Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

Adam of St. Victor − Sequences

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The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, Fra Angelico, 1423-1424, National Gallery, London

THE Abbey of St. Victor outside of Paris during the 12th and 13th centuries produced several noteworthy figures in the history of Christian spirituality, including Hugh and Richard of St. Victor and Thomas Gallus.  The high achievements of the Victorines in the area of contemplation did not occur in isolation, but rather in an integral context that included such things as regular participation in the Mass and Catholic sacramental life.  A lesser known figure, Adam of St. Victor, a contemporary of Hugh, left us many examples of Latin Sequences that were sung during daily masses there.  Studying these helps give us some insight into the spiritual milieu of the Abbey.  The poetic quality of Adam’s Sequences is somewhat variable, but here are two gems: the first for All Saints Day, and the second for the commemoration day of St. Augustine.  The English translations of Wrangham are shown; newer translations have recently been made by Mousseau.

All Saints Day

November 1


THE Church on earth those joys pourtrays,
Which heavenly Mother-Church displays;
Keeping her annual holydays,
For endless ones she sighs and prays.

SUPERNAE matris gaudia
Repraesentat Ecclesia:
Dum festa colit annua,
Suspirat ad perpetua.

In this dark vale of woe to-day, 5
That Mother must her daughter stay;
Here Angel-guardians’ bright array
Must stand beside us in the fray.

In hac valle miseriae 5
Mater succurrat filiae;
Hie coelestes excubiae
Nobiscum stent in acie.

The world, the flesh, the devil’s spite
By different methods wars excite: 10
Such countless phantoms’ rush destroys
The sabbath that the heart enjoys.

Mundus, caro, daemonia
Diversa movent praelia: l0
Incursu tot phantasmatum
Turbatur cordis sabbatum.

This evil kindred hate displays
Alike against all holydays.
As, one and all, they fight and strive 15
Peace from the face of earth to drive.

Dies festos cognatio
Simul haec habet odio
Certatque pari foedere 15
Pacem de terra tollere.

Things strangely mingle here below,
Hope, terror, happiness, and pain;
While scarce for half an hour, we know.
Is silence kept in heaven’s domain. 20

Confusa sunt hie omnia,
Spes, metus, moeror, gaudium:
Vix hora vel dimidia
Fit in coelo silentium. 20

How blest that city is, wherein
Unceasing feast-days still begin!
How happy that assembly, where
Is utter ignorance of care!

Quam felix illa civitas
In qua jugis solemnitas!
Et quam jocunda curia,
Quae curae prorsus nescia!

Nor languor here, nor age, they know, 25
Nor fraud, nor terror of a foe:
But with one voice their joy they show;
One ardour makes all hearts to glow.

Nec languor hic, nec senium, 25
Nec fraus, nec terror hostium,
Sed una vox laetantium,
Et unus ardor cordium.

The angel-citizens on high
There, ‘neath a triple hierarchy, 30
The Trinity in Unity
Serve and obey rejoicingly.

Illic cives angelici
Sub hierarchia triplici 30
Trinae gaudent et simplici
Se Monarchiae subjici.

With wonder, — never giving o’er! —
They, seeing Him whom they adore,
Enjoy what, craving as before, 35
They thirst but to enjoy the more.

Mirantur, nec deficiunt,
In ilium quem prospiciunt;
Fruuntur, nec fastidiunt, 35
Quo frui magis sitiunt.

There all the Fathers stand around,
Ranking as worthy they are found;
The darkness now removed of night,
In light they look upon the light. 40

Illic patres dispositi
Pro qualitate meriti,
Semota jam caligine,
Lumen vident in lumine. 40

These Saints, whose feast to-day we grace
With solemn service as of old,
The King, unveiled and face to face,
In all His glory now behold.

Hi sancti quorum hodie
Recensentur solemnia,
Nunc, revelata facie,
Regem cernunt in gloria.

There may the virgins’ queen, in light 45
Transcending far heaven’s orders bright,
Plead our excuses in God’s sight
For all our failures to do right.

Illic regina virginum, 45
Transcendens culmen ordinum,
Excuset apud Dominum
Nostrorum lapsus criminum.

When this life’s troubles all are past,
Through prayer by them to God addressed. 50
May Christ’s grace bring us at the last
To where the Saints in glory rest! Amen.

Nos ad sanctorum gloriam,
Per ipsorum suffragia, 50
Post praesentem miseriam
Christi perducat gratia! Amen.

Source: Wrangham, vol. 3, pp. 170−175.

St. Augustine

Scenes from the Life of Saint Augustine of Hippo, ca. 1490, Master of Saint Augustine, Netherlandish, Metropolitan Museum of Art

August 28


OUR tuneful strains let us upraise
That endless feast’s delights to praise,
When, since thereon no trouble weighs,
The heart observes true sabbath days;

AETERNI festi gaudia
Nostra sonet harmonia,
Quo mens in se pacifica
Vera frequentat sabbata;

The rapture of a conscience clear, 5
That perfumes all those joys sincere,
By which it hath rich foretaste here
Of saints’ unending glory there,

Mundi cordis laetitia 5
Odorans vera gaudia,
Quibus praegustat avida
Quae sit sanctorum gloria,

Where the celestial company
Joys in its home exultingly; 10
And, giving crowns, their King they see
In all his glorious majesty.

Qua laetatur in patria
Coelicolarum curia, 10
Regem donantem praemia
Sua cernens in gloria.

O happy land! how great its bliss,
That knoweth nought but happiness!
For all the dwellers on that shore 15
One ceaseless song of praise outpour;

Beata illa patria
Quae nescit nisi gaudia!
Nam cives hujus patriae 15
Non cessant laudes canere.

Who those delights’ full sweetness feel,
Which not a trace of grief conceal;
‘Gainst whom no foeman draws the steel,
And who beneath no tempest reel: 20

Quos ille dulcor afficit
Quern nullus moeror inficit;
Quos nullus hostit impetit
Nullusque turbo concutit; 20

Where one day, clear from cloudlet’s haze,
Is better than a thousand days;
Bright with true light’s transcendent rays;
Filled with that knowledge of God’s ways,

Ubi dies clarissima
Melior est quam millia,
Luce lucens praefulgida,
Plena Dei notitia;

To grasp which human reason fails, 25
Nor human tongue to tell avails.
Till this mortality shall be
Absorbed in that life’s victory;

Quam mens humana capere, 25
Nec lingua valet promere,
Donec vitae victoria
Commutet haec mortalia.

When God shall all in all appear,
Life, righteousness, and knowledge clear; 30
Victuals and vesture and whate’er
The pious mind would wish to share!

Quando Deus est omnia:
Vita, virtus, scientia, 30
Victus, vestis et caetera,
Quae velle potest mens pia!

This in this vale of misery
The sober mind’s chief thought should be;
This should it feel, while rest it takes, 35
This should be with it when it wakes;

Hoc in hac valle misera
Meditetur mens sobria;
Hoc per soporem sentiat, 35
Hoc attendat dum vigilat;

How it will in that home, — its days
Of earthly exile past, — fond lays
For ever, crowned, the King to praise
In all His glorious beauty, raise. 40

Quo mundi post exilia
Coronetur iu patria,
Ac in decoris gloria
Regem laudet per saecula. 40

These praises, sounding loud and clear,
The Church now imitateth here;
As, in due order, year by year,
The birthdays of her saints appear;

Harum laudum praeconia
Imitatur Ecclesia,
Dum recensentur annua
Sanctorum natalitia;

When, after they have fought their fight, 45
With worth-won honours they are dight;
The martyr crowned with roses bright;
The virgin clad in robes of white.

Cum post peracta praelia 45
Digna redduntur praemia
Pro passione rosea,
Pro castitate candida.

They too receive a golden chain,
Who doctrines Catholic maintain: 50
In which Augustine now doth reign.
One of the great King’s shining train;

Datur et torques aurea
Pro doctrina catholica: 50
Qua praefulget Augustinus
In summi regis curia.

Whose written volumes’ full array
Are now the one Faith’s strength and stay:
Hence Mother Church avoids the way 55
Where errors lead mankind astray.

Cujus librorum copia
Fides firmatur unica;
Hinc et mater Ecclesia 55
Vitat errorum devia.

To follow where his steps precede,
And preach the truths He taught indeed.
Mother! may grace thy servants lead,
And grant the pure warm faith we need! Amen. 60

Hujus sequi vestigia
Ac praedicare dogmata
Fide recta ac fervida,
Det nobis mater gratia! Amen. 60

Source: Wrangham, vol. 2, pp. 186−191.


Blune, Clemens; Dreves, Guido Maria; Bannister, Henry K. Thesauri Hymnologici Prosarium.(Analecta Hymnica LIII, LIV, and LV), Leipzig, 1911, 1915, 1922. Latin text critical editions.

Fassler, Margot E. Who was Adam of Saint Victor? The evidence of the Sequence manuscripts. Journal of the American Musicological Society 37, 1984, 233−269.

Fassler, Margot E. The Victorines and the medieval liturgy. In: Eds. Hugh Feiss & Juliet Mousseau, A Companion to the Abbey of Saint Victor in Paris. Brill, 2018; 389-421.

Grosfillier, Jean. Les séquences d’Adam de Saint-Victor: étude littéraire (poétique et rhétorique), textes et traductions, commentaries. Bibliotheca Victorina 20. Turnhout: Brepols, 2008; 773−784.

Mousseau, Juliet. Adam of St Victor: Sequences. Introduction. In: Eds. Boyd Taylor Coolman & Dale M. Coulter, Trinity and Creation: a selection of works of Hugh, Richard and Adam of St Victor (VTT 1), New City Press, 2011; pp. 181−184.  Latin text and English translations.

Mousseau, Juliet. Adam of St Victor: Sequences. Peeters, 2013.

Neale, John Mason (ed.). Mediæval Hymns and Sequences. 3rd ed. London, 1867; pp.128−130 (Supernæ Matris Gaudia).

Shigo, Marie B. Study of the sequences ascribed to Adam of St. Victor. Dissertation. Loyola University Chicago, 1954.

Wrangham,Digby S. (ed.). The liturgical poetry of Adam of St. Victor. 3 vols. London, 1881. Latin and English. vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3.


Written by John Uebersax

September 7, 2021 at 3:44 pm

Evelyn Underhill on the Profound Mystical Meaning of Christian Liturgy

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IN the following excerpt from Evelyn Underhill’s book, The Mystic Way, she makes some insightful and important observations concerning the Christian Liturgy.  Three points in particular are: (1) the Christian Liturgy is a supreme work of art; (2) it has evolved and adapted itself over the centuries as a marvelous accumulation of contributions by countless individuals (and hence, by implication, expresses the great spiritual truths of human nature more than anything designed by a few human beings); and (3) in it one may find a profound symbol for the mystic’s quest for union with God.

ALITURGY, says Dom Cabrol, is “the external and official manifestation of a religion”: and the Mass, the typical liturgic rite of the Catholic world, is “the synthesis of Christianity.”[1] If, then, our discovery of the mystic life at the heart of the Christian religion be a discovery indeed and not a fantasy, it is here that we may expect to find its corroboration. Here, in that most characteristic of the art-products of Christendom, the ceremonial with which the love and intuition of centuries have gradually adorned the primitive sacrament of the Eucharist, we may find the test which shall confirm or discredit our conclusions as to the character of that life which descends from Jesus of Nazareth. … [I]n the ceremony of the Mass, we have a work of art designed and adapted by the racial consciousness of Christendom for the keeping and revealing of somethings claiming descent from that same source, which lives: lives, not in the arid security of liturgical museums, but in the thick of diurnal existence — in the cathedral and the mission hut, in the city and the cloister, in the slums and lonely places of our little twisting earth. This “something is still the true focus of that Christian consciousness which has not broken away from tradition. The great dramatic poem of the liturgy is still for that consciousness the shrine in which the primal secret of transcendence is preserved. …

The Christian Church has often been likened, and not without reason, to a ship: a ship, launched nineteen hundred years ago upon that great stream of Becoming which sets towards the “Sea Pacific” of Reality. Though she goes upon inland waters, yet hints of the ocean magic, the romance of wide horizons, mysterious tides and undiscovered countries, hang about her. In the course of her long voyage, carried upon the current of the river, she has sometimes taken fresh and strange cargo on board; sometimes discharged that which she brought with her from the past. She has changed the trim of her sails to meet new conditions, as the river ran now between hard and narrow banks and now spread itself to flow through fields. But through all these changes and developments, she kept safe the one treasure which she was built to preserve: the mystical secret of deification, of the ever-renewed and ever-fruitful interweaving of two orders of reality, the emergence of the Eternal into the temporal, the perpetually repeated “wonder of wonders, the human made divine.” She kept this secret and handed it on, as all life’s secrets have ever been preserved and imparted, by giving it supreme artistic form. In the Christian liturgy, the deepest intuitions, the rich personal experiences, not only of the primitive but of the patristic and mediaeval epochs, have found their perfect expression. Herein has been distilled, age by age, drop by drop, the very essence of the mystical consciousness.

“The rites and symbols of the external Christian church,” says Eckartshausen [2], “were formed after the pattern of the great, unchangeable, and fundamental truths, announcing things of a strength and of an importance impossible to describe, and revealed only to those who knew the innermost sanctuary.” Each fresh addition made to this living work of art has but elaborated and enriched the one central idea that runs through the whole. Here it is that Life’s instinct for recapitulation is found at work: here she has dramatised her methods, told in little the story of her supreme ascent. The fact that the framework of the Mass is essentially a mystical drama, the Christian equivalent of those Mysteries which enacted before the Pagan neophyte the necessary adventures of his soul, was implicitly if not directly recognised in very early times. It was the “theatre of the pious,” said Tertullian (De Spectaculis 29, 30; see Hirn, The Sacred Shrine, p. 493) in the second century; and the steady set of its development from the Pauline sacrament of feeding on the Spiritual Order, the Fractio Panis of the catacombs, to the solemn drama of the Greek or Roman liturgy, was always in the direction of more and more symbolic action, of perpetual elaborations of the ritual and theatrical element. To the sacramental meal of apostolic times, understood as a foretaste and assurance of the “Messianic banquet” in the coming Parousia, there was soon prefixed a religious exercise — modelled perhaps on the common worship of the Synagogue — which implied just those preparatory acts of penance, purification and desirous stretching out towards the Infinite, which precede in the experience of the growing soul the establishment of communion with the Spiritual World. Further, the classic exhibition of such communion — the earthly life of Jesus — naturally suggested the form taken by this “initiation of initiations” when its ritual development once began; the allegory under which the facts of the Christian mystery should be exhibited before men. The Mass therefore became for devout imagination during the succeeding centuries, not only the supreme medium through which the Christian consciousness could stretch out to, and lay hold on, the Eternal Order, not only the story of the soul’s regeneration and growth, but also the story of the actual career of Jesus, told, as it were, in holy pantomime: indirect evidence that the intuitive mind of the Church saw these as two aspects of one truth.  Hence every development of the original rite was made by minds attuned to these ideas; with the result that psychological and historical meanings run in parallel strands through the developed ceremony, of which many a manual act and ritual gesture, meaningless for us, had for earlier minds a poignant appeal as being the direct commemoration of some detail in the Passion of Christ.

As Europe now has it, then, in the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox and the Mass of the Catholic Church, this ceremony is the great living witness to — the great artistic expression of — those organic facts which we call mystical Christianity: the “transplanting of man into a new world over against the nearest-at-hand world,” the “fundamental inner renewal,” the “union of the human and the divine.” All the thoughts that gather about this select series of acts — apparently so simple, sometimes almost fortuitous, yet charged with immense meanings for the brooding soul — all the elaborate, even fantastic symbolic interpretations placed upon these acts in mediaeval times, have arisen at one time or another within the collective consciousness of Christendom. Sometimes true organic developments, sometimes the result of abrupt intuitions, the reward of that receptivity which great rituals help to produce, they owe their place in or about the ceremony to the fact that they help it in the performance of its function, the stimulation of man’s spiritual sense; emphasising or enriching some aspect of its central and fundamentally mystical idea.

  1. Les Origines Liturgiques, pp. 17, 140.
  2. The Cloud upon the Sanctuary, Letter II.


Cabrol, Fernand (Domr). Les Origines Liturgiques. Letouzey et Ané, 1905.

Eckartshausen, Karl. The Cloud upon the Sanctuary. London, 1909.

Hirn, Yrjö. The Sacred Shrine a Study of the Poetry and Art of the Catholic Church. Macmillan, 1912.

Underhill, Evelyn. The Witness of the Liturgy. In: The Mystic Way: A Psychological Study in Christian Origins. London: Dent, 1913; ch. 6, pp. 331−371.


The Thirty Seraphic Virtues of the Middle Ages

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British Library, MS Arundel 83-1, The Howard Psalter, fol. 5v, ca. 1310–20; for other versions of the figure, see here.

THE short work, On the Six Wings of the Cherubim (De sex alis cherubim) enjoyed great popularity in monastic communities during the 12th and 13th centuries. Its authorship is a little confusing. The first part seems to be an edited excerpt from Hugh of St. Victor’s (c. 1096−1141) work, On the Moral Ark of Noah (De arca Noe morali). The second part is by an anonymous author. An earlier attribution of the entire work to Alan of Lille (d. 1203) is incorrect. Marie-Therese d’Alverny (1980) suggested the Cistercian, Clement of Llanthony, as a possible source, but this is highly speculative.

The second part is what interests us. It discusses not cherubim, but the six wings of the seraphim in Isaiah 6:2. Each wing corresponds to a higher-order virtue, and each wing has five feathers, corresponding to specific virtues. The aim is to summarize in a simple form the life of Christian perfection. The work is interesting in its own right, but also in that it set the stage, so to speak, for major philosophical and devotional works by Richard of St. Victor (d. 1173; The Mystical Ark or Benjamin Major) and St. Bonaventure (1221–1274; The Soul’s Journey into God), both of whom use the image of a six winged seraphim as a vehicle of examining contemplative ascent to God.

Many medieval manuscripts of On the Six Wings include annotated diagrams of the six-winged angel. Sometimes the figure appears without the accompanying text. In the latter case, artists varied considerably in the virtues named.

A summary of the wings and feathers from On the Six Wings is supplied below. Readers are referred to the English translations of Bridget Balint and of Steven Chase.  The Latin text is found Migne PL 210:267A−280C.

CONFESSION (confessio)

Mournful avowal of one’s own weakness, ignorance, and malice

  1. Truth (veritas); sincerity of confession.
  2. Wholeness (integritas); a confession should be complete, not shortened or divided
  3. Steadfastness (furmitas); a confession should be steadfast and firm
  4. Humility (humilitas); a person making confession should have a humble mind, humble tongue, and humble aspect
  5. Simplicity (simplicitas); one should reproach ones weakness, ignorance, and wickedness, defending nothing, excusing nothing, minimizing nothing.

REPARATION (satisfaccio)

  1. Renunciation of sin (peccati abrenuntiatio)
  2. Outpouring of tears (lacrymarum effusio)
  3. Mortification of the flesh (carnis maceratio)
  4. Almsgiving (eleemosynarum largiti)
  5. Devotion of prayer (orationis devotio)

III. PURIFICATION OF THE FLESH (munditia or purita carnis)

  1. Modesty of gaze (visus pudicitia); shuts out wantonness, lest the eye look desiring on another person
  2. Chastity of hearing (auditus castimonia); do not listen to an insulting voice, words of those who curse and blaspheme, false accusations, lies or provocations
  3. Decorousness of scent (olfactus modestia); seeks the aroma of goodness by works of mercy.
  4. Temperance in eating (gustus temperantia)
  5. Sanctity of touch (tactus sanctimonia)

PURITY OF MIND (puritas mentis)

  1. Decorous and proper emotion (affectus sinceri rectitudo)
  2. Delight of the mind in the Lord (mentis in Domino delectati); Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. (Psalm 37:4); contemplation engenders and shapes this feather.
  3. Pure and well-ordered thought (munda etordinata cogitatio)
  4. Holiness of will (voluntatis sanctitudo)
  5. Sound and pure intention (simplex et pura intentio)

LOVE OF NEIGHBOR (dilectio proximi)

  1. Avoid injury to others by word or deed (nulli nocere verbo vel opere)
  2. Do good in every word and deed (omnibus prodesse, verbo et opere)
  3. Liberality (verae liberalitatis fortitudine); be magnanimous and generous, not niggardly.
  4. Lay aside soul for brethren (animam profratre ponere); Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15: 13)
  5. Persevere in fraternal love (in his perseverare)

LOVE OF GOD (dilectio Dei)

  1. Long for and strive after nothing other than God (aliud quam Deum non concupiscit)
  2. Distributes this love actively among brothers, sisters, and the world for the sake of God (propter Deum sua distribuit)
  3. Reserve nothing for themselves but relinquish all things in God’s name (propter Deum nihil sibi reservat,sed omnia relinquit)
  4. Deny self for God alone (propter Deum se ipsum abnegat)
  5. Persevere in love of God (in his perseverat)


Anonymous. De sex alis cherubim. Attr. Alan of Lille. PL 210:265A−280C. Paris: J. P. Migne, 1855. Latin text.

Balint, Bridget (tr.). The Seraph’s Six Wings. In: Mary Carruthers and Jan M. Ziolkowski, The Medieval Craft of Memory, University of Pennsylvania, 2002, pp. 83−102.

Carruthers, Mary J. Ars oblivionalis, ars inveniendi: the cherub figure and the arts of memory. Gesta, vol. 48, no. 2, 2009, pp. 99–117.

Carruthers, Mary J. Clan Carruthers — clan crest — seraph or cherub. Clan Carruthers International website. 27 May 2020.

Chase, Steven (tr.). De sex alis cherubim (On the Six Wings of the Cherubim). In: Steven Chase (ed.), Angelic Spirituality: Medieval Perspectives on the Ways of Angels, Paulist Press, 2002; pp. 121−145.

Cousins, Ewert H. (ed.). Bonaventure: The Soul’s Journey into God. Paulist Press, 1978.

d’Alverny, M-T. Alain de Lille: problèmes d’attribution. In: eds. H. Roussel and F. Suard, Alain de Lille, Gautier de Châtillon, Jakemart Giélée et leur temps, Lille, 1980, pp. 27–46.

Zinn, Grover A. (ed.). Richard of St. Victor: The Twelve Patriarchs, The Mystical Ark and Book Three of The Trinity. Paulist Press, 1979.


Thomas Gallus: Interior Angelic Hierarchies and More

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Francesco Botticini, The Assumption of the Virgin (c. 1475; detail)

THOMAS GALLUS (c.1200−1246; Thomas of Vercelli, Thomas of St. Victor) studied at the Abbey of Saint Victor in Paris before co-founding a monastery in Vercelli, Italy. Strangely overlooked today (but that is changing), his ideas are valuable and important for the study of the history of mysticism and in the West, and, potentially, for modern Christian spirituality. His accomplishments include following:

Gallus authored glosses, summaries and commentaries of the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.  Ps.-Dionysius introduced the concept of  apophatic mysticism: the notion that God is ultimately unknowable, and that the supreme mystical experience involves not knowing, but unknowing. Surprisingly, Ps.-Dionysius nowhere associates the ascent to or attainment of unknowing with love! That connection came from Gallus. The Victorines were Augustinians, and Gallus’ work — relying on the Song of Songs as well as the Dionysian corpus — represents an ultimate marriage of Augustinian love mysticism with Neoplatonic intellectual mysticism.

Along with this, Gallus was also the first to discuss an interiorized version of the angelic hierarchies of Ps.-Dionysius. The latter, it will be recalled, posited the existence of nine hierarchical orders of angels, arranged in groups of three. Gallus understood there to be a parallel psychological situation within a person’s soul. As symbolized by Jacob’s ladder, these interior angels or soul activities interact and communicate upwards and downwards, between celestial levels of the soul and those concerned with activity in the material world.

The above two things enable Gallus to integrate what today we call apophatic (conceptless) and kataphatic (concept-oriented) mysticism. These are seen as two movements of the same, higher-order process. This also solves the problem of quietism. The mystical life is not merely a progressively more extreme flight from the world: an ascent beyond body to soul, from soul to intellect, and then beyond intellect to some wordless, formless experience of unknowing. In the Augustinian tradition, a mystic must apply insights gained and achieve an enriched ability to practice charity to God and man through good works. The mystical life is not one of withdrawal from the world, but of angelic activity in it. Knowledge about the world leads us to know and love God more, and knowing and loving God more makes use better serve Him in the world.

Finally, Gallus work on the apex of the mind and spark of synderesis was groundbreaking. For him, the apex mentis or highest summit of the soul is not, as in some earlier and later writers, solely an organ of moral conscience. Rather, it is truly a spark of God’s consciousness that we possess, in which highest the affective experience and the highest intellectual knowing of God may coincide.

Inner Angelic Hierarchy

Gallus’ best descriptions of the interior angelic hierarchy come not in his works on the Dionysian corpus, but in the Prologues of two commentaries on the Song of Songs (Barbet, 1967). The brief description below borrows liberally from Tichelkamp (2017) and Coolman (2017). We consider the nine ranks of angelic functions from lowest to highest — which would correspond to a process of gradual ascent (similar to the Journey of the Mind to God by St. Bonaventure, who was influenced by Gallus). However it would be equally logical to consider them in the reverse order, from highest to lowest.

First triad: Natural sensing and judging powers of soul operating alone

1. Angels
Basic perceptions or observations of the world, without yet any judgment of these observations.

2. Archangels
Intellectual judgments that discern whether what is observed is agreeable or disagreeable to oneself.

3. Principalities
The mind then makes an affective/volitional choice to approach what was judged agreeable, or desires to flee from what was judged disagreeable

Second triad: Natural forces of soul operating in cooperation with supernatural grace

4. Powers
Initial activities of reason, intellect, and affect—mental powers.

5. Virtues
Activation of mental/moral virtues, e.g., temperance, courage.

6. Dominations
Free will suspends the intellect and affect “in order to receive divine interventions; mind “is stretched and exercised (extenditur et exercetur)… to the highest limits of its nature.

Third triad: Operations of supernatural grace alone

7. Thrones
A suspension of the mind’s greatest powers, intellect and affect, gives way to the reception of divine grace that heightens the activity of intellect and affect.

8. Cherubim
This order contains the knowledge (cognitio) of both intellect and affect as they have been drawn or attracted by divine grace beyond the mind. Intellect and affect have “walked together up to the final failure of the intellect, which is at the summit of this order.

9. Seraphim
The Seraphic level contains “only the principal affection (spark of synderesis) which can be united to God (sola principalis affectio Deo unibilis).

When the mind has fully ascended, the soul is in proper order, and, like a healthy spiritual plant or tree, it can now communicate the life-giving fecundity of God, the Divine Source, from the highest level to all lower orders of the mind and soul. In a way reminiscent of certain Eastern esoteric systems (kundalini yoga and Taoist spiritual alchemy), the summum bonum of human life is neither ascent, nor remaining in ecstasy, but a steady-state circulation. This would imply (following basic principles of Victorine and Augustine psychology), one being an agent of God’s charity in the world. Hence the ultimate ethical end is the unitive state, or what some in the yogic traditions call the jivan mukta state.

Details here are necessarily very sketchy, but interested readers may found more detail in  Coolman (2017), Tichelkamp (2017) and this video by Coolman.

The video is also interesting because Coolman draws an analogy between internal angelic hierarchy to certain ideas of the Jesuit philosopher, Bernard Lonergan, concerning hierarchical levels of human consciousness.


Barbet, Jeanne (ed.). Thomas Gallus: Commentaires du Cantique des Cantiques. Paris: J. Vrin, 1967.

Chase, Steven. Angelic Spirituality: Medieval Perspectives on the Ways of Angels. Paulist Press, 2002. Includes translations of Gallus’ Prologue to the Third Commentary on the Song of Songs and his Extractio on the Celestial Hierarchy.

Coolman, Boyd Taylor. Knowledge, Love, and Ecstasy in the Theology of Thomas Gallus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Coolman, Boyd Taylor. The medieval affective Dionysian tradition. Modern Theology 24:4 October 2008. Reprinted in: Eds. Sarah Coakley, Charles M. Stang. Re-thinking Dionysius the Areopagite, Wiley, 2011.

Coolman, Boyd Taylor. Magister in hierarchia: Thomas Gallus as Victorine Interpreter of Dionysius. In: Eds. Hugh Feiss, Juliet Mousseau, A Companion to the Abbey of Saint Victor in Paris, Brill, 2017; pp. 516−546

Lawell, Declan Anthony (ed.). Thomas Gallus: Explanatio in Libros Dionysii. Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 223. Turnhout: Brepols, 2011. Latin critical edition.

McEvoy, James. Mystical Theology: The Glosses by Thomas Gallus and the Commentary of Robert Grosseteste on De mystica theologia. Paris: Peeters, 2003; pp. 3–54.

McGinn, Bernard.  Thomas Gallus and Dionysian Mysticism. Studies in Spirituality, 8 (Louvain: Peeters, 1994), pp. 81–96, slightly expanded from The Flowering of Mysticism: Men and Women in the New Mysticism (1200–1350), volume 3 of The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1998).

Tichelkamp, Craig H. Experiencing the Word: Dionysian Mystical Theology in the Commentaries of Thomas Gallus. Dissertation. Harvard University, 2017.

Walach, Harald. Higher self – spark of the mind – summit of the soul. Early history of an important concept of transpersonal psychology in the West. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 24.1, 2005, 16−28.

Walsh, James. Thomas Gallus et l’effort contemplatif. Revue d’histoire de la spiritualité, 51, 1975, pp. 17–42.


The Soul’s Vast Battle of Kurukshetra

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Reposted from my other weblog, Satyagraha: Cultural Psychology.  I’ve added some prefacing remarks here from St. John Paul II’s, encyclical Letter, Fides et ratio (14 September 1998):

72. … A great spiritual impulse leads Indian thought to seek an experience which would liberate the spirit from the shackles of time and space and would therefore acquire absolute value. The dynamic of this quest for liberation provides the context for great metaphysical systems.

In India particularly, it is the duty of Christians now to draw from this rich heritage the elements compatible with their faith, in order to enrich Christian thought. In this work of discernment, which finds its inspiration in the Council’s Declaration Nostra Aetate, certain criteria will have to be kept in mind. The first of these is the universality of the human spirit, whose basic needs are the same in the most disparate cultures. The second, which derives from the first, is this: in engaging great cultures for the first time, the Church cannot abandon what she has gained from her inculturation in the world of Greco-Latin thought. To reject this heritage would be to deny the providential plan of God who guides his Church down the paths of time and history. This criterion is valid for the Church in every age, even for the Church of the future, who will judge herself enriched by all that comes from today’s engagement with Eastern cultures and will find in this inheritance fresh cues for fruitful dialogue with the cultures which will emerge as humanity moves into the future. Thirdly, care will need to be taken lest, contrary to the very nature of the human spirit, the legitimate defense of the uniqueness and originality of Indian thought be confused with the idea that a particular cultural tradition should remain closed in its difference and affirm itself by opposing other traditions.


PREVIOUSLY I’ve suggested (Uebersax, 2012, 2017) that a useful framework for understanding the psychological meanings of ancient myths is subpersonality theory (Lester, 2012; Rowan, 1990). Three leading hypotheses of this view are: (1) the human psyche can be meaningfully likened to a city or kingdom with many citizens (a situation which opens up many allegorical possibilities); (2) individual ‘citizens’ of the psyche may take the form of psychological complexes; and (3) there may potentially be a very large number — thousands or millions — of these mental citizens operating.  These hypothesis were derived by applying subpersonality theory to interpretation of the myths of the Old Testament (following hermeneutic principles laid down by Philo of Alexandria 2000 years ago), and Plato’s Republic (a work that makes much more sense interpreted as an allegory for the psyche than as a literal manual for civil politics.)

Independent confirmation of these hypotheses…

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My Mystical Experience

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Mourning Dove, (c) Donna Pomeroy  

RECENTLY I read a quote attributed to the psychologist, Roberto Assaglio, to the effect that a problem with most books about mysticism is that they weren’t written by mystics. I certainly see his point, and agree. His quote prompted me to overcome some earlier hesitation to post about a recent mystical experience of mine. It’s representative of many I’ve had, though a little stronger than most. The details are as follows.

After working on my computer for a couple of hours, I felt I needed to take a break outside and get some fresh air. Accordingly I stepped out onto my front porch and began to mentally recite and meditate on the interior meaning of the Beatitudes (a regular spiritual exercise for me). I approached the second beatitude (Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted) with special attention. It had special relevance, as I’d been experiencing distress involving my teeth and was concerned that I might be facing an impending root canal. I found myself thinking, “Lord I’m trying to do the best I can, and you know what a setback this would be. I’m trying to do work for you. Why would you put such an obstacle in my way?”

I then experienced what seemed like a direct answer. In a way as never before, it was as though I felt God’s presence. Moreover, it seemed as though God  wanted to make it very clear that I understood he was present, and was saying, or as much as saying, “Fear not, for I am with you.”

Immediately what came to mind was something I’ve heard before in my  Catholic upbringing: that never is God more present with us than in our times of distress and trials. I also recall reading a quote attributed to scripture, wherein God asks, “Am I not enough for you?” (cf. 1 Sam 1:8).

I realized that, yes God’s presence — and my ability to feel that directly — was enough. It was more than enough —in fact, all I could ever want, the sum of all my desires. I could see directly that if God was with me during trials, the trials did not matter. Even were I to lose my life, if God were with me and I were certain of that, it would not matter. If you have God you have everything

Suddenly a mourning dove flew onto to my roof, perching two or three feet directly above me, I have many doves on the lot where I live, and I make it a practice to avoid disturbing them when I walk in the yard.  Sometimes this is successful, and other times not. But never before have I had a one actually approach me like this. I stood motionless, trying as long as possible to keep the dove there.  But within a minute or two, I felt my consciousness shift, and the dove flew away.

When I first became interested in mysticism many years ago, my great desire was to obtain the ultimate mystical experience — Cosmic Consciousness, or a blinding flash that reveals the knowledge of everything on Heaven and Earth. Yet the truth is that here I found the ‘simple’ experience of God’s loving presence more appealing, satisfying and fulfilling even than such a dramatic peak experience.

This left a lasting impression on me. I have not since felt God’s presence so directly, but neither have I lost the strong conviction that this experience is so fulfilling and worth seeking.  It also has occurred to me that the experience has elements of both kataphatic (the prayer and meditation that led up to it) and apophatic (the wordless, expressible sense of God’s loving concern) mystical experience.  For me, at least, it renders that distinction of little practical importance.


Written by John Uebersax

July 14, 2021 at 9:09 pm

Pitirim Sorokin: Techniques for the Altruistic Transformation of Individuals and Society

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I just posted this at Satyagraha, my cultural psychology blog, but it’s relevant here also, especially since it considers prayer and contemplation (among other things) as practical and scientific means to effect moral and spiritual transformation.  The key ingredients for the individual and social changes most needed today, Sorokin argues persuasively, are agape love and techniques that help subordinate egoistic modes of thought to what he called the supraconscious. He based his conclusions on detailed studies of cultural history, the lives of great reformers like St. Francis, St. Teresa of Avila and Gandhi, and the ascetical-mystical traditions of East and West.


OUR earlier article about Pitirim Sorokin (Culture in Crisis) explained the crises of modern culture as he understood them.  Especially in the wake of the Covid pandemic, it’s evident that, since that article was written (over a decade ago), crises have multiplied and intensified.  It’s appropriate, then, that we now direct attention more closely to the solutions Sorokin proposed.  Whereas in the past cultural transitions have occurred at the whim of chance and Fate, we must now, he argued, think in terms of intentional change, of active steps to produce an Idealistic culture.  This would involve a simultaneous transformation of individuals and society, but with the former as more primary.

Under the rubric of “Idealism” Sorokin understood the broad Platonic view of the unity of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Inseparable from these, he believed, is the principle of Love.  For personal and social transformation…

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Communing With Animals as a Spiritual Exercise

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Francis Preaching to the Birds, Giotto (1299)

HERE is a spiritual or contemplative exercise that’s served me well. The source is Anthony de Mello’s book, Sadhana: A Way To God. De Mello presents the exercise as applicable even to inanimate objects (e.g., a coffee mug), but personally I’ve found it more rewarding when applied to animals and plants (or, possibly, astronomical objects). The text below borrows freely from De Mello’s description (Awareness Exercise 14):

This exercise will help you to develop an attitude of reverence and respect for all animate creation, for all the living things. Some of the great mystics tell us that when they reach the stage of illumination they become mysteriously filled with a sense of deep reverence. Reverence for God, reverence for life in all its forms, reverence for inanimate creation too. And they tend to personalize the whole of creation.

Francis of Assisi was one such mystic. He recognized in the sun, the moon, the stars, the trees, the birds, the animals, his brothers and sisters. They were members of his family and he would talk to them lovingly. Saint Anthony of Padua went sor far as to preach a sermon to fish! Very foolish, of course, from our rationalist point of view. Profoundly wise and personalizing and sanctifying from the mystical point of view.

For this you will have to temporarily put aside your adult prejudices and become like a little child. If you become a little child, at least temporarily, you might discover a kingdom of heaven — and learn secrets that God ordinarily hides from the wise and prudent.

Choose some animal or plant you happen to encounter on a walk or in daily activities. Let your gaze rest on it. . . . Become as fully aware of it as possible. Visually explore its shape, color, texture, its various parts. See every possible detail in it. Hear it. Notice its smell, if possible.

Now, with the creature in front of you, mentally speak to it . . . Begin by asking it questions about itself . . . its life, its origins, its future . . . And listen while it unfolds to you the secret of its being and of its destiny . . . Listen while it explains to you what existence means to it . . .

The creature has some hidden wisdom to reveal to you about yourself . . . Ask for this and listen to what it has to say . . . There is something that you can give creature . . . What is it? What does it want from you? . . .

Now place yourself and this creature in the presence of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, in whom and for whom everything was made. Listen to what he has to say to you and to the creature . . What do the two of you say in response? . . .

Now look at your creature once more . . . Has your attitude toward it changed? . . . Is there any change in your attitude toward the objects around you . . .


De Mello, Anthony. Sadhana: A Way To God. Christian Exercises in Eastern Form. New York: Doubleday, 1984; pp. 53−56.


Revisiting the Rosary Mysteries

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The Coronation of the Virgin, El Greco (Prado)

DURING the Covid pandemic, I’ve been giving thought about the positive purpose of trials in life. Here my interests in Christianity and Stoicism coincide. The Stoics, like Christians, placed great emphasis on reconciling what seem to be bad events with an all providential God.

As a psychologist also, I can easily believe that trials and pain are vital for our psychological and spiritual maturation, and for the growth, expansion or development of new forms of consciousness. “Suffer and learn,” as Aeschylus wrote.  This is expressed in the ancient Greek adage, pathe mathe (suffering teaches).  Interpreted psychologically, the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ (in addition to whatever metaphysical meanings these may have) seem to relate to this principle. With that in mind, I was recently thinking about the meanings of the five Sorrowful Mysteries of the Catholic Rosary; and from there I went on to consider the possible meanings of the three other sets of Rosary Mysteries (Glorious, Joyful and Luminous).

The practice of ‘saying a rosary’ consists basically of praying five sets of 10 (a “decade”) Hail Mary’s; at the beginning of each decade one meditates on one Mystery. On a given day, one would select the Sorrowful, Glorious, Joyful or Luminous Mysteries for meditation. The Mysteries within each set are meditated upon in a precise order, suggesting they may constitute steps in a gradual process of mental and spiritual ascent. (Clearly, mental ascent is a main function of any spiritual exercise).

As an example, we may consider the Glorious Mysteries.  I will leave my comments here only at the level of conjecture, partly because these are things that each person must explore individually. Here, then, is how one might interpret them in a psychological sense.

The Resurrection. Traditional sources associate this Rosary Mystery as the awakening of new Faith. That is, in the state of spiritual sleep that is our usual, fallen state of consciousness (carnal mindedness) something happens to remind us that we *are* fallen, and that a higher state of consciousness is possible.

The Ascension. Again, some traditional sources associate this with the yearning to ascend. That was be a natural second step once one realizes one is indeed mentally fallen.

The Pentecost. But in order to rise, we must avoid making the cardinal mistake of trying to do so by our own efforts alone. Rather we must be attentive to some gift or gifts of the Holy Spirit (like charity, piety, humility, patience, inspired insight, etc.) that prompt, direct and enable our ascent.

The Assumption of the Virgin and Mary is Crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth. For now I would propose to consider these, which seem richly laden with psychological meanings, jointly. Official Christian doctrine has a very ‘male’ view of God. Popular devotion to the Virgin serves to express the human need to likewise acknowledge the divine feminine. The Assumption and Coronation could be understood as symbolizing a sort of union between the heavenly divine and material Nature. Psychologically this union would be very important as a means by which we may reconcile our Eternal nature with our life as practical human beings in the here-and-now physical world. If Mary is Queen of Heaven the Earth, it means the natural world is infused with the Divine. This union would also mean our instinctive, emotional love of Nature and our spiritual love of God could coincide.

Admittedly this mere outline leaves many questions unanswered. However my goal is not to come up with definitive answers here, but rather to suggest that praying the Rosary and meditating on the Mysteries is still very much a relevant practice that modern Catholics might consider re-introducing into their spiritual practice.


The Allegorical Meaning of Jesus Walking on Water

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Jesus Walks on the Water, Ivan Aivazovsky (1888)

Walking on Water: Aisthesis vs. Hedone?

THE story of Jesus walking on the water occurs in three of the Gospels (Matt 14:22–34; Mark 6:45–53; John 6:15–21). Water is often a symbol for passions and emotions.  For example, the storms that beset Odysseus symbolize unregulated passions that threaten to shipwreck us (cf. the deluge in Genesis).

At the simplest level, then, Jesus walking on the water might be interpreted as a metaphor for rising above the storm of passions by means of holiness, virtue, temperance, Stoic apatheia and the like. However a different incident (Matt 8:23–27, Mark 4:35–41, Luke 8:22–25) describes Jesus, riding inside a boat with his disciples, calming a storm — which fits this interpretation better.  Here the details are structurally different (Jesus outside the boat and walks on the water), suggesting there is a different meaning.

Perhaps we can understand it as follows. As we encounter the material world, the first thing that happens is sensation. Ideally we direct our sensation to good and beautiful objects, finding them  pleasant. But there is commonly a second step: our attention is drawn beyond simple sensation/perception into the experience — such that our higher cognitive powers are distracted, diminished or ‘sedated.’  We become entranced, as it were, or feel attachment to the sense experience.  Our mind then easily falls from right, clear reason, veering into fantasy-laden and egoist thought.  “How can I have more of this sensory pleasure?” “How can I control this beautiful thing, or be sure to have it in the future?”

We become, that is, fixated on the delight of the experience. We go from mere aisthesis (perception, including the simple pleasure inherent in perception) to hedone (delight).  That step might be seen as the difference between simply walking on the water of sensory experience, vs. sinking into it, becoming worldly minded instead of spiritually minded.

We most definitely should notice, appreciate and enjoy sensory experience and the objects of the world. But these things must be seen in their proper relation to God.  In walking on water, our higher cognitive powers remain intact. Our delight is in God, not in material things. When our hearts and minds remain properly oriented, the sense world becomes more meaningful.

This seems a possible meaning, at least, and is also suggested by Philo’s psychological interpretation of the Garden of Eden myth in Allegorical Interpretation: the fruit of the Tree is beautiful to behold, but don’t eat it. (More on this in the next post.)

Finally, there is also a possible parallel here with the myth of Narcissus.