Chapter 4

Absolute consciousness

The other type of "altered state of consciousness" is another kind of mystical experience: a non-conceptual intellectual awareness which is to empty consciousness what seeing undifferentiated whiteness (mixture of all colors of light) is to seeing blackness (nothing to see). In one sense, it could be said to be understanding existence in its infinite fullness, just as empty consciousness is a kind of "contact" with nothingness.

Those who claim to have had this experience call it "infused contemplation," to distinguish it from "acquired contemplation," which they also generally seem to have had, and which seems to be the sort of thing I described as empty consciousness. Not surprisingly, those who talk about it do so in a religious context, since for them it is (as it would have to be, if our theory is true) direct knowledge of God himself, where God acts directly on the intellect and is known intuitively and not by means of concepts, as if the intellect "saw" him. They claim that this is not something that can be got by practice, because it is totally beyond human power and is therefore a free gift of God which no one can claim in any sense to deserve. Interestingly, they also tend to say that it is not necessarily something which one ought to petition God for, because it can bring with it the notion that because one has it one is specially favored by God (one is, of course), and this, for the wrong sort of person, can lead to thinking highly of oneself.

First of all, is it possible? I indicated in somewhere in Section 4 of the third part why I think it is. The human spirit has to finitize itself to understand one definite concept; but this implies that it is in itself beyond the concept which it limits itself to understand; and since the concept can be any concept whatever, including such general ones as being, existence, or nothingness, then it follows that the human spirit is in itself beyond any limited concept which it understands. The finiteness of the human spirit consists in the fact that it can't understand unless it finitizes itself in some way.

As I argued when discussing the Beatific Vision, what apparently God does is raise the human spirit above its necessity to finitize itself and helps it think absolutely, without any restriction on its thinking; and this infinite thinking is, of course, also God himself, because that is what God is, and God cannot be differentiated in his reality. What I am asserting here of this type of mystical experience is that it can occur in this life and not wait for the life after death.

Hence, in this kind of mystical experience, God does not exactly "show himself" to the person, he enables the person to become him intellectually while remaining (in the rest of his "reduplications" of his consciousness) the finite spirit and soul which he is, uniting the parts of this particular body. And this would have to be the case, if the finite person were actually to know God. John says in one of his letters, "We will be like him, because we will see him as he is." This is not quite accurate, because in God there are no parts (though presumably there are "reduplications" of the infinite Act); and so if what my theory implies is correct, it is more accurate to say, "We will be him, because we will see him as he is."(1)

There could be no distinction of subject and object if we understood the Infinite, because subject and object, as distinct entities, would vanish in the identity of absolute existence.

But this is not quite true either. There would be a subject/object distinction with respect to the other "reduplications" of the act, but not in the "reduplication" which actually understood God as he is; and so while in one "dimension" of himself, the finite person has been absorbed into God and become God--not a part of God, as the pantheists hold, but God--in the other "dimensions" of that same consciousness, he is still the finite self he always was, and even is still, if the writers on the subject are correct, capable of sinning.

There are those Scholastics who hold that people who have the Beatific Vision are not capable of sinning; and so they tend to say that this type of mystical experience is not really the same kind of knowledge as the Beatific Vision. They give two reasons for this: first, that some people who have had it have apparently lapsed into sin, and secondly that the Beatific Vision would necessarily produce absolute bliss, and these mystics are still quite capable of suffering.

As to the second point, if there ever was any human being who had the Beatific Vision while he was living on this earth, it was Jesus; and he certainly suffered; so this is no argument that the mystical experience of absolute consciousness is not the same as the Beatific Vision. As to the first point, it only follows that those who have the Beatific Vision cannot (in practice, because their wills are still free) sin if you assume that the will by its nature desires "the good," and since it is based on understanding, "the good" without qualification, or the infinite good. On this showing, once having possessed the infinite good (which, of course, is God), then the will could not desire anything else, because it already has all that it could desire.

I discussed the fallacy of this argument in Chapter 10 of Section 5 of the first part 1.5.10, when I gave my view of why goodness (the ideal) is subjective, not objective; and I also discussed the fallacy in the "automatic" attraction toward "the good" in commenting on the Scholastic position when discussing choice in Chapter 6 of Section 3 of the third part 3.3.6. It does not follow that if a person possessed God, he could desire no more, even if he possessed God with the infinite act of possessing, because, as I see it, the Scholastic theory about the objectivity of "the good" is not true--and if it isn't, then it is quite possible for one in this life who has the Beatific Vision to desire something perfectly incongruous with it. "The good" is not something objective, automatically sought by the will; it is subjectively created by the human spirit.

St. John of the Cross mentions that in prayer, he as a mystic was plagued with sexual temptations-- which certainly were at least an attraction away from God, or they wouldn't have been temptations, and would have been images that would be completely ignored as silly or trivial.

One couldn't sin after death if one had the Beatific Vision, of course, not because the will is no longer free, nor because God so absorbs it as to make it in practice incapable of choosing anything else, but simply because a pure spirit can't change; and so once possessing the Beatific Vision after death, there is no way it can be lost, because the free choice for it is complete and eternal, the way the angels' free choice is eternal.

In any case, my view would make it quite possible that there is no distinction between this kind of mystical consciousness and the Beatific Vision, except that the person with absolute consciousness in this life is also in the other "dimensions" of his reality a changing being.

This type of mystical experience, then, would be utterly different from that of empty consciousness, not only in that it is absolute knowledge as opposed to absolutely minimal knowledge, but in that empty consciousness involves unawareness of everything else while in that state (because if distinctions occur, it is lost), while this type of mysticism can (and does, if we are to believe the writings and lives of those who report having it) exist together with all sorts of other experiences and activities in this world. It is "there," in the background, not taking over the whole of life, but permeating it, as it were, just as the experience of space permeates all of visual experience while remaining only one "dimension" of it.

What it seems to be in its final stage (what St. Teresa of Avila called the "spiritual marriage") is a kind of non-conceptual knowledge of the truth, which enables a person to "see through" falsehood and recognize conceptual truth when he encounters it. I mentioned this in passing when introducing Section 4 of the first part. It is possible that Socrates had it, for instance; and it might be what he was referring to as his daimon, his "guardian angel" who warned him when he was going to do something wrong. As I said in discussing empty consciousness, it is also quite possible that some Eastern mystics have been given this absolutely full consciousness; there is no law that says God can only give his gifts to Catholics or even Christians, much as some Catholics or Christians would like to think so.(2)

But whoever has it, it seems to be a kind of intellectual "taste" for the truth, because what one learns conceptually he compares with the Absolute Truth which he knows by being absorbed in it; and he can recognize incongruities and compatibilities when he encounters them.(3)

But beyond that, the experience seems to be completely ineffable, and, like empty consciousness, is described in words only by uttering paradoxes like "the light that is so light that it is darkness" and so on--in terms not unlike those of empty consciousness, which is not surprising since both are non-conceptual (but of course the paradoxical "Everything is nothing" isn't there).

Obviously, if my view of what is going on here is true, this type of mystical experience is only possible with God as its "object" (and since it is beyond human nature, with God as the one who bestows it); and this is at least consistent with what the writers on the subject say. They say that the only thing any finite spirit, such as the devil, can take possession of is the sense faculty, and only God can directly act on the intellect or the spiritual aspect of the human being.

As to the genesis of this kind of experience, it seems that it only happens to a person who is reasonably far along in prayer and devotion to God. I would suspect that there has to be a desire to let go control of one's own life (a control which is perfectly legitimate) and let God to work in oneself, taking over one's life.

A few words must be said here, for two reasons: First, because this sounds like the Buddhist uninvolvement that I castigated, and second, letting God (or the authority in the monastery) take over the management of one's life seems to be an abdication of freedom.

As to the first point, letting go of control over what you do by putting yourself under authority in everything precisely leaves you open to involvement, if the authority tells you to do something. It is pretty hard to withdraw into a shell and merely contemplate if you are assigned to run a soup kitchen.

As to the second point, the abdication of one's freedom, it is true that monks and nuns take a vow of obedience letting the one in authority in the monastery or convent dictate even the smallest detail of their life, and willingly doing what that person even hints that they should do. And of course, it certainly looks as if letting God take over control is an attempt to dragoon God into making the decisions for oneself, and so taking responsibility for one's acts. If that were what it was, it would be a supreme example of Sartre's "bad faith."

But it isn't like that at all; and I speak with personal knowledge here, having been a monk for eight wonderful years, until I was, to my surprise, called away. The monk is still totally responsible for his choices; he just chooses (as a sacrifice of self-centeredness) to go along with whatever he is ordered to do or whatever the "superior" (whom he recognizes, of course, as only superior in status) suggests--as long as it is not morally wrong--because what he does does not matter to himself since he himself does not matter to himself.

But this sacrifice of one's own control has behind it letting God take over one's life. Because the promise of obedience is a vow before God, it is made with the understanding that (a) this is done to show how much more important God is in one's life than one's own interests, and (b) that what the superior says will be what God wants one to be doing at that moment--always supposing (since the superior is finite and fallible, and can even be perverse and sinful) that what the superior says does not contradict some command of God.

Behind this is the knowledge that the person does not really know himself, and consequently does not know what he would enjoy or what he "really wants"; but he knows that God knows this. And since God wants nothing but the person's happiness, then he gets into a situation where he agrees out of love of God to give control of his life to another fallible human being, with the hope that (a) God will accept this as a loving sacrifice, and (b) God will make things work out so that he wouldn't by taking control of his life have been able to make it a happier or more fulfilled one. A hundred times as much in this life and eternal life to boot.

As to the letting go and letting God have control of one's life, this is not something capricious, since the potential mystic knows that God is not the enemy of understanding and reason, but their companion. Hence, the tacit agreement in letting God take over is that one will do in whatever situation what seems the objectively more reasonable thing to do, trusting in God to make what seems the more reasonable thing be the thing that can bring about the greatest happiness of the greatest number (always letting "happiness" be defined subjectively, of course). So the person who lets God take control over his life is not actually doing anything but what a reasonable person who was trying to control his life would do: act in the most reasonable way.(4)

This is done, however, in the knowing-unknowing of faith, because in this life we are not only not really aware of what we would most enjoy, we are also not aware of others' happiness (because we can't know what their goals really are, for one thing, unless they tell us--and even then they do so haltingly and inadequately); and so we can't know whether the act actually did the good we intended or whether it wrought perhaps some tremendous damage we didn't intend--and whether this damage might or might not have been the best thing for the person we hoped to help.

So a great deal of humility is contained in this willingness to let go and let God take over control of our acts; because we never do lose control, and we are still responsible for everything we do; and it is only in faith that what seems the reasonable thing is known to be the thing that gets us to the goals we actually have, which is the greatest happiness (including the greatest freedom) of the greatest number.

The incipient mystic knows that at any moment he can take back control of his life, set definite goals for himself, and make certain things important, even vitally so. But he chooses to act consistently with what he knows the facts to be: that there is nothing objectively important, least of all himself; and he wishes to be absolutely honest with himself and not to matter to himself at all. St. John of the Cross was given the name Doctor Nada--"Doctor Nothing"--by his contemporaries, because he kept insisting that what one should want for oneself was nothing at all.(5)

Needless to say, this non-evaluative mode of existence, where nothing at all is evaluated, not even oneself, is exceedingly difficult to attain; but it seems (at least from my perspective) to be the goal the Christian is aiming at, because it is only in this way that one can love as God loves.(6)

Wishing to love as God loves, the incipient mystic then prays to consider himself as of no importance whatsoever, and asks God to take away from him anything that he likes for his own fulfillment--and to replace it with whatever God sees as what he should have or do; it is only by rejecting everything as "mine" can a person be totally self-forgetful and be able to love as God loves.

And if a person sincerely makes this prayer, God will answer it, and gradually--insofar as he can stand it--take away from the person everything he thought would make him happy; and in such a way that the person generally has the opportunity to hold onto it, while at the same time it seems more reasonable to give it up.

To take one example, I said that my years in the seminary were wonderful years, and they were. But I am a creative kind of person, a maverick thinker, really unsuited to life in the Jesuits, where "conformity of mind to what the superior wishes" is the prime virtue. Someone like me should take the initiative in what he does, because no one else will think up the crazy ideas and projects he comes up with--and so waiting for the impulse to come from the superior is not really consistent with my nature. But I didn't realize this, because (then at least) I was also very docile and had no problem with obedience.

But it happened that I was told by my superiors to undertake a task (teaching high school) which was, because of my peculiar makeup, supremely repugnant to me; I used to wake up retching every morning as I faced another day. After several months of real agony, it finally dawned on me that just because something was hard, this was no sign that it was the will of God; and I was told by my superior to consider my life and my vocation during the customary retreat at the end of the year. I did so, and found out something like what I described in the paragraph above; and when I added up the reasons for staying a monk and leaving, the reasons seemed all on the side of leaving. I was apprehensive at going back into the world after eight years away from it; and I wrote to the superior saying that it seemed reasonable for me to leave, but that if he even hinted that he thought I should stay, I would be only too happy to do so. He told me to leave. And now I am a husband, the father of two wonderful children, a philosopher of the sort I probably could not otherwise have been, an actor, and a thousand other things. I gave up the one thing I was sure would never be taken from me; and in return I have been given all that I gave up when I entered the seminary, and how much more besides only God knows.

This giving up of self-interest is, I think, not simply the task of a mystic, but of every Christian, who if he is to love as God loves, must abandon all ideals and face the world and himself with complete realism. But of course those who are given the gift of God's own consciousness in this life are apt to be those most serious in pursuing this goal of self-abandonment to the limit.

I realize that in our present age of "fulfillment," this abandonment of self-interest sounds perverse and even immoral and inhuman, so I want to stress that it is actually conformity to the objective reality, in which "self-esteem" is seen for what it is: a lie and a cheat to make it possible for people to get through life. This view sounds on the face of it absurd, because we are so trained to evaluate and think in terms of importance (particularly self-importance); but in fact we have no importance, and if we want to be honest with ourselves, we should admit it.

And so the stages in mysticism reflect this. The Master is not cruel, and so he gently leads the soul along. At the beginning of one's commitment to this enterprise of loving God, prayer is apt to be filled with rapturous and exultant emotions of a kind of sexless love of God: what St. Ignatius called "sensible consolation." The neophyte is convinced that God is near, God loves him, and that God is leading him toward bliss--indeed, he seems to have found it already, and if this is what this life is, what must heaven be like?

This emotion is a gift, to be sure, but it has nothing to do with the actual union of God and the spirit, because (obviously) it is an act of instinct, which has an energy-"dimension," and is hardly a foretaste of heaven. The mystical experience has absolutely no emotion connected with it at all. In fact, since it is even beyond concepts, it is in a sense not recognizable in any definite way by the person who has it; because he can't feel it, and he can't understand it in any ordinary sense of understanding at all. The purpose of the "sensible consolation" is just that; to give consolation and encouragement to the soul on its very arduous journey. It occurs also at intervals during later stages of development, of course; but the intervals become rarer and rarer as the soul becomes stronger and less self-interested.

It is this radiant joy at "confronting God" that is what I think certain Protestant sects are talking about when they refer to "conversion," and the conviction of being saved when one "accepts Jesus as one's Savior." It certainly has the power to change the direction of a person's life; but (a) it is unsustainable, and (b) it is unspiritual, simply because it is an emotion, however connected with the spiritual it might be. The spiritual life is simply not an emotional life; and (as we will see shortly) in the higher a person goes in the mystical life, the more the emotions are apt to be negative ones, and the less emotional satisfaction one gets from things divine. This is not surprising, if the mystical life is an advance in conformity to the truth.

At any rate, after this initial "honeymoon" stage, as God takes over one's spiritual consciousness and one begins to give up control of one's own intellect, the attention wanders, and all sorts of sensations occur as distractions in prayer. These distress the developing mystic greatly, because meditation used to be so easy, and concentration on the text at hand or the event in Jesus' life so enjoyable. Now it is next to impossible to tie the imagination down. And of course, since the expansion of the intellect toward the Beatific Vision is beyond sensation and beyond concepts, the mystic does not feel what is happening, and does not understand what is happening--and though he is aware at a very deep level that the "right" thing is happening and he loves God even more than before, the apparent distractions caused by the release of his instinct make him think that he is slipping back and abandoning God for the "pleasures of the world." But of course, concentration and sensation are only needed for conceptual thought, not this direct intellectual vision; and so it is not surprising that concentrating on some holy image would be what is really the distraction.

Of course, after several years of prayer, it is also possible that those who are not constantly striving for greater and greater love will also find that their prayer becomes more and more distracted and a greater waste of time. But their attitude is rather one of abandoning it and what it stands for as pious dreams of neurotics, and returning to the "real world"; while the mystic knows that this is false, and desperately does not want to do it. Still, he sees himself as indistinguishable from his worldly colleagues, and who is he to say that he is different or better than they are?

What the mystic has to do, actually, is not pay attention to these distractions, to let them happen without letting them worry him, and simply let God do the work. There is absolutely nothing he can do to advance in this project of his except let go, and not even make it a project of his, but of God's, for whom a thousand years are as an evening gone. He can't hurry things; what will happen will happen in its own way, in God's own time.

The novice mystic is also concerned about letting go and giving up control over himself because he realizes that God is not the only spirit that can affect him, and he is afraid that he might fall into sin. This is always a danger, of course; but there is no guarantee that choosing to live the spiritual life is safe. And, of course, in abandoning oneself to God, one does so in faith that God is not going to allow the devil to have the upper hand--at least permanently. There will be lapses; but "be brave," as Jesus told his students as he entered the garden of Gethsemani, "I have won the battle with the world."

This fear is enhanced by the fact that as the mystical consciousness develops, ideas more or less "just come" to the person, and he surprises himself with knowing more than he thought he knew. What he needs is "just there" when he needs it, though he can't necessarily call up knowledge at will; and it is only after giving thought to his insights that he can see that they are logical and sensible. This is a frightening experience, because it does seem as if his mind is being taken over by someone beyond him, over whom he has no power--even if all that has happened is that he now has greater access to the right side of his brain, where non-discursive (non-"logical") connections seem to be being made. It is one thing to choose to abandon oneself; it is another to experience the loss of oneself. But of course, it isn't a loss; it's a partnership.

The mystical writers call this the "night of the senses," and it lasts often for many years, until the distractions in prayer no longer bother the mystic, and he realizes that somehow or other he is praying, and he would not give it up even if the chance were offered. It is simultaneously a kind of relief and peace (emotions, you see, are still involved) and turmoil and torment. God grant him at this stage a spiritual director who knows what is going on and will encourage him, but not give him advice on how to rid himself of distractions, or how to think logically and not listen to "inspirations."

As to this last, St. Ignatius talks about "discernment of spirits," to find out whether these inspirations come from the Holy Spirit, or are temptations--either from the devil or one's own heated brain. What he says is that, if a person is trying to be honest and do what is best, then the Holy Spirit will not have to fight to put ideas into his head, and so these inspirations will be accompanied by peace. Inspirations which bring with them emotional excitement, even if the emotions seem quite positive, are apt to be temptations, because for the devil to get the person to do what he wants, he has to storm the person's mind. Of course, for those who don't care about honesty and God, it works the other way; new ways of advancing by cheating are received peacefully, and thoughts of straightening out one's life bring emotional turmoil (like the emotions accompanying "conversion" that I mentioned).

But the real sign that inspirations are from the Holy Spirit is obedience. "You are to have the same attitude that was in Prince Jesus," says Paul, "who, when he was in the form of God did not think being equal to God something he had to keep hold of; he emptied himself and took on the form of a slave, and became the same thing as a human being. And when he found himself in human shape he lowered himself so far as to submit obediently to death, and death on a cross."

For the monk, this means that what the superior wants is the objective touchstone of whether his inspirations are those of the Holy Spirit or not. The Holy Spirit does not contradict himself; and if you are inspired to do something and, let us say, hide it from the superior because you think he might not approve, then that inspiration is not from above, however good the idea might be in itself.

For the layman, who has not handed over the initiative for his acts, informing those in authority about what he is doing is out of place. What this obedience means for a layman is that it is not an inspiration of the Holy Spirit when he is prompted to do what contradicts anything any legitimate authority commands--whether that authority is in his business, civil authority, or that of the clergy. It is only when the commands by any of these authorities is known to be positively immoral that disobedience can be prompted by the Holy Spirit.(7) And, of course, if a legitimate authority puts a stop to a project in any stage of its development, then the Holy Spirit is not going to be inspiring a battle to keep the project going.(8)

To continue with the development of the mystical life, sometimes--that is, with some, but by no means all, mystics--after this stage of the "night of the senses" has passed, God seizes the whole mind, sense, spirit and all, and the mystic is lifted into ecstasy, where he loses contact with his surroundings and knows that he is in contact with God, in a way that cannot be expressed in words. St. Ignatius spoke of intellectual visions of the Trinity while in these ecstatic trances.

These ecstatic states are often accompanied by what one might call "psychedelic experiences": the "visions" of Jesus or his mother or the saints that are the stuff of folklore. Either God or perhaps the saint in question takes over the imagination and produces the image, often with a vividness beyond that of ordinary perception, as happens also with psychedelic chemicals.

This can happen also with people who aren't particularly saintly, as long as they are well-disposed, and are useful for transmitting some message to others, as with Bernadette at Lourdes and the children at Fatima. Not surprisingly, these people tend to become contemplatives afterwards.

Apparently, this seizing of the instinct (which is what is going on) can be so strong as to produce extraordinary physical changes in the body; and there are people who acquire the five wounds of Jesus, which bleed and cause pain, but do not do harm to the body or become infected, though they remain open. I would suspect that this is a kind of extreme case of what hypnotists can do with the body when they take over the instinct. From what I have heard, the wounds in the hands are actually in the hands, where traditionally people think the wounds of Jesus to have been, when they were almost certainly through the wrist, or the weight of the body would have torn them off the cross in a matter of seconds.(9)

This seems to me to show that this gift of what they call the stigmata (wounds) is analogous to the "sensible consolation" earlier; and is something that occurs in the body consistently with the way one thinks of Jesus, rather than a kind of "wounding" by Jesus of the mystic's body, if I may so speak.(10)

There are also legends about monks in mystic ecstasy floating up into the air. They say that Joseph of Cupertino (now the patron of aviators--who says the Catholic Church has no sense of humor?) used to do this whenever he heard the word "God," and was ultimately relieved of his duty of serving dinner, because during the reading at table, when "God" was spoken, he would rise up into the air, tray in hand, bump his head on the ceiling and spill the contents of the tray onto the brothers below.

I don't know whether these legends have any factual basis; but if they do, I suspect that what is happening is that the ecstasy takes the concentration to such an extreme that some of the energy that would ordinarily be expressed as mass is used in it, and the person's body becomes less dense than air during this time--and like a helium balloon, he floats.

These manifestations are interesting to outsiders, and can be useful to leading people to faith, I suppose. But, as the spiritual writers on the subject attest, they are not essential to progress in the mystical life, and can in fact be detrimental, by making the person interested in himself and his sensory experiences or corporeal feats, and giving him an exalted opinion of himself--which is, of course, just the opposite of the goal of the whole enterprise.

After the "night of the senses" or this ecstatic stage come years and years of "aridity," called the "night of the soul" or the "night of faith." In this stage, the person is not really interested in much of anything but God, and wishes sincerely--and steadfastly--only to be his slave. He may, by the way, be engaged in all sorts of external activities; but these have no importance to him except that they are his service to God, and would be abandoned at a moment's notice if he thought that God wanted him to give them up. Think of what this means. Could I, for instance, leave this book now, unfinished, and begin some totally different career? Or even see what I have done torn up, after some thousand pages?

This is rightly the "night of faith," because it is the point in which the mystic is to live by pure faith that what he believes is true, and not by any experiential certitude. He has asked to have everything taken away, so that he can live purely for God and not for himself at all; and the last thing to be taken away, oddly enough, is psychological contact with God.

It is often the case also that mystics are misunderstood and their motives questioned, so that they have to give up having people think well of them. This is not something to be sought after; Jesus, for instance, though he was ultimately held in contempt by practically everyone (possibly even most of his own students, "who had hoped" that he was the Messiah, and whose hopes were dashed when he didn't come down off the cross), never did anything to bring it on himself, and always tried to be polite to people consistently with not contradicting the truth of what he was.

So those who try to have people despise them are not really imitating their Master; but it is a fact that if they imitate their Master, they will be regarded as hypocrites and have to put up with being thought of as evil by perfectly sincere people, even those they love most dearly, without having any defense at all against this. Reputation is a very, very hard thing to give up, especially by those of us who have not been perfect in our actions, and have to say that we have done things to deserve the opinion people have of us--though perhaps not to the degree that they have it.

The point is, of course, that such things are to be a matter of indifference to the mystic; God is taking away from him all that promotes self-interest; and after years in disgrace, it simply does not matter to the person any more.

And then God takes away himself. That is, the union of God and the intellectual aspect of the soul becomes more and more purified, and so the awareness of contact with God becomes less and less apparent, because the soul is God in this "dimension" of itself, and does not possess him as a beloved object any more.

Prayer becomes even more of a torture, particularly communal prayer like the Mass. The mystic, if a Catholic, still goes to Mass, because after all it is the participation in the crucifixion, and has meaning irrespective of what one "gets out of it"--one is bringing the crucifixion with its blessings into the present age, and to join in that work, however, painful and, yes, repugnant, is enough. It is interesting and appropriate that the crucifixion, which the mystic used to attend with such peace and joy, should now be a kind of psychological crucifixion itself.

But the worst of this stage is that the person doesn't really believe that he believes. He is constantly beset with thoughts like, "You can't think that this actually happened! That he got up out of the grave and walked around, playing jokes on people! Why all this rigmarole to test 'faith' when he knows whether people are sincere? It's all wishful thinking, and you know it!"

At the same time, at the depths of his being, he knows in a totally non-conceptual way that this is false, that the Resurrection really did happen, that "wishful thinking" is simply reason asserting that the world is not absurd, and that in order for the world not to be absurd these "legends" have to be true. And he knows the evidence that what Scripture says is basically factual, and can refute the views of interpreters who interpret it away into "meaningfulness"--where, as Paul says, it becomes meaningless and a fraud. But all this is abstract, nothing but theory; and it is so easy, so terribly easy, for theories to be wrong. And so, his discursive mind is anything but convinced by his reasonings, because if there is a God, why has God abandoned him?

He cannot even be left the one thing that matters to him: his relation to God. Because in fact he is not related to God any more, he has become divine; and this, which is his goal, he now sees with his conceptual mind as the ultimate loss. He must learn that he has arrived, and that this state is the state he was looking for; and once he learns that, peace can return.

One of the other things that it is hard for the mystic to learn doesn't matter is his faults and sins. He is trying so hard, he hopes, to be honest and do what is right; but he knows that he isn't really trying very hard, and that everything he does is shot through with hypocrisy. But of course, in looking on himself this way, he is setting standards for himself, and realizing that he isn't living up to them. "I have finally become resigned," writes St. Thérèse somewhere, "to being imperfect." God doesn't care about your sins; why should you? God accepts you absolutely for what you are; why shouldn't you?

That is, ultimately for the mystic nothing at all is to matter; there is to be no motivation for doing anything. When confronted with going on with his life or giving up, he constantly thinks, "Why do I bother? It's all an exercise in futility." and the only answer is to be "Why not?" He sees no realistic hope that he will make a difference; he is nobody, he does the very opposite of what he wants to do; nobody is interested in anything he has to offer, and what he does seems always to backfire--and so why not quit? And there is no answer to this except the realization, which comes from his union in that hidden "dimension" of his consciousness, that he can't quit, that there is no real question of quitting, that he just has to go on--for no reason that is convincing.

You do what you do because you do it. And this of course is exactly why God does what he does. You provide opportunities for the world, knowing that for the most part the world is not interested in the opportunity because it has its own axe to grind, and that most people won't take it, and will even resent your "interference," and, like pigs, trample on your pearls and then tear you apart.

True, it is possible to reason that you are doing the right thing and that it is probably having an effect on others that is positive--and sometimes you get told this. But all of this is abstract, and it doesn't mean anything any more. There isn't a God; you're just acting as if there was one; you're just theorizing in empty air, because life is so horrible that staying alive for one second without this belief would be impossible--which proves that it is simply a way to get through life, a rationalization, and you're not really being honest, you are the hypocrite everyone thinks you to be. And, of course, you see your own actions and their multiple motivations so clearly, and you find hypocrisy in every aspect of your life. Who are you to be expecting God to do great things through you? Who are you to call yourself a mystic, who is actually living God's life of infinite bliss here and now? How absurd and stupid! Wake up and live!

And you can't, that's all. You have to hang on.

For years and years and years and years.

If it sounds as if I have described a classic case of depression, it would be bound to sound that way to anyone with a little psychological training. But in fact, it is very different from depression, because all of this is in the discursive mind, and the mystic knows that he is on the right track, that the belief that he thinks is false is actually true; and at the very depths of his soul, he is at peace and even happy. If you look at what mystics who have gone through this have done while they are in this state, you find that they are not like depressed people at all; they are very active, and often even seem to be quite cheerful. St. Thérèse of Lisieux related in her autobiography how toward the end of her life that the novices she had charge over thought she was happy and full of faith, and how she was in constant agony and tormented by doubts. "But I am not alone," said Jesus after predicting that in a few minutes all his students would scatter. "The Father is with me."

There is a serious danger here, particularly if this time is very protracted, that the mystic will follow advice and seek psychological "help," and lose all that he has gained. The goal of psychological treatment, after all, is to bring oneself back into control--and the mystic is trying to lose control. It is to give a person a sense of self-worth, and the mystic has been trying to lose all sense of self-worth, and has finally succeeded. It is to make the person come to grips with his feelings, and for the mystic, feelings (even these depressed feelings) are to be completely irrelevant.

Psychological treatment of a mystic in the night of the soul is, therefore, the exact opposite of what he needs. What he needs is reassurance that in fact he has arrived, and the worthlessness of everything is simply the negative side of what he wanted: to love as God loves. For the depressed person, it matters that nothing matters; for the mystic, it does not matter that nothing matters-- and like the difference between empty consciousness and this consciousness, the difference is all the difference in the world. The mystic is the only totally free person; the mystic is the only person who can face reality and himself absolutely realistically, because he has no more values.

And when this happens, then the final stage of "spiritual marriage" occurs, a time of peace and contentment and a happiness that is different from any other kind of happiness (not greater; qualitatively different). It does not mean the end of trouble and controversy in the world, still less a withdrawal into a non-involved eremetical state (though this is a temptation of mystics). It is an involvement that no longer contains any worry, and goal-orientation that no longer is concerned about success. One does what one does because one does it; and this is enough. One still does the reasonable thing, because why do what is unreasonable when nothing makes any difference? And so one does what seems to be calculated to be for the greatest happiness of the greatest number--but if the actions don't bring this about, this doesn't matter. It is involvement, but coupled with absolute acceptance of absolutely everything.

I should point out that this stage--which is very close, if my view of life is correct, of the attitude of those in heaven toward the world--is not reached by all mystics; many die while still in the night of the soul. St. Thérèse did, for instance.

At any rate, that is a psychological sketch of what I think the mystical experience is, in the light of the philosophical view of human life I developed in the third part.



1. Forgive the grammar. I want to point out that John also indicates this identity when in his Report he has Jesus say, "I pray for them to be one thing (i.e. one and the same thing), just as I am one thing in you and you are one thing in me; I pray for them to be one thing in us."

2. I hasten to say that it has never been the official position of the Catholic Church that God bestows his grace (his gifts) only upon overt members. The Church does teach that, in one sense, everyone who believes in God at all is an implicit member, because if he knew that God wanted him to join the Catholic Church, he would. It is thus that the Church reconciles "there is no salvation outside the Church" with its assertion that anyone of good faith will be saved. He is saved through the Church (i.e. the body of Christ) whether he knows it or not.

3. I think, as I also said in Chapter 1 of Section 4 of the first part 1.4.1, that this is what Jesus' divine consciousness was like. As human he had to learn facts, but as God he had absolute truth, and so he recognized things Peter's formulation of him as "the Son of the Living God" as the correct formulation.

4. Note that I don't have any problem with the Utilitarians' "greatest happiness of the greatest number" as a noble goal to be recommended for people. My quarrel with them is, first, that I don't think "happiness" can be defined by a calculus of emotional satisfactions minus dissatisfactions; and secondly, that I think that this sort of thing cannot be the basis of the moral imperative, or even what defines moral virtue.

5. To those who object, "Well, maybe I'm not any more important than anyone else, but I'm certainly not less important," my answer is, "By whose standards?" If there really are objective standards and you have ever sinned, then you are objectively worse than any cockroach, who faithfully does everything the Master ever wanted of him. Who are you to say your offense against an infinite God was insignificant? But if importance is subjective, then it isn't that you aren't less important than others; it is that objectively speaking you have no importance whatsoever.

6. Strictly speaking, the mystic has Jesus as his goal, the human expression of God's love in the world. Hence, the mystic not only has as his goal loving as God loves but loving as humans love also; so that a mystic cannot but be affected by others' suffering, even though God's love as God's is not affected by it.

7. In this connection, it is instructive that Jesus's crucifixion was due, according to the accounts, to his meticulous obedience to legitimate authority, both religious and civil. He had a right not to answer questions in his trial and so incriminate himself, and so did not answer any of his accusers. But when Caiphas, the High Priest, asked him directly, "Are you the Prince, the Son of the Living God," he answered, and in such a way that there would be no ambiguity, making what would be for any mere human being a blasphemous statement which everyone heard. Also, when Pilate asked him if he was a king, he said that he was, but that his kingdom was not in this world--which, arguably, allowed Pilate to think of him as a madman.

8. Note that the incompetence or lack of virtue (or "leadership") of the one in authority is irrelevant. If the authority says not to do it, the Holy Spirit does not say that it should be done at this time and in this way. Rev. John Courtney Murray is now cited as a kind of martyr to the recalcitrant obtuseness of Rome, when his Theological view of Church-state relations was ordered not to be taught (and which he stopped teaching). His view is basically the one which later was adopted at the Second Vatican Council as the Church's position on the matter. What of the Holy Spirit here? My view is that the Holy Spirit did not want that view taught at that time, for whatever reason; possibly because in that context it would be misunderstood and do more harm than good. Obviously, I think that Charles Curran in his continuing to uphold contraception in the face of the authorities' ordering him to stop teaching it is doing the exact opposite of what should be being done, irrespective of the truth of his position (which happens to be false, as we will see).

As to those who would cite the Representatives' (Apostles') statement in Acts at their trial before the Sanhedrin, "We have to obey God rather than you," (a) they knew of their own knowledge that Jesus did come back to life and that he, as God, wanted them to spread the message, and so (b) they knew that this command was a direct violation of a command from God. In cases like Father Murray's or Father Curran's, it is by no means obvious that the inspiration to teach these views is a direct command from God, however strong the internal conviction is that God wants it done. It is precisely because "the devil can masquerade as an angel of light" and produce very strong convictions that external authority is the touchstone of God's will.

9. For those who, like me, think that the image on the Shroud of Turin has too many anomalies about it to be explainable as anything else but the shroud of someone actually crucified as Jesus was, and are inclined to explain away the carbon dating as possibly reflecting an irradiation of the shroud by whatever produced the scorch that forms the image (or possibly the results of the fire the shroud was subjected to), then it is significant that the wounds are in the wrists, not the hands. I would not go to the stake that this is the shroud of Jesus, by any means, because it could also be the shroud of someone who was crucified as a mocking imitation of Jesus--but still, it is something he would do, I think.

10. If I were ever given them, would mine be in my wrists? The fact that I have this curiosity probably would be enough to indicate that I would not be properly disposed to have them.