Thursday, June 28, 2012

Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism - 17

"How many faces of Reality does he (the mystic) see?"

"Holy Spirit within...Transcendent Spirit without"

" as perceived by the human minds shows an inveterate tendency to arrange itself in triads;"

"...Pythagoras call Three the number of God..."

"Man, that 'thing of threes,' of body, soul and spirit..."

Christopher Hervey:

"The whole world round is not enough to fill
The heart's three corners, but it craveth still.
Only the Trinity that made it can
Suffice the vast triangled heart of Man."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism - 16

Sweet 16. Still puzzling about how to blog this book in a useful way to both my online drogies and me. Definitely think the interlineation approach won't cut it. So, stand by, lecteurs. I am ruminating on yet another method that I will combine with centering prayer.

For today, though, since I'd continued the interlineation effort, here's the rest of the slog:

Text, p. 76



superiority to the more coldly self-consistent systems of Greece, is the fact that it states the truths of metaphysics in terms of personality: thus offering a third term, a “living mediator” between the Unknowable God, the unconditioned Absolute, and the conditioned self.

Wholeness, in a way no other system provides.

This was the priceless gift which the Wise Men received in return for their gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

This solves the puzzle which all explorers of the supersensible have sooner or later to face: come si convenne l’imago al cerchio, [200] the reconciliation of Infinite and intimate, both known and felt, but neither understood.

Such a third term, such a stepping-stone, was essential if mysticism were ever to attain that active union that fullness of life which is its object, and develop from a blind and egoistic rapture into fruitful and self-forgetting love.


Where non-Christian mystics, as a rule, have made a forced choice between the two great dogmatic expressions of their experience, (a) the long pilgrimage towards a transcendent and unconditioned Absolute, (b) the discovery of that Absolute in the “ground” or spiritual principle of the self; it has been possible to Christianity, by means of her central doctrine of the Trinity, to find room for both of them and to exhibit them as that which they are in fact—the complementary parts of a whole. Even Dionysius, the godfather of the emanation doctrine, combines with his scheme of descending hierarchies the dogma of an indwelling God: and no writer is more constantly quoted by Meister Eckhart, who is generally considered to have preached immanence in its most extreme and pantheistic form.


Further, the Christian atmosphere is the one in which the individual mystic has most often been able to develop his genius in a sane and fruitful way; and an overwhelming majority of the great European contemplatives have been Christians of a strong impassioned and personal type.

Hmm, is this true now? I grew up Catholic, matured as an Episcopal Christian, always with a contemplative and sometimes mystic thread. I look forward to her further exposition of what distinct advantage a Christian basis for one’s mysticism provides.

This alone would justify us in regarding it as embodying, at any rate in the West, the substance of the true tradition: providing the “path of least resistance” through which that tradition flows.

The very heretics of Christianity have often owed their attraction almost wholly to the mystical element in the teachings.

The Gnostics, the Fraticelli, the Brethren of the Free Spirit, the Quietists, the Quakers, are instances of this.

In others, it was to an excessive reliance on reason when dealing with the suprarational, and a corresponding absence of trust in mystical intuition that heresy was due. Arius and Pelagius are heretics of this type.


The greatest mystics, however, have not been heretics but Catholic saints. In Christianity the “natural mysticism” which like “natural religion,” is latent in humanity, and at a certain point of development breaks out in every race, came to itself; and attributing for the first time true and distinct personality to it Object, brought into focus the confused and unconditioned God which Neoplatonism had constructed from the abstract concepts of philosophy blended with the intuitions of Indian ecstatic, and made the basis of its meditations on the Real.

Sounds like Caucasian-centric thinking. And what constitutes “development?”


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism - 15

Text, p. 75



Departing from the usual convention, they are hard—sometimes impossible—to understand.

Right now, is it enough to trust and hold my figurative hands in front of me and feel my way, with or without a map? After all, running has progressed that way. For the longest time, I was sure I would never get past running only a few minutes, and walking the rest. This morning I ran up a full block of 10% grade hill and, while winded at the top, I kept going to the end of the block.

WE HUMANS HATE UNCERTAINTY. WE WANT CLARITY. WE WANT TO KNOW THAT WHAT WE HOLD DEAR WILL NOT CHANGE AND WILL ALWAYS BE THERE. WE GO A BIT CRAZY WHEN THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN. We yell “Heretic!” We yell “Queer!” We yell, “Ick!” We say no. Anything to get out of being in relationship with The Eternal I Am that I Am. Mystics try to express that, despite the scariness, we must be in relationship with this Dicey Deus.

Genesis 32.30-32

So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’

It’s the only way my life is preserved.

As a result, the orthodox have been forced to regard their makers as madmen or heretics: when they were really only practical men struggling to disclose great matters by imperfect means.


Without prejudice to individual beliefs, and without offering an opinion as to the exclusive truth of any one religious system or revelation—for here we are concerned neither with controversy nor with apologetics—we are bound to allow as a historical fact that mysticism, so far, has found its best map in Christianity.

Christian philosophy, especially that Neoplatonic theology which, taking up and harmonizing all that was best in the spiritual intuitions of Greece, India, and Egypt, was developed by the great doctors of the early and mediaeval Church, supports and elucidates the revelations of the individual mystic as no other system of thought has been able to do.

And now I will await her persuasive argument as to this. I’ve always intuited this, or taken it on faith, but did not feel equal to offering an argument that would persuade others to this conclusion.

How in Heaven’s name does one absorb the treasures of this book without having to tediously work through sentence by sentence? Yet, if I don’t, I will miss important gems. I think I do work through it sentence by sentence, and resign myself to being at this for a long time.


We owe to the great fathers of the first five centuries—to Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine; above all to Dionysius the Areopagite, the great Christian contemporary of Proclus—the preservation of that mighty system of scaffolding which enabled the Catholic mystics to build up the towers and bulwarks of the City of God.

These names are famililar to me, as is some of the substance of their work, but what does it mean in any given moment of Christian response to life’s details? Not everyone is able to or desirous of studying these doctors of the Church. Even those who are interested, do they say to themselves, “Should I do this? What would Irenaeus say?” To me, mysticism is a way to cut through the slog of studying the doctors of the Church, and have that in-Person encounter of the Jacob kind.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism - 14

text, p. 75



A good map then, a good mystical philosophy, will leave room for both these ways of interpreting our experience.

So, wave and particle theories can live together.

It will mark the routes by which many different temperaments claim to have found their way to the same end.

Ephesians 4.5-32

one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

It will acknowledge both the aspects under which the patria splendida Truth has appeared to its lovers: the aspects which have called forth the theories of emanation and immanence and are enshrined in the Greek and Latin names of God.

Patria splendida = beautiful home (per google translator)

Deus, whose root means day, shining, the Transcendent Light; and Theos, whose true meaning is supreme desire or prayer—the Inward Love—do not contradict, but complete each other.

As do lovers.

They form, when taken together, an almost perfect definition of that Godhead which is the object of the mystic’s desire: the Divine Love which, immanent in the soul spurs on that soul to union with the transcendent and Absolute Light—at once the source, the goal, the life of created things.


The true mystic—the person with a genius for God—hardly needs a map himself.

You just know.

He steers a compass course across the “vast and stormy sea of the divine.”

It is characteristic of his intellectual humility, however, that he is commonly willing to use the map of the community in which he finds himself, when it comes to showing other people the route which he has pursued.

Sometimes these maps have been adequate.

And sometimes not.

More, they have elucidated the obscure wanderings of the explorer; helped him; given him landmarks; worked out right.

Time after time he puts his finger on some spot—some great hill of vision, some city of the soul—and says with conviction, “Here have I been.”

At other times the maps have embarrassed him, have refused to fit in with his description.

Then he has tried, as Boehme did and after him Blake, to make new ones.

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing (1786)

Such maps are often wild in drawing, because good draughtsmanship does not necessarily go with a talent for exploration.