coming, 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 Ruys- 
broeck the opportunity of service, how the 
silence of the forest fostered and supported 
his secret life of love. As the years passed, 



THE MAN 31 

the third side of his nature, the apostohc 
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 
f ountainhead 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 ser- 
mons 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 a 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 congrega- 
tion as simple and unconventional in 
its first beginnings, as fruitful in its 



32 RUYSBROECK 

later developments, as that of Groenen- 
dael itself. 

The penetrating remarks upon human 
character scattered through his works, and 
the anecdotes of his dealings with disciples 
and penitents preserved by Pomerius, sug- 
gest 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 observa- 
tion — 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 MAN 33 

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 un- 
equalled authority and intimacy of those 
supersensuous regions, those mysterious con- 
tacts 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. 



34 RUYSBROECK 

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 surren- 
dered, 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 work- 
ings : which giveth more than one can take, 
and asketh more than one can pay." That 



THE MAN 35 

love it was which came out from the In- 
finite, as a tendency, an instinct endowed 
with Uberty and life, and passed across the 
stage of history, manifested under hum.blest 
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 Ruys- 
broeck, it is of this that we should think : 
of this growing spirit, this ardent, uncon- 
querable, 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 ^ cannot 
be accepted. As to several of them, we 
cannot tell whether they were composed 
at Brussels or at Groenendael, at the be- 
ginning, middle or end of his mystical life. 
All were written inthe 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 

' Vita, cap. xv. 



HIS WORKS 37 

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 for- 
sakes 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 begin- 
ning 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 Jaco- 
pone da Todi. Thus German literature 
owes much to Mechthild of Magdeburg, and 
English to Richard RoUe — ^both forsaking 
Latin for the common speech of their day. 



38 RUYSBROECK 

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 some- 
times 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 RoUe. It is well- 
known that automatic composition — ^and we 
have seen that the evidence of those who 
knew him suggests the presence of an auto- 
matic element in Ruysbroeck's creative 
methods — ^tends to assume a rhythmic char- 
acter ; being indeed closely related to that 
strange chanted speech in which religious 
excitement frequently expresses itself.. Re- 
leased from the control of the surface-in- 
tellect, the deeper mind which is involved 
in these mysterious processes tends to 
present its intuitions and concepts in 
measured waves of words; which some- 
times, as in RoUe'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 some- 
thing of the cadences of that far-off music 



HIS WORKS 39 

of which he is writing, and to receive and 
transmit a message which exceeds the pos- 
sibihties of speech. Ruysbroeck was no 
expert poet. Often his verse is bad; halt- 
ing 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,^ 
and from these come all that we know 
of his vision and teaching. The Twelve 
Virtues, and the two Canticles often attri- 
buted 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 dis- 
appeared. 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, 

1 De Vreese has identified i6o Flemish and 46 Latin 
MSS. of Ruysbroeck. 



40 RUYSBROECK 

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 Tahernaculum Mosis). — The 
longest, most fantastic, and, in spite of some 
fine passages, the least interesting of Ruys- 
broeck's works. Probably founded upon 
the De Area Mystica of Hugh of St. Victor, 
this is an elaborate allegory, thoroughly 
mediaeval in type, in which the Tabernacle 
of the Israelites becomes a figure of the 
spiritual life; the details of its construc- 
tion, 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 
Beguines (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 contem- 
plative loves to discern symbolic meanings 
in all visible things. 

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 Ruys- 
broeckian confession of faith. Without ever 
over-passing the boundaries of Catholic doc- 
trine, Ruysbroeck is here able to turn all 



HIS WORKS 41 

its imagery to the purposes of his own vision 
of truth. 

3, The Book of the Four Temptations 
{De Quatuor Tentationihus). — 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 he- 
retical mystic sects. This book too may 
well have been written before the retreat 
to Groenendael. 

4. The Book of the Kingdom of God's 
Lovers {Begnum Deum Amantium). — This 
and the following work. The Adornment 
of the Spiritual Marriage, contain Ruys- 
broeck's fullest and most orderly descrip- 
tions 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,' 



4>^ RUYSBROECK 

and in the Superessential Kingdom of the 
Divine Unity. By the threefold way of 
the Active, Contemplative, and Superessen- 
tial 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 Super- 
essential those of Intelligence and Wisdom. 
The Kingdom of God's Lovers was tradi- 
tionally regarded as Ruysbroeck's earliest 
work. It was more probably written during 
the early years at Groenendael. Much of 
it, like The Twelve Beguines, 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 passages. 
„ -5. The Adornment of the Spiritual 
Marriage {De Ornatu Spiritalium Nup- 
tiarum). — 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 Super- 



HIS WORKS 4g 

essential 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 pre- 
ceding or succeeding his retreat. 

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 Ruys- 
broeck's life. First come the three treatises 
apparently written for Margaret van Meer- 
beke, 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 Stagel to Suso, Margaret Kirkby 
to Richard RoUe — first a spiritual daughter, 
then a valued and sympathetic friend. 

6. The Mierob of Eternal Salvation 
or Book of the Blessed Sacrament 
{Speculum Mternce 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 



44 RUYSBROECK 

her religious community; but whom Ruys- 
broeek 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 be- 
lievers who come to communion. We see 
them through his eyes : the religious senti- 
mentalists, ' 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 be- 
haves 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 



HIS WORKS 45 

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 Eter- 
nity 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 Habita- 
tion of St. Teresa's ' Interior Castle,' he 
will find himself alone with God. There 



46 RUYSBROECK 

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 prac- 
tice 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 instruc- 
tion, 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 
mediaeval image of the ' ladder of perfec- 
tion ' 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 origin- 



HIS WORKS 47 

ate 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 mysti- 
cism 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 Alex- 
andria. But the tower which he raises with 
its help ascends to heights unreached by 



48 RUYSBROECK 

any other writer : to the point at which 
man is given the supreme gift of the Spark- 
ling 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. No- 
where else do we find such a marvellous 
combination of wide and soaring vision 
with the most delicate and intimate psycho- 
logical 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 pene- 
trates us, as the air is penetrated by the 
light of the sun." There he tastes and ap- 
prehends, in ' an unfathomable seeing and 
beholding,' the inbreathing and the out- 
breathing of the Love of God — ^that double 
movement which controls the universe ; 
yet knows, along with this great cosmic 
vision, that intimate and searching com- 
munion 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 



HIS WORKS 49 

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 Ruys- 
broeck 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 grow- 
ing soul : union by means of sacraments 
and good deeds ; union achieved in con- 
templative 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 Biiguines {De Vera Con- 
templatione). — ^This is a long, composite book 
of eighty-four chapters, which apparently 



60 RtTYSBROECK 

consists of at least three distinct treatises 
of different dates. The first, The Twelve 
Beguines, 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 develop- 
ment of the spiritual consciousness de- 
scribed with greater subtlety. The soul's 
communion with and feeding on the Divine 
Nature in the Eucharist and in contem- 
plative 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 seven- 
teenth chapter begins a new treatise, with a 
description of the Active Life on Ruys- 
broeck's usual lines ; and at the thirtieth 
there is again a complete change of subject, 
introducing a mystical and symbolic inter- 
pretation of the science of astronomy. This 
section, so unlike his later writings, some- 
what 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 



HIS WORKS 51 

to the Seven Hours of the Roman Breviary 
(capp. Ixxiii. 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 under- 
stand. 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 formulae of existing theology 
are felt to be enough. Visions of Christ, 
experiences of the Blessed Trinity — ^these are 
sufficient names for the personal and im- 
personal aspects of that Reality with which 
the contemplative seeks to unite. But the 



HIS DOCTRINE OF GOD 53 

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 sub- 
jective 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 meta- 
physical passion of the philosopher and the 
poet ; and in his work he is ever pressing 
towards more exact description, more sug- 
gestive 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 in- 
finite 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 frag- 
mentary intimations of Reality crystallised 



54 RUYSBROECK 

in the formulae of faith. For them, as for 
St. Augustine, God is both near and far ; 
and the paradox of transcendent-immanent 
Reahty is a self-evident if an inexpressible 
truth. They swing between hushed adora- 
tion 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 in- 
carnational 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 tran- 
scendental too. 
Nor is this result obtained — ^as it sometimes 



HIS DOCTRINE OF GOD 55 

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 funda- 
mental 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 
Reahty, 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 



56 RUYSBROECK 

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 to- 
wards 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 ex- 
ploration of Ruysbroeck's doctrine by trying 
to discover the character of his vision of the 
Divine Nature^ and man's relation with it, 



HIS DOCTRINE OF GOD 57 

That vision is so wide, deep and search- 
ing, that only by resort to the language 
of opposites, by perpetual alternations of 
spatial and personal, metaphysical and 
passionate speech, is he able to communi- 
cate it to us. His fortunate and profound 
acquaintance with the science of theology — 
his contact through it with the formulae 
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 



58 RUYSBROECK 

the inspiration of his ' simple and ignorant 
monk,' he entirely fails to observe the 
traditional character of the formulae which 
express it. No student of the mystics will 
deny the abundant inspiration by which 
Ruysbroeck was possessed ; but this in- 
spiration 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 in- 
forms the soul ; opens the door to experi- 
ence, but do^s not convey any accurate 



HIS DOCTRINE OF GOD 59 

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 out- 
wardly, we must use images, in truth that 
which is inwardly perceived and beheld is 
nought else but a Fathomless and Uncondi- 
tioned Good." ' 

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 syn- 
thetic 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 Ruys- 
broeck's thought. He is, then, the Absolute 
One, in whom the antithesis of Eternity 
and Time, of Being and Becoming, is re- 
solved ; both static and dynamic, tran- 
scendent and immanent, impersonal and 
personal, undifferentiated and differentiated ; 
Eternal Rest and Eternal Work, the Un- 
moved Mover, yet Movement itself. "Al- 
though in our way of seeing we give 
God many names. His nature is One." 

He transcends the storm of succession, yet 

* The Spiritual Marriage, lib. ii. cap. xxxvii, 



60 RUYSBROECK 

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 
' fruitftd ' nature to His simple essence — 
and ' simple ' is here and throughout to be 
understood in its primal meaning of ' syn- 
thetic ' — ^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," 



HIS DOCTRINE OP GOD 61 

— 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 differentia- 
tion, 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." ^ 

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 

* The Twelve Biguines, cap. xiv. 



62 RUYSBROECK 

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 Avhom our life and being is 
begun," He is the " Strength and Power, 
Creator, Mover, Keeper, Beginning and End, 
Cause and Existence of all creatures." ^ 
Further, the intuition of the mystic discerns 
in the Son the Eternal Word and fathom- 
less 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 uni- 

1 The Spiritual Marriage, lib. ii. cap. xxxvii. 



HIS DOCTRINE OF GOU 63 

verse. 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 tran- 
scendence 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." ' 

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, re- 
creates 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 

^Op. cit, ibid. 



64 RUYSBROECK 

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 super essence. . . . 
There the Godhead is, in simple essence, 
without activity ; Eternal Rest, Uncon- 
ditioned Dark, the Nameless Being, the 
Superessence of all created things, and the 
simple and infinite Bliss of God and of all 
Saints." ^ 

Ruysbroeck here brings us to the position 
of Dante in the last canto of the Paradiso, 
when, transcending those partial apprehen- 
sions of Reality which are figured bj^^ the 
River of Becoming and the Rose of Beati- 
tude, 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 limit- 
less in its immensity, and transcending 

' The Seven Degrees of Love, cap. xiv. 



HIS DOCTRINE OF GOD 65 

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." ^ 

1 The Kingdom of God's Lovers, cap. xxix. 



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 — ogives 
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 



HIS DOCTRINE OF MAN 67 

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 inter- 
penetration 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 understand- 
ing 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 com- 
prehension : man's fragmentary share in the 
character of the Logos, or Wisdom of 



68 RUYSBROECK 

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." ^ 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 Christli- 
ness in virtue of which we have power to 
become * Sons ' of God. 

" Lo I 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 

* The Mirror of Eternal Salvation, cap. viii. 



HIS DOCTRINE OF MAN 69 

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." ^ 

Under the stimulus of Divine Love per- 
petually beating in on him, feeding per- 
petually on the substance of God, per- 
petually 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 syn- 
thesis 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 contempla- 
tive; 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 

' The Twelve Biguines, cap. ix. 



70 RUYSBROECK 

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 evolu- 
tion 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 



HIS DOCTRINE OF MAN 71 

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." ^ 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 " ^ The 
dualistic relation of lover and beloved, 

' The Twelve Beguines, cap. xiv. 
2 The Book of Truth, cap. xi. 



72 RUYSBROECK 

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 there- 
from. But such a diagram cannot express 
to us the rich content, the deeply personal 
character of his experience and his know- 
ledge. 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 mysteri- 
ous 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 lan- 
guage. His theology is above all the theo- 
logy 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 



HIS DOCTRINE OF MAN 73 

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 



74 RUYSBROECK 

giving and taking — ^it is its very property, 
says Ruysbroeek, ' 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 con- 
scious 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 



HIS DOCTRINE OF MAN 75 

may." ^ 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 com- 
munion 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. 

' The Mirror of Eternal Salvation, cap. xvii. 



76 RUYSBROECK 

If He absorbs us utterly into Himself, in 
return He gives us His very self again." ^ 

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, WTiat am I ? " For Ruys- 
broeck, 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 " ; ^ 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 ? 

' op. cit., cap. vii. 

" The Sparkling Stone, cap. x. 



HIS DOCTRINE OF MAN 77 

In the same way, says Ruysbroeck, as the 
child achieves the world of manhood : by 
the double method of growth and educa- 
tion, 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, de- 
pendent 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 re- 
ality : the Active, the Interior, and the 
Superessential Life, sometimes symbolised 
by the conditions of Servant, Friend, and 
Son of God. These, however, must be re- 
garded rather as divisions made for con- 
venience of description, answering to those 
divisions which thought has made in the 
indivisible fact of the universe, than as 



78 RUYSBROECK 

distinctions inherent in the reahty of things. 
The spiritual hfe 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 present. 

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 j- even ^the 



HIS DOCTRINE OF MAN 79 

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 con- 
sciousness, 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 Life. 

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 ordin- 
ary 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 ' atten- 
tion to God.' Thence results the highest life 
which is attainable by ' nature.' In it, '^ man 



80 RUYSBROECK 

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 ' Faith- 
ful Servant ' of the Transcendent Order. 
Plainly, the Active Life, thus considered, 
has much in common with the ' Purgative 
Way ' of ascetic science. 

(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 Con- 
templative or Interior Life, and is achieved 
in the deep state of recollection called 
' unitive prayer.' Here voluntary and pur- 
posive education takes its place by the 
side of organic development. The way 
called by most ascetic writers ' Illumina- 
tion ' — ^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 dis- 
ciplines of the active life purified will and 
sense. It teaches introversion, or the turn- 
ing inward of the attention from the dis- 
tractions of the sense- world ; the cleansing 
of the mirror of thought, thronged with 
confusing images ; the production of that 



HIS DOCTRINE OF MAN 81 

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 in- 
cluded 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, re- 
newal, re-emergence. Sometimes Ruysbroeck 
appears to see this central stage in the 
spiritual life-process in terms of upward 
growth toward transcendent levels ; some- 
times 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 con- 
ceiving 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 
6 



8S RUYSBROECK 

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 de- 
tected 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 com- 
pared 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 
f ocussed upon Reality. This training is needed 



HIS DOCTRINE OF MAN 83 

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 charac- 
terise 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 con- 
sciousness, the stripping off of all images 
and emptying of the mind, which is the psy- 
chological method whereby human conscious- 
ness 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 attach- 
ments must be cut before the new attachments 
can be formed. This is, of course, a common- 
place of asceticism ; and much of Ruys- 
broeck's teaching on detachment, self-naught- 
ing and contemplation, is indeed simply the 
standard doctrine of Christian asceticism seen 
through a temperament. 

When the self has grown up from the 



84 RUYSBROECK 

' active ' to the ' contemplative ' state of con- 
sciousness, 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." ^ 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 
throughput Ruysbroeck's works. 

(C) V^Tien 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 Ruys- 

^ The Twelve Biguines, cap. xiv. 



HIS DOCTRINE OF MAN 85 

broeck, 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 com- 
plete, 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) Ruys- 
broeck 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 



86 RUYSBROECK 

Rest, and perfect sharing in that outgoing 
love which is His eternal Work : " God with 
God, one love and one life, in His eternal 
manifestation." ^ 

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 

> The Twelve BSguines, cap. xiii, 



HIS DOCTRINE OF MAN 87 

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 activi- 
ties 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." ^ 
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 fathom- 
less word ' Behold ! behold ! ' " and " there- 
with giving utterance to itself and all other 
things " — ^yet evokes only in some men an 

1 The Seven Decrees of Love, cap. xiv, 



88 RUYSBROECK 

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 thor- 
oughly 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 under- 
stand and lay hold of God as He is in Himself 
above all images — ^this is to he 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." ^ 

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 

* The Spiritual Marriage, lib, iii. cap. i. 



HIS DOCTRINE OF MAN 89 

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 philo- 
sophy has brought back into current thought, 
represents a total attainment, complete and 
permanent participation and possession. It 
is an absolute state, transcending all succes- 
sion, and it is applied by Ruysbroeck to the 
absolute character of the spirit's life in God ; 
which, though it seem to the surface con- 
sciousness a perpetually renewed encounter 
of love, is in its ground ' fruitive and un- 
conditioned,' 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 lov- 
ing dependence are the ' eternal fruition of 
God ' : the Beatific Vision of theology. 
" Where we are one with God, without inter- 
mediary, beyond all separation ; there is God 
our fruition and His own in an eternal and 
fathomless bliss." ^ 

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 de- 
scriptions of spiritual states, always conveys 
the sense of wholeness, completeness, syn- 

' The Twelve Biguines, cap. xvi. 



90 RUYSBROECK 

thesis ; not of poverty, thinness, subtraction. 
It is the white hght in which all the colours 
of the spectrum are included and fused. 
' Simple Union,' ' Simple Contemplation,' 
' Simple Light ' — ^all these mean the total un- 
differentiated 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 consideration." 

Another cause of difficulty to those un- 
familiar with the mystics is the constant 
reference to Baeeness 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 prob- 
ably taken by Ruysbroeck from Dionysius 
the Areopagite. It represents, first, the 
bewildering emptiness and nakedness of con- 
sciousness when introduced into a universe 
that transcends our ordinary conceptual 
world ; secondly, the necessity of such tran- 
scendence, of emptying the field of conscious- 
ness of ' every vain imagining,' if the self 
is to have contact with the Reality which 
these veil. 

With the distinction between Essence 
(Wesen) and Superessence (Overwesen) I have 



HIS DOCTRINE OF MAN 91 

already dealt ; and this will appear more 
clearly when we consider Ruysbroeck's 
' second ' and ' third ' stages of the mystic 
life. 

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 collo- 
quial ' somehow ' and ' nohow ' would be yet 
more exactly expressive. Now this pair of 
opposites is psychological rather than meta- 
physical, and has to do with the character- 
istic phenomena of contemplation. It indi- 
cates 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 attach- 
ments within his conceptual world, is medi- 
ated 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 



92 RUYSBROECK 

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." ^ 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 ' way less,' 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 Sufi poet, Jalalu'ddin ; 
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 ' un walled,' to use his own 

1 The Twelve Biguines, cap. xii. 



HIS DOCTRINE OF MAN 93 

favourite metaphor — is the essence of con- 
templation ; 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 understand. 

" 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." * 

' The Twelve Biguines, cap. viii. 



CHAPTER V 

THE ACTIVE LIFE 

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 per- 
petually 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 move- 
ment 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. 



THE ACTIVE LIFE 95 

and which describe the active crescent life 
of Christian virtue, the laborious adjustment 
of character to the Vision of God, Ruys- 
broeck 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 
txirned towards the best the beginning of 
human transcendence, and regards willing 
and loving as the essence of life. Basing 
his psychology on the common mediaeval 
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 



96 RUYSBROECK 

approximation of our own thoughts and 
desires to the thoughts and desires of Divine 
Reahty. " 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." ^ 
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 I ' for the essence 
of love is generous, outflowing, expansive, 

• The Seven Degrees of Love, cap. i. 



THE ACTIVE LIFE 97 

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 ; ex- 
pressing itself within the world of action 
in a new ardour for perfection — the natural 
result of the 'loving vision of the Bride- 
groom,' 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 tran- 
scendent interests. 

Whilst in the volitional life drastic re- 
adjustments, stern character-building, and 
eager work are the expression of good- 
will, 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 out- 
ward things it rules as a mistress over his 
external good deeds." ^ 

We have here, then, a disposition of heart 
and mind which both receives and responds 

1 The Mirror of Eternal Salvation, cap. xvi, 
7 



98 RUYSBROECK 

to the messages of Reality ; making it pos- 
sible 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 con- 
sciousness 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 be- 
ginning of spiritual growth, the act which 
makes man free ; translating him, in Ruys- 
broeck'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 



THE ACTIVE LIFE 99 

trust and hope ; and so he becomes a true 
servant, and means and loves God in all 
that he does." ^ 

So man, emerging from the shell of self- 
hood, 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 inter- 
penetration 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 Him- 
self." 

In the practical counsels given to the 
young novice to whom The Mirror of Salva- 
tion 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 

1 The Sparkling Stone, cap. vi. 



100 RUYSBROECK 

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 ' with- 
out 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 per- 
sonal 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 re- 
arrangement 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 experi- 
enced 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 reahsation of Perfection involved 
a vivid consciousness of the imperfections, 
disharmonies, perversities, implicit in the 



THE ACTIVE LIFE 101 

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 mediaeval ascetics. His attitude 
towards character was affirmative and ro- 
bust ; 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, 
cpldness of heart, or spiritual self-seeking, 
but always implying a central wrongness 
of attitude, resulting in a wrong employ- 
ment of power. Self-denials and bodily 
mortifications he regarded partly as exer- 
cises 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 advo- 
cate 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 



102 RUYSBROECK 

perversion by which it could be checked. 
Thus, throughout his works, the accent 
always falls upon power rather than weak- 
ness : 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 person- 
ality, 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, pro- 
duce 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 



THE ACTIVE LIFE 103 

spiritual muscles exercised and controlled — 
was one of the favourite qualities of that 
wise trainer of character, St. Francois de 
Sales ; and the many small and irritating 
mortifications with which he was accus- 
tomed 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 com- 
munion with Reality, not with that direct- 
ness proper to the true contemplative, but 
obliquely, by * means,' symbols and images ; 
especially by the sacramental dispensation 
of the Church, a subject to which Ruys- 
broeck devotes great attention. As always 
in his system, growth from within is inti- 
mately 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 



104 RUYSBROECK 

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." ^ 

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 

' The Mirror of Eternal Salvation, cap. vii. 



THE ACTIVE LIFE 105 

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 acknowledg- 
ment of facts, this finding of one's own 
place, Ruysbroeck calls ' the solid founda- 
tion of the Kingdom of the Soul.' In thus 
discerning love and humility as the govern- 
ing 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 corre- 
spondences with the ' Kingdom.' This de- 
velopment follows an orderly course, as 
subject to law as the unfolding of the leaves 
and flowers upon the growing plant ; and 



106 RUYSBROECK 

though Ruysbroeck in his various works 
uses different diagrams wherewith to ex- 
plain it, the psychological changes which 
these diagrams demonstrate are substanti- 
ally 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 three- 
fold 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 actual- 
ised in the soul, and dominates all her re- 
actions 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 elabor- 
ate analysis is possible ; based upon that 
division of man's moral perversities into 
the ' seven mortal sins ' or seven funda- 
mental 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 



THE ACTIVE LIFE 107 

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 posi- 
tive 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 for- 
ward 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 prohibi- 
tions 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." ^ 

This movement of renunciation brings — 
next phase in the unselfing of the self — a com- 

* The Spiritual Marriage, lib. i. cap, xiv. 



108 RUYSBROECK 

pensating 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 ; gentle- 
ness, which " with peace and calm bears 
vexatious words and deeds " ; kindness, 
which deals with the quarrelsome and irrit- 
able 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 four- 
fold increase in disinterested love is summed 
up in the condition which Ruysbroeck calls 
supernatural generosity ; that largeness of 
heart which flows out towards the gener- 
osity 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 prac- 
tice of every kind of virtue, which makes 
impossible that slackness and dulness of 



THE ACTIVE LIFE 109 

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.^ 
He has done all he can do of himself towards 
the conforming of his life to Supreme Per- 
fection ; has opposed, one after another, 
each of those exhibitions of the self's ten- 
dency 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." 

1 The Spiritual Marriage, lib. i. capp. xii.-xxiv. 



110 RUYSBROECK 

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 dis- 
cernment 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. " Here- 
by 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 gener- 
osity. Finally, the Reasonable with know- 
ledge and discernment, and that prudence 
which regulates all things." ^ The ideal of 
character held out and described under 

1 The Kingdom of God's Lovers, cap. xviii. 



THE ACTIVE LIFE 111 

varying metaphors in Ruysbroeck's different 
works, is thus seen to be a perfectly con- 
sistent 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 en- 
counter 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 Sim- 
plicity of the Real. Longing to ' know 
the nature of the Beloved,' he must act 
as Zacchseus did when he wished to see 
Christ : 



112 RUYSBROECK 

" 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 know- 
ledge of God which man can acquire in the 
Active Life : thus to recognise by the light of 
faith that God is inconceivable and unknow- 
able. 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. 



THE ACTIVE LIFE 113 

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 in- 
conceivable. 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. Accord- 
ing to this manner Christ may be encoun- 
tered upon the summit of the Active 
Life."^ 

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 

* The Spiritual Marriage, lib. i. cap. xxvi. 
8 



114 RUYSBROECK 

but poverty ; above all, an eager and in- 
dustrious love. 

" 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 spirit." ^ 

' The Twelve BSguines, cap, vii. 



CHAPTER VI 

THE INTERIOR LIFE : ILLUMINATION 
AND DESTITUTION 

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. 

RicHAHD OF St. Victor. 

It is plain that the Active Life in Ruys- 
broeck's system answers more or less to 
the Purgative Way, considered upon its 
affirmative and constructive side, as a build- 
ing 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, 



116 RUYSBROECK 

state of the soul. The first life has, as it 
were, unfolded to the sunhght 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 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 117 

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, heighten- 
ing and enriching of human experience. 
As the author of The Cloud of Unknowing 
insists that none can be truly contemxplative 
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 v/ho 
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." ^ 

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 

» The Sparkling Stone, cap, vii. 



118 RUYSBROECK 

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 en- 
larging 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 im- 
personal 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 under- 
standing, 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 trstnscends 
nature, and is the clear-shining intermediary 
between ourselves and God. Our thoughts, 
bare and stripped of images, are themselves 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 119 

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." ^ 

In this strongly Victorine passage, the 
whole process of the Second Life is epito- 
mised ; 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 experi- 
enced, 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 con- 
stantly departs from the formulae 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 ; 

* The Twelve B^guines, cap. ix. 



120 RUYSBROECK 

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 some- 
thing 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 purga- 
tion, has become drowsy and tired. Then, 
suddenly, " a spiritual cry echoes through 
the soul," announcing a new encounter 
with Reality, and demanding a new re- 
sponse ; or, to put it in another way, 
consciousness on its ascending spiral has 
pushed through to another level of exist- 
ence, 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 Illu- 
minative Way. It is introversive rather 
than out-going in type. Changing the char- 
acter 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. 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 121 

pressing towards the Unity of God, the 
synthetic experience of love ; for perpetual 
movement towards that unity — not achieve- 
ment 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." ^ 

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 grow- 
ing self. But the liberty here spoken of has 

I The Spiritual Marriage, lib. ii. cap. iv. 



122 RUYSBROECK 

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 de- 
tachment 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 Contem- 
plative 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 



THE INTEBIOR LIFE 123 

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 sweet- 
ness ' blossoms in new and lovely graces. 

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 un- 
governable, 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 meet- 
ing of this inward and outward spiritual 
force — ^the Divine Light without, the grow- 
ing Divine Spark within — ^there is great 



IM RUYSBROECK 

joy. Ecstasy, and that state of musical 
rapture, exceeding the possibilities of speech, 
which Ruysbroeck like Richard RoUe calls 
'ghostly song,' are the natural self-ex- 
pressions of the soul in this moment of its 
career.^ 

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 phen- 
omena which are well-known accompani- 
ments of religious emotion in selves of a 
certain temperament. This spiritual de- 
lirium, 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 

1 Cf. The Twelve B^guines, cap. x. 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 125 

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 him- 
self." 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.' ^ 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 emo- 
tion, amenable to reason, which is the re- 
action 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 

' The Spiritual Marriage, lib. ii. cap. xix. ; The Book of 
Truth, cap. ix. 



126 RUYSBROECK 

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, im- 
passioned ascents towards the Spirit that 
cries without ceasing to our spirit : " Pay 
your debt ! Love the Love that has loved 
you from Eternity." ^ 

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 Illumin- 
ated Life." 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 in- 

1 The Seven Degrees of Love, cap. xiv. 
' The Kingdom of God's Lovers, cap. xx. 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 127 

exorable 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." ^ 

The sensible heat of love is felt with a 
greater violence now than at any other period 

1 The Spiritual Marriage, lib. ii. cap. xxiii. 



128 RUYSBROECK 

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.' A,s 
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 perma- 
nent harm ; a kind of wise steadfastness 
will support them throughout this turbu- 
lent period. " Following through all storms 
the path of love, they will advance towards 
that place whither love leadeth them." ^ 

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 in- 
tuitions 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 monoideism of the ecstatic, 

^ op. cit, lib. ii. cap. xxvii. 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 129 

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 mes- 
sages 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 
kind: 

" Sometimes God gives to such men swift 
spiritual glimpses, like to the flash of light- 
ning 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 
9 



130 RUYSBROECK 

by means. In this light, the heart and the 
desirous powers are uphfted 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 jvJbilus or jubilation ; 
and it is a joy that cannot be expressed in 
words." ^ 

Here the parallel with Richard RoUe's 
* ghostly song, with great voice outbreak- 
ing ' will strike every reader of that most 
musical of the mystics ; and it is prob- 
able that in both cases the prominence 
given to this rather uncommon form of 
spiritual rapture points back to personal 
experience. " Methinketh," says RoUe, 
" 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 well-sounding." " 

This exultant and lyrical mood then, this 
adoring rapture, which only the rhythm 
of music can express, is the emotional re- 
action which indicates the high summer of 
the soul. It will be seen that each phase 

1 The Spiritual Marriage, lib. ii. cap. xxiv. 
' Richard Rolle, The Mending of Life, cap. xii. (Har- 
ford's edition, p. 82). 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 131 

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 in- 
dustry 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 intelli- 
gence 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.^ 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. 

• The Kingdom of God's Lovers, cap. xxv. 



132 RUYSBROECK 

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 Giv^r. 
" Though he who dedicates himself to love 
ever experiences great joy, he must never 
seek this joy." All those tendencies grouped 
by St. Jolan of the Cross under the dis- 
agreeable 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 illumi- 
nated state make themselves felt as a con- 
dition 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 con- 
temporaries, the Friends of God, called 
' the upper school of perfect self-abandon- 
ment.' 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 133 

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 



134 RUYSBROECK 

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 ? " ^ 
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 happi- 
ness that went before. It is not necessary, 
says Ruysbroeck, that all should know the 
ecstasies of illumination; but by this dark 

1 The Spiritual Marriage, lib. ii. cap. xxviii. 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 135 

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 out- 
ward virtues, which man has practised 
with delight in the fire of love, these, now 
that he knows them and is able to accom- 
plish 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 him- 
self 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." ^ 

1 The Spiritual Marriage, lib. ii. cap. xxix. 



CHAPTER VII 

THE INTERIOR LIFE : UNION AND 
CONTEMPLATION 

Lume e lassu, eke visibile face 
lo Creatore a quella creatura 
che solo in lui vedere ha la sua pace. 

Par, XXX. loo. 

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 Beguines. 

The soul which has endured with courage 
and humiUty the anguish of the Dark Night, 
actualising within its own experience the 
double rhythm of love and renunciation, 
now enters upon a condition of equili- 
brium ; 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, 
136 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 137 

his mind must be detached from its 
natural indination 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 Areo- 
pagite. Secondly, by means of his spiritual 
exercises, his progressive efforts to corre- 
spond 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.^ 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 repre- 
sents the full achievement of the Interior 
Life. 

In many of his works, under various 
images, Ruysbroeck tries to tell us what he 

^ The Sparkling Stone, cap. ii. 



138 RUYSBROECK 

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 con- 
centration 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 ; ^ and here the Divine Unity dwells and 
calls him to the One. Here Eternity and 
Time are intertwined. Here springs the 

1 Cp. The Spiritual Marriage, lib. ii. cap. Ivii. 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 139 

fountain of ' Living Water ' — grace, tran- 
scendent vitality — ^upon which the mystic 
life of man depends. 

Now the self, because it is at last con- 
formed 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 im- 
mersed 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, how- 
ever, 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 



140 RUYSBROECK 

mediaeval division of personality into 
Memory or Mind, Intelligence or Under- 
standing, 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 im- 
mediate 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 achieve- 
ment 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. 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 141 

penetrated and affirmed in the unity of his 
mind or thought. And thereby he is up- 
lifted 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 
multiplicity." ^ 

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 per- 
ception 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 

* The Spiritual Marriage, lib. ii. cap. xxxvi. 



142 RUYSBROECK 

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 
spirit." ^ 

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- 

1 The Spiritual Marriage, lib. ii. cap. xxxviii. 



THE INTERIOR LIFE J 43 

flowing into that same ground from whence 
the flood has come." ^ 

So the Interior Life, now firmly estab- 
lished, 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 establish- 
ment 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." ^ 

Now the self which has achieved this 
degree of transcendence has achieved, too, 
considerable experience in that art of con- 

• The Spiritual Marriage, lib. ii. cap. xxxix. 
' The Sparkling Stone, cap. ii. 



14.4 RUYSBROECK 

templation or introversion which is the 
mode of its communion with God. Through- 
out, training and development have gone 
hand in hand ; and the fact that Ruys- 
broeck seldom troubles to distinguish be- 
tween them, but accepts them as two 
aspects of one thing — ^the gradual deifica- 
tion 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 super- 
sensuous 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 appre- 
hensions 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 dis- 
cern that Circle whose centre is every- 
where, as both exterior and interior to the 
self. In Ruysbroeck's own works we find 
a violent efiort to express this ineffable 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 145 

fact of omnipresence, of a truly Trans- 
cendent 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 f ar ! " 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 pos- 
sessed 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, 



146 RUYSBROECK 

St. Basil, St. Macarius — and also in Richard 
RoUe and a few other mediaeval types. 
These would agree with Dionysius the Areo- 
pagite 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 conscious- 
ness 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 in- 
turning 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 contem- 
plation. 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 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 147 

can bear to gaze on it, lies in the deeps 
of human personality. The will, usually 
harnessed to the surface-consciousness, de- 
voted to the interests of temporal life ; the 
love, so freely spent on unreal and im- 
perfect 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 con- 
sciousness 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 



148 RUYSBROECK 

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,' ' stir- 
rings,' 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 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 149 

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 contempla- 
tion 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 RoUe 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 



150 RUYSBROECK 

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 Ruys- 
broeck, 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 develop- 
ment 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 enlarge- 
ment of the understanding to an increased 
comprehension of truth, the finding of deeper 
and diviner meanings in things already 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 151 

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, how- 
ever, 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 Contempla- 
tion, 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 con- 
templative's career. The veil parts, and 
he sees a " light and vision, which give to 
the contemplating spirit a conscious certi- 
tude that she sees God, so far as man may 
see Him in mortal life." ^ That strange 
mystical light of which all contemplatives 
speak, and which Ruysbroeck describes in 
a passage of great subtlety as ' the inter- 
mediary between the seeing thought and 
God,' now floods his consciousness. In it 
" the Spirit of the Father speaks in the up- 
lifted thought which is bare and stripped of 

* The Twelve B^^uines, cap. 3d, 



152 RUYSBROECK 

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 reason." ^ 

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 Ruys- 
broeck's works, will show what he means by 
this phase of contemplation ; and the char- 
acters which distinguish it from that in- 
fused 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 
visipn 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." ^ It was 

' Loc. cit. 

' St. Augustine, Confessions, lib. vii. cap. x, 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 153 

by "the withdrawal of thought from ex- 
perience, its abstraction from the contra- 
dictory 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.^ 

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 contem- 
plative, 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." * 
The intellectual vision is dazzled and dis- 
tressed, like a man who can bear the diffused 

^ St. Augustine, Confessions, lib. vii. capp. xvii. and xx. 
" The Twelve B^gmnes, cap. xii, 



164 RUYSBROECK 

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. Be- 
cause 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,' contem- 
plates God and Creation as He and it are 
reflected in the clear mirror of her in- 
tellectual powers, under ' images and simili- 
tudes ' — ^the Mysteries of Faith, the Attri- 
butes 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 simili- 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 155 

tudes, and in the degree in which the illu- 
minated 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 Incom- 
parable Light." ^ 

In The Kingdom of God's Lovers Ruys- 
broeck pours forth a marvellous list of the 
attributes under which the illuminated in- 
telligence 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 ab- 
stracts those images and attributes with 
which it can deal, as the lower reason ab- 
stracts 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 medita- 
tion is in fact the way in which the in- 
tellectual 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 

* Loc, cit. 



156 RUYSBROECK 

Being as in an Abyss," here again the con- 
templative 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 con- 
templation 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 sim- 
plicity of the Light, that thereby its avid 
desire of infinite fruition may be satisfied 
and fulfilled " ; ^ i.e. it has performed the true 
office of meditation, induced a shifting of 
consciousness to higher levels. 

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, how- 
ever, to suppose from this that emotion has 
been left behind. As the virtues and energies 
of the Active Life continue in the Contem- 
plative 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 develop- 
ment of the spiritual consciousness. Never- 
theless Ruysbroeck, though he cannot be 

* The Kingdom of God's Lovers, cap. xxxiv. 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 157 

accused of intellectualism, is led by his 
admiration for Victorine ideas to lay great 
stress upon the mental side of contempla- 
tion, 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 under- 
standing, 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 expres- 
sion, sharp definition, plain speech. Some- 
times 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 Contempla- 
tion lifts the whole consciousness to a plane 
of perception which transcends the cate- 
gories of the intellect : where it deals no 
longer with the label but with the Thing. 



158 RUYSBROECK 

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 Apprehen- 
sion [i.e. intuition] into its Origin, that is 
Himself." ^ It is effected by concentra- 
tion 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 appre- 
hends 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 contempla- 
tion; a synthetic experience which is 'in 
no wise,' This is for Ruysbroeck the con- 
templative 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." ^ 

" Here the reason no less than all sepa- 
rate acts must give way, for our powers 
become simple in Love ; they are silent 

' The Seven Cloisters, cap. xix. 
• The Twelve B^guines, cap. xii. 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 159 

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, ob- 
servation 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." ^ 
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, 

* The Mirror of Eternal Salvation, cap. xvii. 



160 RUYSBROECK 

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.^ When the work of trans- 
mutation is finished and he has received 
the ' Sparkling Stone of Divine Humanity,' 
this subject - object distinction — though 
really an eternal one, as Ruysbroeck con- 
tinually reminds us — will no longer be pos- 
sible 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 con- 
templation which is ' without conditions,' 
and that which is 'beyond and above con- 
ditions ' and belongs to the Superessential 
Life alone. In Intuitive Contemplation the 

* The Sparkling Stone, cap. iii. 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 161 

seeing self apprehends the Unconditioned 
World, Onwise, and makes ' loving ascents 
thereto.' It ' finds within itself the un- 
walled ' ; yet is still anchored to the con- 
ditioned sphere. In Superessential Con- 
templation, it dies into that ' world which 
is in no wise.' In the great chapter of 
The Sparkling Stone ^ 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 other- 
ness 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. 

* Cap. viii. : ' Of the Difference between the Secret 
Friends and the Hidden Sons of God.' 
II 



162 RUYSBROECK 

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 com- 
munion 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 indica- 
tions of a transitional state, in which the 
soul " is guided and lost, wanders and 
returns, ebbs and flows," within the ' limit- 
less 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 there- 
to, 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 appre- 
hension 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 



THE INTERIOR LIFE 163 

is Wayless, is intermediary between con- 
templation in images and similitudes of 
the intellect, and unveiled contemplation 
beyond all images in the Light of God." ^ 

1 The Twelve B^guines, cap. xii. 



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 — Be- 
coming, Being, God — and further, three 
ways of life whereby the self can correspond 
to these three orders, and which he calls 
the life of natvire, 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 

164 



THE SUPERESSENTIAL LIFE 165 

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 achieve- 
ment 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.' Be- 
yond both the conditioned and unconditioned 
world, beyond the Trinity Itself, that love 



166 RUYSBROECK 

discerns its ultimate objectiver— 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." ^ 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 Ruys- 
broeck's most wonderful passages are con- 
cerned 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 character- 
istic 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 

'■ The Twelve B^guines, cap. xvi. 



THE SUPERESSENTIAL LIFE 167 

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 Contempla- 
tion, or Fruition, we find the work of the 
Absolute Godhead Itself, energising upon 
a plane of intensity which so utterly tran- 
scends 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 



168 RUYSBROECK 

that very One which the Point is, yet 
nevertheless ever remain in themselves 
nought else but lines that come to an end." ^ 

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 Testa- 
ment saints, can find no other language 
for this last crisis of the spirit — its move- 
ment from the state of Wesen to that of 
Overwesen — than the language of death. 
The ever-moving line, though its vital char- 
acter 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 

* The Seven Cloisters, cap. xix. 



THE SUPERESSENTIAL LIFE 169 

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 resurrec- 
tion-life. " None is sure of Eternal Life 
unless he has died with all his own attri- 
butes wholly into God " ^ — ^all else falls 
short of the demands of supreme generosity. 

It is The Book of the Sparkling Stone 
which contains Ruysbroeck's most wonder- 
ful 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, 

* The Sparkling Stone, cap. viii. 



170 RUYSBROECK 

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 per- 
petual 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 intelli- 
gence. For when we go out from ourselves 
in love, and die to all observances in ignor- 
ance and darkness, then we are made com- 
plete, and transfigured by the Eternal Word, 
Image of the Father. Aiid 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 



THE SUPERESSENTIAL LIFE 171 

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 
life." ^ 

Such a passage as this lies beyond our poor 
attempts at analysis. Those only will under- 
stand it who yield themselves to it ; enter- 
ing 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 experi- 
ences 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 super- 
ficially inconsistent descriptions of this en- 
hanced life — which must harmonise and 
fulfil all the needs of our complex person- 
ality, providing inexhaustible objectives 

• The Sparkling Stone, cap. ix. 



m aUYSBROECK 

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 co- 
exist ; 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 achieve- 
ment 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 



THE SUPERESSENTIAL LIFE 173 

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 ^ — 
is able to taste and apprehend the sweetness 
of Infinite Reality. But at the other end, 
where he still participates in the time-pro- 
cess, 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 king- 
dom that lives in her ground ; and this 
hunger shall never be stilled." ^ 

The soul, whenever it attends to itself — 
withdraws^ itself,3 so to speak, from the 

* The Kingdom of God's Lovers, cap. xxxiii. 
2 The Sparkling Stone, cap. ix. ; cp. also The Twelve 
Bdguines, cap. xvi. 



174 RUYSBROECK 

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." ^ But when it dwells beyond 
itself, and in the supreme moments of 
ecstasy merges its consciousness in the 
Universal Consciousness, it transcends suc- 
cession 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 moved." ^ 

Such experiences however, such perfect 
fruition, in which the self dies into the 
overwhelming revelation of the Trans- 
cendent, and its rhythm is merged in the 
Divine Rhythm, cannot be continuous for 

• The Twelve B^guines, cap. xvi. 

" The Sparkling Stone, cap. ix. ; cp. also The Book of 
Truth, cap. xii. 



THE SUPERESSENTIAL LIFE 175 

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 when- 
soever he will, he can wholly absorb himself 
in this manner of contemplation, in so far 
as it is possible in this life." ^ 

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

"... swinging-wicket set 
Between 
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 differentia- 
tion, 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 

' The Kingdom of God's Lovers, cap. xxxi. 



176 RUYSBROECK 

or Simplicity in which they are harmonised, 
beyond the balanced consciousness of the 
indrawing and outdrawing tides.^ 

Ruysbroeck discerns three moments in 
this achievement. First, a negative move- 
ment, 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 con- 
templation. 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 observa- 
tion, with outstretched spirit and open eyes, 
so long can we see and have fruition. But 
in that same moment in which we would 

1 The Book of Truth, cap. xii. 



THE SUPERESSENTIAL LIFE ITT 

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." ^ 
It is clear from this passage that such 
' utterness ' of fruition is a fleeting experi- 
ence ; 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 abso- 
lute 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-abandon- 
ment to the Divine embrace — " that Super- 
essential Love with which we are one, and 
which we possess more deeply and widely 
than any other thing." ^ It was for this 
experience that Thomas a Kempis prayed in 
one of his most Ruysbroeckian passages : 
" ^^Tien shall I at full gather myself in 
Thee, that for Thy love I feel not myself, 

1 The Sparkling Stone, cap. x. 
' Op. cit. cap. ix. 



178 RUYSBROECK 

but Thee only, above all feeling and all 
manner, in a manner not known to all ? 
It is to this same paradoxical victory-in- 
surrender — ^this apparent losing which is 
the only real finding— that Francis Thomp- 
son invites the soul : 

" To feel thyself and be 
His dear nonentity — 

Caught 
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,' * 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, be- 
yond all separation," yet remain eternally 
distinct from Him ? How can the ' deifica- 
tion,' the ' union with God without differ- 
entiation ' on which the great mystics insist, 
be accepted, and pantheism be denied ? 

First, we notice that in all descriptions 

» The Imitation of Christ, lib. iii. cap. xxiii. 
* The Twelve B^guines, cap. xiv., and The Sparkling 
Stone, cap. ix. 

' The Twelve B^guines, cap. xvi. 



THE SUPERESSENTIAL LIFE 179 

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 re- 
mained, and " that this is true we can only 
know by feeling it, and in no other way." ^ 
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. 

1 The Sparkling Stone, cap. ix. ; cp. The Booh of Truth, 
cap. xi. 



180 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 fulfilled."^ 

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." * 
The iron, the air, represent our created 
essence ; the fire, the sunlight, God's Essence, 
which is added to our own — our super- 
essence. The two are held in a union 

* The Twelve Bdguines, cap. xvi. 

» Ibid. cap. xiv. ; cp. St. Bernard, De Diligendo Deo 
cap. X. The same image is found in St. Macarius and 
many other writers. 



THE SUPERESSENTIAL LIFE 181 

which, when we try to see it under the 
symboUsm 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 own." ^ 

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 measure- 
less 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- 

1 The Sparkling Stone, cap. xii. 



182 RUYSBROECK 

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 measure- 
less." " 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." ^ 

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 Sparkling Stone, cap. x. 



THE SUPERESSENTIAL LIFE 183 

" 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." ^ 

Thus is accomplished that parodoxical 
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 in- 
tolerable 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 ' ; ^ yet he never forgets to remind 
us that, as love is not love unless it looks 
forward towards the creation of new life, 

' The Sparkling Stone, cap. x, 
* Op. cit. cap. xii. 



184. RUYSBROECK 

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 de- 
mand." ^ " To be a living, willing Tool of 
God, wherewith God works what He will 
and how He will," is the goal of transcend- 
ence 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 " ; ^ for then the separate 
spirit is immersed in, and part of, the per- 
petual 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 con- 
templates Himself and all things in an 
Eternal Now that has neither beginning nor 
end." ^ 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. 

» op. cit. cap. xiii. ; cp. also The Seven Degrees, cap. xiv. 

^ The Sparkling Stone, cap. xiv. 

' The Spiritual Marriage, Jib. iii. cap. v. 



THE SUPERESSENTIAL LIFE 185 

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 fixa- 
tion 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 henedictus. 



BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 



I. Flemish Text 

Werken van Jan van Ruusbroec. Ed. J. David. 
6 vols. (Maetschappy der Vlaemsche Biblio- 
philen). (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 con- 
sulted at the British Museum. 

A re-issue of the Flemish text is nov/ in pro- 
gress ; 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. MtJTLLER (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 Scalce Divini Amoris Gradibtis of Gerard 

187 



188 BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 

Groot, together with the De Perfectione Filiorum 
Dei (i.e. The Sparkling Stone), at Bologna, in 1538. 

The standard Latin translation, however — in- 
dispensable 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 BSguines (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 

CEuvres de Ruysbroeck r Admirable. Traduction du 
Flamand par les Ben^dictins de Saint Paul 
DE Wisques. 

Vol. I. : Le Miroir du Salut Eternel ; 

Les Sept Cldtures ; Les Sept Degres 

de V^chelle 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 



BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 189 

lucid, and a short but adequate introduction 
is prefixed to each work. 

L'Ornement des Noces Spirituelles. Traduit du 
Flamandpar Maurice Maeterlinck (Brussels, 
1900). 
This celebrated book, still more its beautiful 
though unreliable introduction, is chiefly re- 
sponsible 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 Traitd des Sept 

Degr6s de V Amour. Traduction litierale du 

Texte Flamand-Latin, par R. Chamonal 

(Paris, 1909). Traitd du Royaume des Amants 

de Dieu. Traduit par R. Chamonal (Paris, 

1911). De la Vraie Contemplation (i.e. The 

Twelve Biguines). 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. Biguines ou de la Vraie Contempla- 
tion (first sixteen chapters only). Traduit 
du Flamand, avec Introduction, par L'Abbe 
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. 



190 BIBLIOGKAPHICAL NOTE 



D. German 

Drei Schrifien des Mystikers Johann van Ruys- 
broeck, aus dem Vl&mischen Uhersetzt 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 V Admirable: CEuvres Choisies. Traduit 
par E. Hello (Paris, 1902). 
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 Marriage. 



BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 191 

Biography and Criticism 
{A Selection) 

Auger, A. — De Doctrina et Mentis Joannis van 
Ruysbroeck (Louvain, 1892). 

Engelhaedt, J. G. VON. — Richard von St. Victor 
und J. Ruysbroeck (Erlangen, 1838). 
Useful for tracing the correspondences between 
the Victorines and Ruysbroeck. 

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-men- 
tioned; with many fine passages translated from 
Ruysbroeck's other works. 

Pomerius, H. — De Origine Monasterii Viridisvallis 
una cum Vitis Joannis Rusbrochii. 
Printed in Analecta Bollandiana, vol. iv. 
(Brussels, 1885). The chief authority for all 
biographical facts. 

Scully, Dom Vincent. — A Mediceval 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 



192 BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 

analysis of all Ruysbroeck's works and full biblio- 
graphy. 

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 material. 

De Handschriften van Jan van Ruushroec's 

Werken. 2 vols. (Gent, 1900). 
An important and scholarly study of the manu- 
script sources by the greatest living authority. 

Notices of Ruysbroeck will be found in the 

following works : — 

Auger, A. — Etude sur les Mystiques des Pays Bas 
an Moyen Age (Acadimie 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 Re- 
ligion (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. 



BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 193 

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). 



Influences 

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 cxcvi. 
St, Bernard ; Migne, P.L., clxxxii.-clxxxv. ; 

Eng. Trans., by Eales (London, 1889-96). 
St. Thomas Aquinas ; Opera (Romse, 1882-1906); 

Eng. Trans., by the Dominican Fathers (in 

progress). 
St. Bona VENTURA ; Opera (Paris, 1864-71). 
Meister Eckhart ; Schriflen 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). 



13 



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CONTENTS 



The Way of the Spirit in Ancient China. 

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Bergson's Intuitionism. 

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