The indistinguishability between God and man in the thoughts of Meister Eckhart.

Richardson, Ian. (2013) The indistinguishability between God and man in the thoughts of Meister Eckhart. Masters thesis, University of Wales, Trinity St David.

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This dissertation considers the work of the German 13th and early 14th century Dominican known as Meister Eckhart, with a particular focus on how Eckhart presents the indistinguishability between God and man. I have chosen to use the term indistinguishability because, although union with God involves identity and indistinction, the idea of indistinguishability provides a unique and clearer insight to the thoughts of Eckhart. This is a critical concept for Eckhart and pivotal to his thinking, but also one that led to the questions of orthodoxy because God is clearly distinct from, and not identical with creation. Pushing the boundaries of thinking inevitably led to questioning and ultimately the charge of disseminating dangerous doctrine declared by the condemnatory bull of Pope John XXII in 1329. After the bull his works had been largely either lost or ignored but recent study has unearthed a rich vein of thought that is both perceptive and radical. Eckhart is an interesting and relevant character to choose because his works are gathering interest and credibility among modern scholars. His theology developed apophaticism to a different level and was shaped by the thoughts of influential Early Church notables such as Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius. He also embraces Neo-Platonic ideas of the One, and movement towards the goal of union with this One. Another major influence on his work was the ideas of contemporary mystics such as Marguerite Porete. This combination of theology, philosophy and mysticism, along with how Eckhart developed the German vernacular, and his desire to induce a reaction from his listeners, produced a unique insight to the union between God and man. The Meister proposes there to be a Godhead as well as God. The Trinity is begotten from the Godhead and likewise creation is of the same essence. Being of the same essence presents the idea of indistinguishability that Eckhart extends by suggesting the soul is one with the Godhead. He describes the birth of the word of God in the soul as the moment of spiritual birth and union with God, and this occurs both within and outside of time. This breaking-through to the Godhead connects the part of us that is eternal with our physical person within time but this is a return to the starting point for the soul. Distinction is evident at birth, so any indistinguishability cannot include the physical dimension and this has fostered the idea that the existence of the soul is both temporal and atemporal. Creation is framed by a distinguishable bubble of time but the eternal 4 essence of God extends to his creation and specifically to the human soul. Biblical texts on the post-existence of the soul naturally led to thoughts of the soul outside of time and questions of pre-existence. Also, because as humans we are clearly distinguishable from God, if there is any indistinguishability, then, “What is the nature of this indistinguishability?” In order to explore the territory of indistinguishability, following this introduction of Chapter 1, it is essential to build a platform of background information. I do this in Chapter 2 by outlining the life of Eckhart and placing his works in the context of his experiences. This overview of Eckhart includes a consideration of the nature of the language he used and the influences behind his thoughts and style. Next, in Chapter 3, I consider how Eckhart used the apophatic terms of indistinguishability and indistinction and how this meets with the other related cataphatic ideas of identity and identicalness. With this foundation in place, Chapter 4 of this dissertation focuses on how the Meister describes indistinguishability between God and man, beginning with a study of the different words used to describe God. He uses the terms esse, intellectus and unum which are common to theology and philosophy but furthered their understanding in both fields. Also radical was how the Meister spoke of God and the Godhead (Got and Gotheid), presented in Chapter 5. He linked Gotheid with the term, grunt to present the source from which everything that we comprehend has flowed. I consider how Eckhart connects the soul with the grunt as well as with the Trinity and creation. The idea of a shared essence or fused identity between God and man raises questions about the nature of the Trinity, creation and uncreatedness and so it is important to cover the aspects of these that connect with the issue of indistinguishability. I move on to discuss how Eckhart presents God as not just being, but also becoming. God is active in the eternal sense as well as in creation which is temporal. Eckhart describes this immanent boiling, „bullito’ as the activity within the Godhead through which the Trinity exists and acts. Added to this, and still connected with this inner emanation of God, is the over-boiling, „ebullito‟ in which creation is established as distinct from the Godhead. Eckhart includes every aspect of time and creation in the ebullito such that it fits the model of procession and return. This metaphysics of flow can be traced back through Aquinas, Pseudo Dionysius, and Augustine 5 to its Neo-Platonic background, although there is also a suggestion of similar ideas in the writings of St. Paul.1 Although there are not clearly defined boundaries between grunt, bullito and ebullito or exitus and reditus, I have used them to give structure to this section of the exploration into indistinguishability. The section covering bullito considers the Trinity, how it relates to the Godhead and how Eckhart included the soul of man in this aspect of divine activity. After this, I look at the ebullito by breaking it down into the different stages of flow (creation) and then the return, (redemption and union) which is covered in Chapter 6. Eckhart considers indistinction with God during each phase of the process and proposes the idea of detachment as the way to know the birth of the word of God in the Soul and the breaking-through of the soul to the divine ground. Finally, in Chapter 7, I draw conclusions on the thoughts of Eckhart regarding the indistinguishability between God and man. While Meister Eckhart did not write a specific treatise or preach a sermon just to present his views on indistinguishability, what we do have is an abundance of relevant material scattered throughout his works. The primary sources for this dissertation are the various Latin and Middle High German (MHG) commentaries, treatises and sermons currently available. The life of Eckhart and his employment as a Dominican friar and university lecturer prompted bible commentaries, treatises and sermons although not every known work has a modern translation. Not all of the works of the Meister are known, and there are several documents falsely attributed, but a reliable bibliography of works available and translated has been produced by Markus Vinzent.2 When reading Eckhart, gaining a clear view is difficult because not only is there no comprehensive volume such that everything said or written could be analysed, but even within what is known and translated, there are apparent inconsistencies. Rather than produce a systematic textbook, Eckhart placed greater emphasis on his preaching in which he aimed to influence and lead his followers into a deeper relationship with God. Some works are seen as 1 See: Romans 11.36, I Corinthians 8.6, Colossians 1.16. 2 Bibliography of the works of Eckhart available at: [Accessed: 16th November 2012], including all works translated into English available. When referring to the works of Meister Eckhart I have adopted the notation used by Vinzent with abbreviations as follows: DW for German works and LW for Latin works. This is based on the compilation of works: Meister Eckhart: Die Deutschen und Lateinischen Werke. Herausgegeben im Auftrage der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft (Stuttgart and Berlin: W. Kohlhammer, 1936- ). 6 more mystical than others though he always claimed to remain faithful to biblical doctrine. To the Meister, the occasion of each work was vital so, because he addressed each situation specifically, his language modifies according to its intended recipients. This lack of a system does not however leave us without an insight to his thoughts on spiritual matters and his theology, philosophy and mysticism permeated doctrine. Among secondary sources available are works by leading commentators such as McGinn who is regarded as a historical theologian, and also Kelley and Mojsisch who unveil the Meister from a more philosophical angle. Not all commentators are in agreement and so my own reading of Eckhart, together with insights of notable scholars will provide the major input. The difficulties in attaining a clear account of Eckhart will be noted and the extent to which they hinder gleaning a definitive theology. Within this constraint the aim is to shed light on this enigmatic thinker and his doctrine of how God and man are indistinguishable.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Additional Information: Series: Carmarthen / Lampeter Dissertations;.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Eckhart, Meister, 1327, God, Man
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BX Christian Denominations
Divisions: Theses and Dissertations > Masters Dissertations
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Depositing User: John Dalling
Date Deposited: 26 Sep 2014 08:47
Last Modified: 02 Feb 2023 10:56

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