Mysticism

Paranormal


Mysticism

 

Mysticism: The attempt of man to attain to the ultimate reality of things and enjoy communion with the Highest. Mysticism maintains the possibility of communication with God, not by means of revelation, or the ordinary religious channels, but by dint of introspection, culminating in the feeling that the individual partakes of the divine nature. Mysticism has been identified with pantheism by some authorities; but it differs from pantheism in that its motive is religious. But mysticism is greatly more speculative than ordinary religion and instead of commencing its flights of thought from the human side, starts from the divine nature rather than from man. The name mysticism cannot be applied to any particular system. Whereas religion teaches submission of the will and the ethical harmonies of life, mysticism strains after the realization of a union with God Himself. The mystic desires to be as close to God as possible, if not indeed part of the Divine Essence Itself; whereas the ordinary devotee of most religious systems merely desires to walk in God's way and obey His will.

Mysticism may be said to have originated in the East, where it probably evolved from kindred philosophic concepts. The unreality of things is taught by most Asiatic religions, especially by Brahminism and Buddhism, and the sense of the worth of human personality in these is small (See India). The Sufis of Persia may be said to be a link between the more austere Indian mystics and those of Europe. We find Sufism first arising in the ninth century among the Persian Mahommedans, probably as a protest against the severe monotheism of their religion; but in all likelihood more ancient springs contribute to its revival. In the Persia of Hafiz and Saadi, pantheism abounded, and their magnificent poetry is read by Mahommedans as having a deep mystical significance, although for the most part it deals with love and intoxication. In all probability more is read into these poems than exists beneath the surface, but at the same time it is certain that many of them exhibit the fervor of souls searching for communion with the highest. The rise of Alexandrian Neoplatonism was the signal for the introduction of mysticism to a waiting Europe, and as this stage of mysticism has been fully reviewed in a special article on the Siibjecc, fhere is no necessity to follow it here. It may be mentioned, however, that Neoplatonism made a definite mark upon early Christianity, and we find it mirrored in many of the patristic writings of the sixteenth century. It was Erigena who in the ninth century transmitted to Europe the so-called writings of Dionysius the Areopagite thus giving rise to both the scholasticism and mysticism of the middle ages. Erigena based his own system upon that of Dionysius. This was the so-called " negative theology" which places God above all categories and designates Him as Nothing, or The Incomprehensible Essence from which the world of primordial causes is eternally created. This creation is the Word or Son of God, in Whom all substantial things exist; but God is the beginning and end of everything. On this system Christian mysticism may be said to have been founded with little variation. With Erigena reason and authority were identical, and in this he agrees with all speculative mystics; whereas scholasticism is characterized by the acceptance by reason of a given matter which is pre-supposed even when it cannot be understood. It seemed to Erigena that in the scholastic system religious truth was -external to the mind, while the opposite view was fundamental to mysticism. That is not to say that mysticism according to Erigena is a mere subordination of reason to faith. Mysticism indeed places every confidence in human reason, and it is essential that it should have the unity of the human mind with the divine as its main tenet; but it accepts nothing from without, and it posits the higher faculty of reason over the realisation of absolute truth.

Mediaeval mysticism may be said to have originated from a reaction of practical religion against dialectics in which the true spirit of Christianity was then enshrined. Thus St. Bernard opposed the dry scholasticism of Abelard. His mysticism was profoundly practical, and deals chiefly with the means by which man may attain the knowledge of God. This is to be accomplished through contemplation and withdrawal from the world. Thus asceticism is the soul of mediaeval mysticism; but he mistakenly averred regarding self-love that it is proper to love ourselves for God's sake, or because God loved us; thus merging self-love in love for God. We must, so to speak, love ourselves in God, in Whom we ultimately lose ourselves. Thus St. Bernard is almost Buddhistic, and indeed his mysticism is of the universal type. Perhaps Hugh of St. Victor, a contemporary of St. Bernard's, did more to develop the tenets of mysticism; and his monastery of Augustinians near Paris became, under his influence, a great centre of mysticism. One of his apologists, Richard of St. Victor, declares that the objects of mystic contemplation are partly above reason, and partly, as regards intuition, contrary to reason. The protagonists of this theory, all of whom issued from the same monastery, were known as the Victorines, who put up a stout fight against the dialecticians and schoolmen. Bonaventura, who died in 1274, was a disciple of this school, and believer in the faculty of mystic intuition. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the worldliness of the church aroused much opposition amongst laymen, and its cold formalism created a reaction towards a more spiritual regime. Many sects arose such as the Waldenses, the Kathari, and the Beguines, all of which strove to infuse into their teachings a warmer enthusiasm than that which burned in the heart of the church of their time. In Germany, mysticism made great strides, and Machthild of Magdeburg, and Elizabeth of Thuringia, were, if not the originators of mysticism in Germany, perhaps the earliest supporters of it. Joachim of Flores and Amalric of Bena wrote strongly in favour of the reformed church, and their writings are drenched with Joachim mapped out the duration of the world into three ages, that of the Father, that of the Son, and that of the Spirit,—the first of which was to commence with the year 1260, and to be inaugurated by the general adoption of the life monastic and contemplative. A sect called The New Spirit, or The Free Spirit, became widespread through northern France, Switzerland and Germany; and these did much to infuse the spirit of mysticism throughout the German land.

It is with Eckhart, who died in 1327, that we get the juncture of mysticism with scholastic theology. Of his doctrine it has been said: "The ground of your being lies in God. Reduce yourself to that simplicity, that root, and you are in God. There is no longer any distinction between your spirit-and the divine,—you have escaped personality and finite limitation. Your particular, creature self, as a something separate and dependent on God, is gone. So also, obviously, your creaturely will. Henceforth, therefore, what seems an inclination of yours is in fact the divine good pleasure. You are free from law. You are above means. The very will to do the will of God is resolved into that will itself. This is the Apathy, the Negation, the Poverty, he commends. With Eckhart personally this self-reduction and deification is connected with a rigorous asceticism and exemplary moral excellence Yet it is easy to see that it may be a merely intellectual process, consisting in a man's thinking that he is thinking himself away from his personality. He declares the appearance of the Son necessary to enable us to realize our sonship; and yet his language implies that this realization is the perpetual incarnation of that Son—does, as it were, constitute him. Christians are accordingly not less the sons of God by grace than is Christ by nature. Believe yourself divine, and the Son is brought forth in you. The Savior and the saved are dissolved together in the blank absolute substance."

With the advent of the black death, a great spirit of remorse swept over Europe in the fourteenth century, and a vast revival of piety took place. This resulted in the foundation in Germany of a society of Friends of God, whose
-chief object was to strengthen each other in intercourse with the Creator. Perhaps the most distinguished of these were Tauler, and Nicolas of Basle, and the society numbered many inmates of the cloister, as well as wealthy men of commerce and others. Ruysbroeck (q.v.) the great Dutch mystic, was connected with them; but his mysticism is perhaps more intensely practical than that of any other visionary. It is the machinery by which the union with God is to be effected which most attracts him. In Ruysbroeck's life-time a mystical society arose in Holland called the Brethren of the Common Lot, who founded an establishment at which Groot dispensed the principles of mysticism to Radewyn and Thomas a Kempis.

The attitude of mysticism at the period of the Reformation is peculiar. We find a mystical propaganda pretending to be sent .forth by a body of Rosicrucians denouncing Roman Catholicism in the fiercest terms, and we also observe the spirit of mysticism strongly within those bodies which resisted the coldness and formalism of the Roman Church. On the other hand, however, we find the principles of Luther strongly opposed by some of the most notable mystics of his time. But the Reformation past, mysticism went on its way, divided, it is true, so far as the outward theological principles of its votaries were concerned, but strongly united in its general principles.

It is with Nicholas of Kusa, who died in 1464, that mysticism triumphs over scholasticism. Nicolas is the protagonist of super-knowledge, or that higher ignorance which is the knowledge of the intellect in contradistinction to the mere knowledge of the understanding. His doctrines coloured those of Giordano Bruno and his theosophy certainly preceded that of Paracelsus. The next great name we meet with in mysticism is that of Boehme (q.v.), who once and for all systematized German philosophy. The Roman Church produced many mystics of note in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, notably Francis of Sales, Mme. Guyon and Molinos,—the last two of which were the protagonists of Quietism, which set forth the theory that there should be no pleasure in the practice of mysticism, and that God did not exist for the enjoyment of man. Perhaps the greatest students of Boehme were William Law, 1686 to 1761, and Saint Martin, 1743 to 1803.

But all mysticism is not necessarily identified with sect, although undoubtedly its strongholds in this country to-day are to be found in certain circles of the Church of England. There are still with us mystics who, professing no definite theological tenets, are yet mystics in virtue of their desire for unity with, or proximity to the Deity, by what they call "magical" methods. These are obscure, and are probably the result of personal experiences, which it is not given to everyone to comprehend; but which, nevertheless, may be very real indeed. For a good summary of such mysticism the reader is referred to Mr. A. E. Waite's Azoth or the Star in the East; See also Evelyn Underbill's Mysticism and The Mystic Way.





 

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