Jordan Aumann O.P.: Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition



Following Cayré,(1) we have decided to designate this chapter as "Dionysian spirituality" but the title requires explanation. First of all, it refers to a revival of neo-Platonic, Augustinian spirituality by the German Dominicans, who then influenced the Christian life in the Netherlands. Secondly, while dependent on the Dominican intellectual tradition, it swings away from that tradition toward the mystical and contemplative spirituality of pseudo-Dionysius, who lived around the year 500. Thirdly, it resulted in the expansion of spiritual influence from the Latin countries to the Germanic and Anglo-Saxon countries, introducing at the same time a classification of schools of spirituality according to national cultures and temperaments.

The leader of this new school was Meister Eckhart, a German Dominican who was later accused of pantheistic tendencies. His disciples included John Tauler and Henry Suso, both German Dominicans, and John Ruysbroeck of the Netherlands. In England a more moderate form of Dionysian spirituality was taught by Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing.(2) Mention should also be made of the Carthusian, Denis Rijkel, who is in the same school of spirituality and brings the Middle Ages to a close as far as spiritual theology is concerned.

Before noting the contributions of each of the outstanding figures in Dionysian spirituality, we should investigate the circumstances that led to the emergence and success of this spiritual movement. Although theologians of the stature of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure had written about mystical contemplation, it was not until the fourteenth century that this subject became the object of intense and specialized study. One of the principal situations that favoured this theological development was the increasing number of fervent and educated women who were claiming various types of mystical experience and seeking spiritual direction as a result of it.

Early in the fourteenth century there was an amazing number of religious women who composed spiritual treatises in which they described their mystical experiences, many of them being accounts of the mystical espousal or mystical marriage. Eventually this Brautmystik (mysticism of spiritual marriage) became one of the chief characteristics of Eckhart's "mysticism of the essence".(3) That this movement had its excesses, there is no doubt, for Sitwell observes that "in the fourteenth century the whole of the Rhine valley was seething with religious enthusiasts, Béguines and Beghards, and Brethren of the Free Spirit, some of them controlled and respectable, some of them not."(4)

As early as 1292 the Council of Aschaffenburg initiated a repression of the Beghards and the Béguines; in 1306 the Council of Cologne accused them of infamy and heresy and blamed them for instigating attacks on the Franciscans and Dominicans. Finally, the Council of Vienne (1311) condemned eight of their doctrinal propositions and denounced their pseudomysticism. Yet, not all the Beghards and Béguines were deserving of condemnation. Mechtild of Magdeburg is an outstanding example of a Béguine who rose to the heights of the mystical life and, together with St. Gertrude and St. Mechtild of Hackeborn, is a jewel in the crown of the Cistercian monastery at Helfta.(5)


The ruins of the Cistercian monastery of Helfta still stand in Saxony, near Eisleben. Founded by Gertrude of Hackeborn (+ 1291), it produced three saintly women whose writings had a tremendous influence on Christian life in Germany during the late Middle Ages. The first of these, Mechtild of Magdeburg (+ 1282 or 1297), belonged to a community of Béguines who were closely associated with the Cistercian nuns and was already in the mystical state before she entered the monastery of Helfta in 1270. In the monastery she wrote the last chapter of a work she had been composing under the direction of her Dominican director: The Flowing Light of the Divinity (Das Fliessende Licht der Gottheit). Written in Low German, it was later revised in High German and translated into Latin by Henry of Nordlingen (+ 1345).

The book describes the mystical experience and ecstatic union in the form of a dialogue between Christ and the soul. The fundamental point in the teaching of Mechtild is that the soul must empty itself of everything that comes to it through the senses, the memory and the imagination, and even of its own virtues, in order to attain union with God. There, in the very essence of the soul, in its purest state, the transforming union occurs. Following in the tradition of St. Bernard, Mechtild's teaching is eminently Christocentric, but it also contributes to the "mysticism of essence" that will be popularized later by Meister Eckhart.(6)

St. Mechtild of Hackeborn (+ 1299) was a sister of the foundress of Helfta and she became the mistress of novices. Under her guidance many saintly nuns were formed, and among them was St. Gertrude the Great. St. Mechtild of Hackeborn is renowned as a confidant of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a leader in the propagation of this devotion.

St. Mechtild never wanted to write about the numerous graces she had received from God, but Gertrude the Great made a transcription of these things and gave it to Mechtild for her approval. In this way St. Mechtild's work, The Book of Special Grace, came into being. It is a book filled with joy and thanksgiving, without any mention of pain or suffering. The work was widely circulated because it served as a guide for Christian living. It treated of the Christian virtues, devotion to the Heart of Jesus and Mechtild's numerous revelations. It also provided instructions for the reception of Communion, the practice of prayer, and participation in the liturgy.(7)

St. Gertrude the Great (+ 1302) was received into the monastery school at Helfta at the age of five by the foundress, Gertrude of Hackeborn. She was a brilliant student and became so absorbed in literary pursuits that she neglected her spiritual development. As the result of a vision of Christ in 1281, at the age of twenty-six, Gertrude henceforth dedicated herself in earnest to prayer and the reading of the Scripture and the Fathers of the Church, especially St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great, St. Bernard and Hugh of St. Victor.

Gertrude's spiritual life was centered on the liturgy and most of her mystical ecstasies occurred during Mass, usually as the result of certain words or phrases that captivated her full attention. Like St. Bernard, her spirituality was predominantly Christocentric; she had a great devotion to the Eucharist, to the passion of Christ and to the wound in the side of Christ.(8) In 1284 Gertrude received the stigmata in an invisible form and also experienced the transverberation of her heart.

Between 1261 and 1302 St. Gertrude wrote The Herald of Divine Love (which some critics do not consider to be entirely her own) and her greatest work, Spiritual Exercises. The doctrinal basis of these works indicates a strong Dominican influence, but the overall tone is that of St. Bernard's Christology. St. Gertrude was an ardent devotee of the Sacred Heart but she sees it as radiant with glory, a treasury of riches, a lamp suspended between heaven and earth, and her dwelling-place. There is nothing of suffering or reparation in her devotion to the Heart of Jesus.(9)

Two other saintly women deserving of mention in this connection are St. Lutgard and St. Brigid of Sweden. A Cistercian nun, St. Lutgard (+ 1246) was also a promoter of devotion to the Sacred Heart and she focused the entire theology of this devotion on love.(10)

St. Brigid's spirituality was completely Cistercian, concentrating on the passion of Christ and devotion to Mary. After a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Brigid's husband entered a Cistercian monastery in Sweden and died there a few years later. From that time on, St. Brigid was more and more directed by God towards a prophetic vocation, similar to that of St. Catherine of Siena. By God's command, she advised great rulers and ecclesiastical dignitaries. During a six-month stay in the Holy Land, Brigid received numerous revelations concerning the passion and death of Christ, which were published for the first time in Lbeck in 1492. Brigid was also the foundress of an order of contemplative nuns dedicated to the praise of God and reparation for sinners. Her book of revelations received the approbation of Pope Benedict XIV as private revelations and acceptable on human faith in accordance with prudence.(11)


During the fourteenth century the Dominicans and Franciscans were especially noteworthy for their spiritual ministrations to the cloistered nuns. At one point, in fact, a Provincial Chapter of the German Dominicans had attempted to withdraw from this ministry, since so many friars were occupied solely with the spiritual care of nuns, but the Holy See insisted that this apostolate should continue. Then, in 1325, the Chapter of Dominicans denounced those friars who were preaching the subtleties of the mystical life to persons who could easily misinterpret the doctrine.

On the intellectual level a group of German Dominicans, without any particular hostility to St. Thomas Aquinas, preferred the teaching of St. Albert the Great and the neo-Platonism of William of Moerbeke. Included among them are Hugh of Strasburg, Ulric of Strasburg and Thierry of Freiburg. In the fourteenth century, when Catholic spirituality inclined very strongly to the mystical element in Christian life and perfection, the neo-Platonic approach seemed to offer a much more suitable vehicle of expression and description than did the speculative and closely-reasoned Aristotelian approach of St. Thomas.

Medieval spirituality was explicitly directed toward contemplation and mystical experience; to attain this goal, certain ascetical means were proposed: total renunciation of self, complete submission to the divine will, and rejection of all sense images (even the humanity of Christ). This, they believed, would lead to a union with God which was so intimate that nothing would intervene between the soul and God as the bond of the union; it would consist in a divinization that for all practical purposes leaves the soul indistinguishable from God.(12)

As could be expected, a doctrine of this type was especially susceptible to a pantheistic interpretation and there seems to be no doubt that some of the authors did make rash and excessive statements concerning the nature of the mystical union with God."(13) On the other hand, one could hardly expect any writer to describe with clarity and precision the nature of the transforming union.

Having surveyed the setting of the spirituality of the fourteenth century, we can turn our attention to the figures that emerged out of this scene and became the promoters of Dionysian spirituality. The leader, beyond any doubt, was the German Dominican, Meister Eckhart (1260-1327). A renowned theologian and preacher, he also held numerous administrative posts of great importance in the Dominican Order.

As a young friar, Eckhart had studied at the Dominican priory in Cologne, where St. Albert the Great died in 1280. Later he became prior at Erfurt and vicar general of Thuringia. On two separate occasions he was a professor at the University of Paris but left there to be prior and professor at the Dominican priory in Strasbourg, ultimately returning to Cologne. It was there that Eckhart, now a famous preacher, became embroiled in controversy and was accused 4 unorthodox teaching. A forthright and intransigent man, he was also the victim of persecution at the hands of some of his own Dominican brethren.

In 1326 the Franciscan Archbishop of Cologne, Henry of Virneburg, appointed two inquisitors to investigate the teaching of Eckhart, and from his writings and sermons they drew up a list of io8 propositions which they considered suspect. Eckhart defended himself vigorously but to no avail. He admitted that some of his statements, taken literally, could be interpreted in a heterodox sense, but it was never his intention to preach a doctrine that was contrary to orthodox theology. In 1327, in the church of the Dominicans, he publicly revoked all such ill-sounding doctrine. In that same year Eckhart appealed to the Holy See, stating in advance his willingness to comply with any decision. He even defended himself at the papal court in Avignon but died on his return to Cologne. In March, 1329, Pope John XXII condemned 28 propositions from the teachings of Eckhart; the first fifteen and the last two were condemned as erroneous and heretical and the others were condemned as ill-sounding and rash.(14)

As a theologian, Eckhart was a faithful follower of the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas concerning the supremacy of the intellect over the will, but he also seems to have gone to excess in its application, thanks to the influence of Maimonides of the Averroistic school and of pseudo-Dionysius. It is also likely that the sermons of St. Bernard exerted a strong influence on Eckhart in questions touching the nature of the mystical experience, though Eckhart carried the doctrine to dangerous extremes. Nor should we overlook the fact that Eckhart was very likely acquainted with and perhaps influenced by the spirituality of persons like Margaret Poret, Hadewijch, and Mechtild of Magdeburg, all of whom emphasized very strongly the nothingness of the soul and the necessity of detachment and nudity of spirit. The result of all these influences was a theology of the spiritual life based on two different but complementary themes: the highly speculative "mysticism of essence" and the spirituality of the mystical marriage or Brautmystik. Let us now see how Eckhart attempted to combine these two themes in his spiritual teaching.

In God, says Eckhart, esse and intelligere are identical; moreover, outside of God there is no true existence or being ("esse est Deus"). Consequently, all creation, including man, considered in itself, is nothing; whatever it has of being or existence comes from God, in whose divine intellect it has existed from all eternity. Consequently, man is impelled by the necessity of his own nothingness, so to speak, to return to God in whom he has his source. The point of contact or the radical capacity for union between man and God is found in the essence of the intellect, which is designated variously as a power, a spark or the "Grund der Seele." As Eckhart says: "There is something in the soul that is uncreated and uncreatable, namely, the intelligence; and if that were the whole soul, that too would be uncreated and uncreatable."(15)

The spark or Grund constitutes the seed of the divine life and of the properly contemplative life, which can be attained by means of a Platonic type of development. Eckhart constantly reverts to the two basic themes of the transcendency of God and the total detachment required for man's return to the unity and image of God by participation. Consequently, although at times his manner of speaking was excessive and could be interpreted in a pantheistic sense, Eckhart preserved the concept of a transcendent God and placed limitations on the degree of union between the soul and God. This is evident from his response to the judges at the time of the investigation at Cologne.(16)

In his explanation of the precise nature of the union between God and the soul, Eckhart states that the mystical experience flows from grace as a supernatural principle and involves immediately an intellectual or contemplative activity on the part of man, though not excluding the activity of the will under the imperation of charity. Thus, through vision and love, the soul that attains the height of mystical union with God is, as it were, identified with the divine essence; it experiences complete beatitude in and through God.

This does not mean, as Eckhart explained in his response to the judges at Cologne, that we are transformed and changed into God, but just as the numerous hosts on various altars are transformed into the one and the same body of Christ, so also, "by the grace of adoption we are united to the true Son of God and made members of the one Head of the Church, who is Christ."(17)

Eckhart not only came very close to pantheistic doctrine in his manner of expression; he also savored somewhat of the Quietism of the Beghards, which he actually condemned with all his strength. The heterodox Beghards taught that man in the present life is able to reach such a high degree of perfection that he is absolutely impeccable and can attain to no further increase of grace; he is no longer obliged to obey the Church or any moral laws because he is above them; whatever acts he may perform are fully in accord with the divine will. Several of Eckhart's statements, condemned by the Church, do admit of a Quietist interpretation.(18)

There is a wide divergence of views concerning the teaching of Eckhart. According to Denifle, Hurter and Mandonnet, Eckhart was a Scholastic of little originality and he was not a mystic; rather, he was a man of mediocre intelligence and unrestrained in his expressions. According to De Wulf, Delacroix, Weber and Otto, he was orthodox in his intention but he voiced the heretical teaching of Erigena and Almaric, and in that respect is a forerunner of Luther. Finally, Gilson, Dempf and Graef maintain that Eckhart was Catholic in his teaching but not properly understood. He is seen by some as the precursor of Kant, Schopenhauer, Spinoza, Hegel, Heidegger and Jasper. It is difficult to understand how a man credited with such influence on later thinkers could be branded a mediocre thinker. Rather, it would seem more accurate to take Eckhart at his word and say that although he may have expressed himself in exaggerated terms, he never intended to veer from orthodox teaching. The fact is that his doctrine exerted a profound influence on the spiritual teaching and practice of later ages.(19)

John Tauler (1300-1361) considered Eckhart his master and teacher, but he did not fall into the excesses of Eckhart. Tauler was a preacher and spiritual director, not a writer; with Henry Suso, he was the founder of the Friends of God (Gottesfreunde). The Institutiones divinae, attributed to Tauler, was composed by the Carthusian, Laurence Surius, from the sermons of Tauler.(20)

Like Eckhart, Tauler discussed abstract themes and favoured neo-Platonic expressions, although he had a capacity for illustrating his doctrine by simple, picturesque examples. Like Eckhart also, he emphasizes the need for total renunciation of all externals to attain nudity of spirit and an interior recollection or withdrawal into the "Grund" of the soul, where one attains mystical contemplation.

God, says Tauler, is nothing, in the sense that he is nothing we can name, comprehend or experience as long as we have not attained that "nudity of spirit" which is essential for contemplation. Meanwhile, we can know what God is not, rather than what he is; consequently our knowledge of God is by way of eminence and not by way of analogy with created beings. Therefore, until the intelligence of man is completely emptied of all sensible and intellectual images, it cannot contemplate God, because God is not knowable in that way. Only through nudity of spirit can the intelligence become sufficiently passive and receptive so that it can experience intimate union with God.

Man, on the other hand, lives on three levels: the sensible, the rational and the superior level called Gemüt. By means of mortification and renunciation, a man rises above the intelligibility of ideas and images so that he can enter into the Grund of the soul. This involves a detachment from the lower appetites by active asceticism and of the will by total submission to the divine will. It is just as impossible to give a name to the Grund of the soul as it is to give a name to God, but the Grund or center of the soul is distinct from the faculties, though it gives them their power of operation.

The Gemüt, on the other hand, is something more powerful than the faculties of the soul and can be constantly operative even when the intellect and will are dormant. The Grund of the soul is the area of mystical experience, and since the intellect and will cannot touch the Grund or center of the soul, the contemplative experience is something beyond the natural faculties of the soul.

Now, we exist in God from all eternity, as an idea in the divine intellect, which is identical with the divine existence. Hence, from all eternity, we are united with God and our task on earth is to return to unity with the divine. This is achieved when the individual returns to the Grund or center of the soul where the Trinity dwells. But since the intellect and will cannot enter the Grund to make contact with the Trinity, it is the function of two gifts of the Holy Spirit -- understanding and wisdom -- to lead the soul to its center, beyond every form of human life or knowledge, to that abyss where God gives himself as he is and is known as he is in himself. This constitutes the mystical union and contemplation in which no created thing intervenes between God and the soul; the divine essence is immediately united to the soul in its center.(21)

Tauler's doctrine was not free from attack, but it was defended by Blosius, St. Peter Canisius and the Carthusian, Laurence Surius. During the sixteenth century the sermons of Tauler were condemned or forbidden in France, Spain and Belgium, and in the seventeenth century his teaching was perverted by the Quietists. Indeed, until the nineteenth century (and then thanks to scholars like Denifle, who restored Tauler to his rightful place in orthodox theology), the doctrine of Tauler was generally seen under the cloud of Quietism. Nevertheless, Crisógono de Jesús maintained that Tauler, with Ruysbroeck, was the greatest mystic prior to St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.(22)

Henry Suso (1295-1366), whom Strauch calls "the singer of German mysticism, a spiritual troubadour, the last poet of Mittelhochdeutsch,"(23) was very likely at some time or other a fellow-student with Tauler under Meister Eckhart.(24) His life was filled with mystical phenomena and intense suffering. His written works comprise the following: Little Book of Eternal Wisdom; Little Book of Truth; Little Book of Letters; and an autobiography which is of dubious authorship.(25)

The Little Book of Truth gives us the road map of Suso's high flights into philosophical and theological speculations; the Little Book of Eternal Wisdom depicts him as a prudent ascetic and practical mystic. In his Sermons and Letters we learn to know him as a trenchant preacher and enlightened spiritual guide, endowed with rare charisms. The Life unfolds the successive developments of his ascent to holiness.(26)
Suso wrote from personal experience and while he lacks the forcefulness of Eckhart and the clarity of Tauler, he possesses a sweetness almost to the point of naïveté. He is more of a poet and mystic than a systematic theologian. In Eternal Wisdom he begins by advocating meditation of the mysteries, and especially the sufferings, of Jesus and Mary, which should lead the soul to an awareness of the malice of sin, the rigor of divine judgment, and the need for reparation. After offering practical counsel on how to live and how to die, he returns again to meditations on the passion and death of Christ and the sorrows of Mary.

In the Little Book of Truth he speaks of the grades of prayer and ecstasies and raptures, but warns against the illusion of extraordinary mystical phenomena and the dangers of the excessive passivity of Quietism, taught by the Beghards and the Brethren of the Free Spirit.(27) For Suso, union with God requires that man be reborn, and this calls for renunciation to such a degree that the soul loses awareness of self as distinct from God and experiences a transformation in Christ. The contemplative experience is indescribable, but it consists in a union with God, "the One and the Nothing," without any intermediary. The faculties are absorbed in God, so to speak, and the soul is submerged in God; yet, the soul knows and loves God in this experience without understanding what it knows and loves. Even if the soul reaches this sublime union with the divine, there is always the need for humility, because there is always the possibility of sin.

Henry Suso wrote from personal experience of the mystical life, and with such ardor and effusiveness that one would think his entire life was one uninterrupted rapture. Yet, when one considers the asceticism and penitential practices of Henry Suso and the false accusations brought against him, what stands out above everything else is his heroic fortitude. Even within his own Dominican Order he was persecuted and deprived of his teaching position and his academic degree as a lector in theology. He taught the Pauline doctrine of conformity to Christ and in his sufferings he gave witness to the passion and death of Christ. Henry Suso was beatified by Pope Gregory XVI in 1831.(28)

A great number of the other disciples of Eckhart are as yet unknown and their works are only partially preserved. One of the works, Theologia Germanica (Die deutsche Theologie) probably written at Frankfurt around 1350, by a disciple of Eckhart, is a jewel of spirituality that was so highly esteemed by Martin Luther that he published an incomplete version of it in 1518.(29) The work is a manual for ordinary Christians and treats of the interior life in a manner more traditional than that of Eckhart, Tauler or Suso. It follows the division of the purgative, illuminative and unitive ways and emphasizes the central role of Christ in the journey to perfection. Man in himself is nothing; only God, the perfect being, is the All. In becoming more and more aware of his nothingness, man becomes increasingly humble. Hence, humility is the door to the renunciation and self-abandonment which enable a man to empty himself of self and be filled with God. When that happens, God's "allness" replaces man's nothingness so that man is, so to speak, divinized.


The first country outside Germany to receive the influence of the Rhineland mystics was the Netherlands,(30) although it is likely that the origins of the Flemish mystics go back to the thirteenth century. The most influential mystical writer was john Ruysbroeck (1293-1381), who spent a good part-of his life as a hermit and died as a Canon of St. Augustine in the abbey which he founded at Groenendael. In 1908 Rome approved the cult given him as a blessed. Although he is in the direct line of the Rhineland mystics, some authors hail Ruysbroeck as the leader of a distinct school of spirituality -- the Flemish School -- and the founder of devotio moderna. He is at least a transition point between the Rhineland mystics and Gerard Groote.(31)

Besides the German writers, Ruysbroeck is also indebted to other sources: St. Augustine, pseudo-Dionysius, St. Bernard and the Victorines. Like the Rhineland mystics, the intent of his writings was to explain how and to what degree a man can achieve union with God, yet always avoiding any taint of Pantheism. Indeed, he states specifically in The Book of the Highest Truth: "No creature can be or become holy to the point of losing its created nature and becoming God." He had a great reverence for tradition and asserted that mysticism without a historical sense is a source of pride and error.

Ruysbroeck's spiritual doctrine involves three elements: exemplarism, introversion and union. The basis of exemplarism is the Trinity. The intimate life of the Trinity is an ebb and flow, a going out and a return, originating in the unity of the Godhead, from which proceed the three divine Persons, who as Trinity return to the unity of infinite perfection. Man can share somehow in this divine life and movement because of the exemplary ideas existing in the divine intellect: the human soul comes forth from God the Creator and possesses the three spiritual faculties of intellect, memory and will.

But the human soul must regain its unity and it does this by means of introversion, returning to its interior by three stages: the active life, the interior life and the contemplative life. The active life is the life of the virtues; the interior life is the life of grace and imitation of Christ; the contemplative life is the tasting and experiencing of God.

To make progress in the spiritual life, one must despoil himself of all egoism and attachment to created things. Then he can receive the life of the Father as communicated by the Son and the Holy Spirit. This constitutes the life of union with God, which is so intimate that it transcends all purely human experience, and yet the soul always recognizes this life as something distinct from its own.

Of the written works of Ruysbroeck, twelve treatises are extant, but we shall discuss only the most important.(32) The treatise entitled The Kingdom of the Lovers of God contains Ruysbroeck's doctrine on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but because of certain obscurities, he followed it with The Book of the Highest Truth. His intention in the latter work is to explain the three phases of contemplative union with God: through an intermediary; without an intermediary; without difference or distinction. "Union through an intermediary" is effected through the grace of God and the works of virtue, presupposing death to sin and to every disordered appetite of man's lower nature. "Union without intermediary" occurs when the soul is united with God through the total capacity of its love and experiences this love in the depth of its being. The symbol used is that of iron in the fiery furnace, which becomes so inflamed that it is indistinguishable from the flames. "Union without difference or distinction" is the most intimate union that is possible between the soul and God, but always respecting the principle that no created being can become one in essence with God. This is the union for which Christ prayed when he asked the Father that his disciples should be one in him as he is one with the Father in the Spirit.

Ruysbroeck's masterpiece, The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage (known in English as The Spiritual Espousals), was written against the Brethren of the Free Spirit who followed the heretical teachings of Bloemardinne.(33) What is of interest in this work is Ruysbroeck's descriptions of the active life, the interior life and the contemplative life.

The primary functions of the active life are death to sin and growth in virtue, presupposing, of course, the infusion of grace and conversion to God. The spiritual powers that are most important at this stage of the spiritual life are the moral virtues, particularly the virtue of humility. The goal sought is union with God through faith, hope and charity, stimulated by a desire to see and know Christ as he is in himself.

The interior life is one in which the soul, illumined by grace and purified by Christ in its lower faculties, rids itself of all images and distracting occupations. The superior powers of intellect, memory and will have been so purified and intensified that the soul experiences the divine touch at its very center and recognizes the call to even more intimate union and the promise of mystical experience. The call is realized and the promise is fulfilled in the contemplative life, where the soul experiences "superessential contemplation" of the divine essence in full divine light and in a divine mode. The soul enjoys an encounter with the divine in the center of the soul.

The doctrine of Ruysbroeck, especially as expounded in the third book of Spiritual Marriage, was attacked by Gerson as pantheistic but was defended by John of Schoonhoven, Henry Herp and Denis the Carthusian. Some have not hesitated to give him the title, "the St. Thomas Aquinas of mystical theology," and to place him above St. Bernard and St. John of the Cross!(34)


Running parallel to the spiritual movements in Germany and the Low Lands was the production of mystical treatises in Catholic England. And the first thing to be noted about the English mystics is that they were not, as in Germany and the Low Lands, inspired or directed by members of religious orders. They were for the most part independent writers and for the most part enamored of the eremitical life. Although their remote source seems to have been the pseudo-Dionysian doctrine, more immediately their preference was for the Victorines. They tended, however, to be eminently practical and were gifted with a realistic and sometimes humorous view of human frailty.(35)

The earliest spiritual treatise, The Ancren Riwle, was composed for the spiritual direction of lay anchorites.(36) The first outstanding writer among the English Catholics was Richard Rolle (+ 1349). He became a hermit at an early age and it is possible that he studied theology at the Sorbonne and then returned to England. His most important works are Incendium Amoris (translated into English as Fire of Love) and Emendatio Vitae (translated under the titles, The Mending of Life and The Form of Perfect Living).(37) His works, says Sitwell, "are not important for the contribution they make to spiritual literature, but they tell us a good deal about himself, and his life is of great interest as illustrating the spontaneous desire for contemplation which seems to have been a feature of his times."(38)

Although dedicated to the eremitical life (so much so that he seems to have looked upon the cenobitic life with disdain) and although he actually experienced mystical graces rather early, he was greatly preoccupied with rather harsh criticism of the clergy. He likewise exhibits a certain degree of harshness when speaking of theologians trained in the schools, for while the humble contemplative is taught by wisdom from above, "those taught by wisdom acquired, not inshed, and those swollen with folded arguments, will disdain him saying, 'Where did he learn? Under what doctor did he sit?' They do not admit that the lovers of eternity are taught by a doctor from within to speak more eloquently than they themselves, who have learned from men, and studied all the time for empty honors."(39)

Contemplation for Rolle is an operation of the intellect which leads the soul to union with God in love. The object of contemplation is the Trinity, which is unknowable; hence, contemplation is obscure and its primary characteristics are love and joy.

Devotion to Christ, especially in his passion, and to Mary is particularly prominent in the writings of Rolle. The activity of the Holy Spirit, working through his gifts, pertains to the very essence of contemplation. Speaking of Christian sanctity in general, Rolle stresses the primacy of charity; but when treating of charity as love of God and love of neighbor, he accentuates love of God to such an extent that he seems to place it in opposition to love of neighbor. This is perhaps a logical consequence of his preoccupation with contemplation and mystical experience.

However, it does not seem that he merits the judgment against him, to the effect that he believed sensible mystical phenomena to be of the essence of the mystical experience.(40) On the contrary, he states explicitly in Emendatio vitae (chap. ii): "In this degree or state of love is love chaste, holy, willing; loving the Beloved for himself alone and not for his gifts." Finally, Rolle gives little or no importance at all to the role of a spiritual director, for he maintains that the true director of the soul should be the virtue of prudence, which is perfected by the gift of wisdom.

Hailed as the most beautiful spiritual treatise of the fourteenth century, The Cloud of Unknowing, by an unidentified author, is an excellent example of "apophatic" mystical theology because it treats of God by way of negation. Since God is ineffable, we cannot know what he is; we can know only what he is not. The treatise is fully within the tradition that stems from pseudo-Dionysius through Richard of St. Victor and the Rhineland mystics; it will later cross into Spain and be brought to its perfection in St. John of the Cross. It seems excessive, however, to brand The Cloud of Unknowing as a depersonalization of God through extreme idealism and apophasis.(41)

The Cloud of Unknowing is the most celebrated but not the only work of the unknown author. A more profound work, entitled The Book of Privy Counsel, refers to The Cloud and the Epistle of Prayer as being the works of the same author. A fourth work is the Epistle of Discretion of Stirrings. Three other works are translations and adaptations: The Denis Hid Divinity (a free translation of the Theologia mystica of pseudo-Dionysius); A Treatise of the Study of Wisdom that Men Call Benjamin (from the Benjamin minor of Richard of St. Victor); and A Treatise of Discretion of Spirits (based on several sermons of St. Bernard).(42)

The basic thesis of all these works is that contemplative prayer is simply an intensification of the ordinary grace offered to every Christian; it is attained through love and not through knowledge. At the very start, the author states the pseudo-Dionysian teaching that "the most godly knowing of God is that which is known by unknowing." He does not deny that God can somehow be known through analogical knowledge, but the mind must be emptied of all concepts and images so that faith can serve as the basis for the "blind stirring of love."

The mystical knowledge of contemplation is grounded on faith, stirred by love and perfected in wisdom. This is exemplified in Mary Magdalen, who was so enraptured by the divinity of Christ that she no longer retained arty image or concept of his physical body as she knelt before him. So also, the contemplative sees God in a "dark knowledge" while love reaches out to touch and embrace divinity.

Contemplative knowledge is "supraconceptual" and that accounts for its darkness as well as for the fact that concepts and images would be distractions that hinder contemplation. Therefore, in contemplation there is a shift from conceptual knowledge to intuitive, experiential, imageless knowledge, which calls into play the operations of love. The perfection of this loving knowledge results in wisdom which, says the author, is like a burning candle that throws light both on itself and on everything around it. Thus, the wisdom of contemplation reveals to the Christian his own nothingness and wretchedness and the ineffable glory of God.

The wisdom that is the perfection of contemplative love is a gift from above, although it is received as a logical consequence of the perfection of grace and charity. Yet, it is received only at the cost of purification and the total abandonment of all self-centered desires; and this is a dark night of suffering for the Christian who endures purgation in silent love. To those who endure the dark night successfully, the dawn of a new day breaks with a wondrous vision of God as he is in himself. The Christian then sees himself as a part of the whole and not as he is in himself; he then becomes through grace what God is by nature. Stripped of self, he is transformed in Christ and united to the Father in the most intimate union possible in this life.

According to the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, every Christian, by reason of his baptismal grace, is called to the most perfect possible union with God, but it is only the contemplative who actually experiences this union. Although the contemplative or mystical experience is within the potentialities of "ordinary" grace, since contemplation is simply the perfection of faith, charity and wisdom, nevertheless it is still a gift and is therefore not attained by all Christians.

In distinguishing between those called to salvation and those called to perfection, the author states that those who are called to perfection are also called to contemplation. Man may be saved without contemplation, but he cannot be perfect without it; that is why the Church proclaims the contemplative life as the most excellent. Unlike Richard Rolle, the author of The Cloud insists on the necessity of spiritual direction and the discernment of spirits, if only because of the great danger of self-illusion. But the spiritual director must himself be a man who has experienced the spiritual life.

Walter Hilton (d. 1396) was an Augustinian canon and the author of a major work in English spirituality: The Scale of Perfection.(43) The work was written for the direction of an anchoress and therefore postulates contemplation as a goal of Christian perfection. Yet Hilton had a more comprehensive view of Christian spirituality than Rolle or the author of The Cloud. For example, whereas Rolle manifested almost a disdain for the active life and the author of The Cloud restricted Christian perfection to the attainment of contemplative prayer, Hilton taught that union with God can be achieved in both the active and the contemplative life. His intention in The Scale of Perfection, however, is to teach a contemplative how to reach the perfection of the contemplative life, and this should be kept in mind during the study of the treatise.

There are, according to Hilton, three types or degrees of contemplation: first, the knowledge of God and of spiritual things as acquired through the teaching of others and the reading of Scripture; secondly, affective contemplation, which is the result of grace and the work of Christ (all can attain it; it is normal for holy people; it terminates in uninterrupted prayer that is peaceful and consoling); thirdly, perfect contemplation, which is the action of the Holy Spirit and frequently accompanied by ecstasy, rapture and detachment.

The third and highest degree of contemplation is a kind of spiritual marriage in which the soul is transformed, so to speak, into the image of the Trinity. It is a special gift, not given to all, but only to those who devote themselves to the solitude of the contemplative life. It is preceded by a period of intense and painful purification.

Hilton's theological development of the theology of contemplation can be summarized as follows: Before the Fall, man was the image of God and he was directed to God by the higher faculties of intellect, memory and will; but after the Fall, he lost this orientation and fell into "forgetfulness and ignorance of God, and into a monstrous love of himself."(44)

The Christian effort consists in restoring or re-forming the image of God in man as it once was. This is made possible to man through the merits of Jesus Christ. If a Christian is in the state of grace, the image of God is re-formed in him in a lower degree; but if he is in the state of grace and also experiences the Holy Spirit working in him, he has the restored image to a much higher degree, which is proper to the contemplative life. Hence, contemplation is an awareness of the life of grace; "the soul understands something of what it knew before only by faith,"(45) thanks to the presence of uncreated Love, the Holy Spirit, in the soul.

The first thing required of the Christian in the contemplative way is a desire for God or "the naked intent of the will unto God." The first response to this desire may prove a disappointment, however, for when the soul turns inward in search of God, it does not find the image of God, but the image of sin. This is in reality a good sign, because the awareness of our own weakness and sinfulness inspires us to eradicate the evil in us so that we can give ourselves completely to God. The death to self and to sin is described as a "pilgrimage to Jerusalem" and a "passage through the night." It involves darkness, suffering, trials, but eventually the soul will come to rest because "Jesus, who is both love and light, is in the darkness whether it is distressing or peaceful."

Julian of Norwich (d. 1442) is of considerable importance in the history of spirituality and precisely because she gives testimony to the workings and manifestations of grace in the mystical life. As Sitwell says of her:

The recipient of unusual favors and experiences, she is obviously balanced, humble, wise and charitable; marked off by all the gifts of character and grace necessary to prove the genuineness of her claims. In her only book, The Revelations of Divine Love, she comes forward not as a teacher and master providing a map and general information for those setting out to explore a country for themselves, or anxious only to learn about it, but as a traveller returned with a first hand description of what she has seen there."(46)
What she gives by way of doctrine constantly alternates between two poles: the realization and acknowledgment of God's goodness to man and the awareness of one's sinfulness. But her recurrent theme is the reality of love and the confidence that "all will be well." Julian was an anchoress in the church of St. Julian in Norwich, a city that was a "little Rome" as far as the number of monasteries was concerned. Her book of revelations (or "showings") consists of an account of fifteen revelations received one day and another sixteen received the following night. There are two redactions of The Revelations of Divine Love, and the second one, done many years later, is considerably longer.(47)

In spite of her emphasis on divine love and her insistence that souls should have confidence in the divine mercy, Julian herself was preoccupied with the salvation of the souls of her contemporaries. The response given her by the Lord became for her a constant refrain: "All will be well; all will be well." As a result, even sinners can trust in the divine mercy and know that God loves them; in fact, Julian maintains that those who do penance for their sins will find therein a motive for joy. While individuals may be concerned about the future -- whether they or others will reach heaven -- Julian says that no one can know for certain, but "all will be well." Finally, it is of interest to note that Julian is one of the relatively few spiritual writers in any age who speaks of the maternity of God. All of her revelations occurred when she seemed to be at death's door and had fixed her gaze on a crucifix.

Richard Rolle and Julian of Norwich . . . are in marked contrast to the continental mystics, especially Eckhart and Ruysbroeck. Fundamentally they were teaching the same doctrine, but the latter were speculative, interested in trying to analyze and define the nature of the soul's union with God. They were practical too, but the English writers were wholly so. Whether this was to be attributed to their national temperament, which for the most part is not given to abstract speculation, is an open question, but the fact remains and is very striking. There is no doubt that the movement was less widespread in England than it was on the Continent. We hear nothing in this country of sects such as the Beghards and the Brethren of the Free Spirit, who succumbed wholesale to the dangers inherent in an unwise pursuit of contemplation. Nevertheless the movement must have been sufficiently widespread in England to make the authorities aware of the dangers. This is undoubtedly the reason for the suspicions aroused by Margery Kempe,(48)and the trials to which she was subjected.(49)


Although the influence of Ruysbroeck was perpetuated by writers like the Franciscan, Henry Herp (d. 1478) and was introduced into France and Spain, something more similar to English spirituality was developing in the Low Lands. The new movement was given the name "devotio moderna" by John Busch.(50) and it gained momentum largely because of the annoyance and boredom of many sincere Christians with the speculative intricacies of the German and Flemish writers. The new trend offered instead an affective type of spirituality which answered the practical needs of earnest Christians, without excessive theorizing about union with God in the higher states of the mystical life. The following excerpts from the Imitation of Christ are expressive of the weariness of many persons as regards the speculative approach to the Christian life:

What does it avail you to discourse profoundly of the Trinity if you lack humility and, consequently, are displeasing to the Trinity? In truth, lofty words do not make a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him dear to God. I would rather experience compunction than know how to define it ....

Leave off that excessive desire to know, because it is the cause of much distraction and deceit. Men of learning are very glad to appear and be called wise. There are many things of which the knowledge is of little or no value to the soul. And he is most foolish who concerns himself with things that do not contribute to his salvation ....

If men would only use as much diligence in rooting out vices and planting virtues as they do in proposing questions, there would not be such great evils committed, nor scandals among the people, nor such relaxation in monasteries.(51)

A second reason for the reaction against the German and Flemish writers was the errors and scandals that arose as a result of their doctrine. There can be no doubt that men like Ruysbroeck were often misquoted and unjustly blamed for the illusions and heresies of false mystics, but men like Gerard Groote and John Gerson felt obliged to stem the tide of pseudo-mysticism at any cost. Besides, they could always point to the list of condemned propositions from the preaching of Eckhart.

Thirdly, throughout the entire Church there was manifest need for reform: there was schism in the papacy, moral laxity among the clergy and religious, and false mysticism among the laity. What was needed was a renewal of the Church and a complete overhaul of ecclesiastical structure. The externals of Christian life were deeply entrenched, but lifeless; basic theological principles were being contested; traditional ideals were taught but not practiced.(52) The Church was marching toward the Renaissance, the Protestant Revolt and the Council of Trent.

The leader of the reform movement in the Netherlands was Gerard Groote (1340-1384), a deacon who dedicated his efforts to preaching. Two years after his death his followers formed a community of Brethren of the Common Life at Windesheim.(53) Like all the members of his group, Groote was familiar with the teaching of Ruysbroeck and the Rhineland mystics but his predominant concern was for the reformation of the Church. He protested so strongly against the laxity of the clergy that he aroused the hostility of the hierarchy and the bishop of Utrecht revoked his faculties for preaching. Some authors have seen in Groote the forerunner of the Protestant Reformation,(54) but neither he nor the movement he led was ever disobedient to the Church.

Opposed as he was to the esoteric theories of speculative mysticism, Groote preferred to cultivate a popular, pragmatic teaching that was divorced from intellectualism. He was more interested in the Christian life of the ordinary Christian and had little or no use for the interminable discussions concerning the active and contemplative lives, which he considered to be equivalent.(55)

His teaching on contemplation can be reduced to the simple formula: contemplation is the perfection of charity. What he insists upon, as did the Rhineland mystics, is spiritual poverty, self-detachment and the practice of the virtues. And if the Christian seeks any pattern or model, he will find it in the imitation of Christ in his sacred humanity. Through Christ's humanity, we are led to the contemplation of his divinity, and this involves a certain progression from sensible images to a certain spiritual harmony. Touching mystical phenomena, Groote insists that the basic rule for distinguishing the true from the false is by the fruits they produce, namely, illumination of the intellect and an increase in charity.(56)

Like other members of the Windesheim Congregation, Groote dedicated himself to preaching and spiritual conferences. His style is aphoristic and consists for the most part in brief practical instructions or counsels without detailed explanation or proof. Many religious communities were reformed and renewed as a result of the efforts of Groote and his foremost disciple, Florentius Radewijns (1350-1400), the actual founder and director of the Brethren of the Common Life. Another disciple, Gerard Zerbolt (1367-1398) formulated a method of meditation which was later perfected by Henry de Calcar (d. 1408), prior of the Carthusians at Munnikhuizen, and the Franciscan, Henry Herp. Later, the method of meditation would be still more systematized by John Mombaer (d. 1501) for the benefit of religious.(57)

However, the most celebrated author of the devotio moderns is unquestionably Thomas Hemerken à Kempis (1379-1471), for many years the master of novices at Mount Saint Agnes, monastery of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine in Zwolle. It is generally accepted that he was the author of the Imitation of Christ, but this is only one of his numerous treatises.(58) All of his works were written for the instruction or edification of persons devoted to Christian living within the framework of the religious life. They are either ascetical, such as the Imitation of Christ and Soliloquy of the Soul, or historical, such as the biographies of Gerard Groote and St. Lydwina of Schiedam.

The Imitation of Christ has periodically been praised or criticized throughout the centuries, but it has perhaps been the most widely circulated book in Catholic history, second only to the Bible. Against its critics we could point out that the Imitation came out of the reactionary movement against speculative spirituality; it was written for men living a monastic life; it was composed in an age that clamored for reform and renewal of the Church. This accounts for its apparent anti intellectualism, its insistence on separation from the world, and its constant emphasis on repentance and conversion. The treatise faithfully follows the basic doctrine of the devotio moderna: the true spiritual life is the imitation of Christ, and by meditating on his sacred humanity the Christian arrives at contemplation of his divinity and a union with God which liberates the soul. This goal is possible for all sincere Christians and if in the attainment of contemplation there is a vision of God, it will be one which differs from the beatific vision, both in duration and in nature. Contemplation is essentially the operation of the virtue of charity.

To reconstruct the doctrine of the Imitation and present it in an orderly fashion, it is necessary first of all to recognize that the spiritual life is an interior life and, secondly, that the most difficult battles must be waged within the confines of one's own soul. This being understood, the Imitation states as a first condition for the spiritual life a knowledge of oneself: "This is the highest and most profitable lesson: truly to know and despise oneself . . . . The humble knowledge of yourself is a surer way to God than the deepest search after science."(59)

Self-knowledge is acquired, however, only at the cost of turning away from self and from creatures; when the Christian does that he is confronted by his own sinfulness and misery, which prompts him to turn to God in humility and repentance.(60) In this way he quiets his troubled conscience and enjoys peace of conscience. But at this point the soul needs stability, for there is always the danger of falling back, for "the man who is remiss and abandons his resolution is tempted in many ways."(61) Stability or constancy can be safeguarded only by control of the passions, which are so prompt to respond to stimulation. Then, the task is to die to self-love:

He that keeps himself in subjection, so that his sensuality is always controlled by reason, and reason is in all things subject to [God], is indeed a conqueror of himself and lord of the world. If you desire to mount this high, you must begin manfully and set the axe to the root, that you may eradicate and destroy your secret inordinate inclination to self and to all selfish and earthly goods. This vice by which a man inordinately loves himself is at the bottom of everything that must be rooted out and overcome .... He who desires to walk freely with [God] must mortify all his wicked and irregular affections, and must not cling carnally with selfish love to any created thing.(62)
The Imitation uses a special word to designate death to self: resignation, meaning renunciation of self and total abandonment to God. Actually, there are only two ultimates -- God and self; therefore, death to self necessarily implies submission to God. But this can be accomplished only with the help of God's grace, although a powerful incentive is derived from meditation on the "last things."

The second phase of the spiritual life consists in "carefully observing in ourselves the divers movements of nature and grace."(63) As the individual becomes more recollected, grows in self-knowledge, and endeavors to remain completely resigned to God, he experiences the tension between nature and grace. Plotinus had described it in his Enneads as a black horse and a white horse attached to a wagon and pulling in opposite directions. St. Paul spoke of man's internal struggle in terms of the law of the spirit versus the law of the flesh (Rom. 7:14-25). Thomas à Kempis describes it in great detail, in a style that is reminiscent of St. Paul's teaching on charity (I Cor. 13:1-13):

Nature is crafty and draws away many .... but grace walks with simplicity, turns away from all appearance of evil, is not deceitful, and does all things purely for God ....

Nature is unwilling to be mortified or to be restrained,... but grace studies the mortification of self, resists sensuality, seeks to be subject, desires to be overcome, does not aim at following her own liberty, loves to be kept under discipline and desires not to have command over anyone, but ever to live, stand and be under God ....

Nature labors for her own interests .... but grace does not consider what may be advantageous or profitable to herself, but rather what may be profitable to many.

Nature willingly receives honor and respect, but grace faithfully attributes all honor and glory to God.

Nature is afraid of being put to shame and despised, but grace is glad to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus.

Nature loves idleness and bodily rest, but grace cannot be idle, and willingly embraces labor.

Nature seeks to have things that are curious and fine .... bĚt grace is pleased with that which is plain and humble ....

Nature highly regards temporal things, rejoices at earthly gain, is troubled at losses and is provoked at every slight, injurious word, but grace attends to things eternal and does not cling to those that pass with time, neither is she disturbed at the loss of things or exasperated with harsh words . ...

Nature is covetous, and more willing to take than to give .... but grace is bountiful and open-hearted, avoids selfishness, is content with little, and judges it more happy to give than to receive.

Nature inclines to creatures, to her own flesh .... but grace draws to God and to virtues, renounces creatures, flees the world, hates the desires of the flesh, restricts wandering about and is loath to appear in public.

Nature willingly seeks external comfort, in which she finds sensible delight, but grace seeks to be comforted in God alone ....

Nature does all for her own gain and interest .... but grace seeks nothing temporal nor any other recompense but God alone for her reward, nor desires any more of the necessities of this life than are useful for attaining a happy eternity.

Nature rejoices in a multitude of friends and relations, . . . but grace loves even her enemies and is not puffed up with. having a great many friends nor sets any value on family or birth; she rather favors the poor than the rich; she has more compassion for the innocent than the powerful ....

Nature readily complains of want and trouble, but grace bears poverty with constancy.

Nature turns all things to herself, . . . but grace refers all things to God ....

Nature is anxious to know secrets and to hear news ... and to have experience of many things by the senses, desires to be taken notice of and to do things that win praise and admiration, but grace cares not for hearing news and curious things .... She teaches us, rather, to restrain the senses, to avoid vain complacency and ostentation, humbly to hide those things which are worthy of praise and admiration, and from everything and from every kind of knowledge to seek the fruit of spiritual profit, and the praise and honor of God.(64)

In the third stage of spiritual development the Christian achieves a profound awareness of the power of God, his care for all men through divine providence, and the divine goodness which is manifested in man's redemption through Christ. Considering God's knowledge and watchfulness, the Christian reacts with a holy fear, but first place must always be given to charity, which should grow in proportion to one's knowledge of God's goodness to man. The second place goes to humility, which is the constant refrain in The Imitation of Christ as it was in the monastic spirituality. And what greater manifestation of God's goodness can be found than in Christ, the Savior? It is in and through Christ, therefore, that the Christian is united with the Father.

The doctrine of the Imitation terminates in a Christ-centered spirituality which rests on the biblical statement that Christ is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). Perfect resignation to God is preserved by frequent meditation on the passion and death of the Lord; the following of Christ is "the royal way of the cross"; union with Christ is experienced with joy in reception of the Eucharist. Yet, Thomas à Kempis does not let his reader forget that union with Christ also means union with the Father and, indeed, with the Trinity:

I bless you, O heavenly Father, Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, because you have vouchsafed to be mindful of so poor a wretch as I am. O Father of mercies and God of all comfort, I give thanks to you, who sometimes are pleased to cherish with your consolations me who am unworthy of any comfort. I bless you and glorify you for evermore, together with your only begotten Son and the Holy Spirit the Comforter, to all eternity. O Lord God, my holy Lover, when you shall come into my heart, all that is within me will be filled with joy. You are my glory and the joy of my heart.(65)


While Gerard Groote and Thomas à Kempis waged a "peaceful war" against speculative mysticism by teaching a practical doctrine that was devoid of theorizing, John Gerson, Chancellor of the University of Paris, fought his battles against excessive and false mysticism in the area of doctrine. His predecessor at the University, Peter d'Ailly (1350-1420) was the first to react against the pseudo-mystics, who had turned to astrology and divining in order to prophesy. Unfortunately, d'Ailly hurt his own cause by reason of his vehemence and even more so by reason of his adoption of the moral principles taught by William of Ockham. Briefly, his position was that nothing is right or wrong in itself; all morality depends on the divine will; consequently something is sinful only if God has forbidden it and not because it violates the eternal law in God himself. All morality is relative, therefore, because God could have decreed otherwise than he did.(66)

John Gerson (1363-1429) was much more effective in clarifying the orthodox theology of the spiritual life, partly because he was an expert theologian and partly because of his well-balanced temperament. His doctrinal sources were pseudo-Dionysius, St. Augustine, St. Bernard, the Victorines, St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure and the Carthusian, Hugh of Balma. His principal Works are: De theologia mystica speculativa et practica; De monte contemplationis; and De elucidatione mysticae theologiae.(67)

Gerson admits, with pseudo-Dionysius, that God is known by negation, but his objection to Ruysbroeck and the Rhineland mystics is that they push this statement to extremes. For Gerson, speculative theology is the result of the reasoning powers, whose object is truth; mystical theology is the fruit of the affective powers, whose object is the good; but in both cases God can be known to some degree in a positive manner, at least as goodness and truth. Moreover, God and his attributes can surely be known by faith in divine revelation. Nor is the object of contemplation exclusively God in himself, for sometimes contemplatives must meditate on Christ, the Christian virtues or the last end.

Regarding the active and contemplative lives, Gerson maintained that not all Christians are called to the contemplative life; therefore it is a dangerous error to try to lead all souls to contemplation. Many Christians, by reason of temperament or the duties of their state in life, are suited only for the active life. Indeed, it could be sinful for those dedicated to the duties of the active life (e.g., pastors, prelates, parents, etc.) were they to neglect their obligations and pursue the contemplative life. Such persons should have some kind of contemplative activity in their lives, but it should normally consist in periods of recollection. Those who are called to the contemplative life should not try to anticipate contemplation before they are prepared for it; moreover, they should occasionally engage in some form of manual work or other occupations, because no one can be continually contemplative in this life.

Since the way of the contemplative is especially beset with dangers, those who feel drawn to the contemplative life should place themselves under the guidance of a spiritual director. The director himself should be a person who not only has knowledge but lives the doctrine himself. Because mystics are usually held in esteem, they are more prone to fall into erroneous or absurd doctrine than less devout Christians. Some, like the Beghards, reached the absurd position of believing that those who attain to mystical union are no longer under obligation to the divine laws; hence the scandalous immoralities which they committed in the name of mystical experience. Others, confusing the natural and the supernatural orders, interpreted the uncontrolled movements of passion and sensuality as operations of grace and an experience of the supernatural, so that they, too, quickly succumbed to the promptings of the flesh. Still others, more inclined to intellectual speculation, constructed a theology that led them inevitably to excessive idealism or to Pantheism, and in their pride and arrogance many of them became insubordinate to the Church and fell into explicit heresy. Finally, some misguided mystics fell into the error of Quietism, which teaches that one should be indifferent to salvation, neglect prayer and good works, and leave himself totally in the hands of God.(68)

To offset the preceding dangers, Gerson drew up a list of rules for the discernment of spirits and the evaluation of mystical teachings. All Christians must accept the doctrines taught by Councils of the Church, popes, bishops and learned theologians, and those who have the gift of discernment of spirits. The teaching of any individual mystic must be in accord with Scripture and tradition. Any teaching that incites the passions or undermines the virtues should be rejected.

The discernment of spirits is a gift from God, although it is possible to acquire a certain degree of facility through study and experience with souls.

The first thing to consider is the mental and physical health of the mystic, because persons with uncontrolled emotions or vivid imaginations may easily be misled. Special care is also needed when dealing with beginners in the spiritual life or with women.

Secondly, it is necessary to go into great detail in the investigation of a revelation or vision, but the director must be most reserved and even skeptical, lest he be prejudiced in favor of the claims of the mystic. Gerson even suggests that the director should act with severity in order to test the humility of the mystic.

Thirdly, the director should discover the motive which prompts the mystic to discuss the revelation or vision, because authentic. mystics are usually somewhat loath to discuss these matters even with a director.

Fourthly, but not less in importance, the director must take into account the life of the mystic; for example, how well the individual fulfills the duties of state in life and what virtues are manifested in the life of the mystic, for genuine mystical phenomena should contribute to the perfection of the individual and not become occasions of pride.

The last step -- that of the actual discernment of spirits -- is the most difficult because it is a question of trying to determine whether the cause is truly supernatural or whether there may be a natural or diabolical explanation. The true coin of a divine cause is distinguished from the false coin of illusion or diabolical intervention by its weight, which is humility; by its flexibility, which is prudence; by its solidity, which is patience; by its shape, which is truth; and by its color, which is the golden hue of charity.(69)

As regards his positive theological teaching, Gerson prefers mystical theology to speculative theology because it facilitates union with God; it produces patience and humility, while speculative theology causes pride. What he understands by mystical theology is the experiential knowledge of God, although he treats of it both speculatively and practically. In fact, Gerson admits that it may happen that a speculative theologian may be able better to explain mystical theology than one who actually experiences it; for that reason, practical mystical theology should be guided by speculative mystical theology.

In his speculative treatment of mystical theology Gerson teaches that reflection leads to meditation and the latter leads to contemplation; but contemplation is essentially an affective operation; it is an ecstatic love. Thus, it calls into play the higher appetite of the soul called synteresis, leaving behind the operations of the passions (sense appetite) and the will. The love proper to contemplation or mystical experience is one that carries the soul to union with God and fills it with joy and happiness.

Gerson, therefore, identifies ecstatic union with contemplation but he then proceeds to clarify precisely what he means by this type of union. The lower powers, including the imagination and reason, cease to act; they are suspended when the soul is caught up in contemplation. The mind has become fixed on God and the affective powers have been alienated from sensible things; the whole operation is called "simplification of the heart."(70) The soul is transformed into God, but Gerson chooses his words with great care when attempting to describe this transformation. In no case can the soul lose its identity or its own being; consequently, the transformation of the soul in God can never be understood as its return to the eternal exemplar in the mind of God; nor can the love by which this transformation is effected be identified with the Holy Spirit (Peter Lombard); nor can it be equated with the change of a drop of water into wine when dropped into a cask of wine, the change of food into the body of the one who eats it, or the change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ in the Mass. All these comparisons are rejected by Gerson, though he admits that not all of them need to be condemned.

The ecstatic union of contemplation that results in the soul's transformation is the work of love; it unites the soul to God by effecting a conformity of wills between the soul and God. But however intimate the union, the mystic always preserves his identity and personality. In asking to what extent the will of the mystic submits to the will of God, Gerson maintains that it is a dangerous (though perhaps permissible) teaching to seek to identify man's will with God's "permissive" will, whereby sin is "permitted" by God or souls are damned, to such an extent that a mystic could "will" his own past sins or his own damnation. Here Gerson is apparently referring to those mystics who stated that since God in some way wills the sins one commits, the mystics themselves would not desire not to have committed them (Eckhart).(71)

It should also be noted that although Gerson holds for the primacy of love in contemplation and ecstatic union, he does not exclude knowledge. He recognizes that it is impossible for the soul to reach God and enjoy intimate union with him without some previous knowledge. Gerson recognizes the necessity of both knowledge and love in the mystical union of contemplation, but he concludes that since most of the effects of contemplation are the effects of charity, contemplation itself, as "perfect prayer," is the perfection of charity.

Turning to the practical question of conditions and means for the attainment of mystical union or contemplation, Gerson states that the most important means is the faithful practice of meditation. By meditation he means the consideration of divine truths for the purpose of fostering one's growth in love and devotion. He offers no fixed rules or method for meditation; he respects the liberty of the individual to adjust his mental prayer to his needs and the duties of his state in life.

From the foregoing it is evident that Gerson played an important role in adapting the devotio moderna to the French milieu. An intellectual and at the same time a man of action, Gerson was both polemic and constructive. He combated the pseudo-mysticism of the Low Lands and pointed out the dangers inherent in the teachings of Ruysbroeck so far as they were cast in the same mold as the doctrine of Eckhart. Constructively, he set the course of spirituality for the

new age that was dawning and, for the time at least, he produced a harmonious synthesis between affective and speculative spiritual theology. He ended his days at the monastery of the Celestines in Lyons, where he devoted himself to contemplation, literary pursuits and the religious instruction of children.


While there was a ferment of mysticism throughout the Rhineland and the Low Lands, the papal schism stimulated a sense of Christian realism in Italy. In the literary world the Divine Comedy of Dante Ahghieri (1265-1321) reflected the concerns of the age and stands as one of the most beautiful witnesses to medieval spirituality. Like Petrarch (1304-1374), who fought for the unity of the Church and the return to orthodoxy, Dante also called for reform. However, the figure that dominated this troubled period and ultimately succeeded in putting an end to the papal sojourn in Avignon was St. Catherine of Siena (I 347-I 3 8o).

Catherine Benincasa was born into a family of twenty-five children and from the age of six she dedicated herself to God. Later she joined the Mantellate, a group of laywomen who were members of the Third Order of St. Dominic. All her life she remained a lay person, first living a life of recollection in the family home, and later serving the needy, the prisoners and the sick.

At the age of twenty-four she began an extensive apostolate as a peacemaker and a promoter of the Crusades, travelling from one city to another to establish concord among the principalities of Italy and to promote the good of the Church. After countless setbacks that would have discouraged even the most determined soul, Catherine prevailed, and Pope Gregory XI returned to Rome on January 17, 1377. Unfortunately, the victory was short-lived, for the election of Pope Urban VI led to another schism which, for all her prayers and pleadings, Catherine was unable to avert.

In the last year of her life, Catherine went daily to the Vatican to pray for the end of the schism and the unity of the Church. Finally, drained of strength, she passed from this life on April 29, 1380. She was canonized by Pope Pius II in 1461 and declared Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970.(72)

Favored with the stigmata -- invisible until after her death -- and with the ring of mystical espousal, St. Catherine of Siena is a kindred spirit to the energetic and dauntless St. Teresa of Avila. Her principal work is the Dialogue, known also as The Book of Divine Providence.(73) She also left more than 400 letters and various prayers. During her lifetime she acted as spiritual director to countless souls -- popes, bishops, priests, religious and laity. Since Catherine could neither read nor write, all her doctrine was dictated to secretaries.

In the Dialogue, which is a colloquy between the eternal Father and Catherine, Catherine makes four petitions to God; 1) for her own sanctification; 2) for the salvation of mankind and peace in the Church; 3) for the reform of the clergy; 4) that divine providence will direct all things for the salvation of souls.

The spiritual doctrine of St. Catherine, as seen in the Dialogue and her letters, is based on a knowledge of God and knowledge of self. The latter is the foundation of humility, which destroys self-love. Aware of our own nothingness, since we have received our very being from God, we realize that God is all. Thus, one day the Lord said to her: "Catherine. I am who am; you are she who is not.

Since the essence of Christian perfection is charity, St. Catherine describes three stages of love in the soul's progress to sanctity: servile love (a love accompanied by fear of punishment for one's sins); mercenary love (a love accompanied by hope of eternal reward); and filial love (the love of God for his own sake, which is the perfection of charity). In the state of perfect love the individual is completely despoiled of his own will and totally abandoned to the divine will.

St. Catherine describes mystical union with great clarity and precision: it is the experience or awareness of the presence of God in the soul and is quite different from the simple union with God through sanctifying grace. In the state of perfection the soul never loses its awareness of God's presence; there is such an intimate and continual union between the soul and God that every time and place is a place for prayer, for communing with God.

St. Catherine of Siena was, in every way a faithful and loving daughter of St. Dominic. Consequently, we are not surprised to find that her spiritual teaching is profoundly doctrinal, and indeed Scholastic. At the same time she had an ardor, a sensitivity and a passion that rivalled that of her countryman, St. Francis of Assisi. Her devotion to Christ focuses especially on his Precious Blood, shed for the redemption of mankind but Catherine is at the same time an adorer of the Trinity. Moreover, like her spiritual Father St. Dominic, she is an apostolic contemplative. Finally, because of her childlike love for the Vicar of Christ and her fierce loyalty to the Church, Catherine is both a mother and a daughter of the Church.


This historical survey of medieval spirituality comes to a close with Denis the Carthusian, whom Krogh-Tonning calls the last of the Scholastics."(74) Perhaps with greater success than most religious, the Carthusians had assimilated the devotio moderna, but then, the Carthusians have always preferred a simplified form of spirituality that was eminently practical and affective. Indeed, the Carthusian Order did not produce any writer of note until the end of the thirteenth century.(75) At that time Ludolph produced his Vita Christi, an original approach to meditation on the mysteries of Christ. Similar to the life of Christ which was formerly attributed to St. Bonaventure, it was a forerunner of The Imitation of Christ and one of the most widely read books of its day.(76)

Much more important in the field of spiritual theology is Denis of Rijkel (1402-1471), who serves as a bridge between the traditional teaching and the new movement in spirituality. His vast literary production and erudition (44 volumes) are amazing when one considers that he spent most of his life as a contemplative monk at the charterhouse in Roermond, near Liège.(77) He studied Scripture assiduously and his theology is in the tradition of pseudo-Dionysius, the Victorines, St. Bonaventure and Gerson.

The great contribution of Denis the Carthusian was to synthesize all previous doctrine on the spiritual life and then to make an evaluation of the various conclusions. His writings are addressed to all Christians and he composed treatises for particular groups as well, such as bishops, parish priests, married persons, widows, soldiers, merchants, and so forth. He was thoroughly convinced of his obligation to be of service to the people of God by his writings. He stated that. although the purely contemplative life has a greater dignity and stability than the purely active life, highest of all is the life which includes both contemplation and action, provided the activities are such that they flow from the plenitude of contemplation.

Denis follows St. Bonaventure in dividing the spiritual life into three stages. In the purgative stage the Christian is occupied with overcoming sin and growing in virtue; in the illuminative stage his mind is occupied with the contemplation of divine things; in the Unitive stage he experiences a vehement love from his contemplation of the divine, so that his soul is "altogether on fire... as though enkindled by the immense fire of the divinity."

Contemplation itself admits of two kinds: the "affirmative speculative," which is an acquired contemplation that is attainable by reason alone, even without grace and charity; and the "mystical and loving contemplation," which is infused, but requires the operation of charity and is ultimately perfected by the gift of wisdom. Only when love intervenes in contemplation does it become authentic prayer; and only when it is prayer can contemplation become mystical. It is then an intense experience of one's love of God, accompanied by a kind of "divine touch" which is the contact of the soul with God.

Hence, the secret of contemplation is to love much, although Denis follows St. Thomas Aquinas in giving supremacy to the intellect. The function of love in the contemplative act is to make the knowledge intuitive and immediate. Moreover, he admits with the Rhineland mystics and with pseudo-Dionysius that contemplative knowledge is a dark knowledge of negation because God is in himself other than we can say of him. The language of the mystic who tries to describe the mystical experience must necessarily be the language of negation. It is only in the lower type of contemplation -- the "affirmative speculative" -- that the individual can know something positive of God, by analogy with created things. Like Gerson, Denis stresses the need for the faithful practice of meditation, which normally leads to contemplation. Yet, one does not strictly prepare himself for contemplation, for it is a gift, and it may be granted by God to the simple and uneducated who approach him with deep faith and ardent love.

Denis the Carthusian brings the "ascetic and mystical Middle Ages to a conclusion."(78) It was not a peaceful conclusion, however, for already in the fourteenth century the seeds of humanistic Christianity and a new paganism had been sown and the rumblings of the Protestant Revolt were faintly audible. At its best, the Renaissance was a correction of the sombre austerity of medieval spirituality and its excessive intellectualism, and as such it received the encouragement of the Church. Unfortunately, it ended up as a pagan humanism which exalted fallen human nature and the natural order, causing man to turn in upon himself to the exclusion of the supernatural order and the life hereafter. There can be no doubt that the Protestant Reformation was in great part a reaction against the pagan humanism of the Renaissance.(79)

Perhaps the most effective weapon against the humanizing of Christianity was the introduction of "spiritual exercises" and methods of mental prayer. In Italy the Benedictine, Louis Barbo (d. 1443), wrote a treatise on meditation and through Gard de Cisneros the movement was carried to Spain, where a book of "spiritual exercises" was published at Montserrat in 1500. A quarter of a century later, Ignatius Loyola would produce a classical formula for spiritual exercises. Henry Herp, the Franciscan (d. 1477), also exerted a great influence by his efforts to supplant the speculative teachings of Ruysbroeck and the Rhineland mystics with a practical spirituality. Mombaer (d. 1502) and Louis de Blois (Blosius) (1506-1566) likewise contributed greatly to the promulgation of sound doctrine on the practice of prayer and the best methods to practice it.

Despite their efforts, the Church was on the march to a revolt and a schism. Other factors in addition to the Renaissance contributed to the ultimate break: the Black Plague, the schism in the papacy, the scandalous lives of the clergy, the indifference of the ordinary Christians or their downright pessimism. The liturgy was decadent; there was a wave of superstition and diabolism, Christianity was strictly an individual matter of performing good works. Piety had become sentimentality, against which the Protestants would react with a puritanical rigorism. Northern Europe was in turmoil; the papacy had lost its prestige; the revival of Christian spirituality would occur south of the Pyrenees, in Spain.(80)

  1. Cf. F. Cayré, Manual of Patrology, tr. H. Howitt, Desclée, Paris, 1930, Vol. 2, p. 702.
  2. Cf. W. Johnston, The Mysticism of the Cloud of Unknowing, Desclée, New York, N.Y., 1967.
  3. For anthologies of the writings of the Rhineland mystics: S. M. Gieraths, Reichtum des Lebans. Die deutsche Dominikanermystik des 14 Jahrhundert, Düsseldorf, 1956; H. Kunisch, Eín Textbuch aus der altdeutschen Mystik, Hamburg, 1958; F. W. Wentzlaff-Eggbert, Deutsche Mystik zwischen Mittelalter and Neuzeit, Tübingen, 1947.
  4. G. Sitwell, Spiritual Writers of the Middle Ages, Hawthorn, New York, N.Y., 1961, p. 75.
  5. Cf. S. Roisin, 'L efflorescence cistercienne et le courant féminin de la spiritualité au XIIIe siécle," in Rev. Hist. Eccles, Vol. 39, 1943 pp. 343-378.
  6. For further information on Mechtild of Magdeburg, cf. H. Tillman, Studien zum Dialog bei Mechtild von Magdeburg, Marburg, 1933; J Ancelet-Hustache, Mechtilde de Magdebourg, Paris, 1926.
  7. Cf. S. Roisin, art. cit. Dante introduces St. Mechtild in canto 33 of the Divine Comedy as a guide and interpreter with a sweet and melodious voice.
  8. Devotion to the wound in Christ's side was extremely widespread during this period and it has its origins in the biblical descriptions of the crucifixion as well as some of the commentaries of the Fathers.
  9. Cf. H. Graef, The Story of Mysticism, Doubleday, New York, N.Y., 1965, pp. 161-164.
  10. Cf. J. Leclercq, F. Vandenbroucke, L. Bouyer, The Spirituality of the Middle Ages, Burns & Oates, London, 1961, pp. 452-453.
  11. Cf. P. Pourrat, Christian Spirituality, Newman Press, Westminster, Md., 1953, Vol. II, pp. 92-98.
  12. Thus, Mechtild of Magdeburg stated in Dasfliessende Licht der Gottheit that the soul shares so intimately in the divine nature that nothing intervenes between the soul and God.
  13. For a bibliography of texts, cf. F. W. Oediger, Ober die Bildung der Geistlichen in spüten Mittelalter, Leiden, 1953.
  14. Cf. Denz. 501-529; M. H. Laurent, "Autour du procès de Maître Eckhart," in Div. Thom. F., Vol. 39, 1936, pp. 331-349; 430-447.
  15. Sermon 12; cf. Denz. 527.
  16. Cf. J. Ancelet-Hustache, op. cit., p. 136.
  17. Cf. A. Daniels, Beitr. Geschichte Philos. Mittelalters, Munster, 1923, Vol. 23, p. 15.
  18. Cf. Denz. 501-529. For editions of Eckhart's works, cf E. Benz J. Koch, Meister Eckhart. Die deutschen and lateinischen Werke, 5 vols., Stuttgart, 1936--; J. Quint, Meister Eckhart. Deutsche Predigten and Traktate, Munich, 1955; R. B. Blackney, Meister Eckhart, A Modern Translation, Harper & Row, New York, N.Y., 1957; M. O'C. Walshe, Meister Eckhart: German Sermons and Treatises, 2 vols., Dulverton & Watkins, London, 1979-1981.
  19. Cf. R. L. Oechslin, "Eckhart," in Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, Vol. 4, cols. 93-116; F. Vernet, "Eckhart," in Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, Vol. 4, cols. 2057-2081.
  20. The first critical edition of Tauler's sermons was edited by F. Vetter (Berlin, 1910). None of Tauler's letters are extant. Cf. F. Vetter, Die Predigten Taulers, Berlin, 1910; A. L. Corin, Sermons de J. Tauler et autres écrits mystiques, 2 vols., Paris, 1924-1929; J. Tauler, Spiritual Conferences, tr. E. Colledge and Sr. M. Jane, B. Herder, St. Louis, Mo., 1961.
  21. Tauler did not teach that the soul is impeccable as a result of its union with God; it must still work out its salvation in holy fear. Neither did he condemn good works; in fact, he strongly opposed the passivity taught by the Quietists.
  22. For detailed information on Tauler, cf. Johannes Tauler, ein deutscher Mystiker, ed. P. Filthaut, Editorial Driewer, Essen, 1961; J. M. Clark, The Great German Mystics, Macmillan, New York, N.Y., 1949.
  23. Cf. P. Strauch, Allgemeine deutsche Bibliographie, Vol. 38, p. 171.
  24. Henry Suso was born Henry von Berg, but he used his mother's maiden name, Seuss or Seuse. Cf. E. Amann, "Suso, Le bienheureux Henri," in Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, Vol. 14, cols. 2859-2864; S.M.C., Suso: Saint and Poet, Oxford, 1947; J. M. Clark, op. cit.; J. A. Bizet, Mystiques allemands, Paris, 1957.
  25. Cf. K. Bihlmeyer, Henrich Seuse, deutsche Schriften, Stuttgart, 1907, transcribed in modern German by E. Diederich, Iena, 1911. For an excellent English translation of Suso's works, cf. N. Heller, The Exemplar, tr. Sr. Ann Edward, 2 vols., Priory Press, Chicago, Ill., 1962.
  26. N. Heller, op cit., Vol. I, p. xviii.
  27. The Brethren of the Free Spirit should not be confused with the Gottesfreunde. The latter were members of an orthodox spiritual movement under .the leadership of John Tauler, Henry Suso and Henry von Nördlingen.
  28. Cf. J. M. Clark, op. cit.; C. Gröber, Der Mystiker Heinrich Seuse, Freiburg, 1941.
  29. There is a dispute concerning the original text: whether it is the one published by Luther in 1516 and 1518 or the one re-edited by Pfeiffer in 1851. Cf. G. Baring, "Neues von der `Theologia Deutsch' and ihrer Weltweider Bedeutung," Archiv. f. Reformationsgeschichte, Vol. 48, 1957.
  30. Cf. M. A. Lücker, Meister Eckhart and die Devotio Moderna, Leiden, 1950; G. I. Lieftinck, Die middelnederlansche Taulerhandschriften, Groningen, 1936.
  31. See St. Axters, La spiritualité des Pays-Bas, Louvain-Paris, 1948; J. Huijben, "Y a-t-il une spiritualité flamande?" in Vie Spirituelle. Suppl., Vol. 50, 1937, pp. 129-147; L. Brigué, "Ruysbroeck," in Dictionnaire de Téologie Catholique, Vol. 14 cols. 408-420.
  32. The works of Ruysbroeck were known in France, Italy and Spain through the translation of Surius, D. Joannis Rusbrochii opera omnia, Cologne, 1552, 1555, 1609, 1692; for English versions cf. The Spiritual Espousals, tr. E. Colledge, New York, N.Y., 1963; The Seven Steps of the Ladder of Spiritual Love, tr. F. S. Taylor, London, 1944
  33. "What little we are told of Bloemardinne by Pomerius, the early fifteenth-century biographer of Ruysbroeck, shows plainly enough that she had preached . . . . a Manichaean dualism which taught that those who in this life attain to a region of grace can no longer sin, that they are `free in spirit' from the flesh, which may be left to do as it pleases, and from the law, which binds only the imperfect" (E. Colledge, "John Ruysbroeck," in Spirituality through the Centuries, ed. J. Walsh, New York, N.Y., p. 201).
  34. Cf. E. O'Brien, Varieties of Mystic Experience, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York, N.Y., 1964, p. 186. For other evaluations of the work and influence of Ruysbroeck, cf. D'Aygalliers-A. Wautier, Ruysbroeck the Admirable, Dutton, 1925; A. Ampe, "La théologie mystique de (ascension de l'âme selon le Bx. Jean de Ruusbroec," in Revue d'ascétique et de mystique, Vol. 36, 1960, pp. 188-201; 273-302.
  35. Cf. W. A. Pantin, The English Church in the Fourteenth Century, Cambridge, 1955; H. Graef, The Story of Mysticism, Doubleday, New York, N.Y., 1965, pp. 205-212.
  36. Editions of the Ancrene Riwle have been made by M. Day, London, 1952, and A. C. Baugh, London, 1956. Cf. J. Leclercq, F. Vandenbroucke, L. Bouyer, op.cit., pp. 275-277.
  37. For additional information cf. E. Allen, Writings Ascribed to Richard Rolle and Materials for his Biography, London, 1927; The Fire of Love and Mending of Life, tr. R. Misynand and ed. F. M. Cowper, London, 1920; English Writings of Richard Rolle, ed. H. E. Allen, Oxford, 1931; Richard Rolle of Hampole, an English Father of the Church, and his Followers, ed. C. Horstman, 2 vols., London, 1927; E. Arnould, The Melis Amoris of Richard Rolle, Oxford, 1957; E. McKinnon, Studies in Fourteenth Century English Mysticism, Urbana, Ill., 1934.
  38. G. Sitwell, op. cit., pp. 88-89.
  39. Incendium amoris, II, chap. 3.
  40. Cf. D. Knowles, English Mystics, London, 1927, pp. 78-80.
  41. Cf. G. Hart, Sense and Thought: A Study in Mysticism, London, 1936. For editions of The Cloud, cf. The Cloud of Unknowing, edited by P. Hodgson, London, 1958; translation in modern English by J. McCann in the Orchard Series, 6 rev. ed., London, 1952; see also detailed study by W. Johnston, The Mysticism of the Cloud of Unknowing, New York, N.Y., 1967.
  42. Cf. W. Johnston, op. cit., pp. 1-2.
  43. The Scale of Perfection, ed. E. Underhill, London, 1923; also translated into modern English by G. Sitwell, London, 1953. Cf. H. Gardner, "The Text of the Scale of Perfection," in Medium Alvum, Vol. 5, 1936, pp. 11-30, and "Walter Hilton and the Mystical Tradition in England," in Essays and Studies, Vol. 22, pp. 103-127.
  44. The Scale of Perfection, tr. G. Sitwell, London, 1953, p. 64.
  45. Cf. G. Sitwell, op. cit., p. 246.
  46. Cf. G. Sitwell, Spiritual Writers of the Middle Ages, p. 100; A. M. Reynolds, A Showing of God's Love, London, 1958; P. Molinari, Julian of Norwich, New York-London, 1958; Julian of Norwich: Showings, tr. E. Colledge J. Walsh, Paulist Press, New York, N.Y., 1978.
  47. Cf. R. Hudleston (ed.), Julian of Norwich, Newman, Westminster, Md., 1952.
  48. The Book of Margery Kempe, a modern version by W. Butler Bowden, London, 1936.
  49. Cf. G. Sitwell, op. cit., p. 100.
  50. J. Busch, Chronicon. can. reg. Windesemensis, Antwerp, 1621, Vol. 2, p. xvii; P. Desbognie, "Devotion moderne," in Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, Vol. 3, cols. 727-747.
  51. Imitation of Christ, I, chaps. 1-3, passim.
  52. "For example, Wyclif in the late fourteenth century was calling in question the justification of the whole religious life in its technical sense, the life of the three vows, and when Gerson wrote a treatise on clerical celibacy in 1413, he was able to quote many opinions demanding its suppression" (G. Sitwell, op.cit., p. 108).
  53. Cf. P. Pourrat, Christian Spirituality, Newman, Westminster, Md., 1953, Vol. 2, p. 254; A. Hyma; The Brethren of the Common Life, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1950; G. Axters, La spiritualité des Pays-Bas, Louvain, 1948; J. Tousaert, Le sentiment réligieux en Flandre a la fin du moyen-âge, Paris 1963; T. P. Zijl, Gerard Groote, Ascetic and Reformer, Washington, D.C., 1963.
  54. Cf. C. Ullmann, Reformatoren vor der Reformation, Gotha, 1866; G. Bonet-Maury, Gerard de Grote, un précurseur de la Reforme au XIV siècle, Paris, 1878.
  55. Cf. J. Leclercq, F. Vandenbroucke, L. Bouyer, The Spirituality of the Middle Ages, pp. 428-431.
  56. Cf. De quatuor generibus meditationum seu contemplationun, ed. A. Hyma, in Geschiedenis Aartsbisdom Utrecht, Vol. 49, 1924, PP304-325.
  57. Mombaer's Rosetum exercitiorum inspired Garcia de Cisneros and he, in turn, influenced St. Ignatius Loyola; cf. P. Debognie, Jean Mombaer de Bruxelles, Louvain, 1928.
  58. Cf. L. M. J. Delaissé, "Le manuscrit autographe de Th. à K. et l'Imitation du Jésus-Christ," in Examen archéologique et édition diplomatique du Bruxellensis, Antwerp, 1956, Vol. 2, pp. 5855-5861; J. Huijben-F. Debognie, L'auteur ou les auteurs de l'Imitation, Louvain, 1957; Opera omnia Thomae Hemerken à Kempis, ed. Pohl, Freiburgim-Breisgau, 1910-1922, 7 vols.
  59. Imitation of Christ, I, chaps. 1 and 2.
  60. Imitation of Christ, I, chap. 22; III, chap. 52.
  61. Ibid., I, chap. 13.
  62. Cf. op. cit., III, chap. 53.
  63. Ibid., III, chap. 54.
  64. Cf. loc. cit.; for a hymn of praise to charity, see III, chap. 5.
  65. Cf. ibid., III, chap. 5.
  66. Peter d'Ailly's teaching is found in the works of Gerson: Opera omnia, Antwerp, 1706, De falsis prophetis, Vol. I. pp. 499-603. See also E. Vansteenberghe, "Ailly (Pierre d')," in Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, Vol. 1, cols. 256-260, and in Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, Vol. 1, cols. 642-654. Gerson based his moral teaching on the principle: "God does not will certain actions because they are good, but they are good because he wills them; conversely, certain actions are evil because he forbids them" (Opera omnia, Vol. 3, p. 13).
  67. The Opera omnia of Gerson was published by E. du Pin at Antwerp in 1706; a new critical edition of Gerson's works by L. Mourin was scheduled to start publication in 1946. For further studies on Gerson, cf. J. Connolly, John Gerson, Reformer and Mystic, Louvain, 1928; M. J. Pinet, Le vie ardente de Gerson, Paris, 1929; P. Glorieux, "La vie et les oeuvres de jean Gerson," in Arch. Hist. M.A., Vol. 18, 1950, pp. 149-192.
  68. Cf. Opera omnia, Vol. 1, pp. 80-82, 174; Vol. 3, pp. 369, 470, 571-572; Vol. 4, p. 3.
  69. Cf. ibid., Vol. 1, pp. 43-45.
  70. Opera omnia, Vol. 3, pp. 390-393; 457-467.
  71. Cf. op. cit., Vol. 3, pp. 390-393; 457-467.
  72. Cf. M. de la Bedoyére, The Greatest Catherine, Bruce, Milwaukee, Wis., 1947; J. Jorgensen, Saint Catherine of Siena, tr. I. Lund, Longmans Green, London, 1939; I. Giordani, Saint Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church, tr. T. J. Tobin, St. Paul Editions, Boston, Mass., 1975; St. Catherine of Siena (Legenda major, or her life by Raymond of Capua), tr. C. Kearns, M. Glazier, Wilmington, Del.,1981.
  73. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, tr. S. Noffke, Paulist Press, New York, N.Y., 1980; Selected Letters of Catherine Benincasa, tr. V. D. Scudder, E. P. Dutton, New York, N.Y., 1927.
  74. Cf. K. Krogh-Tonning, Der letzte Scholastiker, 1904.
  75. Cf. Y. Gourdel, "Cartusians," in Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, Vol. 2, cols. 705-776.
  76. Cf. M. I. Bodenstedt, The Vita Christi of Ludolphus the Carthusian, Washington, D.C., 1944.
  77. The Opera omnia of Denis the Carthusian was published by Montreuil in Tournai between 1896 and 1935. Cf. A. Stoelen, "Denys the Carthusian," in Spirituality through the Centuries, ed. J. Walsh, P. J. Kenedy, New York, N.Y., 1964.
  78. P. Pourrat, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 316.
  79. Cf. J. Guiraud, L'Eglise et les origines de la Renaissance, Paris, 1902; A. Baudrillart, L'Eglise catholique, la Renaissance, le Protestantisme, Paris, 1904.
  80. Cf. J. Nohl, The Black Death, London, 1926; H. Pirenne, A. Renaudet, E. Perroy, M. Handelsman, L. Halphen, La fin du moyen age, Paris, 1945; J. M. Clark, The Dance of Death in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Glasgow, 1950.