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The mysticism of the seventeenth-century French cardinal, Pierre de Berulle (1575-1629), contains an extended treatment of the relationship of the human and the divine in mystical union. Berulle explores the nature of mystical union in detail and gives attention to the combination of the apparently incompatible elements of the human and divine and the historical and eternal. He prefers not to begin with the opposition between these elements but instead, by exploring the relationship between them, to use relational language, which brings together unity and difference. For this task, he draws on the tools of late medieval mysticism, which entail especially the metaphors of interior poverty, nuptial mutuality, and neoplatonic emanation. At the same time, he applies the categories of Christology to the problem of mystical relationality and difference. Christology deepens the ways in which to assert and to combine unity and difference between the human and the divine in mystical union. For the reader today, this provides an intriguing perspective on the question of mystical relationality. (1) I intend here to set out Berulle's understanding of mystical relationality and to focus on his christological development of questions of unity and difference.
As his key move, which he approaches from a number of angles, Berulle refuses an understanding of the usual ontological opposites of human and divine, created and uncreated, historical and eternal--and so on--as merely opposites, but rather regards them as mutually dependent. He seeks an inclusive rather than an exclusive relationship between these pairs of terms, yet one which also keeps sight of their ontological distinction. He wants not only to hold the two terms together satisfactorily but to express how they actually require each other for their meaning. In doing so, he moves beyond the sheer tension of paradox to a deeper synthesis. The paradox remains, but he penetrates it to a level of mutual dependence. Christology gives explanatory power to this relational deepening. Berulle draws out the way that "humanity" and "divinity" function as relational terms, since both come already made for each other in the incarnation. Berulle explores their meaning with reference to the christological language of person and nature, substance and subsistence, Christ's defining activities of "adoration" and "servitude," and the Trinitarian language of mutuality in the Father-Son relationship. He develops the question of Christ's union of natures in conversation with the parallel question of the relation of human and divine in mystical union. Berulle combines christological ideas of kenosis, expressed in his language of "servitude," with mystical language of interior poverty exchanged in a marriage-type union, which shares divine identity. He uses ideas of emanation, further, to articulate the relation of Christ's union of natures to the soul's union with God. This method results in an extended christological treatment of the central questions of unity and difference in mystical union.
Without digressing into the modern debates over mystical mediation, one can point out briefly where Berulle's approach can contribute to this discussion. Today we generally approach the problems of unity and difference between the human and the divine in mystical union in terms of "mediated" and "unmediated" types of relationship. For instance, Bernard McGinn singles out the element of immediacy in the relationship with God as central to almost all mystical texts. (2) Going further, he notes that this does not mean a simple loss of mediation because elements of mediation continue:
Is there a moment or aspect of immediacy and directness in the actual encounter with God? On the basis of the writings of the mystics, we can answer both yes and no.... Since even those mystics who claim to have reached identity with God usually also say that on another level some distinction between Creator and creature remains, we can say that mystical consciousness involves a complex form of mediated immediacy. (3)
The phrase "mediated immediacy" indicates the complex combination of mediated and unmediated elements in the consciousness of mystical union: both elements present simultaneously and are hard to disentangle. In some sense, the two elements belong together. One cannot simply say that mystical union occurs either unmediated or mediated. This sets up the central paradox of mystical union. But what can one say to deepen this paradox? How can one hold together the different "levels" of distinction and identity between the human and the divine to which McGinn refers? Berulle points us to the key role played by a wider framework of human-divine relationality within which we can work out such paradoxical statements. His relational framework moves us beyond opposition to the possibility of holding the terms together more meaningfully. We do not want to introduce a third term by which to combine the opposites--to find something that mediates between mediation and immediacy! Rather, we seek language that expresses both mediation and immediacy at the same time. Berulle's use of relationality achieves just this. He develops a language in which the human and divine partners to union can find expression at once distinctly and yet without compromise. In effect, Berulle breaks through the dilemmas of mediation by introducing a language of combined unity and distinction in the analysis of mystical union.
The view of Henri Bremond--that Berulle led the new "French School" of spirituality in the seventeenth century and developed and first set out its characteristic themes and concerns--remains current. (4) Not only a mystical writer but a cardinal and the founder of the French Oratory, Berulle proved an important figure in both church and politics in his day. For the development of his mysticism, (5) the Parisian salon of Barbe Acarie had a significant early influence. This group of lay people, religious and church leaders, mostly aristocratic, generated a distinctive spirituality, which drew on the late medieval mystics of the "abstract" school, such as Harphius, Catherine of Genoa, and Benet of Canfield. (6) Benet of Canfield's Rule of Perfection, produced in a number of versions between 1592 and 1610, shows the group's approach to mysticism. They aimed to attain union with God through the annihilation of the will and by passing beyond mental images to a state of pure nakedness in which the soul finds itself passive to God's activity. (7) The annihilation of the human will allows passive union with God's being without multiplicity. (8) They called this the "abstract" approach because of the focus on the abstraction of the human will from concrete historical particulars and images. (9) We can see Berulle's own version of this approach in his earliest work, the Bref discours de l'abnegation interieure, an adaptation of Isabella Bellinzaga's Breve compendio intorno alla perfezione cristiana, which he produced under the direction of the Carthusian Dom Beaucousin in 1597. He puts the stress on the annihilation of the "being" (etre) of the soul in order to allow for naked contact with God. In comparison with Bellinzaga's original work, Berulle removes all references to Christ, apparently to emphasize the lack of created intermediaries between the soul and God in a complete loss of mental images. (10)
Shortly after Berulle's first account of mystical transformation and union, however, we see a second emphasis arising in his mysticism. He started to give new attention to the place of concrete encounter with the humanity of Christ. His making of Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises at the Jesuit house in Verdun in 1602, from which his notes survive, marked a turning point after which we find Jesus Christ and the humanity of Christ at the center of his thought. (11) Around the same time, the followers of Teresa of Avila, who came to Paris to set up the first Teresian Carmel in 1604 at his invitation, influenced him. (12) Teresa's close companion, Ana de Jesus, made clear that she opposed the "abstract idea of God" favored by Barbe Acarie's circle on the grounds that it detracted from the humanity of Christ. (13) Berulle then confronted the dilemma between the "abstract" approach of his early development and his new appreciation for the role of the humanity of Christ in mystical transformation. (14) These two elements come together in his later thought. The christological mysticism of his mature teaching attempts to bring the encounter with the humanity of Christ together with annihilation and the "purity" of the "abstract" relationship with God as dual features of mystical union. This combination makes Christology important because it offers Berulle a way to balance both human and divine elements in his understanding of mystical transformation. He does not reject either element of his early thinking but seeks a synthesis. (15)
In Berulle's greatest work, the Discours de l'etat et des grandeurs de Jesus (1623), be develops his christological mysticism most fully. (16) The work arose partly out of a christological dispute among his contemporaries over his understanding of the "deified humanity" and "humanized divinity" of Christ and whether he had strayed into Monophysitism, on the one hand, or Nestorianism, on the other hand. They accused him of both personalizing Christ's human nature (Nestorianism) and collapsing the two natures into one (Monophysitism). (17) He answered these charges with a thorough treatment of Christology in which he put questions of unity and distinction between the natures at …