Vol. 5, Chapter XII (Cont’d) – Mysticism


Literature: The Works of St. Bernard, Hugo and Richard of St. Victor, Rupert of Deutz, and also of Anselm, Bonaventura, Thomas Aquinas, all in Migne’s Patrology. — G. Arnold: Historie und Beschreibung d. myst. Theologie, Frankf., 1703. — H. Schmid: D. Mysticismus des Mittelalters, Jena, 1824. — J. Görres (Prof. of Hist. in Munich, founder of German ultramontanism, d. 1848): D. christl. Mystik, 4 vols. Regensb., 1836-1842. A product of the fancy rather than of sober historical investigation. — A. Helfferich: D. christl. Mystik, etc., 2 parts, Gotha, 1842. — R. A. Vaughn: Hours with the Mystics, Lond., 1856, 4th ed., no date, with preface by Wycliffe Vaughan . — Ludwig Noack: D. christl. Mystik nach ihrem geschichtl. Entwickelungsgang, 2 parts, Königsb., 1863. — J. Hamberger: Stimmen der Mystik, etc., 2 parts, Stuttg., 1857. — W. Preger: Gesch. der deutschen Mystik im Mittelalter, 3 vols. Leip., 1874-1893. The Mysticism of the twelfth and thirteenth cents. is given, vol. I 1-309. — Carl du Prel: D. Philosophie der Mystik, Leip., 1885. — W. R. Inge: Christ. Mysticism, Lond., 1899. — The Lives of Bernard, Hugo of St. Victor, etc. — The Histories of Doctrine of Schwane, Harnack, etc.

Side by side with the scholastic element in medieval theology was developed the mystical element. Mysticism aims at the immediate personal communion of the soul with the Infinite Spirit, through inward devotions and spiritual aspirations, by abstraction rather than by logical analysis, by adoration rather than by argument, with the heart rather than with the head, through the spiritual feelings rather than through intellectual prowess, through the immediate contact of the soul with God rather than through rites and ceremonies. The characteristic word to designate the activity of the mystic is devotion; of the scholastic, speculation. Mysticism looks less for God without and more for God within the breast. It relies upon experience rather than upon definitions. Mysticism is equally opposed to rationalism and to ritual formalism.

In the Apostle John and also in Paul we have the mystical element embodied. The centre of John’s theology is that God is love. The goal of the believer is to abide in Christ and to have Christ abide in him. The true mystic has felt. He is no visionary nor a dabbler in occultism. Nor is he a recluse. Neither the mystics of this period nor Eckart and Tauler of a later period seclude themselves from the course of human events and human society. Bernard and the theologians of St. Victor did not lose themselves in the absorption of ecstatic exercises, though they sought after complete and placid composure of soul under the influence of love for Christ and the pure contemplation of spiritual things. “God,” said St. Bernard, “is more easily sought and found by prayer than by disputation.” “God is known,” said both Bernard and Hugo of St. Victor, “so far as He is loved.” Dante placed Bernard still higher than Thomas Aquinas, the master of scholastic thought, and was led by him through prayer to the beatific vision of the Holy Trinity with which his Divine Comedy closes.

Augustine furnished the chief materials for the mystics of the Middle Ages as he did for the scholastics. It was he who said, “Thou hast made us for thyself and the heart is restless till it rests in Thee.” For Aristotle, the mystics substituted Dionysius the Areopagite, the Christian Neo-Platonist, whose works were made accessible in Latin by Scotus Erigena. The mystical element was strong in the greatest of the Schoolmen, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventura.

The Middle Ages took Rachel and Leah, Mary and Martha as the representatives of the contemplative and the active life, the conventual and the secular life, and also of the mystic and scholastic methods. Through the entire two periods of seven years, says Peter Damiani, Jacob was serving for Rachel. Every convert must endure the fight of temptation, but all look forward to repose and rest in the joy of supreme contemplation; that is, as it were, the embraces of the beautiful Rachel. These two periods stand for the Old and New Testament, the law and the grace of the Gospel. He who keeps the commandments of both at last comes into the embraces of Rachel long desired.

Richard of St. Victor devotes a whole treatise to the comparison between Rachel and Leah. Leah was the more fertile, Rachel the more comely. Leah represented the discipline of virtue, Rachel the doctrine of truth. Rachel stands for meditation, contemplation, spiritual apprehension, and insight; Leah for weeping, lamentation, repining, and grief. Rachel died in giving birth to Benjamin. So reason, after the pangs of ratiocination, dies in giving birth to religious devotion and ardor.

This comparison was taken from Augustine, who said that Rachel stands for the joyous apprehension of the truth and, for that reason, was said to have a good face and beautiful form. St. Bernard spoke of the fellowship of the active and contemplative life as two members of the same family, dwelling together as did Mary and Martha.

The scholastic theology was developed in connection with the school and the university, the mystic in connection with the convent. Clairvaux and St. Victor near Paris were the hearth-stones of mysticism. Within cloistral precincts were written the passionate hymns of the Middle Ages, and the eucharistic hymns of Thomas Aquinas are the utterances of the mystic and not of the Schoolman.

The leading mystical divines of this period were Bernard, Hugo and Richard of St. Victor, and Rupert of Deutz. Mystical in their whole tendency were also Joachim of Flore, Hildegard and Elizabeth of Schönau, who belong in a class by themselves.


104. St. Bernard as a Mystic

For literature, see §65, also, Ritschl: Lesefrüchte aus d. hl. Bernard, in Studien u. Kritiken, 1879, pp. 317-335. — J. Ries (Rom. Cath.): D. geistliche Leben nach der Lehre d. hl. Bernard, Freib., 1906, p. 327.

The works of Bernard which present his mystical theology are the Degrees of Humility and Pride, a sermon addressed to the clergy, entitled Conversion, the treatise on Loving God, his Sermons on the Canticles, and his hymns. The author’s intimate acquaintance with the Scriptures is shown on almost every page. He has all the books at his command and quotation follows quotation with great rapidity. Bernard enjoyed the highest reputation among his contemporaries as an expounder of the inner life, as his letters written in answer to questions show. Harnack calls him the religious genius of the twelfth century, the leader of his age, the greatest preacher Germany had ever heard. In matters of religious contemplation he called him a new Augustine, Augustinus redivivus.

The practical instinct excluded the speculative element from Bernard as worldly ambition excluded the mystical element from Abaelard. Bernard had the warmest respect for the Apostle Paul and greatly admired Augustine as “the mightiest hammer of the heretics” and “the pillar of the Church.” Far more attractive is he as a devotional theologian, descanting on the excellencies of love and repeating Paul’s words. “Let all your things be done in love,” 1Co_16:14, than as a champion of orthodoxy and writing, “It is better that one perish than that unity perish.”

Prayer and personal sanctity, according to Bernard, are the ways to the knowledge of God, and not disputation. The saint, not the disputant, comprehends God. Humility and love are the fundamental ethical principles of theology. The conventual life, with its vigils and fastings, is not an end but a means to develop these two fundamental Christian virtues. Every convent he regarded as a company of the perfect, collegium perfectorum, but not in the sense that all the monks were perfect.

The treatise on Loving God asserts that God will be known in the measure in which He is loved. Writing to Cardinal Haimeric, who had inquired “why and how God is to be loved,” Bernard replied. “The exciting cause of love to God, is God Himself. The measure of love to God is to love God without measure. The gifts of nature and the soul are adapted to awaken love. But the gifts involved in the soul’s relation to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, whom the unbeliever does not know, are inexpressibly more precious and call upon man to exercise an infinite and measureless love, for God is infinite and measureless. The soul is great in the proportion in which it loves God.”

Love grows with our apprehension of God’s love. As the soul contemplates the cross it is itself pierced with the sword of love, as when it is said in the Canticles, II. 5. “I am sick from love.” Love towards God has its reward, but love loves without reference to reward. True love is sufficient unto itself. To be fully absorbed by love is to be deified. As the drop of water dropped into wine seems to lose its color, and taste, and as the iron held in the glowing flame loses its previous shape and becomes like the flame, and as the air, transfused by the light of the sun, becomes itself like the light, and seems to be as the sun itself, even so all feeling in the saint is wholly transfused by God’s will, and God becomes all and in all.

In Bernard’s eighty-six Sermons on the Song of Solomon, we have a continuous apostrophe to love, the love of God and the soul’s love to God. As sermons they stand out like the Petite Carême of Massillon among the great collections of the French pulpit. Bernard reached only the first verse of the third chapter. His exposition, which is written in Latin, revels in the tropical imagery of this favorite book of the Middle Ages. Everything is allegorized. The very words are exuberant allegories. And yet there is not a single sensual or unchaste suggestion in all the extended treatment. As for the historical and literal meaning, Bernard rejects all suggestion of it as unworthy of Holy Scripture and worthy only of the Jews, who have this veil before their faces. The love of the Shulamite and her spouse is a figure of the love between the Church and Christ, though sometimes the soul, and even the Virgin Mary, is put in the place of the Shulamite. The kiss of Son_1:2 is the Holy Spirit whom the second person of the Trinity reveals. The breasts of the bride, Son_4:5, are the goodness and longsuffering which Christ feels and dispenses, Rom_2:4. The Canticles are a song commemorating the grace of holy affection and the sacrament of eternal matrimony. It is an epithalamial hymn; no one can hear who does not love, for the language of love is a barbarous tongue to him who does not love, even as Greek is to one who is not a Greek. Love needs no other stimulus but itself. Love loves only to be loved again.

Rhapsodic expressions like these welled up in exuberant abundance as Bernard spoke to his audiences at different hours of the day in the convent of Clairvaux. They are marked by no progress of thought. Aphoristic statement takes the place of logic. The same spiritual experiences find expression over and over again. But the treatment is always devout and full of unction, and proves the justice of the title, “the honey-flowing doctor,” — doctor mellifluus — given to the fervid preacher.

The mysticism of St. Bernard centres in Christ. It is by contemplation of Him that the soul is filled with knowledge and ecstasy. The goal which the soul aspires to is that Christ may live in us, and our love to God become the all-controlling affection. Christ is the pure lily of the valley whose brightness illuminates the mind. As the yellow pollen of the lily shines through the white petals, so the gold of his divinity shines through his humanity. Bethlehem and Calvary, the birth and passion of Christ, controlled the preacher’s thought. Christ crucified was the sum of his philosophy. The name of Jesus is like oil which enlightens, nourishes, and soothes. It is light, food, and medicine. Jesus is honey in the mouth, melody in the ear, and in the heart, joy.

Bernard was removed from the pantheistic self-deletion of Eckart and the imaginative extravagance of St. Theresa. From Madame Guyon and the Quietists of the seventeenth century, he differed in not believing in a state of pure love in the present life. Complete obedience to the law of love is impossible here unless it be in the cases of some of the martyrs. His practical tendencies and his common sense kept him from yielding himself to a life of self-satisfied contemplation and commending it. The union with God and Christ is like the fellowship of the disciples in the primitive Church who were together with one heart and one soul, Act_4:32. The union is not by a confusion of natures, but by a concurrence of wills.


105. Hugo and Richard of St. Victor

Literature for Hugo. — Works, first publ. Paris, 1618, 1625, etc. Migne, vols. 175-177. — Lives by A. Hugonin in Migne, 175. XV-CXXV. In Hist. Lit. de France, reprinted in Migne, 175. CXXVI. sqq. — *A. Liebner: Hugo von St. V. und d. Theol. Richtungen s. Zeit., Leip., 1832. — B. Haureau: Hugues de S. V. avec deux opuscules inédits, Paris, 1859. new ed. 1886. — A. Mignon: Les origines de la scholastique et Hugues de St. V., 2 vols. Paris, 1896. — Kilgenstein: D. Gotteslehre d. Hugo von St. V., Würzb., 1897. — Denifle: D. Sentenzen Z. von St. Victor, in Archiv, etc., for 1887, pp. 644 sqq. — Stökl, pp. 352-381.

For Richard. — Works, first publ. Venice, 1506. Migne, vol. 196. — J. G. V. Engelhardt: Rich. von St. V., Erlangen, — Liebner: Rich. à S. Victore de contemp. doctrina, Gött., 1837-1839, 2 parts. — Kaulich: D. Lehren des H. und Rich. von St. Victor, Prag., 1864. — Art. in Dict. Of Natl. Biogr., Preger, Vaughan, Stökl, Schwane, etc.

In Hugo of St. Victor, d. 1141, and more fully in his pupil, Richard of St. Victor, d. 1173, the mystical element is modified by a strong scholastic current. With Bernard mysticism is a highly developed personal experience. With the Victorines it is brought within the limits of careful definition and becomes a scientific system. Hugo and Richard confined their activity to the convent, taking no part in the public controversies of the age.

Hugo, the first of the great German theologians, was born about 1097 in Saxony. About 1115 he went to Paris in the company of an uncle and became an inmate of St. Victor. He was a friend of St. Bernard. Hugo left behind him voluminous writings. He was an independent and judicious thinker, and influenced contemporary writers by whom he is quoted. His most important works are on Learning, the Sacraments, a Summa, and a Commentary on the Coelestial Hierarchy of Dionysius the Areopagite. He wrote commentaries on Romans, Ecclesiastes, and other books of the Bible, and also a treatise on what would now be called Biblical Introduction. He recognized a triple sense of Scripture, historical, allegorical, and anagogical, and was inclined to lay more stress than was usual in that period upon the historical sense. An illustration of these three senses is given in the case of Job. Job belonged to the land of Uz, was rich, was overtaken by misfortune, and sat upon the dunghill scraping his body. This is the historical sense. Job, whose name means the suffering one, dolens, signifies Christ who left his divine glory, entered into our misery, and sat upon the dunghill of this world, sharing our weaknesses and sorrows. This is the allegorical sense. Job signifies the penitent soul who makes in his memory a dunghill of all his sins and does not cease to sit upon it, meditate, and weep. This is the anagogical sense.

From Hugo dates the careful treatment of the doctrine of the sacraments upon the basis of Augustine’s definition of a sacrament as a visible sign of an invisible grace. His views are given in the chapter on the Sacramental System.

The mystical element is prominent in all of Hugo’s writings. The soul has a threefold power of apprehension and vision, the eye of the flesh, the eye of reason, and the eye of contemplation. The faculty of contemplation is concerned with divine things, but was lost in the fall when also the eye of reason suffered injure, but the eye of the flesh remained unimpaired. Redemptive grace restores the eye of contemplation. This faculty is capable of three stages of activity: cogitatio, or the apprehension of objects in their external forms; meditatio, the study of their inner meaning and essence; and contemplatio, or the clear, unimpeded insight into the truth and the vision of God. These three stages are likened unto a fire of green fagots. When it is started and the flame and smoke are intermingled so that the flame only now and then bursts out, we have cogitatio. The fire burning into a flame, the smoke still ascending, represents meditatio. The bright glowing flame, unmixed with smoke, represents contemplatio. The carnal heart is the green wood from which the passion of concupiscence has not yet been dried out.

In another place Hugo compares the spirit, inflamed with desire and ascending to God, to a column of smoke losing its denseness as it rises. Ascending above the vapors of concupiscence, it is transfused with light from the face of the Lord and comes to behold Him. When the heart is fully changed into the fire of love, we know that God is all in all. Love possesses God and knows God. Love and vision are simultaneous.

The five parts of the religious life, according to Hugo, are reading, reflection, prayer, conduct, and contemplation. The word “love” was not so frequently on Hugo’s pen as it was on St. Bernard’s. The words he most often uses to carry his thought are contemplation and vision, and he has much to say of the soul’s rapture, excessus or raptus. The beatitude, “The pure in heart shall see God,” is his favorite passage, which he quotes again and again to indicate the future beatific vision and the vision to which even now the soul may arise. The first man in the state of innocence lived in unbroken vision of God.

They who have the spirit of God, have God. They see God. Because the eye has been illuminated, they see God as He is, separate from all else and by Himself. It is the intellectual man that partakes of God’s bliss, and the more God is understood the more do we possess Him. God made man a rational creature that he might understand and that by understanding he might love, by loving possess, and by possessing enjoy.

More given to the dialectical method and more allegorical in his treatment of Scripture than Hugo, was Richard of St. Victor. Richard is fanciful where Hugo is judicious, extravagant where Hugo is self-restrained, turgid where Hugo is calm. But he is always stimulating. Of his writings many are extant, but of his life little is known. He was a Scotchman, became subprior of St. Victor, 1162, and then prior. While he was at St. Victor, the convent was visited by Alexander III, and Thomas á Becket. In his exegetical works on the Canticles, the Apocalypse, and Ezekiel, Richard’s exuberant fancy revels in allegorical interpretations. As for the Canticles, they set forth the contemplative life as Ecclesiastes sets forth the natural and Proverbs the moral life. Jacob corresponds to the Canticles, for he saw the angels ascending and descending. Abraham corresponds to the Proverbs and Isaac to Ecclesiastes. The Canticles set forth the contemplative life, because in that book the advent and sight of the Lord are desired.

In the department of dogmatics Richard wrote Emmanuel, a treatise directed to the Jews, and a work on the Incarnation, addressed to St. Bernard, in which, following Augustine, he praised sin as a happy misdemeanor, — felix culpa, — inasmuch as it brought about the incarnation of the Redeemer. His chief theological work was on the Trinity. Here he starts out by deriving all knowledge from experience, ratiocination, and faith. Dialectics are allowed full sweep in the attempt to join knowledge and faith. Richard condemned the pseudo-philosophers who leaned more on Aristotle than on Christ, and thought more of being regarded discoverers of new things than of asserting established truths. Faith is set forth as the essential prerequisite of Christian knowledge. It is its starting-point and foundation. The author proves the Trinity in the godhead from the idea of love, which demands different persons and just three because two persons, loving one another, will desire a third whom they shall love in common.

Richard’s distinctively mystical writings won for him the name of the great contemplator, magnus contemplator. In the Preparation of the Mind for Contemplation or Benjamin the Less, the prolonged comparison is made between Leah and Rachel to which reference has already been made. The spiritual significance of their two nurses and their children is brought down to Benjamin. Richard even uses the bold language that Benjamin killed his mother that he might rise above natural reason.

In Benjamin the Greater, or the Grace of Contemplation, we have a discussion of the soul’s processes, as the soul rises “through self and above self” to the supernal vision of God. Richard insists upon the soul’s purification of itself from all sin as the condition of knowing God. The heart must be imbued with virtues, which Richard sets forth, before it can rise to the highest things, and he who would attempt to ascend to the height of knowledge must make it his first and chief study to know himself perfectly.

Richard repeats Hugo’s classification of cogitatio, meditatio, and contemplatio. Contemplation is the mind’s free, clear, and admiring vision of the wonders of divine wisdom. It includes six stages, the last of them being “contemplation above and aside from reason,” whereby the mysteries of the Trinity are apprehended. In transgressing the limits of itself, the soul may pass into a state of ecstasy, seeing visions, enjoying sublimated worship and inexpressible sweetness of experience. This is immediate communion with God. The third heaven, into which Paul was rapt, is above reason and to be reached only by a rapturous transport of the mind — per mentis excessum. It is “above reason and aside from reason.” Love is the impelling motive in the entire process of contemplation and “contemplation is a mountain which rises above all worldly philosophy.” Aristotle did not find out any such thing, nor did Plato, nor did any of the company of the philosophers.

Richard magnifies the Scriptures and makes them the test of spiritual states. Everything is to be looked upon with suspicion which does not conform to the letter of Scripture.

The leading ideas of these two stimulating teachers are that we must believe and love and sanctify ourselves in order that the soul may reach the ecstasy and composure of contemplation or the knowledge of God. The Scriptures are the supreme guide and the soul by contemplation reaches a spiritual state which the intellect and argumentation could ever bring it to.

Rupert of Deutz. — Among the mystics of the twelfth century no mean place belongs to Rupert of Deutz. A German by nationality, he was made abbot of the Benedictine convent of Deutz near Cologne about 1120 and died 1136. He came into conflict with Anselm of Laon and William of Champeaux through a report which represented them as teaching that God had decreed evil, and that, in sinning, Adam had followed God’s will. Rupert answered the errors in two works on the Will of God and the Omnipotence of God. He even went to France to contend with these two renowned teachers. Anselm of Laon he found on his death-bed. With William he held an open disputation.

Rupert’s chief merit is in the department of exegesis. He was the most voluminous biblical commentator of his time. He magnified the Scriptures. In one consecutive volume he commented on the books of the Old Testament from Genesis to Chronicles, on the four Major Prophets, and the four evangelists. The commentary on Genesis alone occupies nearly four hundred columns in Migne’s edition. Among his other exegetical works were commentaries on the Gospel and Revelation of St. John, the Minor Prophets, Ecclesiastes, and especially the Canticles and Matthew. In these works he follows the text conscientiously and laboriously, verse by verse. The Canticles Rupert regarded as a song in honor of the Virgin Mary, but he set himself against the doctrine that she was conceived without sin. The commentary opens with an interpretation of Son_1:2, thus: “‘Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth.’ What is this exclamation so great, so sudden? Of blessed Mary, the inundation of joy, the force of love, the torrent of pleasure have filled thee full and wholly intoxicated thee and thou hast felt what eye has not seen nor ear heard nor has entered into the heart of man, and thou hast said, ‘Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth’ for thou didst say to the angel ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be unto me according to thy word.’ What was that word? What did he say to thee? ‘Thou hast found grace,’ he said, ‘with the Lord. Behold thou shalt conceive and bare a son.’… Was not this the word of the angel, the word and promise of the kiss of the Lord’s mouth ready to be given?” etc.

Rupert also has a place in the history of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, and it is an open question whether or not he substituted the doctrine of impanation for the doctrine of transubstantiation.