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Course about Christian spirituality
in a cultural-historical context



Medieval Dutch Mysticism in the Low Countries

Hadewijch and John of Ruusbroec, their faith and way of thinking


Rozemarijn van Leeuwen
© 1999-2001



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Lecture 5b.  John of Ruusbroec: Active Life in The spiritual wedding

Topics this hour:
  • The composition of The spiritual wedding
  • 'Prologue': structure, salvation history of mankind, meeting
  • Seeing physically and seeing spiritually
  • Common and deserved mercy



The spiritual wedding


Before the break we saw that Jan van Ruusbroec has written 11 treatises, but during this course we'll only read one book, partially, that is The spiritual wedding / The spiritual espousals (in Middle Dutch: Die geestelike brulocht). This is generally considered to be his masterwork. He wrote this around 1335-40, so in his fourties, before he moved from Brussels to the Green Valley. I've used the translation into nowadays Dutch by dr. Lode Moereels, Jesuit (published in 1989).

You'll notice that Ruusbroec's writing style is completely unlike Hadewijch's way of writing. Hadewijch writes personally, penetrating, expressing deeply lived-through emotions, giving the impression of a strong, distinct personality, maybe even rigid sometimes, inflexible. Ruusbroec, on the other hand, is philosopher, a thinker, an instructor, who slowly builds up a discourse and little by little deepens his line of thought. He thoroughly and clearly composes his book and writes in a more im-personal way than Hadewijch. We won't come across descriptions of visions or other spiritual experiences, even not of his mystical experiences.

Jan van Ruusbroec doesn't write about his personal experiences, but out of those experiences. He generalises them. He tries to be totally complete when describing the relationship between man and God and the meeting between man and God. This proces is unfolding step by step throughout the whole Wedding (a quite thick book, 187 pages): the relationship between man and God and the encounter between man and God. And this meeting each other, only happens at the very end of the Wedding, so in advance my warning: we'll only get to that in the very last lecture.

By the way, the Dutch word 'brulocht'/'bruiloft' refers to the day of a wedding, the celebration of a couple's union. (The years that follow, the duration of that relationship, is called a 'huwelijk', a marriage).

During these last three lectures my intention is to follow Ruusbroec's composition of the Wedding step by step, so these three lessons in fact form a continuous line of thought. Today we'll begin with the prologue of The spiritual wedding and this takes off, so to speak, at the surface - so probably you'll get the impression today: 'oh, he doesn't say such profound things'. But the next two lectures we will follow Ruusbroec further and further through the Wedding into the deeper levels.

Ruusbroec, as you'll discover, really writes enormously profound and clarifies his mystical body of thought in astounding detail. When the great European mystics are discussed, of course often names like Eckhart are mentioned, but Ruusbroec without question can be called his equal. Well, you all can make up your own opinion during these three lessons.

Well, obviously we can't read all of the Wedding. I've done so at Antwerp University, during professor Mommaers' weekly seminars. He read and discussed the complete Wedding in the course of five months. We simply don't have that amount of time, but I've selected fragments that together can give us a proper idea of Ruusbroec's composition of his body of thought.



The composition of The spiritual wedding


Before we start reading, I'll take a short look at the table of contents, to get an overview and a little bit of insight in the composition of The spiritual wedding. You'll find this in the Anthology. As you can see, the Wedding is divided into three parts, three 'books' or three 'lives' as Ruusbroec calls it:

    •  the Active Life
    •  the Inward Life and
    •  the Contemplative Life

The last one is literally: 'the God-beholding Life'. These three 'lives' are in fact three stages of the ascent towards God, three stages of the spiritual growth of a human.

Each of these three lives are subdivided into four parts, according to the main motive: 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming, go out to meet him'.

    •  behold (or: look)
    •  the bridegroom is coming
    •  go out
    •  to meet him

So in each phase of the spiritual ascent towards God, a similar proces takes place. A proces of: seeing, an arrival, going out, and meeting each other. This main motive is a Bible verse, from the gospel of Matthew (25:6), that tells the story of the smart and the foolish maidens. It's a sentence that describes beautifully, in four simple steps, a proces of an approach and an encounter.

This composition of The spiritual wedding (three books, each subdivided into four parts) highly structures the text. You will see that Ruusbroec explicitly mentions 'we were here, now we'll go to there' when he turns to another part of his discourse. It's plausible that books like this were used in the Middle Ages to read out loud before an audience, and a structure like this helps the medieval listener to keep an oversight over the line of thought, continually they know where they are in the proces of the spiritual, or mystical, ascent towards God.

Sometimes the Wedding seems to be a little bit over-structured: Ruusbroec tends to create subdivisions within subparts - for example within behold or within the bridegroom is coming he gives three kinds of arrivals, or three roads, or four manners, of seven degrees. Dr. L. Moereels, who translated the Wedding into nowadays Dutch (1989), has tried to make this typographical visible with all sorts of headings and subheadings, numeration and indents, as you can see in the table of contents. This is not authentic: the original text has no subheadings at all. It's one long, uninterrupted text. We are used to a visually structured text, but this wasn't customary in the Middle Ages - but Ruusbroec did create an auditive structure.



'Prologue': structure, salvation history of mankind, meeting


We'll start reading at the beginning: the 'Prologue' (the page numbering refers to Moereels' edition).

In the 'Prologue' Ruusbroec explains the main motive (leitmotif) ('Behold, the bridegroom is coming, go out to meet him') and the composition of the Wedding. I read page 55 (on the left side you'll find the Middle Dutch text).


About a spiritual wedding between God and our nature. "Behold, the bridegroom is coming, go out to meet him". These words, written by the holy Matthew, the evangelist, were spoken by Christ to his disciples and to all people in the parable about the maidens. This Bridegroom is Christ and the human nature is the bride, created by God in His image and after His resemblance.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Prologue.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 55-59.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


So the most fundamental idea for Ruusbroec is an encounter, a meeting between Christ and the human soul. 'To meet' is a key concept in the Wedding: a meeting between the human being and God or Christ. 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming, go out to meet him'. This bridegroom, Ruusbroec says, is Christ and the human nature is the bride, created by God in His image and after His resemblance.

These words 'image' and 'resemblance' are from the Bible, from Genesis (1:26): 'Then God said: "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness" (or: resemblance). Ruusbroec uses these words here, at the very beginning of the 'Prologue', but later on we'll see that these are key concepts in the Wedding, when he describes the mystical experience at the end of the second book.

You probably will remember that we earlier discussed this image of a wedding, or a marriage, this image of Christ as bridegroom and the perfect soul as bride. This was used in the 12th-century spirituality around the ideal of poverty. The image was used by Bernard of Clairvaux, who emphasised an affective and personally experienced faith, and who imagined the unification of God and the spiritually fully grown soul as a spiritual wedding. This exact same image we encountered in Hadewijch's bride's vision: Hadewijch was the bride in the city, decorated with all her virtues and all her love.

Now we just started reading Ruusbroec, we already find this same image in both the title of his most important treatise, The spiritual wedding, and in the main motive, 'Behold, the bridegroom (Christ) is coming'. A returning image like this (a spiritual marriage) makes it clear that Bernard, Hadewijch and also Ruusbroec belong to a same spiritual tradition.

I'll keep on reading the prologue.


In the beginning he placed them in the highest, most beautiful, wealthiest and most lushful place on earth, that is the earthly paradise. He subjected all the other creatures to them, and He decorated them with mercy. He had given them a commandment, so they could, through obedience, deserve consolidation and confirmation of an eternal loyalty towards their Bridegroom and never again fall into any misery or sin.

But then a vicious villain showed up, the hellish enemy, who envied that bliss, in the figure of a sly snake and it deceived the woman and they both deceived the man, who carried the whole human nature within him, being the first ancestor. And with it's mean ruse, it took away the human nature, the bride of God. And they were banished to a foreign land, where they were hold captive, were oppressed and were under siege by their enemies, in poverty and in misery, as if they never would return to their fatherland or would achieve reconciliation.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Prologue.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 55-59.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


In fact this is the story of the fall of man, that has such a crucial place in the salvation history of mankind, in the medieval view on man and the medieval world view, as you will remember. Ruusbroec shows here, that also in his mind, this is the beginning of the history of mankind.

I'll keep on reading.


But as soon as God deemed that the time had come to take pity on the unfortunate fate of his beloved, He sent his onlyborn Son to the earth in a wealthy palace and a glorious temple, that is the body of the Virgin Mary. Thereby he married this bride, our human nature, and united them with his Person from the purest blood of the noble Virgin. The priest, who married the bride, was the Holy Ghost. The angel Gabriel announced the summons. The glorious Virgin gave permission.

In this way Christ, our faithful bridegroom, united our nature with Himself, and He came to visit us in the foreign land, and He taught us the heavenly way of living and perfect faithfulness. He has struggled and fought as a champion against our enemies, and He broke open our prison and gained victory in the battle; He killed our death by His death, and redeemed us with His blood, and ransomed us with the baptism through his revitalising water and made us wealthy through his sacraments and gifts, in order that we would 'go out' by means of practising virtues, like He says, and also 'meet' Him and remaing in delight [ghebruken] without ending in the palace of glory in all eternity.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Prologue.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 55-59.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


What we see in this description is the second crucial moment in the salvation history of mankind: the coming of Christ to earth. This is what it's all about, also according to Ruusbroec. This coming of Christ broke our 'prison' open, He brought God within reach, and freed the way for a meeting, and now we're able to 'go out', through virtues and love, to meet God.

Ruusbroec needs the rest of The spiritual wedding to describe the whole proces of the tending of God towards man and the tending of man towards God and the following meeting or unification based on love.

I'll read the last paragraphs of the 'Prologue'.


That is why Christ, the master of the truth, speaks as follows: "Behold, the bridegroom is coming, go out to meet him". With this words Christ, our Lover, teaches us four things. With the first word he gives us a commandment, by saying: 'See'. Those who remain blind and disdain this commandment, will all be lost. With the second commandment, that is 'the bridegroom is coming', He teaches us what we have to see, that is the coming of the Bridegroom. At the third place He teaches and commands us what we have to do, by saying: 'go out'. With the fourth word, when He says 'to meet Him', he explains the profit and the benefit of all our works and of all our life, and that is the loving meeting with the Bridegroom.

We will explain and clarify these words one by one in three ways. First of all, in a general sense, about an initial life, that we call an active life, and that is necessary for all people who want to be preserved. Secondly we want to clarify these same words concerning an inward, exalted, God-longing life, that many people reach, thanks to their collaboration with God's mercy. Thirdly we want to clarify them in connection with a nature-transcending, God-beholding (contemplative) life, that only few people are able to accomplish or experience in a perfect way, due to the highness and nobleness of this life.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Prologue.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 55-59.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


In this prologue Ruusbroec clearly gives an overall picture of the composition of the Wedding. It consists of three 'books' or phases: the Active Life, the Inward Life and the Contemplative Life (literally: God-beholding Life). And as we saw earlier, these are all subdivided into a proces of seeing, approaching and meeting: 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming, go out to meet him'.



Seeing physically and seeing spiritually


So it won't be a surprise that the first fragment of the Active Life we'll read, is about seeing (p. 61, subdivision 'behold' of the Active Life). Ruusbroec here writes about two kinds of sight, namely: seeing physically, with the eyes of your body; and seeing spiritually or supernaturally, with the eyes of your soul. In this fragment he compares these two kinds of sight, physical and spiritual.

I'll read page 61.


We'll begin with the initial, active life. Christ, the Wisdom of the Father, speaks and has spoken after his godhood, since Adam's days, deep internal within all people: 'Behold'. And this seeing is necessary. So carefully pay attention: if one wants to see, both physical and spiritual, one requires three things.

The first thing that's necessary for a human being to see something outside himself with his physical eyes, is the presence of external light, either from the sky or from another physical light, in order that the space between the object and the eye, that is the sky, through which one has to see, is illuminated.

The second condition is the willingness to re-imagine in his eyes the things that he wants to see. The third is that the tools by which one sees, that is the eyes, are healthy and without spots, so that the rough, material things can be re-imagined there in a subtle manner.

Is the human being lacking one of these conditions, than the physical way of seeing will have shortcomings. However we no longer will speak about this kind of sight; only about a spiritual, supernatural sight, which contains all of our salvation.

If one wants to see supernaturally, three things are required: the light of God's mercy, a free will that is turned towards God, and a conscience that isn't burdened by a mortal sin.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Active Life, physical and spiritual sight.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 61-63.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


The most important part of this fragment is the second last paragraph. At this point of the Wedding, Ruusbroec clearly moves from physical sight to spiritual sight. I'll repeat the translation of this one sentence and then I'll read it in Middle Dutch (click on 'play' to hear the Middle Dutch!).


Van desen siene en willen wij niet meer spreeken, maer van eenen gheestelijcken, overnatuerlijcken siene, daer alle onse zalicheyt in gheleghen es.



Jan van Ruusbroec, Werken, ed. Poukens and Reypens (Ruusbroec Society, 1932).

speaker music play middle dutch   play Middle Dutch  /  or click here


 


 


However we no longer will speak about this kind of sight [so: seeing with your physical eyes]; only about a spiritual, supernatural sight, which contains all of our salvation.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Active Life, physical and spiritual sight.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 61-63.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


This is crucial for understanding the Wedding: from now on, Ruusbroec no longer speaks about physical life here on earth, about your body and seeing with your physical eyes; but about a supernatural sight, seeing spiritually, a spiritual life, about the soul, the spirit. From now on, seeing is always: spiritual sight; and light no longer is the light of a candle or the sun, but spiritual light, the light of God's mercy, as Ruusbroec calls it.

This phenomenon, seeing with the eyes of your soul, we already encountered while reading Hildegard and Teresa of Ávila during the second lecture, about visions. Hildegard stated: 'Truly, the visions that I've seen, I didn't receive them (...) with the eyes of the body or the ears of the exterior person, (...) but with the eyes and the ears of the inner person'.

And Theresa also wrote about an other, non-physical light while getting visions:


The fact is, that the spirit really seems to leave the body. But on the other hand, the person clearly isn't dead. During several moments however, it's not in her power to tell if her spirit is in her body or not. It appears to her she was right in an other land, very different from the one we live in. There she is faced with another light, so different from the light down here (...).


Teresa of Ávila.

English translation by RvL.


Ruusbroec strongly emphasises that from now on he will talk about a 'spiritual, supernatural sight', because in the medieval way of thinking, the sight was part of the lower senses, the physical, sensory abilities. The sight was animal, inferior to the high, spiritual senses like the reason and the will. That's why Ruusbroec uses a whole passage to emphasise that nevertheless he will speak about 'spiritual sight' and 'spiritual light' from now on.

At the bottom of page 61 he states that he'll only speak 'about a spiritual, supernatural sight'. With this sentence, Ruusbroec has passed from the physical world to the spiritual world.

The rest of the Wedding will take place in this spiritual world, the realm of the spirit. It's important to remain aware of that while reading The spiritual wedding.



Common and deserved mercy


So according to Ruusbroec there are three conditions necessary to be able to see supernaturally: the light of God's mercy, a free will that is turned towards God, and a clear conscience.

Ruusbroec first of all will discuss that mercy (or grace), and this is the second fragment from the Active Life that I'd like to read today. If you fall back on the sentence 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming, go out to meet him', this 'coming' (the approach) of God is defined by christians as 'grace' or 'mercy'. God is tending towards man, God is approaching man. The Other is active; the action of the human being, 'go out', in fact is a re-action.

So in this sense God's grace or mercy is: God's tending, turning towards the human being.

But what does this mercy mean, how does this approaching of God work? What happens spiritually spoken? We'll read Ruusbroec's thoughts about this, page 65.


If one wants to see supernaturally, three things are required: the light of God's mercy, a free will that is turned towards God, and a conscience that isn't burdened by a mortal sin.

Now notice the following: since God is a being that shares Himself and his love is without ground, He gives his mercy in two ways: the common (available, preceding) mercy and the sanctifying (deserved) mercy, by which one acquires eternal life. All people have common mercy, pagans and jews, good and bad people. For the sake of his common love, in which God involves all people, He has let preach and carry out his name and the redemption of the human soul to the ends of the world.

Whoever wants to convert, has the ability to convert. All the sacraments, like baptism and all the others, are at the disposal of all people, who want to receive them, after everyone's needs. Because God wants to beatify all people and doesn't want them to get lost. And on judgement day no one will be able to complain that God hasn't done enough, if he wished he had converted after all.

That is why God is a common light and a radiant brightness for everyone, who illuminates both heaven and earth, and everyone individually after his need and dignity.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Active Life, Light of God's mercy.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 63.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


So there are two kinds of mercy, two forms of mercy. First of all the preceding or common mercy. Everyone has this common grace by nature. And a 'common love' belongs to this kind of mercy (second paragraph): God's love is 'without ground' and He involves all people in this love. In Middle Dutch it says: 'ghemeyne mine' (common love). The word 'ghemeyn' literally means: 'for everyone'. Every human being, good or bad, and regardless his faith, receives God's mercy, due to God's common love ('ghemeyne mine').

common mercy (for every human being)
common love ('ghemeyne mine')

And then the last line of this fragment. What does it say? (page 63, click on play to hear the original Middle Dutch):


Hier omme es god een ghemeyne schijn ende een ghemeyne licht dat verlichtet hemelrycke ende eertrijcke ende yeghewelken na sine noot ende na sine weerde.


Jan van Ruusbroec, Werken, ed. Poukens and Reypens (Ruusbroec Society, 1932).

speaker music play middle dutch   play Middle Dutch  /  or click here


 


 


That is why God is a common light and a radiant brightness for everyone, who illuminates both heaven and earth, and everyone individually after his need and after his dignity.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Active Life, Light of God's mercy.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 63.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


So God not only gives common love, but also is a common light ('ghemeyn licht'). It's not just that God gives light to every human being, but that He is light and illuminates everyone.

common mercy (for every human being)
common love
common light (God is light)

Ruusbroec explains this common mercy in more detail on p. 65 and 67 (we don't have the time to read everything), but this common mercy can appear in your life as, for example: a sermon you hear, the exemplary life of a saint, feeling wonderment about creation, being conscious of the finity of life, but also as something like a loss. These are all forms of God's common mercy.

Because due to these things, a human can obtain self-knowledge, and he/she purifies the conscience, and a good will develops. And this, Ruusbroec says, is the highest point that a person can reach thanks to common mercy.

common mercy (for every human being)
common love
common light (God is light)
leads to self-knowledge, purification conscience, good will

After this Ruusbroec discusses the second kind of mercy: the deserved mercy.


When a human, for his part, is doing all he can, but doesn't progress due to his own weakness, then it's the duty of God's inscrutable goodness to finish the work. Then a higher light of God's mercy appears, and like a sunbeam, undeserved and not desired after it's value, this is poured into the soul. In this light God certainly gives Himself out of pure kindness and mildness, He who no creature can gain, not before he already possesses it. This is God's mysterious working into the soul, outside time, and this moves the soul and all her powers.

Here ends the common mercy and begins the other one (the sanctifying or deserved mercy), which is a supernatural light.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Active Life, Light of God's mercy.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 69.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


This last sentence is remarkable. Ruusbroec says: 'Here ends the common mercy and begins the other one, which is a supernatural light'. Apparently 'mercy' ('grace') is equal to 'light'. Without a problem Ruusbroec changes over from 'mercy' to 'light' (or maybe better: in that supernatural, spiritual world, it's possible, according to Ruusbroec, to call mercy: light).

In the case of common mercy, everyone receives light in his/her soul and this light is God Himself. In the case of deserved mercy, Ruusbroec says: this is the light of God's grace. And he specifies (line 4): 'In this light God gives Himself'. So God gives Himself in this supernatural light. And by God's working into the soul, the soul and all her senses are moved.

deserved mercy light of God's grace God gives Himself

If thereupon the soul turns towards God, Ruusbroec continues, immediately affection, love comes into existence. I'll read page 69.


This light is the first requirement [for conversion] and out off this the second point arises, and this is because of the soul, a free turning towards God of the will in a indivisible moment in time; and from that arises affection or love within the uniting of God and the soul. These two points are so strongly connected, that it's impossible to achieve the one without the other. When God and the soul meet in the unity of love (minne), God gives the light of his mercy above time and the soul gives her free turning towards God out off the power of that mercy in a short 'now' in time; and thus love is born in the soul, at the same time out of God and out of the soul: because love is a love-bond between God and the loving soul.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Active Life, Light of God's mercy.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 69.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


So this is the proces that occurs in case of deserved mercy. The light of God's mercy enters the soul and in this light God gives Himself. When the person after this out off free will turns towards God, than affection or love springs into life.

The importance of the last sentence can't be overestimated: 'and thus love is born in the soul, at the same time out of God and out of the soul: because love is a love-bond between God and the loving soul'. So mutual love arises and this mutual love works connecting, as a love-bond.

deserved mercy light of God's grace God gives Himself turning towards God leads to affection/love mutual love is connecting, a love-bond

I'll read on a little bit - and repeat in Middle Dutch:


Ute dese ij poenten, dat es ute der gracien Gods ende ute vrien keere des willen verlicht met gracien, ontspringhet karitate, dat es godlijcke minne; ende ute godlijcker minnen ontspringhet dat derde poent, dat es suveringhe der conziencien.


Jan van Ruusbroec, Werken, editie Poukens en Reypens (Ruusbroec-genootschap, 1932).

speaker music play middle dutch   play Middle Dutch  /  or click here


 


 


From these two, God's mercy and the will, enlightened by mercy, that freely turns towards God, love arises, divine love (minne), and from this divine love the third point arises and that is the purification of the conscience.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Active Life, Light of God's mercy.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 71.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


So out of this love originates a clear conscience and, as it turns out on the next page, a heated will.

deserved mercy light of God's grace God gives Himself turning towards God leads to affection/love mutual love is connecting, a love-bond this lead to clear conscience and heated will

So due to the common mercy, people can reach self-knowledge, purification of the conscience and a good will. And due to the deserved mercy and the human turning towards God, that love-bond arises, a clear conscience and a heated will.

So: grace or mercy is God's tending towards man, God approaching man. Ruusbroec describes this mercy as divine light, pouring into the human soul. The result of this mercy is listed above - and concerns on the left: knowledge, conscience and will; and on the right: love, conscience and will.

And this is how a human can acquire spiritual sight - because we still are in the subdivion 'Behold' (or: 'See') of the Active Life. So by turning the will towards God and purify the conscience, out of the mercy that pours into the soul as light; and through the love-bond that thus arises between the soul and God - in that way the human being can start seeing spiritually.

Ruusbroec concludes, page 71, the last six lines:


These three points as you heard about so far, are essential for divine sight. When you have acquired these three points, then Christ will speak within you: "See", and you genuinly are seeing. This is the first of the four main points, spoken by our lord Christ: "See".


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Active Life, Light of God's mercy.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 71.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).




Conclusion


Till so far the subdivision 'Behold' of the Active Life. What's noteworthy here, right at the beginning of the Wedding, is what happens to the human being due to this mercy, due to God's touching the soul. Ruusbroec says: mercy pours into the soul as light. And what is the effect on the human? He isn't blinded by this light, and neither dissolves into that light (like in Buddhism an enlightened man can dissolve into the nirvana). No, nothing like this is the case with Ruusbroec.

A person that is touched and enlightened by God, is stimulated to search for self-knowledge, to live out of his own conscience and out of his free will, his love for God grows (and moreover also for his fellow men and for himself, as Ruusbroec later on will add). So the human is urged to begin a proces of spiritual growth.

And you'll recognise these elements, because also Hadewijch wrote about that she wanted to live her life out of free will and out of virtues and love. It's typical for these medieval, affective, Western mystics: they don't keep hammering on dogma's or fixed doctrines, they don't humbly kneel down, they don't become passive just to seclude themselves or only direct their attention inward. But their mystical experience urges them to take an active, moral, ethic road. Their message is: search for self-knowledge and knowledge of God, live out of your free will, your own conscience, the virtues, and live out of love for God, yourself and your fellow men.



Recapitulation


This last hour we've read several fragments of The spiritual wedding (± 1335-40), of the subdivision 'Behold' ('see').

•  In the Wedding Ruusbroec describes the relationship between the human being and God, the spiritual ascend of man towards God and the meeting between man and God.

•  Ruusbroec writes in a very structured manner, he builds out is view on man and on God step by step. The Wedding is divided into three parts: the Active Life, Inward Life and Contemplative (God-beholding) Life. Each part is subdivided into the four components of a meeting: 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming, go out to meet him'.

•  The title The spiritual wedding actually refers to a spiritual unification of God and the perfect human. Christ is the bridegroom, the soul is the bride (this image stems from Bernard of Clairvaux and also was used by Hadewijch).

•  Ruusbroec 'won't speak any longer' about physical sight; the subject here is spiritual sight, supernatural sight, the perceptivity of the soul. So the Wedding takes place in a spiritual world. To be able to see spiritually, the three conditions are: the light of God's mercy, a will freely turned towards God, and a clear conscience.

•  The part 'the bridegroom is coming' is about the common (or preceding) mercy and the deserved mercy. This mercy or grace in fact is: God's tending, turning towards the human being. Ruusbroec describes this mercy as divine light that flows into the human soul.

•  Every human being, good or bad, receives the common mercy. God enlightens the human (and in fact God is this light), which leads to self-knowledge, purification of the conscience and a good will.

•  The deserved mercy is the light of God's mercy that pours into the soul and in this light, God gives Himself. If the human then turns towards God out of free will, affection or love arises. Mutual love connects, it works like a love-bond.

•  As first step towards the meeting or unification with God (in the subdision 'Behold' of the first part, the Active Life) a human being can acquire spiritual sight, due to mercy, that pours into the soul as light, self-knowledge, purification of the conscience, good will and due to the love-bond that arises between the soul and God.

•  The enlightened human won't go blind according to christian mysticism, and doesn't dissolve into something like an 'all-embracing'. Instead the human that is touched and enlightened by God, starts a quest to self-knowledge, starts to live out of his own conscience and free will, and his love for God and his fellow men grows. So it sets in motion a proces of spiritual growth.



Next week


Next week we'll read one more fragment of the Active Life, in which Ruusbroec specifies the proces of self-knowledge and spiritual growth. After that we'll move on to the Inward Life. Ruusbroec describes here in great detail how a human being is constructed and how man relates to God.

I look forward to seeing you next week!



Background information


The course Medieval Mysticism in the Low Countries consists of seven lectures. The mystical writings of Hadewijch and Ruusbroec will be read and understood from their cultural-historical context.

•  About this course Medieval Mysticism in the Low Countries: content and layout.

•  Background literature about the Middle Ages, Hadewijch, Ruusbroec and medieval mysticism.

•  About the teacher Rozemarijn van Leeuwen.

•  Read the reactions or leave a comment.

•  Texts of Hadewijch and Ruusbroec: fragments in Middle Dutch and nowadays Dutch.



Original Dutch course


•  Lecture 5/7b in Dutch: Ruusbroec: het Werkende Leven in Die geestelike brulocht.



Copyright


©  Above lecture is part of the course Medieval Dutch Mysticism in the Low Countries, by Rozemarijn van Leeuwen (1999-2001).

It's not permitted to copy this text digital or in print and/or to publish it.



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Follow the whole course Medieval Dutch Mysticism in the Low Countries online:

    first lesson hour (cultural-historical background) second lesson hour (reading texts)
  1 The Middle Ages What is mysticism?
  2 The medieval world view Hadewijch: vision and mysticism
  3 Hadewijch: glimpse of her life Hadewijch: roads towards God
  4 Women in the Middle Ages Hadewijch: bridal mysticism
  5 Ruusbroec: course of his life Ruusbroec: Active Life  ↑
  6 The horrible 14th century Ruusbroec: Inward Life
  7 Image and resemblance of God Ruusbroec: To meet Him




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