"According to his or her creatureliness the human person undergoes the imprint of God's eternal image without ceasing; just like an untarnished mirror which always reflects the image and which without ceasing renews our knowledge of our appearance with new clarity. This essential unity of our spirit with God does not exist in itself. It rests in God, and flows from God, and hangs in God, and returns to God as its eternal source."


This in fact represent the most profound expression of the Jungian notion of an archetype. In a primary sense our archetypal nature is God. So essentially the archetype of the (Jungian) Self is God.

Now of course though this is true as an (eternal) essential reality, its realisation must take place in the phenomenal world of space-time. The unfolding of the eternal archetype takes place gradually during the "higher" spiritual stages of development. During the subtle realm it is seen as a projection of the self and remains embodied in phenomenal terms. In the causal realm this projection is transcended so that the archetype becomes inseparable from (transcendent) spirit. With nondual reality it also becomes realised as (immanent) spirit. Then during - what I term "Radial Reality" the World is wonderfully reborn as the creative expression of this loving embrace in spirit.

Ruysbroeck's notion of the divine imprint on the soul can be used to clarify the Christian mystery of the Incarnation. When this is approached (without authentic spiritual insight) it is applied strictly to the birth of Jesus Christ (Who is exclusively understood as the Son of God). However from a true mystical perspective, each person is the Son of God (by reason of their eternal birth). So the Christian story of love and redemption by which God the Father sends his only Son into the World in order to save it from sin and separation - by definition - is the story of every person Who is born. However this can only be understood through experiential realisation (i.e. by realising the Divinity which is one's eternal birthright).

This also throws light on the myth of the Virgin Birth. This has really nothing to do with Mary being physically a virgin. Rather it draws attention to the fact that we all have two kinds of birth. There is the birth of natural parents (which results from sexual intercourse). However in a deeper primary sense there is the eternal spiritual birth (by which each person has been destined to come into the world for all eternity). So the very point of the Virgin birth is to draw attention - in the case of Jesus Christ - to this fundamental Divine origin (as born of God). However As Ruysbroeck clearly states this is something that is shared by every human being as an eternal birth right.

I will now move on to a more detailed treatment of how he deals with stages of development.

In the Sparkling Stone he distinguishes four spiritual "types".

First there are the "hirelings". These follow a mercenary approach and use "spirituality" as another means of serving their egos. For example a politician who poses as a concerned churchgoer so as to improve his profile among voters could well be a "hireling".

The "faithful servants" do try to sincerely serve God in their outward lives. However they may well lack true depth of spiritual experience and be quite worldly. This can often be the case with conscientious Christians who yet find it difficult to escape the materialistic rat race.

The "secret friends" are those who have genuinely entered on the "higher" transpersonal stages of development. However even here considerable barriers may remain to full union of God. Indeed the majority who do go genuinely "transpersonal" only do so to a limited degree.

The "hidden sons of God" are those who surrender the ego self to a such a degree that they can experience direct union with God. Very few truly attain to this level. Clearly in his own life Ruysbroeck exemplifies well this fourth type.

In "The Adornment of the Spiritual Life" t he gives most attention to the stages of development. Ruysbroeck uses a very simple classification of just three stages

viz. the active, the interior and the Superessential (God-Seeing) life.

The first stage (corresponding to that of the faithful servant) involves the attempt to live an honest and sincere spiritual life. This is a mediated form of union where one relies for inspiration on brief flashes of spiritual insight. It is still however very much dependent on conscious attempts to cultivate good habits and "adorn" oneself with virtue. What is particularly important is the exercising of will through the general intention of serving God. Thus would in its latter stages involve the purgative way (i.e. active nights of sense and spirit).

Ruysbroeck alludes to the story of Zaccheus in the Bible who climbed up a tree so as to better see Christ. Likewise someone who is to advance further they must also spiritually transcend (by escaping the distractions of life) so that God may invite him/her inward.

The second stage (corresponding to secret friends) involves what is generally referred to in Christian terms as the Illuminative Way. Though temperamentally his style is very different from that of St. John of the Cross, in many respects his treatment is similar.

He deals firstly with both the illumination (what Underhill refers to as "The Awakening of Self") and purgation of the "lower" senses ("Purgation of the Self"). However one does not sense here the same dramatic reversal (as with St. John). Rather there is a natural evolution (rather like the change of seasons).

Next there is the illumination of the "higher" powers (what Underhill refers to as "The Illumination of the Self"). Ruysbroeck speaks of this illumination in terms of the imagery of "Light" and "Fire". He distinguishes three types of radiance. Firstly there is direct or simple intuition which is seen as a sort of quickening light. Then there is a spreading radiance what is the effect of intuition on the intellectual powers. Finally there is burning flame that enkindles the will. So the soul at this time becomes drenched by the spirit. Of course there is the negative side also in the "Dark Night of the Soul". However this again is treated as a natural evolution so that the soul - increasingly immersed in this radiance - is led to shed all attachments in achieving true nakedness of spirit. The "Dark Night of the Soul" is described by Ruysbroeck as follows

In that same manner when Christ that glorious sun has risen to his zenith in the heart of man, as I have thought in the third degree (the burning flame), and afterwards begins to decline, to hide the radiance of His divine sunbeams and to forsake the man; then the heat and impatience of love grow less. Now that occultation of Christ, and the withdrawal of His light and heat are the first work and the new coming of this degree. And Christ says inwardly to this man, Go ye out in the manner which I now show you: and the man goes out and finds himself to be poor, miserable and abandoned. Here, all the storm, the impatience of his love grow cool: glowing summer turns to autumn, all its riches are transformed into a great poverty. And the man begins to complain because of his wretchedness: for where now are the ardours of love, the intimacy, the gratitude, the joyful praise and the interior consolation, the secret joy, the sensible sweetness? How have all these things failed him? And the burning violence of his love and all the gifts which he felt before. How has all this died in him? And he feels like some ignorant man who has lost all his learning and his works … and of this misery there is born the fear of being lost, and as it were a sort of half doubt: and this is the lowest point at which a man can hold his ground without falling into despair".

Though in no way conflicting with St. John's account, in temperamental terms this is very different. Even here the importance of active involvement in affairs is maintained (though admittedly a failing involvement).

I believe that at least that some of the terrible abandonment (evident in St. John's account) is due to incipient signs of pathological depression (due in part to lack of emphasis on external involvement).

Ruysbroeck's account - though psychologically not so profound - somehow seems healthier and more balanced.

It is important to comment on this for Ruysbroeck emphasises three aspects.

Firstly there is the (impersonal) desire to achieve total detachment in pure emptiness and nakedness of spirit. This is an aspect that is strongly emphasised in much of Eastern spirituality.

Secondly there is the (personal) desire to achieve union with one's beloved. When the natural symbols of desire are removed one suffers a continually obscure but intense inner longing. In Christian Mysticism this is usually seen as the proper starting point for detachment. Thirdly, there is what Ruysbroeck calls an inward life according to justice. What he means by this is the vital complementarity of work and rest (i.e. activity and contemplation. Even in the darkest depths of the Dark Night - though it may prove immensely difficult - it remains important to try and maintain an appropriate balance between the two.

The culmination of this second stage is described beautifully as follows

".. and here the hunger and thirst of love become so great that he perpetually surrenders himself and gives up his own works and empties himself and is noughted in love for he is hungry and thirsty for the grace of God and at each irradiation of God he is seized by God and more than ever before is newly touched by love. Living he dies and dying he lives again. And in this way the desirous hunger and thirst of love are renewed in every hour"

The third stage is what Ruysbroeck describes as Superessential (God-Seeing Reality).

Actually, this amounts to an extremely fine Christian statement of nondual reality. In particular he wonderfully describes the subtle transformation from darkness to dazzling-darkness (from the void to the plenum-void).

"In the abyss of this darkness, in which the loving spirit has

died to itself, there begin the manifestation of God and eternal

life. For in this darkness there shines and is born an

incomprehensible Light, which is the Son of God, in Whom we behold

eternal life. And in this Light one becomes seeing; and this

Divine Light is given to the simple sight of the spirit, where the

spirit receives the brightness which is God Himself, above all

gifts and every creaturely activity, in the idle emptiness in

which the spirit has lost itself through fruitive love, and where

it receives without means the brightness of God, and is changed

without interruption into that brightness which it receives."

Note that Ruysbroeck does not say that one can now see God. Rather he directly affirms that in this state one becomes the light that sees (i.e. becomes God) which is one's essential identity (through the Eternal Birth). So here one at last realises what one essentially is (i.e. God's own nature).

Ruysbroeck is not exaggerating (out of excessive spiritual ardour). What he states here and in various ways reaffirms repeatedly is fully consistent with his basic position. However he is only too aware of the problems that this authentic account might cause.

"And therefore I beg every one who cannot understand this, or feel it

in the fruitive unity of his spirit, that he be not offended at

it, and leave it for that which it is: for that which I am going

to say is true, and Christ, the Eternal Truth, has said it Himself

in His teaching in many places, if we could but show and explain

it rightly."

I have commented before in "God Dynamics" on the remarkable way that Ruysbroeck is able to link God and creation (while all the time demonstrating that they are inseparable from our own true identity.

"And, through the Eternal Birth, all

creatures have come forth in eternity, before they were created in

time. So God has seen and known them in Himself, according to

distinction, in living ideas, and in an otherness from Himself;

but not as something other in all ways, for all that is in God is

God. This eternal going out and this eternal life, which we have

and are in God eternally, without ourselves, is the cause of our

created being in time. And our created being abides in the Eternal

Essence and is one with it in its essential existence. "

And also

"In this Divine image all creatures have an eternal life outside themselves as in their eternal Archetype; and after this eternal Image and in this Likeness, we have been made by the Holy Trinity. And therefore God wills that we shall go forth from ourselves in this Divine Light, and shall reunite ourselves in a supernatural way with this Image, which is our proper life, and shall possess it in Him, in action and in fruition, in eternal bliss…"

There is a sustained brilliance on these brief chapters describing the Superessential Life, which rarely if ever has been matched in Christian Mysticism. It feels as if he is inviting us to become immersed in a vast surging ocean of spirit so as to be washed up continually on the eternal shores of meaning (which is nothing else but our own essential nature in God).