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meister-eckhart

 

This is our last week of reading the works of Meister Eckhart, and we have finally come to the sermon that contains one of the most interesting statements from Eckhart concerning his beliefs about the Godhead or the God beyond God. We read an excerpt from this sermon in Bernard McGinn’s introduction of our reader, and this is an idea that has really stood out to me. Eckhart is discussing the need for the soul to empty itself from all created things in order that God might pour all of himself into that soul, and this appears to be a reference to his belief in pure detachment. It is only by becoming purely detached can we know God as he truly is as the ground of all being, and recognize the reality that all things are united within the One. He gives a metaphor here to describe the idea: “The comparison concerns my eyes and a piece of wood. If my eye is open, it is an eye; if it is closed, it is the same eye. It is not the wood that comes and goes, but it is my vision of it.”[1] In the same way, God is the ground of all being and everything in existence exists in unity with the One, whether or not they themselves realize that this is true. In other words, it is not as if I am not already one with God right this very instance and then at some later time I become one with God. No, according to Eckhart we are already one with God, because he is the ground of our very being, and we must become detached from all created things in order that we can come to this realization of the truth and know God as he truly is.

Now about the hidden Godhead. Eckhart says in Sermon 48 that “if a man will turn away from himself and from all created things, by so much will you be made one and blessed in the spark in the soul, which has never touched either time or place.”[2] Here again he is talking about detachment. Now he speaks about the spark in the human soul, and how this spark rejects all created things. This spark desires God but it “wants nothing but its naked God, as he is in himself. It is not content with the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit, or with the three Persons so far as each of them persists in his properties.”[3] And further on he says that this same light is not even content with the simple divine essence in its repose, but that the spark in the soul wants “to go into the simple ground, into the quiet desert, into which distinction never gazed, not the Father, nor the Son, nor the Holy Spirit.”[4] Now, the question here is what exactly does the Meister mean by all of this? If the Christian God *is* Triune in his nature, as has been traditionally understood by many theologians in the centuries before Eckhart, then how can Eckhart speak of that same God as if the spark in the soul is not content with the Three Persons but desires to move beyond them into the hidden Godhead? What then *is* the hidden Godhead? Is the hidden Godhead simply the divine essence that the Three Persons all partake in? But I suppose that might not even be the case because Eckhart says that the soul is not satisfied with the simple divine essence either. Is Eckhart referring to some kind of impersonal ground of being here, akin to the One of Plotinus?  Earlier, in his introduction, McGinn discusses this passage briefly and says that “there can be no distinctions in the innermost ground of God,” and he says that for Eckhart “any plurality comes solely from the poverty of our way of conceiving God.”[5] So, if we look at Eckhart’s sermon illustration of the wood and the eye, and if we pair it together with what he says there about how the spark of the soul desires to see into the innermost ground of being, beyond the Trinity, does that mean then for Eckhart that the Three Persons of the Trinity are not truly how God really is but we see God as Trinity due to the poverty of our conception of God? He discusses the Persons of the Trinity in many places, however, and so I am hesitant to say that Eckhart believes this, but this sermon does sound like he is saying something like this.

[1] Meister Eckhart, the Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), 197.

[2] Ibid. 198.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 36.

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