ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

201. Two Forms of Medieval Mysticism. -- The Middle Ages were ages of faith. And hence they constitute the golden era of mysticism: practical mystics buried themselves in cloisters to lead lives of deep devotion; speculative mystics wrote books. These writings bear witness to the existence both of individualist and of pantheist mysticism. The latter first appears in the person of Scotus Eriugena, then disappears, but comes to light again in the twelfth century (Art. III.). The former is a current of orthodox, theological mysticism which bases the ascent of the soul towards God and perfection on supernatural grace, the communication of which begins in the present life. Unless they were prepared to be illogical, scholastics could not admit a natural or philosophical mysticism. For, according to their account of the genesis of human knowledge, the intellect cannot know, and as a consequence the will cannot love, God, except through the medium of creatures. But such an indirect knowledge of the Infinite can furnish no basis for that direct communication which is the central phenomenon of the mystic life. Hence it is that those "mystic ways," those visions and ecstasies by which the soul is rapt up in God, and which are depicted in such glowing and enthusiastic language by a St. Bonaventure or a Hugh of St. Victor, must be essentially different from the philosophical knowledge of God which is reached by way of negation and transcendence or eminence. They are steps of a nobler ladder which it is not given to man to climb without the supernatural aid of grace from on high.{1} It may be set down as generally true that scholastic philosophers, as theologians, had all their moments of mystic elevation. There is nothing incompatible in being all at once a scholastic philosopher, scholastic theologian and mystic.

{1} M. Delacroix has established between scholasticism and mysticism relations which seem to us to be based on a confusion of ideas. "Scholasticism," he writes, "is inseparable from mysticism: for it is science applied to religion and starts from the assumption that everything may be made intelligible by theology and that therefore every thing is reducible to theology; but the assumption itself implies that the thinker feels his dependence on God and is impelled to explore this feeling of dependence. Personal piety is thus made a condition requisite for science; and since this piety is identical with the feeling of the Divine, with the ascetic contemplation of the commerce between self or subject and God as object, it necessarily follows that Mysticism is at the very root of Scholasticism itself" (Essai sur le mysticisme spéculat. en Allem. au XIVe s., p. 10). The writer here confounds scholastic theology with scholastic philosophy, and is mistaken in thinking that piety is a necessary condition for philosophizing after the manner of the scholastics.

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