Light, Life, and Love
W. R. Inge

Part 1 out of 4

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Selections from the German Mystics of the Middle Ages


W. R. Inge

Second Edition






TO most English readers the "Imitation of Christ" is the
representative of mediaeval German mysticism. In reality, however,
this beautiful little treatise belongs to a period when that
movement had nearly spent itself. Thomas a Kempis, as Dr. Bigg has
said,[1] was only a semi-mystic. He tones down the most
characteristic doctrines of Eckhart, who is the great original
thinker of the German mystical school, and seems in some ways to
revert to an earlier type of devotional literature. The "Imitation"
may perhaps be described as an idealised picture of monastic piety,
drawn at a time when the life of the cloister no longer filled a
place of unchallenged usefulness in the social order of Europe. To
find German mysticism at its strongest we must go back a full
hundred years, and to understand its growth we must retrace our
steps as far as the great awakening of the thirteenth century--the
age of chivalry in religion--the age of St. Louis, of Francis and
Dominic, of Bonaventura and Thomas Aquinas. It was a vast revival,
bearing fruit in a new ardour of pity and charity, as well as in a
healthy freedom of thought. The Church, in recognising the new
charitable orders of Francis and Dominic, and the Christianised
Aristotelianism of the schoolmen, retained the loyalty and profited
by the zeal of the more sober reformers, but was unable to prevent
the diffusion of an independent critical spirit, in part provoked
and justified by real abuses. Discontent was aroused, not only by
the worldiness of the hierarchy, whose greed and luxurious living
were felt to be scandalous, but by the widespread economic distress
which prevailed over Western Europe at this period. The crusades
periodically swept off a large proportion of the able-bodied men, of
whom the majority never returned to their homes, and this helped to
swell the number of indigent women, who, having no male protectors,
were obliged to beg their bread. The better class of these female
mendicants soon formed themselves into uncloistered charitable
Orders, who were not forbidden to marry, and who devoted themselves
chiefly to the care of the sick. These Beguines and the
corresponding male associations of Beghards became very numerous in
Germany. Their religious views were of a definite type. Theirs was
an intensely inward religion, based on the longing of the soul for
immediate access to God. The more educated among them tended to
embrace a vague idealistic Pantheism. Mechthild of Magdeburg
(1212-1277), prophetess, poetess, Church reformer, quietist, was the
ablest of the Beguines. Her writings prove to us that the technical
terminology of German mysticism was in use before Eckhart,[2] and
also that the followers of what the "Theologia Germanica" calls the
False Light, who aspired to absorption in the Godhead, and despised
the imitation of the incarnate Christ, were already throwing
discredit on the movement. Mechthild's independence, and her
unsparing denunciations of corruption in high places, brought her
into conflict with the secular clergy. They tried to burn her
books--those religious love songs which had already endeared her to
German popular sentiment. It was then that she seemed to hear a
voice saying to her:

Lieb' meine, betrŸbe dich nicht zu sehr,

Die Wahrheit mag niemand verbrennen!

The rulers of the Church, unhappily, were not content with burning
books. Their hostility towards the unrecognised Orders became more
and more pronounced: the Beghards and Beguines were harried and
persecuted till most of them were driven to join the Franciscans or
Dominicans, carrying with them into those Orders the ferment of
their speculative mysticism. The more stubborn "Brethren and Sisters
of the Free Spirit" were burned in batches at Cologne and elsewhere.
Their fate in those times did not excite much pity, for many of the
victims were idle vagabonds of dissolute character, and the general
public probably thought that the licensed begging friars were enough
of a nuisance without the addition of these free lances.

The heretical mystical sects of the thirteenth century are very
interesting as illustrating the chief dangers of mysticism. Some of
these sectaries were Socialists or Communists of an extreme kind;
others were Rationalists, who taught that Jesus Christ was the son
of Joseph and a sinner like other men; others were Puritans, who
said that Church music was "nothing but a hellish noise" (nihil nisi
clamor inferni), and that the Pope was the magna meretrix of the
Apocalypse. The majority were Anti-Sacramentalists and Determinists;
and some were openly Antinomian, teaching that those who are led by
the Spirit can do no wrong. The followers of Amalric of Bena[3]
believed that the Holy Ghost had chosen their sect in which to
become incarnate; His presence among them was a continual guarantee
of sanctity and happiness. The "spiritual Franciscans" had dreams of
a more apocalyptic kind. They adopted the idea of an "eternal
Gospel," as expounded by Joachim of Floris, and believed that the
"third kingdom," that of the Spirit, was about to begin among
themselves. It was to abolish the secular Church and to inaugurate
the reign of true Christianity--i.e. "poverty" and asceticism.

Such are some of the results of what our eighteenth-century
ancestors knew and dreaded as "Enthusiasm"--that ferment of the
spirit which in certain epochs spreads from soul to soul like an
epidemic, breaking all the fetters of authority, despising tradition
and rejecting discipline in its eagerness to get rid of formalism
and unreality; a lawless, turbulent, unmanageable spirit, in which,
notwithstanding, is a potentiality for good far higher than any to
which the lukewarm "religion of all sensible men" can ever attain.
For mysticism is the raw material of all religion; and it is easier
to discipline the enthusiast than to breathe enthusiasm into the

Meanwhile, the Church looked with favour upon the orthodox mystical
school, of which Richard and Hugo of St. Victor, Bonaventura, and
Albertus Magnus were among the greatest names. These men were
working out in their own fashion the psychology of the contemplative
life, showing how we may ascend through "cogitation, meditation, and
speculation" to "contemplation," and how we may pass successively
through jubilus, ebrietas spiritus, spiritualis jucunditas, and
liquefactio, till we attain raptus or ecstasy. The writings of the
scholastic mystics are so overweighted with this pseudo-science,
with its wire-drawn distinctions and meaningless classifications,
that very few readers have now the patience to dig out their
numerous beauties. They are, however, still the classics of mystical
theology in the Roman Church, so far as that science has not
degenerated into mere miracle-mongering.


It was in 1260, when Mechthild of Magdeburg was at the height of her
activity, that Meister Eckhart, next to Plotinus the greatest
philosopher-mystic, was born at Hocheim in Thuringia. It seems that
his family was in a good position, but nothing is known of his early
years. He entered the Dominican Order as a youth, perhaps at
sixteen, the earliest age at which novices were admitted into that
Order. The course of instruction among the Dominicans was as
follows:--After two years, during which the novice laid the
foundations of a good general education, he devoted the next two
years to grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic, and then the same amount
of time to what was called the Quadrivium, which consisted of
"arithmetic, mathematics, astronomy, and music." Theology, the queen
of the sciences, occupied three years; and at the end of the course,
at the age of twenty-five, the brothers were ordained priests. We
find Eckhart, towards the end of the century, Prior of Erfurt and
Vicar of Thuringia, then Lector Biblicus at Paris, then Provincial
Prior of Saxony. In 1307 the master of the Order appointed him
Vicar-General for Bohemia, and in 1311 he returned to Paris. We find
him next preaching busily at Strassburg,[4] and after a few more
years, at Cologne, where the persecution of the Brethren of the Free
Spirit was just then at its height. At Strassburg there were no less
than seven convents of Dominican nuns, for since 1267 the Order had
resumed the supervision of female convents, which it had renounced a
short time after its foundation. Many of Eckhart's discourses were
addressed to these congregations of devout women, who indeed were to
a large extent the backbone of the mystical movement, and it is
impossible not to see that the devotional treatises of the school
are strongly coloured by feminine sentiment. A curious poem, written
by a Dominican nun of this period, celebrates the merits of three
preachers, the third of whom is a Master Eckhart, "who speaks to us
about Nothingness. He who understands him not, in him has never
shone the light divine." These nuns seem to have been fed with the
strong meat of Eckhart's mystical philosophy; in the more popular
sermons he tried to be intelligible to all. It was not very long
after he took up his residence at Cologne that he was himself
attacked for heresy. In 1327 he read before his own Order a
retractation of "any errors which might be found" (si quid errorum
repertum fuerit) in his writings, but withdrew nothing that he had
actually said, and protested that he believed himself to be
orthodox. He died a few months later, and it was not till 1329 that
a Papal bull was issued, enumerating seventeen heretical and eleven
objectionable doctrines in his writings.

This bull is interesting as showing what were the points in
Eckhart's teaching which in the fourteenth century were considered
dangerous. They also indicate very accurately what are the real
errors into which speculative mysticism is liable to fall, and how
thinkers of this school may most plausibly be misrepresented by
those who differ from them. After expressing his sorrow that "a
certain Teuton named Ekardus, doctor, ut fertur, sacrae paginae, has
wished to know more than he should," and has sown tares and thistles
and other weeds in the field of the Church, the Pope specifies the
following erroneous statements as appearing in Eckhart's
writings[5]:--1. "God created the world as soon as God was. 2. In
every work, bad as well as good, the glory of God is equally
manifested. 3. A man who prays for any particular thing prays for an
evil and prays ill, for he prays for the negation of good and the
negation of God, and that God may be denied to him.[6] 4. God is
honoured in those who have renounced everything, even holiness and
the kingdom of heaven. 5. We are transformed totally into God, even
as in the Sacrament the bread is converted into the Body of Christ.
Unum, non simile. 6. Whatever God the Father gave to His
only-begotten Son in His human nature, He has given it all to me. 7.
Whatever the Holy Scripture says about Christ is verified in every
good and godlike man. 8. External action is not, properly speaking,
good nor divine; God, properly speaking, only works in us internal
actions. 9. God is one, in every way and according to every reason,
so that it is not possible to find any plurality in Him, either in
the intellect or outside it; for he who sees two, or sees any
distinction, does not see God; for God is one, outside number and
above number, for one cannot be put with anything else, but follows
it; therefore in God Himself no distinction can be or be understood.
10. All the creatures are absolutely nothing: I say not that they
are small or something, but that they are absolutely nothing." All
these statements are declared to have been found in his writings. It
is also "objected against the said Ekardus" that he taught the
following two articles in these words:--1. "There is something in
the soul, which is uncreated and uncreatable: if the whole soul were
such, it would be uncreated and uncreatable: and this is the
intelligence.[7] 2. God is not good or better or best: I speak ill
when I call God good; it is as if I called white black."[8] The bull
declares all the propositions above quoted to be heretical, with the
exception of the three which I have numbered 8-10, and these "have
an ill sound" and are "very rash," even if they might be so
supplemented and explained as to bear an orthodox sense.

This condemnation led to a long neglect of Eckhart's writings. He
was almost forgotten till Franz Pfeiffer in 1857 collected and
edited his scattered treatises and endeavoured to distinguish those
which were genuine from those which were spurious. Since Pfeiffer's
edition fresh discoveries have been made, notably in 1880, when
Denifle found at Erfurt several important fragments in Latin, which
in his opinion show a closer dependence on the scholastic theology,
and particularly on St Thomas Aquinas, than Protestant scholars,
such as Preger, had been willing to allow. But the attempt to prove
Eckhart a mere scholastic is a failure; the audacities of his German
discourses cannot be explained as an accommodation to the tastes of
a peculiar audience. For good or evil Eckhart is an original and
independent thinker, whose theology is confined by no trammels of


The Godhead, according to Eckhart, is the universal and eternal
Unity comprehending and transcending all diversity. "The Divine
nature is Rest," he says in one of the German discourses; and in the
Latin fragments we find: "God rests in Himself, and makes all things
rest in Him." The three Persons of the Trinity, however, are not
mere modes or accidents,[9] but represent a real distinction within
the Godhead. God is unchangeable, and at the same time an
"everlasting process." The creatures are "absolutely nothing"; but
at the same time "God without them would not be God," for God is
love, and must objectify Himself; He is goodness, and must impart
Himself. As the picture in the mind of the painter, as the poem in
the mind of the poet, so was all creation in the mind of God from
all eternity, in uncreated simplicity. The ideal world was not
created in time; "the Father spake Himself and all the creatures in
His Son"; "they exist in the eternal Now"[10]--"a
becoming without a becoming, change without change." "The Word of
God the Father is the substance of all that exists, the life of all
that lives, the principle and cause of life." Of creation he says:
"We must not falsely imagine that God stood waiting for something to
happen, that He might create the world. For so soon as He was God,
so soon as He begat His coeternal and coequal Son, He created the
world." So Spinoza says: "God has always been before the creatures,
without even existing before them. He precedes them not by an
interval of time, but by a fixed eternity." This is not the same as
saying that the world of sense had no beginning; it is possible that
Eckhart did not mean to go further than the orthodox scholastic
mystic, Albertus Magnus, who says: "God created things from
eternity, but the things were not created from eternity." St
Augustine (Conf. xi. 30) bids objectors to "understand that there
can be no time without creatures, and cease to talk nonsense."
Eckhart also tries to distinguish between the "interior" and the
"exterior" action of God. God, he says, is in all things, not as
Nature, not as Person, but as Being. He is everywhere, undivided;
yet the creatures participate in Him according to their measure.[11]
The three Persons of the Trinity have impressed their image upon the
creatures, yet it is only their "nothingness" that keeps them
separate creatures. Most of this comes from the Neoplatonists, and
much of it through the pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, a
Platonising Christian of the fifth century, whose writings were
believed in the Middle Ages to proceed from St Paul's Athenian
convert. It would, however, be easy to find parallels in St
Augustine's writings to most of the phases quoted in this paragraph.
The practical consequences will be considered presently.

The creatures are a way from God; they are also a way to Him. "In
Christ," he says, "all the creatures are one man, and that man is
God." Grace, which is a real self-unfolding of God in the soul, can
make us "what God is by Nature"--one of Eckhart's audacious phrases,
which are not really so unorthodox as they sound. The following
prayer, which appears in one of his discourses, may perhaps be
defended as asking no more than our Lord prayed for (John xvii.) for
His disciples, but it lays him open to the charge, which the Pope's
bull did not fail to urge against him, that he made the servant
equal to his Lord. "Grant that I, by Thy grace, may be united to Thy
Nature, as Thy Son is eternally one in Thy Nature, and that grace
may become my nature."

The ethical aim is to be rid of "creatureliness," and so to be
united to God. In Eckhart's system, as in that of Plotinus,
speculation is never divorced from ethics. On our side the process
is a negative one. All our knowledge must be reduced to
not-knowledge; our reason and will, as well as our lower faculties,
must transcend themselves, must die to live. We must detach
ourselves absolutely "even from God," he says. This state of
spiritual nudity he calls "poverty." Then, when our house is empty
of all else, God can dwell there: "He begets His Son in us." This
last phrase has always been a favourite with the mystics. St Paul
uses very similar language, and the Epistle to Diognetus, written in
the second century, speaks of Christ as, "being ever born anew in
the hearts of the saints." Very characteristic, too, is the doctrine
that complete detachment from the creatures is the way to union with
God. Jacob Bšhme has arrived independently at the same conclusion as
Eckhart. "The scholar said to his master: How may I come to the
supersensual life, that I may see God and hear Him speak? The master
said: When thou canst throw thyself but for a moment into that place
where no creature dwelleth, then thou hearest what God speaketh. The
scholar asked: Is that near or far off? The master replied: It is in
thee, and if thou canst for a while cease from all thy thinking and
willing, thou shalt hear unspeakable words of God. The scholar said:
How can I hear, when I stand still from thinking and willing? The
master answered: When thou standest still from the thinking and
willing of self, the eternal hearing, seeing, and speaking will be
revealed to thee, and so God heareth and seeth through thee."

In St Thomas Aquinas it is "the will enlightened by reason" which
unites us to God. But there are two sorts of reason. The passive
reason is the faculty which rises through discursive thinking to
knowledge. The active reason is a much higher faculty, which exists
by participation in the divine mind, "as the air is light by
participation in the sunshine." When this active reason is regarded
as the standard of moral action, it is called by Aquinas
synteresis.[12] Eckhart was at first content with this teaching of
St Thomas, whom he always cites with great reverence; but the whole
tendency of his thinking was to leave the unprofitable
classification of faculties in which the Victorine School almost
revelled, and to concentrate his attention on the union of the soul
with God. And therefore in his more developed teaching,[13] the
"spark" which is the point of contact between the soul and its Maker
is something higher than the faculties, being "uncreated." He seems
to waver about identifying the "spark" with the "active reason," but
inclines on the whole to regard it as something even higher still.
"There is something in the soul," he says, "which is so akin to God
that it is one with Him and not merely united with Him." And again:
"There is a force in the soul; and not only a force, but something
more, a being; and not only a being, but something more; it is so
pure and high and noble in itself that no creature can come there,
and God alone can dwelt there. Yea, verily, and even God cannot come
there with a form; He can only come with His simple divine nature."
And in the startling passage often quoted against him, a passage
which illustrates admirably his affinity to one side of Hegelianism,
we read: "The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which He
sees me. Mine eye and God's eye are one eye and one sight and one
knowledge and one love."

I do not defend these passages as orthodox; but before exclaiming
"rank Pantheism!" we ought to recollect that for Eckhart the being
of God is quite different from His personality. Eckhart never taught
that the Persons of the Holy Trinity become, after the mystical
Union, the "Form" of the human soul. It is the impersonal light of
the divine nature which transforms our nature; human personality is
neither lost nor converted into divine personality. Moreover, the
divine spark at the centre of the soul is not the soul nor the
personality. "The soul," he says in one place, using a figure which
recurs in the "Theologia Germanica," "has two faces. One is turned
towards this world and towards the body, the other towards God." The
complete dominion of the "spark" over the soul is an unrealised

The truth which he values is that, as Mr Upton[15] has well
expressed it, "there is a certain self-revelation of the eternal and
infinite One to the finite soul, and therefore an indestructible
basis for religious ideas and beliefs as distinguished from what is
called scientific knowledge. . . . This immanent universal principle
does not pertain to, and is not the property of any individual mind,
but belongs to that uncreated and eternal nature of God which lies
deeper than all those differences which separate individual minds
from each other, and is indeed that incarnation of the Eternal, who
though He is present in every finite thing, is still not broken up
into individualities, but remains one and the same eternal
substance, one and the same unifying principle, immanently and
indivisibly present in every one of the countless plurality of
finite individuals." It might further be urged that neither God nor
man can be understood in independence of each other. A recent writer
on ethics,[16] not too well disposed towards Christianity, is, I
think, right in saying: "To the popular mind, which assumes God and
man to be two different realities, each given in independence of the
other, . . . the identification of man's love of God with God's love
of Himself has always been a paradox and a stumbling-block. But it
is not too much to say that until it has been seen to be no paradox,
but a simple and fundamental truth, the masterpieces of the world's
religious literature must remain a sealed book to us."

Eckhart certainly believed himself to have escaped the pitfall of
Pantheism; but he often expressed himself in such an unguarded way
that the charge may be brought against him with some show of reason.

Love, Eckhart teaches, is the principle of all virtues; it is God
Himself. Next to it in dignity comes humility. The beauty of the
soul, he says in the true Platonic vein, is to be well ordered, with
the higher faculties above the lower, each in its proper place. The
will should be supreme over the understanding, the understanding
over the senses. Whatever we will earnestly, that we have, and no
one can hinder us from attaining that detachment from the creatures
in which our blessedness consists.

Evil, from the highest standpoint, is only a means for realising the
eternal aim of God in creation; all will ultimately be overruled for
good. Nevertheless, we can frustrate the good will of God towards
us, and it is this, and not the thought of any insult against
Himself, that makes God grieve for our sins. It would not be worth
while to give any more quotations on this subject, for Eckhart is
not more successful than other philosophers in propounding a
consistent and intelligible theory of the place of evil in the

Eckhart is well aware of the two chief pitfalls into which the
mystic is liable to fall--dreamy inactivity and Antinomianism. The
sects of the Free Spirit seem to have afforded a good object-lesson
in both these errors, as some of the Gnostic sects did in the second
century. Eckhart's teaching here is sound and good. Freedom from
law, he says, belongs only to the "spark," not to the faculties of
the soul, and no man can live always on the highest plane.
Contemplation is, in a sense, a means to activity; works of charity
are its proper fruit. "If a man were in an ecstasy like that of St
Paul, when he was caught up into the third heaven, and knew of a
poor man who needed his help, he ought to leave his ecstasy and help
the needy." Suso[17] tells us how God punished him for disregarding
this duty. True contemplation considers Reality (or Being) in its
manifestations as well as in its origin. If this is remembered,
there need be no conflict between social morality and the inner
life. Eckhart recognises[18] that it is a harder and a nobler task
to preserve detachment in a crowd than in a cell; the little daily
sacrifices of family life are often a greater trial than
self-imposed mortifications. "We need not destroy any little good in
ourselves for the sake of a better, but we should strive to grasp
every truth in its highest meaning, for no one good contradicts
another." "Love God, and do as you like, say the Free Spirits. Yes;
but as long as you like anything contrary to God's will, you do not
love Him."

There is much more of the same kind in Eckhart's sermons--as good
and sensible doctrine as one could find anywhere. But what was the
practical effect of his teaching as a whole? It is generally the
case that the really weak points of any religious movement are
exposed with a cruel logicality most exasperating to the leaders by
the second generation of its adherents. The dangerous side of the
Eckhartian mysticism is painfully exhibited in the life of his
spiritual daughter, "Schwester Katrei," the saint of the later
Beguines. Katrei is a rather shadowy person; but for our present
purpose it does not much matter whether the story of her life has
been embroidered or not. Her memory was revered for such sayings and
doings as these which follow. On one occasion she exclaimed:
"Congratulate me; I have become God!" and on another she declared
that "not even the desire of heaven should tempt a good man towards
activity." It was her ambition to forget who were her parents, to be
indifferent whether she received absolution and partook of the Holy
Communion or not; and she finally realised her ambition by falling
into a cataleptic state in which she was supposed to be dead, and
was carried out for burial. Her confessor, perceiving that she was
not really dead, awoke her: "Art thou satisfied?" "I am satisfied at
last," said Katrei: she was now "dead all through," as she wished to

Are we to conclude that the logical outcome of mysticism is this
strange reproduction, in Teutonic Europe, of Indian Yogism? Many who
have studied the subject have satisfied themselves that Schwester
Katrei is the truly consistent mystic. They have come to the
conclusion that the real attraction of mysticism is a pining for
deliverance from this fretful, anxious, exacting, individual life,
and a yearning for absorption into the great Abyss where all
distinctions are merged in the Infinite. According to this view,
mysticism in its purest form should be studied in the ancient
religious literature of India, which teaches us how all this world
of colour and diversity, of sharp outlines and conflicting forces,
may be lost and swallowed up in the "white radiance," or black
darkness (it does not really matter which we call it) of an empty

The present writer is convinced that this is not the truth about
mysticism. Eckhart may have encouraged Schwester Katrei in her
attempt to substitute the living death of the blank trance for the
dying life of Christian charity; but none the less she caricatured
and stultified his teaching. And I think it is possible to lay our
finger on the place where she and so many others went wrong. The
aspiration of mysticism is to find the unity which underlies all
diversity, or, in religious language, to see God face to face. From
the Many to the One is always the path of the mystic. Plotinus, the
father of all mystical philosophy in Europe (unless, as he himself
would have wished, we give that honour to Plato), mapped out the
upward road as follows:--At the bottom of the hill is the sphere of
the "merely many"--of material objects viewed in disconnection,
dull, and spiritless. This is a world which has no real existence;
it may best be called "not-being" ("ein lauteres Nichts," as Eckhart
says), and as the indeterminate, it can only be apprehended by a
corresponding indeterminateness in the soul. The soul, however,
always adds some form and determination to the abstract formlessness
of the "merely many." Next, we rise to, or project for ourselves,
the world of "the one and the many." This is the sphere in which our
consciousness normally moves. We are conscious of an overruling
Mind, but the creatures still seem external to and partially
independent of it. Such is the temporal order as we know it. Above
this is the intelligible world, the eternal order, "the one-many,"
das ewige Nu, the world in which God's will is done perfectly and
all reflects the divine mind. Highest of all is "the One," the,
Absolute, the Godhead, of whom nothing can be predicated, because He
is above all distinctions. This Neoplatonic Absolute is the Godhead
of whom Eckhart says: "God never looked upon deed," and of whom
Angelus Silesius sings:

"Und sieh, er ist nicht Wille,
Er ist ein' ewige Stille."

Plotinus taught that the One, being superessential, can only be
apprehended in ecstasy, when thought, which still distinguishes
itself from its object, is transcended, and knower and known become
one. As Tennyson's Ancient Sage says:

"If thou would'st hear the Nameless, and descend
Into the Temple-cave of thine own self,
There, brooding by the central altar, thou
May'st haply learn the Nameless hath a voice,
By which thou wilt abide, if thou be wise;
For knowledge is the swallow on the lake,
That sees and stirs the surface-shadow there
But never yet hath dipt into the Abysm."

In the same way Eckhart taught that no creature can apprehend the
Godhead, and, therefore, that the spark in the centre of the soul
(this doctrine, too, is found in Plotinus) must be verily divine.
The logic of the theory is inexorable. If only like can know like,
we cannot know God except by a faculty which is itself divine. The
real question is whether God, as an object of knowledge and worship
for finite beings, is the absolute Godhead, who transcends all
distinctions. The mediaeval mystics held that this "flight of the
alone to the alone," as Plotinus calls it, is possible to men, and
that in it consists our highest blessedness. They were attracted
towards this view by several influences. First, there was the
tradition of Dionysius, to whom (e.g.) the author of the "Theologia
Germanica" appeals as an authority for the possibility of "beholding
the hidden things of God by utter abandonment of thyself, and of
entering into union with Him who is above all existence, and all
knowledge." Secondly, there was what a modern writer has called "the
attraction of the Abyss," the longing which some persons feel very
strongly to merge their individuality in a larger and better whole,
to get rid not only of selfishness but of self for ever. "Leave
nothing of myself in me," is Crashaw's prayer in his wonderful poem
on St Teresa. Thirdly, we may mention the awe and respect long paid
to ecstatic trances, the pathological nature of which was not
understood. The blank trance was a real experience; and as it could
be induced by a long course of ascetical exercises and fervid
devotions, it was naturally regarded as the crowning reward of
sanctity on earth. Nor would it be at all safe to reject the
evidence, which is very copious,[19] that the "dreamy state" may
issue in permanent spiritual gain. The methodical cultivation of it,
which is at the bottom of most of the strange austerities of the
ascetics, was not only (though it was partly) practised in the hope
of enjoying those spiritual raptures which are described as being
far more intense than any pleasures of sense[20]: it was the hope of
stirring to its depths the subconscious mind and permeating the
whole with the hidden energy of the divine Spirit that led to the
desire for visions and trances. Lastly, I think we must give a place
to the intellectual attraction of an uncompromising monistic theory
of the universe. Spiritualistic monism, when it is consistent with
itself, will always lean to semi-pantheistic mysticism rather than
to such a compromise with pluralism as Lotze and his numerous
followers in this country imagine to be possible.

But it is possible to go a long way with the mystics and yet to
maintain that under no conditions whatever can a finite being escape
from the limitations of his finitude and see God or the world or
himself "with the same eye with which God sees" all things. The old
Hebrew belief, that to see the face of God is death, expresses the
truth under a mythical form. That the human mind, while still "in
the body pent," may obtain glimpses of the eternal order, and enjoy
foretastes of the bliss of heaven, is a belief which I, at least,
see no reason to reject. It involves no rash presumption, and is not
contrary to what may be readily believed about the state of immortal
spirits passing through a mortal life. But the explanation of the
blank trance as a temporary transit into the Absolute must be set
down as a pure delusion. It involves a conception of the divine
"Rest" which in his best moments Eckhart himself repudiates. "The
Rest of the Godhead," he says, "is not in that He is the source of
being, but in that He is the consummation of all being." This
profound saying expresses the truth, which he seems often to forget,
that the world-process must have a real value in God's sight--that
it is not a mere polarisation of the white radiance of eternity
broken up by the imperfection of our vision. Whatever theories we
may hold about Absolute Being, or an Absolute that is above Being,
we must make room for the Will, and for Time, which is the "form" of
the will, and for the creatures who inhabit time and space, as
having for us the value of reality. Nor shall we, if we are to
escape scepticism, be willing to admit that these appearances have
no sure relation to ultimate reality. We must not try to uncreate
the world in order to find God. We were created out of nothing, but
we cannot return to nothing, to find our Creator there. The still,
small voice is best listened for amid the discordant harmony of life
and death.

The search for God is no exception to the mysterious law of human
nature, that we cannot get anything worth having--neither holiness
nor happiness nor wisdom--by trying for it directly. It must be
given us through something else. The recluse who lives like
Parnell's "Hermit":

"Prayer all his business, all his pleasure praise,"

is not only a poor sort of saint, but he will offer a poor sort of
prayers and praises. He will miss real holiness for the same reason
that makes the pleasure-seeker miss real happiness. We must lose
ourselves in some worthy interest in order to find again both a
better self and an object higher than that which we sought. This the
German mystics in a sense knew well. There is a noble sentence of
Suso to the effect that "he who realises the inward in the outward,
to him the inward becomes more inward than to him who only
recognises the inward in the inward." Moreover, the recognition that
"God manifests Himself and worketh more in one creature than
another" ("Theologia Germanica"), involves a denial of the
nihilistic view that all the creatures are "ein lauteres
Nichts."[21] It would be easy to find such passages in all the
fourteenth-century mystics, but it cannot be denied that on the
whole their religion is too self-centred. There are not many maxims
so fundamentally wrong-headed and un-Christian as Suso's advice to
"live as if you were the only person in the world."[22] The life of
the cloistered saint may be abundantly justified--for the spiritual
activity of some of them has been of far greater service to mankind
than the fussy benevolence of many "practical" busybodies--but the
idea of social service, whether in the school of Martha or of Mary,
ought surely never to be absent. The image of Christ as the Lover of
the individual soul rather than as the Bridegroom of the Church was
too dear to these lonely men and women. Unconsciously, they looked
to their personal devotions to compensate them for the human loves
which they had forsworn. The raptures of Divine Love, which they
regarded as signal favours bestowed upon them, were not very
wholesome in themselves, and diverted their thoughts from the needs
of their fellow-men. They also led to most painful reactions, in
which the poor contemplative believed himself abandoned by God and
became a pray to terrible depression and melancholy. These fits of
wretchedness came indeed to be recognised as God's punishment for
selfishness in devotion and for too great desire for the sweetness
of communing with God, and so arose the doctrine of "disinterested
love," which was more and more emphasised in the later mysticism,
especially by the French Quietists.

I have spoken quite candidly of the defects of Eckhart's mystical
Christianity. As a religious philosophy it does not keep clear of
the fallacy that an ascent though the unreal can lead to reality.
"To suppose, as the mystic does, that the finite search has of
itself no Being at all, is illusory, is Maya, is itself nothing,
this is also to deprive the Absolute of even its poor value as a
contrasting goal. For a goal that is a goal of no real process has
as little value as it has content."[23] But, as Prof. Royce says,
mysticism furnishes us with the means of correcting itself. It
supplies an obvious reductio ad absurdum of the theory with which it
set out, that "Immediacy is the one test of reality," and is itself
forced to give the world of diversity a real value as manifesting in
different degrees the nature of God. Those who are acquainted with
the sacred books of the East will recognise that here is the
decisive departure from real Pantheism. And it may be fairly claimed
for the German mystics that though their speculative teaching
sometimes seems to echo too ominously the apathetic detachment of
the Indian sage, their lives and example, and their practical
exhortations, preached a truer and a larger philosophy. Eckhart, as
we have seen, was a busy preacher as well as a keen student, and
some of the younger members of his school were even more occupied in
pastoral work. If the tree is to be judged by its fruits, mysticism
can give a very good account of itself to the Marthas as well as the
Marys of this world.


THIS little volume is a contribution to a "Library of Devotion," and
in the body of the work the reader will be seldom troubled by any
abstruse philosophising. I have thought it necessary to give, in
this Introduction, a short account of Eckhart's system, but the
extracts which follow are taken mainly from his successors, in whom
the speculative tendency is weaker and less original, while the
religious element is stronger and more attractive. It is, after all,
as guides to holiness that these mystics are chiefly important to
us. This side of their life's work can never be out of date, for the
deeper currents of human nature change but little; the language of
the heart is readily understood everywhere and at all times. The
differences between Catholic and Protestant are hardly felt in the
keen air of these high summits. It was Luther himself who discovered
the "Theologia Germanica" and said of it that, "next to the Bible
and St Augustine, no book hath ever come into my hands whence I have
learnt or would wish to learn more of what God and Christ and man
and all things are. I thank God that I have heard and found my God
in the German tongue, as I have not yet found Him in Latin, Greek,
or Hebrew." The theology of these mystics takes us straight back to
the Johannine doctrine of Christ as the all-pervading Word of God,
by whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together.
He is not far from any one of us if we will but seek Him where He is
to be found--in the innermost sanctuary of our personal life. In
personal religion this means that no part of revelation is to be
regarded as past, isolated, or external. "We should mark and know of
a very truth," says the author of the "Theologia Germanica," "that
all manner of virtue and goodness, and even the eternal Good which
is God Himself, can never make a man virtuous, good, or happy, so
long as it is outside the soul." In the same spirit Jacob Bšhme, 250
years later, says: "If the sacrifice of Christ is to avail for me,
it must be wrought in me." Or, as his English admirer, William Law,
puts it: "Christ given for us is neither more nor less than Christ
given into us. He is in no other sense our full, perfect, and
sufficient Atonement than as His nature and spirit are born and
formed in us." The whole process of redemption must in a sense be
reenacted in the inner life of every Christian. And as Christ
emptied Himself for our sakes, so must we empty ourselves of all
self-seeking. "When the creature claimeth for its own anything good,
such as life, knowledge, or power, and in short whatever we commonly
call good, as if it were that, or possessed that--it goeth astray."
Sin is nothing else but self-assertion, self-will. "Be assured,"
says the "Theologia Germanica," "that he who helpeth a man to his
own will, helpeth him to the worst that he can." He, therefore, who
is "simply and wholly bereft of self" is delivered from sin, and God
alone reigns in his inmost soul. Concerning the highest part or
faculty of the soul, the author of this little treatise follows
Eckhart, but cautiously. "The True Light," he says, "is that eternal
Light which is God; or else it is a created light, but yet Divine,
which is called grace." In either case, "where God dwells in a godly
man, in such a man somewhat appertaineth to God which is His own,
and belongs to Him only and not to the creature." This doctrine of
divine immanence, for which there is ample warrant in the New
Testament, is the real kernel of German mysticism. It is a doctrine
which, when rightly used, may make this world a foretaste of heaven,
but alas! the "False Light" is always trying to counterfeit the
true. In the imitation of the suffering life of Christ lies the only
means of escaping the deceptions of the Evil One. "The False Light
dreameth itself to be God, and sinless"; but "none is without sin;
if any is without consciousness of sin, he must be either Christ or
the Evil Spirit."

Very characteristic is the teaching of all these writers about
rewards and punishments. Without in any way impugning the Church
doctrine of future retribution, they yet agree with Benjamin
Whichcote, the Cambridge Platonist, that "heaven is first a temper,
then a place"; while of hell there is much to recall the noble
sentence of Juliana of Norwich, the fourteenth-century visionary,
"to me was showed no harder hell than sin." "Nothing burneth in hell
but self-will," is a saying in the "Theologia Germanica."[24] They
insist that the difference between heaven and hell is not that one
is a place of enjoyment, the other of torment; it is that in the one
we are with Christ, in the other without Him. "The Christlike life
is not chosen," to quote the "Theologia Germanica" once more, "in
order to serve any end, or to get anything by it, but for love of
its nobleness, and because God loveth and esteemeth it so highly. He
who doth not take it up for love, hath none of it at all; he may
dream indeed that he hath put it on, but he is deceived. Christ did
not lead such a life as this for the sake of reward, but out of
love, and love maketh such a life light, and taketh away all its
hardships, so that it becometh sweet and is gladly endured." The
truly religious man is always more concerned about what God will do
in him than what He will do to him; in his intense desire for the
purification of his motives he almost wishes that heaven and hell
were blotted out, that he might serve God for Himself alone.


Such are the main characteristics of the religious teachings which
we find in the German mystics. Among the successors of Eckhart, from
whose writings the following extracts are taken, the most notable
names are those of Tauler, Suso, and Ruysbroek. From Tauler I have
taken very little, because a volume of selections from his sermons
has already appeared in this series.[25] Accordingly, it will only
be necessary to mention a very few facts about his life.

John Tauler was born at Strassburg about 1300, and studied at the
Dominican convents of Strassburg and Cologne. At both places he
doubtless heard the sermons of Eckhart. In 1329 the great interdict
began at Strassburg, and was stoutly resisted by many of the clergy.
It is a disputed point whether Tauler himself obeyed the Papal
decree or not. His uneventful life, which was devoted to study,
preaching, and pastoral work, came to an end in 1361. Like Eckhart,
he had a favourite "spiritual daughter," Margaret Ebner, who won a
great reputation as a visionary.

Sect. 6. SUSO

Henry Suso was born in 1295 and died in 1365. His autobiography was
published not long before his death. He is the poet of the band. The
romance of saintship is depicted by him with a strange vividness
which alternately attracts and repels, or even disgusts, the modern
reader. The whole-hearted devotion of the "Servitor" to the "Divine
Wisdom," the tender beauty of the visions and conversations, and the
occasional na•veté of the narrative, which shows that the saint
remained very human throughout, make Suso's books delightful
reading; but the accounts of the horrible macerations to which he
subjected himself for many years shock our moral sense almost as
much as our sensibilities; we do not now believe that God takes
pleasure in sufferings inflicted in His honour. Moreover, the erotic
symbolism of the visions is occasionally unpleasant: we are no
longer in the company of such sane and healthy people as Eckhart and
Tauler. The half-sensuous pleasure of ecstasy was evidently a
temptation to Suso, and the violent alternations of rapture and
misery which he experienced suggest a neurotic and ill-balanced

On this subject--the pathological side of mysticism--a few remarks
will not be out of place, for there has been much discussion of it
lately. A great deal of nonsense has been written on the connexion
between religion and neuroticism. To quote Professor James' vigorous
protest, "medical materialism finishes up St Paul by calling his
vision on the road to Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipital
cortex, he being an epileptic. It snuffs out St Teresa as an
hysteric, St Francis of Assisi as an hereditary degenerate. George
Fox's discontent with the shams of his age, and his pining for
spiritual veracity, it treats as a symptom of a disordered colon.
Carlyle's organ-tones of misery it accounts for by a gastro-duodenal
catarrh. All such mental over-tensions, it says, are, when you come
to the bottom of the matter, mere affairs of diathesis
(auto-intoxications most probably), due to the perverted action of
various glands which physiology will yet discover."[27] Now, even if
it were true that most religious geniuses, like most other geniuses,
have been "psychopaths" of one kind or another, this fact in no way
disposes of the value of their intuitions and experiences. Nearly
all the great benefactors of humanity have been persons of
one-sided, and therefore ill-balanced, characters. Even Maudsley
admits that "Nature may find an incomplete mind a more suitable
instrument for a particular purpose. It is the work that is done,
and the quality in the worker by which it is done, that is alone of
moment; and it may be no great matter from a cosmical standpoint, if
in other qualities of character he (the genius) was singularly
defective."[28] Except in the character of our Lord Himself, there
are visible imperfections in the record of every great saint; but
that is no reason for allowing such traces of human infirmity to
discredit what is pure and good in their work. More particularly, it
would be a great pity to let our minds dwell on the favourite
materialistic theory that saintliness, especially as cultivated and
venerated by Catholicism, has its basis in "perverted sexuality."
There is enough plausibility in the theory to make it mischievous.
The allegorical interpretation of the Book of Canticles was in truth
the source of, or at least the model for, a vast amount of
unwholesome and repulsive pietism. Not a word need be said for such
a paltry narrative of endearments and sickly compliments as the
"Revelations of the Nun Gertrude," in the thirteenth century. Nor
are we concerned to deny that the artificially induced ecstasy,
which is desired on account of the intense pleasure which is said to
accompany it, nearly always contains elements the recognition of
which would shock and distress the contemplatives themselves.[29]
There are, however, other elements, of a less insidious kind, which
make the ecstatic trance seem desirable. These are, according to
Professor Leuba, the calming of the restless intellect by the
concentration of the mind on one object; the longing for a support
and comfort more perfect than man can give; and, thirdly, the
consecration and strengthening of the will, which is often a
permanent effect of the trance. These are legitimate objects of
desire, and in many of the mystics they are much more prominent than
any tendencies which might be considered morbid. As regards the
larger question, about the alleged pathological character of all
distinctively religious exaltation, I believe that no greater
mistake could be made than to suppose that the religious life
flourishes best in unnatural circumstances. Religion, from a
biological standpoint, I take to be the expression of the racial
will to live; its function (from this point of view) is the
preservation and development of humanity on the highest possible
level. If this is true, a simple, healthy, natural life must be the
most favourable for religious excellence--and this I believe to be
the case. Poor Suso certainly did not lead a healthy or natural
life. But in his case, though the suppressed natural instincts
obviously overflow into the religious consciousness and in part
determine the forms which his devotion assumes, we can never forget
that we are in the company of a poet and a saint who will lift us,
if we can follow him, into a very high region of the spiritual life,
an altitude which he has himself climbed with bleeding feet.

The simple confidence which at the end of the dialogue he expresses
in the value of his work is, I think, amply justified. "Whoever will
read these writings of mine in a right spirit, can hardly fail to be
stirred to the depths of his soul, either to fervent love, or to new
light, or to hunger and thirst for God, or to hatred and loathing
for his sins, or to that spiritual aspiration by which the soul is
renewed in grace."


[Note: the Ruysbroek selection has not been reproduced in this
electronic edition. An electronic text of a larger collection of
Ruysbroek's works may be available.]


The "Theologia Germanica," an isolated treatise of no great length
by an unknown author, was written towards the end of the fourteenth
century by one of the Gottesfreunde, a widespread association of
pious souls in Germany. He is said to have been "a priest and warden
of the house of the Teutonic Order at Frankfort." His book is both
the latest and one of the most important productions of the German
mystical school founded by Eckhart. The author is a deeply religious
philosopher, as much interested in speculative mysticism as Eckhart
himself, but as thoroughly penetrated with devout feeling as Thomas
ˆ Kempis. The treatise should be read by all, as one of the very
best devotional works in any language. My only reason for not
translating it in full here is that a good English translation
already exists,[30] so that it seemed unnecessary to offer a new one
to the public. I have therefore only translated a few characteristic
passages, which are very far from exhausting its beauties, and a few
of the more striking aphorisms, which indicate the main points in
the religious philosophy of the writer.


The revival of interest in the old mystical writers is not
surprising when we consider the whole trend of modern thought. Among
recent philosophers--though Lotze, perhaps the greatest name among
them, is unsympathetic, in consequence of his over-rigid theory of
personality--the great psychologist Fechner, whose religious
philosophy is not so well known in this country as it deserves to
be, has with some justice been called a mystic. And our own greatest
living metaphysician, Mr F.H. Bradley, has expounded the dialectic
of speculative mysticism with unequalled power, though with a bias
against Christianity. Another significant fact is the great
popularity, all over Europe, of Maeterlinck's mystical works, "Le
Trésor des Humbles," "La Sagesse et la Destinée," and "Le
Temple Enseveli."

The growing science of psychology has begun to turn its attention
seriously to the study of the religious faculty. Several able men
have set themselves to collect material which may form the basis of
an inductive science. Personal experiences, communicated by many
persons of both sexes and of various ages, occupations, and levels
of culture, have been brought together and tabulated. It is claimed
that important facts have already been established, particularly in
connexion with the phenomena of conversion, by this method. The
results have certainly been more than enough to justify confidence
in the soundness of the method, and hope that the new science may
have a great future before it. Towards mysticism, recent writers on
the psychology of religion have been less favourable than the pure
metaphysicians. While the latter have shown a tendency towards
Pantheism and Determinism, which makes them sympathise with the
general trend of speculative mysticism, psychology seems just at
present to lean towards a pluralistic metaphysic and a belief in
free-will or even in chance. This attitude is especially noticeable
in the now famous Gifford Lectures of Professor William James[31]
and in the recent volume of essays written at Oxford.[32] But even
if the rising tide of neo-Kantianism should cause the speculative
mystics to be regarded with disfavour, nothing can prevent the
religion of the twentieth century from being mystical in type. The
strongest wish of a vast number of earnest men and women to-day is
for a basis of religious belief which shall rest, not upon tradition
or external authority or historical evidence, but upon the
ascertainable facts of human experience. The craving for immediacy,
which we have seen to be characteristic of all mysticism, now takes
the form of a desire to establish the validity of the
God-consciousness as a normal part of the healthy inner life. We may
perhaps venture to predict that the Christian biologist of the
future will turn the Pauline Christology into his own dialect
somewhat after the following fashion:--"The function of religion in
the human race is closely analogous to, if not identical with, that
of instinct in the lower animals. Religion is the racial will to
live; not, however, to live anyhow and at all costs, but to live as
human beings, conforming as far as possible to the highest type of
humanity. Religion, therefore, acts as a higher instinct, inhibiting
all self-destroying and race-destroying impulses in the interest of
a larger self than the individual life." To turn this statement into
theological form it is only necessary to claim that the "perfect
man" which the religious instinct is trying to form is "the measure
of the stature of the fulness of Christ," that that perfect humanity
was once realised in the historical Christ, and that the higher
instinct within us--ourselves, yet not ourselves--which makes for
life and righteousness, and is the source of all the good that we
can think, say, or do, may (in virtue of that historical
incarnation) be justly called the indwelling Christ. This is all
that the Christian mystic needs.


I conclude this introductory essay with a few extracts from recent
American books on the psychology of religion. It is interesting to
find some of the strangest experiences of the cloister reproduced
under the very different conditions of modern American life. The
quotations will serve to show how far Tauler and the "Theologia
Germanica" are from being out of date.

"The thing which impressed me most" (says a correspondent of
Professor William James)[33] "was learning the fact that we must be
in absolutely constant relation or mental touch with that essence of
life which permeates all and which we call God. This is almost
unrecognisable unless we live into it ourselves actually--that is,
by a constant turning to the very innermost, deepest consciousness
of our real selves or of God in us, for illumination from within,
just as we turn to the sun for light, warmth, and invigoration
without. When you do this consciously, realising that to turn inward
to the light within you is to live in the presence of God or of your
Divine self, you soon discover the unreality of the objects to which
you have hitherto been turning and which have engrossed you

The next quotation comes from a small book by one of the "New
Thought" or "Mind Cure" school in America. The enormous sale of the
volume testifies to the popularity of the teaching which it

"Intuition is an inner spiritual sense through which man is opened
to the direct revelation and knowledge of God, the secret of nature
and life, and through which he is brought into conscious unity and
fellowship with God, and made to realise his own deific nature and
supremacy of being as the son of God. Spiritual supremacy and
illumination thus realised through the development and perfection of
intuition under divine inspiration gives the perfect inner vision
and direct insight into the character, properties, and purpose of
all things to which the attention and interest are directed. It is,
we repeat, a spiritual sense opening inwardly, as the physical
senses open outwardly; and because it has the capacity to perceive,
grasp, and know the truth at first hand, independent of all external
sources of information, we call it intuition. All inspired teaching
and spiritual revelations are based upon the recognition of this
spiritual faculty of the soul and its power to receive and
appropriate them. Conscious unity of man in spirit and purpose with
the Father, born out of his supreme desire and trust, opens his soul
through this inner sense to immediate aspiration and enlightenment
from the divine omniscience, and the co-operative energy of the
divine omnipotence, under which he becomes a seer and a master. On
this higher plane of realised spiritual life in the flesh the mind
acts with unfettered freedom and unbiassed vision, grasping truth at
first hand, independent of all external sources of information.
Approaching all beings and things from the divine side, they are
seen in the light of the divine omniscience.[35] God's purpose in
them, and so the truth concerning them, as it rests in the mind of
God, are thus revealed by direct illumination from the divine mind,
to which the soul is opened inwardly through this spiritual sense we
call intuition."

The practice of meditation "without images," as the mediaeval
mystics called it, is specially recommended. "Many will receive
great help, and many will be entirely healed by a practice somewhat
after the following nature:--With a mind at peace, and with a heart
going out in love to all, go into the quiet of your own interior
self, holding the thought, I am one with the Infinite Spirit of
Life, the life of my life. I now open my body, in which disease has
gotten a foothold, I open it fully to the inflowing tide of this
infinite life, and it now, even now, is pouring in and coursing
through my body, and the healing process is going on." "If you would
find the highest, the fullest, and the richest life that not only
this world but that any world can know, then do away with the sense
of the separateness of your life from the life of God. Hold to the
thought of your oneness. In the degree that you do this, you will
find yourself realising it more and more, and as this life of
realisation is lived, you will find that no good thing will be
withheld, for all things are included in this."[36]

This modern mysticism is very much entangled with theories about the
cure of bodily disease by suggestion; and it is fair to warn those
who are unacquainted with the books of this sect that they will find
much fantastic superstition mixed with a stimulating faith in the
inner light as the voice of God.

But whatever may be the course of this particular movement there can
be no doubt that the Americans, like ourselves, are only at the
beginning of a great revival of mystical religion. The movement will
probably follow the same course as the mediaeval movement in
Germany, with which this little book is concerned. It will have its
philosophical supportees, who will press their speculation to the
verge of Pantheism, perhaps reviving the Logos-cosmology of the
Christian Alexandrians under the form of the pan-psychism of Lotze
and Fechner. It will have its evangelists like Tauler, who will
carry to our crowded town populations the glad tidings that the
kingdom of God is not here or there, but within the hearts of all
who will seek for it within them. It will assuredly attract some to
a life of solitary contemplation; while others, intellectually
weaker or less serious, will follow the various theosophical and
theurgical delusions which, from the days of Iamblichus downward,
have dogged the heels of mysticism. For the "False Light" against
which the "Theologia Germanica" warns us is as dangerous as ever; we
may even live to see some new "Brethren of the Free Spirit" turning
their liberty into a cloak of licentiousness. If so, the world will
soon whistle back the disciplinarian with his traditions of the
elders; prophesying will once more be suppressed and discredited,
and a new crystallising process will begin. But before that time
comes some changes may possibly take place in the external
proportions of Christian orthodoxy. The appearance of a vigorous
body of faith, standing firmly on its own feet, may even have the
effect of relegating to the sphere of pious opinion some tenets
which have hitherto "seemed to be pillars."

For these periodical returns to the "fresh springs" of religion
never leave the tradition exactly where it was before. The German
movement of the fourteenth century made the Reformation inevitable,
and our own age may be inaugurating a change no less momentous,
which will restore in the twentieth century some of the features of
Apostolic Christianity.




GOD is nameless, for no man can either say or understand aught about
Him. If I say, God is good, it is not true; nay more; I am good, God
is not good. I may even say, I am better than God; for whatever is
good, may become better, and whatever may become better, may become
best. Now God is not good, for He cannot become better. And if He
cannot become better, He cannot become best, for these three things,
good, better, and best, are far from God, since He is above all. If
I also say, God is wise, it is not true; I am wiser than He. If I
also say, God is a Being, it is not true; He is transcendent Being
and superessential Nothingness. Concerning this St Augustine says:
the best thing that man can say about God is to be able to be silent
about Him, from the wisdom of his inner judgement. Therefore be
silent and prate not about God, for whenever thou dost prate about
God, thou liest, and committest sin. If thou wilt be without sin,
prate not about God. Thou canst understand nought about God, for He
is above all understanding. A master saith: If I had a God whom I
could understand, I would never hold Him to be God. (318)[37]

God is not only a Father of all good things, as being their First
Cause and Creator, but He is also their Mother, since He remains
with the creatures which have from Him their being and existence,
and maintains them continually in their being. If God did not abide
with and in the creatures, they must necessarily have fallen back,
so soon as they were created, into the nothingness out of which they
were created. (610)


IF I had everything that I could desire, and my finger ached, I
should not have everything, for I should have a pain in my finger,
and so long as that remained, I should not enjoy full comfort. Bread
is comfortable for men, when they are hungry; but when they are
thirsty, they find no more comfort in bread than in a stone. So it
is with clothes, they are welcome to men, when they are cold; but
when they are too hot, clothes give them no comfort. And so it is
with all the creatures. The comfort which they promise is only on
the surface, like froth, and it always carries with it a want. But
God's comfort is clear and has nothing wanting: it is full and
complete, and God is constrained to give it thee, for He cannot
cease till He have given thee Himself. (300)

It is only in God that are collected and united all the perfections,
which in the creatures are sundered and divided. (324)

Yet all the fulness of the creatures can as little express God, as a
drop of water can express the sea. (173)


NO one ought to think that it is difficult to come to Him, though it
sounds difficult and is really difficult at the beginning, and in
separating oneself from and dying to all things. But when a man has
once entered upon it, no life is lighter or happier or more
desirable; for God is very zealous to be at all times with man, and
teaches him that He will bring him to Himself if man will but
follow. Man never desires anything so earnestly as God desires to
bring a man to Himself, that he may know Him. God is always ready,
but we are very unready; God is near to us, but we are far from Him;
God is within, but we are without; God is at home, but we are
strangers. The prophet saith: God guideth the redeemed through a
narrow way into the broad road, so that they come into the wide and
broad place; that is to say, into true freedom of the spirit, when
one has become a spirit with God. May God help us to follow this
course, that He may bring us to Himself. Amen. (223)


THE masters say: That is young, which is near its beginning.
Intelligence is the youngest faculty in man: the first thing to
break out from the soul is intelligence, the next is will, the other
faculties follow. Now he saith: Young man, I say unto thee, arise.
The soul in itself is a simple work; what God works in the simple
light of the soul is more beautiful and more delightful than all the
other works which He works in all creatures. But foolish people take
evil for good and good for evil. But to him who rightly understands,
the one work which God works in the soul is better and nobler and
higher than all the world. Through that light comes grace. Grace
never comes in the intelligence or in the will. If it could come in
the intelligence or in the will, the intelligence and the will would
have to transcend themselves. On this a master says: There is
something secret about it; and thereby he means the spark of the
soul, which alone can apprehend God. The true union between God and
the soul takes place in the little spark, which is called the spirit
of the soul. Grace unites not to any work. It is an indwelling and a
living together of the soul in God. (255)

Every gift of God makes the soul ready to receive a new gift,
greater than itself. (15)

Yea, since God has never given any gift, in order that man might
rest in the possession of the gift, but gives every gift that He has
given in heaven and on earth, in order that He might be able to give
one gift, which is Himself, so with this gift of grace, and with all
His gifts He will make us ready for the one gift, which is Himself.

No man is so boorish or stupid or awkward, that he cannot, by God's
grace, unite his will wholly and entirely with God's will. And
nothing more is necessary than that he should say with earnest
longing: O Lord, show me Thy dearest will, and strengthen me to do
it. And God does it, as sure as He lives, and gives him grace in
ever richer fulness, till he comes to perfection, as He gave to the
woman at Jacob's well. Look you, the most ignorant and the lowest of
you all can obtain this from God, before he leaves this church, yea,
before I finish this sermon, as sure as God lives and I am a man.

O almighty and merciful Creator and good Lord, be merciful to me for
my poor sins, and help me that I may overcome all temptations and
shameful lusts, and may be able to avoid utterly, in thought and
deed, what Thou forbiddest, and give me grace to do and to hold all
that Thou hast commanded. Help me to believe, to hope, and to love,
and in every way to live as Thou willest, as much as Thou willest,
and what Thou willest. (415)


THEN is the will perfect, when it has gone out of itself, and is
formed in the will of God. The more this is so, the more perfect and
true is the will, and in such a will thou canst do all things. (553)


YOU should know, that that which God gives to those men who seek to
do His will with all their might, is the best. Of this thou mayest
be as sure, as thou art sure that God lives, that the very best must
necessarily be, and that in no other way could anything better
happen. Even if something else seems better, it would not be so good
for thee, for God wills this and not another way, and this way must
be the best for thee. Whether it be sickness or poverty or hunger or
thirst, or whatever it be, that God hangs over thee or does not hang
over thee--whatever God gives or gives not, that is all what is best
for thee; whether it be devotion or inwardness, or the lack of these
which grieves thee--only set thyself right in this, that thou
desirest the glory of God in all things, and then whatever He does
to thee, that is the best.

Now thou mayest perchance say: How can I tell whether it is the will
of God or not? If it were not the will of God, it would not happen.
Thou couldst have neither sickness nor anything else unless God
willed it. But know that it is God's will that thou shouldst have so
much pleasure and satisfaction therein, that thou shouldst feel no
pain as pain; thou shouldst take it from God as the very best thing,
for it must of necessity be the very best thing for thee. Therefore
I may even wish for it and desire it, and nothing would become me
better than so to do.

If there were a man whom I were particularly anxious to please, and
if I knew for certain that he liked me better in a grey cloak than
in any other, there is no doubt that however good another cloak
might be, I should be fonder of the grey than of all the rest. And
if there were anyone whom I would gladly please, I should do nothing
else in word or deed than what I knew that he liked.

Ah, now consider how your love shows itself! If you loved God, of a
surety nothing would give you greater pleasure than what pleases Him
best, and that whereby His will may be most fully done. And, however
great thy pain or hardship may be, if thou hast not as great
pleasure in it as in comfort or fulness, it is wrong.

We say every day in prayer to our Father, Thy will be done. And yet
when His will is done, we grumble at it, and find no pleasure in His
will. If our prayers were sincere, we should certainly think His
will, and what He does, to be the best, and that the very best had
happened to us. (134)

Those who accept all that the Lord send, as the very best, remain
always in perfect peace, for in them God's will has become their
will. This is incomparably better than for our will to become God's
will. For when thy will becomes God's will--if thou art sick, thou
wishest not to be well contrary to God's will, but thou wishest that
it were God's will that thou shouldest be well. And so in other
things. But when God's will becomes thy will--then thou art sick: in
God's name; thy friend dies: in God's name! (55)


MEN who love God are so far from complaining of their sufferings,
that their complaint and their suffering is rather because the
suffering which God's will has assigned them is so small. All their
blessedness is to suffer by God's will, and not to have suffered
something, for this is the loss of suffering. This is why I said,
Blessed are they who are willing to suffer for righteousness, not,
Blessed are they who have suffered. (434)

All that a man bears for God's sake, God makes light and sweet for
him. (45)

If all was right with you, your sufferings would no longer be
suffering, but love and comfort. (442)

If God could have given to men anything more noble than suffering,
He would have redeemed mankind with it: otherwise, you must say that
my Father was my enemy, if he knew of anything nobler than
suffering. (338)

True suffering is a mother of all the virtues. (338)


DEADLY sin is a death of the soul. To die is to lose life. But God
is the life of the soul; since then deadly sin separates us from
God, it is a death of the soul.

Deadly sin is also an unrest of the heart. Everything can rest only
in its proper place. But the natural place of the soul is God; as St
Augustine says, Lord, thou hast made us for Thyself, and our heart
is restless till it finds rest in Thee. But deadly sin separates us
from God; therefore it is an unrest of the heart. Deadly sin is also
a sickness of the faculties, when a man can never stand up alone for
the weight of his sins, nor ever resist falling into sin. Therefore
deadly sin is a sickness of the faculties. Deadly sin is also a
blindness of the sense, in that it suffers not a man to know the
shortness of the pleasures of lust, nor the length of the punishment
in hell, nor the eternity of joys in heaven. Deadly sin is also a
death of all graces; for as soon as a deadly sin takes place, a man
becomes bare of all graces. (217)

Every creature must of necessity abide in God; if we fall out of the
hands of his mercy, we fall into the hands of His justice. We must
ever abide in Him. What madness then is it to wish not to be with
Him, without whom thou canst not be! (169)


A GREAT teacher once told a story in his preaching about a man who
for eight years besought God to show him a man who would make known
to him the way of truth. While he was in this state of anxiety there
came a voice from God and spake to him: Go in front of the church,
and there shalt thou find a man who will make known to thee the way
of truth. He went, and found a poor man whose feet were chapped and
full of dirt, and all his clothes were hardly worth
twopence-halfpenny. He greeted this poor man and said to him, God
give thee a good morning. The poor man answered, I never had a bad
morning. The other said, God give thee happiness. How answerest thou
that? The poor man answered, I was never unhappy. The first then
said, God send thee blessedness. How answerest thou that? I was
never unblessed, was the answer. Lastly the questioner said, God
give thee health! Now enlighten me, for I cannot understand it. And
the poor man replied, When thou saidst to me, may God give thee a
good morning, I said I never had a bad morning. If I am hungry, I
praise God for it; if I am cold, I praise God for it; if I am
distressful and despised, I praise God for it; and that is why I
never had a bad morning. When thou askedst God to give me happiness,
I answered that I had never been unhappy; for what God gives or
ordains for me, whether it be His love or suffering, sour or sweet,
I take it all from God as being the best, and that is why I was
never unhappy. Thou saidst further, May God make thee blessed, and I
said, I was never unblessed, for I have given up my will so entirely
to God's will, that what God wills, that I also will, and that is
why I was never unblessed, because I willed alone God's will. Ah!
dear fellow, replied the man; but if God should will to throw thee
into hell, what wouldst thou say then? He replied, Throw me into
hell! Then I would resist Him. But even if He threw me into hell, I
should still have two arms wherewith to embrace Him. One arm is true
humility, which I should place under Him, and with the arm of love I
should embrace Him. And he concluded, I would rather be in hell and
possess God, than in the kingdom of heaven without Him. (623)


THE man who has submitted his will and purposes entirely to God,
carries God with him in all his works and in all circumstances.
Therein can no man hinder him, for he neither aims at nor enjoys
anything else, save God. God is united with Him in all his purposes
and designs. Even as no manifoldness can dissipate God, so nothing
can dissipate such a man, or destroy his unity. Man, therefore,
should take God with him in all things; God should be always present
to his mind and will and affections. The same disposition that thou
hast in church or in thy cell, thou shouldst keep and maintain in a
crowd, and amid the unrest and manifoldness of the world.

Some people pride themselves on their detachment from mankind, and
are glad to be alone or in church; and therein lies their peace. But
he who is truly in the right state, is so in all circumstances, and
among all persons; he who is not in a good state, it is not right
with him in all places and among all persons. He who is as he should
be has God with him in truth, in all places and among all persons,
in the street as well as in the church; and then no man can hinder
him. (547)

It is often much harder for a man to be alone in a crowd than in the
desert; and it is often harder to leave a small thing than a great,
and to practise a small work than one which people consider very
great. (565)


GOOD and earnest prayer is a golden ladder which reaches up to
heaven, and by which man ascends to God.

The man who will pray aright should ask for nothing except what may
promote God's honour and glory, his own profit and the advantage of
his neighbours. When we ask for temporal things we should always
add, if it be God's will and if it be for my soul's health. But when
we pray for virtues, we need add no qualification, for these are
God's own working. (359)


IT is a hard thing to practise this universal love, and to love our
neighbours as ourselves, as our Lord commanded us. But if you will
understand it rightly, there is a greater reward attached to this
command, than to any other. The commandment seems hard, but the
reward is precious indeed. (135)


HE who has found this way of love, seeketh no other. He who turns on
this pivot is in such wise a prisoner that his foot and hand and
mouth and eyes and heart, and all his human faculties, belong to
God. And, therefore, thou canst overcome thy flesh in no better way,
so that it may not shame thee, than by love. This is why it is
written, Love is as strong as death, as hard as hell. Death
separates the soul from the body, but love separates all things from
the soul. She suffers nought to come near her, that is not God nor
God-like. Happy is he who is thus imprisoned; the more thou art a
prisoner, the more wilt thou be freed. That we may be so imprisoned,
and so freed, may He help us, Who Himself is Love. (30)


THE union of the soul with God is far more inward than that of the
soul and body. (566)

Now I might ask, how stands it with the soul that is lost in God?
Does the soul find herself or not? To this will I answer as it
appears to me, that the soul finds herself in the point, where every
rational being understands itself with itself. Although it sinks and
sinks in the eternity of the Divine Essence, yet it can never reach
the ground. Therefore God has left a little point wherein the soul
turns back upon itself and finds itself, and knows itself to be a
creature. (387)

God alone must work in thee without hindrance, that He may bring to
perfection His likeness in thee. So thou mayest understand with Him,
and love with Him. This is the essence of perfection. (471)


PEOPLE say of the last day, that God shall give judgment. This is
true. But it is not true as people imagine. Every man pronounces his
own sentence; as he shows himself here in his essence, so will he
remain everlastingly. (471)


BETTER one life-master than a thousand reading-masters (wger wre
ein lebemeister denne tûsent lesemeister). If I sought a master
in the scriptures, I should seek him in Paris and in the high
schools of high learning. But if I wished to ask questions about the
perfect life, that he could not tell me. Where then must I go?
Nowhere at all save to an utterly simple nature; he could answer my
question. (599)


MY people, why seek ye after dead bones? Why seek ye not after
living holiness, which might give you everlasting life? The dead can
neither give nor take away. (599)


MASTER ECKHART saith: He who is always alone, he is worthy of God;
and he who is always at home, to him is God present; and be who
abides always in a present now, in him doth God beget His Son
without ceasing. (600)

Master Eckhart saith: I will never pray to God to give Himself to
me: I will pray Him to make me purer. If I were purer, God must give
Himself to me, of His own nature, and sink into me. (601)

Master Eckhart was asked, what were the greatest goods, that God had
done to him. He said, there are three. The first is, that the lusts
and desires of the flesh have been taken away from me. The second
is, that the Divine Light shines and gives me light in all my
doings. The third is, that I am daily renewed in virtue, grace and
holiness. (602)



THINK, and think earnestly, how great, how unutterable will be the
joy and blessedness, the glory and honour of those who shall see
clearly and without veil the gladsome and beauteous face of God, how
they will enjoy the best and highest good, which is God Himself. For
in Him is included all pleasure, might, joy, and all beauty, so that
the blessed in God will possess everything that is good and
desirable, with everlasting joy and security, without fear lest they
should ever be parted from Him. (138)[38]


FROM the time when the first man gave a ready ear to the words of
the enemy, mankind have been deaf, so that none of us can hear or
understand the loving utterances of the eternal Word. Something has
happened to the ears of man, which has stopped up his ears, so that
he cannot hear the loving Word; and he has also been so blinded,
that he has become stupid, and does not know himself. If he wished
to speak of his own inner life, he could not do it; he knows not
where he is, nor what is his state. (91)

How can it be that the noble reason, the inner eye, is so blinded
that it cannot see the true light? This great shame has come about,
because a thick coarse skin and a thick fur has been drawn over him,
even the love and the opinion of the creatures, whether it be the
man himself or something that belongs to him; hence man has become
blind and deaf, in whatever position he may be, worldly or
spiritual. Yes, that is his guilt, that many a thick skin is drawn
over him, as thick as an ox's forehead, and it has so covered up his
inner man, that neither God nor himself can get inside; it has grown
into him. (92)


THROUGH two things man fell in Paradise--through pride, and through
inordinate affection. Therefore we too must return by two things,
that nature may recover her power: we must first sink our nature and
bring it down under God and under all men in deep humility, against
whom it had exalted itself in pride. We must also manfully die to
all inordinate lusts. (1)


NOTHING in the world is so necessary for man as to be constantly
assailed; for in fighting he learns to know himself. As grace is
necessary to a man, so also is fighting. Virtue begins in fighting,
and is developed in fighting. In every state to which a man is
called, inward and outward, he must of necessity be assailed. A high
Master said: As little as meat can remain without salt and yet not
become corrupt, so little can a man remain without fighting. (104)

A man should in the first place act as when a town is besieged, and
it is certain that the besieging army is stronger than the town.
When the town is weakest, men take the very greatest care to guard
and defend the town; if they neglected to do so, they would lose the
town, and with it their lives and properties. So should every man
do: he should be most careful to find out in what things the evil
spirit most often besets him--that is, on what side the man is
weakest, and to what kind of errors and failings he is most prone,
and should manfully defend himself at those points.

Next, turn thyself earnestly away from sin; for I tell you of a
truth, by whatever temptation a man is assailed, if he turns not
from it heartily, but stands in it vacillating, he has no
wholehearted desire to leave his sins by God's will, and without
doubt the evil spirit is close upon him, who may make him fall into
endless perdition.

Know of a truth, that if thou wouldst truly overcome the evil
spirit, this can only be done by a complete manful turning away from
sin. Say then with all thy heart: Oh, everlasting God, help me and
give me Thy Divine grace to be my help, for it is my steadfast
desire never again to commit any deadly sin against Thy Divine will
and Thine honour. So with thy good will and intention thou entirely
overcomest the evil spirit, so that he must fly from thee ashamed.

Understand, however, that it is a miserable and pitiable thing for a
reasonable man to let himself be overcome by the evil spirit, and in
consequence of his attacks to fall voluntarily into grievous and
deadly sin, whereby man loses the grace of God. A reasonable man,
who allows himself voluntarily to be overcome by the evil spirit, is
like a well-armed man who voluntarily lets a fly bite him to death.
For man has many great and strong weapons, wherewith he may well and
manfully withstand the evil spirit--the holy faith, the blessed
sacrament, the holy word of God, the model and example of all good
and holy men, the prayers of holy Church, and other great supports
against the power of the evil spirit, whose power is much less than
that of a fly against a great bear. If a man will manfully and
boldly withstand the evil spirit, the evil one can gain no advantage
against his free will.

Turn, therefore, manfully and earnestly from your sins, and watch
diligently and earnestly; for I tell you of a truth, that when you
have come to the next world, if you have not withstood the evil
spirit, and if you are found there without repentance and sorrow,
you will be a mockery to all the devils and to yourself, and you
will be eternally punished and tormented. And it will then be a
greater woe to you, that you have followed the evil spirit, than all
the external pains that you must endure eternally for your sins.

Thirdly, a man should diligently attend to his inner Ground, that
there shall be nothing in it save God alone, and His eternal glory.
For alas! there are many men, both lay and clerical, who live
falsely beneath a fair show, and imagine that they can deceive the
everlasting God. No, in truth, thou deceivest thyself, and losest
the day of grace, and the favour of God, and makest thyself guilty
towards God, in that He gives the evil spirits power over thee, so
that thou canst do no good work. Therefore, watch while it is day,
that the hour of darkness and God's disfavour may not overtake thee,
and take heed that in thy inner ground God may dwell, and nought
besides. (75)

Even as each man in his baptism is placed under the charge of a
special angel, who is with him always and never leaves him, and
protects him waking and sleeping in all his ways and in all his
works, so every man has a special devil, who continually opposes him
and exercises him without ceasing. But if the man were wise and
diligent, the opposition of the devil and his exercises would be
much more profitable to him than the aid of the good angel; for if
there were no struggle, there could be no victory. (139)


WHEN a man has had the fair net of his soul torn by sin, he must
patch and mend it by a humble, repentant return to the grace and
mercy of God. He must act like one who wishes to make a crooked
stick straight: he bends the stick further back than it ought to go,
and by being thus bent back it becomes straight again. So must a man
do to his own nature. He must bend himself under all things which
belong to God, and break himself right off, inwardly and outwardly,
from all things which are not God.

Every deadly sin causes the precious blood of Christ to be shed
afresh. Jesus Christ is spiritually crucified many times every day.


THE fisherman throws his hook, that he may catch the fish; but the
fish itself takes the hook. When the fish takes the hook, the
fisherman is sure of the fish, and draws it to him. Even so, God has
thrown His hook and His net into all the world, before our feet,
before our eyes, before our minds, and He would gladly draw us
securely to Himself by means of all His creatures. By pleasurable
things He draws us on; by painful things He drives us on. He who
will not be drawn, is in fault; for he has not taken God's hook, nor
will he be caught in God's net. If he came therein, beyond doubt he
would be caught by God and would be drawn by God. It is not God's
fault if we will not be drawn; we should grasp the hand held out to
us. If a man were in a deep pool, and one tried to help him and pull
him out, would he not gladly grasp his hand and allow himself to be
pulled out? (42)

Where two things are so related to each other, that one may receive
something for the other, there must be something in common between
them. If they had nothing in common, there must be a middle term
between them, which has something in common both with the higher,
from which it may receive, and with the lower, to which it may
impart. Now God hath created all things, and especially mankind,
immediately for Himself. He created man for His pleasure. But by
sin, human nature was so far estranged from God, that it was
impossible for a man to attain to that, for which he was made. Now
Aristotle says that God and Nature are not unprofitable
workers--that is, what they work at, they carry to its end. Now God
created man that He might have pleasure in him. If then God's work
in creating mankind was not to be unprofitable, when they were so
far estranged from God by sin, that they could not receive that by
which they might return and attain the enjoyment of eternal
happiness, a Mediator was necessary between us and God, one who has
something in common with us and our natures, and also shares in the
nature of God. In order that on the one side, He might in Himself
destroy our sickness, which was a cause of all our sins, and also
destroy all our sins, to which our weakness has brought us; and on
the other side that He might include in Himself all the treasure of
grace and of God's honour, that He might be able to give us grace
richly, and forgiveness of our sins, and eternal glory hereafter,
this could only be, if the Son of God became man. (90)

Yea, the highest God and Lord of all lords, the Son of God, in His
deep love felt pity for us poor, sinful men, condemned to the flames
of hell. Though He was in the form of God, He thought it not robbery
(as St Paul says) to be equal with God, and He annihilated Himself,
and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made like any other
man, being found in fashion as a man. He humbled Himself, and became
obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (117)


ALL works which men and all creatures can ever work even to the end
of the world, without the grace of God--all of them together,
however great they may be, are an absolute nothing, as compared with
the smallest work which God has worked in men by His grace. As much
as God is better than all His creatures, so much better are His
works than all the works, or wisdom, or designs, which all men could
devise. Even the smallest drop of grace is better than all earthly
riches that are beneath the sun. Yea, a drop of grace is more noble
than all angels and all souls, and all the natural things that God
has made. And yet grace is given more richly by God to the soul than
any earthly gift. It is given more richly than brooks of water, than
the breath of the air, than the brightness of the sun; for spiritual
things are far finer and nobler than earthly things. The whole
Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, give grace to the soul, and
flow immediately into it; even the highest angel, in spite of his
great nobility, cannot do this. Grace looses us from the snares of
many temptations; it relieves us from the heavy burden of worldly
cares, and carries the spirit up to heaven, the land of spirits. It
kills the worm of conscience, which makes sins alive. Grace is a
very powerful thing. The man, to whom cometh but a little drop of
the light of grace, to him all that is not God becomes as bitter as
gall upon the tongue. (86)

Grace makes, contrary to nature, all sorrows sweet, and brings it
about that a man no longer feels any relish for things which
formerly gave him great pleasure and delight. On the other hand,
what formerly disgusted him, now delights him and is the desire of
his heart--for instance, weakness, sorrow, inwardness, humility,
self-abandonment, and detachment from all the creatures. All this is
in the highest degree dear to him, when this visitation of the Holy
Ghost, grace, has in truth come to him. Then the sick man, that is
to say the external man, with all his faculties is plunged
completely into the pool of water, even as the sick man who had been
for thirty-eight years by the pool at Jerusalem, and there washes
himself thoroughly in the exalted, noble, precious blood of Christ
Jesus. For grace in manifold ways bathes the soul in the wounds and
blood of the holy Lamb, Jesus Christ. (22)


THE essence of prayer is the ascent of the mind to God, as holy
teachers tell us. Therefore every good man, when he wishes to pray,
ought to collect his outer senses into himself, and look into his
mind, to see whether it be really turned to God. He who wishes that
his prayers may be truly heard, must keep himself turned away from
all temporal and external things, and all that is not Divine,
whether it be friend or joy (Freund oder Freude), and all vanities,
whether they be clothes or ornaments, and from everything of which
God is not the true beginning and ending, and from everything that
does not belong to Him. He must cut off his words and his conduct,
his manners and his demeanour, from all irregularity, inward or
outward. Dream not that that can be a true prayer, when a man only
babbles outwardly with his mouth, and reads many psalms, gabbling
them rapidly and hastily, while his mind wanders this way and that,
backwards and forwards. Much rather must the true prayer be, as St
Peter tells us, "one-minded"[39]—that is, the mind must cleave to
God alone, and a man must look with the face of his soul turned
directly towards God, with a gentle, willing dependence on Him. (80)

If thy prayer has these conditions, thou mayst with true humility
fall at the feet of God, and pray for the gentle succour of God;
thou mayest knock at His fatherly heart, and ask for bread—that is,
for love. If a man had all the food in the world, and had not bread,
his food would be neither eatable, nor pleasant, nor useful. So it
is with all things, without the Love of God. Knock also at the door
through which we must go--namely, Christ Jesus. At this door, the
praying man must knock for three ends, if he wishes to be really
admitted. First he must knock devoutly, at the broken heart and the
open side, and enter in with all devotion, and in recognition of his
unfathomable poverty and nothingness, as poor Lazarus did at the
rich man's gate, and ask for crumbs of His grace. Then again, he
should knock at the door of the holy open wounds of His holy hands,
and pray for true Divine knowledge, that it may enlighten him and
exalt him. Finally, knock at the door of His holy feet, and pray for
true Divine love, which may unite thee with Him, and immerse and
cover thee in Him. (57)


[From a devotional treatise on the Passion of Christ, published in a
Latin translation, by Surius, in 1548, and wrongly ascribed by him
to Tauler. The author was an unknown German of the fourteenth


NOW, O my soul, and all ye who have been redeemed by the precious
blood of Christ, come, and let us go with inward compassion and
fervent devotion to the blessed palm-tree of the Cross, which is
laden with the fairest fruit. Let us pass like the bee from flower
to flower, for all are full of honey. Let us consider and ponder
with the greatest care the sacred words of Christ, which He spoke
upon the Cross; for everything that comes From this blessed Tree is
wholesome and good. In the Cross of our Lord and Saviour are centred
all our salvation, all our health, all our life, all our glory; and,
"if we suffer with Him," saith the Apostle, "we shall also reign
with Him." That we may not be found ungrateful for these inestimable
benefits, let us call upon heaven and earth, and all that in them
is, to join us in praising and blessing and giving thanks to God.
Let us invite them to come and look upon this wondrous sight, and
say: "Magnify the Lord with me, for He hath done marvellous things.
O praise and bless the Lord with me, for great is His mercy toward
us." Come up with me, I pray you, ye angelic spirits, to Mount
Calvary, and see your King Solomon on His throne, wearing the diadem
wherewith His mother has crowned Him. Let us weep in the presence of
the Lord who made us, the Lord our God. O all mankind, and all ye
who are members of Christ, behold your Redeemer as He hangs on high;
behold and weep. See if any sorrow is like unto His sorrow.
Acknowledge the heinousness of your sins, which needed such
satisfaction. Go to every part of His body; you will find only
wounds and blood. Cry to Him with lamentations and say, "O Jesus,
our redemption, our love, our desire, what mercy has overcome Thee,
that Thou shouldest bear our sins, and endure a cruel death, to
rescue us from everlasting death?" And Thou, O God, the almighty
Father of heaven, look down from Thy sanctuary upon Thine innocent
Son Joseph, sold and given over unjustly to the hands of bloody men,
to suffer a shameful death. See whether this be Thy Son's coat or
not. Of a truth an evil beast hath devoured Him. The blood of our
sins is sprinkled over His garments, and all the coverings of His
good name are defiled by it. See how Thy holy Child has been
condemned with the wicked, how Thy royal Son has been crowned with
thorns. Behold His innocent hands, which have known no sin, dripping
with blood; behold His sacred feet, which have never turned aside
from the path of justice, pierced through by a cruel nail; behold
His defenceless side smitten with a sharp spear; behold His fair
face, which the angels desire to look upon, marred and shorn of all
its beauty; behold His blessed heart, which no impure thought ever
stained, weighed down with inward sorrow. Behold, O loving Father,
Thy sweet Son, stretched out upon the harp of the Cross, and harping
blessings on Thee with all His members. Wherefore, O my God, I pray
Thee to forgive me, for the sake of Thy Son's Passion, all the sins
that I have committed in my members. O merciful Father, look on Thy
only-begotten Son, that Thou mayst have compassion on Thy servant.
Whenever that red blood of Thy Son speaks in Thy sight, do Thou wash
me from every stain of sin. Whenever Thou beholdest the wounds of
this Thy Son, open to me the bosom of Thy fatherly compassion.
Behold, O tender Father, how Thy obedient Son does not cry, "Bind my
hands and my feet, that I may not rebel against Thee," but how of
His own will He extends His hands and feet, and gladly allows them
to be pierced with nails. Look down, I pray Thee, not on the brazen
serpent hanging on a pole for the salvation of Israel, but on Thine
only Son hanging on the Cross for the salvation of all men. It is
not Moses who now stretches out his hand to heaven, that the thunder
and lightning and the other plagues may cease, but it is Thy beloved
Son, who lovingly stretches out His bleeding arms to Thee, that Thy
wrath may depart from the human race. Aaron and Hur are not now
holding up the hands of Moses that he may pray more unweariedly for
Israel; but hard and cruel nails have fastened the hands of Thy only
Son to the Cross, that He may wait with long-suffering for our
repentance, and receive us back into His grace, and that He may not
turn away in wrath from our prayers. This is that faithful David,
who now strings tight the harp-strings of His body, and makes sweet
melody before Thee, singing to Thee the sweetest song that has been
ever sung to Thee: "Father forgive them, for they know not what they
do." This is that High Priest, who by His own blood has entered into
the Holy of Holies, to offer Himself as a peace-offering for the
sins of the whole world. This is that innocent Lamb, who has washed
us in His own precious blood, who, Himself without spot of sin, has
taken away the sins of the world. Therefore from the storehouse of
His Passion I borrow the price of my debt, and I count out before
Thee all its merits, to pay what I owe Thee. For He has done all in
my nature, and for my sake. O merciful Father, if Thou weighest all
my sins on one side of the balance, and in the other scale the
Passion of Thy Son, the last will outweigh the first. For what sin
can be so great, that the innocent blood of Thy Son has not washed
it out? What pride, or disobedience, or lust, is so unchecked or so
rebellious, that such lowliness, obedience, and poverty cannot
abolish it? O merciful Father, accept the deeds of Thy beloved Son,
and forgive the errors of Thy wicked servant. For the innocent blood
of our brother Abel crieth to Thee from the Cross, not for
vengeance, but for grace and mercy, saying, "Father, forgive them,
for they know not what they do."


NOW the thieves who were crucified with Jesus reviled Him. But after
a while, the one who hung on the right side of Christ, when he saw
His great patience and long-suffering, wherewith He so lovingly
prayed to His Father for those who cast reproaches upon Him and
cruelly tortured Him, became entirely changed, and began to be moved
with very great sorrow and repentance for his sins. And he showed
this outwardly, when he rebuked his fellow-thief, who continued to
revile Christ, saying: "Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in
the same condemnation?" "Although" (he would say) "thou art so
obstinate as not to fear men, and thinkest nought of thy bodily
pain, yet surely thou must fear God, in the last moments of thy
life--God, who hath power to destroy both thy body and soul in hell.
And though we suffer the same punishment with Him, our deserts are
very different. We, indeed, suffer justly, for we receive the due
reward of our deeds, but this man hath done nothing amiss." He, who
but lately was a blasphemer, is now a confessor and preacher, he
distinguishes good from evil, blaming the sinner, and excusing the
innocent: the unbelieving thief has become the confessor of almighty
God. O good Jesus, this sudden change is wrought by Thy right hand,
at which he hung. Thy right hand touched him inwardly, and forthwith
he is changed into another man. O Lord, in this Thou hast declared
Thy patience, out of a stone Thou hast raised up a child unto
Abraham. Verily, the penitent thief received the light of faith
solely from that bright light on the candlestick of the Cross, which
shone there in the darkness and scattered the shades of night. But
what does this signify, save that our Lord Jesus, out of the
greatness of His goodness, looked upon him with the eyes of His
mercy, although He found no merit in him, except what it pleased Him
out of His goodness to bestow? For as God gives to His elect, out of
His goodness alone, what no one has a right to demand, so out of His
justice He gives to the wicked what they deserve. For this cause
David says: "He saved me because He desired me." And this is why the
thief, before the Lord touched his heart with the beams of His grace
and love, joined the other thief in reviling Christ, thus showing
first what his own character was, and afterwards what was wrought in
him by grace. At first he acted like the other, being, like him, a
child of wrath; but when the precious blood of Christ was shed as
the price of our redemption and paid to the Father for our debt,
then the thief asked God to give him an alms for his good, and at
once received it. For how can one alms diminish that inexhaustible
treasure? How could our tender Lord, whose property is always to
have mercy, have refused his request? Indeed He gave him more than
he asked. Yet how could the thief escape the glow of the fire which
was burning so near him? Truly this was the fire, which the Father
had sent down from heaven to earth, which had long smouldered, but
now, kindled anew, and fed by the wood of the Cross, and sprinkled
with the oil of mercy, and fanned, as it were, by the reproaches and
blasphemies of the Jews, sent up its flames to heaven, by which that
thief was quite kindled and set on fire, and his love became as
strong as death, so that he said: "I indeed suffer no grievous
penalty, for it is less than I deserve; but that this innocent One,
who has done no wrong, should be so tortured, contrary to justice
and righteousness, this, truly, adds grievous sorrow to my sorrow."
O splendid faith of this thief! He contemned all the punishment that
might be inflicted on him: he feared not the rage of the people, who
were barking like mad dogs against Jesus: he cared not for the chief
priests: he feared not the executioners with their weapons and
instruments of torture; but in the presence of them all, with a
fearless heart he confessed that Christ was the true Son of God, and
Lord of the whole world: and at the same time he confounded the Jews
by confessing that He had done nothing amiss, and therefore that
they had crucified Him unjustly. O wondrous faith! O mighty
constancy! O amazing love of this poor thief, love that cast out all
fear! He was indeed well drunken with that new wine which in the
wine-press of the Cross had been pressed out of that sweet cluster,
Jesus Christ, and therefore he confessed Christ without shame before
all the people. At the very beginning of the Passion, the apostles
and disciples had forsaken Christ and fled; even St Peter,
frightened by the voice of one maidservant, had denied Christ. But
this poor thief did not forsake Him even in death, but confessed Him
to be the Lord of heaven in the presence of all those armed men. Who
can do justice to the merits of this man? Who taught him so quickly
that faith of his, and his clear knowledge of all the virtues, save
the very Wisdom of the Father, Jesus Christ, who hung near him on
the Cross? Him whom the Jews could not or would not know, in spite
of the promises made to the patriarchs, the fulfilment of
prophecies, the teaching of the Scriptures, and the interpretation
of allegories, this poor thief learned to know by repentance. He
confessed Christ to be the Son of God, though he saw Him full of
misery, want, and torment, and dying from natural weakness. He
confessed Him at a time when the apostles, who had seen His mighty
works, denied Him. The nails were holding his hands and feet fixed
to the cross; he had nothing free about him, except his heart and
his tongue; yet he gave to God all that he could give to Him, and,
in the words of Scripture, "with his heart he believed unto
righteousness, and with his tongue he made confession of Christ unto
salvation." O infinite and unsearchable mercy of God! For what
manner of man was he when he was sent to the cross, and what when he
left it? (Not that it was his own cross, that wrought this change,
but the power of Christ crucified.) He came to the cross stained
with the blood of his fellow-man; he was taken down from it cleansed
by the blood of Christ. He came to the cross still savage and full
of rage, and while he was upon it he became so meek and pitiful that
he lamented for the sufferings of another more than for his own. One
member only was left to him, and at the eleventh hour he came to
work in God's vineyard, and yet so eagerly did he labour that he was
the first to finish his work and receive his reward. Indeed he
behaved like a just man; for he first accused himself and confessed
his sins, saying, "and we, indeed, justly, for we receive the due
reward of our deeds." Secondly, he excused Christ, and confessed
that He was the Just One when he said "but this Man hath done
nothing amiss." Thirdly, he showed brotherly love, for he said,
"dost not thou fear God?" Fourthly, with all his members, or at
least with all that he could offer, and with loving eyes and a
devout heart and a humble spirit, he turned himself to Christ and
prayed earnestly, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy
Kingdom." How great was the justice and humility and resignation


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