Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Mystic Who Was Wrapped In Fire

"No authentic portrait of Ruysbroeck is known to exist; but the traditional picture represents him in the canonical habit, seated in the forest with his writing tablet on his knee, as he was in fact found one day by the brethren—rapt in ecstasy and enveloped in flames, which encircle without consuming the tree under which he is resting."1

Bl. John Ruysbroeck (also spelled Ruusbroec, Ruysbroec, etc.) is not a name that is bandied about these days.  Though the name of Meister Eckhart is well-known mostly due to the New Age movement's attempt to adopt him as one of their own, I think that Ruysbroeck left very little room for misinterpretation.

Dubbed the "Admirable Doctor", Bl. John has sadly seemed to drop off of the Catholic radar, despite his being one of the most profound mystics of the Medieval era.  His writings are not necessarily easy to read, but just because something is a breeze to flip through doesn't mean it's good.  It's worth taking the time to absorb what this man has to say - here's why:

In his time, heresy of a mystical nature had run amok.  All kinds of bizarre forms of mysticism had sprung up, and Ruysbroeck was in many ways the antidote.  Avoiding the more ambiguous phrasing of Meister Eckhart, Ruysbroeck's writings surged with love for the Holy Trinity, describing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as "whirling in essential love"2.  Of the souls in heaven, he wrote that "With God they will ebb and flow, and always be in repose, in possessing and enjoying.  They will work and endure and rest in the superessence without fear.  They will go out and in and find nourishment both within and without.  They are drunk with love and have passed away into God in a dark luminosity"3.

The writings of Ruysbroeck speak with a kind of lush delicacy - it is no surprise to me that "He loved to wander and meditate in the solitude of the forest adjoining the cloister; he was accustomed to carry a tablet with him, and on this to jot down his thoughts as he felt inspired so to do. Late in life he was able to declare that he had never committed aught to writing save by the motion of the Holy Ghost"4.

I think that Ruysbroeck offers a fantastic alternative to Meister Eckhart, if one is indeed put off by some of the latter's more unorthodox statements.  Certainly, Ruysbroeck represents a different yet similar school of mysticism to that of Eckhart's, though those who followed in his footsteps were somewhat less famous than those who ended up defending and following the mysticism of Eckhart.  Be that as it may, he is a worthy read.

His writings reflect the fire with which he and the tree were enveloped, burning with love for the Holy Trinity.  It is an image worth meditating on alone - but if you desire to know why he burned, read his works.  

1 - Vincent Scully, Catholic Encylopedia, "Blessed John Ruysbroeck"
2 - The Little Book of Enlightenment, 10
3 - ibid., 13
4 - Vincent Scully, Catholic Encylopedia, "Blessed John Ruysbroeck"

1 comment:

  1. I love that he was a great influence on St. John of the Cross. This was very interesting...thanks for sharing. Maybe I will get to read him someday.

    Just picked up The Life of Moses by Gregory of Nyssa...looking forward to reading that since he also influenced JoC along with Pseudo-Dionysus.

    Have a blessed weekend.

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