Mysticism at the Dawn of the Modern Age
The Friendship with God
In Johannes Tauler (1300–1361), Heinrich Suso (1295–1366), and Jan van Ruysbroeck (1293–1381) one encounters personalities in whose life and work appear in most impressive manner those movements of the soul which a spiritual path such as that of Meister Eckhart causes in profound natures. If Eckhart seems to be a man who, in the blissful experiencing of spiritual rebirth, speaks of the qualities and nature of knowledge as of a picture he has succeeded in painting, then the others appear as wanderers to whom this rebirth has shown a new road which they mean to walk, but the end of which for them has been removed to an infinite distance. Eckhart describes the splendors of his picture, they the difficulties of the new road. One must be quite clear about man's relationship to his higher insights in order to be able to represent to oneself the difference between such personalities as Eckhart and Tauler. Man is entangled in the world of the senses and in the laws of nature, by which the world of the senses is dominated. He himself is a result of this world. He lives because its forces and substances are active in him, and he perceives and judges this world of the senses in accordance with the laws by which it. and he are constructed. When he directs his eye upon an object, not only does the object appear to him as a sum of interacting forces dominated by the laws of nature, but the eye itself is already constructed according to such laws and forces, and the act of seeing takes place in harmony with these laws and forces. If we had attained the utmost limits of natural science, in all likelihood we could pursue this play of natural forces in accordance with natural laws into the highest regions of the formation of thought. — But in doing this we already rise above this play. Do we not stand above all mere conformity to natural laws when we survey how we ourselves are integrated into nature? We see with our eye in accordance with the laws of nature. But we also understand the laws in accordance with which we see. We can stand on a higher elevation and survey simultaneously the external world and ourselves in interplay. Is not then a nature active within us which is higher than the sensory-organic personality which acts according to natural laws and with natural laws? In such activity is there still a partition between our inner world and the external world? That which judges here, which gathers insights, is no longer our individual personality; rather it is the universal essence of the world, which has torn down the barrier between inner world and outer world, and which now embraces both. As it is true that I still remain the same individual in external appearance when I have thus torn down the barrier, so it is true that in essence I am no longer this individual. In me now lives the feeling that the universal nature speaks in my soul, the nature which embraces me and the whole world. — Such feelings live in Tauler when he says: “Man is as if he were three men, an animal man, as he is according to the senses, then a rational man, and finally the highest god-like man ... One is the external, animal sensual man; the other is the internal, rational man, with his rational faculties; the third man is the spirit, the highest part of the soul.” (cf. Preger, Geschichte der deutschen Mystik, History of German Mysticism, Vol. 3, p. 161.) How this third man is superior to the first and second, Eckhart has expressed in the words: “The eye by which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me. My eye and God's eye is one eye and one seeing and one knowing and one feeling.” But in Tauler another sentiment lives with this one. He struggles through to a real conception of the spiritual, and does not constantly intermingle the sensory-natural with the spiritual, as do false materialists and false idealists. If Tauler, with his way of thinking, had become a scientist, he would have had to insist that everything natural, including the whole man, the first and the second, was to be explained in entirely natural terms. He would never have transferred “purely” spiritual forces into nature. He would not have spoken of a “functionalism” in nature, imagined in accordance with human examples. He knew that where we perceive with the senses no “creative thoughts” are to be found. Instead, there lived in him the strongest consciousness that man is a merely natural being. And since he felt himself to be a curator of the moral life, not a scientist, he felt the contrast which separates this natural being of man and the seeing of God, which arises in a natural way within the natural, but as something spiritual. It was just in this contrast that the meaning of life appeared before his eyes. Man finds himself to be an individual being, a creature of nature. And no science can reveal anything more to him about this life than that he is such a creature of nature. As a creature of nature he cannot go beyond the state appropriate to a creature of nature. He must remain within it. And yet his inner life leads him beyond it. He must have confidence in something no science of external nature can give and show him. If he calls this nature the existing, he must be able to advance to the view which acknowledges the non-existing as the higher. Tauler does not seek a God who exists in the sense of a natural force; he does not seek a God who has created the world in the sense of human creations. In him lives the recognition that even the concept of creation of the teachers of the Church is only an idealized human creating. It is clear to him that God is not found in the same manner as science finds natural processes and natural laws. Tauler is conscious that we cannot simply add God to nature in our thoughts. He knows that one who thinks God in his sense, does not have any other content in his thoughts than one who has grasped nature in thought. Therefore Tauler does not want to think God; he wants to think divinely. The knowledge of nature is not enriched by knowing God; it is transformed. The knower of God does not know something different from the knower of nature: he knows differently. The knower of God cannot add a single letter to the knowledge of nature, but through his whole knowledge of nature a new light shines.
What basic sensations dominate the soul of a man who looks at the world from such points of view will depend on how he regards the experience of the soul which spiritual rebirth brings. Within this experience man is wholly a natural being if he looks at himself in interaction with the rest of nature; and he is wholly a spiritual being if he considers the state to which his transformation brings him. One can therefore say with equal justice: The greatest depths of the soul are still natural, and also, They are already divine. Tauler, in conformity with his way of thinking, emphasized the former. No matter how deeply we penetrate into our soul, he said to himself, we always remain individual human beings. But nevertheless, universal nature glows in the depths of the individual soul. Tauler was dominated by the feeling: You cannot detach yourself from individuality, you cannot cleanse yourself of it. Therefore the universal essence cannot appear in you in its purity; it can only shine into the depths of your soul. Thus in these only a reflection, an image of the universal essence appears. You can transform your individual personality in such a way that it gives back the image of the universal essence; this universal essence itself does not shine in you. From such conceptions Tauler came to the idea of a Divinity which never entirely merges with the human world, never flows into it. He even expressly insists upon not being confused with those who declare the interior of man to be something divine in itself. He says that the union with God “is taken by ignorant men to occur in the flesh, and they say that they should be transformed into the divine nature; but this is wrong and a mischievous heresy. For even in the highest and most intimate union with God the divine nature and God's essence are high, indeed higher than all height; this leads into a divine abyss, and no creature will ever partake of it.” Tauler wants to be deservedly called a believing Catholic, in the sense of his time and of his vocation as a priest. He is not intent upon confronting Christianity with another point of view. He simply wants to deepen and spiritualize Christianity through his views. He speaks of the contents of Scripture as a pious priest. But nevertheless, in his world of ideas the Scriptures become a means of expression for the innermost experiences of the soul. “God accomplishes all His works in the soul and gives them to the soul; and the Father brings forth His only-begotten Son in the soul, as truly as He brings Him forth in eternity, neither less, nor more. What is brought forth when one says: God brings forth in the soul? Is it a similitude of God, or is it an image of God, or is it something of God No, it is neither image nor similitude of God, but the same God and the same Son whom the Father brings forth in eternity, and nothing but the lovely divine Word, which is the other Person in the Trinity; this does the Father bring forth in the soul . . . and it is from this that the soul has such a great and special dignity.” (cf. Preger, Geschichte der deutschen Mystik, History of German Mysticism, Vol. 3, p. 219f.) — For Tauler the narratives of the Scriptures become the garment in which he clothes the events of the inner life. “Herod, who drove away the Child and wanted to kill Him, is an image of the world, which still wants to kill this Child in the pious man, wherefore one should and must flee it if one wants to keep the Child alive within oneself, while the Child is the enlightened, believing soul of every man.”
Because Tauler directs his attention to the natural man, he is less concerned with describing what happens when the higher man enters into the natural man than with finding the paths which the lower faculties of the personality have to take if they are to be translated into the higher life. As a curator of the moral life he wants to show man the ways to the universal essence. He has absolute faith and confidence that the universal essence will begin to shine in man if the latter so arranges his life that there is a place for the divine in him. But this universal essence can never begin to shine if man shuts himself off in his bare, natural, separate personality. Thus isolated within himself, in the language of Tauler, man is only a part of the world, an individual creature. The more man encloses himself within his existence as part of the world, the less can the universal essence find a place within him. “If man is truly to become one with God, all the faculties of the inner man too must die and be silent. The will must be turned away from even the good and from all willing, and must become will-less.” “Man must escape all the senses, turn all his faculties inward, and attain to forgetfulness of all things and of himself.” “For the true and eternal word of God is spoken only in the desert, when man has left his own self and all things behind, and stands alone, deserted, and solitary.”
When Tauler had reached his highest point the following question came to occupy the center of his mental life: How can man destroy and overcome his individual existence within himself, so that he can take part in life in the sense of the universal life? For one who is in this situation, his feelings toward the universal essence become concentrated in the one thing: reverence for this universal essence, as for that which is inexhaustible and infinite. He says to himself: No matter what level you have attained, there are still higher prospects, still more sublime possibilities. As definite and clear for him as is the direction his steps must take, so clear is it to him that he can never speak of a goal. A new goal is only the beginning of a new road. Through such a new goal man has reached a degree of development; the development itself extends into the immeasurable. And what it will achieve on a more distant level it never knows on the present one. There is no knowing the final goal; there is only a trusting in the road, in the development. There is a knowing of everything man has already achieved. It consists in the penetration of an already existing object by the faculties of our spirit. For the higher inner life such a knowing does not exist. Here the faculties of our spirit must first translate the object itself into existence; they must first create an existence for it which is like the natural existence. Natural science examines the development of living beings from the simplest to man himself, the most perfect. This development lies completed before us. We understand it by penetrating it with our mental faculties. When the development has arrived at man, he does not find a further continuation already existing. He himself accomplishes the further development. He now lives what he only knows for earlier levels. He creates objectively what, for that which precedes, he only re-creates in line with its spiritual nature. That the truth does not coincide with what exists in nature, but embraces both what exists naturally and what does not exist: Tauler is wholly filled by this in all his sentiments. We are told that he was led to this conviction by an enlightened layman, a “Friend of God from the Oberland.” There is a mysterious story in this. There are only conjectures about the place where this Friend of God lived, and about who he was there are not even conjectures. He is said to have heard much about Tauler's manner of preaching, and thereupon to have decided to go to Tauler, who was then a preacher in Strasbourg, in order to fulfill a certain task concerning him. The relationship of Tauler to the Friend of God and the influence which the latter exercised on him are described in a work which is printed together with Tauler's sermons in the oldest editions under the title, Das Buch des Meisters, The Book of the Master. In it a Friend of God, in whom the one who entered into relations with Tauler is said to be recognizable, tells of a “master,” who has been identified with Tauler himself. He tells how a revolution, a spiritual rebirth, has been brought about in a “master,” and how the latter, when he felt his death approaching, called the Friend to him and asked him to write the story of his “enlightenment,” but to take care that no one should ever find out who the book deals with. He asks this because all the insights which proceed from him are yet not of him. “For know that God has performed everything through me, poor worm that I am, and thus it is not mine, but God's.” A scholarly dispute which has developed in connection with this matter is not of the least important as far as its essentials are concerned. On the one side (Denifle, Die Dichtugen des Goltesfreundes im Oberlande, The Writings of the Friend of God in the Oberland) the attempt has been made to prove that the Friend of God never existed, that his existence was invented, and that the books attributed to him originated with someone else (Rulman Merswin). Wilhelm Preger (Geschichte der deutschen Mystik, History of German Mysticism) has endeavored with many reasons to support this existence, the genuineness of the writings, and the correctness of the facts relating to Tauler. — It is not incumbent upon me here to illuminate by obtrusive research a human relationship of which one who knows how to read the relevant writings knows full well that it is to remain a secret. (These relevant writings, among others, are: Von eime eiginwilligen weltwisen manne, der von eime heiligen weltpriestere gewiset wart uffe demuetige gehorsamme, Of a self-willed worldly-wise Man who was shown the Way to Humble Obedience by a holy secular Priest, 1338; Das Buch von den zwei Mannen, The Book of the Two Men; Der gefangene Ritter, The Captured Knight, 1349; Die geistliche stege, The Spiritual Stairs, 1350; Von der geistlichen Leiter, Of the Spiritual Ladder, 1357; Das Meisterbuch, The Book of the Master, 1349; Geschichte von zwei jungen 15jährigen Knaben, Story of Two Young 15-Year-Old Boys.) It is entirely sufficient to say of Tauler that at a certain stage of his life a change such as the one I am about to describe occurred in him. Here Tauler's personality is no longer in question, but rather a personality “in general.” As regards Tauler we are only concerned with the fact that we have to understand the transformation in him from the point of view indicated below. If we compare his later activity with his earlier, the fact of this transformation is immediately evident. I omit all external circumstances and relate the inner soul processes of the “master” under “the influence of the layman.” What my reader imagines the “layman” and the “master” to be, depends entirely upon the disposition of his spirit; I do not know that what I myself imagine them to be is applicable to anyone else. — A master instructs his listeners about the relationship of the soul to the universal essence of things. He speaks of the fact that man no longer feels the natural, limited faculties of the individual personality to be active within him when he descends into the profound depths of his soul. There it is no longer the individual man who speaks; it is God. There man does not see God, or the world; there God sees Himself. Man has become one with God. But the master knows that this teaching has not yet fully come to life within him. He thinks it with the intellect, but he does not yet live within it with every fiber of his personality. Thus he teaches about a state which he has not yet fully experienced within himself. The description of this state corresponds to the truth, but this truth is worth nothing if it does not acquire life, if it does not bring itself forth as existence in the real world. The “layman” or “Friend of God” hears of the master and his teachings. He is not less penetrated with the truth the master utters than is the latter himself. But he does not possess this truth as a thing of the intellect. He possesses it as the whole force of his life. He knows that one can utter this truth when it has come to one from the outside, without living in its sense in the least. In that case one has nothing within oneself beyond the natural understanding of the intellect. One then speaks of this natural understanding as though it were the highest, identical with the action of the universal essence. This is not so, because it was not acquired in a life which, when it approached this knowledge, was already transformed and reborn. What one acquires as a merely natural man remains merely natural, even if later one expresses the main feature of the higher knowledge in words. The transformation must come out of nature itself. Nature, which in living has developed to a certain stage, must be developed further by life; something new must come into being through this further development. Man must not merely look back upon the development which has already taken place, and consider as the highest what is re-formed in his mind concerning this development; he must look forward to what has not yet been created; his knowledge must be the beginning of a new content, not an end of the content of the previous development. Nature advances from worm to mammal, from mammal to man in a real, not in a conceptual process. Man is not merely to repeat this process in spirit. The spiritual repetition is only the beginning of a new real development, which, however, is a spiritual reality. Man then understands not merely what nature has brought forth; he carries nature further; he transforms his understanding into living action. He brings forth the spirit within himself, and from then on this spirit advances from one stage of development to another, just as nature advances. The spirit initiates a natural process on a higher level. When one who has understood this speaks about the God who sees Himself within man, this speaking takes on another character. He attaches little value to the fact that an insight already obtained has led him into the depths of the universal essence, but his spiritual disposition acquires a new character. It continues to develop in the direction determined by the universal essence. Such a man not only looks at the world in a different way from one who is merely rational: he lives his life differently. He does not speak of the sense which life already has through the forces and laws of the world; rather he gives a new sense to this life. No more than the fish has in itself what appears as mammal at a later stage of development, does the rational man already have in himself what is to be born out of him as a higher man. If the fish could understand itself and the things around it, it would regard being a fish as the sense of life. It would say: The universal essence is like the fish; in the fish the universal essence sees itself. Thus the fish might speak as long as it merely holds fast to its intellectual understanding. In reality it does not hold fast to it. In its actions it goes beyond its understanding. It becomes a reptile, and later a mammal. In reality the sense it gives to itself goes beyond the sense which mere reflection suggests to it. Thus must it also be with man. In reality he gives himself a sense; he does not stop at the sense he already has, and which reflection shows him. Understanding leaps beyond itself, if only it understands itself aright. Understanding cannot derive the world from an already completed God; from a germ, it can only develop in a direction toward a God. The man who has understood this does not want to look at God as something that is outside of him; he wants to treat God as a Being that walks with him toward a goal which, at the outset, is as unknown as the nature of the mammal is unknown to the fish. He does not want to be the knower of the hidden or self-revealing, existing God, but the friend of the divine action and operation, which is superior to existence and non-existence. The layman who came to the master was a “Friend of God” in this sense. And through him the master was transformed from a contemplator of the nature of God into “one who lives in the spirit,” who not merely contemplated, but lived in the higher sense. Now the latter no longer brought concepts and ideas of the intellect from within himself; these concepts and ideas sprang from him as living, real spirit. He no longer merely edified his listeners; he moved them deeply. He no longer plunged their souls within themselves; he led them into a new life. This is told us symbolically: through the effect of his sermon about forty people fell down and were as if dead.
A leader into such a new life is represented by a work, the author of which is unknown. Luther first made it known by having it published. The philologist, Franz Pfeiffer recently reprinted it from a manuscript of the year 1497, with a translation in modern German facing the original text. The introduction to the work announces its intention and its goal: “Here the Frankfurter begins and says exceedingly high and beautiful things of a consummate life.” This is followed by “the preface concerning the Frankfurter:” “This booklet the omnipotent, eternal God has uttered through a wise, judicious, truthful, righteous man, his friend, who was formerly a Teutonic Knight, a priest and a custodian in the house of the Teutonic Knights in Frankfurt; it teaches many lovely insights into divine truth, and especially how and by what one can recognize the true and righteous Friends of God, and also the unrighteous, false, free spirits, who do much harm to the holy Church.” — By “free spirits” one is to understand those who live in a world of ideas like that of the “master” described above before his transformation by the “Friend of God,” and by the “true and righteous Friends of God” those with the way of thinking of the “layman.” One can further ascribe to the book the intention of acting upon its readers in the same way as the “Friend of God from the Oberland” acted upon the master. One does not know the author. But what does this mean? One does not know when he was born and when he died, and what he did in the external life. That the author wanted these facts of his outer life to remain forever secret is something which belongs to the way he wanted to act. Not the “self” of this or that man, born at a certain time, is to speak to us, but the selfhood on the basis of which the “particularity of individualities” (in the sense of the words of Paul Asmus, cf. above) first develops. “If God were to take unto himself all men who are now and who have ever been, and were to become man in them, and were they to become God in Him, and if it did not happen in me too, my fall and my estrangement would never be remedied, unless indeed it happened also in me. And in this restoration and improvement I can and should do nothing but merely and purely suffer what is done, so that God alone does and accomplishes everything within me, and I suffer Him and all His works and His divine Will. But if I do not want to suffer this, and possess myself in attributes of the self, that is in My and I, in Me and the like, then God is hindered, so that He cannot, pure and alone and without obstacle, accomplish His work within me. Therefore also my fall and my estrangement remain unremedied.” The “Frankfurter” does not wish to speak as an individual; he wants to let God speak. Of course he knows that he can only do this as an individual, separate personality, but he is a “Friend of God,” that is, a man who does not want to depict the nature of life through contemplation, but who wants to point out, through the living spirit, the beginning of an avenue of development. The discussions in the book represent various instructions on how this road is to be attained. The basic idea always returns: man is to cast off everything connected with the view that makes him appear as an individual, separate personality. This idea seems to be carried out only with respect to the moral life; it must also be applied to the life of higher understanding. One must destroy in oneself what appears as separateness, then the separate existence ceases; the all-life enters into us. We cannot possess ourselves of this all-life by drawing it to us. It comes into us when we silence the separate existence within us. We possess the all-life least just when we regard our individual existence as if the All already reposed within it. The latter only appears in the individual existence when this individual existence does not claim that it is something. The book calls this claim of the individual existence the “assumption” (Annehmen). Through the “assumption” the “self” makes it impossible for the all-life to enter into it. The self then puts itself as a part, as something incomplete, in the place of the whole, of the complete. “The complete is a being which comprises and embraces all beings in itself and in its being, and without and outside which there is no true being, and in which all things have their being; for it is the being of all things and is in itself unchangeable and immovable, and changes and moves all other things. But the divided and incomplete is what has sprung from the complete, or which it becomes, just like a brilliance or a shining which flows from the sun or from a light and appears as something, as this or that. And this is called creature, and none of these divided ones is identical with the complete. And therefore the complete also is not identical with any of the divided ones ... When the complete appears one rejects what is divided. But when does it come? I say: When, insofar as it is possible, it is known, felt, and tasted in the soul; for the lack is wholly in us and not in it. For just as the sun illuminates the whole world and is as close to one man as to another, a blind man nevertheless does not see it. But that is not a defect in the sun, but in the blind man ... If my eye is to see something it must be cleansed of, or freed from, all other things ... One might want to ask: Insofar as it is unknowable and incomprehensible for all creatures, and the soul is a creature, how can it be known in the soul? Answer: Therefore it is that one says that the creature is to be known as a creature.” This is as much as to say that all that is creature is to be regarded as creature-ness and as created, and is not to regard itself as an I and as selfhood, which latter makes this knowing impossible. “For in that creature in which the complete is to be known, creature-ness, being created, I, selfhood and the like must be lost and come to nothing.” (Chapter I of the work of the Frankfurter.) Thus the soul must look into itself; there it will find its I, its selfhood. If it stops at this, it separates itself from the complete. If it regards its selfhood only as something loaned to it, as it were, and destroys it in spirit, it will be seized by the stream of the all-life, of the complete. “If the creature takes on something good, such as being, life, knowledge, insight, capacity, in short all that one should call good, and deems that it itself is this or that this belongs to it, the creature, or is of it: as often and to the extent that this happens, it turns itself away.” There are “two eyes in the created soul of man. One is the possibility of looking into eternity; the other, of looking into time and into the creature.” “Man should thus stand and be free without himself, that is without selfhood, I, Me, My and the like, so that he seeks and purposes himself and what is his as little in all things as if it did not exist; and he should also estimate himself as little as if he did not exist, and as if another had performed all his works.” (Chapter 15.) With relation to the author of these sentences too it must be considered that the conceptual content to which he gives a direction through his higher ideas and feelings is that of a pious priest of his time. Here it is not a matter of the conceptual content, but of the direction; not of the ideas, but of the spiritual disposition. One who does not live in Christian dogmas as this author does, but rather in concepts of natural science, imprints other ideas on his sentences; but with these other ideas he points in the same direction. And this direction is what leads to the overcoming of selfhood through this selfhood itself. It is in his self that the highest light shines for man. But this light only gives the right reflection to his world of ideas when man is aware that it is not the light of his self, but the universal light of the world. Therefore there is no more important knowledge than self-knowledge; and at the same time there is none which so completely leads beyond itself. When the “self” knows itself aright it is already no longer a “self.” In his words the author of the book under discussion expresses this as follows: “For God's nature is without this and without that and without selfhood and I; but the nature and peculiarity of the creature is that it seeks and wills itself and what belongs to it, and the “this” and “that”; and from everything it does or leaves undone it wants to receive profit and advantage. But where the creature or man loses his own being and his selfhood and himself, and goes out of himself, there God enters with His own Being, that is with His Selfhood.” (Chapter 24.) Man ascends from a conception of his “self” in which the latter appears to him as his essence, to one where he sees it as a mere organ in which the universal essence acts upon itself. In line with the ideas of our book it is said: “If man can reach the point where he belongs as much to God as a man's hand belongs to him, then let him rest content and seek no further.” (Chapter 54.) This is not to say that man should stop at a certain point of his development; rather, when he has come as far as is indicated in the words above, he should no longer pursue investigations about the meaning of the hand, but rather use the hand, so that it can serve the body to which it belongs. —
Heinrich Suso and Jan van Ruysbroeck had a spiritual disposition which can be described as genius of soul. Their feelings are drawn by something resembling instinct to the point to which Eckhart's and Tauler's feelings were led through a higher life of ideas. Suso's heart turns ardently toward a primordial essence which embraces the individual man as well as the whole remaining world, and in which, forgetting himself, he wants to be absorbed like a drop of water in the great ocean. He speaks of this yearning for the universal essence not as of something which he wants to grasp in his thoughts, but he speaks of it as of a natural impulse which makes his soul drunk with the desire for the annihilation of his separate existence and for the rebirth in the all-embracing activity of the infinite essence. “Turn your eyes to the being in its pure and bare simplicity, so that you may abandon this and that partial being. Take only being in itself, which is unmixed with non-being, for all non-being denies all being; thus the being in itself also denies all non-being. A thing which is still to become, or has been, does not exist now in its essential presence. Mixed being or non-being can however be recognized only by the aid of a mark of the universal being. For if one wants to understand a thing the reason is first met by being, and that is a being which effects all things. It is not a divided being of this or that creature, for the divided being is ever mingled with the otherness of a possibility of receiving something. Therefore the nameless divine being must in itself be a universal being, which sustains all divided beings with its presence.” Thus speaks Suso in the autobiography which he composed with the aid of his disciple, Elsbet Stäglin. He too is a pious priest and lives wholly in the Christian realm of ideas. He lives in it as if it were completely unthinkable for someone with his spiritual direction to live in a different spiritual world. But of him too it is true that one can combine another conceptual content with his spiritual direction. This is clearly indicated by the way the content of the Christian doctrine becomes an inner experience for him, while his relationship to Christ becomes one between his spirit and the eternal truth, of a purely conceptual-spiritual kind. He has written a Büchlein von der ewigen Weisheit, Little Book of Eternal Wisdom. In this he lets the “eternal wisdom” speak to its “servant,” that is, presumably, to himself: “Do you not recognize me? How is it you are even sunk down, or has consciousness deserted you because of your great distress, my tender child? It is I, compassionate wisdom, who have opened wide the depths of bottomless compassion, which is even hidden to all the saints, in order to receive you and all repentant hearts in kindness; it is I, the sweet, eternal wisdom, who became poor and miserable in order to bring you back to your dignity; it is I who suffered bitter death in order to bring you back to life! Here I stand, pale and bloody and loving, as I stood by the high gallows of the Cross, between the strict judgment of my Father and you. It is I, your brother; look, it is I, your spouse! Everything you ever did against me I have utterly forgotten, as if it had never happened, if only you now turn completely to me and do not part from me again.” For Suso, everything material-temporal in the Christian conception of the world has, as one can see, become a spiritual-ideal process within his soul. — From some chapters of the above-mentioned autobiography of Suso it might appear as if he had let himself be led not by the mere activity of his own spiritual faculties, but by external revelations, by spirit-like visions. But he clearly expresses his opinion on this. One attains the truth only by exercise of reason, not through some revelation. “The difference between pure truth and doubtful visions in the professing substance ... I shall also tell you. A direct seeing of the bare Divinity is the right, pure truth, without any doubt; and any vision is the nobler the more reasonable and imageless it is, and the more like this bare seeing.” — Meister Eckhart also leaves no doubt that he rejects the view which sees the spiritual in substantial-spatial forms, in apparitions that can be perceived in he same way as sensory ones. Thus spirits like Suso and Eckhart are opponents of a view such as that which expresses itself in the Spiritualism that developed in the 19th century.
Jan van Ruysbroeck, the Belgian mystic, walked the same paths as Suso. His spiritual road found a spirited opponent in Jean de Gerson (born 1363), who was for some time Chancellor of the University of Paris, and played an important role at the Council of Constance. It throws some light on the nature of the mysticism cultivated by Tauler, Suso, and Ruysbroeck if one compares it with the mystical endeavors of Gerson, whose predecessors were Richard of St. Victor, Bonaventura, and others. — Ruysbroeck himself fought against those whom he counted among the heretical mystics. The latter he considered all who, on the basis of an unconsidered intellectual judgment, hold all things to be the amanation of one primordial essence, and who thus see in the world a diversity only, and in God the unity of this diversity. Ruysbroeck did not count himself among these, for he knew that one cannot reach the primordial essence by a contemplation of things themselves, but only by raising oneself from this lower to a higher way of thinking. Similarly he turned against those who without further ado wanted to see in the individual man, in his separate existence (in his creature-ness), his higher nature also. He much lamented the error which effaces all differences in the world of the senses, and lightly says that things are different only in appearance, while in essence they are all the same. For a way of thinking such as Ruysbroeck's this would be just as if one were to say: That for our eyes the trees of an avenue converge in the distance does not concern us. In reality they are everywhere equally distant, therefore our eyes must accustom themselves to seeing correctly. But our eyes do see correctly. That the trees converge is due to a necessary law of nature, and we should not object to our way of seeing, but rather understand in the mind why we see thus. The mystic too does not turn away from the things of the senses. He accepts them as being sensory, as they are. And it is also clear to him that they cannot become other through any intellectual judgment. But in the spirit he goes beyond the senses and beyond reason, and only then does he find unity. He has an unshakeable belief that he can develop to the point of seeing this unity. Therefore he ascribes to human nature the divine spark which can be made to shine in him, to shine of itself. It is different with spirits of Gerson's kind. They do not believe in this shining of itself. For them what men can see always remains something external, which must come to them externally from one side or another. Ruysbroeck believed that the highest wisdom must become apparent to the mystical seeing; Gerson believed only that the soul could illuminate the content of an external teaching (that of the Church). For Gerson mysticism was nothing but one's having a warm feeling for everything which is revealed in the content of this teaching. For Ruysbroeck it was a belief that all content of this teaching is also born in the soul. Therefore Gerson reproves Ruysbroeck for imagining not only that he possesses the capacity to see the universal essence with clearness, but that an activity of the universal essence manifests itself in this seeing. Ruysbroeck simply could not be understood by Gerson. They were speaking of two totally different things. Ruysbroeck has his eye fixed on that life of the soul which lives its God; Gerson sees only a life of the soul which wants to love a God whom it never will be able to live within itself. Like so many others Gerson too fought against something which was foreign to him only because it could not be fitted into his experience 2In my writings, “mysticism” is spoken of in different ways. The apparent contradiction which some persons have claimed to find in this is elucidated in the annotations to the new edition of my Erkenntnistheorie der Goetheschen Weltanschauung, The Theory of Knowledge in Goethe's Conception of the World.—Addendum II to the 1923 Edition ).