Ruusbroec, Jan van

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RUUSBROEC, JAN VAN (12931381) was a Flemish Christian mystic, known as "the Admirable." Born in Ruusbroec, near (or in) Brussels, he was educated for the priesthood in both lower and higher studies under the care of his kinsman Jan Hinckaert, canon of Saint Gudule collegial church in Brussels. He was ordained a priest at age twenty-four and became influential in the theological and spiritual currents of the church and of the tradition of Middle Netherlandic (Netherlandic-Rhenish) mysticism. He led a devout life in the circle of friends around Hinckaert and Vrank van Coudenberch. Aware of the need to bring doctrinal teaching to the people in their own language, Ruusbroec wrote in the Brabant vernacular.

In 1343, impelled by a longing for silence and a richer spiritual life, Ruusbroec and his companions withdrew to the solitude of Groenendael, near Brussels. A few years later their association developed into a monastery of canons regular under the Augustinian rule of order. His gentleness gained him the epithet "the good prior," and his spiritual wisdom earned him the title "Doctor Admirabilis." He wrote four extensive treatises and seven shorter works; only seven of his letters have been preserved. His reputation for holiness was ratified when the church declared him "blessed" on December 2, 1908.

In Ruusbroec's doctrine, human being is fundamentally oriented toward the triune God. He sees God as at once indivisibly one and threefold, in constant tension between activity and essence. Essence enjoys itself quietly in modelessness. Activity is fecund. The Father, in knowing himself, creates relationships; he brings forth and expresses himself in his Son, the Word of God. In the reciprocal beholding of Father and Son, the Holy Spirit flows forth as the mutual bond of active love. Turning inward in essential love, they enjoy the unity of essence, which drives them afresh toward activity.

In turning outward, God creates according to the image of his Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit. The human creature in its selfhood is irrevocably distinct from the transcendent God. At the same time, however, the creature is in relation with and directed toward God because human being is created in the unity of God's likeness and image.

Ruusbroec sees humanity as structured in a threefold way, according to three interacting unities. The body and the lower faculties of the soul are under the heart and form the unity of the heart. The higher faculties of the soul, oriented to the highest human powers, form the unity of spirit, which in activity is receptive to God's essence. In these two lower unities, by the grace of God, the creature attains likeness to God in active (outer) life and in inner life ("unity by means"). According to the third unity, the creature attains its oneness with God's image in the contemplative life ("unity without means," or "unity without difference").

In Christ (the God-man) humanness is realized in the fullness of likeness and unity-of-image in himself, and this fullness is communicated to and in humankind. The ascent in likeness and unity is realized in Christ and in human beings: on earth, characterized by mortality, in the likeness of grace; in heaven, characterized by immortality and irradiated by the lumen gloriae, in the likeness of glory. Ruusbroec's grandiose view provides a balanced synthesis of God's outflowing transcendent love and of humankind's potentiality for harmonious ascent to union with God.


Works by Ruusbroec

Ruusbroec, Jan van. Werken. 2d ed. 4 vols. Antwerp, 19441948. In original Dutch.

Wiseman, J. A., ed. John Ruusbroec: The Spiritual Espousals and Other Works. New York, 1985.

Works about Ruusbroec

Ampe, Albert. Kernproblemen uit de leer van Ruusbroec. 4 vols. Tielt, 19501957.

Ampe, Albert. "Jean Ruusbroec." In Dictionnaire de spiritualité, vol. 8. Paris, 1974.

Dupré, Louis. The Common Life: The Origins of Trinitarian Mysticism and Its Development by Jan Ruusbroec. New York, 1984.

Mommaers, Paul. The Land Within: The Process of Possessing and Being Possessed by God according to the Mystic Jan van Ruysbroeck. Chicago, 1975.

Mommaers, Paul, and Norbert de Paepe, eds. Jan van Ruusbroec: The Sources, Content and Sequels of His Mysticism. Louvain, 1984.

Albert Ampe (1987)