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The Relativity of the God-concept in Meister Eckhart

The process of transformation which Hermas experienced represents on a small scale what took place on a large scale in the early medieval psychology: a new revelation of woman and the development of the feminine symbol of the Grail.

Hermas saw Rhoda in a new light, and the libido thus set free transformed itself under his hands into the fulfilment of his social task.

It is, I think, characteristic of our psychology that we find on the threshold of the new age two figures who were destined to exert an immense influence on the hearts and minds of the younger generation: Wagner, the prophet of love, whose music runs the whole gamut of feeling from Tristan down to incestuous passion, then up again from Tristan to the sublime spirituality of Parsifal; and Nietzsche, the prophet of power and of the triumphant will for individuality.

Wagner, in his last and loftiest utterance, harked back to the Grail legend, as Goethe did to Dante, but Nietzsche seized on the idea of a master caste and a master morality, an idea embodied in many a fair-haired hero and knight of the Middle Ages.

Wagner broke the bonds that fettered love, Nietzsche shattered the “tables of values” that cramp individuality.

Both strove after similar goals while at the same time creating irremediable discord; for where love is, power cannot prevail, and where power prevails, love cannot reign.

The fact that three of the greatest minds of Germany should fasten on early medieval psychology in their most important works is proof, it seems to me, that that age has left behind a question which still remains to be answered. It may be well, therefore, to examine this question a little more closely.

I have the impression that the mysterious something that inspired the knightly orders (the Templars, for instance), and that seems to have found expression in the Grail legend, may possibly have been the germ of a new orientation to life, in other words, a nascent symbol.

The non-Christian or Gnostic character of the Grail symbol takes us back to the early Christian heresies, those germinating points in which a whole world of audacious and brilliant ideas lay hidden.

In Gnosticism we see man’s unconscious psychology in full flower, almost perverse in its luxuriance; it contained the very thing that most strongly resisted the regula fidei, that Promethean and creative spirit which will bow only to the individual soul and to no collective ruling.

Although in crude form, we find in Gnosticism what was lacking in the centuries that followed: a belief in the efficacy of individual revelation and individual knowledge.

This belief was rooted in the proud feeling of man’s affinity with the gods, subject to no human law, and so overmastering that it may even subdue the gods by the sheer power of Gnosis.

In Gnosis are to be found the beginnings of the path that led to the intuitions of German mysticism, so important psychologically, which came to flower at the time of which we are speaking.

The question now before us focuses our attention on the greatest thinker of that age, Meister Eckhart. Just as signs of a new orientation are apparent in chivalry, so, in Eckhart, we are confronted with new ideas, ideas having the same psychic orientation that impelled Dante to follow the image of

Beatrice into the underworld of the unconscious and that inspired the singers who sang the lore of the Grail.

Nothing is known, unfortunately, of Eckhart’s personal life that would explain how he was led to his knowledge of the soul.

But the meditative air with which he says in his discourse on repentance, “And still today one seldom finds that people come to great things without they first go somewhat astray,” permits the inference that he wrote from personal experience. Strangely appealing is Eckhart’s sense of an inner affinity with God, when contrasted with the Christian sense of sin.

We feel ourselves transported back into the spacious atmosphere of the Upanishads. Eckhart must have experienced a quite extraordinary enhancement of the value of the soul, i.e., of his own inner being, that enabled him to rise to a purely psychological and relativistic conception of God and of his relation to man.

This discovery and painstaking exposition of the relativity of God to man and the soul seem to me one of the most important landmarks on the way to a psychological understanding of religious phenomena, serving at the same time to liberate the religious function from the cramping limitations of intellectual criticism, though this criticism, of course, must not be denied its dues.

We now come to the main theme of this chapter—the relativity of the symbol.

“relativity of God,” as I understand it, denotes a point of view that does not conceive of God as “absolute,” i.e., wholly “cut off” from man and existing outside and beyond all human conditions, but as in a certain sense dependent on him; it also implies a reciprocal and essential relation between man and God, whereby man can be understood as a function of God, and God as a psychological function of man.

From the empirical standpoint of analytical psychology, the God-image is the symbolic expression of a particular psychic state, or function, which is characterized by its absolute ascendency over the will of the subject, and can therefore bring about or enforce actions and achievements that could never be done by conscious effort. This overpowering impetus to action (so far as the God-function manifests itself in acts), or this inspiration that transcends conscious understanding, has its source in an accumulation of energy in the unconscious.

The accumulated libido activates images lying dormant in the collective unconscious, among them the God-image, that engram or imprint which from the beginning of time has been the collective expression of the most overwhelmingly powerful influences exerted on the conscious mind by unconscious concentrations of libido.

Hence, for our psychology, which as a science must confine itself to empirical data within the limits set by cognition, God is not even relative, but a function of the unconscious—the manifestation of a dissociated quantum of libido that has activated the God-image.

From the metaphysical point of view God is, of course, absolute, existing in himself.

This implies his complete detachment from the unconscious, which means, psychologically, a complete unawareness of the fact that God’s action springs from one’s own inner being.

The relativity of God, on the other hand, means that a not inconsiderable portion of the unconscious processes is registered, at least indirectly, as a psychological content. Naturally this insight is possible only when more attention than usual is paid to the psyche, with the consequence that the contents of the unconscious are withdrawn from projection into objects and become endowed with a conscious quality that makes them appear as belonging to the subject and as subjectively conditioned.

This was what happened with the mystics, though it was not the first time that the idea of God’s relativity had appeared.

It is found in principle and in the very nature of things among primitives.

Almost everywhere on the lower human levels the idea of God has a purely dynamic character; God is a divine force, a power related to health, to the soul, to medicine, to riches, to the chief, a power that can be captured by certain procedures and employed for the making of things needful for the life and well-being of man, and also to produce magical or baneful effects.

The primitive feels this power as much within him as outside him; it is as much his own life force as it is the “medicine” in his amulet, or the mana emanating from his chief. Here we have the first demonstrable conception of an all-pervading spiritual force. Psychologically, the efficacy of the fetish, or the prestige of the medicine-man, is an unconscious subjective evaluation of those objects.

Their power resides in the libido which is present in the subject’s unconscious, and it is perceived in the object because whenever unconscious contents are activated they appear in projection.

The relativity of God in medieval mysticism is, therefore, a regression to a primitive condition.

In contrast, the related Eastern conceptions of the individual and supra-individual atman are not so much a regression to the primitive as a continuous development out of the primitive in a typically Eastern way that still manages to preserve the efficacy of the primitive principle.

The regression to the primitive is not surprising, in view of the fact that every vital form of religion organizes one or the other primitive tendency in its ceremonials or its ethics, thereby securing for itself those secret instinctive forces that conduce to the perfecting of human nature in the religious process.

This reversion to the primitive, or, as in India, the uninterrupted connection with it, keeps man in touch with Mother Earth, the prime source of all power.

Seen from the heights of a differentiated point of view, whether rational or ethical, these instinctive forces are “impure.”

But life itself flows from springs both clear and muddy.

Hence all excessive “purity” lacks vitality.

A constant striving for clarity and differentiation means a proportionate loss of vital intensity, precisely because the muddy elements are excluded.

Every renewal of life needs the muddy as well as the clear.

This was evidently perceived by the great relativist Meister Eckhart when he said:

For this reason God is willing to bear the brunt of sins and often winks at them, mostly sending them to those whom he has destined for great things.

Behold! Who was dearer and nearer to our Lord than the apostles? Not one of them but fell into mortal sin; all were mortal sinners.

In the Old Testament and in the New he has shown this to be true of those who afterwards were far the dearest to him; and still today one seldom finds that people come to great things without they first go somewhat astray.

Both on account of his psychological perspicacity and his deep religious feeling and thought, Meister Eckhart was the most brilliant exponent of that critical movement within the Church which began towards the end of the thirteenth century.

I would like to quote a few of his sayings to illustrate his relativistic conception of God:

For man is truly God, and God is truly man.

Whereas he who has not God as such an inner possession, but with every means must fetch him from without, in this thing or in that, where he is then sought for in vain, in all manner of works, people, or places; verily such a man has him not, and easily something comes to trouble him.

And it is not only evil company that troubles him, but also the good, not only the street, but also the church, not only vile words and deeds, but the good as well.

For the hindrance lies within himself, because in him God has not yet become the world.

Were God that to him, then all would be well and good with him in every place and with all people, always possessing God.

This passage is of particular psychological interest, as it exemplifies something of the primitive idea of God outlined above.

“Fetching God from without” is the equivalent of the primitive view that tondi can be got from outside.

With Eckhart, it may be merely a figure of speech, but the original meaning nevertheless glimmers through.

At any rate it is clear that Eckhart understands God as a psychological value.

This is proved by the words “and easily something comes to trouble him.”

For, when God is outside, he is necessarily projected into objects, with the result that all objects acquire a surplus value.

But whenever this happens, the object exerts an overpowering influence over the subject, holding him in slavish dependence.

Eckhart is evidently referring to this subjection to the object, which makes the world appear in the role of God, i.e., as an absolutely determining factor.

Hence he says that for such a person “God has not yet become the world,” since for him the world has taken the place of God.

The subject has not succeeded in detaching and introverting the surplus value from the object, thus turning it into an inner possession.

Were he to possess it in himself, he would have God (this same value) continually as an object, so that God would have become the world.

In the same passage Eckhart says:

He that is right in his feeling is right in any place and in any company, but if he is wrong he finds nothing right wherever or with whom he may be.

For a man of right feeling has God with him.

A man who has this value in himself is everywhere at ease; he is not dependent on objects—not for ever needing and hoping to get from the object what he lacks himself.

From all this it should be sufficiently clear that, for Eckhart, God is a psychological or, to be more accurate, a psycho-dynamic state. … by this kingdom of God we understand the soul, for the soul is of like nature with the Godhead.

Hence all that has been said here of the kingdom of God, how God is himself the kingdom, may be said with equal truth of the soul.

St. John says, “All things were made by him.”

This is to be understood of the soul, for the soul is all things.

The soul is all things because she is an image of God, and as such she is also the kingdom of God. … So much, says one Master, is God in the soul, that his whole divine nature depends upon her.

It is a higher state for God to be in the soul than for the soul to be in God.

The soul is not blissful because she is in God, she is blissful because God is in her.

Rely upon it, God himself is blissful in the soul.

Looked at historically, the soul, that many-faceted and much interpreted concept, refers to a psychological content that must possess a certain measure of autonomy within the limits of consciousness.

If this were not so, man would never have hit on the idea of attributing an independent existence to the soul, as though it were some objectively perceptible thing. It must be a content in which spontaneity is inherent, and hence also partial unconsciousness, as with every autonomous complex.

The primitive, as we know, usually has several souls—several autonomous complexes with a high degree of spontaneity, so that they appear as having a separate existence (as in certain mental disorders).

On a higher level the number of souls decreases, until at the highest level of culture the soul resolves itself into the subject’s general awareness of his psychic activities and exists only as a term for the totality of psychic processes.

This absorption of the soul into consciousness is just as much a characteristic of Eastern as it is of Western culture.

In Buddhism everything is dissolved into consciousness; even the samskaras, the unconscious formative forces, must be transformed through religious self-development.

As against this historical evolution of the idea of the soul, analytical psychology opposes the view that the soul does not coincide with the totality of the psychic functions.

We define the soul on the one hand as the relation to the unconscious, and on the other as a personification of unconscious contents.

From the civilized standpoint it may seem deplorable that personifications of unconscious contents still exist, just as a man with a differentiated consciousness might well lament the existence of contents that are still unconscious.

But since analytical psychology is concerned with man as he is and not with man as he would like to be, we have to admit that those same phenomena which impel the primitive to speak of “souls” still go on happening, just as there are still countless people among civilized nations who believe in ghosts.

We may believe as much as we please in the doctrine of the “unity of the ego,” according to        which there can be no such things as autonomous complexes, but Nature herself does not bother in the least about our abstract theories.

If the “soul” is a personification of unconscious contents, then, according to our previous definition, God too is an unconscious content, a personification in so far as he is thought of as personal, and an image or expression of something in so far as he is thought of as dynamic.

God and the soul are essentially the same when regarded as personifications of an unconscious content.

Meister Eckhart’s view, therefore, is purely psychological.

So long as the soul, he says, is only in God, she is not blissful. If by “blissful” one understands a state of intense vitality, it follows from the passage quoted earlier that this state does not exist so long as the dynamic principle “God,” the libido, is projected upon objects.

For, so long as God, the highest value, is not in the soul, it is somewhere outside. God must be withdrawn from objects and brought into the soul, and this is a “higher state” in which God himself is “blissful.”

Psychologically, this means that when the libido invested in God, i.e., the surplus value that has been projected, is recognized as a projection, the object loses its overpowering significance, and the surplus value consequently accrues to the individual, giving rise to a feeling of intense vitality, a new potential.

God, life at its most intense, then resides in the soul, in the unconscious.

But this does not mean that God has become completely unconscious in the sense that all idea of him vanishes from consciousness.

It is as though the supreme value were shifted elsewhere, so that it is now found inside and not outside.

Objects are no longer autonomous factors, but God has become an autonomous psychic complex.

An autonomous complex, however, is always only partially conscious, since it is associated with the ego only in limited degree, and never to such an extent that the ego could wholly comprehend it, in which case it would no longer be autonomous. Henceforth the determining factor is no longer the overvalued object, but the unconscious.

The determining influences are now felt as coming from within oneself, and this feeling produces a oneness of being, a relation between conscious and unconscious, in which of course the unconscious predominates.

We must now ask ourselves, whence comes this “blissful” feeling, this ecstasy of love? In this Brahman-like state of ananda, with the supreme value lying in the unconscious, there is a drop in the conscious potential, the unconscious becomes the determining factor, and the ego almost entirely disappears.

It is a state strongly reminiscent of that of the child on the one hand, and of the primitive on the other, who is likewise influenced in the highest degree by the unconscious.

We can safely say that the restoration of the earlier paradisal state is the cause of this blissfulness.

But we have still to find out why this original state is so peculiarly blissful.

The feeling of bliss accompanies all those moments when one feels borne along by the current of life, when what was dammed up can flow off without restraint, when there is no need to do this thing or that thing with a conscious effort in order to find a way out or to achieve a result.

We have all known situations or moods when “things go of themselves,” when we no longer need to manufacture all sorts of wearisome conditions for our joy or pleasure. The time of childhood is the unforgettable emblem of this joy, which, unperturbed by things without, pours in a warm flood from within.

“Childlikeness” is therefore a symbol of that unique inner condition on which “blissfulness” depends.

To be like a child means to possess a treasury of accumulated libido which can constantly stream forth.

The libido of the child flows into things; in this way he gains the world, then by degrees loses himself in the world (to use the language of religion) through a gradual over-valuation of things.

The growing dependence on things entails the necessity of sacrifice, i.e., the withdrawal of libido, the severance of ties.

The intuitive teachings of religion seek by this means to gather the energy together again; indeed, religion portrays this process of re-collection in its symbols.

Actually, the over-valuation of the object as compared with the low value of the subject produces a retrograde current that would bring the libido quite naturally back to the subject were it not for the obstructing power of consciousness.

Everywhere among primitives we find religious practice harmonizing with nature, because the primitive is able to follow his instinct without difficulty, now in one direction and now in another.

His religious practices enable him to recreate the magical power he needs, or to recover the soul that was lost to him during the night.

The aim of the great religions is expressed in the injunction “not of this world,” and this implies the inward movement of libido into the unconscious.

Its withdrawal and introversion create in the unconscious a concentration of libido which is symbolized as the “treasure,” as in the parables of the “pearl of great price” and the “treasure in the field.”

Eckhart interprets the latter as follows:

Christ says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hid in a field.”

This field is the soul, wherein lies hidden the treasure of the divine kingdom.

In the soul, therefore, are God and all creatures blessed.

This interpretation agrees with our psychological argument: the soul is a personification of the unconscious, where lies the treasure, the libido which is immersed in introversion and is allegorized as God’s kingdom.

This amounts to a permanent union with God, a living in his kingdom, in that state where a preponderance of libido lies in the unconscious and determines conscious life. The libido concentrated in the unconscious was formerly invested in objects, and this made the world seem all-powerful.

God was then “outside,” but now he works from within, as the hidden treasure conceived as God’s kingdom.

If, then, Eckhart reaches the conclusion that the soul is itself God’s kingdom, it is conceived as a function of relation to God, and God would be the power working within the soul and perceived by it.

Eckhart even calls the soul the image of God.

It is evident from the ethnological and historical material that the soul is a content that belongs partly to the subject and partly to the world of spirits, i.e., the unconscious. Hence the soul always has an earthly as well as a rather ghostly quality. I

t is the same with magical power, the divine force of primitives, whereas on the higher levels of culture God is entirely separate from man and is exalted to the heights of pure ideality.

But the soul never loses its intermediate position.

It must therefore be regarded as a function of relation between the subject and the inaccessible depths of the unconscious.

The determining force (God) operating from these depths is reflected by the soul, that is, it creates symbols and images, and is itself only an image.

By means of these images the soul conveys the forces of the unconscious to consciousness; it is both receiver and transmitter, an organ for perceiving unconscious contents.

What it perceives are symbols.

But symbols are shaped energies, determining ideas whose affective power is just as great as their spiritual value.

When, says Eckhart, the soul is in God it is not “blissful,” for when this organ of perception is overwhelmed by the divine dynamis it is by no means a happy state. But when God is in the soul, i.e., when the soul becomes a vessel for the unconscious and makes itself an image or symbol of it, this is a truly happy state.

The happy state is a creative state, as we see from the following noble words:

If any should ask me, Wherefore do we pray, wherefore do we fast, wherefore do we do all manner of good works, wherefore are we baptized, wherefore did God become man, I would answer, So that God may be born in the soul and the soul again in God. Therefore were the Holy Scriptures written.

Therefore did God create the whole world, that God might be born in the soul and the soul again in God.

The innermost nature of all grain is wheat, and of all metal, gold, and of all birth, Man!

Here Eckhart states bluntly that God is dependent on the soul, and at the same time, that the soul is the birthplace of God.

This latter sentence can readily be understood in the light of our previous reflections. The organ of perception, the soul, apprehends the contents of the unconscious, and, as the creative function, gives birth to its dynamis in the form of a symbol. The soul gives birth to images that from the rational standpoint

of consciousness are assumed to be worthless.

And so they are, in the sense that they cannot immediately be turned to account in the objective world.

The first possibility of making use of them is artistic, if one is in any way gifted in that direction; a second is philosophical speculation; a third is quasi-religious, leading to heresy and the founding of sects; and a fourth way of employing the dynamis of these images is to squander it in every form of licentiousness.

As we noted at the beginning (par. 25), the latter two modes of application were especially apparent in the Encratitic (ascetic) and Antitactic (anarchic) schools of Gnosticism.

The conscious realization of these images is, however, of indirect value from the point of view of adaptation to reality, in that one’s relation to the surrounding world is thereby freed from admixtures of fantasy.

Nevertheless, their main value lies in promoting the subject’s happiness and well-being, irrespective of external circumstances.

To be adapted is certainly an ideal, but adaptation is not always possible.

There are situations in which the only adaptation is patient endurance.

This form of passive adaptation is made easier by an elaboration of the fantasy-images.

I say “elaboration” because at first the fantasies are merely raw material of doubtful value.

They have to be worked on and put in a form best calculated to yield the maximum benefit.

This is a matter of technique, which it would not be appropriate to discuss here. I will only say, for clarity’s sake, that there are two methods of treatment:

  1. the reductive, and 2. the synthetic.

The former traces everything back to primitive instincts, the latter develops the material into a process for differentiating the personality.

The two methods are complementary, for reduction to instinct leads back to reality, indeed to an over-valuation of reality and hence to the necessity of sacrifice.

The synthetic method elaborates the symbolic fantasies resulting from the introversion of libido through sacrifice.

This produces a new attitude to the world, whose very difference offers a new potential.

I have termed this transition to a new attitude the transcendent function. In the regenerated attitude the libido that was formerly sunk in the unconscious emerges in the form of some positive achievement.

It is equivalent to a renewal of life, which Eckhart symbolizes by God’s birth.

Conversely, when the libido is withdrawn from external objects and sinks into the unconscious, the soul is born again in God.

This state, as he rightly observes, is not a blissful one, because it is a negative act, a turning away from life and a descent to the deus absconditus, who possesses qualities very different from those of the God who shines by day. Eckhart speaks of God’s birth as a continual process.

As a matter of fact, the process in question is a psychological one that unconsciously repeats itself almost continually, though we are conscious of it only when it swings towards the extreme.

Goethe’s idea of a systole and diastole seems to have hit the mark intuitively.

It may well be a question of a vital rhythm, of fluctuations of vital forces, which as a rule go on unconsciously.

This may also explain why the existing terminology for such a process is in the main either religious or mythological, since these formulas refer primarily to unconscious psychological facts and not, as the scientific interpreters of myths often assert, to the phases of the moon or other meteorological phenomena.

And because it is pre-eminently a question of unconscious processes, we have the greatest difficulty, as scientists, in extricating ourselves at least so far from the language of metaphor as to reach the level of metaphor used by other sciences.

Reverence for the great mysteries of Nature, which the language of religion seeks to express in symbols hallowed by their antiquity, profound significance, and beauty, will not suffer from the extension of psychology to this domain, to which science has hitherto found no access.

We only shift the symbols back a little, shedding a little light on their darker reaches, but without succumbing to the erroneous notion that we have created anything more than merely a new symbol for the same enigma that perplexed all ages before us.

Our science is a language of metaphor too, but in practice it works better than the old mythological hypothesis, which used concretisms as a means of expression, and not, as we do, concepts.

By being created, the soul created God, for he did not exist until the soul was made.

A little while since and I declared, I am the cause that God is God! God is gotten of the soul, his Godhead he has of himself.

God comes into being and passes away. Because all creatures declare him, God comes into being.

While yet I abode in the ground and the depths of Godhead, in its flood and source, none asked me whither I went or what I did; none was there who could have questioned me.

But when I flowed forth, all creatures declared God. … And why did they not declare the Godhead?

All that is in Godhead is one, and of that there is nothing to declare. Only God does; Godhead does nothing, there is nothing it can do, and never has it looked for anything to do.

God and Godhead are as different as doing and non-doing.

When I come home again in God, I do nothing more in myself, so this my breaking through is much more excellent than my first going out.

For truly it is I who bring all creatures out of their own into my mind and make them one in me.

When I come back into the ground and the depths of Godhead, into its flood and source, none asks me whence I came or whither I went.

None missed me. God passes away.

We see from these passages that Eckhart distinguishes between God and Godhead. Godhead is All, neither knowing nor possessing itself, whereas God is a function of the soul, just as the soul is a function of Godhead. Godhead is obviously all-pervading creative power or, in psychological terms, self-generating creative instinct, that neither knows nor possesses itself, comparable to Schopenhauer’s universal Will.

But God appears as issuing forth from Godhead and the soul.

Like every creature, the soul “declares” him: he exists in so far as the soul distinguishes itself from the unconscious and perceives its dynamis, and he ceases to exist as soon as the soul is immersed in the “flood and source” of unconscious dynamis.

Thus Eckhart says: When I flowed out from God, all things declared, “God is!” Now this

cannot make me blessed, for thereby I acknowledge myself a creature.

But in my breaking through I stand empty in the will of God, and empty also of God’s will, and of all his works, even of God himself—then I am more than all creatures, then I am neither God nor creature: I am what I was, and that I shall remain, now and ever more! Then I receive a thrust which carries me above all angels.

By this thrust I become so rich that God cannot suffice me, despite all that he is as God and all his godly works; for in this breakthrough I receive what God and I have in common.

I am what I was, I neither increase nor diminish, for I am the unmoved mover that moves all things. Here God can find no more place in man, for man by his emptiness has won back that which he eternally was and ever shall remain.

The “flowing out” means a realization of the unconscious content and the unconscious dynamis in the form of an idea born of the soul.

This is an act of conscious differentiation from the unconscious dynamis, a separation of the ego as subject from God (= dynamis) as object. By this act God “becomes.”

But when the “breakthrough” abolishes this separation by cutting the ego off from the world, and the ego again becomes identical with the unconscious dynamis, God disappears as an object and dwindles into a subject which is no longer distinguishable from the ego.

In other words the ego, as a late product of differentiation, is reunited with the dynamic All-oneness (the participation mystique of primitives).

This is the immersion in the “flood and source.”

The numerous analogies with Eastern ideas are immediately apparent, and they have been elaborated by writers more qualified than myself.

In the absence of direct transmission this parallelism proves that Eckhart was thinking from the depths of the collective psyche which is common to East and West.

This universal foundation, for which no common historical background can be made answerable, underlies the primitive mentality with its energic conception of God.

[The return to primeval nature and mystic regression to the psychic conditions of prehistory are common to all religions in which the impelling dynamis has not yet petrified into an abstract idea but is still a living experience, no matter whether this be expressed in ceremonies of identification with the totem among the Australian aborigines or in the ecstasies of the Christian mystics.

As a result of this retrograde process the original state of identity with God is re-established and a new potential is produced.

However improbable such a state may be, it is a profoundly impressive experience which, by revivifying the individual’s relation to God as an object, creates the world anew.

In speaking of the relativity of the God-symbol, we would be failing in our duty if we omitted to mention that solitary poet whose tragic fate it was to find no relation either to his own times or to his own inner vision: Angelus Silesius.

What Eckhart laboured to express with a great effort of thought, and often in barely intelligible language, Angelus Silesius sings in touchingly intimate verses, which portray the relativity of God with naïve simplicity.

His verses speak for themselves:

I know that without me

God can no moment live;

Were I to die, then He

No longer could survive.

God cannot without me

A single worm create;

Did I not share with Him

Destruction were its fate.

I am as great as God,

And He is small like me;

He cannot be above,

Nor I below Him be.

In me is God a fire

And I in Him its glow;

In common is our life,

Apart we cannot grow.

God loves me more than Self

My love doth give His weight,

Whate’er He gives to me

I must reciprocate.

He’s God and man to me,

To Him I’m both indeed;

His thirst I satisfy,

He helps me in my need.

This God, who feels for us,

Is to us what we will;

And woe to us, if we

Our part do not fulfil.

God is whate’er He is,

I am what I must be;

If you know one, in sooth,

You know both Him and me.

I am not outside God,

Nor leave I Him afar;

I am His grace and light,

And He my guiding star.

I am the vine, which He

Doth plant and cherish most;

The fruit which grows from me

Is God, the Holy Ghost.

I am God’s child, His son,

And He too is my child;

We are the two in one,

Both son and father mild.

To illuminate my God

The sunshine I must be;

My beams must radiate

His calm and boundless sea.

It would be absurd to suppose that such audacious ideas as these and Meister Eckhart’s are nothing but figments of conscious speculation.

Such thoughts are always profoundly significant historical phenomena, borne along on the unconscious currents of the collective psyche.

Below the threshold of consciousness, thousands of other nameless ones are ranged behind them with similar thoughts and feelings, ready to open the gates of a new age. In these bold ideas we hear the voice of the collective psyche, which with imperturbable assurance and the finality of a natural law brings about spiritual transformation and renewal.

The unconscious currents reached the surface at the time of the Reformation.

The Reformation largely did away with the Church as the dispenser of salvation and established once more the personal relation to God.

The culminating point in the objectification of the God-concept had now been passed, and from then on it became more and more subjective.

The logical consequence of this subjectifying process is a splitting up into sects, and its most extreme outcome is individualism, representing a new form of detachment from the world, the immediate danger of which is re-submersion in the unconscious dynamis.

The cult of the “blond beast” stems from this development, besides much else that distinguishes our age from others.

But whenever this submersion in instinct occurs, it is compensated by a growing resistance to the chaos of sheer dynamism, by a need for form and order.

Diving down into the maelstrom, the soul must create the symbol that captures and expresses this dynamism.

It is this process in the collective psyche that is felt or intuited by poets and artists whose main source of creativity is their perception of unconscious contents, and whose intellectual horizon is wide enough to discern the crucial problems of the age, or at least their outward aspects.  ~Carl Jung, CW 6, Para 407-433


So if I say God is good, it is not true: I am good, God is not good. I go further: I am better than God! For only what is good can become better, and only what is better can become the best. God is not good, therefore he cannot become better; and since he cannot become better he cannot become the best. These three: good, better, best, are infinitely remote from God, who is above all. ~Carl Jung, CW 6, Para 457


“For this reason God is willing to bear the brunt of sins and often winks at them, mostly sending them to people for whom he has prepared some high destiny. See! Who was dearer to our Lord or more intimate with him than his apostles? Not one of them but fell into mortal sin, and all were mortal sinners.” ~Carl Jung, CW 18, Para 1375


“For this reason God is willing to bear the brunt of sins and often winks at them, mostly sending them to people for whom he has prepared some high destiny. See! Who was dearer to our Lord or more intimate with him than his apostles? Not one of them but fell into mortal sin, and all were mortal sinners.” ~Carl Jung, CW 6, Para 440


When I flowed out from God, all things declared, “God is!” Now this cannot make me blessed, for thereby I acknowledge myself a creature. But in the breakthrough I stand empty in the will of God, and empty also of God’s will, and of all his works, even of God himself—then I am more than all creatures, then I am neither God nor creature: I am what I was, and that I shall remain, now and ever more! Then I receive a thrust which carries me above all angels. By this thrust I become so rich that God cannot suffice me, despite all that he is as God and all his godly works; for in this breakthrough I receive what God and I have in common. I am what I was,18 I neither increase nor diminish, for I am the unmoved mover that moves all things. Here God can find no more place in man, for man by his emptiness has won back that which he was eternally and ever shall remain. ~Meister Eckhart, CW 6, Para 429

“And who can be nobler than the man who is born half of the highest and best the world has to offer, and half of the innermost ground of God’s nature and God’s loneliness? Therefore the Lord speaks in the prophet Hosea: I will lead the noble souls into the wilderness, and speak into their hearts. One with the One, One from the One, and in the One itself the One, eternally!” ~Meister Eckhart, CW 14, Para 258

“God is not good, or else he could be better.” ~Meister Eckhart, CW 17, Para 320

In Aion, Researches into the Phenomenology of Self[90] Carl G. Jung cites Eckhart approvingly in his discussion of Christ as a symbol of the archetypal self. Jung sees Eckhart as a Christian Gnostic:

Meister Eckhart’s theology knows a “Godhead” of which no qualities, except unity and being, can be predicated; it “is becoming,” it is not yet Lord of itself, and it represents an absolute coincidence of opposites: “But its simple nature is of forms formless; of becoming becomingless; of beings beingless; of things thingless,” etc.

Union of opposites is equivalent to unconsciousness, so far as human logic goes, for consciousness presupposes a differentiation into subject and object and a relation between them. ~Carl Jung, CW 9ii, Page 193.

The man who has this poverty has everything he was when he lived not in any wise, neither in himself, nor in truth, nor in God.

He is so quit and empty of all knowing that no knowledge of God is alive in him; for while he stood in the eternal nature of god, there lived in him not another: what lived there was himself.

And so we say this man is as empty of his own knowledge as he was when he was not anything; he lets God work with what he will, and he stands empty as when he came from God.

Therefore he should love God in the following way: “Love him as he is; a not-God, a not-spirit, a not-person, a not-image; as a sheer, pure, clear One, which he is, sundered from all secondness; and in this One let us sink eternally, from nothing to nothing. So help us God. Amen.” ~Carl Jung, CW 9ii, Page 193.

The world-embracing spirit of Meister Eckhart knew, without discursive knowledge, the primordial mystical experience of India as well as of the Gnostics, and was itself the finest flower on the tree of the “Free Spirit” that flourished at the beginning of the eleventh century.

Well might the writings of this Master be buried for six hundred years, for “his time was not yet come.”

Only in the nineteenth century did he find a public at all capable of appreciating the grandeur of his mind. ~Carl Jung, CW 9ii, Page 194.

The intrusion of the East is rather a psychological fact with a long history behind it. The first signs may be found in Meister Eckhart, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and E. von Hartmann. It is not, however, the actual East we are dealing with but the collective unconscious, which is omnipresent. ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. I, Page 87

The theological authorities I appeal to in this connection are Tertullian and Meister Eckhart, not to mention my own experience, which has given me more insight into the nature of the human psyche than the editorial pulpit of Herr Barth. ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. I, Page 98

I am grateful to you for your efforts to present my concept of the self as accurately as possible. This idea seems to have become a stumbling-block ever since Origen and Meister Eckhart were accused of heresy, whereas in the East it is mani padme, “the jewel in the lotus,” or hiranyagarbha, the golden seed, the “conglomorate soul.” ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. I, Page 362

Everything that man conceives as God is a psychic image, and it is no less an image even if he asseverates a thousand times that it is not an image. If it were not, he would be unable to conceive anything at all. That is why Meister Eckhart says, quite rightly, “God is pure nothing.” ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. I, Page 556

It is the reign of darkness, which is also God, but an ordeal for Man. The Godhead has a double aspect, and as Master Eckhart says: God is not blissful in his mere Godhead, and that is the reason for his incarnation. ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Page 134

The happening then turns into that felix culpa which Adam brought on himself by his disobedience. Suffering, Meister Eckhart says, is the “swiftest steed that bears you to perfection.” ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Page 311

Master Eckhart said it: “God is not blessed in His Godhead, He must be born in man forever.”  This is what happens in Job: The creator sees himself through the eyes of man’s consciousness and this is the reason why God had to become man, and why man is progressively gifted with the dangerous prerogative of the divine “mind.” ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Page 436


Rathausturm Köln – Maria Clementine Martin

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