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Ocean and Desert as Symbols of Mystical Absorption in the Christian Tradition Author(s): Bernard McGinn Source: The Journal

of Religion, Vol. 74, No. 2 (Apr., 1994), pp. 155-181 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: Accessed: 18/05/2010 12:00
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Ocean and Desert as Symbols of Mystical Absorption in the Christian Tradition*
Bernard McGinn /
Universityof Chicago

It was only a few years ago during six months spent in Israel that I experienced the desert for the first time, both from afar as I viewed it every day from the northern outskirts ofJerusalem and also close up, especially during a trip to Sinai. To stand atop Jebel Mussa (Mount Moses) on Sinai to watch the sunrise is like being present at the creation. The great ocean of the ancient Mediterranean world (i.e., the Atlantic) I first really encountered sailing from New York to Naples in 1959 when ocean crossings were still common. Though the southern route through the Azores was generally more hospitable than northern crossings, a few stormy days on that trip made an impression on me as powerful as that of Sinai. My excuse for beginning with these autobiographical remarks is that many have argued that the experience of such vast and powerful geographical ambiences as the desert and the ocean has a significant impact on how we symbolize God and God's relation to us. Edmund Burke in his A Philosophical Enquiryinto the Originof OurIdeasof the Sublimeand Beautiful put it thus: "But because we are bound by the condition of our nature to ascend to these pure and intellectual ideas [of God], through the medium of sensible images, and to judge of these divine qualities by their evident acts and exertions, it becomes extremely hard to disentangle our idea of the cause from the effect by which we are led to know it." For Burke, the consideration of divine power in the created universe was the most potent source of that pleasure derived from objects including terror that he called the sublime. Applied to God, sublimity reaches its limit: "But whilst we contemplate so vast an object, under the arm, as it were
* The following lecture is dedicated to the Donnelley family and to all those other generous donors who have made it possible for the Swift Hall community, both faculty and students, to devote themselves to interests more than quotidian and to rewards often not immediate. ? 1994 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0022-4189/94/7402-0001$01.00


and invested on every side with omnipresence. that is. For the Jews. James T. in a manner.identified at least four motifs. adjuncts called upon from time to time to help present particular aspects of the divine nature and humans' relation to it. Finally.). landlubbers from the Mediterranean litorral. This is why it may be possible.: University of Notre Dame. Ind. I cite Burke not to initiate a discussion on the nature of the sublime but rather to introduce a consideration of how Western Christian mystics have used desert and ocean-two of the most "sublime" objects of our natural world-as instruments for the impossible task of expressing the inexpressible. in his Wilderness and Paradisein ChristianThought. Desert and ocean language provides an interesting window on Christian mysticism for a number of reasons. that later Christians drew from the desert themes of the Hebrew Bible: "(a) the wilderness as moral waste but a potential paradise. The desert. 1:2. and are. and (d) the wilderness as a place of refuge (protection) or contemplation (re'Edmund Burke. even in a brief essay. to give some idea of the use of desert and ocean in mystical literature from the patristic period down to the time of the flowering of mysticism in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. though a well-put one. because it often seems to imply an absorption of the human into some kind of identity with God. rather. had a larger and more continuous role than the use of ocean and sea motifs. George Williams. ed. for example. Bolton (Notre Dame. A second advantage desert and ocean symbols bring is how they illustrate the decisive role of the biblical tradition in the history of Christian mysticism. etc. describing God and the encounter with God. A general sketch of the development of desert and ocean language. desert and ocean language raises the issue of the way in which Christians have understood mystical union. is one way of raising the issue of whether or not Christian mystics have taught absorptive union and whether such teaching. then. p. the erotic language of the Song of Songs. the sea always had bad connotations as the "abyss"of unruly waters which housed the primeval dragon of chaos and which continued to threaten the organization of the world (see Gen. both positive and negative. on the other hand. Though used by many mystics. (b) the wilderness as a place of testing or even punishment. but. 156 . A Philosophical Enquiryinto the Originof OurIdeasof the Sublimeand Beautiful. we shrink into the minuteness of our nature. was an ambivalent symbol. these symbols were not central organizing categories." This may be a commonplace. 68.Job 26:7.The Journal of Religion of almighty power. if it exists. (c) the wilderness as the experience or occasion of nuptial (covenantal) bliss. as was. I hope to show that the desert motif. annihilated before him. 1958). can be used to demonstrate the existence of states of indistinct or nondual consciousness among Christian mystics. precisely because it was rooted in the Bible.

4 Something similar appears to have been found earlier in Gnosticism. but only as the place of the encounter with God. especially in the Platonic tradition. PG). 21:1. In the New Testament. 2:2. see "Exode" in the Dictionnairede spiritualite (Paris: Beauchesne. "La conception du desert chez les moines d'Egypte. The Desert Image in Early Medieval Monasticism. even before the movement of the first monks out into the Egyptian desert.Ocean and Desert newal). known to us only through the witness of Hippolytus (Refutatio 5. Jesus retreats into the desert to be tempted by the devil and there to overcome him. Wilderness of the Desertin theHistoryof Christianity and theParadiseThemein the Theological Idea of the University (New York: Harper." CollectaneaCisterciensia 24 (1989): 181-205. Luke 9:10). ever used the desert as a symbol for God's self..3 The centrality that monasticism gave to the desert experience doubtless was a crucial element in the background that led to the theme of the divine desert. 8 in Chancesde la spiritualiteoccidental (Paris: Cerf.. 14:14." Revue de I'histoire des religions 188 (1975): 3-21. Lane. and "Liminality: The vocation of the Church. he sometimes retires to a "desert place" (eremos topos)to rest and to pray (e. I.16-17). II. In Plato's Symposium. In John's Apocalypse the prediction that the sea will be no more (Apoc." and I thank him for sharing these with me. "Liminality: The Vocation of the Church. The desert. 247-77. Matt."2 Particularly important for the later mystical tradition are those texts (e. For an overview of the role of the desert in spirituality. The Desert Image in Early Christian Tradition. Less Kirchengeschichte successful is Duncan Fisher. are said to have identified Egypt with the material world and spoken of the desert as the place outside the cycle of birth where the "God of salvation" is found. 1962). There is no independent study of the desert image in Latin mysticism. PatrologiaGraeca 15:3171C (hereafter. remains both positive and negative. Mark 6:31-32. it was in Greek philosophico-religious mysticism. between God and the human person. ed. Hos. of Belden C. by extension." Zeitschriftfiifur 98 (1987): 1-27. Among other helpful studies. to the best of my knowledge. published and unpublished. and Hans Bayer. see the text in J. Williams." chap. that we must look for the literary roots of ocean language among Western mystics. All this indicates that what has been called the "spirituality of Exodus" had a profound effect on early Christianity. Diotima's teaching about the ascent of eros culminates when the and Paradisein ChristianThought:TheBiblical Experience George H. see Jean Leclercq. "Vita in deserto: Kassians Askese der Einode und die mittelalterliche Frauenmystik.4 To go from the dry to the wet. 18. John the Baptist lives and preaches in the desert. Jer. p. "he thalassa") clearly indicates the end of evil. "Le desert. which makes it all the stranger that none of the early monastics. 2 157 ." Collectanea Cisterciensia 25 (1990): 188-218. 2:14. 3 The literature on the desert theme in early and medieval Christianity is large. the sea continues to bear an ill-omened resonance.. Migne. 1966). Though his preaching is in the cities and towns. Antoine Guillaumont. 1937-). Song 8:5) that speak of the desert as the place of betrothal either between God and Israel or.g. The Gnostic Peratae.-P. who intends to collect these into a single volume under the title "Desert and Mountain Spirituality: Fierce Landscapes in the Apophatic Tradition. 4:1957-95. I have also profited from the various papers.g. as in the Hebrew Bible. pp.

as translated by Glenn R. and 10. 373. Plotinus also uses the image of Odysseus putting out to sea from Odyssey 9. Many of the Christian fathers." in Augustinus Magister. began to use the symbol of the sea or ocean to indicate the immense and unbounded character of the divine nature. "Le symbolisme de la mer chez saint Augustin. For an overview of one theme adopted by Christian authors.102-12 are described as souls descending into genesis in chaps. 9 Proclus on Plato'sParmenides. Gregory's notion of God as "an infinite and undetermined sea of sub- 158 . "Desired Heaven.29 ff. Plotinus insists that the sea. Plato also spoke of the universe falling into "the boundless sea of unlikeness" (Statesman273D. 7 See.16 (PG 29:548B). Lamberton. preferred reaching port to just sailing along admiring the ocean and its dangers."9 To the Greeks. (Cambridge. 6 This passage from the Statesman. Homer the Theologian: Neoplatonist AllegoricalReadingand the Growth of theEpic Tradition(Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California. N.. H. perhaps remembering their Plato. see Campbell Bonner. particularly Latin figures like Augustine and Gregory the Great. In the pagan Platonic tradition.however.J. Morrow Commentary and John M. Rondet. but this is far from later Christian uses of the sea as a symbol for divine infinity.. Enneads 5. 1954). 12 vols. Fowler et al. the ultimate intelligible principle. 257-59.483-84 in Enneads 1.7 (PG 36:317B). 10-12 of this work. 5 (1025). p. 8 Porphyry On the Caveof the Nymphs34.8. "turning towards the great sea of the beautiful [topolypelagos . many fair fruits of discourse and meditation in a plenteous crop of philosophy" (210D). (Paris: L'annee theologique augustinienne. "eiston tes anomoiotetos apeirononta ponton").. tou kalou] may by contemplation of this bring forth . The Naiads of Odyssey13. e. 1982). I will make use of the versions found in the Loeb Classical Library.12. Odysseus.3 and 6.6 and even that great Greek culture hero. Little has been written on the use of sea symbols in Greek philosophy..8 Later Proclus read Plato's "great sea" as the sciences that needed to be studied during the course of this life until the philosopher could separate himself from all to arrive at "the mystical mooring-place of the soul. Basil AdversusEunomium 1. ed. Plato. See Jean Pepin. pp..g. '0 See H. 1987). the goal of Plato's mystical ascent. continued to use the sea primarily in negative fashion as imaging the turmoil of this life. bk.8. 3 vols.7." Harvard TheologicalReview 34 (1941): 49-67.7 More typical was the way in which Porphyry in his allegorical reading of the Odyssey in On the Cave of the Nymphsinterpreted the sea as the watery chaos of the material world. then.'0 What is surprising is that beginning in the late fourth century some Christian authors. See Robert D." AssociationGuillaumeBude: Congresde Tours et Poitiers:Actesdu Congres(Paris.: Harvard University Press.The Journal of Religion soul. exists in living form in nous. " For example. 2:691-711. 1954). like everything else. "A propos du symbolisme de la mer chez Platon et dans le neoplatonisme. 1986). Dillon: Proclus' Commentary on Plato's Parmenides(Princeton. is rare. Mass." It 5 For this and the following translation from Plato.5 This brief positive use of vastness of the sea as an image of the absoluteness of the Beautiful-in-itself. N.6. the sea was at best an ambivalent symbol in mystical discourse.: Princeton University Press. is ambiguous because of a significant debate over whether the correct reading is ponton or topon.. Gregory Nazianzenus Oratio 38.

he then made the universe we experience. This image of the mixing (Greek krasis)of rivers in the wider water of the sea recalls another mystical image. 396.9) and from him disseminated to the medieval Scholastics. 312-13. perfectly united with him in "essential gnosis of the Trinity. pp. see Hugo Rahner. A passage from the first of John reveals a note of Chrysostom's homilies On the Divine Incomprehensibility precisely what Burke would call the divine sublime: "We wonder at the open sea and its limitless depth. to this kind of language. 328-86. And as in the fusion of rivers with the sea no addition in its return or variation in its color or taste is to be found.11.e.. characterized by multiplicity. See also the German translation and discussion in Gabriel Bunge. survives only in Syriac."13 At first reading a text like this seems to indicate what we can call undifferentiated unity." When these beings fell away from contemplative unity. he changes them all completely into his nature. 138:6 and 14] and looked at the limitless yawning sea of God's wisdom [to apeiron . e. color and taste. 2John lines 204-8. and varying degrees of materiality. In the beginning God created the ideal world of minds. very popular in the Middle Ages. of the Trinity] comes about. pelagos tes tou theou sophias]. I am using the translation of M. GreekMyths and ChristianMystery(London: Burnes Oates. SC).Ocean and Desert appears that it was the insistence on divine infinity against Origen and on divine unknowability against Eunomius that moved the Cappadocians. 1970).tijdschriftvoorfiolsofieen theologie46 (1985): 13. Summatheologiae la. 1984). of the mingling of a drop 159 . 1963)."' Bijdragen. John on theIncomprehensible Nature of God (Washington. Parmentier.. St.. 28bis (Paris: Cerf. Evagrius Ponticus. that we find the earliest use of the ocean motif in Christian mystical literature. 13 This text. 13. For an introduction of some other patristic uses of sea symbolism. or spiritual beings (logikoi).: Catholic University.. I use the translation of Paul W.. An image that Evagrius uses for the goal of this ascent back to "essential gnosis" is that of the rivers flowing back into the sea: "When minds flow back into him like torrents into the sea. Salvation brought through Christ consists of regaining the lost unity through the overcoming of vices on the ascetic level and growth in contemplative prayer. but we wonder fearfully when we stoop down and see how deep it is. Harkens. 60. among others.g. differentiation. a kind of absorption into God. Following Origen. Sources Chretiennes (hereafter. He was struck with shuddering. from Evagrius's Epistolaad Melaniam 6. Evagrius taught a double creation. Evagrios Pontikos:Briefe aus der Wiste (Trier: Paulinus Verlag. 1986). Thomas Aquinas. in Jean ChrysosChrysostor Homily 1 on the Divine Incomprehensibility. pp. Jean Danielou et al. so also in the fusion of minds with the Father no duality of natures or quaternity of persons [i. ed. but a more stance" was picked up by John of Damascus (Defide orthodoxa1. tome:Sur l'incomprehensibilite de Dieu. D. Chrysostom p. 1:116-18. because they are united and joined with him. It was in this way that the Psalmist stooped down [referring to Ps. "Evagrius of Pontus' 'Letter to Melania. They will no longer be many but one in his unending and inseparable unity."'2 It was with a student of the Cappadocians turned desert monk.C.

The image of the desert played a wider and more positive role than that of the ocean in the Latin fathers." Divinitas (MiscellanaeAndre Combes) 11 (1967): 331-75.25. could be taken both negatively and positively-as a journey into the abode of demons to do battle with the forces of evil or as a necessary separation in order to encounter God in the "desert blooming with the flowers of Christ" that the failed monk Jerome praised.20-22. with reference to "the desert of this life" and its equivalents. and Enarratioin Psalmum62. For the history of this image.5.'6 The monastic exodus out into the desert. the most noted treatise on the desert in the early Latin West. Conlationes19. and his friend the ascetic Bishop Eucherius of Lyon probably composed the De laude heremi.'7 Cassian's Conferencesare filled with praise of the desert (e..7-8. ferrum ignitum.g. which identifies the desert with paradise: "Infinita heremi vastitas terret? Sed tu Paradisum mente deambula.g.'5 it is difficult to find evidence that either he or Cassian directly inspired later identifications of God with the ocean or sea.8.5 and following). that is. Wotke. luce perfusus aer': L'origine de trois comparisons familieres a la theologie mystique medievale. ut diabolus qui uicerat in paradiso in heremo uinceretur!" See Sancti EvcheriiLvdvunensisOperaOmnia. 31:191. Ambrose Explanatio in Psalmum 118 14. "Great is the praise of the desert. see Jean Pepin.14 In this sense Evagrius was the pioneer of much to come.16. and De Isaac 5.44. that the devil who conquered in paradise might be conquered in the wilderness!" 18 This treatise also introduced the notion of the inner desert to the Latin West. Cassian Conlationes8. the ongoing presence of a unity-in-diversity by which the mind is both fused into the Father and yet remains distinct.10. John Cassian. C. however. 15 See." Compare Eppistolae20 and 125. Tertullian AdversusMarcionem3. showing that after the Fall from paradise the only way to regain the true paradise of heaven has been through the experience of the desert. that is.34. Eucherius traced the desert motif through the history of salvation. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum.. Although his positive use of the symbolism of the sea in relation to God also appears in his pupil. "'Stilla aquae modica multo infusa vino. where the "breath of the Divine Spirit" drives us "into the deep sea" of questions about God. through whom the union becomes possible. n. 16 For example. pp. Augustine Confessiones 2. e. 160 . just as the Son and the Holy Spirit.The Journal of Religion careful perusal in the light of full consideration of Evagrius's teaching on union uncovers a continuing dialectical element. also are one in divinity yet distinct in person. 17 Jerome Epistola 14. p. the description of the soul stripped of worldly care and rejoicing in silence as the true paradise of divine encounter-"Here is the meadow and pleasure of the interior of water in a vat of wine. 1991). It too was often employed in a negative sense. 154-55. ed. supports a similar interpretation of the passage. 396. 14 For Evagrius's teaching on union.3. Bunge. 18 De laude heremi23: "O laus magna deserti. 50. see my TheFoundationsof Mysticism: Originsto the Fifth Century(New York: Crossroad.

Ocean and Desert man. in Moralia inJob 23. Joseph Turk [Rome: Tipografia Pio X. pp. did the use of the desert as a symbol for God originate? Here. Indeed. The Cistercians: Idealsand Reality [Kent. but this seems unlikely. see Jacques Le Goff.4-7). For example. to create the "desert-aspect" of language about God. 3 above)."19 Despite this rich development. Recently. pp. and the use of symbols of geographical sublimity in mystical discourse. 32:10 ("invenit eum in terra deserta in loco horroris et vastae solitudinis"). here the desert is uncultivated. In his "Le d6sert. identifying the desert into which Moses fled (Exod. 47-59. the early Cistercian documents described the original site of the monastery of Citeaux in 1098 as a locum tunc horroris et vastaesolitudinis("Summa exordii Cisterciensis. hic incultum desertum.20. p. but God was not a desert.20-22): "Hic interioris hominis pratum et uoluptas." Revue des etudes latines 46 (1968): 379-409. p. who redefined the desert as any solitary place (which in northern Europe usually meant either a hut in the forest or an island in the sea). pp. though important for inducing the movement within by which the monk encountered the divine immensity. 16-20). or even as any location in which the monastic life was practiced. one of the Middle High German tractates in'9 De laude heremi39 (191. 20 For an introduction to the medieval view of the desert. "Zur literarischen Eigenart von Eucherius' Schrift De laude eremi. however. 1977]. and Pierre Courcelle.37. 265-66. could only be brought to expression by less immediate. outer and inner. provides the clue. there it is delightful in wondrous charm. vasta solitudo. 1949]. 1988). as in so much else. although there is evidence that the site was actually inhabited (see Louis J. ed. reflected by my opening quotation from Burke.(2) remotus. Leclercq identifies the medieval monastic understanding of eremus/desertum with the notions of (1) vastitas. Ohio: Kent State University Press. For studies of the De laude heremi. nowhere among Eastern or Western monks have I been able to find a single reference to God as the desert. then. 19:3) with the interior sleep in which God is heard." (n. illic mira amoenitate iucundum est.20Reflection on this fact already begins to qualify any simple relation between the experience of the sublime in nature." Vigiliae Christianae 22 (1968): 198-208. Where. 3 above]." The yoking of desertumwith the notion of vastitas. "Nouveaux aspects de la culture lerinienne. as we have seen in Evagrius. Why? Perhaps the actual experience of life in a solitude so challenging and frightening. 161 . was probably as much the product of biblical influence. 81). whose early sixth-century writings purport to come from Paul's closest disciple. The monks found God in the desert. The desert of the body and the paradise of the soul are one and the same. especially Deut." The encounter with Christ that takes place in the interior desert is also described through the use of the erotic language of the Song of Songs in chap. 38 (191. Lekai. Hans Bayer has claimed that the text is actually twelfth-century ([n. such as that of the ocean. as it was of physical geography.secretus. eademque corporis est heremus animae paradisus. abditus.see Ilona Opelt. less threatening symbols." in TheMedieval Imagination(Chicago: University of Chicago Press." in Cistercii StatutaAntiquissimi. 21).and (3) interiorin the sense of"removed from the periphery. I think that the mysterious Dionysius. It would remain for medieval Western Europeans. "The Wilderness in the Medieval West. Gregory the Great also used the theme of the inner desert.

which cites Isa. Jeauneau. ed. Deseritur enim ab omni creatura. Eriugena first interprets the desert as the Jewish people bereft of spiritual knowledge of scripture. d6 wart si enthalten in der wiieste der gotheit. per quod facta sunt omnia.6 (PG 3:596). quod omnino diuinae conuenit naturae. Dionysius also made use of ocean symbolism. p. 1924).) and may also involve a wordplay between the Neoplatonic technical use of eremiaas "rest or tranquility" and generic use of eremia. "Dionysius says regarding this. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht." 22 Following in the footsteps of the Cappadocians. In exegetingJohn 1:23. because Dionysius was the first author available in the West (Gregory of Nyssa preceded him in the East) to link the story of Moses's journey into the desert and ascent of Mount Sinai to meet with God with a fully laid out teaching on the unlimited and unknowable character of the divine nature. 162 . reprint. 'God's desert is God's simple nature."23 In this remarkable passage.'"'2 No such text can be found in the Dionysian corpus. although it does not 'desert' any intellect. through whom 'all things were made. 412: "Des Dionysius wol enpfant.Eremia is interpreted as 'removal' or 'height. but immediately advances a deeper understanding: "A more profound interpretation [theoria]understands it as the desert of the divine nature. quod est EPHMOC. EPHMIA quippe interpretatur remotio et excelsitudo. ab omnibus remotae. aspect 21 See Tractate 11." Eriugena's derivation of EPHMOC from EPHMIA seems to be derived from Maximus Confessor (see n. ed. "Von der ubervart der gotheit.3 (PG 3:1057). 23Jean Scot: Commentaire p." p. we see the opposite pole of the dialectic of immanence and transcendence often found in mystical use of ocean and desert symbolism.The Journal of Religion correctly ascribed to Meister Eckhart makes the connection when it says. luce clarius significatur. d6 er sprach: d6 sich diu bl6ze sele mit irm blozen gote vereinte. 40:3 (egovox clamantisin deserto). John Scottus Eriugena. 1972). an inexpressible height removed from all things. Et hoc greco nomine. referring to the "limitless and bounteous ocean of divine light" in De caelestihierarchia 9.which he knew from Dionysius and translated as solitudo. ed.22 to read the authoritative Dionysius can be found in the fact that the first explicit identification of God as desert occurs in the thinker who made Dionysius available to the Latin world. This is clearly understood by the Greek word eremos.' cries out. 511)." in MeisterEckhart. Another reference to Dionysius as speaking of the Godhead as a desert occurs in Tractate 3. The name "desert" does not occur in the list of symbolic scriptural names that Dionysius says apply to God in De divinis nominibus1. especially in the first Another hint that this was a natural way chapter of his MysticalTheology.' which is perfectly applicable to the divine nature. pp. or immanent. It is in the very desert of divine height that the Word. ineffabilis altitudo. cum nullum intellectum deserit. but the anonymous follower of Eckhart was more correct than not. In ipsa itaque deserto diuinae celsitudinis uerbum clamat. 502-3: "Her uf sprichet Dionysius: gotes wiiestunge ist gotes einvaltigiu natfre" (cf. E. quia superat omnem intellectum. SC 180 (Paris: Cerf. because it surpasses all intellect. Evagrius appealed to the picture of rivers flowing back into the ocean to highlight the indistinct. 18 in Jeauneau. 140: "Altiori vero theoria desertum intelligitur diuinae naturae. Franz Pfeiffer (1857. It is 'deserted' by every creature. "Von der sele werdikeit und eigenschaft. sur l'evangiledeJean.

13 (PL 76:834C). in employing ocean and sea (oceanus. 385-94." Le Neoplatonisme (Paris: Editions du CNRS. quam in planis apertisque otiosa quiescere. Eriugena was unusual in relation to the early Latin tradition. Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 31 (hereafter. and trans. but he does not "desert" them. nullus veretur minas undarum.. not inexperienced in these waters . 4 (PL 122:744AB): "Tendenda vela. M.ed. 28JoannisScotiEruigenaePeriphyseon accelerat namque ratio perita hujus ponti.3 (Patrologia Latina 16:880A [hereafter. 25 Edouard Jeauneau. "Le symbolisme de la mer chez Jean Scot Erigene.3).1: "Tam uastam mysteriorum pelagus" (PG 12:210B).." Proceedingsof the Societyof Antiquariesof Scotland33 (1899): 129-33.the Periphyseon.20). Compare Ambrose Epistola 2.Eriugena compares the relatively smooth sailing of the first three books with the danger of shipwreck on the difficult seas of the investigation of the return of all things to God to be considered in the final two books. 1971)."27 At the beginning of book 4 of Periphyseon."26but the most interesting use of ocean symbolism occurs in his great summa. which produced holy men. navigandumque. both classical and Christian. Alan Orr Anderson and Marjorie Ogilvie Anderson (London: Nelson. shall speed our course: indeed she finds it sweeter to exercise her skill in the hidden straights of the Ocean of divinity than idly to bask in the smooth and open waters where she cannot display her power. Many Christian exegetes. Jerome Commentarii in Ezechielem 14 (PL 25:448D). J. MacKinley."28 24 See Adomnan'sLife of Columba. Without advancing an argument based on crude "Iromania. had spoken of scripture as a "vast sea of mysteries." it is noteworthy that early Christianity. then.6. p. Barbet. Compare J. 145.. Eriugena's writings also contain a striking image of the ocean of divinity. though without forgetting divine immanence-all intellects "desert" God. Nothing daunted. PL]). p. 1961). Eriugena speaks of the divina celsitudo. and Gregory the Great Homiliae in Ezechielem 1. this Brendan of Irish theologians adds: "Let us spread our sails. and set out to sea. though not without a note of continuing distinction.pelagus) in a largely on the CelestialHierarchyof Dionysius positive manner. cui delectabilius est in abditis divini oceani fretibus virtutem suam exercere. who set sail "to seek a desert in the ocean. beginning with Origen. like Saint Columba's friend Baitan. Iohannis Scoti Eriugenae Expositiones ed. pp.25 In his Commentary he speaks of "the sea [pelagus] of infinite goodness ready to give itself to those wishing to participate in it. 248: "Qui ad quaerendum in ociano desertum pergit" (1." I am using the translation found in Eriugena: Periphyseon (The Division of 163 .the height of the divine nature prior to all creation produced by the Word's creative shout.. As Edouard Jeauneau has shown. Significantly enough. 27 Origen In Genesim9. "In oceanodesertum:Celtic Anchorites and Their Island Retreats. .422-23: "Promptum namque est infinite bonitatis pelagus tradere se omnibus ualentibus participare illud" (9. 1975). in order to stress absolute transcendence. CCCM) (Turnhout: Brepols. For Reason.Ocean and Desert of what came to be called mystical union."24 also provided at least part of the background to Eriugena's mystical theory in which both desert and ocean appear as symbolic expressions of the divine nature. 26 in lerarchiamCoelestem.

23 in Sancti BernardiOpera. I. 100) and he also applied the imagery of the Exodus to the Cistercian life (e.East and West.ed. "The Desert Myth: Reflections on the Desert Ideal in Early Cistercian Monasticism.. ed. Jean Leclercq et al. a great admirer of the Carthusians. 1957-77]." that is.19. P Sheldon-Williams.33 though he does at times mention the interior solitude the bridal soul should cultivate in order to enjoy the visits of the divine Bridegroom.: Dumbarton Oaks. if only in tentative fashion.29 The next major stage in the evolution of this form of mystical symbolism took place. 1987). as far as I have been able to determine from the full early printings of the Gloss. e. as might be expected." in One YetTwo:Monastic Tradition. With in Iohannemsurregard to the desert motif. and Andre Vauchez (Paris. forms the initiating moment for such symbolism in the Western Christian mystical tradition. Nature). D. Hermitsand the New Monasticism(London: Macmillan. John J. Sermoin Qui Habitat 8. Basil Pennington (Kalamazoo.34 William of Saint-Thierry. rev. Bernard of Clairvaux's references to the desert are mostly unexceptional. 30 For a general sketch of the origins of later medieval eremitism. 34 For example.: Cistercian Publications. [Rome: Editiones Cistercienses.5 in Opera4:429). Washington. pp. The Cistercians made extensive appeal to the "myth of the desert. see Giles Constable. 29 This is not to say that Eriugena's texts were directly influential on later writers. 1976).e. praised both them and the Cistercians for reviving the fervor of the desert fathers. 183-99.35His Meditationsexpress his great devotion to inner solitude.35 for the Cistercians.g.. 383. against their Benedictine opponents. Henri Dubois. p. 35 William of Saint Thierry Epistolaaurea 1. Although the eleventh-century eremitical reforms culminating in the Carthusians did much to revive the actual practice of a life lived in forest solitude (i.. Jean-Claude Hocquet. 1987).30 the stress on the necessity for inner solitude was a theme found in many twelfth-century monastic circles. 31 For an introduction.C. Sermoin Cantica 40. the inner "desert" of the purified monastic ascetic (long a part of Western spirituality) with a Dionysian-inspired teaching about the divine desert. 1984). we must remember that his Commentarium vives in only one manuscript. "The Ideal of Inner Solitude in the Twelfth Century. trans. O'Meara (Montreal: Bellarmin. 32 See Benedicta Ward." in Horizonsmarins:Itinerairesspirituels(MelangesMichel Mollat). Mich. 3:96-97.4-5 (Opera2:26-27). especially among the Cistercians. while not framed in any autobiographically mystical text.4.70 for the Carthusians and Vita Prima Bernardi 1. 33 Bernard appealed to the desert fathers in his attack on Cluny (see Apologia 9. in deserto). SLG.3' Its more properly mystical use in describing the soul's immediate consciousness of God was accomplished by fusing. ed. his innovative reading of John 1:23 was not.g.The Journal of Religion Eriugena's use of desert and ocean language to describe the divine mystery. 164 .13 and 1. M. 1:27-34. the claim that they were reviving the real monasticism of the ancient fathers. in the twelfth century. see Henrietta Leyser.32 But the use of the desert theme among the first generation of Cistercians was fairly traditional.18. Although large portions of the text were incorporated into the Glossaordinaria.

2:14. 1-13 (pp.38-42). . 40 Isaac de l'Etoile:Sermons. Hilary Costello. if it has not been furrowed by the enemy's plow. the expanded account of the origins of the Order composed by Conrad of Eberbach about 1190. In his sermons for the first Sunday of Lent. ubi respondens ipse loet ibi loquarad cor quetur ad cor eorum.38 Within this Cistercian identity with the desert (as they understood it).37 It was in the second generation of Cistercian authors. SC 166 (Paris: Cerf. O Lord. ed. . Commenting on Song 3:6 ("Quae est ista quae ascendit per desertum sicut virgula fumi?"). dist. 1. which in the third of these sermons he describes as "the desert not only of place. A. was the continuator of Bernard's sermons on the Song of Songs. 37 Guerric d'Igny:Sermons. Gilbertof Hoyland: Sermonson the Song of Songs (Kalamazoo. an English Cistercian who died in 1172.4: "Desertum petant ac secreta loca ubi Deo vacent. he invites his monastic audience to follow Christ out into the desert. 1970). iuxta prophetam dicentem: Ducam eam in solitudinem eius" (2:182. Sermo 30. citing Hos. which gives rise to ecstasy when filled with spiritual joys. Guerric of Igny also praised the desert in his Fourth Sermon for Advent."36Among the other early Cistercians. Gilbert of Hoyland. that we find a new stage in the desert motif."39 Another contemporary English Cistercian (though one living in France). shows how important the use of the desert myth. 1978). he interprets the Bride's ascension through the desert as a turning away from the emptiness of this world. Domine.ed. 48-66). those active around 1160-90.3-4 (PL 184:75-76). . or even sometimes of God. Bruno Griesser (Rome: Editiones Cistercienses. Richard of Saint Victor also identified the desert of the Song (this time Song 8:5: "quae est ista quae ascendit de deserto") with the human heart. and G. Salet.: Cistercian Publications. . SC 207 (Paris: Cerf.ed.. consolationem solitudinis meae. G. as the prophet says: 'I will lead you into solitude and there I will speak to your heart. Hoste. Mich. Sermo 4. Isaac of Stella. 1961). went further. a more mystical use of the desert motif also appeared. where 36 William of Saint Thierry MeditativaeOrationes4.14 (PL 196:185CD). 216B and 217D). cor solitarium et colloquium tuum frequens" (cf.1-2 (1:134-42).Ocean and Desert as when he prays: "Give me. cap. had become. John Morson. 1974). the consolation of my wildernessa solitary heart and frequent conversation with you. 165 . ."'40 This desert is an interior one. See BenjaminMajor 5. 38 See Exordium sive Narratio de Initio Cisterciensis Magnum Cisterciense Ordinis. Raciti. The Exordium magnumCisterciense. 1:179-81. "They seek the desert and the secret places where they can be open to God. which rooted the Cistercian reform in a monastic tradition stretching back to John the Baptist and Jesus. but of the spirit. where he himself will answer and speak to their heart. one of the key betrothal texts of the biblical desert tradition. applying the symbol of the desert both to the body and the heart-"Your heart will surely be a good desert. and Placide Deseille. 39 Gilbert of Hoyland.9 (PL 180:217C): "Da mihi. I use the translation of Lawrence Braceland. Sermosuper Cantica 15.

but it does seem likely that the twelfth-century emphasis on the desert of the heart combined with a renewed Dionysianism spearheaded by the Victorines and subsequently the Dominicans to create a powerful mystical topos. p. 88). 1967). De div.41 If we can grant that Isaac.. Gallus taught that there were two distinct ways of knowing God: through the "theoretical understanding" (theoricus intellectus). In Gallus's second commentary (Barbet. p. the last great Victorine (d. which grounds the rational theology that even pagans could attain.2:218.. de quo Exo. or through the "summit of affectivity" (apexaffectionis)." Compare Sermo 5. we go into ecstasy by continually meditating on his law" (emphasis mine). In his third commentary on the of both Song 3:6 and Exod. 5:3 as the Song. Why the divine desert found its favored home in Germany and the Lowlands in the later Middle Ages has more to do with the influence of the new Dionysian theology in German-speaking areas than it does either with the Teutonic longing for an escape to lands of burning sun made 41 Ibid. The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries witnessed an explosion of the divine desert motif in Western mysticism. Sermo 32. 169. meditemur iugiter in lege ipsius. Gallus interprets the desertum "inaccessible and singular supersubstantial solitude of the eternal Trinity" described by Dionysius in chapters 1 and 13 of The Divine Names. exemplo Domini Salvatoris. Mystical theology has two correlative aspects. p. has its appropriate textbook-the Song of Songs for the positive side and the works of Dionysius for the negative. 1:276). See also the comment on Song 3:6 on p. in good Scholastic fashion.15 (Sermons. 13f" (commenting on Song 2:10). Vrin. was a crucial figure. positive and negative. ipsum in deserto non solum loci. sed et spiritus vel etiam aliquando Dei. nom. This is also the reading given to the desert of Song 8:5 in the third commentary (Barbet. dilectissimi. Song 3:6 is interpreted as the soul's deserting of all things. 154: "Desertum est invia et singularis eterne Trinitatis supersubstantialis solitudo.SC 130. It is doubtful that either Eriugena or Isaac of Stella was the direct source of this.42This renewed Dionysian symbolization of the unknowable divine nature as desert seems to have been one of the major sources for the rich development of this motif over the next two centuries. 225). each of which. Isaac spoke of his exile to the island monastery of Re as a solitudosolitudinum(Sermo 14 in Isaac de l'Etoile:Sermons.177-80): "Itaque. 42 Thomas Gallus: Commentaires du Cantiquedes Cantiques.which is the source of mystical theology. but not as a desert. 1247). whose central place in the evolution of late medieval mysticism has become more and more evident in recent years.ed. 166 .19 (Sermons. Jeanne Barbet (Paris. this is the earliest Latin text that explicitly links the divine desert with ecstatic experience.. is here identifying God with the desert.1:154). including itself. ipsum nostrum spiritum excedentes cum angelis. Thomas Gallus. who was a profound student of Dionysius and also probably knew Eriugena. 5: Deus Hebreorum vocavit nos ut eamusviam triumdierumin desertum.The Journal of Religion . secuti.

. / So wonest du in der waren wiistenunge" (1. but rather a new utilization of the inherited language of the desert in the Christian tradition. 2.43 The German Beguine mystic. See Offenbarungder Schwester Mechthildvon MagdeburgoderDasfliessendeLichtder Gottheit. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.but in typically twelfth-century fashion. Du solt das wasser der pine trinken / Und das fur der mife mit dem holtz der tugende entzunden. In one passage. You shall drink the waterof suffering And light the fire of love with the wood of virtue. / Du solt vliehen das iht. Youshall stand alone And you shall go to no-one. see Frank Tobin. as Hans Jones noted a generation ago..35). Mechthilde of Magdeberg.. p.2. 24. esp. that the experience of meeting the divine Nothingness (dasniht) within the desert-soul was already a part of the new mysticism of the thirteenth century. "Mystical Expression: Mechthild von Magdeand Meister Eckhart" burg (University of Nevada) (I thank the author for allowing me access to this yet-unpublished essay). Gall Morel (1869. speaks of the desert (MHG einode. In the complex interplay between language and experience. You shall flee existence [dasiht].44 This passage comes close to later understanding of the divine desert in Meister Eckhart and his followers. rather than being a secondary epiphenomenon. ed. however. 17: "Du solt mifien das niht. "Myth and Mysticism. mystical theory. and 7. e. or even with the possible presence of more forest deserts in Germany than elsewhere in Europe. Eckhart's authentic writings refer to God as desert (einoede.wiieste."Journal of Religion 49 (1969): 315-29. It was not any "experience" of the natural desert. wiiestenunge)several times in her work. 328." she provides a dozen conditions for mystical desert-living: You shall love nothingness [dasniht]. For a study of Mechthilde on the desert. reprint. 6. at least as we would understand it today. For other uses of desert. though it does not directly identify God with the desert. The Flowing Light of Godhead. often helps create the possibility for certain forms of mystical consciousness.35.53.wiiestunge)at least a dozen See Hans Jonas.Ocean and Desert familiar by modern tourism. It suggests. Then you will live in the true desert. entitled "The Desert Has Twelve Things.. which made it such a powerful tool for the expression of mystical consciousness. see.23. Flowing Light 1. especially in relation to Eckhart.. Dionysian language of the desertum mysticum It was in the writings of Meister Eckhart that both aspects of the desert-the desert as the hidden divinity and the desert as the ground of the soul-are first set forth as a key mystical category. / Du sollt alleine stan / Und du solt zu nieman gan. 43 44 167 . 1963). one awaiting the renewed to give it full expression. largely with reference to the empty soul where God comes to visit.g...

502-3. though it is unlikely that Eckhart would have known Isaac's sermons. and in three of nine passages in the Pfeiffer texts) is the fact that it is found as Saint Dominic's favorite prayer when his wanderings took him to solitary places in the Nine Waysof Prayer. Simon Tugwell (New York: Paulist.ed. Leonard Hindsley)."46 This passage is exemplary for the Meister's teaching on several counts. esp. 242. 1979).. p. p. 2:14.48 But it is a dialectical form of indis45 There are eleven references in the critical edition of the DeutscheForschungsgemeinschaft that will be discussed below. und ich wil da spechen in ir herze ein mit einem. 168 . There are at least nine other references in Pfeiffer's MeisterEckhart (n. as we have seen. pp. 1989). 22. Moshe Idel and Bernard McGinn (New York: Macmillan. one in One. we should note its citation of Hos. Some of these passages have been accepted as authentic.The Journal of Religion times. Also see Richard Kieckhefer. it seems to indicate final absorption into God. p. 48 See my chapter. O'C." Harvard Theological Review 71 (1978): 203-35. A more likely reason for its frequency in Eckhart (it is cited in six of eleven appearances in the Quint ed. the union of indistinction that the "noble person" achieves with the "inmost ground of the divine nature.a Dominican text of ca. trans." in Mystical Union and Monotheistic Faith:An EcumenicalDialogue. 1 (London and Dulverton: Watkins. M. 102 (I owe this suggestion to Fr. Colledge and Bernard McGinn (New York: Paulist. one everlastingly. 74-78. See Early Dominicans:Selected Writings. 412." This "oneness-solitariness" here applies both to God and to the soul in an indistinguishable way. ein in einem und in einem ein eweliche". 402." where the preacher summarizes the character of the noble or just person: "Who then is nobler than he who on one side is born of the highest and the best among created things.' one with One.2. pp. 249. Tractate11. Eckhart's understanding of mystical union. Predigt 3. Tractate3. p. as I have tried to show more fully elsewhere. pp. pp.Commentaries. pp. The translation is from MeisterEckhart:TheEssentialSermons. 1982). 47 This biblical passage. Predigt 76. 215.47 In a typical wordplay the MHG word einoedeallows Eckhart to use the verse to bring out what for him was always the essential meaning of the desert theme. ed. was used by Isaac of Stella in his adaptation of the desert motif.and there I will speak to her heart." which I hold to be authentic Eckhart. in addition to the lengthy treatment in the sequence "Granum sinapis. 247. vol. another reference to the desert can be found in LiberBenedictus1 at 46. and in One. 1981). "Meister Eckhart's Conception of Union with God. and Defense. This passage is from the LiberBenedictus2 (DW 5:119. one from One. 511. which can be described as Eckhart's signature text for the desert motif. p.1. 1936-). "Love. First of all. 21 above).14. 1260.2. 25-37. is indeed a union of indistinction in which the soul and God are identical in ground. Walshe translates Predigt3 in his MeisterEckhart:Sermons and Treatises. Not unlike Evagrius's use of rivers flowing into the sea. p. Edmund Treatises.2. Predigt 76. e.1-7): "In ein einoede. Predigt 67. 'will lead the noble soul out into the desert [einoede]. The various volumes of Die deutschenWerkeand Die lateinischenWerkewill hereafter be abbreviated as DW and LW.45 One noted passage occurs at the end of the Sermon "Of the Nobleman. ein von einem.' says the Lord through the prophet Hosea. 26-27. Knowledge and Unio Mysticain the Western Christian Tradition. Amen.g. 46 Meister Eckhart:Die deutschen und lateinischenWerke: imAuftragederdeutschen Herausgegeben Forschungsgemeinschaft (Stuttgart and Berlin: Kohlhammer. Predigt 4. and on the other side from the inmost ground of the divine nature and its desert? 'I.

2:14. Predigt48 (DW 2:420. n. n.3-5): "Wan got leitet sine brfit uz aller creatfren wirdicheit und edelkeit an ein einoede in sich selber und sprichet selber in ir herze.ed. rather than the "sea of infinite substance. p."50 Here the wilderness indicates either the Father as the source of the Son (i.' Dar uber sprichet Dionysius: in gote begraben werden enist niht anders dan ein ubervart in ein unbeschaffen leben." This translation is from MeisterEckhart:Teacher p. as translated in MeisterEckhart:Teacher and Preacher. the Good).4): "S6 wonete er in ewicheit und wonete in dem geiste und wonete in einicheit und in der wiiestunge". ed.. Von solher sprichet sant Paulus 'ir sit t6t und iuwer leben ist mit Kristo in gote verborgen.2]) where the morsmysticatheme is combined with the desert: "Als6wirt diu sele an ir selber ze nihte. 50 Predigt 10 (DW 1:171. Some passages lay stress on the identification of the desert with God. 1 citing parallels. 48. 502 (LW 3:432-33). in die stillen wiieste". Eckhart also cites the Damascene pelagus infinitae substantiaein his Expositioin Exodum. "a sea of infinite substance. It seeks the ground.and in his own ground." because he is. 24 (LW 2:30). si nimet got in siner wiiestunge und in sinem eigenen and Preacher.e. Predigt 15 (DW 1:253.5-6): "Da gottes grund vnd der sele grund ain grund ist" (translation from MeisterEckhart:TheEssentialSermons. 60. it is no less appropriate a designation of the hidden mystery of the ground of the soul.2-3) with a citation of Hos. quoting John of Damascus. 249 [76. and takes God in his oneness and in his solitary wilderness [einoede]. 265. Defense. Eckhart taught that the soul could not be given an essential name because of its purity and simplicity.. 1986). Another unique usage occurs in a sermon that is probably not authentic (Pfeiffer. or perhaps the inner divine ground prior to all distinction of persons. as in sermon 10: "I have spoken of a power in the soul which in its first outpouring does not take God as he is good and does not take him as he is truth. emphasize the soul's inner being as the true desert. 192).9-10): "Ez wil in den einvaltigen grunt. daz ist: er machet sie im selber glich an der gnade. 53 For example. Similar concentration on the divine side of the equation seems to be in the fore in sermons 12. Central to all of Eckhart's preaching was the claim that "God's ground and the soul's ground are one ground. Truth) and the Holy Spirit (i.. p. however. and Treatises.51 Other passages."49 Eckhart's preference for the desert theme. p. diu in der wiiesten gotheit begraben ist. continuing to search.and in his vast wasteland [wiiestunge]. n. 169." to tease out the meaning of the soul's dialectically indistinct union with God is found primarily in his vernacular sermons. Predigt 81 (DW 3:400. 154 (LW 2:290).Ocean and Desert tinction in which God is the "more indistinct the more distinct [he] is. and 81.Commentaries. Predigt 17 in DW 1:282 and n.53but he certainly thought that 49 Expositioin Sapientiam.e. grunde." 52 For example. as Eckhart noted. Predigt 60 (DW 3:21. 51 Predigt 12 (DW 1:193." The reference to achieving the union of einoede through grace in this passage is unique. and the ExpositioinJohannem. and consequently indistinct."52 So if the desert is an apt symbol for the utter simplicity of the inaccessible divine nature. 169 . as suggested in sermon 52 and other texts. Bernard McGinn (New York: Paulist.12-15): "Si griindet und suochet vort und nimet got in siner einunge und in siner einoede.

" The centrality of this theme to Eckhart's thought can be judged by the lengthy 54 170 . 2:14 on how solitudo alone makes possible the realization of the identity between our ground and God's ground: "It says 'solitude. dan ez bekant si. we should note that the desert theme is not absent from Eckhart's Latin works. p. Got leitet disen geist in die wuestunge und in die einicheit sin selbes."54A passage from the following sermon indicates the correlation and the underlying identity of the two deserts in noting the mutual "breaking-through" by which each wilderness realizes its identity with the other: "This [human] spirit must transcend all number and break through all multiplicity. 55 Predigt 29 (DW 2.the Dominican Master explains how God can only be heard if we become deaf to all other things.' because Justice and the just person as such are solely one. s6 waere dir allez daz eigen daz ez in im selben ist.' because solely justice as such speaks to the sole just person and solely the just person as such hears Justice and hears it solely. s6 miieste diu einichet ir warumbe haben" (translation. Dirre geist hat kein warumbe. 56 Augustine Confessiones9. dan ez namen habe. speaking of the "uncreated something" in the soul.The Journal of Religion "desert" was a fitting metaphorical designation. da er ein luter ein ist und in im selben quellende ist. solitudo.10. 'Solitude.' and if it were to have a 'why. quia iustitia et iustus ut sic unum solum est. und als6. iustus enim et iustitia sola iustitia est.12-619.1): "Solitudo.6-8) in which Eckhart invites his audience to "practice a solitude of the spirit" ("er muoz ein innerlich einoede lernen") by breaking through things to grasp God may be an early version of this theme. und er wirt von gote durchbrechen.76.4): "Dirre geist muoz ubertreten alle zal und alle menige durchbrechen."'55 Finally.2-77. als er mich durchbrichet.joch kurzer dan einen ougenblik. and it is broken through by God." A reference in the early Rede der 6 (DW underscheidunge 5:207. The exegetical foundation of the desert motif in inherited language is clearly set forth here as Eckhart quotes Augustine's insistence on the need for silence from his account in the Confessiones of the Ostia vision and the text from Hos. which he notes confuses many learned clerics (including his subsequent inquisitors). God leads the spirit into the desert and into his own oneness where he is Pure One welling up in himself. LiberParabolorumGenesis 149 (LW 1:618. et hanc solam. und ist me unbekant. If you could annihilate yourself in an instant (or rather quicker than an instant). he says: "It is an alien land and a wilderness. In a lengthy discussion of anthropology in his Bookof the Parablesof Genesis. you would be everything that it is in itself.6-8): "Ez ist ein elende und ist ein wiiestenunge und ist me ungenennet. als6 durchbriche ich in wider. This spirit has no 'why. and more unknown than it is known.' oneness would also have to have a 'why. quia sola iustitia ut sic soli iusto loquitur et solus iustus ut sic iustitiam audit. I break through him in return. 288). In German sermon 28. MeisterEckhart:Teacher and Preacher. Just as he breaks through me. ich spriche. the just person and Justice are solely Justice. and it is more unnamed than possessing a name. und solte er dehein warumbe haben. Kundest df dich selben vernihten einen ougenblik. 56 Predigt 28 (DW 2:66.

"Granum sinapis: An den Grenzen der Sprache. us tif. us verre. us na. us ist als6. 301-29. The Middle High German sequence known as the "Granum sinapis.58 The final stanzas of the "Granum sinapis" turn to the personal appropriation of the mystery of the Trinity.ed." in Sermomysticus: Studienzu Theologieund SprachederdeutschenMystik. us h6. Its mode of being is unique. pp. MeisterEckhart:Theologe. das us ist weder diz noch daz. it is near. So broad. and then a personal address to his soul involving a watery image: analysis given to the relation of the just man and Justice in Expositioin Johannem 14-27 (LW 3:13-21). It stretchesout immeasurably. O intellect! The road leads you Into a marvelousdesert. 171 . negative predicates. ir wise di ist sunderlich. so wide. positive predicates. first a second-person strophe in which Eckhart invites the reader to move out into the "desert's track" ("so kums du an der wuste spor"). Alois M. 58 Us hi. Strophe 4 deals with how the intellect relates to this mystery under the images first of climbing a mountain and then of the journey out into the divine desert: The mountainof this point Ascend without activity.Prediger.57 The fifth and sixth strophes present a rich variety of forms of predication that seek to present the mysterious desert from all angles. the divine desert spread to other forms of mystical literature and other languages. such as It is here. The desert has Neither time nor place. Haas. 47-49: Des puntez berk stig ane werk. The first three stanzas summarize the Meister's doctrine of bullitio. of Kurt Ruh. di wit. and dialectical predicates. Mystiker(Munich: Beck. 1979). pp. it is high. us da. Haas (Freiburg-Schweiz: Universtititsverlag. vostentlichkeit! der wek dich treit in eine wfste wunderlich. Along with the study found in the fourth chapter of Ruh's book. the inner boiling or emanation through which the three persons of the Trinity are distinguished." is a striking presentation of the main themes of Eckhart's mystical teaching. 1985). 57 I will cite from the ed. It exists In such a way that it is neither this nor that. unmezik lit. it is there.Ocean and Desert In the early fourteenth century. di breit. It is far." or "Mustard Seed. It is deep. see esp. Alois M. di wuste hat noch zit noch stat.

The text is almost certainly not by Eckhart. 1980). The Latin commentary is really a form of mystical handbook. but only of the interioradesertiof the soul.distinctiones 4.2-42. 431. pp. 39. 36 in the translation of Mother Columba Hart. De septemitineribusaeternitatis.distinctiones2. 41. 5 (see Rudolf von Biberach: De septem itineribus aeternitatis. 437. On the desertum mysticum. 7. Hadewijch:The CompleteWorks 62These poems were edited by Jozef van Mierlo. 43. sink in di grundel6ze vlut! 60 This commentary has been edited and studied by Maria Bindschedler.6 (p.The Journal of Religion 0 my soul. the great Beguine mystic of the midthirteenth century. (New York: Paulist. Many scholars have seen 18-29 as coming from a later period.1-5 (pp. Hadewijch:Mengeldichten (Antwerp: Standaard. 87-89.. 6. In her "Poems in Stanzas. 59 172 .10 (p. twenty-nine pieces that were often ascribed to the great Beguine. Der lateinischen Kommentar zum GranumSinapis (Basel: Schwabe. 77-113. 44. and 25-29. Hugh authority ducing Gallus. 1991).1-2 (p. chaps.2 (pp.see esp. 38. 230-34. Jansen discusses the use of the image of the wustine on pp." the "desert wilderness" ("wilde woestine") is a place of suffering created by divine Love ("minne") to test the soul until it can win through to the promised land of the full enjoyment. 187. 61 See "Poems in Stanzas" 22 and esp. e. not unlike the contemporary work of the German Franciscan Rudolph of Biberach. 88-90). 414. 94-98). pp. De tertioitinere. one which discusses the desertum of of Saint the and Thomas Victor. which she shows to be quite close the authentic Hadewijch. esp.which also uses the desert theme. which are rather different.61 This teaching also appears in places in the "Poems in Mixed Forms" ("Mengeldichten"). 63On this theme. See her The Measure of Mystic Thought:A Study of Hadewijch'sMengeldichten(Goppingen: Kummerle. see Jansen.60 Other poetic renderings of the desert of God can be found in the poems attributed to Hadewijch.1 (p. 36. but recently Saskia Murk Jansen has distinguished between 17-24.2 (p.63Poem 26 is reminiscent of the language and themes of the "Granum sinapis. genk iz. admysticum tary written on it. got in! sink al min icht in gotis nicht. 86). 64-67. 92-94). 462).6-16 (p. 459." though it uses the word "simplicity" ("eenvoldecheit") rather than "desert" to express the "land" in which the "poor in spirit" find their true home: The poor in spirit must live Withoutnotions in a vast simplicity[wide eenvoldicheit]. pp. 98). 136). De secundoitinere. 1949). especially concerning the soul as a "spark" ("vonke") of God and of union as "unknowing without ground" ("onwetenne sonder gront"). 460. 90). pp. 417. and it is remarkable for the direct knowledge it shows of Eriugena's writings. 40. 4. and De quintoitinere. 1952). [let] God in! Sink all my something In God's nothing Sink in the bottomlessflood! [di grundeloze vlut]59 The "Granum sinapis" is also unusual in having a learned Latin commenin detail. 0 sele min.62 The last four of these contain a teaching closer to that of Eckhart. Dionysius.g. ed. 1985]. 88). Go out. The first seventeen are universally held to be authentic. Margot Schmidt [Stuttgart-Bad Canstatt: Frommann-holzboog.distinctiones4. and 70.

"'In This Pure. Jn dese weelde wide eenuldicheit Wonen die arme van gheeste in enecheyt. but the negative theology found in Eckhart and his followers is predominant in the series of twenty trinitarian miniatures.pp. Die altoes antwerdet der ewicheyt. is a form of mystical manual produced for a female religious about 1300. "Zes en Twintigste Gedicht": Die arm van gheeste sijn sonder waen Jn die wide eenuoldicheit ontfaen. wild simplicity Live the poor in spirit in unity. Wild Desert': Pseudo-Hadewijch and Flemish Beguine Spirituality" (University of Montana). I wish to thank Paul Dietrich for help in producing an English version of this piece. In this wide. noch wise. Hadewijch:Mengeldichten.65 In this sumptuous manuscript. see his unpublished paper. reason. Neither opinion.64 The spread of the theme of the divine desert at the end of the thirteenth century can also be illustrated by an early fourteenth-century attempt to give pictorial expression to apophatic mysticism.' He said to him: 'Bernard. as Jeffrey Hamburger has shown. land circa 1300 (New Haven. modality. 64 65 Beinecke Studies in EarlyManuscripts: The YaleUniversity Library Gazette 66. Without form. suppl. noch dincken. one put in the mouth of Saint Bernard: "'O Lord. For a discussion. lead me where you are.: Yale University Press. Daer en vendense niet dan ledicheit." TheRothschild Canticles: ArtandMysticism in Flanders andtheRhineJeffrey E Hamburger. Nothing is there save emptiness. pages of excerpted spiritual texts face a rich series of illuminations-the ensemble being carefully designed to engage the viewer and reader in a process of contemplative lectio divina intended to lead to mystical ecstasy. Ever answering to Eternity. the Rothschild Canticles is a potpourri of themes and traditions. no weten. Like the contemporary unillustrated mystical manuals mentioned above. The manuscript known as the Rothschild Canticles. Conn. 173 . or learningOne that is boundless and without limit. Si es sonder cierkel wijt onghemeten. noch merken.' 'My night has no darkness and the glory of my light illumines all things. and "Revelation and Concealment: Apophatic Imagery in the Trinitarian Miniatures of the RothschildCanticles. or sense.. beVan Mierlo. thought.' Bernard prayed: 'Lord. The concluding trinitarian image is a mandalalike image of pulsating concentric circles and flames with a facing text that explicitly adverts to the desert motif.Ocean and Desert It is without end or beginning. Die en heeft inde noch beghin Noch vorme. ed. lead me into the desert of your deity and the darkness of your light and lead me where you are not. 136-37. (1991): 134-58. attention. 1990). noch redene. I will not. noch sin Noch duncken.

1990). 1 (Munich: Beck.70 Where the ocean symbol was picked up. this seems to be an implied critique of the "desert" form of indistinct union. in alio tam effluens quam infusa. for example. 1958). 385.ed. and "not outflowing but infused" for the Holy Spirit.p. p. as when he talks of the angelic order of Dominations as being "rapt while still conscious through excessive wonder of the sweetest and most intense contemplation into so vast a sea of divine brightness." which is poured out in a trinitarian manner: "out-flowing but not infused" in the case of the Father. one that the real Saint Bernard would have agreed with. you would be annihilated to me and to yourself. super Cantica. The RothschildCanticles. though "one and the same in all. vol.23). 222. 208: "Domine."67 The abbot's two other references to the sea of brightness show that he restricted its enjoyment to heaven. unlike the identification of God with the divine desert.3 (PL 184. was primarily among some of the Beguines."69This dynamic picture of the Trinity as a flood of waters appears to have had echoes among the vernacular mystics of the late Middle Ages. Bernardus orauit: domine. that we have gotten lost in the desert. cum sit tamen in omnibus una et eadem ipsa" (5. Whatever happened to the sea and ocean imagery briefly discussed at the beginning? I would now like to return to this motif. in tertio non effleuns sed solum infusa. at this point. 70 See Kurt der abendlandische Ruh. 67 SC 19.9-10).17-19): "Intentissimae suavissimaeque contemplationis stupore nimio. sed sensato rapti in illud divinae claritatis tam ingens pelagus.17-18). and De diligendo Deo 11.30 (Opera3:144. which has a definite track in Western Christian mysticism because of its scriptural foundations. because it seems to me that.68 Slightly later.3 (S. 174 ." A more extensive treatment of the pelagus divinae majestatis can be found in the continuator of Bernard's Sermones 6. It may seem. 66 Hamburger. in his Tractatus 68 See SC 26. duc me in desertum tue deitatis et tenebrositatem tui luminis et duc me ubi tu non es. ocean symbolism was far more sporadic in the history of Christian mysticism. duc me ubi es. we find Bernard of Clairvaux at times employing the notion of the sea. quoniam si ducerem te ubi sum. p. Bernardi Opera 1:110. among a host of other water images in thirteenth-century mystics."'66 Though whoever put the Rothschild Canticles together was touched by Eckhartian teaching. Jean Ribaillier (Paris: Vrin.30-34: "Dicatur itaque illa divinitatis unda et summi amoris affluentia in alio tantum effluens nec infusa. its connection with the eremitical ideal and the influence of Dionysius. "as much outflowing as infused" for the Son. 105v).5 (Opera 1:173. applied to his dead brother Gerard. annichilareris [sic] michi et tibi" (f. In the twelfth century. dixit ei: barnarde [sic]. Gilbert of Hoyland. Richard of Saint Victor in his De Trinitate speaks of the "flowing wave ("unda") of divinity and overflowing of love. sed lux glorie mee omnia inlucessit [based on an antiphon for Feast of Saint Lawrence]. 69Richardde Saint-Victor: De Trinitate. non facio. Die Geschichte Mystik. 273AD). though only briefly.The Journal of Religion cause were I to lead you where I am. Mea nox obscurum non habet.

that overflows everywhere on everything." The abyss. ed.. ever does in him.72 Hadewijch often uses the language of the abyss. and 13 (see Hart. 302). 72-74: Mi smelten mine sinne In minnen oerwoede.. Rombauts Strofische Bewerking. is how she creates a watery analogue to the dual function of the desert we have already seen in Eckhart. and his own selfsufficiency ever finds fruition to the full in this soul. 2 vols. p."7 The authentic Hadewijch has a wide variety of watery images. For Love's deep new abyss Renews my wound.255-56 (p.252-55:"He is buten al: wanthine rustetin ghene dinc dan in die druusteghenature siere vloyendervloededeghe vloede. pp.1961). which can be understood as suggesting both the immeasurable depth and the overwhelming flood that characterizes the divine mystery. Die afgront daer si mi in sende Die es dieper dan die zee. My soul melts away In the madness [oerwoede] of Love. both God and the soul were trackless wastes. Wanthare nuwe diepe afgronde Die vernuwetmi di wonde. pp. 1965). 56) and "Vision" 73 Brieven. indeed. As a passage from letter 18 puts it: "The soul is a bottomless abyss in which God suffices to himself. or flood to indicate how the utterly hidden and independent divine nature flows out from itself into all things: "He is outside of all.g. and N. The Englishversion is by Hart (n. 11. 13.or whirlpool. and God is a way for the passage of the soul into its 71 Beatriceof Nazareth. as in Licht1. For the German Dominican. for its part. 297-302). A passage from the seventh stanzaic poem is typical: The abyssinto which she hurls me Is deeper than the sea.2. Religious Mechthildeof Magdeburgalso occasionally employs the language of wateras source. 1947). for he rests in nothing other than the tempestuous nature of his own profusely overflowing flood. 61 above). Hadewijch: 1:198. For Hadewijch both God and the soul are abysses-each can sink into the other endlessly. 289-93. as the soul.p. whirlpool. but I will use the version found in Hadewijch Gedichten: Middelnederlandse Tekst en moderne introducedby E. swimming in the vast sea and resting in its deeps. 145. e."73 What is most significant about her appeal to the motif. 175 . Similarformulationsabout the soul losing itselfin the abyssof the divine sea of love can be found in. Jozef van Mierlo (Antwerp: Standaard. however. "Letter" 5. Soul is a way for the passage of God from his depths into liberty. 2 vols. as translatedby Eduitgegegen mund Colledge. (Antwerp:Standaard. 25. 267. 1942). di al omme ende al ouervloyen.Seven manieren van minne critisch 6. language is also found in Visions 1. when she speaksof the "flutus dem brunnen der fliessendedrivalDasfliessende tekeit." 72 The stanzaic Gedichpoems were firstedited by Jozef van Mierlo.28-36 (p.Medieval Netherlands Literature (London:Heinemann. especially centering on the term abyssus(Middle Netherlandish afgront). De Paepe (Zwolle:Tjeenk Willink.Hadewijch: Strophische ten.Ocean and Desert Beatrice of Nazareth speaks of the soul moving through divine love "like a fish. the same barren waste that paradoxically was to bloomor boil over-in the inner life of the Trinity and the creation of the universe.

230."74This sounds remarkably like the double "breakthrough" from Eckhart's sermon 29. et n'ena point. 326. also made use of ocean imagery.g. Lerner. 60 [p.Dat es in sinen gront die niet gheraecten can werden. 76 For a presentationof Marguerite'snotion of indistinct union.3-156. Marguerite also uses the language of the abysswithout any wateryconnotationsto describeeither God or the soul (e.7-11]. into his inmost depths. though without the dynamic character and violence of Hadewijch's symbolism. pou gloser l'ententcommentceste Ame vint de mer. chap.) Image of Mixed Liquidsin Late MedievalThought. 234. has a complex teach- 74 "Letter" 18. See also "Letter"12.6-10)..Pareillementest il de ceste Ame. and when it returns to the sea it also loses its name and has none except for the name of him in whom it has been perfectly changed. which has a name.3-6).. Hadewijch: Brieven. Or elle est en mer. 400-2). chap. 137-38 (pp.4-50 (pp.146). it loses its course and its name that it had as it ran through many lands in doing its work. chap. 118 [pp. chaps. Vous avez de ce pour ce assez exemple. however. Romana Guarnieri and Paul Verdeyen.Ende god es een wech vandendore vaerneder zielen in harevriheit. [pp. where she discussed how the annihilated soul loses its name when it is united with God.130-328. we need to remember that even the condemned Marguerite.elle pert son courset le nom d'elle.76 Here again. or any other river. qui quoy elle est parfaictement a l'espousemuee toute en luy. in the love of the Spouse of her youth who changes the betrothed totally into himself. Ende si weder altoes in heme.le ou elle se repouse. whose writings were used by Eckhart. that ainsi pert son nom. 176. et ainsi a perdu tel labour. This soul comes from the sea and has a name. 53.13-16) and chap. she sounds remarkably like Evagrius Ponticus: It isjust like what happens with a streamwhich comes from the sea. Marguerite Porete. chap.. 236. as one would say the Aisne or the Seine. where it rests and loses its labor.see chap. 1:154-55):"Daeres de ziele ene grondeloesheit daer god hem seluen ghenoech met es.see RobertE. 86). Siele es een wech vanden dore vaernegods in sine vriheitvan sinen diepsten.The Journal of Religion liberty.75 We can note how powerfully a passage like this expresses a form of absorption into God.51): "Ainsi comme feroit une eaue qui vient de la mer. fors le nom de celluyen muee. 1986). Ende sine ghenoechte uan hem seluen altoes to vollen in hare eut nom.. this time with the accents of the spousal relation.2-7) and in chap."The 40 [1971]: 399-401. ou Sene.ed. ou une aultreriviere.sine gherakenemet hare diepheit"(p.dont elle couroiten plusierspays en faisantson oeuvre. 82 (pp. And when this water or river returns to the sea. the French Beguine executed for heresy in 1310.69-79 (VanMierlo. 28 (p. 80 (p."Church History The entire discussionof the soul's losing its name is filled with waterylanguage."(Fora discussionof this passage. c'estassavioren l'amourde l'espouxde sajouvence. that is. 70-71). 226. 51 [p. which cannot be touched except by the soul's quantcelle eaue ou riviererentre en mer. 75 CCCM69 (Turnhout:Brepols.7]. et commentelle rentre en mer. 150. 176 Ames.40-236.35-38]. chap. In one place in her work The Mirrorof SimpleAnnihilatedSouls.qui a aucun nom. comme len pourroitdire Aise. MargueritePorete:Le Mirouerdes Simples . 81 (p. see Marguerite Porete. 154.. 96. Now it is in the sea. 83 (p. The image of being dissolvedin the divine sea of joy is also found in chap.

however. 514-15. 204). 92. pp. see. ebbing sea. 42 (p. chap. Ferdinand Vetter (1911. developed out of Dionysian mystical thought before being made accessible to a wider audience in the preaching of Eckhart and his followers.79 My sketch of these late thirteenth. If. 419). If the use of ocean and watery abyss symbols to present aspects of the soul's union with God appears to have been more developed by women than by men. 86. 148-49 (p. H. in reflecting on the necessity of the need for sensible images of God "on account of the coarseness of the senses. chap. through other mystics of the fourteenth century. see Curt des MystikersJohannes Kirmsee. chap.g. 1930). 180) and chap. Rolfson (Turnhout: Brepols. that was significant for his combination of both forms of images. 1988). on "wieste. 2 (p." he notes: "The sublime nature of the Godhead is examined and beheld: how it is simplicity and one-foldness. to the profusion of desert imagery in John Tauler.. ibid.246 (p. as my sketch suggests. On Tauler's mystical vocabulary. trans. 3): "Pero che l'anima allora e in Dio e Dio e nell'anima. ed. inaccessi77 For some examples of these passages expressing distinction. These descriptions can be found at b. chap. John Ruusbroec was not only a learned priest but also a student of the vernacular female mystics who went before him. Compare esp. c. He seems to have preferred the language of the sea. see chap.10-12).78among others. 23 (p. "wiestenunge" in the Wortverzeichnis reprint. and the interesting variations in the ocean as part of a wider "symbolism of waters" in Catherine of Siena. referring to God in his key work The SpiritualEspousals as "a flowing. it may well have been Ruusbroec's opening to vernacular mystical texts. as well as desert and solitude. the divine desert motif seems to have been primarily a learned one. 130. both male and female. G.. as I have suggested.29-34). 122)." For some other appearances. 78 For some examples of Tauler on desert imagery. wiiestenunge. evidenced in his reading of Hadewijch. 80Jan van Ruusbroec. Alaerts. ed. p. e'l mare nel pesce.77 This is not the place to pursue these images of ocean and flood. 601). e. 177 . Caterina da Siena: II Dialogo.255 (p." "a fathomless whirlpool of simplicity. does suggest a final glance at one important fourteenth-century mystic who stands out by using them interchangably. 82. 21 (p." 79 S. 79 (p. Any relatively adequate treatment would demand attention."80 But. Die Terminologie Taulers(Engelsdorf-Leipzig: Vogel. Die geestelikeBrulocht. 1968). Cavallini (Rome: Edizioni Cateriniane. whether directly through Eckhart or not. 599). J. 1968). for example. who makes considerable use of contrasting symbols of the evil river of disordered love and God as the "peaceful sea" (marepacifico) in which the soul swims like a fish. chap. especially Hadewijch." and "the wild waves of the sea. then the widely read Ruusbroec certainly had access to it.and early fourteenth-century uses of the symbols of ocean and desert. si come il pesce che sta nel mare.44-49). 89 (p. see the references under "wieste" and to Die Predigten Taulers. and c.Ocean and Desert ing about union that includes elements of distinction as well as of indistinction.ed. Zurich: Weidmann. 54 (p.

the question of the existence of absorptive states of consciousness among Christian mystics. by which I mean that the symbols of indistinction. These uses of the symbols of ocean and desert seem to provide considerable ammunition for those who argue for a strand of what is sometimes called absorptive mysticism in Christianity.1033-39 (p."8 This passage can serve as a fitting summation. Eckhart. to merge into the divine reality in a final. ontoegancleke hoochde ende afgrondighe diepheit. though revelatory. alre heilighen raste in eenicheit. ed. mediation and immediacy. It would. when put back into the context of each mystic's thought-be it Evagrius. of course. to this partial survey of the early development of the themes of desert and ocean in the history of Christian mysticism. was never simply absorptive but was always at most dialectically absorptive. using the translation of the edition: "Die hoge natuere der godheit wert ghemerket ende aenghesien hoe si es simpelheit ende eenvoldicheit. Moreover. though by no means a closure. nondual way. a common enjoyment of itself and of all the saints in eternity. eene duystere stille ende eene welde woestine. An important school of modern philosophical study of mysticism argues that it is precisely in phenomenological descriptions of what I have been calling ab81 Die geestelikeBrulocht. ombegripelijcke breyde ende eewighe lancheit. Hadewijch. take at least another essay to begin to demonstrate my contention that the teaching of these Christian mystics. the notion that the goal of the mystical path is to become identical with God.82 This brings me to my final issue. and James N. it is precisely the function of the symbols of ocean and desert to suggest this "indistinction" aspect of the consciousness of the immediate presence of God. b. that is. Grace Jantzen. and unfathomable depth. when looked at as a whole. incomprehensible breadth and eterstille ende eene nal length. Noch mochtmen merken menich wonder inder grondeloser zee der godheit. as all symbols eventually must. e.g. that is. Geoffrey Vesey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Eriugena." 82 Other recent investigations of the role of what are often called pantheistic and monistic formulas in Christian mysticism reflect a similar viewpoint. such as the infinite ocean of divine being or the absolute emptiness of the desert of God. 1987). 147-66. But. "'To Be God with God': Autotheistic Sayings of the Mystics.the repose of all the saints in unity. 178 . as I have hinted throughout. the dual and the nondual. "'Where Two Are to Become One': Mysticism and Monism. one may observe many a marvel in the fathomless sea of the Godhead (grondeloserzee der godheit). The very fact that ocean and desert language plays a relatively restricted. 405-7). were qualified by being embedded in a wider teaching that allowed for both distinction and indistinction. Wiseman." in The Philosophy in Christianity. een ghemeyne ghebruken sijns selfs ende alre heylighen in eewicheit." TheologicalStudies 51 (1990): 230-51.. a dark stillness and a wild desert (eene duystere wilde woestine). role in Christian mysticism seems to suggest this. or Marguerite Porete-the symbols become more ambivalent. Of course.The Journal of Religion ble height.

a subsequent interpretation designed to explain the absorptive moment and make it more acceptable in a religion like Christianity. and religion.Ocean and Desert sorptive experiences that the essence of mysticism rests. and more profound. is all window dressing. culture. that is. a full answer is impossible here. but fairness demands that I note two essential differences between the perspective I have employed in discussing ocean and desert symbolism in the history of Christian mysticism and that which seems to me to govern much contemporary philosophical analysis of absorptive mystical experience. C. Forman." who claim that mysticism is always radically different because it is mediated by language. pp. Recently this debate. Press. First of all.83 I doubt that this revival of the medieval debate between idealists and nominalists is a fruitful way to approach a complex problem in a different philosophical era. as Augustine said-but also always transcendentally distinct from created reality. my presentation is based on a recognition of the difference between phenomenological accounts of experiences of divine absorption (or pure consciousness. C. which is all too often carried on through detailed analyses of contemporary philosophical accounts of mysticism with little attention to mystical texts themselves. The remainder. and Forgetting. I would not rule out the possibility of a successful performance of the latter task. according to this view. Forman (New York: Oxford University of Pure Consciousness. 3-49. but the absence of serious attention to the differentiation of the phenomenological and the theoretical dimension of mystical texts in much recent literature leads me to wonder whether the categories created by contemporary philosophy of mysticism have thus far been helpful for this enterprise. Why do I say they are inadequate? Obviously. "Introduction: Mysticism. if they are the same). or theological subterfuge. or nonduality. and writings that use symbols of nonduality within theoretical presentations of mysticism. disagreement concerns the nature of 83 See Robert K." in The Problem ed. Constructivism. whether autobiographical or not. 1990). The texts that I have examined belong largely (though not exclusively) to the latter category and therefore can only be employed to deal with issues concerning mystical phenomenology after undergoing an extensive and subtle hermeneutical reinterpretation that has not been attempted here. A second. Robert K. 179 . and I hope that my brief study will not be construed as providing support to either camp in what I take to be a debate framed on inadequate premises. which teaches that God is not only immanent in everything-more interior to us than we are to ourselves. has been framed as a difference between those called "perennialists" because they hold that mysticism is really the same wherever it may be found and the "constructivists.

not by its phenomenological characteristics taken in isolation. or temporary states. If the modern study of religion is to be an open and critical pursuit of the truth. define what is meant by mysticism. absorptive states? Or does "mysticism. which has been mostly conducted by philosophers who share the premise that the existence or nonexistence of moments. or nonduality. nor did mystics in related traditions such as Judaism and Islam. only yield its true significance as a form of religious life when considered in relation to a total religious complex? Naturally. of course. as far as I know. But attention to the religious matrix of almost all mystical texts ("religion-free" mysticism does not seem to appear before the late nineteenth century) poses an alternative question: Are phenomenological or psychological accounts of mystical states extracted from their original religious contexts a sufficient object of study? Or are they only one stage in a broader and more constructive investigation? Is mysticism (a term created only in the seventeenth century and given academic life in the nineteenth) to find its defining characteristic in the investigation of trancelike. "What is mystical experience?" The academic study of religion. especially when framed between the false dichotomies of "perennialists" and "constructivists. it has to admit the possibility that the mystics themselves may have been correct. the split between those concerned with studying mysticism within religious traditions and those who approach it as an issue in the general investigation of religion. and it may be less than the "religion within religion" that investigators unhappy with religious pluralism have made it. whether philosophically conceived or not.The Journal of Religion mysticism itself. demands a critical investigation of such traditional claims. cultural. The rise of academic study of religion did not create. or pure consciousness. not in the academic debate over the question. In these religions "mysticism" (to use our word. not theirs) was conceived of as a process involving both a way of life and a form of knowledge whose authenticity could only be judged by its effects in relation to a total religious complex. these rhetorical questions suggest the direction of the answers I would give to these difficult problems-and also why I find much of the contemporary debate over mysticism. The study of mysticism may be more than phenomenological and psychological investigation. No Christian mystic ever thought this to be the case. but has doubtless exacerbated. a world of social." however we may define this academic construct. of subjective trance. The phenomenological issue of whether or not what may have been experienced by particular mystics was unmediated awareness 180 ." not terribly constructive. and religious symbols and practices. This division is evident in even a brief survey of the debate between the so-called perennialists and constructivists. The mystics' understanding of "mysticism" was always embedded in a religious matrix.

Secretum meum mihi ("My secret is my own"). more hidden ones. To be sure. The mystic qua mystic provides precious evidence for the pursuit of both kinds of questions. Rather than trying to solve the mystery of mysticism. these questions are intimately related. as many Christian mystics insisted. if they exist. are two distinct questions. Her true concerns are ultimately different. 181 . our academic questions can only hope to try to be more precise about its location. and the philosophical and theological issue of how such experiences. A careful look at mystical texts seems to demand full critical attention to both kinds of issues.Ocean and Desert or pure consciousness of some sort. though perhaps only in indirect fashion. but those who have tried to abstract the first question from the second have often done so merely by masking rather than defending positions already adopted concerning the second set of questions. are to be related to what can be more or less adequately claimed about God. quoting the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 26:16).