Simplified by the Highest Simplicity
Among the varied representations of mystical ascent in the Middle Ages, perhaps none was as original as that of Thomas Gallus (d.1246), an abbot of the Canons Regular at St. Andrea in Vercelli and the so-called "last of the great Victorines." Drawing on the highly-esteemed works of Dionysius the Areopagite, Thomas exegeted the Song of Songs in terms of the soul's ascent to God through both knowledge and love. His differs from earlier Song commentaries because of its Dionysius-inspired contention that the human soul reflects the nine orders of the angelic hierarchy. Through apophatic contemplation and desire for God, the soul ascends through these orders until its intellectual knowledge fails, and it is granted a union of love with through its Seraphic order. However, Thomas, following Gregory the Great and Hugh of St. Victor, argues that love itself is a kind of knowledge, indeed, the highest kind of knowledge, the very "wisdom of Christians." To bridge the gap between the grades of knowledge and of love, and between the intellect and affect, Thomas introduces the notion of the simplification of the soul, an idea that has its roots in the Neoplatonism of Dionysius. Simplification may be defined as the principle by which multiplicity and compositeness are anagogically abandoned in favor of greater unity and simplicity through mystical ascent. It forms the guiding principle of Gallus's mystical thought, and is described in three highly interrelated ways. First, the intellect leaves behind its knowledge of God through sensibilia, sensible knowledge gained through the senses and imagination, in favor of purely invisible contemplative objects or theoriae, which it contemplates first in its own reason and intellect, and then ecstatically and unitively in themselves. Each progressively higher level of contemplation is simpler and contains those below it. Secondly, the affect abandons its lesser desires for temporal and spiritual goods, and instead focuses its desire on the Good, which is the wellspring of all lower goods. Finally, and foundationally, simplification describes the movements of the powers of the soul, which unite as they ascend, increasingly reflecting the divine simplicity. This culminates with the affect's union with God, which undividedly contains within itself all lower forms of knowledge and love. When this fleeting union with God ends, the soul descends, becoming multiplex again, but it carries with it an inflow of graces, both intellectual and affectual, which are distributed to each order of its hierarchy "according to the capacity of each". This refreshment allows for future ascent.