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Course about Christian spirituality
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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 6b.  John of Ruusbroec: Inward Life in The spiritual wedding

Topics this hour:
  • Christ's working into the soul (the sun in the valley: light, warmth and fertility)
  • The virtues according to Ruusbroec
  • The soul according to Ruusbroec: being, spirit and soul
  • God is working from the inside out



Introduction


Last week we've read several fragments of the first part of The spiritual wedding, the Active Life. Ruusbroec begins his discourse easy, with his basic thoughts, his fundamental ideas about a spiritual life. I'll try to summarise this in a few sentences.

First we've read the 'Prologue'. In this he described exactly the two most important moments of the 'salvation history of mankind': the fall of man and the coming of Christ to earth. The believe in that salvation history is an important foundation of the medieval view on man and the medieval world view, and Ruusbroec also clearly assumes this salvation history. So right at the beginning of his discourse, Ruusbroec shows the foundation of his faith and way of thinking.

After that we read two fragments of the first part of the Wedding, the Active Life. First a passage about sight, in which Ruusbroec clarifies that he no longer will speak about seeing with the eyes of the body and light as we know it here on earth, but about seeing spiritually and spiritual light, specially the light of God's mercy.

And last of all the passage about that mercy. Ruusbroec describes mercy as light. This light in fact is God Himself and can flow into the human soul. By tendency towards God, out of free will (so by the human tending towards God) and by enlightenment with mercy (so by God's tending towards the human being) a proces starts of spiritual growth: the human begins to search for self-knowledge, his/her conscience gets purified and a love-bond between the soul and God arises.

Today we'll read two more fragments of the Active Life: of the subdivision 'the bridegroom is coming' and 'go out'. After that we'll move on to the Inward Life and we will see how Ruusbroec deepens out these spiritual processes. During the Inward Life in fact the same proces finds place: seeing, coming, going out, and meeting - but at a higher level, the next level, of the spiritual road that Ruusbroec describes.



Christ's working into the soul (the sun in the valley: light, warmth and fertility)


But first the very last fragments of the Active Life. Last week we were reading from the subdivision 'behold', now we've arrived at the subdivision 'the bridegroom is coming'. The fragment is about the coming of Christ (page 71 onward). In the Active Life Ruusbroec distinguishes three kinds of Christ's coming: in the past, in the present and in the future.

This shows again the importance of Christ in the Wedding (remember the main motive 'behold, the bridegroom/Christ is coming...'). The meaning and importance of Christ for Ruusbroec is ingrained in the medieval world view: according to the salvation history of mankind, Christ is the one that went to mankind to restore the contact between man and God. Christ means the tending of God towards the human being. And He didn't only come in the past and in the future - but, Ruusbroec says, also in the present, in every loving heart.


Now Christ shows what one has to see, when He says: 'the bridegroom is coming'. Christ our Bridegroom says this word in Latin: venit. This word contains two tenses: past tense and present tense; and furthermore He also means the future tense. And thus we have to consider three distinguishable comings in our Bridegroom Christ.

During the first coming, He became human on behalf of the people out of love. The second coming occurs daily, frequently, in various ways in every loving heart, with new mercies and always with new gifts, in proportion as one is receptive for it. The third one is understood as His coming during the Judgement or in the hour of death.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Active Life, The sun in the valley.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 71-73.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


So three distinguishable kinds of coming: one in the past (when Christ came to earth); on in the present (in every loving heart); and one in the future (when passing away). We won't discuss the past and the future. I want to read about Christ's coming in the present, that 'occurs daily in various ways in every loving heart, with new mercies and always with new gifts, in proportion as one is receptive for it'.

Ruusbroec describes this daily coming of Christ, or in other words the light of God's grace, in every loving heart, from page 85 onward. I'll read this passage, about the sun in the valley, unabridged.


The second coming of our Bridegroom occurs daily in good people, frequently, yes repeatedly, with mercy and new gifts, in everyone who conforms to it to their best abilities. We won't speak any longer about the first conversion of a person, nor about the first grace, given to him when he turned away from sin and turned towards virtue.

We rather will speak about an increase of mercy and of new gifts and new virtues, day after day, and about a coming of Christ our Bridegroom in the present, that occurs daily in our soul. Now we have to consider the reason and the why and wherefore, as well as the manner and the realisation of this coming.

The reason for this is fourfold: God's compassion and our need; God's mildness and our longing. These four strengthen the growth and the nobility of the virtue.

A comparison will make this easier to understand. When the sun shines and throws her beams in a deep valley between two high mountains, and she is in the zenith of the firmament, so that she can shine upon the bottom and the ground of the valley, than three things occur. The valley becomes more enlightened, because of the reflection of the light upon the mountains, she becomes more heated, and she becomes more fertile than a completely flat plain.

The same thing happens to a good human being: if he accepts his smallness, in the most humble part of himself, and he acknowledges that he has nothing due to himself and is nothing by himself, and cannot remain standing nor develop in virtues, and that he often falls short in virtue and good works, and therefore confesses his necessity: then he digs a valley of humbleness. And because he is humble and because he confesses his necessity, he shows and complains this to God's goodness and compassion. Then he becomes aware of God's highness and his own smallness and he becomes a deep valley.

And Christ is a sun of righteousness as well as compassion, that shines at the highest of the sky: at the right hand of His Father, and that shines onto the bottom of humble hearts; because Christ is always moved by need, if someone uncovers that humbly lamenting. Then two mountains arise, that is a twofold longing: one to serve and praise God with awe, the other to acquire virtues in noble perfection. These two mountains are higher than the heavens, because these two longings touch God directly, without medium in between and yearningly beg for His mild generosity.

Then His mildness can't be prevented from pouring out, for the soul then is suited and receptive for more gifts. Those are the motives for a new arrival with new virtues. Then the valley, the humble heart, receives three things: it becomes more enlightened and clarified with mercies, and more heated with caritas (love), and also more fertile with perfect virtues and good works.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Active Life, The sun in the valley.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 85-87.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


So the daily coming of Christ in the soul is characterised by the increase of mercy, love and virtues. Ruusbroec represents this arrival of Christ with the image of the sun in a valley. A valley between two mountains becomes more enlightened, more heated and more fertile than a flat plain.

The daily coming of Christ (or: the light of God's mercy) in the soul leads to:
  • lighting (illuminating)
  • heating
  • making fertile

When a person is humble and is longing for two things, namely serving God and acquiring virtues, then that humble soul is receptive for more gifts and more virtues and he receives three things (the last sentence again, now in Middle Dutch, click on 'play Middle Dutch'):


Het wert meer verclaert ende verlicht met gracien, ende meer verhit in karitaten ende vrochtbaerre in volcomenen doechden ende in goede werken.


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

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


 


 


It becomes more enlightened and clarified with mercies, and more heated with caritas (love), and also more fertile of perfect virtues and good works.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Active Life, The sun in the valley.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 87.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


It's clear that the lighting is related to mercy, the heating is related to love and the fertility is related to virtues and good works.


Christ's (or the mercy's) coming in the soul The soul receives
   
lighting mercy
heating love
making fertile virtues, good works


Next week Ruusbroec will explain how this proces of enlightening and heating exactly happens in the soul and what is means.

It's significant to remember that last week we read Ruusbroec's passage about physical sight/light and spiritual sight/light and that the Wedding from that point onward describes a spiritual level or is situated in a spiritual world. In our daily life, in this material world, you can't describe people in terms of light, we don't radiate light. But Ruusbroec clearly uses this terminology to depict processes on a spiritual level.

Light, and also heat, is something that can radiate, flow, from one to another, that can increase and decrease - so they are suitable to describe interactions between for example the soul and God, and processes on a spiritual level.

By the way, describing the human soul in terms of light is found over the centuries in many cultures and religions.

Here Ruusbroec says: Christ daily works into the humble soul (or: God's mercy daily flows into the humble soul), the soul that wants to serve God and wants to acquire virtues (the two mountains) - and after that, the soul becomes enlightened by mercy, heated by love, and more fertile by virtues and good works.



The virtues according to Ruusbroec


Well, so far we read passages from the subdivision 'behold' and 'the bridegroom is coming' of the Active Life. We've seen that due to this proces of obtaining spiritual sight and the coming of Christ into the soul by means of mercy, a very evident proces is set in motion of spiritual growth of the human being. The human acquires self-knowledge, his conscience speaks clearer, his love for God and his neighbour and himself grows, and his virtues start developing.

Especially the last sentence we just read makes this very clear: when the soul is touched by God's light and warmth, then the human becomes more fertile according to Ruusbroec, in particular his virtues. And he will write more about these virtues in the third subdivision of the Active Life, the 'going out' of the human in the Active Life - in other words: going out with virtues.

I put these virtues on a hand-out, to get an overview, and I will quickly pass them around. Let's take a short look at them, after all, we already read about the virtues when reading Hadewijch (her first vision). You can compare them on the hand-out.



Virtues according to Plato:
  • righteousness, wisdom, bravery, moderation

Seven main virtues of the Catholic Church:
  • faith, hope, love, sensibility, righteousness, courage, moderation

Virtues according to Hadewijch (vision I and XII):
  • self-knowledge, humility, free will, insight, love for God, wisdom, patience, loyalty, experience of God (beginning in faith and completing in love), love of one's neighbour, peace

Virtues according to Ruusbroec (AL, 'go out'):
  • foundation of all virtues: love and righteousness
  • humility, obedience (or peace), disavowelment (or humility), patience, benevolentness, consideration (or goodness or love), empathy (or sympathising with someone), mildness, diligence (or wakefulness or joy), moderation (or simpleness) and finally purity (or perfection)


The foundation of all these virtues, according to Ruusbroec, are: love and righteousness (fairness, justice).

The first virtue that springs from that is humility, and that won't surprisy you, 'cause we've just read about that in the fragment about the sun in the valley: the human being there digs a valley of humbleness. And out of that humbleness or humility Ruusbroec describes a chain of virtues that arise out of each other.

This sequence ends with purity (or perfection). And what does Ruusbroec say, when he explains this? I quote: 'And this is why Christ says: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God' (Matthew 5:8).

This whole proces of becoming able to see spiritually, the coming of Christ in the soul through mercy, and that distinct spiritual growth in the human being, with self-knowledge, development of the conscience, increase of love and of all those virtues - eventually leads to the result that the human can meet God, 'they shall see God'.

Till so far the content of the Active Life.



The soul according to Ruusbroec: being, spirit and soul


A question that could arise is: the Active Life mentions 'light that flows into the soul' or 'love that heats the will' - but how does this work? How can light, according to Ruusbroec, flow into the soul, what is the composition of the soul, according to him? For Ruusbroec self-knowledge is important, but what or who is a human being, spiritually spoken? What is a soul according to John of Ruusbroec?

You'll remember that Hadewijch was lead by an angel along several trees in the first vision. The first tree was the tree of self-knowledge (and the first step on the road towards God). And then Hadewijch writes: 'The rotten root was our fragile nature, the sturdy trunk the eternal soul and the beautiful flower was the beautiful appearance of the human being, that so soon and in a moment perishes'. So this tree of self-knowledge first of all teaches how the human being is constructed, spiritually spoken, according to Hadewijch: the human being consists of body and soul, a mortal body and an immortal soul. So in this spiritual line of reasoning, the realisation that the human being is body and soul, is the beginning of self-knowledge (the tree of self-knowledge) and the first step of that spiritual development (the road along the orchard/virtues, that leads to God).

Well, Ruusbroec much more extensively will deepen out this subject at the beginning of the second part of the Wedding, the Inward Life. 'Cause that's where we now have arrived: the Inward Life. And the first thing that Ruusbroec will do, is explain how a human being, according to him, in spiritually respect is constructed. So we'll look into the view on man according to Ruusbroec, or you could say in nowadays terms: Ruusbroec's 'psychology'. This passage is essential to understand Ruusbroec's view on man, or the soul, or the psyche, and also to understand how, according to Ruusbroec, contact with God is possible.

We'll read page 145, at the bottom.


Now pay very close attention. A threefold unity is present in every human being as a natural condition, and also is possessed supernaturally by the good people.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Inward Life, Being, spirit and soul.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 145.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


When Ruusbroec starts to describe the psyche of man, the human soul, he says: everyone has this, everyone has such a core, such a spiritual core. And the psyche or the soul or the spirit of a human being, he says, is a 'threefold unity'. It consists of three parts, three units ('onenesses'), that together form one whole.

Ruusbroec then describes these three units consecutively, from 147 onward.


The first and highest unit is in God: because all creatures hang in this unit with their being (wezen), for the reason that they exist, live and are kept intact and if they would be parted from God on this level, they would fall into nothingness and cease to exist.

This unit is, by virtue of nature itself, substantially (wezenlijk, 'beingly') in us, whether we are good or evil; and she makes us without our doing nor holy nor beatified. We possess this unit in ourselves, but also to some degree above ourselves as an origin and preservation of our existence and our life.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Inward Life, Being, spirit and soul.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 147.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


Yes, indeed, it's quite a thing Ruusbroec states in this fragment. He begins to describe the human soul; and every human being spiritually consists of three units. But the first of this units, the being (wezen), 'hangs in God'.

Every human being, according to Ruusbroec, is uninterrupted and indissoluble connected with God. The psyche of a human isn't closed, a rounded and separated unity, but in it's deepest core open into the divinity. And because of that connection, humans are 'alive', continuously they receive 'life' from God (as if God's creation wasn't in the past and was completed, but the proces of creation is everlasting and happens in the here and now). The human being is continuously kept alive by God.

I'll repeat that sentence in Middle Dutch, you can read along in English:


Die eerste ende die hoochste eenicheit es in Gode; want alle creatueren hanghen in deser eenicheit met wesene met levene ende met onthoude, ende scieden si in deser wijs van Gode, si vielen in niet ende worden te niete.


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

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


 


 


The first and highest unit is in God: because all creatures hang in this unit with their being (wezen), for the reason that they exist, live and are kept intact and if they would be parted from God on this level, they would fall into nothingness and cease to exist.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Inward Life, Being, spirit and soul.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 147.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


This first unit of the human psyche, that hangs in God, is called the being (wezen).

The human psyche consists of
  • the being  (hangs in God)

Next the second unit of the human psyche:


A second unit is also naturally in us: it is the unit of the higher faculties (powers, abilities), in which they naturally originate in an active manner; and this is the unit of the spirit (geest) or the thought. It is the same unit as the one that hangs in God, but is here regarded as potentially active or potentially working, and the other is regarded as substantially or as being; yet the human spirit in every unit is whole and undivided according to the wholeness of it's substance.

This unit we possess in ourselves above the senses; and from this unit the memoria, the reason and the will arise, and the complete power by which we are able to act spiritually. In this unit, one calls the soul: spirit (geest).


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Inward Life, Being, spirit and soul.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 147.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


Ruusbroec calls this second unit the spirit (geest). But immediately he nuances that this isn't exactly a 'second' unit: in fact it's precisely the same unit as the first one, the being. But the being is substantially (wezenlijk, 'beingly') and the spirit is potentially active (werkelijk, 'workingly'). You could say: the being is at rest, the spirit is potentially active, not yet active, but out of this unit the humun could be active. The spirit also can be at rest, but this is the source, the starting point of a person's activity.

The human psyche consists of
  • the being  (hangs in God)
  • the spirit  (potentially active)

The real activity starts in the faculties (the powers, the abilities) that arise from the spirit. Ruusbroec distinguishes three spiritual powers: the memoria, the reason and the will. With these the human can be active; well, you might recognise this, a person can think, have feelings, strive for something, want something.

The human psyche consists of
  • the being  (hangs in God, substantially)
  • the spirit  (potentially active, origin of the spiritual powers)
    • memoria
    • reason
    • will

Ruusbroec didn't come up with these three faculties himself, one of the Church Fathers, Augustine, already wrote about these three in the 4th century. His ideas about these three spiritual faculties were generally accepted during the Middle Ages and for every author it was the point of departure.

At the third place the third unit of the human psyche or soul.


The third unit we naturally possess in ourselves, belongs to or is the ground of the physical powers and is called: the unit of the heart, which is the source and the origin of all physical life. The soul possesses this unit in the body and in the living ground or living cell of the heart, and here originate all physical activities and the five senses.

Here the soul is called: soul, because she is the shape or the principle of existence of the body, and she animates the body, that is: makes it alive and keeps it alive.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Inward Life, Being, spirit and soul.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 147.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


So with this third unit, the unit of the heart or of the soul, the human being is connected with the body and this soul shapes the body and animates (bezielen, 'souls') the body. More so: the unit of the soul gives life to the body. And because the human is connected with his body in this way, he/she can sense through the body by means of the physical senses.

In short, according to Ruusbroec the human being consists, spiritually, of three parts that form one whole:

The human psyche
  • the being  (hangs in God, substantial, rest)
  • the spirit  (potentially active, origin of the spiritual powers)
    • memoria
    • reason
    • will
  • the heart / the soul  (shapes and animates the body)

If I would try to capture this in an image, schematically on the black board, I would draw it like this: the being and the spirit are two aspects of one and the same unit, substantial and potentially active (so let's say a sphere with a dotted line). But the being is open to the divinity (so I make the top side open to the divine infinity). From the unity of the spirit stem three spiritual forces (three lines for memoria, reason and will).

And based on the descriptions, I would draw the unit of the heart / soul, that shapes and animates ('souls') the body, as a kind of spiritual body. The three units are open to each other, after all they are a 'threefold unity', three parts that form one whole. I would draw it like this, but of course I don't know if this was schematically in Ruusbroec's mind.


being spirit and soul ruusbroec

Being, spirit and soul according to Ruusbroec
(schematical representation).
- click to magnify -


It's probably not that exceptional to imagine the unit of the soul in the shape of a physical body, in the context of medieval thinking. Also methaphysical creatures like angels (with wings) and devils (with hoofs) had the shape of a body, and also the soul leaving the body while passing away, could be represented in this way - and even God, as personal God, was portrayed with the shape of a human body (remember Hildegard's visions). You can see a picture of all these examples below.


hildegard scivias vision 1 4 deceasing soul leaves body dying death human to heaven or hell     hildegard liber divinorum vision 1 1 personal god shape of a body male female

Left: angels, devils and the human soul leaving the body, all with a body-like shape. Right: personal God, male and female, with the shape of a body.
Visions of Hildegard of Bingen (Sc. 1-4 en LDO 1-1).



Ruusbroec concludes at page 149:


These three units are naturally in the human being and form one life and one realm. In the lowest, one is physical-sensitive and animal; in the middle, one is reasonable and spiritual; in the highest, one is substantially kept alive by God. And this is naturally in all people.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Inward Life, Being, spirit and soul.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 149.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


Although a human being consists of three aspects, spiritually spoken it is one life, one I. That what a person calls 'I', consists of three aspects: first a being that hangs in God and continuously is kept alive by God; secondly the unit of the spirit, where the being has the potency to become active, where the spiritual powers (faculties) arise, so that a human can think and love and want; and third of all the unit of the soul, by which the human is connected with the body and the physical senses and by which he shapes and animates his body.

So in the unit of the soul, the human is connected with the body, the physical world. And with his being he is connected with God. So it is in the unit of the spirit, in between, that a human is an independent person and can act independently.

In this we can see a reflection of the medieval view on the world and on man (second lecture): a human being is a microcosmos, on the one hand connected with the earthly, sublunary sphere, mortality; and on the other hand reaching up to the celestial spheres, the heavens, eternity.

The medieval cosmos

empyrean   divine (uncreated)   God
planetery sph.   celestial (ether)   angels
earth   sublunar (material)   mankind

You could argue that Ruusbroec's psyche is an exact reflection of the medieval cosmology: the being corresponds to the Empyrean; the spirit to the spheres of the angelic choirs; and the soul corresponds to the sublunar sphere, the physical world, the earth.  
The three aspects of the psyche of the human, soul-spirit-being, form one whole, one life. And the rough division of the cosmos into three parts, sublunar-angelicspheres-empyrean, also together form one whole, one universe, one creation. In this way you could interpret man as microcosmos as a very detailed reflection of the cosmos.

Every 'layer' has similarities. For example in the unit of the spirit mercy flows into the reason as light and arouses insight; and in the angelic spheres, the angels pass on God's messages (insights) to the human being, and in that way arouse insight. And for example in the being the perfect image of God is situated, it hangs in God and is open to the infinite divinity; and the Empyrean is the residence of God and is described as a divine sea or infinity.

Ruusbroec also phrases it like this: in the being, that is substantial, in rest, is the (eternal and perfect) image of God located. And in the spirit, where activity starts, origin of the spiritual powers, the (still imperfect) resemblance after God is located - this is where a human can grow spiritually to become a likeness of God (there we still 'haven't become what we are', Hadewijch). Image and resemblance, substantial and potentially active, rest and activity; next week I will come back to all these concepts.

being

•  substantial
•  in rest
•  image of God
spirit

•  potentially active
•  activity faculties
•  resemblance after God


So you could compare the schematic picture of Ruusbroec's view on man, that I just drew on the board, with the cosmoloy and with the likeness to God. In this way, the human being is in great detail a microcosmos (corresponding to the sublunar and celestial sphere):


microcosmos cosmos

being rest image of God divine (uncreated) Empyrean
spirit spiritually active resemblance after God celestial (etherical) choirs of angels
soul physical active forms the body sublunar (material) earth


In this way the human psyche reflects the complete cosmos.

The spiritual faculties (thinkink, wanting) of course fall under the spirit. The physical senses (seeing, hearing, etc.) fall under the body, the earthly. And in that time having feelings (joy, fear, anger) was considered animal and those also fell under the lower senses, the bodily, the physical world.



Two short side-ways

In relation with this subject of Ruusbroec's view on man, I would like to take two short side-ways.

First of all, during the very first lecture, we've already read a fragment of a diary of an anonymous female Carmelite around 1900, about the soul being open towards the divinity. She wrote:


During the prayer, the third day at night, I entered my soul and it seemed to me that I descended in the dizzying, staggering depths of an abyss. My impression was that I was surrounded by a boundless space. Then I felt the presence of the holy Trinity.


The Carmelite (around 1900).


So she directs her attention, her spiritual powers, no longer to the outer world, but inwards. And she then describes an openness towards the divinity, a divine eternity, within herself - but formulated very general, undifferentiated ('in my soul').

She continues: 'The divine infinity in which I was submerged and that filled me'. So she describes both the immanence of God, God within her being, and the transcendence of God, God transcending her, the divine infinity. Till so far once more the Carmelite.


And I think this is the right moment (as my second side-way) to return for a moment to the Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit. 'Cause only now I can follow Ruusbroec's criticism from beginning till end.

They too say that they turn inwards, that they focus their attention to their own spirit; and they too describe then that they experience their own being, the divine inside their being. But, Ruusbroec says, they don't pass that opening! They remain inside their being and claim that they experienced God. And to a certain degree this is true, according to Ruusbroec, but they describe God only so far as He is present inside their being. That is why Ruusbroec calls this an incomplete mystical experience.

They experience God's immanence, but not the transcendence. And then they make the mistake to claim that they have experienced God, that they fully experienced everything of God, that this is everything there is. But, Ruusbroec says, they only experienced God so far He is present inside their being, not God's inifinity, nor God as the personal Other, God as person. In fact they are resting in their own being.

And the second mistake they make, Ruusbroec says, is that all they want from then on, is to rest in their own being. On the one hand they no longer want to be engaged in society, their fellow men; they are no longer interested in the growth of their virtues and love; and on the other hand they also stop searching for God, because they are convinced that they already reached their ultimate goal.

This is why Ruusbroec calls this false mysticism and false emptiness. Till so far Ruusbroec's criticism towards the Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit.


We'll return to Ruusbroec's description of the human psyche or the human soul or spirit. This description is found at the very beginning of the second part of The spiritual wedding, you could say it is the starting point of the Inward Life.

From now on Ruusbroec is able to write about spiritual processes and also mystical processes in much more detail. Thanks to his detailed psyche, he can write much more precise about what happens spiritually than he could in the Active Life and we'll see more of that next week.



God is working from the inside out


Last of all today we'll read one more sentence of the subdivision 'behold' of the Inward Life. It's just one sentence, but it's very important. It's included in the Anthology.

What does Ruusbroec say at the end of the subdivision 'behold'? He explains how God's mercy flows into the soul as light. How does this happen? How do we have to imagine that? Is this a matter of a beam of light, falling from heaven into the soul, or something? And then Ruusbroec says, and I quote:


The mercy flows from the inside out, not from the outside in. Because God is more internal than we are ourselves, and His inner pushing and working in us, is closer to us than our own activity; and that's why God is working in us from the inside out and the creatures on the contrary are working from the outside in.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Inward Life, Being, spirit and soul.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 155.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


It's a beautiful sentence and also very essential, I think. I'll read it again in Middle Dutch, so you can hear Ruusbroec's own words (click on 'Play'):


Dese gracie vloeyt van binnen, niet van buyten. Want god es ons inwindigher dan wij ons selven sijn, ende sijn inwindich driven ochte werken in ons, natuerlijcke ochte overnatuerlijcke, es ons naerre ende innigher dan ons eyghen wercken: ende daer omme werket god in ons van binnen uutweert, ende alle creatueren van buten inwert.


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

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


 


 


The mercy flows from the inside out, not from the outside in. Because God is more internal than we are ourselves, and His inner pushing and working in us, is closer to us than our own activity; and that's why God is working in us from the inside out and the creatures on the contrary are working from the outside in.


Jan van Ruusbroec, The spiritual wedding (± 1335). Inward Life, Being, spirit and soul.

English translation by RvL, based on: L. Moereels, Die gheestelike brulocht (1989), p. 155.  Entire paragraph (M.D. and translation).


God works from the inside out. God doesn't enter our soul through the physical senses and even not through the spiritual powers (reason, will). He does arrive in these spiritual powers, but from the inside out. It's very clear it's not the case, in Ruusbroec's way of thinking, that the human being is here and God is there. No: the human is hanging in God, his being is open to God, God is in the deepest core of the human being.

This paragraph about 'from the inside out' reminds one of the fragment written by Bernard of Clairvaux (first lecture): 'But although He [the Word] entered me often, I never witnessed the arrival. (...) How did He come inside me? Maybe he didn't enter at all, because He doesn't come from elsewhere?'.

Maybe the picuture I drew on the board (being-spirit-soul) is in fact a bit misleading and you should draw it in a three-dimensional way: the being as a sphere, and around it the spirit as a larger sphere, and the core, the inner core, would be God. But unfortunately I don't have the capacity to draw three-dimensional.

Anyway, with all this new information we now have: how the human psyche is constructed (the unit of the soul, the unit of the spirit, where the three faculties stem from, and the being) and with that remarkable fact that God comes from the inside out, works from the inside out - with all this new information, Ruusbroec once again starts to describe 'the bridegroom is coming' (or: God's tending towards the human with mercy), but this time on the level of the Inward Life. We'll keep on reading next week.



Recapitulation


Today we read the last paragraphs of the Active Life and then we moved on to the Inward Life. These are phases Ruusbroecs distinguishes in the development of a human being, the growth towards God, and in every phase the proces of the mutual approaching deepens.

•  Ruusbroec describes the daily coming of Christ (or the light of God's grace) into the soul as the sun shining into a valley. The valley is the humble person with a loving heart, the two mountains are two longings: a longing to serve God and a longing to acquire virtues. A valley between two mountains becomes more enlightened (with mercy), more heated (with love) and more fertile (with virtues and good works).

•  Ruusbroec uses spiritual light and spiritual warmth to describe God's working into the soul, God's influence on the human being. The noticable effect this has on the human being is spiritual growth: growth of insight, love of one's neighbour and virtues.

•  According to Ruusbroec, the foundation of the virtues ('deugden', 'that what's right') are: love and righteousness. These lead to a series of other virtues, arising from each other, like: humility, empathy, mildness and finally perfection.

•  This whole proces of acquiring spiritual sight, Christ's coming into the soul through mercy, and the spiritual growth of the human (through self-knowledge, developing the conscience, the increase of love and all those virtues) - in the end leads to the result that the human can meet God ('blessed are they, for they shall see God').

•  Self-knowledge starts with the view on man: what is a human being, what is a soul? Or in nowadays terms: the psychology, the psyche of the human being.

•  According to Ruusbroec, the human being, spiritually spoken, consists of a being ('wezen'), a spirit ('geest') and a soul ('ziel') (or heart). The being is substantial: it hangs in God, is open towards the divinity and continuously receives life. The spirit is potentially active: here spiritual growth can occur and here the spiritual powers arise, that can be active: the memoria, the reason and the will. The soul shapes and animates ('souls') the body, gives life to the body.

•  In the being the eternal, perfect image of God is located; in the spirit the (still imperfect) resemblance after God is located. In the spirit, the human being can become equal to the divine, to God, through spiritual growth (but never: become God, He always remains that divine Other, the Creator).

•  An incomplete mystical experience ('false mysticism') means, according to Ruusbroec, that the human in fact is resting in his own being and doesn't include a meeting with God, the Other. It doesn't urge the person to spiritual growth, increase of virtues and love, and it inhibits the person to continue searching for God, because he thinks he's already there ('false emptiness').

•  God works from the inside out. Mercy is flowing into the psyche from the inside out, and doesn't enter the soul through the physical senses or the spiritual faculties.



Next week


Next week we'll read more about Ruusbroec's view on man, especially about how the spiritual powers correlate to light and warmth.

After the break I'll, last of all, discuss how the human being is an image of God and has a resemblance to God. And to conclude the course as a whole, I'll review the main lines of all the lectures. This all next week, during the last lesson.

I hope to see you all 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 6/7b in Dutch: Ruusbroec: het Innige 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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