By71.111111MM llllllllllllllllllll Dorn BEDE GRIFFITHS O.S.B. THE THREE DEGREES: A Study in Christian Mysticism, by Conrad Pepler, 0.P. (Blackfriars, Us. 6d.). THIS book may be considered in some ways as a sequel to Fr. Pcpler's earlier work " Riches Despised." In fact. the first part is largely a résumé of the argument of his earlier hook.
In that, he was concerned with the separation which has taken place in the modern industrial world between man and nature, which has resulted in the loss of the sense of the sacramental meaning of life. In this work, he is concerned with the further separation which has taken niece between the spiritual life and both the natural and the sacramental order.
This is something which affects the life of the Church even more deeply. The spiritual life, and above all any form of mysticism, has come to be considered as something apart from the normal life of man. reserved to certain " chosen souls.But ihis separation is quitc a modern phenomenon.
In ancient times, the spiritual life of the Christian was rooted in the Bible and the liturgy fund hence in the natural order), and the mystical life was seen simply as the full flowering of the ordinary life of a Christian which is begun at baptism. And it was the Eucharist, as Fr. Pepler shows in one of the hest chapters in this book, that was at once the sign and the means of communication of this fullness of life.
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Pepler's book, that Christian mysticism is nothing but the experience of the Christian mystery in its fullness, that it is rooted in the Bihle and the sacramental life of the Church and springs from faith in the incarnation and from membership of the Mystical Body of Christ, there is no fault to he found.
But I cannot agree with Fr. Pepter's attack on Plato and Piotinus and the Platonic tradition in the Church. and his claim that it is only in Aristotle and St. Thomas that a sound theology of mysticism is to be found. Perhaps I can best express my disagreement by quoting the last paragraph of his chapter on the basis of St. Thomas's mysticism where he speaks of a " true Christian humanism , with both feet on the soil of the world and led over the hills and downs into the delightful vales of the earth by the Word Incarnate."
This conception of Christian humanism seems to me far more romantic than Christian. The Christian life, if it is anything. is a following of Christ. But with all
respect it must be said that Our Lord has not got " both feet on the soli of this world," He has left this earth altogether and ascended into Heaven and it is there that every Christian has to follow Him. The Incarnation marks the descent of God into this
world of sin and death; it was by His resurrection and ascension that lie raised us up to a new life and showed us this Way of return to Him.
fr was a true instinct which led the Fathers of the Church to find in Plato and Platonism the philosophy which best expresses this movement of ascent to God. We have to pass beyond this world, beyond matter and sense and imagination and thought, beyond everything which can be conceived or kniawn, if we are to find God.
There was nothing " schoolboyish " as Fr. Pepler imagines in Dionysius the Areopagite when he spoke of God as the " super-good, the super-life, the super-essence this is the expression of the absolute exigency of Christian thought. There is no genuine mysticism which is not an encounter with God .beyond not only matter and thought but beyond being itself.
Where it may be said that Plato and Plotinus land with them the whole school of eastern tradition which is so closely akin) are weak is that they tended to think that in this ascent to God this world of matter is left behind, What the Christian tradition teaches us is that in His ascent to heaven Christ has raised up this world of matter: He has raised up our bodies as well as our souls to a new life in Him. This is where all that Fr. Pepler has to say of the value of the body and the material world has its place. With the movement of ascent to God, of separation front the material world, from the body and the senses, there must always go a corresponding movement of concern for this world and for our bodily nature. of integration of its values into our life. because it is our whole being which has been redeemed, But the redemption does not leave our bodies unchanged; it is a transfiguration of the body, an "assumption" of this world into the " new creation."
TO me there is something un satisfactory in all Fr. Pepler's treatment of this subject. He covers all the ground of Christian mysticism with chapters on the " psychologies of Mysticism." on " Self-knowledge," on the " Norms of Mysticism " and on the " Necessity of Christian Mysticism," and a chapter which seems o little odd on " English Mysticism," hut I do not feel that he has succeeded in bringing that unity into the whole conception which one would have hoped.
'Ihroughout the book, the problem of non-Christian mysticism remains in the background. It is only in the last chapter that Fr. Pepler attempts to face it. and here I am glad to say I feel that his approach is absolutely right.
He will have nothing to do with " natural mysticism " and insists that all genuine mysticism is an experience of the mystery of Christ, that is of the mystery of God in Man. The great Hindu. Buddhist and Islamic mystics are our brothers, led by the same grace and seeking the same goat. only for them the mystery of Christ has not been revealed; it is hidden under a veil.
But there is no reason at all. as Fr. Pepler seems to think, for questioning the validity of their experience; it is proved by the same token as Christian mysticism, by the life and character of their saints. Fr. Pepler still seems a little grudging in his acceptance of these other forms of mystical experience.
I think that if he had taken into consideration the hhakti religion of Hinduism, with its doctrine of union with God by grace and love, and the Mahayana Buddhism with its doctrine of salvation by faith and the compassion of the Buddha, he would he led rather to wonder at the closeness of their approach to the Christian du ,4tery.