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?”



  1. I highly recommend Evelyn Underhill's book (it is in my bibliography). There is a paragraph in my free ebook on comparative mysticism which describes the consciousness of mystics.

    Mysticism emphasizes spiritual knowing, which is not rational and is independent of reason, logic or images. Da`at is Hebrew for “the secret sphere of knowledge on the cosmic tree.” Gnosis is Greek for the “intuitive apprehension of spiritual truths.” Jnana is Sanskrit for “knowledge of the way” to approach Brahman. Ma`rifa in Arabic is “knowledge of the inner truth.” Panna in Pali is “direct awareness”; perfect wisdom. These modes of suprarational knowing, perhaps described as complete intuitive insight, are not divine oneness; they are actualizing our inherent abilities to come closer to the goal. It is consummate cognition, unmediated discernment, with certainty.

    1. This *is* from Evelyn Underhill's book. Say more.

  2. The quotation from my book was not in Underhill's book. These quotes of mystics are in both:

    “All that is not One must ever suffer with the wound of Absence, and whoever in Love’s city enters, finds but room for One and, but in Oneness, Union.” Jami I

    “Whatever share of this world Thou dost bestow on me, bestow it on Thine enemies, and whatever share of the next world Thou dost give me, give it to Thy friends. Thou art enough for me.” Rabi’a I

    “My me is God, nor do I know my selfhood save in Him. My Being is God, not by simple participation, but by true transformation of my Being.” St. Catherine of Genoa C

    “The end of Sufism is total absorption in God...but in reality it is but the beginning of the Sufi life, for those intuitions and other things which precede it are, so to speak, but the porch by which they enter.” al-Ghazali I

    “...self-love and self-will (those poisons of our spirits) are abated, and in time and in a sort destroyed; and instead of them there enter into the soul the Divine love and Divine will, and take possession thereof.” Augustine Baker C

    “For the eyes of the soul behold a plenitude of which I cannot speak: a plenitude which is not bodily, but spiritual, of which I can say nothing.” Angela of Foligno (ca. 1248–1309) C

    “God visits the soul in a way that prevents it doubting when it comes to itself that it has been in God and God in it and so firmly is it convinced of this truth...” St. Teresa of Avila C