Ruysbroeck (or Rusbroek), Jean De
Ruysbroeck (Or Rusbroek), Jean De, the most noted of mystics in the Netherlands, was born in A.D. 1293 at Ruysbroeck, near Brussels, and was educated in the latter city under the direction of an Augustinian prebendary who was his relative. His fondness for solitude and day dreams prevented him from making solid progress, however. His Latin was imperfect, though it is clear that he became acquainted with the earlier mystical writings. He probably did not read the writings of Neo-Platonists, but was certainly not unacquainted with those of the Areopagite. His works suggest the thought that the writings of master Eckart (died 1328), with whom Ruysbroeck was contemporary for thirty-five years, exercised influence over our author's mind. Rulvsbroeck became vicar of the Church of St. Gudula at Brussels, where he lived in strict asceticism, enjoying the society of persons who had devoted themselves to a contemplative life, composing books and exercising benevolence. He contended against the sins of the day, and labored to promote reforms. It is said that Tauler once visited him, attracted by the fame of his sanctity. At the age of sixty he renounced the secular priesthood and entered the new Augustinian convent Gronendal, in the forest of Soigny, near Brussels, becoming its first prior, and there he died in 1381. His life at once became the subject of legendary tales. The name Doctor Ecstaticus was early conferred on him.
The chief of his mystical writings are, The Ornament of Spiritual Marriage (Lat. by Gerh. Groot, Ornatus Spiritualis Desponsionis, MS. at Strasburg; by another translator, and published by Faber Stapulensis [Paris, 1512], De Ornatu Spirit. Nuptiarum, etc.; also in French, Toulouse, 1619; and in Flemish, 'J Cieraet der gheestclyeke Bruyloft, Brussels, 1624): — Speculum AEternoe Salutis: — De Calculo, an interpretation of the calculus candidus, Re 2:17: — Samuel, sive de Alta Contemplatione. The other works of Ruysbroeck contain but little more than repetitions of the thoughts expressed in those here mentioned. He wrote in his native language, and rendered to that dialect the same service which accrued to the High German from its use by the mystics of the section where it prevailed. He is still regarded in Holland as "the best prose writer of the Netherlands in the Middle Ages." His style is characterized by great precision of statement, which becomes impaired, however, whenever his imagination soars, as it often does, to transcendental regions too sublimated for language to describe. His works were accessible until lately only in Latin editions (by Surius, Cologne, 1549, 1552, 1609 [the best], 1692, fol.), or in manuscripts scattered through different libraries in Belgium and Holland. Four of the more important works were published in their original tongue, with prefaces by Ullmann (Hanover, 1848). No complete edition has as yet been undertaken (see Moll, )e Boekerij van het S. Barbara-Klooster te Delft [Amst. 1857, 4to], p. 41).
Ruysbroeck's mysticism begins with God, descends to man, and returns to God again, in the aim to make man one with God. God is a simple unity, the essence above all being, the immovable, and yet the moving, cause of all existences. The Son is the wisdom, the uncreated image of the Father; the Holy Spirit the love which proceeds from both the Father and the Son, and unites them to each other. Creatures preexisted in God, in thought; and, as being in God, were God to that extent. Fallen man can only be restored through grace, which elevates him above the conditions of nature. Three stages are to be distinguished: the active, or operative; the subjective, or emotional; and the contemplative life. The first proceeds to conquer sin, and draw near to God through good works; the second consists in introspection, to which ascetic practices may be an aid, and which becomes indifferent to all that is not God. The soul is embraced and penetrated by the Spirit of God, and revels in visions and ecstasies. Higher still is the contemplative state (vita vitalis), which is an immediate knowing and possessing of God, leaving no remains of individuality in the consciousness, and con, centrating every energy on the contemplation of the eternal and absolute Being. This life is still the gift of grace, and has its essence in the unifying of the soul with God, so that he alone shall work. The soul is led on from glory to glory, until it becomes conscious of its essential unity in God.
Ruysbroeck was constantly desirous of preserving the distinction between the uncreated and created spirits. In the unifying of the soul with God he does not assert an identification of personality, but merely a cessation of the difference in thought and desire, and a giving up of the independence of the creature. His language was often so strong, however, and his thought often so sublimated, that more cautious thinkers found serious cause to charge his writings with pantheism. This was true of Gerson (Opp. vol. 1, pt. 1, p. 59 sq.). Few mystics have ascended to the empyrean where Ruysbroeck so constantly dwelt; and the endeavor to compress into forms of speech the visions seen in a state where all clear and real apprehension is at an end occasioned the fault of indefiniteness with which his writings must be charged. His influence over theological and philosophical thought was not so great as that exercised by Eckart and Tauler, and was chiefly limited to his immediate surroundings. The Brotherhood of the Common Life (q.v.) was founded by Gerhard Groot, one of Ruysbroeck's pupils, and its first inception may perhaps be traced back to Ruysbroeck himself — a proof that he was not wholly indifferent to the conditions of practical life.
See Engelhardt, Richard v. St. Victor u. J. Ruysbroeck (Erlang. 1838); Ullmann, Reformatoren vor der Reformation, 2, 35 sq.; Schmidt, Etudes sur le Mysticisme Allemand au 14me Siecle, in Memoires de l'Academie des Sciences Morales (1847); Noack, Die christliche Mystik, 1, 147 sq.; Bohringer, Deutsche Mystiker d. 14ten u. 15ten Jahrhunderts, p. 462 sq.