THE stream of mystic Christianity which we have watched from its distant springs flows on in an ever deepening and widening channel through the whole of the Middle Ages. In Germany more particularly there came a time when what is called mystic Christianity formed almost the only spiritual food of the people. Scholasticism, no doubt, held its own among the higher ecclesiastics, but the lower clergy and the laity at large, lived on the teaching which, as we saw, flowed originally from Dionysius, and interpenetrated even the dry scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), of Bonaventura (1221-1274), and others. It then came to the surface once more in the labours of the German Mystics, and it became in their hands a very important moral and political power.
The German Mystics.
First of all, these German Mystics boldly adopted the language of the people, they spoke in the vulgar tongue to the vulgar people1, they spoke in the language of the heart to the heart of the people. Secondly, they adapted themselves in other respects also to the wants and to the understanding of their flocks. Their religion was a religion of the heart and of love rather than of the head and of logical deduction. It arose at the very time when scholastic Christianity had outlived itself, and when, owing to misfortunes of every kind, the people stood most in need of religious support and consolation.
The Fourteenth Century in Germany.
The fourteenth century, during which the German mystics were most active and most powerful, was a time not only of political and ecclesiastical unrest, but a time of intense suffering. In many respects it reminds us of the fifth century which gave rise to mystic Neo-Platonism in the Christian Church. The glorious period of the Hohenstaufen emperors had come to a miserable end. The poetical enthusiasm of the nation had passed away. The struggle between the Empire and the Pope seemed to tear up the very roots of religion and loyalty, and the spectacle of an extravagant, nay even an openly profligate life, led by many members of the higher clergy had destroyed nearly all reverence for the Church. Like the Church, the Empire also was torn to pieces; no one knew who was Emperor and who was Pope. The Interdict fell like a blight on the fairest portions of Germany, every kind of pestilence broke out, ending at last in the fearful visitation of the Black Death (1348-1349).
This Interdict meant far more than we have any idea of. The churches were closed, no bells were allowed to be rung. The priests left their parishes; in many places there were no clergy to baptise children, to perform marriages, or to bury the dead. In few places only some priests were brave enough to defy the Papal Interdict, and to remain with their flocks, and this they did at the peril of their body and their soul. The people became thoroughly scared. They saw the finger of God in all the punishments inflicted on their country, but they did not know how to avert His anger. Many people banded together and travelled from village to village, singing psalms and scourging themselves in public in the most horrible manner. Others gave themselves up to drink and every kind of indulgence. But many retired from the world altogether, and devoted their lives to contemplation, looking forward to the speedy approach of the end of the world.
The People and the Priesthood.
It was during those times of outward trouble and inward despair that some of those who are generally called the German, Mystics, chiefly Dominican and Franciscan monks, devoted themselves to the service of the people. They felt that not even the Papal Interdict could absolve them from the duty which they owed to God and to their flocks. They preached wherever they could find a congregation, in the streets, in the meadows, wherever two or three were gathered together, and what they preached was the simple Gospel, interpreted in its true or, as it was called, its mystic meaning. The monastic orders of the Franciscans and Dominicans were most active at the time, and sent out travelling preachers all over the country. Their sermons were meant for the hour, and in few cases only have they been preserved in Latin or in German. Such were the sermons of David of Augsburg (died 1271) and Berchtold of Regensburg (died 1272). The effect of their preaching must have been very powerful. We have descriptions of large gatherings which took place wherever they came. The churches were not large enough to hold the multitudes, and the sermons had often to be delivered outside the walls of the towns. We hear of meetings of 40,000, 100,000, nay, of 200,000 people, though we ought to remember how easily such numbers are exaggerated by friendly reporters. The effect of these sermons seems to have been instantaneous. Thus we are told that a nobleman who had appropriated a castle and lands belonging to the cloister of Pfaefers, at once restored them after hearing Berchtold's sermon. When taken captive Berchtold preached to his captor, and not only converted his household, but persuaded him to join his order. He was even believed to possess the power of working miracles and of prophesying. One year before his own death and while he was preaching at Ratisbon, he suddenly had a vision of his friend and teacher, David of Augsburg, and he prophesied his death, which, we are told, had taken place at that very moment. A woman while listening to his sermon fell on her knees and confessed her sins before the whole congregation. Berchtold accepted her confession and asked who would marry the woman, promising to give her a dowry. A man came forward, and Berchtold at once collected among the people the exact sum which he had promised for her dowry. We know, of course, how easily such rumours spring up, and how rapidly they grow. Still we may accept all these legends as symptoms of the feverish movement which these popular preachers were then producing all over Germany. No wonder that these German mystics and the Friends of God, as they were called, were disliked by the regular clergy. Even when they belonged to such orthodox orders as the Dominicans and Franciscans they were occasionally carried away into saying things which were not approved of by the higher clergy. They naturally sided with the people in their protests against the social sins of the higher classes. The luxurious life of the clergy, particularly if of foreign nationality, began to stir up a national antagonism against Rome. Nor was this unfriendly feeling against Rome the only heresy of which the German people and the German mystic preachers were suspected. They were suspected of an inclination towards Waldensian, Albigensian, and in general towards what were then called Pantheistic heresies. There is no doubt that the influence of the Waldensians extended to Germany, and that some of them had been active in spreading acknowledge of the Bible among the people in Germany by means of vernacular translations. We read in an account of the Synod of Trier, A.D. 1231, that many of the people were found to be instructed in the sacred writings which they possessed in German translations (Multi eorum instructierant in Scripturis sanctisquashabebant in theutonicum translates). Complaint is made that even little girls were taught the Gospels and Epistles, and that people learnt passages of the Bible by heart in the vulgar tongue (Puellas parvulas docent evangelia et epistolas—dociles inter aliquos complices et facundos docent verbs evangelii et dicta apostolorum et sanctorum aliorum in vulgari lingua corde firmare)2. The Albigenses seem to have adopted the name of Kathari, the pure, possibly in recollection of the Katharsis which was a preliminary to the Henosis. This name of Kathari became in German Ketzer, with the sense of heretic. The inquisition for heresy was very active, but unable to quell the religious movement in Germany. The very orders, Dominicans and Franciscans, which were meant to counteract it, were not altogether safe against heretical infection. Among the earliest Dominicans who were celebrated as popular preachers, that is to say, who were able to preach in German, we find the name of the notorious inquisitor Konrad of Marburg, who was slain by the people in 1234 for his cruelties. The mystic sermons of Albertus Magnus were written in Latin and afterwards translated into German. The people naturally sided with those who sided with them. To them what is called mystic Christianity was the only Christianity they understood and cared for. They had at that time very little to occupy their thoughts, and their longing for religious comfort became all the stronger the less there was to distract their thoughts or to satisfy their ambition in the political events of the times.
Dominicans and Franciscans.
It may truly be said that the great bulk of the German people were then for the first time brought into living contact with their religion by these Dominican and Franciscan friars. However much we may admire the learning and the logical subtlety of the schoolmen, it is easy to see that the questions which they discussed were not questions that could possibly influence the religious thoughts or conduct of the masses. It had long been felt that something else and something more was wanted, and this something else and something more seemed best to be supplied by what was called mystic Christianity, by what Dionysius had called the Stulta Sapientia excedens laudantes3, ‘the simple-minded Wisdom exceeding all praise.’
This simple religion was supposed to spring from the love which God Himself has poured into the human soul, while the human soul in loving God does but return the love of God. This religion does not require much learning, it is meant for the poor and pure in spirit. It was meant to lead man from the stormy sea of his desires and passions to the safe haven of the eternal, to remain there firmly anchored in the love of God, while it was admitted that the scholastic or as it was called the literary religion could give no rest, but could only produce a never-ceasing appetite for truth and for victory.
There was, however, no necessity for separating learning from mystic religion, as we see in the case of St. Augustine, in Bonaventura, St. Bernard, and once more in Master Eckhart and many of the German mystics. These men had two faces, one for the doctors of divinity, their learned rivals, the other for the men, women, and children, who came to hear such sermons as Master Eckhart could preach, whether in Latin or in the vulgar tongue. At first, these popular preachers were not learned theologians, but simply eloquent preachers, who travelled from village to village, and tried to appeal to the conscience of the peasants, to men and women, in their native tongue. But they prepared the way for the German mystics of the next generation, who were no longer mere kind-hearted travelling friars, but learned men, doctors of theology, and some of them even high dignitaries of the Church. The best-known names among these are Master Eckhart, Tauler, Suso, Ruysbrook, Gerson, and Cardinal Cusanus.
Eckhart and Tauler.
Every one of these men deserves a study by himself. The best-known and most attractive is no doubt Tauler. His sermons have been frequently published; they were translated into Latin, into modern German, some also into English. They are still read in Germany as useful for instruction and edification, and they have escaped the suspicion of heresy which has so often been raised, and, it may be, not without some reason, against Master Eckhart. Still Master Eckhart is a much more powerful, and more original thinker, and whatever there is of real philosophy in Tauler seems borrowed from him. In Eckhart's German writings, which were edited for the first time by Pfeiffer (1857), mystic Christianity, or as it might more truly be called, the Christianity as conceived by St. John, finds its highest expression. It is difficult to say whether he is more of a scholastic philosopher or of a mystic theologian. The unholy divorce between religion and philosophy did not exist for him. A hundred years later so holy and orthodox a writer as Gerson had to warn the clergy that if they separated religion from philosophy, they would destroy both4. Master Eckhart, though he constantly refers to and relies on the Bible, never appeals simply to its authority in order to establish the truth of his teaching. His teaching agrees with the teaching of St. John and of St. Paul, but it was meant to convince by itself. He thought he could show that Christianity, if only rightly understood, could satisfy all the wants both of the human heart and of human reason. Every doctrine of the New Testament is accepted by him, but it is thought through by himself, and only after it has passed through the fire of his own mind, is it preached by him as eternal truth. He quotes the pagan masters as well as the Fathers of the Church, and he sometimes appeals to the former as possessing a truer insight into certain mysteries than even Christian teachers.
He is most emphatic in the assertion of truth. ‘I speak to you,’ he says, ‘in the name of eternal truth.’ ‘It is as true as that God liveth.’ ‘Bi gote, bi gote,’ ‘By God, by God,’ occurs so often that one feels almost inclined to accept the derivation of ‘bigot’ as having meant originally a man who on every occasion appeals to God, then a hypocrite, then a fanatic. Eckhart's attitude, however, is not that of many less straightforward Christian philosophers who try to force their philosophy into harmony with the Bible. It is rather that of an independent thinker, who rejoices whenever he finds the results of his own speculations anticipated by, and as it were hidden, in the Bible. Nor does he ever, so far as I remember, appeal to miracles in support of the truth of Christianity or of the true divinity of Christ. When he touches on miracles, he generally sees an allegory in them, and he treats them much as the Stoics treated Homer or as Philo treated the Old Testament. Otherwise, miracles had no interest for him. In a world in which, as he firmly believed, not one sparrow could fall on the ground without your Father (Matt. x. 29), where was there room for a miracle? No doubt, and he often says so himself, his interpretation of the Bible was not always in accordance with that of the great doctors of the Church. Some of his speculations are so bold that one does not wonder at his having incurred the suspicion of heresy. Even in our more enlightened days some of his theories about the Godhead would no doubt sound very startling. He sometimes seems bent on startling his congregation, as when he says, ‘He who says that God is good, offends Him as much as if he were to say that white is black.’ And yet he always remained a most obedient son of the Church, only in his own way. Like other independent thinkers of that time, he always declared himself ready to revoke at once anything and everything heretical in his writings, but he called on his adversaries to prove first of all that it was heretical. The result was that though he was accused of heresy by the Archbishop of Cologne in 1326, nothing very serious happened to him during his lifetime. But after his death, out of twenty-eight statements of his which had been selected as heretical for Papal condemnation, the first fifteen and the two last were actually condemned, while the remaining eleven were declared to be suspicious. It was then too late for Master Eckhart to prove that they were not heretical.
Eckhart was evidently a learned theologian, and his detractors were afraid of him. He knew his Plato and his Aristotle. How he admired Plato is best shown by his calling him Der gröze Pfaffe, the great priest (p. 261, 1. 21). Aristotle is to him simply the Master. He had studied Proclus, or Proculus, as be calls him, and he often refers to Cicero, Seneca, and even to the Arabic philosopher, Avicenna. He frequently appeals to St. Chrysostom, Dionysius, St. Augustine, and other Fathers of the Church, and has evidently studied Thomas Aquinas, who may almost be called his contemporary. He had received in fact a thorough scholastic training5, and was a match for the best among the advocates of the Church. Eckhart had studied and afterwards taught at the University of Paris, and had received his Degree of Doctor of Divinity from Pope Boniface VIII. In 1304 he became the Provincial of the Order of the Dominicans in Saxony, though his residence remained at Cologne. He was also appointed Vicar-General of Bohemia, and travelled much in Germany, visiting the monasteries of his order and trying to reform them. But he always returned to the Rhine, and he died at Cologne, probably in the year 1327.
Eckhart has been very differently judged by different people. By those who could not understand him, he has been called a dreamer and almost a madman; by others who were his intellectual peers, he has been called the wisest Doctor, the friend of God, the best interpreter of the thoughts of Christ, of St. John, and St. Paul, the forerunner of the Reformation. He was a vir sanctus, even according to the testimony of his bitterest enemies. Many people think they have disposed of him by calling him a mystic. He was a mystic in the sense in which St. John was, to mention no greater name. Luther, the German Reformer, was not a man given to dreams or sentimentalism. No one would call him a mystic, in the vulgar sense of the word. But he was a great admirer of Eckhart, if we may take him to have been the author of the Theologia Germanica. I confess I doubt his authorship, but the book is certainly pervaded by his spirit, particularly as regards the practical life of a true Christian6. This is what Luther writes of the book: ᾽From no book, except the Bible, and the works of St. Augustine, have I learnt more what God, what Christ, what man and other things are, than from this (Luther's Werke, 1883, vol. i. p. 378). A very different thinker, but likewise no dreamer or sentimentalist, Schopenhauer, says of Eckhart that his teaching stands to the New Testament as essence of wine to wine.
Henry More, the Cambridge Platonist, another ardent admirer of the Theologia Germanica, speaks of it as ‘that golden little book.’
It is a great mistake to suppose that Eckhart's so-called mysticism was a matter of vague sentiment. On the contrary, it was built up on the solid basis of scholastic philosophy, and it defied in turn the on-slaughts of the most ingenious scholastic disputants. How thoroughly his mind was steeped in scholastic philosophy, has lately been proved in some learned papers by Dr. Denifé. I admit his writings are not always easy. First of all, they are written in Middle High German, a language which is separated by only about a century from the German of the Nibelunge. And his language is so entirely his own that it is sometimes very difficult to catch his exact meaning, still more to convey it in English. It is the same as in the Upanishads. The words themselves are easy enough, but their drift is often very hard to follow.
It seems to me that a study of the Upanishads is often the very best preparation for a proper understanding of Eckhart's Tracts and Sermons. The intellectual atmosphere is just the same, and he who has learnt to breathe in the one, will soon feel at home in the other.
I regret that it would be quite impossible to give you even the shortest abstract of the whole of Eckhart's psychological and metaphysical system. It deserves to be studied for its own sake, quite as much as the metaphysical systems of Aristotle or Descartes, and it would well repay the labours of some future Gifford Lecturer to bring together all the wealth of thought that lies scattered about in Eckhart's writings. I can here touch on a few points only, such as bear on our own special subject, the nature of God and of the Soul, and the relation between the two.
Eckhart's Definition of the Deity.
Eckhart defines the Godhead as simple esse, as actus purus. This is purely scholastic, and even Thomas Aquinas himself would probably not have objected to Eckhart's repeated statement that Esse est Deus. According to him there is and can be nothing higher than to be7. He naturally appeals to the Old Testament in order to show that I am is the only possible name of Deity. In this he does not differ much from St. Thomas Aquinas and other scholastic philosophers. St. Thomas says: Ipsum esse est perfectissimum omnium, comparatur enim ad omnia ut actus …unde ipsum ease est actualitas omnium rerum et etiam ipsarum formarum8. Being without qualities God is to us unknowable and incomprehensible, hidden and dark, till the Godhead is lighted up by its own light, the light of self-knowledge, by which it becomes subjective and objective, Thinker and Thought, or, as the Christian mystics express it, Father and Son. The bond between the two is the Holy Ghost. Thus the Godhead, the Divine Essence or Ousia, becomes God in three Persons. In thinking Himself, the Father thinks everything that is within Him, that is, the ideas, the logoi of the unseen world. Here Master Eckhart stands completely on the old Platonic and Stoic platform. He is convinced that there is thought and reason in the world, and he concludes in consequence that the world of thought, the κόσμος νοητός, can only be the thought of God. Granted this, and everything else follows. ‘The eternal Thought or the Word of the Father, is the only begotten Son, and,’ he adds, ‘he is our Lord Jesus Christ9.’
We see here how Eckhart uses the old Alexandrian language, and conceives the eternal ideas not only as many, but also as one, as the Logos, in which all things, as conceived by the Father, are one before they become many in the phenomenal world. But Master Eckhart is very anxious to show that though all things are dynamically in God, God is not actually in all things. Like the Vedântist, he speaks of God as the universal Cause, and yet claims for Him an extra-mundane existence. ‘God,’ he writes, ‘is outside all nature, He is not Himself Nature, He is above it10.’
And yet Master Eckhart is called a pantheist by men who hardly seem to know the meaning of pantheism or of Christianity. And when he further on ventures to say, that the worlds, both the ideal and the phenomenal, were thought and created by God on account of His divine love, and therefore by necessity, and from all eternity, this again is branded as heresy, as if there could be any variance in the Divine Counsel, nay, as if there could be in God any difference between what we call necessity and liberty11. If human language can reach at all to these dizzy heights of speculation, nothing seems more in accordance with Christian doctrine than to say what Eckhart says: ‘God is always working, and His working is to beget His Son.’
Creation is Emanation.
What is generally called Creation is conceived by Eckhart as Emanation. On this point he is at one with Thomas Aquinas and many of the most orthodox theologians. I do not appeal to Dionysius or Scotus Erigena, for their orthodoxy has often been questioned. But Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa, p. 1, qu. 19, a. 4, without any hesitation explains creation as emanatio totius entis ab uno, emanation of all that is from One. Nay, he goes further, and maintains that God is in all things, potentially, essentially, and present: per potentiam, essentiam et praesentiam; per essentiam, nam omne ens est participatio divini ease; per potentiam, in quantum omnia in virtute ejus agunt; per praesentiam, in quantum ipse omnia immediate ordinat et disponit12. Such ideas would be stigmatised as pantheistic by many living theologians, and so would consequently many passages even from the New Testament, where God is represented as the All in All. But Eckhart argued quite consistently that unless the soul of man is accepted as an efflux from God, there can be no reflux of the soul to God, and this according to Eckhart is the vital point of true Christianity. A clock cannot return to the clockmaker, but a drop of rain can return to the ocean from whence it was lifted, and a ray of light is always light.
‘All creatures,’ he writes, ‘are in God as uncreated, but not by themselves.’ This would seem to mean that the ideas of all things were in God, before the things themselves were created or were made manifest. ‘All creatures,’ he continues, ‘are more noble in God than they are by themselves. God is therefore by no means confounded with the world, as He has been by Amalrich and by all pantheists. The world is not God, nor God the world. The being of the world is from God, but it is different from the being of God.’ Eckhart really admits two processes, one the eternal creation in God, the other the creation in time and space. This latter creation differs, as he says, from the former, as a work of art differs from the idea of it in the mind of the artist.
The Human Soul.
Eckhart looks upon the human soul as upon everything else, as thoughts spoken by God through creation. But though the soul and all the powers of the soul, such as perception, memory, understanding and will, are created, he holds that there is something in the soul untreated, something divine, nay the Godhead itself. This was again one of the theses which were declared heretical after his death13.
In the same way then as the Godhead or the Divine Ground is without any knowable qualities and cannot be known except as being, the Divine Element in the soul also is without qualities and cannot be known except as being. This Divine Spark, though it may be covered and hidden for a time by ignorance, passion, or sin, is imperishable. It gives us being, oneness, personality, and subjectivity, and being subjective, like God, it can only be a knower, it can never be known, as anything else is known objectively.
It is through this Divine element in the human soul that we are and become one with God. Man cannot know God objectively, but in what Eckhart calls mystic contemplation, he can feel his oneness with the Divine. Thus Eckhart writes: ‘What is seen with the eye wherewith I see God, that is the same eye wherewith God sees me. My eye and God's eye are one eye and one vision, one knowing, and one loving. It is the same to know God and to be known by God, to see God and to be seen by God. And as the air illumined is nothing but that it illumines, for it illumines because it is illumined, in the same manner we know because we are known and that He makes us to know Him14.’ This knowing and to be known is what Eckhart calls the Birth of the Son in the soul.
‘If His knowing is mine, and His substance, His very nature and essence, is knowing, it follows that His essence and substance and nature are mine. And if His nature and essence and substance are mine, I am the son of God.’ ‘Behold,’ he exclaims,‘what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God’—and be the sons of God.
This second birth and this being born as the son of God is with Eckhart synonymous with the Son of God being born in the soul. He admits no difference between man, when born again, and the Son of God, at least no more than there is between God the Father and God the Son. Man becomes by grace what Christ is by nature, and only if born again as the son of God can men receive the Holy Ghost.
What Eckhart calls the Divine Ground in the soul and in the Godhead may be, I think, justly compared with the neutral Brahman of the Upanishads, as discovered in the world and in the soul. And as in the Upanishads the masculine Brahman is distinguished, though not separated, from the neutral Brahman, so, according to Eckhart, the three Persons may be distinguished from the Divine Ground, though they cannot be separated from it.
All this sounds very bold, but if we translate it into ordinary language it does not seem to mean more than that the three Divine Persons share this underlying Godhead as their common essence or Ousia, that they are in fact homoousioi, which is the orthodox doctrine for which Eckhart, like St. Clement, tries to supply an honest philosophical explanation.
If we want to understand Eckhart, we must never forget that, like Dionysius, he is completely under the sway of Neo-Platonist, in one sense even of Platonist philosophy. When we say that God created the world, Eckhart would say that the Father spoke the Word, the Logos, or that He begat the Son. Both expressions mean exactly the same with him.
All these are really echoes of very ancient thought. We must remember that the ideas, according to Plato, constituted the eternal or changeless world, of which the phenomenal world is but a shadow. With Plato, the ideas or the ϵίδη alone can be said to be real, and they alone can form the subject of true knowledge. Much as the Stoics protested against the independent existence of these ideas, the Neo-Platonists took them up again, and some of the Fathers of the Church represented them as the pure forms or the perfect types according to which the world was created, and all things in it. It was here that the ancient philosophers discovered what we call the Origin of Species. We saw how the whole of this ideal creation, or rather manifestation, was also spoken of as the Logos or the manifested Word of God by which He created the world, and this Logos again was represented, as we saw, long before the rise of Christianity, as the offspring or the only begotten Son of God. Eckhart, like some of the earliest Fathers of the Church, started with the concept of the Logos or the Word as the Son of God, the other God (δϵὐτϵρο ς θϵός), and he predicated this Logos of Christ who was to him the human realisation of the ideal Son of God, of Divine Reason and Divine Love.
The Messiah and the Logos.
What the Jews did with the name of the Messiah, the Greeks had to do with the name of the Logos. The idea of the Messiah was there for ages, and though it must have required an immense effort, the Jews who embraced Christianity brought themselves to say that this ideal Messiah, this Son of David, this King of Glory was Jesus, the Crucified. In the same manner and with the same effort, and, as I believe, with the same honesty, the Greek philosophers, who embraced Christianity, had to bring themselves to say that this Logos, this Thought of God, this Son of God, this Monogenês or Only begotten, known to Plato as well as to Philo, appeared in Jesus of Nazareth, and that in Him alone the divine idea of manhood had ever been fully realised. Hence Christ was often called the First Man, not Adam. The Greek converts who became the real conquerors of the Greek world, raised their Logos to a much higher meaning than it had in the minds of the Stoics, just as the Jewish converts imparted to the name of Messiah a much more sublime import than what it had in the minds of the Scribes and Pharisees. Yet the best among these Greek converts, in joining the Christian Church, never forswore their philosophical convictions, least of all did they commit themselves to the legendary traditions which from very early times had gathered round the cradle of the Son of Joseph and Mary. To the real believer in Christ as the Word and the Son of God these traditions seemed hardly to exist; they were neither denied nor affirmed. It is in the same spirit that Master Eckhart conceives the true meaning of the Son of God as the Word, and of God the Father as the speaker and thinker and, worker of the Word, freely using these Galilean legends as beautiful allegories, but never appealing to them as proofs of the truth of Christ's teaching. Eckhart, to quote his ipsissima verba, represents the Father as speaking His word into the soul, and when the Son is born, every soul becomes Maria. He expresses the same thought by saying that the Divine Ground, that is the Godhead, admits of no distinction or predicate. It is oneness, darkness, but the light of the Father pierces into that darkness, and the Father, knowing His own essence, begets in the knowledge of Himself, the Son. And in the love which the Father has for the Son, the Father with the Son breathes the Spirit. By this process the eternal dark ground becomes lighted up, the Godhead becomes God, and God in three Persons. When the Father by thus knowing Himself, speaks the eternal Word, or what is the same, begets His Son, He speaks in that Word all things. His divine Word is the one idea of all things (that is the Logos), and this eternal Word of the Father is His only Son, and the Lord Jesus Christ in whom He has spoken all creatures without beginning and without end. And this speaking does not take place once only. According to Eckhart ‘God is always working,15 in a now, in an eternity, and His working is begetting His Son. In this birth all things have flown out, and such delight has God in this birth, that He spends all His power in it. God begets Himself altogether in His Son, he speaks all things in Him.’ Though such language may sound strange to us, and though it has been condemned by those who did not know its purport, as fanciful, if not as heretical, we should remember that St. Augustine also uses exactly the same language: ‘The speaking of God,’ he says, ‘is His begetting, and His begetting is His speaking’ (p. 100, 1. 27), and Eckhart continues (p. 100, 1. 29): ‘If God were to cease from this speaking of the Word, even for one moment, Heaven and Earth would vanish.’
With us, word has so completely lost its full meaning, as being the unity of thought and sound, the one inseparable from the other, that we cannot be reminded too often that in all these philosophical speculations Logos or Word does not mean the word as mere sound or as we find it in a dictionary, but word as the living embodiment, as the very incarnation of thought.
What has seemed so strange to some modern philosophers, namely, this inseparableness of thought and word, or, as I sometimes expressed it, the identity of reason and language, was perfectly familiar to these ancient thinkers and theologians, and I am glad to see that my critics have ceased at last to call my Science of Thought a linguistic paradox, and begin to see that what I contended for in that book was known long ago, and that no one ever doubted it. The Logos, the Word, as the thought of God, as the whole body of divine or eternal ideas, which Plato had prophesied, which Aristotle had criticised in vain, which the Neo-Platonists re-established, is a truth that forms, or ought to form, the foundation of all philosophy. And unless we have fully grasped it, as it was grasped by some of the greatest Fathers of the Church, we shall never be able to understand the Fourth Gospel, we shall never be able to call ourselves true Christians. For it is, as built upon the Logos, that Christianity holds its own unique position among all the religions of the world. Of course, a religion is not a philosophy. It has a different purpose, and it must speak a different language. Nothing is more difficult than to express the results of the deepest thought in language that should be intelligible to all, and yet not misleading. Unless a religion can do that, it is not a religion; at all events, it cannot live for every generation that is born into the world requires a popular, a childlike translation of the sublimest truths which have been discovered and stored up by the sages and prophets of old. If no child could grow up a Christian, unless it understood the true meaning of Logos, as elaborated by Platonic, Stoic, and Neo-Platonic philosophers, and then adopted and adapted by the Fathers of the Church, how many Christians should we have? By using the words Father and Son, the Fathers of the Church felt that they used expressions which contain nothing that, is not true, and which admit of a satisfactory interpretation as soon as such interpretation is wanted. And the most satisfactory explanation, the best solution of all our religious difficulties seems to me here as elsewhere supplied by the historical school. Let us only try to discover how words and thoughts arose, how thoughts came to be what they are, and we shall generally find that there is some reason, whether human or Divine, in them.
To me, I confess, nothing seems more delightful than to be able to discover how by an unbroken chain our thoughts and words carry us back from century to century, how the roots and feeders of our mind pierce through stratum after stratum, and still draw their life and nourishment from the deepest foundations, from the hearts of the oldest thinkers of mankind. That is what gives us confidence in ourselves, and often helps to impart new life to what threatens to become hard and petrified, mythological and unmeaning, in our intellectual and, more particularly, in our religious life. To many people, I feel sure, the beginning of the Gospel of St. John, ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ and again, ‘The Word was made flesh,’ can only be a mere tradition. But as soon as we can trace back the Word that in the beginning was with God, and through which (δι̑ αὐτ ου̑) all things were made, to the Monogenês, as postulated by Plato, elaborated by the Stoics, and handed on by the Neo-Platonists, whether pagan, Jewish, or Christian, to the early Fathers of the Church, a contact seems established, and an electric current seems to run in a continuous stream, from Plato to St. John, and from St. John to our own mind, and give light and life to some of the hardest and darkest sayings of the New Testament. Let us reverence by all means what is called childlike faith, but let us never forget that to think also is to worship God.
Now let us return to Master Eckhart, and remember that according to him the soul is founded on the same Divine Ground as God, that it shares in fact in the same nature, that it would be nothing without it. Yet in its created form it is separated from God. It feels that separation or its own incompleteness, and in feeling this, it becomes religious. How is that yearning for completion to be satisfied? How is that divine home-sickness to be healed? Most mystic philosophers would say, by the soul being drawn near to God in love, or by an approach to God, just as we saw in the Upanishads the soul approaching the throne of Brahman, as a masculine deity.
The Approach to God.
Eckhart, however, like the higher Vedântists, denies that there can be such an approach, or at all events he considers it only a lower form of religion. Thus he says, p. 80: ‘While we are approaching God, we never come to Him,’—almost the very words of the Vedânta.
Eckhart, while recognising this desire for God or this love of God as a preparatory step, takes a much higher view of the true relation between soul and God. That ray of the Godhead, which he calls the spirit of the soul and many other names, such as spark (Fünklein), root, spring, also συντήρησις in fact, the real Self of man, is the common ground of God and the soul. In it God and the soul are always one potentially, and they become one actually when the Son is born in the soul of man, that is when the soul has discovered its eternal oneness with God. In order that God may enter the soul, everything else must first be thrown out of it, everything sinful, but also every kind of attachment to the things of this world. Lastly, there must be a complete surrender of our own self. In order to live in God, man must die to himself, till his will is swallowed up in God's will. There must be perfect stillness in the soul before God can whisper His word into it, before the light of God can shine in the soul and transform the soul into God.
Birth of the son.
When man has thus become the son of God, it is said that the Son of God is born in him, and his soul is at rest. You will have observed in all this the fundamental idea of the Vedânta, that by removal of nescience the individual soul recovers its true nature, as identical with the Divine soul; nor can it have escaped you on the other side how many expressions are used by Eckhart which are perfectly familiar to us from the Neo-Platonists, and from the Gospel of St. John, which can convey their true meaning to those only who know their origin and their history.
Passages from the Fourth Gospel.
The passages on which Eckhart relies and to which he often appeals arc: ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (xiv. 9); ‘I am in the Father, and the Father in me’ (xiv. 10) ‘No man cometh unto the Father, but by me’ (xiv. 6); ‘This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent’ (xvii. 3). And again: ‘And now, O Father, glorify Thou me with Thine own Self with the glory which I bad with Thee before the world was; that they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us’ (xvii. 5, 21).
These are the deepest notes that vibrate through the whole of Eckhart's Christianity, and though their true meaning had been explained long before Eckhart's time, by the great scholastic thinkers, such as Thomas Aquinas himself, the two St. Victors, Bonaventura, and others, seldom had their deepest purport been so powerfully brought out as by Master Eckhart, in his teaching of true spiritual Christianity. Dr. Deniflé is no doubt quite right in showing how much of this spiritual Christianity may be found in the writings of those whom it is the fashion to call rather contemptuously, mere schoolmen. But he hardly does full justice to Eckhart's personality. Not every schoolman was a vir sanctus, not every Dominican preacher was so unworldly, so full of love and compassion for his fellow-creatures as Eckhart was. And though his Latin terminology may be called more accurate and vigorous than his German utterances, there is a warmth and homeliness in his German sermons which, to my mind at least, the colder Latin seems to destroy. Dr. Deniflé is no doubt quite right in claiming Eckhart as a scholastic and as a Roman Catholic, but he would probably allow his heresies at least to be those of the German mystic.
Objections to Mystic Religion.
We have observed already a number of striking analogies between the spirit of mystic Christianity of the fourteenth century and that of the Vedânta-philosophy in India. It is curious that the attacks also to which both systems have been exposed, and the dangers which have been pointed out as inherent in them, are almost identical in India and in Germany.
It is well known that a very severe asceticism was strongly advocated and widely practised by the followers of both systems. Here again there can, of course, be no idea of borrowing or even of any indirect influence. If we can understand that asceticism was natural to the believers in the Upanishads in India, we shall be equally able to understand the motives which led Master Eckhart and his friends to mortify the flesh, and to live as much as possible a life of solitude and retirement from the world.
That body and soul are antagonistic can hardly be doubted. Plato and other Greek philosophers were well aware that the body may become too much for the soul, obscuring the rational and quickening the animal desires. Even when the passions of the flesh do not degenerate into actual excess, they are apt to dissipate and weaken the powers of the mind. Hence we find from very early times and in almost all parts of the world a tendency on the part of profound thinkers to subdue the flesh in order to free the spirit. Nor can we doubt the concurrent testimony of so many authorities that by abstinence from food, drink, and other sensual enjoyments, the energies of the spirit are strengthened16. This is particularly the case with that spiritual energy which is occupied with religion. Of course, like everything else, this asceticism, though excellent in itself, is liable to mischievous exaggeration, and has led in fact to terrible excesses. I am not inclined to doubt the testimony of trustworthy witnesses that by fasting and by even a more painful chastening of the body, the mind may be raised to more intense activity. Nor can I resist the evidence that by certain exercises, such as peculiar modes of regulating the breathing, keeping the body in certain postures, and fixing the sight on certain objects, a violent exaltation of our nervous system may be produced which quickens our imaginations, and enables us to see and conceive objects which are beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. I believe that the best physiologists are quite aware of all this, and perfectly able to account for it; and it would be carrying scepticism too far, were we to decline to accept the accounts given us by the persons themselves of their beatific visions, or by trustworthy witnesses. On the other hand, it is perfectly well known that when these ascetic tendencies once break out, they are soon by mere emulation carried to such extremes that they produce a diseased state both of body and of mind, so that we have to deal no longer with inspired or ecstatic saints, but with hysterical and half-delirious patients.
Another danger is an almost irresistible temptation to imposition and fraud on the part of religious ascetics, so that it requires the most discriminating judgment before we are able to distinguish between real, though abnormal, visions, and intentional or half-intentional falsehood.
The penances which Indian ascetics inflict on themselves have often been described by eye-witnesses whose bona fides cannot be doubted, and I must say that the straightforward way in which they are treated in some of the ancient text-books, makes one feel inclined to believe almost anything that these ancient martyrs are said to have suffered and to have done, not excluding their power of levitation. But we also see, both in India and in Germany, a strong revulsion of feeling, and protests are not wanting, emanating from high authorities, against an excessive mortification of the flesh. One case is most interesting. We are told that Buddha, before he became Buddha, went through the most terrible penances, living with the Brâhmanic hermits in the forest. But after a time he became convinced of the uselessness, nay of the mischievousness of this system, and it is one of the characteristic features of his teaching that he declared these extreme self-inflicted tortures useless for the attainment of true knowledge, and advised a Via media between extreme asceticism on one side and worldliness on the other, as the true way to enlightenment and beatitude.
Much the same protest was made by Eckhart and Tauler in trying to restrain their enthusiastic pupils. They both recommended a complete surrender of all the goods of this world; poverty and suffering were in their eyes the greatest help to a truly spiritual life; not to be attached to this world was the primary condition for enabling God to appear again in the soul of man, or, as they expressed it, for facilitating the birth of the Son of God in man. But with all that, they wished most strongly to see the love of God manifested in life by acts of loving-kindness to our fellow-creatures. They believed that it was quite possible to take part in the practical work of life, and yet to maintain a perfect tranquillity and stillness of the soul within. Both Eckhart and Tauler took a prominent and active share in the affairs of Church and State, both, tried to introduce much needed reforms in the life of the clergy and the laity. Stillness and silence were recommended, because it is only when all passions are stilled and all worldly desires silenced that the Word of God can be heard in the soul, A certain discipline of the body was therefore encouraged, but only as a means toward an end. Extreme penances, even when they were supposed to lead to beatific visions of the Godhead, were strongly discouraged. The original oneness of the human soul with God is accepted by all German mystics as the fundamental article of the Christian faith, but they differ as to the means by which that oneness may be restored. The speculative school depends on knowledge only. They hold that what we know ourselves to be, we are ipso facto, and they therefore lay the chief stress on the acquisition of knowledge. The ascetic school depends on penances and mortifications, by which the soul is to gain complete freedom from the body, till it rises in the end to a vision of God, to a return of the soul to God, to a reunion with God.
‘What is penance in reality and truth?’ Tauler asks. ‘It is nothing,’ he answers, ‘but a real and true turning away from all that is not God, and a real and true turning towards the pure and true good, which is called God and is God. He who has that and does that, does more than penance.’ And again: ‘Let those who torture the poor flesh learn this. What has the poor flesh done to thee? Kill sin, but do not kill the flesh!’
Tauler discourages even confession and-other merely outward acts of religion. ‘It is of no use,’ he says,‘to run to the Father Confessor after having committed a sin.’ Confess to God, he says, with real repentance. Unless you do this and flee from sin, even the Pope with all his Cardinals cannot absolve you, for the Father Confessor has no power over sin. Here we can clearly hear the distant rumblings of the Reformation.
But, though these excessive penances could do no good, they are nevertheless interesting to us as showing at all events what terrible earnestness there was among the followers of the Vedânta as well as among the disciples of Eckhart and Tauler. We read of Suso, one of the most sweet minded of German mystics, that during thirty years he never spoke a word during dinner. During sixteen years he walked about and slept in a shirt studded with 150 sharp nails, and wore gloves with sharp blades inside. He slept on a wooden cross, his arms extended and the back pierced with thirty nails. His bedstead was an old door, his covering a thin mat of reeds, while his cloak left the feet exposed to the frost. He ate but once a day, and he avoided fish and eggs when fasting. He allowed himself so little drink that his tongue became dry and hard, and he tried to soften it with a drop from the Holy Water in Church. His friend Tauler strongly disapproved of these violent measures, and at last Suso yielded, but not before be had utterly ruined his health. He then began to write, and nothing can be sweeter and more subdued, more pure and loving than his writings. That men in such a state should see visions, is not to be wondered at. They constantly speak of them as matters perfectly well known. Even Tauler, though he warns against them, does not doubt their possibility or reality. He relates some in his own sermons, but he is fully aware of the danger of self-deceit. ‘Those who have to do with images and visions,’ he says17, ‘are much deceived for they come often from the devil, and in our time more than ever. For truth has been revealed and discovered to us in Holy Writ, and it is not necessary therefore that truth should be revealed to us in any other way; and he who takes truth elsewhere but from Holy Writ, is straying from the holy faith, and his life is not worth much.’
Another even greater danger was discovered by the adversaries both of the Vedânta and of Master Eckhart's philosophy. It is not difficult to understand that human beings who had completely overcome their passions and who bad no desires but to remain united with the Divine Spirit, should have been declared incapable of sin. In one sense they were. But this superiority to all temptation was soon interpreted in a new sense; namely that no sin could really touch such beings, and that even if they should break any human laws, their soul would not be affected by it. One sees well enough what was intended, namely that many of the distinctions between good and evil were distinctions for this world only, and that in a higher life these distinctions would vanish.
We read in the Brih. Up. IV. 4, 23: ‘This eternal greatness of Brahman does not grow larger by works, nor does it grow smaller. Let man try to find the trace of Brahman, for having found it, he is not sullied by any evil deed.’ The Bhagavadgïtâ also is full of this sentiment, as, for instance, V. 7 : ‘He who is possessed of devotion, whose self is pure, who has restrained his self, and who has controlled his senses, and who identifies his self with every being, that is, who loves his neighbour as himself, is not tainted, though he performs acts.’ And then again ‘The man of devotion who knows the truth, thinks he does nothing at all when he sees, hears, touches, smells, eats, moves, sleeps, breathes, talks, takes, opens or closes the eyelids; he holds that the senses only deal with the objects of the senses. He who, casting off all attachment, performs actions, dedicating them to Brahman, is not tainted by sin, as the lotus leaf is not soiled by water.’
Tauler's utterances go often quite as far, though he tries in other places to qualify them and to render them innocuous. ‘Having obtained union with God,’ he says, ‘a man is not only preserved from sin, and beyond the reach of temptation, but all sins which he has committed without his will, cannot pollute him on the contrary, they help him to purify himself.’ Now it is quite true that Tauler himself often inveighs against those who called themselves the Brothers of the Free Spirit, and who maintained that no sin which they committed could touch them, yet it must be admitted that his own teaching gave a certain countenance to their extravagances.
You may remember that the Vedântists too allowed the possibility of men even in this life obtaining perfect freedom and union with Brahman (gïvanmukti), just as some of the mystics allowed that there was a possibility of a really poor soul, that is a soul freed from all attachments, and without anything that he could call his own, obtaining union with God even while in this mortal body. Still this ecstatic state of union with God was looked upon as an exception, and lasted for short moments only, while real beatitude could only begin in the next life, and after a complete release from the body. Hence so long as .the soul is imprisoned, in the body, its sinlessness could be considered as problematical only, and both in Germany and in India saintly hypocrisy had to be reproved and was reproved in the strongest terms.
Want of Reverence for God.
There is one more charge that has been brought against all mystics, but against the mediaeval far more than against the Indian mystics. They were accused of lowering the deity by bringing it down to the level of humanity, and even identifying the human and divine natures. Here, however, we must hear both sides, and see, that they use the same language and really understand what they say. No word has so many meanings as God. If people conceive God as a kind of Jupiter, or even as a Jehovah, then the idea of a Son of God can only be considered blasphemous, as it was by the Jews, or can only be rendered palatable to the human understanding in the form of characters such as Herakles or Dionysus. So long as such ideas of the Godhead and its relation to humanity are entertained, and we know that they were entertained even by Christian theologians, it was but natural that a claim on the part of humanity to participate in the nature of the divine should have excited horror and disgust. But after the Deity had been freed from its mythological character, after the human mind, whether in India or elsewhere, had once realised the fact, that God was all in all, that there could be nothing beside God, that there could be one Infinite only, not two, the conclusion that the human soul also belonged to God was inevitable. It was for religion to define the true, relation between God and man, and you may remember from my first course of Lectures, how some high authorities have defined all religion to be the perception of this very relation between God and man. Nothing can be said against this definition, if only we clearly see that this recognition of a relation between the Divine and the Human must be preceded by what I called the perception of the infinite in nature and of the infinite in man, and the final recognition of their oneness. I wish indeed that our etymological conscience allowed us to derive religio with Lactantius and others from religare, to re-bind or re-unite, for in that case religio would from the first have meant what it means at last, a re-uniting of the soul with God.
This re-union can take place in two ways only; either as a restoration of that original oneness which for a time was forgotten through darkness or nescience, or as an approach and surrender of the soul to God in love, without any attempt at explaining the separation of the soul from God, or its independent subsistence for a time, or its final approach to and union with God. And here it seems to me that Christianity, if properly understood, has discovered the best possible expression. Every expression in human language can of course be metaphorical only, and so is the expression of divine sonship, yet it clearly conveys what is wanted, identity of substance and difference of form. The identity of substance is clearly expressed by St. Paul when he says (Acts xvii. 28) that we live and move and have our being in God, and it is very significant that it was exactly for this, the fundamental doctrine of Christianity, that St. Paul appealed, to the testimony of non-Christian prophets also, for he adds, as if to mark his own deep regard for Natural and Universal Religion, ‘as certain also of your own poets have said.’
The difference in form is expressed by the very name of Son. Though the concept of Father is impossible without that of Son, and the concept of Son impossible without that of Father, yet Christ Himself, after saying, ‘I and My Father are one’ (St. John x. 30), adds (xiv. 28), ‘My Father is greater than I.’ Thus the pre-eminence of the Father is secured, whether we adopt the simple language of St. John, or the philosophical terminology of Dionysius and his followers.
A much greater difficulty has been felt by some Christian theologians in fixing the oneness and yet difference between the Son of God and humanity at large. It was not thought robbery that the Son should be equal with the Father (Phil. ii. 6), but it was thought robbery to make human nature equal with that of the Son. Many were frightened by the thought that the Son of God should thus be degraded to a mere man. Is there not a blasphemy against humanity also, and is it not blasphemous to speak of a mere man. What can be the meaning of a mere man, if we once have recognised the divine essence in him, if we once believe that unless we are of God, we are nothing. If we once allow ourselves to speak of a mere man, others will soon speak of a mere God.
Surely no one was more humble than Master Eckhart and Tauler, no one showed more reverence for the Son than they who had looked so deeply into the true nature of divine sonship. But they would not allow the clear statements of the New Testament to be argued away by hair-splitting theologians. They would not accept the words of Christ except in their literal and natural sense? They quoted the verses: ‘That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us’ (St. John xvii. 21). And again, ‘The glory which Thou gayest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one’ (St. John xvii. 22; see also St. John xiv. 2, 3). These words, they maintain, can have one meaning only. Nor will they allow any liberties to be taken with the clear words of St. Paul (Rom. viii. 16), ‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.’ They protest against wrenching the sayings of St. John from their natural and manifest purpose, when he says: ‘Beloved, we are the sons of God, and it cloth not yet appear what we shall be but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.’
Many more passages to the same effect might be quoted and have been quoted. Every one of them has been deeply pondered by Eckhart and his friends, and if it was a mere question of reverence for Christ, nowhere was greater reverence shown to Him than in the preaching of these Friends of God. But if they had surrendered their belief in the true brotherhood of Christ and man, they would have sacrificed what seemed to them the very heart of Christianity. We may make the fullest allowance for those who, from reverence for God and for Christ and from the purest motives, protest against claiming for man the full brotherhood of Christ. But when they say that the difference between Christ and mankind is one of kind, and not of degree, they know not what they do, they nullify the whole of Christ's teaching, and they deny the Incarnation which they pretend to teach. Let the difference of degree be as large as ever it can be between those who belong to the same kind, but to look for one or two passages in the New Testament which may possibly point to a difference in kind is surely useless against the overwhelming weight of the evidence that appeals to us from the very words of Christ. We have lately been told, for instance, that Christ never speaks of Our Father when including Himself, and that when He taught His disciples, to pray, Our Father which art in heaven, He intentionally excluded Himself. This might sound plausible in a court of law, but what is it when confronted with the words of Christ: ‘Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.’ Was that also meant to imply that His Father was not the same as their Father, and their God not the same as His God?
Religion, the Bridge between the Finite and the Infinite.
It was the chief object of these four courses of Lectures to prove that the yearning for union or unity with God, which we saw as the highest goal in other religions, finds its fullest recognition in Christianity, if but properly understood, that is, if but treated historically, and that it is inseparable from our belief in man's full brotherhood with Christ. However imperfect the forms may be in which that human yearning for God has found expression in different religions, it has always been the deepest spring of all religion, and the highest summit reached by Natural Religion. The different bridges that have been thrown across the gulf that seems to separate earth from heaven And man from God, whether we call them Bifröst or Kinvat or Es Sirât or any other name, may be more or less crude and faulty, yet we may trust that many a faithful soul has been carried across by them to a better home. You may remember how in the Upanishads the Self had been recognised as the true bridge, the best connecting link between the soul and God, and the same idea meets us again and again in the religions and philosophies of later times. It is quite true that to speak of a bridge between man and God, even if that bridge is called the Self, is but a metaphor. But how can we speak of these things except in metaphors? To return to God is a metaphor, to stand before the throne of God is a metaphor, to be in paradise with Christ is a metaphor.
Even those who object to the metaphor of a bridge between earth and heaven, between man and God, and who consider the highest lesson of Theosophy to be the perception of the eternal oneness of human and divine nature, must have recourse to metaphor to make their meaning clear. The metaphor which is almost universal, which we find in the Vedânta, among the Sufis, among the German Mystics, nay, even as late as the Cambridge Platonists in the seventeenth century, is that of the sun and its rays.
The sun, as they all say, is not the sun, unless it shines forth; and God is not God, unless He shines forth, unless He manifests Himself.
All the rays of the sun are of the sun, they can never be separated from it, though their oneness with the source of light may for a time be obscured by intervening darkness. All the rays of God, every soul, every son of God, is of God; they cannot be separated from God, though their oneness with the Divine Source may for a time be obscured by selfhood, passion, and sin.
Every ray is different from the other rays; yet there cannot be any substantial difference between them. Each soul is different from the other souls; yet there cannot be any substantial difference between them.
As soon as the intervening darkness is removed, each ray is seen to be a part of the sun, and yet apart from it and from the other rays. As soon as the intervening ignorance is removed, each soul knows itself to be a part of God, and yet apart from God and from the other souls.
No ray is lost, and though it seems to be a ray by itself, it remains for ever what it has always been, not separated from the light, nor lost in the light, but ever present in the sun. No soul is lost, and though it seems to be a soul by itself, it remains for ever what it always has been, not separated from God, not lost in God, but ever present in God.
And lastly, as from the sun there flows forth not only light, but also warmth, so from God there proceeds not only the light of knowledge, but also the warmth of love, love of the Father and love of the Son, nay love of all the sons of the eternal Father.
But is there no difference at all between the sun and the rays? Yes, there is. The sun alone sends out its rays, and God alone sends out His souls. Causality, call it creation or emanation, belongs to God alone, not to His rays or to His souls.
These are world-old metaphors, yet they remain ever new and true, and we meet with them once more in the speculations of the Cambridge Platonists. Thus Henry More says
‘I came from God, am an immortal ray
Of God; O joy! and back to God shall go.’
‘Hence the soul's nature we may plainly see, A beam it is of th’ Intellectual Sun,
A ray indeed of that Aeternity;
But such a ray as when it first outshone, From a free light its shining date begun.
I hope I have thus carried out the simple plan of my Lectures, as I laid it down from the first. My first course was meant as an introduction, fixing the historical standpoint from which religions should be studied, and giving certain definitions on which there ought to be no misunderstanding between teachers and hearers. Then taking a survey of the enormous mass of religious thought that lies before the eyes of the historian in chaotic confusion, I tried to show that there were in it two principal currents, one representing the search after something more than finite or phenomenal in nature, which I called Physical Religion, the other representing the search after something more than finite or phenomenal in the soul of man, Anthropological Religion. In this my last course, it has been my chief endeavour to show how these two currents always strive to meet and do meet in the end in what has been called Theosophy or Psychological Religion, helping us to the perception of the essential unity of the soul with God. Both this striving to meet and the final union have found, I think, their most perfect expression in Christianity. The striving of the soul to meet God is expressed in the Love of God, on which hang all the Laws and the Prophets; the final union is expressed in our being, in the true sense of the word, the sons of God. That sonship may be obtained by different ways, by none so truly as what Master Eckhart called the surrender of our will to the Will of God. You may remember how this was the very definition which your own revered Principal has given of the true meaning of religion; and if the true meaning of religion is the highest purpose of religion, you will see how, after a toilsome journey, the historian of religion arrives in the end at the same summit which the philosopher of religion has chosen from the first as his own.
In conclusion I must once more thank the Principal and the Senate of this University for the honour they have done me in electing me twice to this important office of Gifford Lecturer, and for having given me an opportunity of putting together the last results of my life-long studies in the religions and philosophies of the world. I know full well that some of these results have given pain to some learned theologians. Still I believe it would have given them far greater pain if they had suspected me of any want of sincerity, whether in keeping back any of the facts which a study of the Sacred Books of the World has brought to light, or in hiding the convictions to which these facts have irresistibly led me.
There are different ways in which we can show true faith and real reverence for religion. What would you say, if you saw a strong and powerful oak-tree, enclosed by tiny props to keep it from falling, made hideous by scarecrows to drive away the birds, or shielded by flimsy screens to protect it from the air and the light of heaven? Would you not feel that it was an indignity to the giant of the forest? Would you not feel called upon to pull out the tiny props, and let the oak face the gales, and after every gale cling more strongly to the earth, and send its roots more deeply into the rock beneath? Would you not throw away the scarecrows and let the birds build their nests on its strong branches? Would you not feel moved to tear off the screens, and let the wind of heaven shake its branches, and the light from heaven warm and brighten its dark foliage? This is what I feel about religion, yea about the Christian religion, if but properly understood. It does not want these tiny props or those hideous scarecrows or useless apologies. If they ever were wanted, they are not wanted now, whether you call them physical miracles, or literal inspiration, or Papal infallibility; they are now an affront, a dishonour to the majesty of truth. I do not believe in human infallibility, least of all, in Papal infallibility. I do not believe in professorial infallibility, least of all in that of your Gifford lecturer. We are all fallible, and we are fallible either in our facts, or in the deductions which we draw from them. If therefore any of my learned critics will tell me which of my facts are wrong, or which of my conclusions faulty, let me assure them, that though I am now a very old Professor, I shall always count those among my best friends who will not mind the trouble of supplying me with new facts, or of pointing out where facts have been wrongly stated by me, or who will correct any arguments that may seem to them to offend against the sacred laws of logic.