Christianity as Mystical Fact
Preface to the Second Edition
Christianity as a Mystical Fact was the title given by the author to this work when, eight years ago, he gathered into it the substance of lectures delivered by him in 1902. This title is intended to indicate the special character of the book. The attempt has been made not merely to represent historically the mystical content of Christianity, but to describe the origin of Christianity from the mystical point of view. Underlying this intention was the thought that at the genesis of Christianity mystical facts were at work which can only be perceived from this viewpoint.
Only the book itself can make clear that by “mystical” its author does not imply a conception which relies more on vague feelings than on strictly scientific statements. It is true that mysticism is at present widely understood in the former sense, and hence it is declared by many to be a sphere of the human soul life with which true science can have nothing to do. In this book the word mysticism is used in the sense of the presentation of a spiritual fact which can only be recognized in its true nature by a cognition derived from the sources of spiritual life itself. If the kind of knowledge drawn from such sources is rejected, the reader will find no point of contact with this book. Only one who concedes that the same lucidity may exist in mysticism as in a true representation of the facts of natural science will be ready to admit that the content of Christianity as mysticism may also be mystically described. For it is not only a question of the contents of the book, but first and foremost of the means of gaining knowledge through which the statements in it are made.
Many there are at the present day who have a violent dislike for such means, which are regarded as conflicting with the ways of true science. And this is the case not only with those unwilling to admit other interpretations of the world than their own, on the ground of genuine knowledge of natural science, but also with those who as believers wish to study the nature of Christianity.
The author of this book bases his standpoint on the belief that the achievements of natural science in our age must lead straight to true mysticism. In fact, this point of view shows that any other attitude toward knowledge actually contradicts everything presented by the achievements of natural science. The facts of natural science, indeed, cannot be comprehended by those means of gaining knowledge which so many people would like to employ to the exclusion of others, under the illusion that they stand on the firm ground of natural science. Only he will not reject this book who is prepared to admit that a full appreciation of our present admirable knowledge of nature is compatible with genuine mysticism.
The author’s intention is to show, by means what is here called “mystical knowledge”, how the source of Christianity prepared its own ground in the Mysteries of pre-Christian times. In this pre-Christian mysticism we find the soil in which Christianity throve as a germ of quite independent nature. This point of view makes it possible to understand Christianity in its own independent being, even though its evolution is traced from pre-Christian mysticism. If this point of view be overlooked it is easy to misunderstand that independent character, and to think that Christianity was merely a further development of what already existed in pre-Christian mysticism. Many people of the present day have fallen into this error, comparing the content of Christianity with pre-Christian conceptions, and then thinking that Christian ideas were only a continuation of the former. The following pages are intended to show that Christianity presupposes the earlier mysticism, just as a seed must have its soil. It is intended to emphasize the peculiar character of the essence of Christianity through a knowledge of its evolution, not to extinguish it.
it is with deep satisfaction that the author is able to mention that this account of the nature of Christianity has found acceptance with a writer who has enriched the culture of our time in the highest sense of the word by his important works on the spiritual life of humanity. Edouard Schuré, author of Les Grands Initiés, 1 This book is to be had in an English translation, by F. Rothwell, under the title: The Great Initiates, A Sketch of the Secret History of Religions, by Edouard Schuré. is so far in accord with the attitude of this book that he undertook to translate it into French, under the title, Les Mystéres Antiques et les Mystéres Chrétiennes. It may be mentioned by the way, and as a symptom of the existence at the present time of a longing to understand the nature of Christianity as presented in this work, that the first edition has been translated into other European languages besides French.
The author has not found occasion to alter anything essential in the preparation of this second edition. On the other hand, what was written eight years ago has been enlarged, and the endeavor has been made to express many things more exactly and circumstantially than was then possible, Unfortunately the author was obliged, through stress of work, to let a long period elapse between the time when the first edition was exhausted and the appearance of the second.