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THE TEMPTATION OF EVIL
THE mystic tradition in Christian Times is preserved, apart from all questions and traces of Instituted Mysteries, in the literature of Christian Mystical Theology; it is a large and exceedingly scattered literature; some of its most important texts are available in no modern language; they stand very seriously in need of codification, and--if I may be so frank--even of re-expression. But if, for other reasons, they are in their entirety a study which must be left to the expert, there is no person now living in Europe who has not close at his hands the specific, simple, isolated texts--much too numerous to name--which are sufficient to give some general idea of the scope and aims of the tradition. If I were asked to define the literature shortly and comprehensively as a whole, I should call it the texts of the way, the truth and the life in respect of the mystic term. It is not only full but exhaustive as to the way--which is that of the inward world, recollection, meditation, contemplation, the renunciation of all that is lower in the quest of all that is higher--but perhaps the most catholic word of all would be centralisation. It is very full also on the fundamental truth, out of which it arises, that a way does exist and that the way is open. The truth is formulated in all simplicity by the Epistle to the Hebrews--that God is and that He recompenses those who seek Him out. I have cited this testimony on several occasions in the same connection, and I do so here and now without a word of apology and with no sense of repetition, since it can never be a matter of redundancy to remember after what manner the Divine ways are justified to humanity, when humanity is seeking the Divine. The literature,
in fine, is full as to that which it understands in respect of the life, but this is the Divine Life; it is grace which fills the heart; it is the Holy Spirit of God which makes holy the spirit of man; it is life in God. There is no doubt that in its formulation it was presented to the mind of Christian Mysticism as the life which was hidden with Christ in God, and this ineffable concealment was equivalent to the presentation in open teaching of that mystery of emblematic death which lies behind all the pageants of initiation. This was the state, and the dogma from which the state depended is defined by that Johannine Epistle which affirms: (1) That God hath given to us eternal life; (2) That this life is His Son; (3) That whosoever hath the Son hath life; (4) That whosoever is without the Son is without life also. These points follow naturally enough from the testimony of the Fourth Gospel: (1) In the person of the Divine Voice, saying--I am the Way, the Truth and the Life: I am the Resurrection and the Life: I am the Bread of Life; (2) In the person of the witness, saying: In Him was life and the life was the light of men.
There is no doubt, in the second place, that the Divine Voice was incarnate for Christian Mysticism in Jesus of Nazareth, and we must cast out from us the images of those false witnesses who from time to time have pretended that the masters of the hidden life in the Christian centuries had become far too enlightened spiritually to tolerate the external cortex of their faith and creed. This point is of much greater importance than it may appear in the present connection, for I am not doing less than establish a canon of criticism. I will take two typical examples, one of which is moderately early and the other sufficiently late to serve as a distinction in time. The anonymous Cloud of Unknowing belongs, I believe, to the early part of the fifteenth century, and it is to be classed among the most signal presentations of the conditions and mode of the Union which I have met with in Christian literature. It offers an
experiment in integration which seems to me more practical because it is more express than the great intimations of Dionysius. The integration is grounded on the identity of our essential nature with the Divine Nature and our eternal being therein: "That which thou art thou hast from Him, and He it is"; and again: "Yet hath thy being been ever in Him, without all beginning, from all beginning, from all eternity, and ever shall be, without end, as Himself is." There is sufficient kinship on the surface of these statements for the casually literate and not too careful reader to speak of them as a simple presentation of the pantheistic doctrine of identity; but they are saved herefrom by the important qualification that--this state of eternal Divine indwelling notwithstanding--man had "a beginning in the substantial creation, the which was sometime nothing." This beginning signifies the coming forth of man's spirit into the state of self-knowing in separateness, or some more withdrawn condition to which we cannot approximate in language--I mean in language that will offer a satisfactory consideration to the higher part of our understanding. If it is conceivable that there is a possible state of distinction in Divine Consciousness by which the true self of our spirit became self-knowing, but not in separateness, then it is this state which is called in The Cloud of Unknowing "a beginning in the substantial creation." It will be seen that I set aside implicitly the suggestion that the passage is a simple reference to the soul in physical birth. I do not think that the mystic whose chief flowers are of all things exotic would offer a distinction like this as a qualification of the soul's eternity by integration in the Godhead, or, more correctly, by substantial unity. That which I take, therefore, to have been present to the writer's mind was the implicit pre-existence of all souls in the Divine Being for ever, and secondly their explication--as if the living thought became the living word; but there are no commensurate analogies. In this manner there arose "the substantial
creation, the which was sometime nothing," and we know of all that has followed in the past and continued ages of our separateness. This state is our sickness, and the way of return is our healing. That return, according to The Cloud and its connections and identities in the great literature, is "the high wisdom of the Godhead ... descending into man's soul ... and uniting it to God Himself." The path is a path of undoing, though it is at this point that so many mystics stand in fear of the irresistible consequences which follow from their own teachings: it is the returning of the substantial creation into nothing; it is an entrance into the darkness; an act of unknowing wherein the soul is wholly stripped and unclothed of all sensible realisation of itself, that it may be reclothed in the realisation of God.
It may well seem that in this House Mystic of ineffable typology all the old order has passed away. The secret of attainment does not lie in meditation or in thinking, in the realisation of Divine qualities, in the invocation of saints or angels; it is a work between the naked soul and God in His uttermost essence, in an essence so uttermost that "it profiteth little, or nothing at all, to think upon the loving kindness of God, or upon the holy angels and saints, or else upon the glory and joys of heaven." That, and all that, is fair work and square work, good and true work, but it is not materials for building the Most Secret, Most Holy Temple, into which God and the soul go in and one only comes out. Yet is the old doctrine the true doctrine still; there is nothing abrogated and there is nothing reduced. In all but the deepest paths, it is meet and right and salutary to seek the interceding angels and the communion of saints, to dwell upon the Passion of Christ, and so forth. The old histories also are truly understood in the old way; the Passion was no shadowy pageant; Christ died and rose in the body; in the body He ascended into Heaven, and no less and no differently in that body He sitteth at the right hand of the Father Almighty.
And yet these references to doctrine and practice, to symbol, rite and ceremony, are only like the hills standing about Jerusalem, and into the city mystic, into the central place of debate, they do not enter anywise. They have not been expelled-they are simply not there, and the reason is that there they do not belong. Once more, it is between God and the soul. It is as if the ways were filled with the pageants of the Heavenly and Ecclesiastical Hierarchies; as if the Masses and the Matins and the Vespers celebrated in marvellous and stately measures the Holy Trinity, the dilucid contemplation of the Persons, the ineffable secrets of the hypostatic state and the super-incession of Divine natures. But after all these wonders, rank after rank of the Blessed Angels, after all visions of the Great White Throne, it is as if a quiet centre opened unawares and through an immeasurable silence drew down the soul-from the many splendours into the one splendour, from the populous cities of the blest, from the things that are without in the transcendence into the thing that is of all within--as if the soul saw there the one God and itself as the one worshipper. But after a little while the worshipper itself has dissolved, and from henceforth and for ever it has the consciousness of God only. This is the knowledge of self, no longer attained by a reflex act of the consciousness, but by a direct act in the unity of the infinite consciousness; in this mode of knowledge there is that which knows even as it is known, but such mode is in virtue of such an union that the self does not remain, because there is no separateness henceforth. It follows that the Divine Union, as I have sought to give it expression apart from all antecedents and warrants of precursors-I think indeed that there are none-is something much deeper and higher than is understood by the Beatific Vision, which shines with all the lights of noon and sunrise and sunset at the summit of the mountain of theology. That Vision is more especially of St. Thomas, the Angelic Doctor, the mighty Angel of the
Schools, expounding the Transcendence to himself in the most resplendent and spiritual terms of the logical understanding. The intervening distinction between it and the term of all is that the one is the state of beholding and the other is the state of being; the one is seeing the Vision and the other is becoming it. Blessed and Holy are those who receive the experience of God in the dilucid contemplation, but sanctity and benediction and all in all is that state wherein contemplation is ineffably unified, by a super-eminent leap over of love, with that which is its object; and in that love and in that joining together there is no passage longer from subject to object. But this is the Godhead.
These considerations have got so far beyond even The Cloud of Unknowing, that it seems almost a fall into matter to speak, as I had intended, of Molinos and his Spiritual Guide, which is in no sense really comparable to the older work. It is a more ascetic treatise, and by its asceticism is a little hindered; it is a less catholic treatise, and it suffers here and there from the particular sense. Yet it bears the same testimony of a full and complete intention--much too complete and too full to carry anything of the concerted air--to maintain the veils of doctrine, to speak the high and orthodox language of the official Church; but again it is like a moving, yet all remote, echo from a world which has almost passed out of knowledge. What is there left to the soul that it should say of the Holy Humanity, of the Precious Blood, of the five wounds, of the dolorous death and passion? It is not that all this has been swallowed up in the glories of resurrection, but that those who have entered "where God keeps His Throne and communicates Himself with incredible intensity"--and those who have obeyed the last precept "to be lost in God"--have entered into a new order; the ships that carried them have dropped out of sight with the tide, with the breeze, in the sunshine.
Now, the secret of this is--not that Dionysius and Ruysbroeck, with all their cohæredes et sodales, had become unitarians, but that the term of the Christian dispensation, to each of them personally, had been fulfilled in each. Christ had been born and lived, had taught and suffered and died, had risen and ascended and reigned in them. So that Divine life, in fine, carried them to its last stage. It was not Dionysius or Ruysbroeck, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, or the soul of the poor imprisoned Jesuit Molinos, but the Christ nature within each and all of these, within ten thousand times ten thousand of their peers, in all ages and nations and faiths and climes, which entered into the incredible intensity; and that which is termed the act or state of being lost in God is that which I have elsewhere described in a perfection of all similitudes--which is of my adaptation but not of my making--when Christ delivers up the Kingdom of each soul to His Father, and God is all in all.
This is the state which is beyond the state when it is said that "they shall see His face."
Hereof is the mystic tradition in Christian Time; it has been perpetuated in an unbroken line from the beginnings of the new dispensation until this now. It is of course in itself the most secret, exotic and incomprehensible of all languages, though at the same time it is the most open, universal and simple. The understanding of it is a question of experience, and the experience is attained in sanctity, though--as I have said, but also elsewhere--the intellectual light concerning it belongs rather to the dedication out of which sanctity may at length issue than to the state of saintship itself. The technicalities of the occult sciences may seem hard to the beginner, and they are actually hard like the wilderness, because they are barren wastes, but they are in words of one syllable if compared with the little catechisms of eternal life, which are exclusive to the children of God.
Behind this Open Entrance to the Closed Palace of the King--which is so like the eye of the needle--there is the concealed tradition in and behind the mysticism of Christian Times. About this it is scarcely possible to speak here, and it will require some care not to confuse the image with which I have opened my statement. The Open Entrance of course leads to the Palace, but at a certain point there is found an exceedingly hidden postern and a path beyond, which is absolutely unattainable except through the lawful entrance, because, although the Kingdom of Heaven tolerates a certain quality of enlightened and loving violence, the sanctuary of all its sanctuaries responds only to the violence of that man who knows how to lay hands on himself, so that he may carry none of his extrinsics to the most intrinsecus place in all the world of God. This postern is hidden deeply on the deepest side of tradition, but by what can be traced concerning it, I think that there has been such a going to and fro upon the Ladder of Jacob that something more of the states which are not the term, but are perhaps penultimate thereto, has been brought back by those who have accomplished the next but one to all of the Great Work. I think further that they have gone so far that they have seen with their own eyes some intimacies of the term itself--being the state of those who go in and do not evermore come back.
These are aspects of the Secret Tradition in so far as it has declared itself on the side of God. It remains now to be said that there is a tradition à rebours, and though it may seem very hard to put it so roughly and frankly, I have not taken all the consciousness of the inward man for my province to smooth or reduce any of the distinctions between the loss and gain of the soul. The tradition a rebours is definitely and clearly that of miraculous power in the quest and attainment thereof. It is summarised by the ambition of the Magus in its contrast with the desire of the eyes and the hope which
fills the heart of the true mystic. I am not intending to suggest that the Magus as such is of necessity at issue with the decalogue, or that he is under judgment by this sole standard, whether for vengeance or reward. As the position is capable of dogmatic statement, and as such is without any subjection to vicissitude, I will express it in dogma as follows: Whosoever goes inward to find anything but the Divine in his centre is working on the side of his own loss. As there is the height of Kether in Kabalism, so there is the abyss which is below Malkuth, and those who are seeking to exercise the powers of the soul apart from its graces are treading the downward path. The operation of grace is so utterly catholic, and there is correspondingly so much of the Divine prevention operating everywhere, that in most instances the experiments come to little and the frittering does not continue from the mere weariness of its business; but the quest of miraculous power--and I use an unscientific phrase of set purpose, because I am dealing now with the most inexact of all subjects--is that which is usually comprehended by the term occult science, and the occult sciences, speaking generally, are the sciences of the abyss. I except astrology, which--only through the accident of many associations--has been taken by force into the category: it is not an occult science, and notwithstanding a few negligible claims on the part of a few sanctuaries, it has no secret mode of working whatsoever. It is the calculus of probabilities on the basis of experience in respect of empirical things. Putting it aside, on the fringe of the whole circle there are further a few score of follies which one would not term the grades of preparation for the abyss unless there were a solid reason for being preternaturally serious. I have characterised these sufficiently in the text, and here I Will say only that all paths of folly lead to the Houses of Sin.
There remains the question of Magic. As to this, I am aware that the professors, who are many, and the
amateurs, who are many more, may be disposed to intervene at this point and call attention to the ancient and honourable distinction between White and Black Magic. But with this also I have dealt so fully in the text that I question whether the entire work is not an illustration of my thesis that, except in a very slight, verbal and fluidic sense, no such distinction exists--I mean to say that it is unrooted in the subsoil of the subject. Lest I should appear, however, uncritical over things of sufficient importance to be regarded in their several phases, it is necessary to make two further distinctions on my own part. One of the secret sciences is of course Alchemy, and so far as this was the mode, mystery, or art of transmuting metals, of healing material human disease, of prolonging human life by certain physical methods--to this extent it is, as it was always, a matter of learned research; and though I should not say that the students of the old literature are in the least likely to discover the secrets from the books, there is such an excusable and pleasant air about the quest and its enthusiasm, that it is rather a consolation to know that it is of more danger to the purse than it will ever be to the soul of man.
Alchemy has, however, another and if possible a more secret side, from which it enters the science of the soul. I distinguish it at once and entirely from occultism and all its ways; it is approximately and almost literally identical with that postern within the first entrance of the Closed Palace which I have already mentioned. The postern, however, stands for several manners of research which are not in competition with and are without prejudice to each other.
We shall come presently to a third distinction which is much nearer to our hands and feet than are the two others, and will call for some courage on my part in consequence. I will leave it for this reason to such spur of necessity as may arise at the end-to which indeed it belongs otherwise.
As there is a door in the soul which opens on God, so there is another door which opens on the recremental deeps, and there is no doubt that the deeps come in when it is opened effectually. There are also the powers of the abyss, and this is why it has been worth while to look at the subject seriously. Being thankful to say that I am, and hoping under God to continue, without first-hand experience in these departments, it must be understood that I speak here under the reserves of derived knowledge. It should, I think, be understood that there is no sublimity in those deeps; they are the cesspools of spiritual life and the pit of the second death; their powers are those of the pesthouse, and they are as remote from the sombre terrors and splendours of Dante's Inferno as are the gold bars of heaven and the stars and lilies of the Blessed Damozel far--and how far--away from the Vision and the Union.
There is no especial reason to suppose that there is a Black Sanctuary, a Hidden Church of Hell opened to Christians; but it may be, and in the analogy it would seem that there must be, a communion of self-lost souls, as there is a communion of saints. I should imagine that the Lords of its Convention are to be feared in a certain manner, like the Red and the Black Death. But the versicles and aspirations and formulæ which must be strong enough at any moment to undo all the gates of hell and to cast down all its citadels have been taught us almost at our mothers' knees. I should think that the Noctem quietam et finem perfectum concedat nobis Dominus omnipotens would be sufficient to disperse cohorts and not only the isolated negotium perambulans in tenebris. The Pater noster, moreover, is worth all the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, all the Commentary of Hierocles, and every oracle of Zoroaster, including the forged citations. And, in fine, I do not think that there is any power of the abyss, or any thrice-great Magus, or any sorcerer in final Impenitence who has charm, talisman, or conjuration which could look in the face without perishing that one loving supplication:
[paragraph continues] Custodi nos, Domine, ut pupillam oculi; sub umbra alarum tuarum, protege nos.
It is improbable that there is any hidden science in respect of Magic, whether Black or White, but it should be noticed that the occult sciences with which I am concerned here are reducible under this especial head, as it is the greater which includes the lesser. Its processes lie on the surface, and the so-called sanctuaries of occultism may extend the codices but are unlikely to increase the efficacy. In respect of Black Magic, so far as there is a textual excuse for separating it from that uterine sister which was reared on the same milk, I have indicated that there is nothing to suggest one touch of sublimity in diabolism. In its, so to speak, pure state, but absit verbum--I should rather have said undiluted--it is the simple ambition and attempt to compel demons, and observe here that it is Satanism to deal, ex hypothesi, with the abyss, for whatever purpose. In its worst state it is the Grimoires and the little books of wicked and ultra-foolish secrets. The difference between the Grimorium Verum and the Key of Solomon is that the one deals openly with the devil and his emissaries, and the other with spirits that are obviously of the same category but are saluted by more kindly names. If it were possible to formulate the motive of Black Magic in the terms of an imputed transcendence, it is the hunger and thirst of the soul seeking to satisfy its craving in the ashpits of uncleanness, greed, hatred and malice. It is exactly comparable to the life of that Chourineur in The Mysteries of Paris who lived upon diseased offal and grew to be satisfied therewith. But this unfortunate could not help himself exactly, while the soul of the black magician has usually sought evil for its own sake.
I recur therefore for a moment to that door of the soul which, as I have said, opens on God, and it is that which by a necessary but somewhat arbitrary distinction must be called the door to the heights. In their proper understanding, the deeps are holy
as the heights, and of course in any true philosophical sense there is neither height nor deep, for these are not journeys made in space and time. However, that symbolic door is the golden way of satisfaction; but it is not of magic, of divination, of clairvoyance, of the communication with spirits, of what order soever; it does not offer the fabled power over Nature of which the Magus is said to be in search and to which lying rituals have from all time pretended that he can attain. It is the hunger and thirst after sanctity and the overfilling of the soul therewith.
The word clairvoyance brings me to the last point and to the third distinction which I have promised to mention.
The office of occultism is of course comparable to the empirical science of the psychic side of things which is being followed at the present day with circumspection and keenness all over Europe and America. It is a poor compliment in one way to institute the comparison, because that which has passed through the alembics of occultism is the dregs and lees of thought, intelligence, motive, and of all that goes to make up the side of action in man. Psychical research, on the other hand, has throughout been actuated by an honourable--often by a pious--motive; it has adopted a scientific method, so far as the subject would permit; it has put forth no claims and abides judgment by results. It is of course, from my point of view, very far from the term. I do not believe for one moment that anything responds to its methods from the unseen side of things which can bring good to man by the intercourse. But it has to be remembered that every supramundane or abnormal fact which is registered by this kind of research is so much evidence added to the dossier of occult science. If the phenomena of psychism are as psychical research has registered, the old processes of Magic may be unquestionably veridic processes within their own lines. They did not put the operator in communion, on the highest supposition, with Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel, or with Astaroth and Belial and Lucifer, on the lowest, any more than
psychical research and spiritism have ever established intercourse with the souls of the faithful departed. But both have produced the extraordinary pathological condition and the phenomena of the soul manifesting. The distinction between the two methods is that one was usually the result of personally induced hallucinations, complicated by the frequent intervention of abnormal psychic facts-the whole following a more or less maniac ceremonial--while the other is the scientific investigation of similar and analogical states in predisposed subjects whom the operator may seek to control. I have no reason to suppose that the sober, ordered and well-judged methods of such experimental research will succeed in taking the subject into any grade of certitude which will be of permanent value to man, and the question closes here so far as I am concerned. The indications--such as they are--gather rather on the other side. The path of certitude is in the inward man, as it stands to all reason that it must be, if God and His Kingdom are within. There is thus, on the best and most temperate hypothesis, no object in going towards any other direction than thither wherein is contained the All.
Two things only now remain to be said: It will be seen, in the first place, that from that part of the Secret Tradition in Christian Times, with the summary details of which I opened the present conference, there could have never been any derivation to occult tradition and so-called occult science. In the second place, the work which hereafter and now follows shall permit the Rituals of White and Black Magic to speak for themselves as to the tradition therein and its value.