As to several of them, we cannot tell whether they were composed at Brussels or at Groenendael, at the beginning, middle or end of his mystical life.
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All were written in the Flemish vernacular of his own day—or, strictly speaking, in the dialect of Brabant—for they were practical books composed for a practical object, not  academic treatises on mystical theology. Founded on experience, they deal with and incite to experience; and were addressed to all who felt within themselves the stirrings of a special grace, the call of a superhuman love, irrespective of education or position—to hermits, priests, nuns, and ardent souls still in the world who were trying to live the one real life—not merely to learned professors trying to elucidate the doctrines of that life.
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Ruysbroeck therefore belongs to that considerable group of mystical writers whose gift to the history of literature is only less important than their gift to the history of the spiritual world; since they have helped to break down the barrier between the written and the spoken word.
His enthusiasm it is which is equal to the task of subduing a new medium to the purposes of art. Thus at the very beginning of Italian poetry we find St. Thus German literature owes much to Mechthild of Magdeburg, and English to Richard Rolle—both forsaking Latin for the common speech of their day.
In Ruysbroeck, as in these others, a strong poetic inspiration mingled with and sometimes controlled the purely mystical side of his genius. In such rhythm the mystic seems to catch something of the cadences of that far-off music  of which he is writing, and to receive and transmit a message which exceeds the possibilities of speech. Ruysbroeck was no expert poet. Often his verse is bad; halting in cadence, violent and uncouth in imagery, like the stammering utterance of one possessed.
Eleven admittedly authentic books and tracts survive in numerous MS. The Twelve Virtues , and the two Canticles often attributed to him, are probably spurious; and the tracts against the Brethren of the Free Spirit, which are known to have been written during his Brussels period, have all disappeared. I give here a short account of the authentic works, their names and general contents; putting first in order those of unknown date, some of which may possibly have been composed before the foundation of Groenendael.
In each case the first title is a translation of that used in the best Flemish texts; the second,  that employed in the great Latin version of Surius. Ruysbroeck himself never gave any titles to his writings. Without ever over-passing the boundaries of Catholic doctrine, Ruysbroeck is here able to turn all  its imagery to the purposes of his own vision of truth.
This book too may well have been written before the retreat to Groenendael. By the threefold way of the Active, Contemplative, and Superessential Life, here described as the steady and orderly appropriation of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of man may enter into its inheritance and attain at last to the perfect fruition of God. It was more probably written during the early years at Groenendael. Paying due attention to the aberrations of the quietists, he exhibits—with an intimacy which surely reflects his own personal experience of the Way—the conditions under which selves in each stage of development may see, encounter, and at last unite with, the Divine Bridegroom of the soul.
A German translation of several of its chapters, preserved in MS. In this case it belongs to the years immediately preceding or succeeding his retreat. First come the three treatises apparently written for Margaret van Meerbeke, a choir nun of the Convent of Poor Clares at Brussels; who seems to have been to him what St. Clare was to St. In a series of magnificent chapters, he celebrates the mystical doctrine of the Eucharist, the feeding of the ever-growing soul on the substance of God; following this by a digression, full of shrewd observation, on the different types of believers who come to communion.
Clare at Brussels. This education admits her successively into the seven cloisters which kept St. Clare, Foundress of the Order, unspotted from the world. The first is the physical enclosure of the convent walls; the next the moral and volitional limitation of self-control. The fifth and sixth represent the two great forms of the Contemplative Life as conceived by Ruysbroeck: the ecstatic and the deiform.
Benedict, Richard of St. Bonaventura and many others as a useful diagram of the mystic way. He pours his strange wine into any vessel that comes to hand. It contains the finest flower of his thought, and shows perhaps more clearly than any other of his writings the mark of direct inspiration.
But the tower which he raises with its help ascends to heights unreached by  any other writer: to the point at which man is given the supreme gift of the Sparkling Stone, or Nature of Christ, the goal of human transcendence.
Nowhere else do we find such a marvellous combination of wide and soaring vision with the most delicate and intimate psychological analysis. It is believed to be one of his last compositions. Its doctrine differs little from that already set forth in his earlier works; though nowhere, perhaps, is the development of the spiritual consciousness described with greater subtlety.
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This section, so unlike his later writings, somewhat resembles The Spiritual Tabernacle , and may perhaps be a work of the same period. A critical list of the reprints and translations in which these may best be studied will be found in the Bibliographical Note.
Mystical writers are of two kinds. One kind, of which St. Teresa is perhaps the supreme type, deals almost wholly with the personal and interior experiences of the soul in the states of contemplation, and the psychological rules governing those states; above all, with the emotional reactions of the self to the impact of the Divine. Visions of Christ, experiences of the Blessed Trinity—these are sufficient names for the personal and impersonal aspects of that Reality with which the contemplative seeks to unite.
But the  other kind of mystic—though possibly and indeed usually as orthodox in his beliefs, as ardent in his love—cannot, on the one hand, remain within the circle of these subjective and personal conceptions, and, on the other, content himself with the label which tradition has affixed to the Thing that he has known. He may not reject the label, but neither does he confuse it with the Thing. He has the wide vision, the metaphysical passion of the philosopher and the poet; and in his work he is ever pressing towards more exact description, more suggestive and evocative speech.
The symbols which come most naturally to him are usually derived from the ideas of space and of wonder; not from those of human intimacy and love. In him the intellect is active as well as the heart; sometimes, more active. Plotinus is an extreme example of mysticism of this type. For them, as for St. Augustine, God is both near and far; and the paradox of transcendent-immanent Reality is a self-evident if an inexpressible truth. They swing between hushed adoration and closest communion, between the divine ignorance of the intellect lifted up into God and the divine certitude of the heart in which He dwells; and give us by turns a subjective and psychological, an objective and metaphysical, reading of spiritual experience.
Ruysbroeck is a mystic of this type. For him the ladder of contemplation is firmly planted in the bed-rock of human character—goes the whole way from the heart of man to the Essence of God—and every stage of it has importance for the eager and ascending soul. Hence, when he seems to rush out to the farthest limits of the cosmos, he still remains within the circle of Catholic ideas; and is at once ethical and metaphysical, intensely sacramental and intensely transcendental too.
Nor is this result obtained—as it sometimes  seems to be, for instance, in such a visionary as Angela of Foligno—by a mere heaping up of the various and inconsistent emotional reactions of the self. There is a fundamental orderliness in the Ruysbroeckian universe which, though it may be difficult to understand, and often impossible for him to express without resort to paradox, yet reveals itself to careful analysis.
He tries hard to describe, or at least suggest, it to us, because he is a mystic of an apostolic type. Now such an objective mystic as this, who is not content with retailing his private experiences and ecstasies, but accepts the great vocation of revealer of Reality, is called upon to do certain things. He must not only tell  us what he thinks about the universe, and in particular that ultimate Spiritual Reality which all mysticism discerns within or beyond the flux. He must also tell us what he thinks of man, that living, moving, fluid spirit-thing: his reactions to this universe and this Reality, the satisfaction which it offers to his thought, will and love, the obligations laid upon him in respect of it.
We, on our part, must try to understand what he tells us of these things; for he is, as it were, an organ developed by the race for this purpose—a tentacle pushed out towards the Infinite, to make, in our name and in our interest, fresh contacts with Reality. He performs for us some of the functions of the artist extending our universe, the pioneer cutting our path, the hunter winning food for our souls. The clue to the universe of such a mystic will always be the vision or idea which he has of the Nature of God; and there we must begin, if we would find our way through the tangle of his thought.
From this Centre all else branches out, and to this all else must conform, if it is to have for him realness and life; for truth, as Aquinas teaches, is simply the reality of things as they are in God.
That vision is so wide, deep and searching, that only by resort to the language of opposites, by perpetual alternations of spatial and personal, metaphysical and passionate speech, is he able to communicate it to us. This picture is personal to himself, the fruit of a direct and vivid inspiration; not so the terms by which it is communicated. These for the most part are the common property of Christian theology; though here used with a consummate skill, often with an apparent originality. Especially from St.
Bernard and the more orthodox utterances of his own immediate predecessor, Meister Eckhart—sometimes too from his contemporaries, Suso and Tauler—has he taken the intellectual concepts, the highly-charged poetic metaphors, in which his perceptions are enshrined.
So close does he keep to these masters, so frequent are his borrowings, that almost every page of his writings might be glossed from their works. It is one of the most astonishing features of the celebrated and astonishing essay of M. No student of the mystics will deny the abundant inspiration by which Ruysbroeck was possessed; but this inspiration is spiritual, not intellectual. The truth was told to him in the tongue of angels, and he did his best to translate it into the tongue of the Church; perpetually reminding us, as he did so, how great was the difference between vision and description, how clumsy and inadequate those concepts and images wherewith the artist-seer tried to tell his love.
This distinction, which the reader of Ruysbroeck should never forget, is of primary importance in connection with his treatment of the Nature of God; where the disparity between the thing known and the thing said is inevitably at a maximum. The high nature of the Godhead, he says, in a string of suggestive and paradoxical images, to which St.
Yet this primal Reality, this ultimately indivisible One, has for human consciousness a two-fold character; and though for the intuition of the mystic its fruition is a synthetic experience, it must in thought be analysed if it is ever to be grasped. He is, then, the Absolute One, in whom the antithesis of Eternity and Time, of Being and Becoming, is resolved; both static and dynamic, transcendent and immanent, impersonal and personal, undifferentiated and differentiated; Eternal Rest and Eternal Work, the Unmoved Mover, yet Movement itself.
He transcends the storm of succession, yet  is the inspiring spirit of the flux. Yet this statement defines, not His being, but one manifestation of His being. The active and fertile aspect of the Divine Nature is manifested in differentiation: for Ruysbroeck the Catholic, in the Trinity of Persons, as defined by Christian theology.
The fruitful nature of the Persons, of whom is the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity, ever worketh in a living differentiation. There were we all one before our creation; for this is our superessence There the Godhead is, in simple essence, without activity; Eternal Rest, Unconditioned Dark, the Nameless Being, the Superessence of all created things, and the simple and infinite Bliss of God and of all Saints.
Eternal Being—the Rose]. And this is the union of God and the souls that love Him. That which was begun by Grace, is accomplished by Grace and Free-will; so that they work mixedly not separately, simultaneously not successively, in each and all of their processes. Created for union with God, already in Eternity that union is a fact. Were it translated into Christian language, it is probable that this thought—which does not involve pantheism—would have been found acceptable by Ruysbroeck; for the interpenetration yet eternal distinction of the human and Divine spirits is the central fact of his universe.
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