The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Where I've Been

So, I've been leading a book study of William Inge's Christian Mysticism, and it's been a real learning experience.

First, the members of the group have been very keen to grapple with the sometimes dense philosophical content and have stayed with it even after two weeks of Neoplatonism(!) They've also raised some concerns about Inge's dislike of the via negativa, the "negative road" of mysticism that he feared could lead to quietism, to solipsism, and to divorcing the spiritual quest from prayerful engagement with the world. Also, Inge sought to keep reason at the forefront of his vision of mysticism, quoting Benjamin Whichcote's aphorism that "I oppose not rational to spiritual, for spiritual is most rational."
But, as the members of the group have pointed out to me, Inge's emphasis in thought can seem to be an idolatry of thought--a "cogitolatry," as a member coined. And, while I think it is the Divine Reason, and not human reason alone, I have to admit that Inge did show uneasiness with enthusiasm. It could be the fact that he was, after all, a Victorian Englishman, writing in 1899; it could also be that the Bampton Lectures (which the text of the book consists of) were very prestigious and led to Inge wanting to show his command of the material--but I think, in fact, that Inge was reacting to the Nineteenth Century revival of occultism. The embrace by many of the revivalists of neo-platonism, and the excesses of some of them, would concern Inge, who, in his desire to bring Christian mysticism away from the hermetic tradition of the Order of the Golden Dawn (to which A.E. Waite, Evelyn Underhill, and--gulp!--Aleister Crowley--all belonged, though not all at the same time. He overtly tried to rescue mysticism from the psychological curiosity approach, and, frankly, the horse laugh, of R.A. Vaughn's Hours With the Mystics (1893).

It's been fascinating to engage with a well-informed, passionate group about a book I've long loved, but whose limitations and flaws, stemming in part from the time in which it was written, I can see afresh in going through it with a passionate, intelligent group to whom it is new.

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