The English Mystics

By Gerald William Bullett | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
THE MEDIAEVAL BACKGROUND

IN any study of this kind we have to be constantly on our guard against literalism: not merely against literalism in the cruder sense, but against regarding as adequate, or truly definitive, the words and expressions we are obliged to use, for lack of any others. In any use of language that goes beyond simple statement of apparent fact ('There is a field. In the field is a cow. The cow has four legs.') we must resort either to metaphor, imagery, and a measure of symbolism, which is more or less the way of poetry, or to analysis, which is the way of the mathematician and the scientist. These modes of speech are seldom found in isolation: ordinary discourse is a blend of all three. The danger of building for ourselves a world of words and becoming immured in it, and so cut off from reality, is seen equally in the two extremes of materialistic monism and subjective idealism, as well as in all detailed theological systems. Never is the danger more acute than in the realm of religious philosophy. The life of religion is not in words, nor yet in ideas as such: it is when words are done with and disputation ended that the spirit flowers into grace. Religion is prayer, and the purest prayer is not only petitionless, but wordless.

In our first chapter the experience common to all mystics was described as a 'spiritual sensation'. It is a convenient phrase, but we shall do well to recognize its logical limitations. For is not all sensation spiritual, in the sense of involving spirit? Sensation cannot belong to the body alone, any more than to the spirit alone. The concepts 'body' and 'spirit' are in fact abstractions. They stand not for two

-37-

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The English Mystics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Gerald Bullett's - Other Books Include iv
  • Title Page 3
  • Preface 7
  • Contents 9
  • Illustrations 11
  • Chapter One - The Subject Defined 13
  • Chapter Two - The Mediaeval Background 37
  • Chapter Three - George Fox 65
  • Chapter Four - Some Seventeenth-Century Poets 94
  • Chapter Five - The Cambridge Platonists 113
  • Chapter Six - William Law 129
  • Chapter Seven - Blake 161
  • Chapter Eight - Wordsworth 186
  • Chapter Nine - Comments and Conclusions 214
  • Bibliography 230
  • Index 235
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