TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE: Volume II is available as Project Gutenberg ebook number 50206.
THE MYSTICAL ELEMENT
All rights reserved.
Walker & Boutall, ph, sc
St. Catherine of Genoa.
(Caterina Fiesca Adorna.)
THE MYSTICAL ELEMENT
OF RELIGION AS STUDIED
IN SAINT CATHERINE OF
GENOA AND HER FRIENDS
By BARON FRIEDRICH VON HÜGEL
MEMBER OF THE CAMBRIDGE PHILOLOGICAL SOCIETY
INTRODUCTION AND BIOGRAPHIES
LONDON: J. M. DENT & CO.
NEW YORK: E. P. DUTTON & CO.
Richard Clay & Sons, Limited,
BREAD STREET HILL, E.C., AND
The following work embodies well-nigh all that the writer has been able to learn and to test, in the matter of religion, during now some thirty years of adult life; and even the actual composition of the book has occupied a large part of his time, for seven years and more.
The precise object of the book naturally grew in range, depth and clearness, under the stress of the labour of its production. This object will perhaps be best explained by means of a short description of the undertaking’s origin and successive stages.
Born as I was in Italy, certain early impressions have never left me; a vivid consciousness has been with me, almost from the first, of the massively virile personalities, the spacious, trustful times of the early, as yet truly Christian, Renaissance there, from Dante on to the Florentine Platonists. And when, on growing up, I acquired strong and definite religious convictions, it was that ampler pre-Protestant, as yet neither Protestant nor anti-Protestant, but deeply positive and Catholic, world, with its already characteristically modern outlook and its hopeful and spontaneous application of religion to the pressing problems of life and thought, which helped to strengthen and sustain me, when depressed and hemmed in by the types of devotion prevalent since then in Western Christendom. For those early modern times presented me with men of the same general instincts and outlook as my own, but environed by the priceless boon and starting-point of a still undivided Western Christendom; Protestantism, as such, continued to be felt as ever more or less unjust and sectarian; and the specifically post-Tridentine type of Catholicism, with its regimental Seminarism, its predominantly controversial spirit, its suspiciousness and timidity, persisted, however inevitable some of it may be, in its failure to win my love. Hence I had to continue the seeking and the finding elsewhere, yet ever well within the great Roman Church, things more intrinsically lovable. The wish some day to portray one of those large-souled pre-Protestant, post-Mediaeval Catholics, was thus early and has been long at work within me.
And then came John Henry Newman’s influence with his Dream of Gerontius, and a deep attraction to St. Catherine of Genoa’s doctrine of the soul’s self-chosen, intrinsic purification; and much lingering about the scenes of Caterinetta’s life and labours, during more than twenty stays in her terraced city that looks away so proudly to the sea. Such a delicately psychological, soaring, yet sober-minded Eschatology, with its striking penetration and unfolding of the soul’s central life and alternatives as they are already here and now, seemed to demand an ampler study than it had yet received, and to require a vivid presentation of the noble, strikingly original personality from whom it sprang.
And later still came the discovery of the apparently hopeless complication of the records of Catherine’s life and doctrine, and how these had never been seriously analyzed by any trained scholar, since their constitution into a book in 1552. Much critical work at Classical and Scriptural texts and documentary problems had, by now, whetted my appetite to try whether I could not at last bring stately order out of this bewildering chaos, by perhaps discovering the authors, dates and intentions of the various texts and glosses thus dovetailed and pieced together into a very Joseph’s coat of many colours, and by showing the successive stages of this, most original and difficult, Saint’s life and legend. All this labour would, in any case, help to train my own mind; and it would, if even moderately successful, offer one more detailed example of the laws that govern such growths, and of the critical method necessary for the tracing out of their operation.
But the strongest motive revealed itself, in its full force, later than all those other motives, and ended by permeating them all. The wish arose to utilize, as fully as possible, this long, close contact with a soul of most rare spiritual depth,—a soul that presents, with an extraordinary, provocative vividness, the greatness, helps, problems and dangers of the mystical spirit. I now wanted to try and get down to the driving forces of this kind of religion, and to discover in what way such a keen sense of, and absorption in, the Infinite can still find room for the Historical and Institutional elements of Religion, and, at the same time, for that noble concentration upon not directly religious contingent facts and happenings, and upon laws of causation or of growth, which constitutes the scientific temper of mind and its specific, irreplaceable duties and virtues. Thus, having begun to write a biography of St. Catherine, with some philosophical elucidations, I have finished by writing an essay on the philosophy of Mysticism, illustrated by the life of Caterinetta Fiesca Adorna and her friends.
The book’s chief peculiarities seem to spring inevitably from its fundamental standpoint: hence their frank enumeration may help towards the more ready comprehension of the work.
The book has, throughout, a treble interest and spirit; historico-critical, philosophical, religious. The historico-critical constituent may attract critical specialists; but will such specialists care for the philosophy? The philosopher may be attracted by the psychological and speculative sections; but will the historical analysis interest him at all? And the soul that is seeking spiritual food and stimulation, will it not readily be wearied by the apparent pettiness of all that criticism, and by the seemingly cold aloofness of all that speculation?—And yet it is the most certain of facts that the human soul is so made as to be unable to part, completely and finally, with any one of these three great interests. Hence, I may surely hope that this trinity of levels of truth and of life, which has so much helped on the growth of my own mind and the constitution of my own character, may, in however different a manner and degree, be found to help others also. This alternation and interstimulation between those three forces and interests within the same soul, and within this soul’s ever-deepening