« Prev Preface Next »


The first of the subjects which, according to the will of Canon Bampton, are prescribed for the Lecturers upon his foundation, is the confirmation and establishment of the Christian faith. This is the aim which I have kept in view in preparing this volume; and I should wish my book to be judged as a contribution to apologetics, rather than as a historical sketch of Christian Mysticism. I say this because I decided, after some hesitation, to adopt a historical framework for the Lectures, and this arrangement may cause my object to be misunderstood. It seemed to me that the instructiveness of tracing the development and operation of mystical ideas, in the forms which they have assumed as active forces in history, outweighed the disadvantage of appearing to waver between apology and narrative. A series of historical essays would, of course, have been quite unsuitable in the University pulpit, and, moreover, I did not approach the subject from that side. Until I began to prepare the Lectures, about a year and a half before they were delivered, my study of the mystical writers had been directed solely by my own intellectual and spiritual needs. I was attracted to them in the hope of finding in their writings a philosophy and a rule of life which would satisfy my mind and conscience. In this I was not disappointed; and thinking that others might perhaps profit by following the same path, I wished to put together and publish the results of my thought and reading. In such a scheme historical details are either out of place or of secondary value; and I hope this will be remembered by any historians who may take the trouble to read my book.

The philosophical side of the subject is from my point of view of much greater importance. I have done my best to acquire an adequate knowledge of those philosophies, both ancient and modern, which are most akin to speculative Mysticism, and also to think out my own position. I hope that I have succeeded in indicating my general standpoint, and that what I have written may prove fairly consistent and intelligible; but I have felt keenly the disadvantage of having missed the systematic training in metaphysics given by the Oxford school of Literæ Humaniores, and also the difficulty (perhaps I should say the presumption) of addressing metaphysical arguments to an audience which included several eminent philosophers. I wish also that I had had time for a more thorough study of Fechner's works; for his system, so far as I understand it, seems to me to have a great interest and value as a scheme of philosophical Mysticism which does not clash with modern science.

I have spoken with a plainness which will probably give offence of the debased supernaturalism which usurps the name of Mysticism in Roman Catholic countries. I desire to insult no man's convictions; and it is for this reason that I have decided not to print my analysis of Ribet's work (La Mystique Divine, distinguée des Contrefaçons diaboliques. Nouvelle Edition, Paris, 1895, 3 vols.), which I intended to form an Appendix. It would have opened the eyes of some of my readers to the irreconcilable antagonism between the Roman Church and science; but though I translated and summarised my author faithfully, the result had all the appearance of a malicious travesty. I have therefore suppressed this Appendix; but with regard to Roman Catholic "Mysticism" there is no use in mincing matters. Those who find edification in signs and wonders of this kind, and think that such "supernatural phenomena," even if they were well authenticated instead of being ridiculous fables, could possibly establish spiritual truths, will find little or nothing to please or interest them in these pages. But those who reverence Nature and Reason, and have no wish to hear of either of them being "overruled" or "suspended," will, I hope, agree with me in valuing highly the later developments of mystical thought in Northern Europe.

There is another class of "mystics" with whom I have but little sympathy—the dabblers in occultism. "Psychical research" is, no doubt, a perfectly legitimate science; but when its professors invite us to watch the breaking down of the middle wall of partition between matter and spirit, they have, in my opinion, ceased to be scientific, and are in reality hankering after the beggarly elements of the later Neoplatonism.

The charge of "pantheistic tendency" will not, I hope, be brought against me without due consideration. I have tried to show how the Johannine Logos-doctrine, which is the basis of Christian Mysticism, differs from Asiatic Pantheism, from Acosmism, and from (one kind of) evolutionary Idealism. Of course, speculative Mysticism is nearer to Pantheism than to Deism; but I think it is possible heartily to eschew Deism without falling into the opposite error.

I have received much help from many kind friends; and though some of them would not wish to be associated with all of my opinions, I cannot deny myself the pleasure of thanking them by name. From my mother and other members of my family, and relations, especially Mr. W.W. How, Fellow of Merton, I have received many useful suggestions. Three past or present colleagues have read and criticised parts of my work—the Rev. H. Rashdall, now Fellow of New College; Mr. H.A. Prichard, now Fellow of Trinity; and Mr. H.H. Williams, Fellow of Hertford. Mr. G.L. Dickinson, Fellow of King's College, Cambridge, lent me an unpublished dissertation on Plotinus. The Rev. C. Bigg, D.D., whose Bampton Lectures on the Christian Platonists are known all over Europe, did me the kindness to read the whole of the eight Lectures, and so added to the great debt which I owe to him for his books. The Rev. J.M. Heald, formerly Scholar of Trinity, Cambridge, lent me many books from his fine library, and by inquiring for me at Louvain enabled me to procure the books on Mysticism which are now studied in Roman Catholic Universities. The Rev. Dr. Lindsay, who has made a special study of the German mystics, read my Lectures on that period, and wrote me a very useful letter upon them. Miss G.H. Warrack of Edinburgh kindly allowed me to use her modernised version of Julian of Norwich.

I have ventured to say in my last Lecture—and it is my earnest conviction—that a more general acquaintance with mystical theology and philosophy is very desirable in the interests of the English Church at the present time. I am not one of those who think that the points at issue between Anglo-Catholics and Anglo-Protestants are trivial: history has always confirmed Aristotle's famous dictum about parties—[Greek: gignontai ai staseis ou peri mikrôn all' ek mikrôn, stasiazousi de peri megalôn]—but I do not so far despair of our Church, or of Christianity, as to doubt that a reconciling principle must and will be found. Those who do me the honour to read these Lectures will see to what quarter I look for a mediator. A very short study would be sufficient to dispel some of the prejudices which still hang round the name of Mysticism—e.g., that its professors are unpractical dreamers, and that this type of religion is antagonistic to the English mind. As a matter of fact, all the great mystics have been energetic and influential, and their business capacity is specially noted in a curiously large number of cases. For instance, Plotinus was often in request as a guardian and trustee; St. Bernard showed great gifts as an organiser; St. Teresa, as a founder of convents and administrator, gave evidence of extraordinary practical ability; even St. Juan of the Cross displayed the same qualities; John Smith was an excellent bursar of his college; Fénelon ruled his diocese extremely well; and Madame Guyon surprised those who had dealings with her by her great aptitude for affairs. Henry More was offered posts of high responsibility and dignity, but declined them. The mystic is not as a rule ambitious, but I do not think he often shows incapacity for practical life, if he consents to mingle in it. And so far is it from being true that Great Britain has produced but few mystics, that I am inclined to think the subject might be adequately studied from English writers alone. On the more intellectual side we have (without going back to Scotus Erigena) the Cambridge Platonists, Law and Coleridge; of devotional mystics we have attractive examples in Hilton and Julian of Norwich; while in verse the lofty idealism11It is really time that we took to burning that travesty of the British character—the John Bull whom our comic papers represent "guarding his pudding"—instead of Guy Fawkes. Even in the nineteenth century, amid all the sordid materialism bred of commercial ascendancy, this country has produced a richer crop of imaginative literature than any other; and it is significant that, while in Germany philosophy is falling more and more into the hands of the empirical school, our own thinkers are nearly all staunch idealists. and strong religious bent of our race have produced a series of poet-mystics such as no other country can rival. It has not been possible in these Lectures to do justice to George Herbert, Vaughan "the Silurist," Quarles, Crashaw, and others, who have all drunk of the same well. Let it suffice to say that the student who desires to master the history of Mysticism in Britain will find plenty to occupy his time. But for the religious public in general the most useful thing would be a judicious selection from the mystical writers of different times and countries. Those who are more interested in the practical and devotional than the speculative side may study with great profit some parts of St. Augustine, the sermons of Tauler, the Theologia Germanica, Hilton's Scale of Perfection, the Life of Henry Suso, St. Francis de Sales and Fénelon, the Sermons of John Smith and Whichcote's Aphorisms, and the later works of William Law, not forgetting the poets who have been mentioned. I can think of no course of study more fitting for those who wish to revive in themselves and others the practical idealism of the primitive Church, which gained for it its greatest triumphs.

I conclude this Preface with a quotation from William Law on the value of the mystical writers. "Writers like those I have mentioned," he says in a letter to Dr. Trapp, "there have been in all ages of the Church, but as they served not the ends of popular learning, as they helped no people to figure or preferment in the world, and were useless to scholastic controversial writers, so they dropt out of public uses, and were only known, or rather unknown, under the name of mystical writers, till at last some people have hardly heard of that very name: though, if a man were to be told what is meant by a mystical divine, he must be told of something as heavenly, as great, as desirable, as if he was told what is meant by a real, regenerate, living member of the mystical body of Christ; for they were thus called for no other reason than as Moses and the prophets, and the saints of the Old Testament, may be called the spiritual Israel, or the true mystical Jews. These writers began their office of teaching as John the Baptist did, after they had passed through every kind of mortification and self-denial, every kind of trial and purification, both inward and outward. They were deeply learned in the mysteries of the kingdom of God, not through the use of lexicons, or meditating upon critics, but because they had passed from death unto life. They highly reverence and excellently direct the true use of everything that is outward in religion; but, like the Psalmist's king's daughter, they are all glorious within. They are truly sons of thunder, and sons of consolation; they break open the whited sepulchres; they awaken the heart, and show it its filth and rottenness of death: but they leave it not till the kingdom of heaven is raised up within it. If a man has no desire but to be of the spirit of the gospel, to obtain all that renovation of life and spirit which alone can make him to be in Christ a new creature, it is a great unhappiness to him to be unacquainted with these writers, or to pass a day without reading something of what they wrote."

« Prev Preface Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection