AMY HOLLYWOOD: I'm not sure if what I'm going to present today coheres in anyone's mind but my own. I'm not sure it coheres in my mind. But it does cohere with-- it makes sense given what I work on.
Who knew? I was-- sometimes, I feel like I'm just a crazy person. I feel like that a lot, actually. The title-- I gave this purposefully a vague title, because I'm engaged in a new project on enthusiasm. And I'm going to tell you some about the byways that got me here today.
And I was initially thinking about it in relationship to critique. And what I realized is, in fact, that I think that the sort of antipodal term to enthusiasm is probably not critique, although some of the early critics of enthusiasm wanted to say so, but indifference and indifferentism. And so while I'm not going to be able to pick up on that much today, because I came to it as I was working, it's a background against which to maybe listen to some of the things I'm going to talk about today.
And I'm going to span some centuries here like crazy, Cassian to Kant, forgive me. And I know it's probably going to go by too fast. And so I'm hoping that it'll open space for a Q&A that will enable me to fill in multiple gaps.
I'm going to open with a line from Derrida's on a newly arisen apocalyptic tone and philosophy, which is his reading, among other things, of an essay by Kant "On a Newly Arisen Superior Tone in Philosophy." The byways by which Derrida turned superior tone into apocalypse is a whole interesting question. But the line-- each of us is the mystagog and the [INAUDIBLE], the enlightener, of another.
Now, I just finished coeditting, after many years, a multi-authored volume-- it's just one volume-- The Cambridge Companion Christian Mysticism, which was mentioned, in which, as the author of the introduction, I struggled with three issues. The first was how to introduce a volume of essays dealing with a topic that, strictly speaking didn't exist during the period covered in the book, namely mysticism-- no such thing as mysticism as a substantive-- in Western Europe from the third to the 16th century.
The second problem was that this phenomena, once it was named mysticism, seemed largely to disappear. In fact, a number of the volume's contributors claimed that the golden age of Christian mysticism predates both the term mysticism and, not to fixate on words, the concept of mysticism as a discrete kind of experience or mode of theologizing.
And finally, I had to deal with the fact that modern definitions and descriptions of mysticism are significantly at odds with early medieval and early modern Christian texts-- those very texts understood by these definitions and descriptions to make up the quote, unquote, "Christian mystical tradition." I had a stomachache for much of the first half of the summer trying to figure this one out.
When we began the project, my coeditor Patricia Beckman and I made a conscious decision to focus on the third through the 16th centuries. Yet, I at least didn't expect authors to disavow the continuing importance of, even the reality or occurrence of, mysticism and modernity. Yet, many did, even as they implicitly worked with or against the background of definitions of mysticism that only came into play in the 17th and 18th centuries.
These definitions of mysticism, as primarily a private, internal experience or consciousness of God's presence, stand in some tension with the organizing framework of the book as a whole, which I'll describe for you briefly in a bit, with its emphasis on context-- monasticism, new religious movements, laity, and practices-- prayer, contemplation, meditation, et cetera-- and of the content of the essays themselves-- a tension that many of the authors noted. At the heart of this tension lies the role of practice in the mystical life-- so it was nice that you picked up on that in my work-- the interplay between habit and spontaneity and related theological issues concerning the relationship between work and grace.
This is a complicated story, one of the outlines of which I want to share with you today. It's a necessary background against which to understand my new and still somewhat inchoate project on enthusiasm. My hypothesis-- I started with this hypothesis. I'm like, what happens to mysticism and modernity that people think it just goes away except for some weird Catholics over in the corner.
Well, I think what happens is it gets called enthusiasm. It's taken off under a different title. So my hypothesis is that enthusiasm becomes a modernity, the central category under which the practices and experiences previously nominated as mystic or mystical were organized. Yet, enthusiasm is first and most prominently used in the Magisterial Reformation as a term of abuse.
Mysticism, when used by these same reformers, was also an invective. But things get complicated by the fact that, in Roman Catholic writings, both in Latin and in the vernaculars, mystic, mystical-- those terms exist very early-- and by the 17th century, mysticism are more often used to praise, albeit the exact nature of what they are praising is subject to intense debate. This is even further complicated by the fact that in both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, enthusiasm and, in the related but at first less widespread move, mysticism undergo substantial reevaluation and revaluation over the course of the 18th and 19th century. Suddenly, enthusiasm is a good thing in the right circumstances.
And yet in another turn of the screw, the kind of practices that were nominated as mystic and mystical and early medieval and early modern Christianity continue to be a vital part of the Christian life, whether Protestant or Catholic, dissenting or mainline, throughout modernity and into the present. The Cambridge volume demonstrates that it's only when we understand the centrality of practice and particularities of the practices by means of which pre and early modern Christians sought to inculcate or create the conditions for an experience of God's presence that we can rightly see the lines of continuity and discontinuity between premodern and modern ideals of the Christian life, which is what mysticism is about. It's the ideal Christian life.
The practices and experiences most of often nominated as mystical continue into modernity, although often in revised form and under new names and within different theological frameworks. While the experience is generated by these practices were often disparaged by critics, precisely as enthusiasm, the term enthusiasm also pointed to something that 18th and 19th century writers across a range of genres wanted to have. In the discourse surrounding enthusiasm then, the ideals towards which certain practices aspired spread beyond the specifically religious realm, where they continue to exist, into politics, philosophy, and literature.
Although the extent to which we can keep these domains separate and the attempt to do so in modernity often to correct-- excuse me-- protect political, philosophical, or literary enthusiasm from religious enthusiasm are precisely at issue. The work I've done so far on enthusiasm, however, has brought me to an even more ambitious-- I'm slightly scared of what-- I'm like, do I really want to say this-- hypothesis, one that I'm a long way from being able to substantiate but that I want to put on the table today.
I've come to suspect that enthusiasm-- the subject of heated debate from the 16th century on throughout Europe-- might be a useful category, perhaps a useful category with which to think about the secular and about secularization. And perhaps a better one then are the categories of enchantment and disenchantment, not least because enthusiasm has no clear historically invariant antonym.
The other reason is because enthusiasm is the term around which debates were occurring in the 16th and 17th century, not enchantment and disenchantment. And its slipperiness, the fact that it wasn't quite clear what its opposite was, made it one that could be intensely malleable and move across different discourses and different valuations.
Now, on first slight, we might think that enthusiasm and critique stand in opposition to each other in a way that parallels a distinction between enchantment and disenchantment. Many of the early critics of enthusiasm, moreover, attempt to posit it as standing in opposition to reason. Yet, as I hope to show today, or at least suggest today, none of these relationships remain stable.
Those Martin Luther first accused of being Schwarmer, a term related to although not identical to enthusiast and to practices designated as mystical, were so named, at least in part, because the intensity of their political critique. And when we note, as does Michael [? Hade, ?] an historian who has worked on these issues, that the term enthusiast was used to describe everyone from the radical reformer Thomas Muntzer-- objective of Luther's ire-- and the early Anabaptists to Rene Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Immanuel Kant himself, clearly reason is at issue in a way more complicated than simply one of opposition.
This is a vast topic. I had no idea when I started. I thought a little scratch here. And there's been really wonderful work done by a host of scholars, who I'll name some of them as I go along. And it's a scholarship in which I'm just beginning to get my bearings.
What's most striking to me, though, is the way in which the contemporary-- saying these last 20, 30 years where people have looked at this category of enthusiasm-- the discussions have been-- and I think even earlier than that-- the discussions have been really-- and I don't have a better word for this-- but Balkanized. So you get somebody like Michael [? Hade ?] or Anthony La Vopa or Peter Fenves, for example, who are intent on understanding enthusiasm, its critique and its reevaluation as an epistemological and a philosophical category. And then Fenves, in particular, moves into the aesthetic.
[? Hade ?] looks across Europe, La Vopa and Fenves lay out the history of the German debates-- but the relationship between Schwarmerei, this Luther term, and Enthusiasmus. Then you have people working in English literature-- Clement [? Hauz, ?] Shaun Irlam, John [? Mees ?] who all work on British materials and are interested in what Irlam calls the aestheticization of enthusiasm. And then someone like Ann Taves, who's a religious studies scholar, thinks with and about religious texts and practices mostly in the United States.
But looking at this somewhat random sampling of recent English language scholarship-- and the same is true in the German scholarship from what I can tell-- one might easily get the impression that the philosophical, literary, and religious histories of enthusiasm, not to mention the political, which underlies almost all of this work, can be easily separated. So for example-- and Irlam's book is great, so I don't want to pick on him-- but it's an example. Irlam argues that enthusiasm is only embraced in Great Britain when it is displaced from religion into poetry.
Yet, this argument depends on his reading 18th century text by John Dennis and others and Addison, et cetera, and ignoring the evangelical Anglican preacher, soon to be understood as the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. And in an uncharacteristically circular argument, Irlam explains that, because he's only interested in the story of poetic enthusiasm, he doesn't need to talk about Wesley. Taves, on the other hand, pays a lot of attention to Wesley but little to the aestheticization of enthusiasm that occurs in Britain and in the United States simultaneously with and subsequent to the emergence of Methodism.
My point is that the existing literature tends to obscure the rather obvious fact that enthusiasm both remains a religious category and one taken up to name non-religious phenomena. Why and how it has this kind of range is precisely the question-- one that promises to provide a richer and more satisfying account of the vagaries of secularization than those premised on rather simple distinctions and kind of a uni-- a linear-- excuse me, I don't know why I needed uni in there-- line between enchantment, disenchantment, and a modern nostalgia for re-enchantment. Because if enthusiasm has been there all the time, then we don't have to talk about it in terms of this nostalgia, for recapturing something that has been lost.
Now, to get to this in even a preliminary way, I need to give an account-- and it's going to be truncated-- of the deployment of the terms mystic and mystical and premodernity-- that's one-- the emergence of the substantive mysticism the 17th century, how enthusiasm and mysticism converge in modernity, and the centrality of the interplay between spontaneity and habit and habitus within those discourses. This will set the stage for what I'm going to have to skip, which is a brief account of critical engagements with enthusiasm in the 16th through the 18th century.
What I will go to is I'm going to jump ahead to talk about Kant in a text that, for those in the seminars I've given you to read for the next two days, Kant's "On a Newly Arisen Superior Tone in Philosophy," in which the question of labor-- a labor that we might associate with practice-- appears in conjunction with the critique of enthusiasm. I was going to start with this kind of iconic moment from the Christian tradition, in which the perfection of the Christian life is briefly touched on by one of the giants of Western Christianity and his mother, Monica and Augustine's vision at Ostia. But for reasons of time, I'm going to have to skip over that.
The point I wanted to get at with looking at that moment was to point out the variety of dialectic that are operative within this thing that we now call mysticism, between transcendence and immanence, between naming-- being able to name God-- and the necessity of unnaming God, between the transience of certain kinds of experience and the simultaneously claim to God's [INAUDIBLE] presence-- these kind of dialectics that often in modern scholarship on mysticism, you'll see people just picking one of the other, saying, no, it's only about transcendence, it's only about eternity, it's only about the intellect, for example. That's what real mysticism is. All the rest of it's fake. The visions, the auditions, the raptures, that's all fake.
Well, no. Then you have other people saying, no, only the visions, auditions, and only-- that's the real stuff. And this is purely speculative intellectual stuff isn't what mysticism is about. So a lot of the literature on mysticism, if anybody spent any time with it you would see, it's just this quagmire of people trying to create a topology for what mysticism is and then fitting in the various figures. And it almost all happens by way of abstraction, like, well, we won't look at whole text, we'll just extract the moment or the event or the thing that we think is the real thing.
The point of my attempt to work through some of that definitional literature is to say, look, within the context of the pursuit of life of Christian perfection in early and medieval Christianity, all of these things are standing in tension with each other and next to each other. And you can't take some-- and people were having fights about which is the most important-- is visionary experience important or only a kind of unity that goes beyond visionary experience. That was the subject of debate within the discourse of what constitutes Christian perfection.
And so when we think about mysticism, we need to count all of that stuff. Does that make sense to people-- sort of what I'm-- OK, maybe not. But we'll see where we go.
As I said-- and this is the funny part of it. The term mysticism, again as a substantive, is absent from almost all of the material-- Augustine, et cetera-- it has taken to describe. Mystic, mystical, and mystically do appear, often, although not always, modifying the practices and experiences we now think of as constituting mysticism.
It's derive from the Greek muo, which means to close, particularly the eyes. The adjectives mystic and mystical and the adverb mystically were used to modify an array of practices within the ancient Greek mystery religions, Greek Neoplatonic philosophy, where entheos was also at issue, and most lastingly Christianity. They then seamlessly moved from Greek into Latin, something enthusiasm did not do, and from thence into the Western European vernaculars. I don't know the story about the East.
Yet, in their earliest Greek and Latin uses, mystic and mystical simply meant hidden. According to Louis Bouyer, who offers the most detailed account of early usages, Christian writers borrow the terms mystic, mystical, and mystically from the Greek mystery religions in order to name the hidden reality underlying scripture and liturgy, namely Jesus Christ-- the referent of the most seemingly mundane and the most obscure biblical text and the constant presence underlying the ritual life of Christian communities. Bouyer argues that only with Origen, who died in 254, so we're early, does an understanding of the mystical as a particular mode of theologizing in spiritual practice emerge.
Origen designates as mystical the knowledge produced through allegorical interpretations of the Bible, since in such interpretations one seeks to uncover meanings hidden in or even by the literal meaning of the text. And here, we get this notion of the senses of scripture, multiple levels of meaning of scripture, the spiritual senses as a way in which one apprehends these multiple levels, and with it an intense focus on the affective life.
This usage also marks a shift toward the experiential. The process by which one comes to know hidden things-- process of allegorical reading-- is designated as mystical in addition to the things uncovered themselves. In uncovering the hidden meaning of scriptures, by moving from what origin calls the body, the literal meaning, of the text to its soul and spirit, both aspects of the allegorical, one is lifted up through the body to the soul and to that universal spirit in which we all share.
Now, Origen thought we could just let go of the body. People didn't like that. He was condemned, et cetera. But his reading practice and his allegorical enterprise, it becomes the norm within Western Christianity.
Over the course of early medieval Christian history, the experiential aspect of biblical interpretation takes on a life of its own. Increasingly, we find the term mystical used to name, not only Christ and Christ teaching, the hidden truth of scripture, and the Eucharist in which Christ is hidden under the visible bread and wine-- hence, Corpus Mysticum is most often a reference to, sometimes to the church, but usually to the Eucharist-- but also the strategies of contemplation-- in Greek, theoria, in Latin, contemplatio-- that lead to the vision of God-- the vision, visio of God itself, union with God, Greek kenosis, and Latin unitas, and theology.
Early medieval and early modern Christian writers refer to all of these things as mystical. And it is to this array of practices and experiences of mystical interpretation of scripture, mystical vision, mystical contemplation, mystical union, mystical theology that the substantive term mysticism, which begins to occur in the European vernaculars in the 17th and the 18th century refers.
So two, the story of the modern articulation of the category of mysticism is only beginning to be written. People think Michel de Certeau figured it out and it's done and we're moved on. He figured out something really important, but it's only part of the story.
And there is likely more than one story. Not surprisingly, things are different in the Roman Catholic romance language countries than they are from England both from Germany. Roman Catholic usage differs from Protestant in many of the ways you might expect. Other regional and temporal differences play out in the various vernaculars. And like I said, that history is being written now.
But what recurs in the modern literature-- and by modern, I mean 17th century on-- about mysticism-- the modern literature describing, naming, and evaluating something it calls mysticism, a project that begins as specifically a theological problem, but later comes to be understood as more broadly descriptive-- is a tendency to emphasize the transcendence, the ineffability, and the individuality of mystical experience at the expense of the importance of imminence-- that which can be named-- and the corporate or shared nature of the mystical life-- all of which are at issue in premodern sources-- and to understand mysticism as embracing inwardness and rejecting external forms.
For reasons that contemporary scholarship has yet fully to uncover, with the use of the substantive mysticism and the notion of mystical theology as a specific mode of doing theology that stands independent of historical, biblical, or dogmatic theology, the retroactively constituted Christian mystical tradition is disengaged from the practices of biblical acts of Jesus, liturgy, prayer, and contemplation with which they were always intimately bound and create in early modern Christianity.
In this Cambridge volume, we organize it according to the rubrics found within premodern text, precisely to refuse this move. The volume as a whole is an argument for the necessity of returning to a careful consideration of the specific forms of life within which and the religious practices in the context of which the contemplation and experience of God, sometimes even claims to union with God, occur.
So early medieval and early modern Christian mysticism can best be understood as a series of ongoing experiential, communal, and textual commentaries on and debates about the possibilities and limitations of encounters between God and humanity as they occur within history-- the time and place of the human as it is disrupted by the eternal God.
The complex interplay between imminence and transcendence, time and eternity, namability and unnamability, community and individuality can best be articulated when due attention is given to the vital role of practice in Christian mysticism. for in early medieval and early modern Christianity, the mystical senses, mystical visions, mystical contemplation, mystical union took place, in the words of Niklaus Largier, quote, "in the context of regulated forms of reading, preaching, prayer, and above all in the reading of scriptures and in the liturgical forms that enact, recall and perform aspects of the scriptures and provide a general framework for their interpretation." I'm going to give you a little juicy example of this shortly.
Now, the range of phenomena grouped under the term mysticism should be approached in their specific historical settings, as that provides the best possibility of understanding something of these phenomena as they were enacted by those who lived and wrote them, kind of not very interesting kind of historist statement. The monastic traditions in which these practices first occur were from the beginning attempts to generate the conditions and provide the practices by means of which monks and nuns alone and in community might best attain the life of Christian perfection, a perfection repeatedly named and described in terms of God's transforming presence.
Over the course of the Middle Ages, these practices move outside of the monasteries, first with the development of the new religious orders, whose members saw life in the world as a necessary part of their attempt to achieve religious perfection, and then with the participation of the laity in intensive practices of lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio-- reading, meditation, prayer, contemplation-- through which they often achieved visions, raptures, experiences of union with God previously seen only within monastic settings.
New extra-biblical genres, although the texts themselves are shot through and through with biblical imageries and biblical language emerge-- meditations, prayers, hymns, visionary books-- to stand alongside the more traditional monastic forms of sermon, commentary, and liturgical hymns. It's through these very genres and ones that emerge in modernity, particularly the conversion narrative and the practices involved in their use and production, that we find the continuing pursuit of Christian perfection in modernity. The study of hymns is where much of this work should be happening, because that cuts across and goes from the pre-medieval, early modern, into modernity.
The latter Middle Ages and modernity are in pieces at places periods of democratization, when many new religious movements claim that the kinds of experiences thought to be available only to elites are available to everybody. Yet when one looks closely at the materials that remain to us from these radical movements, both medieval and modern, we see that within them practice is at the heart of their claims, even as, for theological and polemical reasons, they often insist that practice has nothing to do with it.
Three, in "Mysticism, Modernity, and the Invention of Aesthetic Experience"-- the essay I've just cited of Niklaus Largier's a moment ago-- he argues that during the Protestant Reformation, language associated with the mystical life was separated from the practices that gave it shape in early and medieval Christianity. So Niklaus is with me totally on the medieval scene. But then he says, in modernity, the practices just fall away.
He argues that mystical tropes-- the sort of language from mystical text become tropes, mystical tropes-- that they were projected into quote, "a practice of writing and conversation, evacuated of their objective claims, contained by the limits set up by Luther between the secular and the religious, and adding to it the form of an experiential supplement that we might be tempted to qualify as aesthetic or subjective," end quote. He's being coy. He's not tempted. He does equate them with the aesthetic and the subjective.
Largier is certainly right, that the aesthetic realm takes on many of the affective and figurative traits associated with the mystical life in early and medieval Christianity. And he does wonderful readings of certain German texts in relationship to this. I think he's mistaken in presuming that objective religious claims cease to be made in mystical terms.
As Largier notes-- and I always-- I can't say his name, even though I've known him for 20 years-- Luther articulates the distinction between the secular and the religious in the context of these debates with the radical wing of the Reformation, in particular proto-Anabaptists and other religious and social revolutionaries. Labeling them Schwarmer-- which is a complicated term I'm not going to be able to get into, but I'm happy to ask questions about it-- or enthusiast, the most common English translation of the term, Luther objects strenuously to their claims to offer inspired mystical or prophetic readings of the Bible-- all terms that Luther uses.
According to Largier, quote, "Luther produces a notion of the secular, not as a realm that is subordinated to the religious, absolutely dissociated from it, or even opposed to it, nor primarily is a realm that is an expression of the faith of the believer, but as an institutional context that is meant to contain and limit the use that can be made of the scriptures and of scriptural exegesis. Thus, Luther also contains the formation of legitimate communities of readers, limiting the active reading and the freedom of the Christian to the inner man or contained religious community," end quote.
On Largier's reading then, Luther privatizes religion in order to contain the religious and political claims of enthusiasts, who read scripture allegorically, typologically, prophetically, mystically. Yet, the practices in which mystical experience was inculcated and continued-- these practices continue to exist alongside of their rejection or transformation by the Magisterial Reformation, not only among Roman Catholics, but also among Protestants. I mean, Largier acts as if Luther just said it, and then it was done. And he had a lot of power but not quite that much.
Although the term enthusiast was initially largely pejorative, and so avoided by those who embraced the practices associated with it, these practices continue. And they stand in direct continuity, often in very self-conscious continuity, with the practices designated as mystical within the Middle Ages. Reading scripture, meditating on scripture and on one's own experience and relationship to scripture, singing the psalms and other hymns, undergoing visions and auditions, experiencing raptures and ecstasies, and even union with God continue to mark the Christian tradition up to the present. Almost all of that language could be used to describe present-day Pentecostalism.
All sorts of vital theological differences cut across these traditions. And these differences affect and are affected by sometimes divergent forms of practice. Yet, when we look at what people do, we see continuities otherwise easy to overlook. One of the difficulties in attempting to locate the continuing power of mystical phenomenon and/or enthusiasm and modernity is that particularly in Protestantism, but not only, there is an often explicit disavowal of the necessity of practice for the pursuit of conversion and of perfection.
This most often takes the form of claims to the absolute spontaneity of intensely affective experiences of God or of the spirit. Yet, this disavowal appears side by side with instructions on how one should act, what one should do as one awaits, attempts to discern, or otherwise creates the conditions for experiencing conversion and sanctification. At issue theologically is the interplay between work and grace, ancient debates to be sure.
What interests me is that for many within premodern Christianity, habituation generated by practice and spontaneity did not stand in opposition to each other. Instead, practice engendered spontaneity. And that's where I'm going to go back for a moment to the fourth and fifth century to give an example of this before going to Kant.
Four, the sixth century Rule of Benedict, the foundational texts for all of Western Christian monasticism, follows John Cassian, he was a exact contemporary of Augustine, who died about 430-- and a host of other early monastic writers in demanding that the monk seeks to attain a state of unceasing prayer. Benedict excites Psalm 1:18, "seven times a day, I have praised you," and later in the same Psalm, "and at midnight, I rose to give you praise." Seven plus midnight, that's eight.
He calls in his monks to come together eight times a day for the communal recitation, chanting, or singing of the psalms and other prayers and readings. This is the work of God in the Rule of Benedict-- Opus Dei, the work of God-- and joined by the Rule. Each of the psalms was decided once a week with many repeated once or more a day.
At the height of monasticism, people were reciting the whole psalter everyday. Benedict provides a detailed schedule for his monks, one in which the biblical injunction to always have a prayer on one's lips is enacted through the division of the day into the eight canonical hours.
Now, to many modern ears, this repetition of the psalms, ancient Israelite prayers handed down by the Christian tradition in the context of allegorical, generally Christological translations and interpretations-- will sound rote and deadening. As I've said, most modern conceptions of the mystical life and most accounts critical or positive of enthusiasm insist that it be an immediate and in spontaneous engagement with the spirit.
From this perspective, one might well ask of the Rule-- as all my students who I make read the Rule do-- what of the immediacy of the monk's relationship to God? They probably don't do so in quite a heightened, rhetorical mode, as I am going to perform here. But what if his personal feelings in the face of the divine? What spontaneity can exist in the monk's engagement with God within the context of such a regimented and uniform prayer life?
If the monk and the nun-- nuns practice exactly the same kind of prayer cycle-- is reciting another's words rather than his own, how can the feelings engendered by these words be his own and so be sincere, and so on. Yet, for Benedict, as for Cassian on his work he liberally drew, the intensity and authenticity of one's feeling for God, that intensity and authenticity, they are enabled by communal ritualized prayer, as well as by private reading and devotion, itself carefully regulated. And the relationship between individual and communal on the monastic life is very hard to parse.
Proper performance of God's work of the Opus Dei in the liturgy requires of the monk not simply recite the psalms. Instead, the monk was called on to feel what the psalmist felt, to learn to fear, desire, and love God in and through the words of the psalms themselves. According to Cassian, following Macarius and Evagrius, important theologians in the Greek tradition, we know God, love God, and experience God when our experience and that of the psalmist come together.
So here is Cassian. "The divine scripture is clearer and inmost organs, so to speak, are revealed to us when our experience," experientia, "not only perceives but even anticipates its thought, and the meaning of the words are disclosed to us, not by exegesis, but by proof. When we have the same disposition," affectum, "in our heart with which each psalm was sung or written down, then we shall become like its author, grasping the significance beforehand rather than afterwards. That is, we first take in the power of what is said, rather than the knowledge of it, recalling what has taken place or what does take place in us daily and assaults whenever we reflect on them," end quote.
When the monk can anticipate what words will follow in a psalm, not because he's memorized it, but because his heart is so at one with the psalmist that these words spontaneously come to his mind, then he knows and experiences God. The word translated here as disposition is derived from the Latin affectus from the verb afficio, to do something to someone, to exert an influence on another body or another person, to bring another into a particular state of mind. Affectus carries a range of meanings, from a state of mind to a disposition produced in one by the influence of another to that affection or mood itself. In many instances, affectus simply means, and is translated, love.
At the center of ancient and medieval usages is the notion that love is brought into being in one person by the actions of another. Hence, for Cassian, as for later generations of monastic authors, our love for God is always engendered by God's love for us. God acts, afficio, humans are the recipients of God's actions. So affectus, the noun, is derived from the past participle of afficio.
Hence, the acquisition of proper dispositions through habit is itself the operation of the freely given grace that is God's love. To the work-grace thing, Cassian has an answer. Look, it's always God first. It's always grace, because God loves us first. There is no distinction here between mediation through the words of scripture and immediacy of God's presence, between habit and spontaneity, between the impersonal and the personal, or between feeling and knowledge.
Now, of course, the affects, moods, and dispositions engendered by God are not only those of love and desire. Fear, dread, shame, and sorrow, gratitude, joy, triumph, and ecstasy are all expressed in the psalms-- hence, their importance-- and in other songs found within scripture. According to Cassian and Macarius and other early Christian interpreters, the psalms lay out the full range of human emotion. And by coming to know God in and through these affects, the monk comes to know both himself and the divine.
Quote, this is Cassian, "for we find all these dispositions expressed in the Psalms, so that we may see whatever occurs as in a very clear mirror and recognize it more effectively. Having been instructed in this way"-- in the reading of Psalms-- "with our disposition for our teachers"-- our experience coming together with the Psalms-- "we shall grasp this as something seen rather than heard. And from the inner disposition"-- affectum-- "of the heart, we shall bring forth, not what has been committed to memory, but what is inborn in the very nature of things. Thus, we shall penetrate its meaning, not through the written text, but with experience," experientia, leading the way.
For Cassian, Christians attain the heights of prayer when quote, "every love, every desire, every effort, every undertaking, every thought of ours, everything that we live, that we speak, that we breathe will be God, and when that unity with the father, that unity which the father now has with the son and which the son has with the father will be carried over into our understanding and our mind, so that just as he loves us with a sincere and pure and indissoluble love, we too may be joined to him with a perpetual and inseparable love and so united with him, that whatever we breathe, whatever we understand, whatever we speak, may be God," end quote.
This is body, soul, spirit, the entire human being, engaged with God. And although the fullness of fruition in God will never occur in this life, according to Cassian, the monk trains himself daily, through obedience, chastity, poverty, and most importantly reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation to attain it.
Now, all of this will be organized according to various schema in monastic culture. It is through reading-- itself an intensely physical, emotional, and mental engagement with scriptural and other texts-- and meditation, which is grounded in scripture and, in the words of the 12th century Augustinian Canon, [INAUDIBLE] Saint Victor, involves the monk ranging a long open ground-- this is his word-- ranging a long open ground, where the mind fixes a free gaze upon the contemplation of truth, drawing together now these, now those causes of things, now these, now those scriptural texts, now penetrating into new profundities-- so reading, meditation, prayer, contemplation that the monk comes to experience God.
The mystical life then is a thoroughly ritualized life of intense labor, one in which the monk or nun attempts to bring what they believe ought to be the case and what is the case into alignment-- JZ Smith's classic definition of ritual for those who care. Bernard of Clairvaux will describe this as bringing together the book of experience with the book of scripture.
Now, what bothered Luther about those he called the Schwarmer-- and Luther actually had some affection for Bernard of Clairvaux, actually-- but what bothered him about the Schwarmer was precisely the extent to which they believed that such a transformation could and should occur for everyone and with regard to every aspect of their lives. Many of the early Radical Reformers seem to have envisioned a world that was a giant monastery, in which each human being sought and had hopes of attaining Christian perfection.
This was precisely the kind of ultra demanding Christian perfectionism that sent Luther into tailspins of despair, leading to his transforming conversion by which not me but Christ in me. He gave over works for the soul salvific power of Christ. And it's this that Luther was intent upon refusing. Now, there's political issues, obviously, as well as theological and religious ones at play. But it's important to see that Luther kind of had a point.
Yet, despite the intensity of Luther's disavowal and that of others throughout the 16th and 17th century, various forms of radically democratizing Christian communities survived and emerged and reemerged through the period. Ranters, Puritans and Quakers, Moravians and Pietists, Methodists and various streams the Holiness tradition, Pentecostalism, all could be seen in this light. There is a lot more to Christianity and modernity, of course, just as there was a lot more to Christianity in the premodern era than that found among those who sought Christian perfection in the mystical life.
The difference is that-- one difference-- is that whereas in premodern Christianity and in Roman Catholicism into modernity, hierarchies of holiness are accepted within a single tradition. Whereas, in Protestantism, splits between various groups often occurred around the issue of whether the entire community should be called upon equally to the life of perfection. This was marked perhaps most fundamentally by how pervasively ritualized a life any particular group demanded of its members.
Yet, throughout, the fact of that ritualization is increasingly seen, particularly in Protestant circles, as at odds with the demand for spontaneity. Not the fact-- I said that, totally said it wrong. The demands for the ritualization are there.
The claims about how one should live are there. The intense inculcation of practice is there. But the claim is that what you experience is spontaneous. And that spontaneity is somehow not connected to all those practices that you're engaged in to bring about this inner feeling of transformation in Christ or in the spirit.
So where does this leave us in terms of thinking about enthusiasm And there's a lot of things I could say here, but I want to start to wrap it up and to get to Kant. The thing I think that is the most pressing question for me is how that occurred. How it occurred, that while certain kinds of practices are still seen as absolutely essential to cultivating the Christian life, whether it be a conversion to true Christianity or the process of sanctification or the pursuit of some kind of mystical perfection within the Catholic context, that as all of these practices are being enacted and can be tracked, there is at the same time a explicitly theological disavowal of the habituated nature of spontaneity itself.
That's what I'm interested in. And I don't know the answer. I don't know when this happens or quite how it happens. I can look at Cassian, and I can say, look, in Cassian, ritual and habituation is what give forth spontaneous emotion. So when does the discourse around mysticism and enthusiasm become one in which rote, deadening, external forms are seen as at odds with the intensity of the enthusiastic nature of certain kinds of experiences of God, of the spirit, of Christ-- the language changes from place to place-- and then of literature, and then of politics, as enthusiasm moves through all these different kinds of discursive sites.
So I'm not quite sure how this happens. And that's-- I don't know if one person can answer it. But that's what I'm interested in trying to figure out.
What I want to end with, though, is with this moment in Kant, where we see that that disruption has occurred. It's been effectuated, so that Kant follows Hume and a host of others in presuming the effortlessness of enthusiasm. And in fact, the effortlessness, or laziness, is in fact Kant's chief charge against the enthusiast. So I want to look at this moment for a second and think about it in light of what I've just said about Cassian and about Christian monasticism and mystical life as a form of practice, meant to engender affect, emotion, enthusiasm.
So "On a Newly Arisen Superior Tone in Philosophy," which appeared in 1796, very late Kant, deals solely with the charge of Schwarmerei. He's not interested in trying to distinguish Schwarmerei from Enthusiasmus, which is an enormous discourse in 18th century Germany. And Kant is directing this charge of Schwarmerei against a strand of Platonizing philosophy found among his contemporaries. Meanwhile, people were calling Kant a Schwarmer, so it's complicated.
So although elsewhere Kant will participate in the task of trying to distinguish this Lutheran notion of Schwarmerei from Enthusiasmus, in the process offering a slightly higher valuation of the latter, saying that enthusiasm has a certain kind of political and affective input, here Kant's goal is to distinguish philosophy, which involves labor, from Schwarmerei, which, as for others before him, is brought about through an exaltation of feeling. Whereas, David Hume writing about this, appreciates the freedom this purportedly provides the enthusiast from the power of priests, practices, and institutions-- Hume comes out oddly being a friend to the enthusiast-- Kant is dismayed by the laziness of the Schwarmer.
The Schwarmer's laziness is accompanied, Kant argues, by the contempt of those whose ability and superior tone enables them to claim immediate intuitions of the truth. As Kant writes, quote, "it lies not merely in the natural laziness, but also in the vanity of human beings, a misunderstood freedom, that those who have a living, whether it be a wealthy or a poor one, consider themselves superior in comparison to those who must work. In the philosophy of the Platonizing Schwarmer," Kant goes onto argue, quote, "one need not work but only listen and enjoy the oracle within oneself in order to bring all the wisdom envisioned with philosophy into one's possession.
And this announcement is indeed made in a tone indicating that the superior ones do not think of themselves in the same class as those who, in a scholarly manner, consider themselves obligated to progress slowly and carefully from the critique of their faculty of knowledge to dogmatic knowledge," i.e. Kant. "Rather, they are like geniuses, already in a position to achieve everything that hard work alone can bring and, indeed, to achieve more than that by a single penetrating glance into their interior," end quote.
Kant opened the essay with the assertion that quote, "to the aesthetics in the Macarian desert," Macarius, who I mentioned, "philosophy meant their monasticism," end quote. It's not clear here, just at the opening, whether he believes that asceticism and monasticism were themselves labor, a labor that his contemporary Platonizing philosophers disavow, even as they disavow the hard work of Kant's critical philosophy. Kant makes explicit the link between mysticism and enthusiasm, the Platonizing philosophers who are the subject of this polemic claim, Kant argues, that they come to knowledge through feeling, and not just any knowledge, but knowledge of the super sensible, knowledge that for Kant by definition cannot be obtained.
They claim, finally, quote "the intimation of the super sensible." It is immediately apparent, Kant continues, quote "that intimation consists in a certain mystical rhythm, [INAUDIBLE], a vaulting leap beyond concepts into the unthinkable, a capacity to grasp what evades every concept, an expectation of secrets or rather a suspense-ridden tendering of secrets that is actually the mistuning of heads into enthusiasm, [NON-ENGLISH] For intimation is obscure "preexpectation, is still Kant, "and contains the hope of a disclosure that is only possible in tasks of reason solved with concepts.
If, therefore, these intimations are transcendent and can lead to no proper cognition of the object, they must necessarily promise a surrogate of cognition, supernatural communication, mystical illumination, which is the death of all philosophy," end quote. So probably the labor of the monastic philosopher doesn't count as labor or must be effaced as labor, if only because it ends with claims to know precisely that, which according to Kant's critical philosophy, one cannot know. One question I need to pursue further, that I want to understand, as I've said, is when, how, and why the fact of that labor was raised.
The Schwarmers stand in opposition to philosophy, even more dramatically kill philosophy, in their laziness, their refusal of the hard labor of conceptual work, their invocation of feeling as an apt substitute for thought, and finally, in their recourse to figurative language-- allegorical language, personification, all vital to this story-- in an attempt to evoke that which cannot be conceptualized. The Platonizing philosophy of feelings, Kant claims-- again, from Kant-- "never exhaust its supply of figural expressions, which is supposed to make that intimation comprehensible.
For example"-- and here, he's quoting his enemies-- "to approach so near to the goddess wisdom that one can perceive the rustle of her garment. Or since he cannot lift up the veil of Isis"-- one Platonizing philosopher says of another-- "he can nevertheless make it so thin that one can intimate the goddess under the veil. Kant asks then, "precisely how thin this veil is is not said, presumably just thick enough so that one can make the spectre into whatever one wants."
Kant is here citing Johann Georg Schlosser, whose translation of the sort of secret Platonic letters is the subject of this polemic. These figures, these analogies, these probabilities may not destroy reason, but they do emasculate it, gendering of the relationship between figural and conceptual language with a long history in the discourses surrounding both mysticism and enthusiasm.
But Kant himself has a secret, one that he believes is at bottom the same secret as that of his purported enemies. He too makes a claim to the realm of the super sensible. And in his call for a state of perpetual peace among philosophers, he explicitly marks the proximity of his secret and that of the Schwarmer.
The real secret, he says, is reasons in our idea of freedom. The Schwarmer worry that without the inculcation of feeling through the intimations of figural language, human beings will never be incited to act on that freedom. Kant, on the other hand, insists that quote, "the unshakable moral law stands there as a secure foundation for setting the human will into motion by its principles, even against the opposition of nature in its entirety." Such is the secret that can be felt only after a long development of concepts of the understanding and carefully tested principles, thus only through work, not by some sort of feeling that grounds knowledge, the mystical, but by clear knowledge that acts on feeling, moral feeling.
Kant himself acknowledges the dangerous proximity between his critical philosophy, insofar as it deals with the moral law and something that's in the realm of feeling, and the effusions of the Platonizing and perhaps other Schwarmer. Isis, the veiled goddess, returns to close his polemic. And she is one to whom both he and his opponents bow.
Kant again, "the veil goddess before whom we of both parties bend our knees is the moral law within us, in its inviolable majesty. We do indeed perceive her voice and also understand very well her command. But when we are listening, we are in doubt whether it comes from man, from the perfected power of his own reason, or whether it comes from another, whose essence is unknown to us and speaks to man through this, his own reason.
At bottom, we would perhaps be better to rise above and spare ourselves research into this matter"-- sounds a little lazy-- "since such research is only speculative"-- no, not really-- "and since what obliges us objectively to act remains always the same. Therefore, one may place one or the other principle down as foundation." But the didactic procedure of bringing the moral law within us into clear concepts according to a logical methodology is the only authentically philosophical one.
Whereas, the procedure whereby the law is personified and reason's moral bidding is made into a veiled Isis, even if we attribute to her no other properties than those discovered according to the philosophical method, that is an aesthetic mode of representing precisely the same object. One can doubtless use this mode of representation backward. After the first procedure-- after you've philosophically laid out, purified the principles-- you can then aestheticize in order to enliven those ideas by a sensible, albeit only analogical, presentation. And yet, one always runs the danger of falling into an enthusiastic vision-- a Schwarmer of vision-- which is the death, again, of all philosophy.
Yet Kant himself elsewhere argues that analogy is necessary to render the moral law sensible, the typic of the critique of practical reason. He vacillates on feeling, saying that all feeling should be evacuated by that single moral feeling, which is respect. He engages in a persistently typological reading of the New Testament and religion within the boundaries of mere reason and exalts the abyssal edge of the conceptual encountered in experiences of the sublime and the critique of judgment.
Kant labors in the shadow of the death of philosophy, precisely there where the desert monks believed true philosophy itself to lie. Yet chasms lie between the two. Yet to properly named them, to understand them, we need first to acknowledge and to think their uncanny proximities.
Last bit, very short-- Jacques Derrida in a characteristically elliptical and potent reading cuts to the heart of the matter. In asking his philosophical interlocutors to give up the figure of Isis, Derrida argues quote, "Kant calls for placing the law above and beyond, not the person, but personification and the body, above and beyond, as it were, the sensible voice that speaks in us, the singular voice that speaks to us in private, the voice that could be said"-- in his language-- "to be pathological in opposition to the voice of reason, the law above the body, above this body found here to be represented by a veiled goddess.
Even if you do not want to grant some signifiance," or significance, "to the fact that what the concordant excludes is precisely the body of the veiled Isis, the universal principle of femininity, murderess of Osiris, all of whose pieces she later recovers except for the phallus, even if you also think that this is a personification too allegorical, too analogical, too metaphorical, grant me at least this, the truce proposed between the two declared defenders of a non-emasculated logos supposes some exclusion, it supposes some inadmissible, there's an excluded middle. And that will be enough for me," end quote.
But is that which is excluded simply, or even most importantly, the veil of Isis? Isn't it rather, isn't it instead, isn't it also the chanting body of the Christian monk at prayer, the racked body of the beguine in an ecstasy, the trembling twitching body of the Quaker moved by the spirit, the shouting, singing, prophesying body of the Methodist circuit preacher, those habituated to spontaneous outpourings of the spirit, rather than to the critical evaluation of concepts.
And that is the key. For the reader of Kant, the person engaged in the critical philosopher, is being habituated to a form of thinking, a way of feeling, and a mode of acting that might itself, that was by his contemporaries, called-- might be called, and was by his contemporaries called-- enthusiastic. Derrida asks of Kant the very question Kant asked himself-- how is one to discriminate the voice of the other in oneself?
The question, Derrida claims, concerns the distinction between the voice of reason and the voice of the oracle. But is it, I ask. What about the voice who speaks through me, through the other, the voice who calls me to come, even if that voice, perhaps especially if that voice, is the voice of a philosopher? Thank you.
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Amy Hollywood, Elizabeth H. Monrad Professor of Christian Studies at the Harvard Divinity School, asks what is the relationship between enthusiasm and critique? Is enthusiasm inherently uncritical or can it, rather, animate critique? And can we ever fully disentangle one from the other?
Professor Hollywood suggests that we need enthusiasm -- an enthusiasm that refuses to be split in two -- in order to live. But if enthusiasm engenders and fuels all of our projects, including those of critique, yet critique is always in danger of killing our enthusiasm, how, then, do we survive?