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Document Details :

Title: «For God is a Flowing, Ebbing Sea»
Subtitle: The Trinity in the Work of Jan van Ruusbroec: a Key to the Mystical Life
Author(s): UYTTENHOVE, Lieve
Journal: Bijdragen
Volume: 68    Issue: 4   Date: 2007   
Pages: 399-422
DOI: 10.2143/BIJ.68.4.2023985

Abstract :
We have sought to expound how Jan van Ruusbroec (1293-1381) goes about representing the relationship of love between God and human beings by proceeding from God’s inner life of love. Therefore, in the first part of our paper we elucidated Ruusbroec’s view of the inner love reality of the Triune God. In the second part we explained how genuine Christian mystical life is founded within the intra-trinitarian life of love. Prior to discussing the characteristics of Ruusbroec’s trinitarian position, we dwelled upon the author’s development of his idea of the Trinity from a personal perception of his relation with God, the embedding of Ruusbroec’s love-mysticism in traditional Christian faith and his repeated clarification of the Triune God from two perspectives: God’s nature and God’s essence. We found that, in his explanation of God’s nature, Ruusbroec underlines its fruitfulness as a way of demonstrating that God is one dynamic of love, without beginning or end, which ceaselessly and simultaneously consists in “flowing out” and “being flowed back”. This phenomenon, we stated, he associates with the concept, “oneness in threeness” and “threeness in oneness”. Through an exposition on the differing features of unity and the Persons of the Trinity, we came to the conclusion that the author in all of his works combines both the origin of “flowing out” and “flowing-back” with the Holy Spirit as the bond or unity of love of Father and Son. From this we concluded that none of the Persons is the principle or source of regiratio, i.e. return, to the unity. The view that God’s unity of Persons is the principle of exitus-reditus – and not only the third Person as recent scientific research has sought to demonstrate – is what we consider to be the heart of Ruusbroec’s trinitarian way of thinking. We ascertained, further, that the author not only links the unity of the Persons with fruitfulness; he believes that the same “fruitful” unity, drawing in the divine Persons on the level of God’s nature, is the “enjoying” unity on the level of God’s essence. By means of the (theoretical) distinction between God’s enjoying unity and the unity of God’s fruitful nature, Ruusbroec explicates the true facts of the intra-trinitarian life of love. The perception leads him to conclude that God, as a unity of Persons, is ceaselessly and simultaneously working and enjoying. In the second part, we illustrated how Ruusbroec’s trinitarian thought mirrors the basis of his mystical doctrine: the conviction that mystics are unified with the divine Persons both in working and enjoying, and that they are one reality of love with God. We explained how the author, first of all, maintains that mystics, who bear a full likeness to God’s fruitful nature, ceaselessly turn to good works and virtues, just as God, ceaselessly, through the divine Persons, flows out in love. We then avered that the likeness to God’s nature is not the result of human effort and that it arises from God’s touch within the human mind. Moreover, we showed that Ruusbroec, in accordance with his intuition that God’s fruitful unity is both out-flowing and inwarddrawing, believes that God is both impelling humans outward toward virtues and drawing them into God’s unity of love. In analogy with the first part of our argument – as far as the “return” of humans is concerned – we ascertained that our author is stressing the initiative of God’s unity of the Holy Spirit, i.e. the mutual love between the Father and the Son. We found the emphasis on God’s inward-drawing unity to be of great significance, because God’s unity of love also plays a crucial role with respect to the transition to “enjoyment” of human beings in God’s essence. We clarified how human beings, according to Ruusbroec, through the likeness to God’s nature, participate in the enjoyment of God’s essence with the divine Persons. We pointed out that the union in God’s essence is the most intimate experience, but not the end-point of the mystical life as, according to our author, contemplatives are directed, again and again, to good works. Lastly, we arrived at the conclusion that Ruusbroec considers the mystical life, like the life of God, to be ceaselessly consisting of action and enjoyment. However, it is not primarily the analogy with God’s trinitarian reality of love that Ruusbroecs stresses. Basically, he accentuates the fact that mystics ceaselessly experience unification with the divine Persons, both in working and enjoying. This means that mystics, united with the divine Persons in one enjoyment on the level of God’s essence, concurrently experience that, with the divine Persons, they also “share” in God’s “flowing” and “ebbing” on the level of God’s nature. On the basis of this we have affirmed that, according to Ruusbroec, God’s activity and enjoyment in the “Divinity Itself” is God’s activity and enjoyment in the human being, and the inverse. Moreover, we have shown how the author considers both moments to occur simultaneously, both in God and in human beings, meaning that the mystical life is continuously one reality of love with God.