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meister-eckhart

I have been continuing my studies of the writings of Meister Eckhart this week, and I find his doctrine/philosophy concerning perfect detachment to be especially interesting as it relates both to God’s impassibility and its superiority to love. Now without disparaging the other virtues, Eckhart tells us that he has sought arduously and carefully the answer to an important question: What is the best virtue that will help human beings become more like God and conformed to his character? The answer to this question is in pure detachment from all things.[1] Eckhart believes that it is in cultivating this virtue that a man can “by grace become that which God is by nature, and with which man can come most of all to resemble that image which he was in God, and between which and God there was no distinction before ever God made created things.”[2]

If I understand this correctly, Eckhart seems to be equating this pure detachment with the idea of God’s impassibility i.e. that God does not suffer or experience passions.  But Eckhart does something interesting here. When talking about our prayers and good deeds, Eckhart says that “All the prayers and good works that man can accomplish in time move God’s detachment as little as if no single prayer or good work were ever performed in time,” which he goes on to explain how this is true while also maintaining that God is still inclined towards human beings by way of his divine foreknowledge.[3]

So, therefore, nothing that human beings can do can effect God’s detachment except for our own pure detachment, apparently. Quite strangely, in showing how pure detachment is better than love (Eckhart wants to go a step higher than St. Paul here), Eckhart says that the reason why pure detachment is better than love is that while love compels me to love God, pure detachment actually compels God to love me (because of the idea that like is drawn to like).[4] I have two questions about this idea, thoughts really.

1. If God really is impassible, how can anything compel God to do anything? I understand Eckhart’s reasoning here, and it makes sense that everything longs to be in its natural place e.g. God is pure detachment so he wants to be in a heart of pure detachment. But this still seems a little off given what divine impassibility teaches i.e. nothing can act upon God. So how can God be compelled to do anything of necessity?

2. Eckhart’s explanation for why detachment is better than love can just as easily show that love can compel God to love me too. If God is love, and if I have love for him in my heart, then shouldn’t like be drawn to like here?

Perhaps, but if Eckhart thinks that the only way that we can have perfect or pure love, a love like God has that is without distinction, then I suppose it actually becomes necessary to first have pure detachment in order to even have the kind of love that would draw God like that. I suppose then that Eckhart’s reasoning there is a bit sounder that I had first thought.

[1] Meister Eckhart, the Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), 285.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 288-289.

[4] Ibid., 286.

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