Tiie Suprapersonal In The Numinous

We said above that the feeling of the 'wholly other' gives rise in Mysticism to the tendency to follow tho 'via negationis', by which every predicate that can be stated in words becomes excluded from tho absolute Numeu !. e. from Deity till finally tho Godhead L> designated aa ' nothingness ' and ' nullity ', bearing in mind always that these terms denote in truth immeasurable plenitude of being. Now this is also the origin of that tendency to let the conception of personality and the personal also be submerged in the same 'nothingness', a tendency which is in appearance so irreligious. We need not dispute that the denial of personality to God does often in fact denote a wholly irreligious attitude ; mostly it is simply a disguised form of atheism, or betokens a desperate attempt to equate faith in God with belief in natural law and with naturalism. But it would be a huge error to suppose that anything of this kind is in the minds of the mystics when they set themselves to oppose the idea of personality in God. We shall be in a better position to understand what they are contending for if we take Mysticism—following our previous definition—as meaning the preponderance in religious consciousness, even to the point of one-sided exaggeration, of its nonrational features. YvThat we have, then, is a sort of antinomy, arising from the inner duality in the idea of the divine and the tension of its more rational and its more non-rational elements. (The non-rational assumes thus an apparently irrational character.) It is the 'wholly other' aspect of the numen, resisting every analogy, every attempted comparison, and every determination ; so that it is here really true that ' omnis determinate est negatio

Now this holds good not only in the case of the most lofty and reverent feelings, in which devotion and worship reach their consummation, but also in the case of that primary and elemental' awe' of which we spoke on pages 129 132. Let us glance once more at the experience given in the story of Jacob at Bethel, there cited (Gen. xxviii. 16-17). If we use as a clue to it our own power of imaginative sympathy, introspection will show that even this experience contains a clear antinomy, a conflict of opposites. We said that the pure elemental '»we' mirrored in Jacob's first words, 'How dreadful is (his place !', is rendered «plicit in the words that follow. The simple experience of ' awefulness' is inteipreted—all but instinctively, and apart from reflection— and the interpretation is, in the English phrase, ' a presence ', a real, present, and personal being. Now though we certainly fee 1 that such an interpretation is needed and in some sense right, and that we should in Jacob's place have found no other to ' explicate ' our feeling, yet we are no less certainly conscious of a counter-impulse in us which resists it, suggesting that, when all is said, such expressions as 'Being', ' Person ' Thou ', ' lie', are strangely alien and repugnant to the very import of the experience. Does this Power that impresses us with such awe admit of being comprised in such a lirm outline, admit of question and answer in the second person? Is not this interpretation at first glance distinctly anthropomorphic? The abstract English expression, 'a presence', is itself a good indication of this—for 'a presence' is simply felt, and the English usage of words is chary of saying anything more specific. The ' Personalism' of the later developed mythology and the later developments of ordered worship (mostly practised on a wholly ' personalis! ' basis) have tended more and more to extrude this authentic and sensitive element of feeling from the religious experience; and the 'daemon' or 'god', which they both contributed to shape, is not richer but poorer in content than the object of that ] rimal 'awe ', corresponding only to ceitain sides and aspects of it. Before the 'gods' were the hard outlined, clear-featured gods of the myths, they were ' nuniina ', and, though the numen Certainly gains something from subsequent mythology in def'miteness and fixity of representation, ii: also certainly loses something of its original wealth of meaning in the process. In drawing mole near to earth and to humanity, it comes itself to acquire human traits, and, that this tendency may not be carried too far, it is necessary now and then to melt down, as it were, the human lineaments of God in the more elemental entirety of the original experience. Tho numen has, no doubt, in itself personal fi atures, which somehow enable the worshipper to refer to it by a i ronoun, as ' ho ' or ' she '. But, while the limits of the personal are at this stage still lluid, they cannot (any inore than in the case of the more definite figure of the ' God ') quite comprise tiie full import of the inapprehensible and unnameable, which presses out beyond them.

Thus already, at the cutset, 'w4 find in the numen of primitive religious feeling that tension between the personal and the supia-personal which recurs again in the maturer stages of the developing experience of God. It is to lie found next in the comparatively low level of ' the daemonic ', where it is disclosed in an actual difference in the verbal forms employed. 1 he Greek haí/x^iv is indisputably a single, concrete, person.d Being ; the Saifwvtnv, that, for example, of Socrates, is certainly none of these neither concrete, nor personal, and hardly even to be called a being or individual entity. Yet in the impressiveness and devout awe which it suggests Saifioviov is, if anything, the richer of the two terms. In Indian terminology raksds is the concrete, personal, and masculine ' Daemon but a transposition of the accent to the first syllable gives rdksas (the neuter), ' the daemonic', or rather demonic ; a word, perhaps, more charged with terror than is ni|W; and the fact that the difference is merely one of accent shows very clearly how easily the one meaning passes into the other. But exactly the same thing is seen again at that highest stage, at which the unfolding of the numinous consciousness reaches its climax in India : brahman is the everlasting Lord and God, the personal Brahma,; while brahman is the divine Absolute, the supra-personal Brahma, an ' It' rather than a ' He '. And the two are bound together in indissoluble union as the two essential poles of the eternal unity of the Numen. And here, again, the closeness of their interconnexion is emphatically shown by the fact that they are denoted by one and the same word and distinguished by a mere change of accent and gender.

Now it is generally supposed that there is something peculiarly and specifically ' oriental' in this characteristic of Indian religion. But this is by no means the case. On the contrary, one may venture to assert that all gods are more than mere (personal) gods, and that all the greater representations of deify show from time to time features which reveal their ancient character as ' numina' and burst the bounds of the personal and theistic. This is obviously the case where the experienced relation of the worshipper to his god does not exclusively take the form of contact wit 111 a ' beyond ' and transcendent being, but comes somehow as the experience of seizure and possession by the god, as being filled by him, an experience in which the god wholly or partially enters the believer and dwells in him, or assimilates him to his own divine nature, commingling with his spirit and becoming very part of him ; or, again, where the god becomes the sphere ' in which we live and move and have our being '. And what god has not in some sense had this character ? It is certainly true of the personal ' I ¡vara ' of India, who, besides his personal character, pervades his ' Bhakta' as ' antaryamin ', the immanent Indweller; it is true of Ahara-masda, who by his spirits does the same ; and it is true of Dionysus, Apollo, and Zeus. No less than the mere crude ' daemon ' can the ' pod ' become rvtv/ia and permeate the soul of man. And in so far the notion of a ' god ' passes beyond the sphere of social and personal ideas and breaks through the confines of the merely personal. 1'crsuns cannot strictly interpenetrate, cannot become one inclusive of another. Such relations experienced between man and deity become altogether irrational, if we judge them by the standard of personality.

The Yahweh of the Old Testament is also more than a ' god ' in the merely personal sense, for though it is a sign of his superior value to all tribal gods, that the personal traits are so incomparably more strongly marked in him, yet other and non-personal features aro not lacking. Wo come up against these in groping fashion in the comparison made between God's dealings with men and the working of an inexplicable 'force' spontaneously released. But the second name of Yah well, ' Elohim ', is also a proof of then-existence. Elohim is 'gods', in the plural; and 'in the beginning created (sing.) " gods" heaven and earth '. Our way to-day, when we try to escape from the too narrow confines of the notion of unitary personality applied to God, is to use either an abstract noun, ' deity' (die Gottheit), or an adjectival neuter expression, ' the divine' (das göttliche). In Israel the same groping instinct had recourse to the adoption or adaptation of a plural substantive form, which was yet made to govern a verb in the singular ! There cannot be a more uncompromising expression of what we called the antinomy or conflict of opposites in the experience of the numinous. It is very similar when later Shamayim, ' Heaven ', becomes a name for God —to be used once as such also in the Gospel. It does not in the least signify an 'abstract' way of conceiving God ; but rather the feeling that endeavours to escape from any too anthropomorphic conception. Above all does the God of Job burst the bounds of interpretation by mere personality, as we have already seen. Moreover, Yahweh also is the nuinen which, blowing in the form of spirit, enters as ' ruach' and 7iTíC/ia into his chosen, mingling with their spirit, an anlari/ämin in full completion.

And so, when we turn to the New Testament, wo see that the ' Pneumatology' and doctrine of Immanence in Paul and John, which give sucti unmistakable expression to the supra-personal aspect of the divine as the ' Light' and tho ' Life do not mean a sudden irruption into religion of a wholly novel and alien element, but merely the complete realization of what was all the while potential in the character of Yahweh in his essence as a numen.

And what of the loftiest of all Christian claims, ' God is Love ' ? Usually we hear this saying without remarking how extraordinary it is. If we think of God in strictly and narrowly personal terms, He can indeed be ' He that loves' the loving One'. But the God who is Love, who pours Himself out as love and becomes the love whereby Christians love, is something more even than this.1 In fine, even our God is more than merely ' god'. And, when Bleister Eckhart says that one must stand apart from God in order to find deity, his error is certainly grave, but it is one which wTe can easily conceive as springing from the very heart of religion.2

But it is very evident that the religious attitude in face of this supra-personal aspect of the numen must l;e different from the ordinary attitude in personal intercourse by petition, prayer, colloquy. These have all assuredly pertained to the essence of religion from the earliest times, yet from the beginning they were not the only forms of intercourse. The numen on its side ' has intercourse' with man in attracting him to it, seizing upon him, possessing him, breathing upon him, fdling and permeating him. Its function is eVe/jyticrtfai, and on his side the man, the rVrpyoMiiw, is filled, possessed, made one with the numen. And what is true at the lower levels is true also at the highest. The Divine,

1 There is an echo of this antinomy in the dispute of the Scholastics whether the love whereby we love is the 'Spiritus Sanctusi.e. God Himself, or merely His ' donum '.

s We have seen that it is an indication of its superiority that in the Biblical conception of God the pole of the personal rather than of the impersonal is altogether preponderant. Taoism stands at the opposite extreme ; but it too is genuine and deeply felt religion, moving as it does wholly in the numinous. H. Hackmann says of it: 'Taoism originates in the contemplative speculation upon the secret of the world, the mystery of existence. Its basic instinct is to pay reverent and sunniseful heed to the marvellous forces operative in our phenomenal life, which give to its particular details system and connexion with the great unknown background of the universe. The word " mystery "•- the myxterium tre-mfndum—occupies a more central position in Taoism than in almost any other religion____sounds agenuine note in the prodigious symphony of that life of the soul—the religious life- which searches and surmises a deeper unity and a firm foundation in the beyond behind the happenings upon earth.' (H. Hackmann, 'Die Monchsregeln des Klost-ertaoismus', Ostabiatische Zeitschrifl, .vii. p. 170.) For this whole question cf. the same author's essay : ' Uber Objekt und Gebietsumfang der Religion,' in yieuw Tiieulogisih Tijdsthrift, 1018.

experienced as ' licfht', 'fire', and Truvjia, cannot properly accost or be accosted. It is a penetrating glow and illumination, fulfilment, transfiguration- most of all where it is experienced as ' Life ', or (what is but the intensification of this) as very ' Being'. One can make a petition for life, but not to life. One is simply quickened through and through by it; one cannot address it as 'Thou'. And so intercourse with the numen comprises a way other than that of personal intercourse, that of the ' mystic'. Eacli of the two, the personal and the mystical, belongs to the other, and the language of devotion uses very naturally the piirases and expressions of Both commingled. They are not different forms of religion, still less different stages in religion, the one higher and better than the other, but the two essentially united poles of a single fundamental mental attitude, the religious attitude. In Luther's conception of 'faith' they are found in this relation openly manifested, where ' fides ' denotes both ' fidueia ' or tiust—a term implying personal intercourse—and ' adhaesio', or intimate contact, a term essentially mystieal.

It is in the light of this primal fact of religion that we must seek an answer to the question as to the general place of ' Pei-sonalism ' and ' ¡Supra-personalism' in religious history, and only so are we likely to avoid confounding this question with the question of Theism and Pantheism, with which it has nothing in common. In my books Vishnu-l\ardyana (pp. 59, GO) and Sid-dhanta dr<s Ti'im'inujn (pp. 2, 80) I have referred further to the subject. And I have shown in a paper, ' Neues Singen ' (Christliche Welt, 1919, No. 4S), its important practical bearings for religious conduct and its expression in prayer and hymn. I reproduce tho relevant passage:

'Our usual Prayers and Ilvinns confino themselves to tho regi .n which I call thel "rational". They lark that element which I call the non-rational or the " numinous h. But this is the otlii r h df of religion, its profounder and more mysterious background and basis. Yet only seldom has hymnody hitherto done justice to it. Consequently we are very deficient in tile great and impressive ''Hymns of K4T|erence ", tho hymns of the (grammatical) third porsi n, and our hymns are almost entirely in the second person, " Thou ", not " He ". Now therejssomething lacking in this constant, direct, obvious mode of accosting God in the second ; erson singular. The Seraphim in Isaiah vi do not venture on such an address, and many a glorious Kkteny and Litany of the older Liturgies follows their example. The creature is simply unable to stand face to face with the Eternal without interruption ; his vision cannot hear the perpetual sight of Holiness without an occasional screen. lie needs sometimes the oblique as well as the straight, frontal approach, the indirect relationship with face half averted and covered, as well as the direct; and consequently his utterance should not be so continually in the form of an address to God as to exclude prayerful and thoughtful discourse about Him. The same holds good of prayer in general, not merely of hymns. " Third person " hymns in this sense are not necessarily less, but under certain conditions may even be more genuine and first-hand utterances than those which address God as "Thou ". There is a further consequence. It is often thought that the designations of deity in impersonal, neuter terms (" It"), rather than in Ifchns of person and masculine pronoun ("He", "Thou"), are too poor and too pale to gain a place in our Christian thought of God. But this is not always correct. Frequently such terms indicate the mysterious overplus of the non-rational and numinous, that cannot enter our " concepts " because it is too great and too alien to them ; and in this sense they are quite indispensable, even in hymns and prayers. It is a defect in our devotional poetry that it hardly knows any other image for the eternal mystery of the Godhead than those drawn from social intercourse and personal relationship, and so it tends to lose sight of just the mysterious transcendent aspect of deity. Assuredly God is for us " Thou " and a Person. But this Personal character is that side of His nature which is turned man-ward—it is like a "Cape of Good Hope", jutting out from a mountain range which, as it recedes, is lost to view in the " tene-brae aeternae "—only to be expressed by the suspension of speech and the inspiration of sacred song.'

So far we have spoken of the personal and supra-personal as applied to the supreme, spiritual Being. But what is true here is no less true of that which was created in its image, our own human soul or spirit. In us too all that we call person and personal, indeed all that wn can know or name in ourselves at all, is but one element in the whole. Beneath it lies, even in us, that 'wholly other', whose profundities, impenetrable to any concept, can yet be grasped in the numinous self-feeling 1 by one who has experience of the deeper life.

1 We say 'numinous self-feeling', not 'numinous self-consciousness', as Schleiermacher called it, who may be said to h»Jk re-discovered it. The ambiguity of his nomenclatuie, however, does not detract from the importance of his discoveiy.

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