JAN VAN RUYSBROECK—three of whose most important works are here for the first
time presented to English readers—is the greatest of the Flemish mystics, and must
take high rank in any list of Christian contemplatives and saints. He was born in
1273, at the little village of Ruysbroeck or Ruusbroeck between Brussels and Hal,
from which he takes his name; and spent his whole life within his native province of
Brabant. At eleven years old, he is said to have run away from home and found his
way to Brussels; where he was received by his uncle Jan Hinckaert, a canon of the
Cathedral of St Gudule. Hinckaert, who was a man of great piety, lived with
another devout priest named Francis van Coudenberg in the most austere fashion;
entirely devoted to prayer and good works. The two ecclesiastics brought the boy up,
and gave him a religious education, which evidently included considerable training
in theology and philosophy: subjects for which he is said to have shown, even in
boyhood, an astonishing aptitude. In 1317 he took orders, and obtained through his
uncle's influence a prebend's stall in St Gudule; a position which he occupied for
During youth and early middle-age, then, Ruysbroeck lived in Brussels,
fulfilling the ordinary duties of a cathedral chaplain: and here some of his earlier
works may have been written. Here no doubt he developed that shrewd insight into
human character to which his books bear witness; and here gained his experience of
those "false mystics" and self-sufficient quietists so vividly described and sternly
condemned in the second book of The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, in The
Book of Truth, and other places. In the early fourteenth century a number of
heretical sects, of which the Brethren of the Free Spirit were typical, flourished in
the Low Countries. Basing their doctrine on a pantheistic and non-Christian
conception of the Godhead, they proclaimed the "divinity of man," and preached a
quietism of the most soul-destroying kind, together with an emancipation from the
fetters of law and custom which often resulted in actual immorality.
grew in knowledge of the true contemplative life, the dangers attending on its
perversion became ever more clear to him: and he entered upon that vigorous
campaign against the heretical quietists which was the chief outward event of his
As to his spiritual development during these years, we can have no certain
knowledge: since none of his works are exactly dated, and the order in which they
should be arranged is a matter of inference. But it is inherently probable that he
was experiencing the early stages of that mysterious growth of the soul which he
describes so exactly in the first two books of The Adornment of the Spiritual
Marriage: the hard self-discipline, the enlightenment, raptures, and derelictions, of
the "active" and "interior" life. At this period, he had made little impression on his
contemporaries. The Augustinian canon Pomerius, who had known in their old age
some of Ruysbroeck's friends and followers, and who wrote his Life  in the year
1420, describes him as a simple, quiet, rather shabby-looking person, who "went
about the streets of Brussels with his mind lifted up into God." Yet it is certain that
great force of character, much shrewd common sense, and remarkable intellectual
1 Cf. The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. ii. caps. 66-67, and The Book of Truth, cap. 4.
2 H. Pomerius, De Origine Monasterii Viridisvallis una cum Vitis Joannis Rusbrochii (Analecta
Bollandiana, vol. iv., Brussels, 1885).
qualities lay behind this meek appearance. We know how greatly he disliked
"singular conduct" in those who had given themselves to the spiritual life. They
should be, he thought, like "other good men"; and this ideal found expression in his
own life. A devout and orthodox Catholic, well read in scholastic theology and
philosophy, on the mental and social side at least, he was a thorough man of his
time; apparently accepting without criticism its institutions and ideas. Many
passages in his works indicate this: for instance, his constant and unquestioning use
of the categories of mediaeval psychology, or his quiet assumption  that "putting to
the torture" is part of the business of a righteous judge. But on the spiritual side his
period influenced him little. There, his concern was with truths which lie, as he
says, "outside Time" in the Eternal Now; and when he is trying to interpret these to
us the Middle Ages and their limitations fall away. Then we catch fragments which
Plato or Plotinus on one hand, Hegel on the other, might recognise as the reports of
one who had known and experienced the Reality for which they sought. "My words,"
said Ruysbroeck, "are strange, but those who love will understand": and this indeed
is true, for he possessed in an extraordinary degree the power—which so many
great mystics have lacked—of giving verbal and artistic expression to his soaring
intuitions of Eternity.
In 1343, when he was fifty years old, the growing sense of contrast between
those intuitions and the religious formalism and unreality of the cathedral life, the
distracting bustle of the town, reached a point at which it seems to have become
unendurable to him. Together with Hinckaert and Coudenberg—both now old
men—he left Brussels for ever; all three intending to settle in some lonely country
place, where they could devote themselves to the life of prayer and contemplation.
They were given the old hermitage of Groenendael, or the Green Valley, in the
forest of Soignes outside Brussels. There they were presently joined by disciples,
and formed a small community, which was eventually placed under the rule of the
Augustinian canons. Coudenberg became the provost and Ruysbroeck the prior; and
under their government the priory of Groenendael soon became known as the home
of a special holiness.
We shall probably be right if we identify his thirty-eight years, sojourn in the
forest with the "God-seeing" stage of Ruysbroeck's mystical life. Here without doubt
all his greatest works were written. The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage must
have been composed soon after his retreat from Brussels, for we know that in 1350
he sent a copy of it to the group of Rhenish mystics who called themselves the
Friends of God. The Sparkling Stone and The Book of Truth—both written at the
request of friends, to explain difficult points in his earlier books—belong to a later
date. We need not feel surprised that the full flowering of his genius should coincide
with his abandonment of the world. In one form or another such abandonment has
been found imperative by all the great explorers of Eternity; whose inward quest of
the One nearly always entails some withdrawal from the multiplicity of things. But
beyond this, there was in Ruysbroeck's mysticism—at once so intimate in its feeling
so vast in its reach—a deeply poetic strain. The silence and growing beauty of the
forest ministered to this: and many passages in his books show how easily he
discovered intimations of divinity through the loving contemplation of natural
things. A beautiful tradition tells us that he would go out alone into the woods when
he felt that the inspiration of God was upon him; and there, sitting under his
favourite tree, would write as the Holy Ghost dictated. The brethren used to declare
3 The Twelve Béguines, cap. 2. Vide infra, p. xvii.
4 The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. i. cap. 24.
5 Cf. The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. iii., and The Sparkling Stone, caps. 3 and 9.
that once, having been absent many hours from the priory, he was at last found in
this place, rapt in ecstacy and surrounded by a brilliant aura of divine light—a
legend which closely resembles many similar stories in the lives of the saints.
Such ecstatic absorption in God, however, formed only one side of
Ruysbroeck's religious life. True to his own doctrine of the "balanced career" of
action and contemplation as the ideal of the Christian soul  his rapturous ascents
towards Divine Reality were compensated by the eager and loving interest with
which he turned towards the world of men. In the daily life of the priory he sought
perpetually for opportunities of service, especially those of the most menial kind. As
time passed, and his great mystical gifts became known, many disciples came to
him: amongst them Gerard Groot, afterwards the founder of the Brothers of the
Common Life and hence spiritual ancestor of Thomas à Kempis. To all these he gave
patient help and robust advice; initiating them, so far as it was possible, into the
secrets of the true spiritual life, and ruthlessly exposing the pious pretensions of
those who sought only a reputation for sanctity. It is clear even from his writings
that he possessed to a remarkable degree the "gift of the discernment of spirits"—in
other words, that his shrewd judgment of humanity seldom failed him. All know the
story of the two priests, who came from Paris to ask his opinion of their spiritual
state: merely to receive the truthful but disconcerting reply, "You are as holy as you
wish to be!"
The thirty-eight years which Ruysbroeck passed at Groenendael were, from
the point of view of the earthly biographer, almost devoid of incident. True, he
formed many friendships with the most spiritual men of his time, and seems
occasionally to have left his priory in order to visit them. We possess a charming
account of one such visit; that to Gerard Naghel, the Prior of Hérines, at whose
suggestion The Book of Truth was written. "His peaceful and joyful countenance, his
humble good-humoured speech," says Gerard, made him loved by all with whom he
came into contact: a sentence which brings to mind Ruysbroeck's own picture of
those happy men who walk in the way of love.
"Those who follow the way of love
Are the richest of all men living:
They are bold, frank, and fearless,
They have neither travail nor care,
For the Holy Ghost bears all their burdens.
They seek no outward seeming,
They desire nought that is esteemed of men,
They affect not singular conduct,
They would be like other good men." 
Further, he saw during these years the rapid growth of the community—now swiftly
becoming one of the chief centres of spiritual life in the Low Countries—and the
wide dissemination of his own works. He even lived to see certain passages in those
works criticised, as supporting a pantheistic and heretical view of the union of the
soul with God. The Book of Truth was written to refute this accusation. But the true
events of these years took place for him in that supernal world of high
contemplation which it was his special province to disclose to his fellow-men. There
his real life was fixed. There his loving ardour was for ever young. Thither he drew
those treasures of mystical knowledge which he is said to have poured forth to his
6 The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. ii. caps. 62 and 63. Cf. The Sparkling Stone, cap. 14.
7 The Twelve Béguines, cap. 2.
brethren in long ecstatic discourses when the Spirit impelled him to speak: for he
never taught or spoke unless he felt himself inspired thereto by God. When old age
came upon him, though his ghostly vision never lost its keenness his earthly eyes
grew dim: and his later works were dictated, when the Spirit moved him, to one of
the younger brothers of the house. At eighty-eight years of age his strength failed:
and after a short illness, which never clouded the radiance of his spirit, he died
upon December 2nd, 1381.
Ruysbroeck wrote all his works in the dialect of his native province of
Brabant: which stands in much the same relation to modern Flemish as Chaucer's
English stands to our own speech. Eleven of these works have come down to us in
various MS. collections; and all of them, with one or two others of doubtful
authenticity, are included in the great standard Latin translation made in the
sixteenth century by the Carthusian monk Laurentius Surius.  The authentic writings are these:
1. The Spiritual Tabernacle: a long symbolic treatise on the tabernacle of the
Israelites, considered as a type of the spiritual life.
2. The Twelve Points of True Faith: a short mystical interpretation of the
3. The Book of the Four Temptations: an oblique attack on false mystics.
These are probably early works.
4. The Kingdom of God's Lovers.
5. The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage.
Two elaborate and orderly treatises on the threefold life and development of
the soul, which probably belong to the first years at Groenendael.
6. The Mirror of Eternal Salvation: written before 1359.
7. The Seven Cloisters: written before 1363.
8. The Seven Degrees of Love: written before 1372.
This group of works, forming a graduated instruction on the ascetic and
mystical life, seems to have been written for Dame Margaret Van Meerbeke, a nun
in the Convent of Poor Clares at Brussels.
9. The Book of the Sparkling Stone.
10. The Book of Supreme Truth.
11. The Twelve Béguines.
These three books, the substance of which is now accessible to English
readers,  contain the finest fruit of Ruysbroeck's genius. The Twelve Béguines is
partly written in the rough rhymed verse which he uses in many parts of The
Kingdom of God's Lovers and other places; as if at times his ecstatic apprehensions
presented themselves to the surface mind in a rhythmic form and "prayer into song
was turned." There is a short example of this in The Book of Truth. Such verse,
however, though its uncouth strangeness gives to it an impressive quality, is a far
less successful medium for the expression of his subtle mystical perceptions than
the vigorous prose style of his best passages; for instance, the wonderful ninth
chapter of The Sparkling Stone.
8 L. Surius, D. Joannis Rusbrockii Opera Omnia, Cologne, 1552.
9 The first and finest part of The Twelve Béguines, translated from the Flemish by John Francis, was
published by J. M. Watkins in 1913.
10 This he evidently came to realise himself. Cf. the end of the 8th chapter of The Twelve Béguines,
"Now I must cease from my rhyming, that I may show clearly the way of contemplation."
When we come to examine the character of these mystical perceptions, we
find that Ruysbroeck was one of the few mystics who have known how to make full
use of a strong and disciplined intellect, without ever permitting it to encroach on
the proper domain of spiritual intuition. An orderly and reasoned view of the
universe is the ground plan upon which the results of those intuitions are set out:
yet we are never allowed to forget the merely provisional character of the best
intellectual concepts where we are dealing with ultimate truth. Ultimate truth, he
says, is not accessible to the human reason: "the What-ness of God" we can never
know.  Yet this need not discourage us from exploring, and describing as well as
we can, those rich regions of approximate truth and life-giving experience which
await us beyond the ramparts of the sensual world. The intellectual ideas and
symbols which he uses most often are taken to a large extent from the Bible and the
Liturgy, and the works of his great predecessors and contemporaries; and conform
to the main lines of the Christian mystical tradition. St Paul and St Augustine, in
particular, have influenced his thought. The notion popularised by M. Maeterlinck,
that Ruysbroeck was an "ignorant monk" who became in his ecstacies a profound
philosopher, is contradicted by the reminiscences of Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus,
the many quotations from Dionysius the Areopagite, St Augustine, Richard of St
Victor, St Bernard, and other mystical authors, which we find in his works. Indeed,
only those familiar with these great seers and thinkers are in a position to recognise
the sources and unravel the meaning of his more difficult passages. He was in fact
almost as well equipped on the intellectual as on the contemplative side: and hence
was enabled to interpret to others, in language with which all educated Christians
in his day were more or less familiar, something at least of the adventures of his
spirit in the fathomless Ocean of God.
Those intellectual concepts, however, of which he availed himself, are
constantly used by him in an original way: and always as a means of expressing the
results of direct personal inspiration and experience. Particularly characteristic is
the living quality with which he invests theological formulae that for us have
become fixed and sterile. As Dante, without deviating from the narrow path of
scholastic philosophy, brings us at last into the presence of "that Eternal Light
which loves and smiles,"  so Ruysbroeck leads us back by way of the most orthodox
Trinitarian doctrine to the very heart of Reality: the eternal and abysmal Fountain
of life-giving life.
In the three books which are now translated we shall find all his most
characteristic ideas, though here it is only possible to touch upon a few of them.  For Ruysbroeck, as for St Augustine, Reality is both Being and Becoming: one-fold
and changeless in essence, active and diverse in expression—a dualism aptly
represented by the theological dogma of the Trinity in Unity. So too man, the image
of God, is a unity who manifests himself in diversity; "made trinity, like to the
unmade Blessed Trinity," as our own mystic Julian of Norwich has it.  The
ultimate truth is the Godhead: the Divine Unity of religion, the Absolute of
philosophy. It is Simple, not with the simplicity of negation but with the simplicity
of complete affirmation: gathering up into its unity all the rich complexities of
power, wisdom, and love. In its essence it is "dark," "naked," "wayless"; inaccessible
to all the processes of thought. Yet it is alive through and through; the eternal
"lifegiving ground" from which all comes. The ideas of "Fatherhood", and "Sonhood"
11 The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. i. cap. 21. Compare The Sparkling Stone, cap. 9.
12 Par. xxxiii. 124.
13 The student will find a fuller analysis in my monograph Ruysbroeck (Quest Series, 1915).
14 The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. ii. cap. 2.
represent its quickening fruitfulness;  the Holy Ghost is the name of the Divine
energy and love which pours forth into the created world, and thence, like a strong
ebb-tide, draws all things back into their Origin.  Though the soul plunged in God,
"sunk in His unity," seems to itself to experience a profound rest and stillness, yet it
is really surrendered to the movement of this mighty power: for "God is an ocean
that ebbs and flows."
The ideas, then, of movement, effort, and growth are central for Ruysbroeck's
thought. Again and again we are impressed by his almost modern sense of life and
action as the substance of the real: his freedom from merely static conceptions.
Therefore we find that the theme of all his more important books is the growth and
development of the soul: the forms in which God's energy plays upon it, the forms
which should be taken by its response. The goal of this development is the unified
state of "pure simplicity" in which it is able to "lose itself in the Fathomless Love"
and enter into the complete and beatific enjoyment, possession, or use of God—for
all these meanings are included in the word ghebruken, usually translated
"fruition," which is his favourite term for the consummation of the mystical life.  In The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage this growth is divided into the
three stages of the Active, Interior, and Superessential Life: called in The Sparkling
Stone by the old names of the state of Servant, Friend, and Son. Man, we know, has
a natural, active life; the only one that he usually recognises. This he may "adorn
with the virtues" and make well-pleasing to God (Book I.). But beyond this he has a
spiritual or "interior" life, which is susceptible of grace, the Divine energy and love;
and by this can be remodelled in accordance with its true pattern or archetype, the
Spirit of Christ (Book II.). Beyond this, again, he has a superessential or "Godseeing
life," in virtue of the spark of Divine life implanted in him. By the union of
his powers of reason will and feeling with this spark—a welding of the several
elements of his being into unity—he may enter into his highest life; the dual and
God-like existence of fruition in God and work for God, alternate action and rest
(Book III.). The correspondences of the active life are with that moral order which
we recognise as binding on all men of good will. Those of the interior life are with
the experiences which we usually recognise as religious and spiritual. But the
correspondences of the superessential life are with a plane of being which lies
beyond thought, and has, so far as our intellectual perceptions go, no condition. It is
a wayless state, "above reason, not without reason";  dark with excess of light. This
state is the Being of God; but for us it is "beyond being."
The First Book, then, is almost wholly concerned with the development of the
Christian character: the only solid and enduring foundation of the mystical life. It
treats of the virtues which adorn our human nature and make it ready for the
coming of the Spirit of Christ; and of the primary importance of intention, the
stretching out of the loving will toward God, "having Him in mind" in all things.
"Mean only God," said the old English mystics. So for Ruysbroeck meyninghe en
minnen—will and love—sum up the obligations of the soul at this stage of its
growth, and prepare it for the greater experiences of the interior life. Though he
never uses the traditional formula of the Mystic Way, we may regard this active life
as more or less equivalent to the Way of Purgation. The same stage is treated in the
1st and 6th chapters of The Sparkling Stone and the 3rd chapter of The Book of
15 The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. iii. cap. 3; and The Book of Truth, cap. 10.
16 The Sparkling Stone, caps. 3 and 10.
17 Cf. The Twelve Béguines, cap. 16.
18 The Twelve Béguines, cap. 8.
The Second Book goes on from moral training to spiritual training, and
includes all that ascetic writers mean by the "Illuminative Way." It deals with those
"ghostly exercises," the deliberate responses of the soul to the invitation of God,
which form the first degrees of our interior life, and with the dawning of the true
mystical consciousness. It falls into three chief divisions, treating of three ways in
which the Spirit of God comes into our inner man (caps. 5, 6, and 7).
In the first division (caps. 8-32) Ruysbroeck treats of the action of grace on
the "lower powers," or sense life. In the allegory of the Seasons, he describes the
normal development of the illuminated life in its emotional aspect: its joys and
ardours, reactions and despairs. The Holy Ghost "hunting the spirit of man" (cap. 3)
has seized and transfigured those "desirous, affective and irascible" powers of the
soul which, according to the doctrine of medieval psychology, make up natural life of
normal men. 
In the second division (caps. 35-38) this process is extended to the "higher
powers" of the soul: the memory or mind, the understanding, and the will. The
experience of God is, for these higher powers, an experience of fresh enlightenment
and fresh ardour; in Ruysbroeck's favourite imagery, of light and fire. Grace, which
dwells like a living fountain at the heart of our personality—the "unity of the
spirit"—thence pours forth into each faculty in three streams of radiance: claerheit,
a word expressive at once of pervading brightness and limpid clearness, which
occurs on almost every page of his writings. The sense of this supernal clarity,
veritably experienced—a viva luce, a quickening light, of which we become aware
when we open the soul's eyes—is found in nearly every mystical writer from the
time of St John, and probably originates in that consciousness of enhanced lucidity
which frequently accompanies spiritual exaltation. It was crystallised by the
schoolmen in the doctrine of the lumen gloriae—the Divine light which transfigures
the soul and makes it like to God —and much of Ruysbroeck's work is really a
poetic elaboration of this idea. As a "simple light" this Radiance now frees the mind
from the teasing complexity of distracting images: as a "spreading light" it
illuminates the understanding: as a burning flame, it enkindles the will. The self
thus becomes capable of the first form of contemplation, adherence to God by means
of the purified reason and will: responding to the "loving drawing-nigh" of God—dat
minlike neyghen Gods—with an ardent outstretching of himself towards that
seeking and compelling power.
The powers of the soul, then, in the second stage of illumination, become
inundated by the divine claerheit. It "drenches them"; and the result of this is seen
in the state of perfect charity to which the self now attains: the condition of equable
outflowing love to God and all manner of men (caps. 39-43). In the third and highest
stage (caps. 49-65), we pass beyond the enhancement and enlightenment of the
separate powers of our nature to the "essential being" of the self: that unity of the
spirit of which Ruysbroeck is always speaking, and wherefrom the powers proceed,
as the Divine Persons proceed from the Unity of God.  Whether our mental and
emotional powers as such participate in the spiritual life, is for him a secondary
consideration. They may do so, if they be wholly surrendered to God. But our true
union with Him takes place in the abysmal deeps of our being—our "ground"—and
ever abides there: for here our life, as it were, buds out from the Divine life, and
here God dwells eternally "according to His essence." If we learn to enter within,
19 Cf. The Book of Truth, cap. 9.
20 Cf. St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, i., q. 12, a. 5.
21 The Book of Truth, cap. 11.
passing beyond the powers to the unity of the spirit, we become conscious of this.  There we experience His mysterious touch and stirrings; feel and respond to the
thrust and invitation of His love, as He drives each created spirit forth to work His
will, and draws it home again towards His heart. There, outside Time, the Eternal
Birth takes place (caps. 57-61).
As a result of this practice in introversion, this simplification of
consciousness, the self now first becomes capable of the second form of
contemplation, described in The Twelve Béguines as
"A knowing which is in no wise;
For ever abiding above the reason." 
and enters upon that profound yet simple communion with God which Ruysbroeck
calls the most inward of all exercises. For this his favourite image is that of feeding:
the soul tastes God (cap. 65), eats, devours, assimilates Him, and in her turn is
eaten and consumed  —language which probably reflects his great personal
devotion to the Eucharist. With this mystical savouring and feeding upon Reality,
the self reaches the term of the interior life, and the full stature of that "secret
friend of God" described with such marvellous subtlety in the 8th chapter of The
It is at this point that the dangers of a false mysticism make themselves felt.
Here, then, Ruysbroeck enters upon a vigorous and acute criticism of Quietism
(caps. 66-67): especially valuable to us at the present day, when so many
irresponsible apostles of "new mysticism" are recommending voluntary passivity of
this type as a substitute for the stern discipline and perpetual willed effort involved
in the Christian science of prayer. Ruysbroeck describes the interior blankness and
silence of the quietist as a psychic trick: a deliberate sinking down into the
subconscious—the subsoil of human nature—where it is true that the Divine Life
dwells and supports our created life, but where we are below instead of above the
levels of normal consciousness. Here, indeed, the soul experiences a sensation of
rest and peace: but it is merely resting in its own emptiness, a false repose which
demands no exercise of virtue, no tension of the will, and is a caricature of the active
and loving surrender taught by the Christian saints. The true emptiness and
idleness of which Ruysbroeck speaks as an essential preparation of the
contemplative state, is a condition of meek and passive attentiveness to God, which
excludes consciousness of the ordinary objects of perception and thought; sweeps
and garnishes the interior castle. Here the virtue is not in the emptiness and
idleness, but in the humble and eager yielding of ourselves. Although man cannot
by his own effort reach God, yet without such deliberate loving effort we shall never
possess Him. 
Beyond even the highest point of this interior life, in which the contemplative
feels himself to be living "in God,"  is that transfigured or deified life, as the
Platonic mystics named it, which Ruysbroeck calls overwesen—superessential—the
life of the "God-seeing man" (Book III). Whereas in the interior life we may be said
to re-discover the lost inheritance of our spirit, in this life there is a genuine
transcendence, a passing beyond that spirit's created being: for the Being of God, in
22 Ibid., cap. 8.
23 The Twelve Béguines, cap. 8.
24 The Sparkling Stone, caps. 9, 10 and 11. Compare The Twelve Béguines, caps. 5 and 15.
25 The Sparkling Stone, cap. 9.
26 Ibid., cap. 10.
which this consummation is found, is "more than being" to us. It abides beyond all
the concepts of reason, beyond anything that we can name or describe, outside
Time, in the bosom of Divine Reality: that deep Quiet of the Godhead which cannot
be moved. Those who ascend thereto have passed from the state of "secret friends"
to that of the "hidden sons" of God, and completed the soul's journey to its home.  Then they find themselves, so far as their separate consciousness persists, in a place
that is placeless and a way that is wayless: in the abysmal Onwise of God, a word
for which we have no exact equivalent, but which embodies one of Ruysbroeck's
most important conceptions, and is the occasion of some of his most mysterious
utterances. It represents that world of spiritual reality which is beyond all
attributes and conditions; which is neither This nor That, which is "in no wise"—the
Absolute wherein all ways and modes of being, all wise, are swallowed up, and all
our finite perceptions die into ignorance and darkness (cap. 4). 
"The splendour of That which is in no wise is as a fair mirror
Wherein shines the everlasting light of God:
It has no attributes,
And in it all the activities of reason fail.
It is not God
But it is the light whereby we see Him:
Those who walk in the divine light thereof
Discover in themselves the Unwalled." 
Seen from the synthetic and spiritual point of view, this supernal world of
experience is the Essential Unity, wherein the richness of Eternal Life consists, and
where the surrendered soul enjoys the peaceful fruition of God. But seen from the
analytic and intellectual point of view it is the Essential Nudity, the "nought" or
"divine dark" of Dionysius the Areopagite: for it has been stripped of every character
of which we can think. Here the mystic feels himself, as regards his essential
being, to be poured out into God, melted and merged in Him as a river in the sea:
and, as regards his own separate consciousness, apprehends Him in one simple act
of absorbed attention "seeing and staring" with wide-open eyes. It is in this one act,
sometimes felt by us as a passing beyond ourselves, sometimes as a fixed ecstatic
vision, "beholding that which we are, and becoming that which we behold" that the
self at last knows itself to be one life and one spirit with God.
The mystic has now entered into union with the three wise, the three modes
or ways, under which Divine Love imparts itself in the spirit of man:
characteristically distinguished by Ruysbroeck as three forms of movement. First
this energetic love pours itself out from the Godhead into us as grace: and we, in
receiving it and making it ours by our virtues and good works, are united to God
"through means." This is the function of the active life harmonising man's work
with God's work. Then, as a compelling tide, it draws us within its own flood back
27 Cf. The Sparkling Stone, caps. 8, 9, 10 and 13; and The Book of Truth, caps. 10, 11 and 12.
28 The Sparkling Stone, cap. 13.
29 The Twelve Béguines, cap. 8.
30 The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. iii. cap. 6.
31 The Sparkling Stone, caps. 9, 10 and I2. The Twelve Béguines, cap. 12. Compare Dante (Par. xxxiii.
"Cosi la mente mia, tutta sospesa,
mirava fissa, immobile ed attenta,
e sempre del mirar faceasi accesa."
towards God. This is the union "without means"' wherein we are wholly surrendered
to His love: it is the proper condition of the interior life. But when we have reached
the superessential life, and seem to our own feeling to be lost in the Darkness,
burned up in the Brightness, and sunk in the Eternal Stillness of God—that "dark
silence where all lovers lose themselves,"  —then the circle is complete. We are
made part of His divine fruition or "content the eternal satisfaction and eternal
activity of Perfect Love; achieving thus the "union without distinction," though not
union without "otherness."  Henceforward we can participate in God's dual life of
rest and work, transcendent fruition and immanent fruitfulness: abiding in restful
possession of Him, yet perpetually sent down from the heights to serve the whole
The final state of the Christian mystic, then, is not annihilation in the
Absolute. It is a condition wherein we dwell wholly in God, one life and truth with
Him; yet still "feel God and ourselves," as the lover feels his beloved, in a perfect
union which depends for its joy on an invincible otherness. The soul, transfused and
transfigured by the Divine Love as molten iron is by the fire, becomes, it is true,
"one simple blessedness with God"  yet ever retains its individuality: one with God
beyond itself, yet other than God within itself.  The "deified man" is fully human
still, but spiritualised through and through; not by the destruction of his
personality, but by the taking up of his manhood into God. There he finds, not a
static beatitude, but a Height, a Depth, a Breadth of which he is made part, yet to
which he can never attain: for the creature, even at its highest, remains finite, and
is conscious that Infinity perpetually eludes its grasp and leads it on. So heaven
itself is discovered to be no mere passive fulfillment, but rather a forward-moving
life:  an ever new loving and tasting, new exploring and enjoying of the Infinite
Fulness of God, that inexhaustible Object of our knowledge and delight. It is the
eternal voyage of the adventurous soul on the vast and stormy sea of the Divine.
32 The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, bk. iii. cap. 4.
33 The Sparkling Stone, cap. 12, and The Book of Truth, caps. 10 and 12.
34 The Sparkling Stone, cap. 14.
35 Ibid., cap. 10, and The Book of Truth, cap. 12.
36 The Twelve Béguines, cap. 16.
37 The Book of Truth, caps. 11 and 13.