Book: Christian Mysticism
Author: William Ralph Inge





Christian Mysticism By William Ralph Inge

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 262
Publication Date: 1899

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Summary:

This book consists of eight lectures, given at the University of Oxford by William Inge, as part of the Bampton Lectures. It begins with an extract from the last will and testament of the late John Bampton and then goes on to the lectures, which include General Characteristics of Mysticism, The Mystical Element of the Bible, Christian Platonism, Practical and Devotional Mysticism and Nature-Mysticism and Symbolism.



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Excerpt:

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF MYSTICISM

"Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if He shall be manifested, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him even as He is."—I JOHN iii. 2, 3.

No word in our language—not even "Socialism"—has been employed more loosely than "Mysticism." Sometimes it is used as an equivalent for symbolism or allegorism, sometimes for theosophy or occult science; and sometimes it merely suggests the mental state of a dreamer, or vague and fantastic opinions about God and the world. In Roman Catholic writers, "mystical phenomena" mean supernatural suspensions of physical law. Even those writers who have made a special study of the subject, show by their definitions of the word how uncertain is its connotation. It is therefore necessary that I should make clear at the outset what I understand by the term, and what aspects of religious life and thought I intend to deal with in these Lectures.

The history of the word begins in close connexion with the Greek mysteries. A mystic [Greek: mystês] is one who has been, or is being, initiated into some esoteric knowledge of Divine things, about which he must keep his mouth shut ([Greek: myein]); or, possibly, he is one whose eyes are still shut, one who is not yet an [Greek: epoptês]. The word was taken over, with other technical terms of the mysteries, by the Neoplatonists, who found in the existing mysteriosophy a discipline, worship, and rule of life congenial to their speculative views. But as the tendency towards quietism and introspection increased among them, another derivation for "Mysticism" was found—it was explained to mean deliberately shutting the eyes to all external things. We shall see in the sequel how this later Neoplatonism passed almost entire into Christianity, and, while forming the basis of mediæval Mysticism, caused a false association to cling to the word even down to the Reformation.

The phase of thought or feeling which we call Mysticism has its origin in that which is the raw material of all religion, and perhaps of all philosophy and art as well, namely, that dim consciousness of the beyond, which is part of our nature as human beings. Men have given different names to these "obstinate questionings of sense and outward things." We may call them, if we will, a sort of higher instinct, perhaps an anticipation of the evolutionary process; or an extension of the frontier of consciousness; or, in religious language, the voice of God speaking to us. Mysticism arises when we try to bring this higher consciousness into relation with the other contents of our minds. Religious Mysticism may be defined as the attempt to realise the presence of the living God in the soul and in nature, or, more generally, as the attempt to realise, in thought and feeling, the immanence of the temporal in the eternal, and of the eternal in the temporal. Our consciousness of the beyond is, I say, the raw material of all religion. But, being itself formless, it cannot be brought directly into relation with the forms of our thought. Accordingly, it has to express itself by symbols, which are as it were the flesh and bones of ideas. It is the tendency of all symbols to petrify or evaporate, and either process is fatal to them. They soon repudiate their mystical origin, and forthwith lose their religious content. Then comes a return to the fresh springs of the inner life—a revival of spirituality in the midst of formalism or unbelief. This is the historical function of Mysticism—it appears as an independent active principle, the spirit of reformations and revivals. But since every active principle must find for itself appropriate instruments, Mysticism has developed a speculative and practical system of its own. As Goethe says, it is "the scholastic of the heart, the dialectic of the feelings." In this way it becomes possible to consider it as a type of religion, though it must always be remembered that in becoming such it has incorporated elements which do not belong to its inmost being. As a type of religion, then, Mysticism seems to rest on the following propositions or articles of faith:—

First, the soul (as well as the body) can see and perceive—[Greek: esti de psychês aisthêsis tis], as Proclus says. We have an organ or faculty for the discernment of spiritual truth, which, in its proper sphere, is as much to be trusted as the organs of sensation in theirs.

The second proposition is that, since we can only know what is akin to ourselves, man, in order to know God, must be a partaker of the Divine nature. "What we are, that we behold; and what we behold, that we are," says Ruysbroek. The curious doctrine which we find in the mystics of the Middle Ages, that there is at "the apex of the mind" a spark which is consubstantial with the uncreated ground of the Deity, is thus accounted for. We could not even begin to work out our own salvation if God were not already working in us. It is always "in His light" that "we see light." The doctrine has been felt to be a necessary postulate by most philosophers who hold that knowledge of God is possible to man. For instance, Krause says, "From finite reason as finite we might possibly explain the thought of itself, but not the thought of something that is outside finite reasonable beings, far less the absolute idea, in its contents infinite, of God.