Years ago I began to read Evelyn Underhill's works on mysticism, and eventually read most of her published writing, her early Mysticism and her late Worship in the Nisbet Library of Constructive Theology, and then including retreat addresses, letters and essays. She reads as one writing from anothet time, now - but why should we be surprised, or think that in itself a disqualification of her as a spiritual writer still worth time and effort to study. Amongst the writers she introduced me to was Jan Van Ruysbroeck, whose name itself is likely to be unfamiliar to any but those interested in medieval mysticism. I must say I never followed up on Ruysbroeck after I'd moved on from reading Underhill. But recently he reappeared over my horizon.
I am doing some wider reading around Trinitarian theology including An Introduction to the Trinity by Declan Marmion and Rik Van Nieuwenhove. This is a very good book which for an introduction is theologically substantial and wide in its reach. There is a section on Ruysbroeck which I found fascinating, intriguing and in turns attractive and unsettling. Van Nieuwenhove referred to his own monograph, Jan Van Ruusbroec, Mystical Theologian of the Trinity and I've just started reading it. This is a study that seeks to redefine the essence of mysticism in terms of human transformation rather than immediate experience of God. I want to take some time to read carefully, assimilate quite unfamiliar ideas and weigh them against Scripture, tradition and experience, and do so in a way that is thoughtful, critically appreciative, humbly receptive and spiritually attentive. In other words to greet new ideas with courtesy, respect and intellectual modesty.
I will report back - for now I am enjoying reading an exposition of how spiritual theology if it is to be lived transformatively must be rooted in Trinitarian theology. The doctrine of the Trinity is diminished if the primary focus is on an exercise in speculative philosophy, or our best energies are expended on rational constructions and constantly revised defences of fixed ideas. The immanent Trinity overflows in an eternal love, the sovereign fredom of God, creating, entering and engaging with all that is as it has come into being through that same eternal creative purposes of the Triune God revealed in Christ through the Spirit.
Far from being a study of abstraction, Trinitarian theology invites openness to transformation as we are caught up into the life of the Father the Sone and the Holy Spirit, to share in that eternal fellowship of self-giving love, inflowing in returning joy, outflowing in constant gift. Ruysbroeck is a Trinitarian theologian for whom mysticism is nothing less than our awareness of conscious surrender to the transforming, renewing and cleansing grace of the God who calls us into relationships of intimacy, sacrifice and joy in God.