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Richard of St. Victor

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mystics and Non-Dual Thinkers: Week 1

Richard of St. Victor
Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My beloved contemplative teacher, St. Bonaventure (1221-1274) owes many of his insights to Richard of St. Victor (1123-1173) who shortly preceded him. Richard was born in Scotland, but we know little of his early life. At some point he enrolled as a student at the Abbey of St. Victor in Paris and eventually became the prior. His numerous writings cover many fields—biblical exegesis, philosophy, and theology. Richard’s best known work focused on the Trinity. He also emphasized personal, interior experience of God as a way to discovering the True Self. Following this inner path—through various stages of growth—requires both our human effort and unearned grace. Richard said, “This gift is from God and not of man’s deserving. But certainly no one ever receives such a great grace without tremendous labor and burning desire.” This is the standing paradox! Paul says the same in Philippians 2:12-13: “So then, my beloved . . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for [God’s] good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.”

Richard and his teacher Hugh of St. Victor (1078-1141) wrote that humanity was given three different sets of eyes, each building on the previous one. The first eye was the eye of flesh (the senses), the second was the eye of reason (meditation or intellectual reflection), and the third eye was the eye of true understanding (contemplation). [1] Third-eye seeing is the way mystics see. They do not reject the first eye; the senses matter to them. Nor do they reject the second eye; but they know not to confuse knowledge with depth or mere correct information with the transformation of consciousness itself. They are led still further.

The mystical gaze builds upon the first two eyes—and yet widens the lens. It agrees to know by pure presence; it agrees to know without knowing, as it were. This is the genius of the biblical notion of faith. It happens whenever, by some wondrous “coincidence,” our heart space, our mind space, and our body awareness are all simultaneously open and nonresistant. It is actually just presence. It is experienced as a moment of deep inner connection, and it always pulls us, intensely satisfied, into the naked and undefended now, which can include both profound joy and profound sadness at the same time. [2]

Gateway to Silence:
“I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through.” —Hafiz


[1] Richard of St. Victor, De Sacramentis and The Mystical Ark, Classics of Western Spirituality (Paulist Press: 1979).

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009), 28.

Dervishes (photo detail) performing at Ruhaniyat Purana, Qila, 2011, by Ajaiberwarl. Wikimedia Commons.
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