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The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage

by John of Ruysbroeck

Jan van Ruysbroeck—three of whose most important works are here for the first time presented to English readers—is the greatest of the Flemish mystics, and must take high rank in any list of Christian contemplatives and saints. He was born in 1273, at the little village of Ruysbroeck or Ruusbroeck between Brussels and Hal, from which he takes his name; and spent his whole life within his native province of Brabant. At eleven years old, he is said to have run away from home and found his way to Brussels; where he was received by his uncle Jan Hinckaert, a canon of the Cathedral of St Gudule. Hinckaert, who was a man of great piety, lived with another devout priest named Francis van Coudenberg in the most austere fashion; entirely devoted to prayer and good works.

The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage was written some time around 1350, not long after Jan van Ruysbroeck moved to a small hermitage out in the country, where he wandered the woods and wrote as the Holy Ghost inspired him. According to Jan—who was named a saint in 1908—the development of the soul has three stages: Active, Interior, Superessential. The Active life is that which men are most accustomed to: the life of the material world. The Interior life is the life of the spirit that is touched by religious contemplation. And the Superessential life is that which lies beyond description and is man's existence in enlightenment. Written for Christians and spiritual seekers, The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage is a guide for developing a deeply spiritual life.