Meister Eckhart  

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""The famous dictum "Deus est sphaera intelligibilis cuius centrum ubique circumferentia musquam" which probably goes back to Alain de Lille, seems to have been the intermediary as well as the most important formulation of all these concepts. The successors of Alain were indeed illustrious: The successors of Alain were indeed illustrious : Bonaventura, Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart and Seuse, Cusanus, Marsilio Ficino; and finally Rabelais and Pascal."" --Symbolism of the Sphere (1977) by Otto Brendel

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Meister Eckhart O.P. (c. 1260–c. 1328), is the most common formula used to refer to Eckhart von Hochheim, a German theologian, philosopher and mystic, born near Gotha, in Thuringia. Meister is German for "Master", referring to the academic title Magister in theologia he obtained in Paris. Coming into prominence during the decadent Avignon Papacy and a time of increased tensions between the Franciscans and Eckhart's Dominican Order of Preacher Friars, he was brought up on charges later in life before the local Franciscan-led Inquisition. Tried as a heretic by Pope John XXII, his "Defence" is famous for his reasoned arguments to all challenged articles of his writing and his refutation of heretical intent. He purportedly died before his verdict was received, although no record of his death or burial site has ever been discovered. Well known for his work with pious lay groups such as the Friends of God and succeeded by his more circumspect disciples of John Tauler and Henry Suso, he has gained a large following in recent years. In his study of medieval humanism, Richard Southern includes him along with Saint Bede the Venerable and Saint Anselm as emblematic of the intellectual spirit of the Middle Ages.

Eckhart today

Eckhart's status in the contemporary Church has been uncertain. The Dominican Order pressed in the last decade of the 20th century for his full rehabilitation and confirmation of his theological orthodoxy; the late Pope John Paul II voiced favorable opinion on this initiative, even going as far as quoting from Eckhart's writings, but the affair is still confined to the corridors of the Vatican. In the spring of 2010, it was revealed that there was finally a response from the Vatican in a letter dated 1992. Timothy Ratcliffe, then Master of the Dominicans and recipient of the letter, summarized the contents as follows:

'We tried to have the censure lifted on Eckhart', writes Timothy Ratcliffe, 'and were told that there was really no need since he had never been condemned by name, just some propositions which he was supposed to have held, and so we are perfectly free to say that he is a good and orthodox theologian.'

Professor Winfried Trusen of Wurzburg, a correspondant of Ratcliffe, wrote in part of a defence of Eckhart to then Cardinal Ratzinger, stating "Only 28 propositions were censured, but they were taken out of their context and impossible to verify, since there were no manuscripts in Avignon."

The 19th century philosopher Schopenhauer compared Eckhart's views to the teachings of Indian, Christian, and Islamic mystics and ascetics:

If we turn from the forms, produced by external circumstances, and go to the root of things, we shall find that Sakyamuni and Meister Eckhart teach the same thing; only that the former dared to express his ideas plainly and positively, whereas Eckhart is obliged to clothe them in the garment of the Christian myth, and to adapt his expressions thereto. --Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Vol. II, Ch. XLVIII

In 1891, Karl Eugen Neumann, who translated large parts of the Tripitaka, found parallels between Eckhart and Buddhism. Shizuteru Ueda, a third generation Kyoto School philosopher and scholar in medieval philosophy showed similarities between Eckhart's soteriology and Zen Buddhism in an article ("Eckhardt um zen am problem", 1989). In the 20th century, Eckhart's thoughts were compared to Eastern mystics by both Rudolf Otto and D.T. Suzuki, among other scholars. Interestingly, one of the pioneer translators of Eckhart's writings to English, Maurice O'Connell Walshe, was also an accomplished translator of Buddhist scriptures such as the Digha Nikaya. However, Reiner Schurmann, Ph.D., a Professor of Philosophy, while agreeing with Daisetz T. Suzuki that there exist certain similarities between Zen Buddhism and Meister Eckhart’s teaching, also disputed Suzuki’s contention that the ideas expounded in Eckhart’s sermons closely approach Buddhist thought, “so closely indeed, that one could stamp them almost definitely as coming out of Buddhist speculations”.

Schurmann’s several clarifications included, to name of few: (1) on the question of "Time" and Eckhart’s view (claimed as parallel to Buddhism in reducing awakening to instantaneity) that the birth of the Word in the ground of the mind must accomplish itself in an instant, in "the eternal now", that in fact Eckhart in this respect is rooted directly in the catechisis of the Fathers of the Church rather than merely derived from Buddhism; (2) on the question of "Isness" and Suzuki’s contention that the "Christian experiences are not after all different from those of the Buddhist; terminology is all that divides us," that in Eckhart "the Godhead’s istigkeit [translated as "isness" by Suzuki] is a negation of all quiddities; it says that God, rather than non-being, is at the heart of all things" thereby demonstrating with Eckhart's theocentrism that "the istigkeit of the Godhead and the isness of a thing then refer to two opposite experiences in Meister Eckhart and Suzuki: in the former, to God, and in the latter, to `our ordinary state of the mind'" and Buddhism's attempts to think "pure nothingness"; and (3) on the question of "Emptiness" and Eckhart’s view (claimed as parallel to Buddhist emphasis "on the emptiness of all 'composite things'") that only a perfectly released person, devoid of all, comprehends, "seizes," God, that the Buddhist "emptiness" seems to concern man’s relation to things while Eckhart’s concern is with what is "at the end of the road opened by detachment [which is] the mind espouses the very movement of the divine dehiscence; it does what the Godhead does: it lets all things be; not only must God also abandon all of his own—names and attributes if he is to reach into the ground of the mind (this is already a step beyond the recognition of the emptiness of all composite things), but God’s essential being - releasement - becomes the being of a released man."

More recently, although most scholars accept that Eckhart's work is divided into philosophical and theological, Kurt Flasch and other interpreters see Eckhart strictly as a philosopher. Flasch argues that the opposition between "mystic" and "scholastic" is not relevant because this mysticism (in Eckhart's context) is penetrated by the spirit of the University, in which it occurred. Eckhart has also influenced contemporary theologians, such as Matthew Fox, who draws heavily on Eckhart for his own theology and whose "Breakthrough" presents an alternative and substantially different view of the nature and significance of Eckhart's thinking from that taken in earlier sections of this article. The notable humanistic psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm was another scholar who brought renewed attention in the west to Eckhart's writings, drawing upon many of the latters themes in his large corpus of work. Eckhart was a significant influence in developing United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold's conception of spiritual growth through selfless service to humanity, as detailed in his book of contemplations called Vägmärken ('Markings').

The postmodern French theorist and philosopher Jacques Derrida uses Eckhart's Negative Theology to describe his own concept of différance.

Renewed academic attention to Eckhart has attracted favorable attention to his work from contemporary non-Christian mystics. Eckhart's most famous single quote, "The Eye with which I see God is the same Eye with which God sees me", is commonly cited by thinkers within neopaganism and ultimatist Buddhism as a point of contact between these traditions and Christian mysticism.

The popular writer Eckhart Tolle changed his name in acknowledgement of Eckhart's influence on his philosophy.

See also




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