Ruysbroek (or Ruysbrock), Jan van (1293-1381)

views updated

Ruysbroek (or Ruysbrock), Jan van (1293-1381)

Flemish mystic, whose name probably derived from the village of Ruysbroek, near Brussels, where he was born in 1293. As a child he showed distinct religious inclinations and spent his adolescence exploring a wealth of mystical literature. He decided to follow the clerical profession, and in 1317 he was duly ordained. A little later he became vicar of St. Gudule, a parish in Brussels.

During his long term in this capacity he became widely esteemed for his erudition and for his personal piety, while his sermons and even his letters were passed from hand to hand and perused with great admiration by many of his fellow clerics.

He did not court fame nor publicity of any kind, and at the age of sixty he retired to Groenendale, not far from the battlefield of Waterloo, where he founded a monastery. There he lived until his death, devoting himself chiefly to the study and practice of mysticism, and maintaining those charitable actions befitting a monk. Ruysbroek was known to his disciples as "the ecstatic teacher." As a thinker he was speculative and broad-minded, and indeed was one of those who prefigured the Reformation, the result being that although he won the encomiums of many famous theologians in the age immediately succeeding his, an attempt to beatify him was sternly suppressed.

Ruysbroek wrote a great deal, and at Cologne, in 1552, one of his manuscripts found its way into print with the title, De Naptu svel de Ornatu Nuptiarum Spiritualium, while subsequently a number of his other works were published, notably De Vera Contemplatione and De Septem Gradivus Amoris (Hanover, 1848).

The central tenet of his teaching was that "the soul finds God in its own depths." But in contradistinction to many other mystics, he did not teach the fusion of the self in God, holding that at the summit of the ascent toward righteousness the soul still preserves its identity. Ruysbroek and his teaching gave rise to many voluminous commentaries throughout the Middle Ages, and he has attracted a number of great writers.

Ruysbroek died in 1381.


Jones, Rufus Matthew. Studies in Mystical Religion. N.p.,1909. Reprint, New York: Russell & Russell, 1970.

Maeterlinck, Maurice L'Ornemant des Noces Spirituelles, de Ruysbroeck l'admirable. English ed. as: Ruysbroeck and the Mystics with Selections fron Ruysbroeck. N.p., 1894.