Meister Eckart – The Complete Mystical Works

Appendix to Part One

ECKHART THE SCHOLASTIC

From the Commentary on the Book of Wisdom 38- 45

( LW II, 359- 69, edited by Josef Koch)

The following short extract from Eckhart’s Latin works is not only a fair sample of his scholastic writings which any translation should at least illustrate, bur also, as Josef Koch has shown (‘Zur Analogielehre Meister Eckharts,’ Melanges offerts a Etienne Gilson, Paris, 1959, 327-50), serves to clarify his important doctrine of analogy, which in turn helps to explain and justify some of his apparently unorthodox statements, including several condemned in the bull of 1329.

The side numbers 38-45 are those used by the editor for easy reference. (K) in the notes refers to Koch.

Creavit enim, ut essent omnia (Wisd. 1:14). “He created all things that they might have being” (concluding portion).

  1. Further it is to be noted that multitude and inequality are properties which always attach to creatures or created things, but unity and equality are proper to God and the divine as such.

To denote this it is said that God created, that all things might be.1

“God” he (Solomon) says, and “created”: that is unity; “He created all things”: that is multitude and inequality.

By the very fact of being created, a thing is differentiated, and because it

is differentiated, it is unequal and multiple.

For the created, by the fact that it is descended from the one and undifferentiated,

falls away from the one and falls into differentiation and, consequently, into inequality.

Conversely, the uncreated, since it has not fallen or descended from anything, remains in the fountainhead of unity, equality and nondistinction.

Hence it is that the three Persons in the Godhead, although they are several (plures), yet are not many (multi) but one (unum ) – even if there were a thousand Persons!

“The Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one” (1 John 5:7). 39. Here again it is to be noted that from the very fact that creatures are many, differentiated, and unequal, it follows that God is undifferentiated, not many, and not unequal.

It also follows that every created thing is in some way one, equal, and undifferentiated.

The reason for all that has been said is that the higher by its nature always affects what is subject to it, but is in no way affected in turn by it, as is made clear in the treatise On the Nature of the Higher.

Therefore God the creator affects all creation with His unity, equality, and undifferentiation, according to the words of Proclus: ‘all multiplicity shares somehow in the One’ – and that which is divided from others is undivided in itself.

  1. In agreement with the above is what Seneca says in his sixty-seventh letter: ‘Things divine have one nature,’ and again: ‘there is no distinction in the divine.’

Boethius in Book III of his De consolatione, addressing God, says, All things Thou bringest forth from Thy high archetype: Thou, height of beauty, in Thy mind the beauteous world Dost bear, and in that ideal likeness shaping it,

Dost order perfect parts a perfect whole to frame.2

Thus, from Seneca you can gather that the one and the equal pertain to the nature of the divine and, consequently, the many and the unequal to the nature of the created; but from Boethius that this world, i.e., the whole universe, was first intended and was ‘derived from its exemplar,’ from the image of the Creator; but the parts, which are many, are secondary, to the extent that the perfection of the one universe requires them.

Or, to speak more properly, the perfect unity of the universe is the cause of such parts. For in general the parts of any whole do not confer being on the whole, but on the contrary receive being from the whole, by the whole and in the whole.

For outside of the whole they have no being at all, except by a designation which is wrong because equivocal.

Justitia enim perpetua est et immortalis (Wisd. 1:15). “For justice is perpetual and immortal.”

  1. It should be noted that this proposition is simply true of all justice everywhere, in the literal sense.

For one must know that there is a total difference, indeed opposition, between bodily characteristics (accidentia) such as whiteness, taste, and so on, and the spiritual perfections.

For bodily characteristics perish and lose their being when their subjects perish.

And the reason is that they receive their being, and their unity, and consequently also their dividedness and their number (as we said above about the parts of the universe),3 from their subjects, through and in their subjects, and consequently are posterior to their subjects.

But the spiritual perfections, for the same reason already stated, are quite different.

For these in no way receive being from their subjects, and consequently do not receive division or number from them or perish with them.

For each thing is dissolved by the same causes which brought it about, as Chrysostom says, and a jurist adds that ‘nothing is so natural.’

On the contrary, these perfections, such as justice, wisdom, and the like, receive nothing whatsoever of their own from the subject, but rather give the subject the whole of its being as such, as is clearly seen in the relation of justice and the just man.

Accordingly they are prior to their subjects and anterior to their subjects, and are not contrary, the subjects are ” rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:17) in them, and receive their being, as such, in them as that which is prior to themselves.42.

For example, the just man, as such, receives his whole being from justice itself, so that justice is in truth the parent and father of the just man, and the just man, as such, is the offspring and son of justice, as I have noted to the text “From whom is all fatherhood in heaven and on earth” (Eph. 3:15).4

Another manifest example is seen in the body and the soul.

For we usually say that the soul is in the body, whereas in truth the body is rather in the soul, which gives being to the body.

Accordingly, when a man’s body perishes, his soul does not perish, inasmuch as it is not immersed in matter.

For always the later and caused things perish when the first things or causes perish, and not conversely.

This is the meaning of the words “For justice is perpetual and immortal.”43.

But that the inexperienced say and believe that justice, wisdom, and the like die with the just and wise man, comes from the ignorance of those who judge spiritual things by physical ones, whereas in nature it is always the reverse, that the spiritual is the measure of the physical.

That is why it is said significantly below in the third chapter, “The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the pain of death shall not touch them ” (Wisd. 3:1-2); then follows, “in the eyes of fools they seemed to die.”

This is clearly in agreement with what Augustine teaches in De Trinitate, Book VIII, chapter 2, where he says, ‘If a soul becomes good, it can only achieve this by turning to something not itself.

But where shall it turn to become a good soul if not to the Good, by loving, desiring, and striving for this?

And if it turns away

from this and thus, by this very turning from the Good, ceased to be good, then – if that Good from which the soul turns had no continuity in itself – there would be nothing to which the soul could again turn if it wished for amendment.’

This is the meaning of Isaiah 30:18, “The Lord waits on you to take pity on you, ” as I have noted more clearly and fully on that text.5

Also in chapter 7 below, “The light (of wisdom) is inextinguishable”: see a t that place.6

  1. Again, in evidence of the above it must be noted that we should not imagine, as some slow-witted persons think, that there is a different justice in each of several just men, being divided and counted, and fixed and rooted in those just men as is the case (noted above) with bodily characteristics.

But rather, all just men are just from justice which is one in number, but a number that is numberless, one without oneness or, more properly speaking, one which is above oneness.

Therefore all just men, insofar as they are just, are one/ as our Savior clearly teaches in John 17: 11,21-23.

And this is what Augustine says in Book III of His Confessions: justice is ‘everywhere and always,’ not ‘different here from there,’ according to which all the just are just.

And further on: ‘Can justice be varied and mutable? Only the times over which it rules are different: for they are times.’

And further on he gives a fitting example from prosody.

For if various just men were just by different kinds of justice, then  they would be equivocally just,8 or justice would relate to just men univocally.9

But the relation is that of analogy, by way of exemplar and antecedent, and thus is subject neither to number nor to time.10

And that is something common to all spiritual and divine perfections, according to the Psalm: “His wisdom is without number” (Ps. 146:5) , as I have noted there.11

“For all wisdom is from the Lord God” (Sir. 1:1).

Hence Avicenna says in his Metaphysics that justice and virtue come from the Giver of Forms, but that bodily characteristics come from the action of the active qualities of the body, which is changeable.

  1. But by saying all the above, we do not deny that the virtuous possess habits of virtue: we say rather this, that these (habits) are, as it were, configurations in conformity with justice, and with God Himself from whom they come, and to whom they shape and conform us, according to 2 Cor. 3:18: “We are transformed into that same image, as by the spirit of the Lord “; and in Heb. 1:3 it is said of the first just man, the Son of God, that

he is “the brightness of His glory and the image of His being.”

He says, “the brightness of His glory, ” and that is what we wish to say.

For the virtues, such as justice and the like are more like gradual acts of conformation than anything imprinted and immanent which has its fixed root in the virtuous man: they are in a continuous state of becoming, like the glow of light in midair, or the image in a mirror.

That is why they are called flowers: “my flowers are the fruit” (Sir. 24:23).

According to Ambrose the virtues are the fruits, 12 and these fruits are the flowers.

In agreement with this is the fact that (as has been stated to the text “My flowers are the fruit” ) the Son is ever born in the Godhead,13 and also that in Christ himself, as a man, there is no other being than that divine being whereby he is the Son of God. Page 471-476

Notes

1 . Another way of turning the Latin Deus creavit ut essent omnia.

2 . Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, trans. V.E. Watts (Harmondsworth, 1969), 97. Reprinted by permission of Penguin Books Ltd.

  1. See above, 40.
  2. No commentary on Isaiah by Eckhart is preserved; but cf. Latin sermon V,3 (LW IV, 61) (K).
  3. Wisd. 7:10 (LW II, 425-29 ) .
  4. ( In God ): cf. Latin sermon XXX, 1 (LW IV, 276, trans. Clark-Skinner, p. 216 ) (K).
  5. Having merely the same name.
  6. As one cause which produces exactly the same effects in individual members of the species.
  7. As one thing which produces a similar effect, like the image in a mirror.
  8. Comm. on St. john 3:34 (LW III, 33-114).
  9. (Pseudo-) Ambrose, Comm. on Gal. 5:22 (K).
  10. Comm. on Ecclesiasticus 24: 23 (LW II, 249-50, 257) (K).. Latin sermon XXXV (L W IV, 311).