The evolution of the mystic consciousness, then, brings its possessors to this transcendent point of view. Their secret is this unity in diversity, this stillness in strife. Here they are in harmony with Heracleitus rather than with his modern interpreters. That most mystical of philosophers discerned a hidden unity beneath the battle, transcending all created opposites; and taught his disciples that “Having hearkened not unto me but unto the Logos, it is wise to confess that all things are one.” This is the secret at which the idealists’ arid concept of Pure Being has tried, so timidly, to hint: and which the Vitalists’ more intimate, more actual concept of Becoming has tried, so unnecessarily, to destroy. We shall see the glorious raiment in which the Christian mystics deck it when we come to consider their theological map of the quest.
It has been said that “What ever we may do, our hunger for the Absolute will never cease.” This hunger—that innate craving for, and intuition of, a final Unity, an unchanging good—will go on, however heartily we may feed on those fashionable systems which offer us a dynamic or empirical universe. If, now, we admit in all living creatures—as Vitalists must do—an instinct of self-preservation, a free directive force which may be trusted and which makes for life: is it just to deny such an instinct to the human soul? The “entelechy” of the Vitalists, the “hidden steersman,” drives the phenomenal world on and up. What about that other sure instinct embedded in the race, breaking out again and again, which drives the spirit on and up; spurs it eternally towards an end which it feels to be definite yet cannot define? Shall we distrust this instinct for the Absolute, as living and ineradicable as any other of our powers, merely because philosophy finds it difficult to accommodate and to describe?
“We must,” says Plato in the “Timaeus,” “make a distinction of the two great forms of being, and ask, ‘What is that which Is and has no Becoming, and what is that which is always becoming and never Is?’” Without necessarily subscribing to the Platonic answer to this question, we may surely acknowledge that the question itself is sound and worth asking; that it expresses a perennial demand of human nature; and that the analogy of our other instincts and cravings assures us that our fundamental demands always indicate the existence of a supply. The great defect of Vitalism, considered as a system, is that it only answers half the question; the half which Absolute Idealism disdained to answer at all.
The mystics know their task to be the attainment of Being, Eternal Life, union with the One, the “return to the Father’s heart”... This union is to be attained, first by co-operation in that Life which bears them up, in which they are immersed. They must become conscious of the “great life of the All,” merge themselves in it, if they would find their way back whence they came. Vae soli. Hence there are really two distinct acts of “divine union,” two distinct kinds of illumination involved in the Mystic Way: the dual character of the spiritual consciousness brings a dual responsibility in its train. First, there is the union with Life, with the World of Becoming: and parallel with it, the illumination by which the mystic “gazes upon a mere veritable world.” Secondly, there is the union with Being, with the One: and that final, ineffable illumination of pure love with is called the “knowledge of God.” It is through the development of the third factor, the free, creative “spirit,” the scrap of Absolute Life which is the ground of his soul, that the mystic can (a) conceive and (b) accomplish these transcendent acts. Only Being can know Being: we “behold that which we are, and are that which we behold.” But there is a spark in our souls, say the mystics, which is real—which in fact is—and by its cultivation we may know reality. “Thus,” says Von Hugel “a real succession, real effort, and the continuous sense of limitation and inadequacy are the very means in and through which man apprehends increasingly (if only he thus loves and wills) the contrasting yet sustaining Simultaneity, Spontaneity, Infinity, and pure action of the Eternal Life of God.”