Thursday, February 20, 2014

Meister Eckhart

Meister Eckhart was a man of many hats: a mystic, prophet, philosopher, preacher, teacher, theologian, administrator, poet, pastor, and a declared heretic.[1] Meister Eckhart was born John Eckhart in a village in Thuringia called Hochheim, which was either the village near Erfurt or another of the same name, though the first is more probable since he was later admitted to a convent in that village.[2] His birth year has been approximately determined as 1260 based on events from his later life that can be dated, rather than any exact records, which would have only been kept if Eckhart had been of noble birth.[3] Little is known for certain about his early years, and what we do know is taken from the mostly unhelpful fourteenth century church files or from headings editors attached to his works.[4] Concerning his early life, however, it can be assumed fairly that he would have been given the standard, rudimentary education in Latin grammar and the liberal arts. At some point thereafter, he was apparently sent for higher studies to the Dominicans’ institute in their monastery in Cologne, where he might have known and studied under Albert the Great, who was a teacher of Thomas Aquinas and who taught there until his death in 1280. If so, this probably would have been his first contact with anyone who had known the recently deceased Thomas Aquinas whose theology and legacy greatly influenced Eckhart.[5] It is also possible that he studied the arts at the world famous University of Paris in the late 1270s. If he was indeed in Paris at this time, he could have witnessed the investigation of both Aquinas’ and Albert’s writings and theology, which event he recounted in a later work, his Defense.[6] 

Eckhart was later to follow in these two men’s footsteps, and possibly around the years 1293-1294 he was sent by the German Dominicans to the then intellectual center of the West, the University of Paris, on a mission of further study- pursuing a Master’s degree- and teaching.[7] During this time, Eckhart began conducting obligatory classes on Peter Lombard’s Sentences.[8] However, it is said that he also found himself in a long debate, where he championed the Dominican philosophy of “realism” against the Franciscans’, the Dominicans’ rival order, philosophy of “nominalism.”[9] It should be noted that to be sent to the University of Paris for any reason was, at this time, a thing to be envied, and the fact that Eckhart had been chosen and sent there makes it clear that his teachers in Germany saw great potential in him.[10] The Parisians were apparently impressed with him, too, and, in 1302, the University of Paris conferred on him the Licentiate and Master’s degree, so thereafter was known as Meister Eckhart.[11] After his teaching stint was over in 1294, he was soon called back to Germany, having been appointed prior of the Dominican house in Erfurt and vicar for the Dominicans in Thuringia.[12] In 1302, after being invited back to Paris, he was awarded one of the two Dominican chairs in theology at the University of Paris, the same chair Aquinas had held previously.[13] He stayed about a year there, and in 1303 he was nominated to direct the newly created subdivision of the German Dominican providence, Saxony, and in 1307 he was given the additional office of vicar of the Bohemian province.[14] 

In 1310, his German colleagues recognized that he had proved himself as a skilled administrator, and the Teutonia provincial chapter in Speyer elected him as their prior provincial. The General of Naples did not confirm this election, however, and instead sent him again to Paris. During this second trip, Eckhart seems to have written his Parisian Questions, which offered his academic peers the history of the development of his own philosophical thinking. While in Paris during the years 1311-1313, he was developing his most ambitious work yet. This was to become his Opus Tripartium, or Three-Part Work.[15] Not all of this work has survived, but what has is substantial. By 1314 he was in Strasbourg, where the particular office he held is not certain.[16] What is known is that he was influenced by a group of mystics in and around Strasbourg. These mystics were known as Beguines, and they were a group of women who cultivated a deep, inward piety. Some of them claimed mystical visions or revelations; others practiced a form of ecstatic prayer called iubilus (jubilation), and some others even claimed the stigmata.[17] He was not completely uncritical of the movement, yet he remained, for the most part, sympathetic to them.[18] For whatever reason, in 1323, Eckhart, now in his sixties, was reassigned to Cologne, which was, like Strasbourg, a hot spring of Beguines. Cologne’s archbishop, Henry II of Virneberg, was highly critical of the movement.[19] It was not long after Eckhart’s move that his troubles began. Even within his own Dominican circles his preaching started sparking a bit of controversy and authorities, sensing trouble, ordered an internal investigation in order to handle the situation. Nicholas of Strasbourg, a Dominican papal visitor, sent Eckhart a list of suspicious passages from one of his works and asked for an explanation. After Eckhart replied, Nicholas concluded his investigation and Eckhart was declared orthodox. This was only the beginning, and, soon after, two Dominicans compiled a list of more than seventy controversial passages from all of Eckhart’s works, both popular and academic. Eckhart responded to this list with his now-famous Defense. On September 26, 1326, he was summoned before the Inquisition, a quite unprecedented event for a professional theologian.[20] The events of the Inquisition would be tedious to list. Suffice it to say that Eckhart’s defense denied any possibility of heresy, though not of error, becausehe argued that heresy is a matter of the will, and his will was pure.[21] His defense in Cologne did little to help, and so he issued an appeal to the pope and in 1327 left for Avignon.[22] The case went on for several months and, in 1327 or 1328, before the verdict had been announced, Eckhart died.[23] On his deathbed, recanted any errors they might have eventually found and proclaimed the Catholic faith, and so was not himself condemned.[24] The final verdict, In Agro Dominico, was questionable at best, often confusing his Latin academic treatises with his German sermons, and vice versa.[25] One scholar has asserted that all reputable contemporary scholars agree that Eckhart was unjustly condemned.[26] The deficiency of the quality of In Agro Dominico can hardly be understated.

Nevertheless, his posthumous condemnation has not completely eradicated his influence or his works, many of which remain extant. Of his many sermons, commentaries, and treatises, his Defense is most notable, considering his condemnation is one of the most important events of his life. His Defense is broken up into nine parts, wherein he disputes all of the claims that certain of his teachings were heretical by addressing each, providing both the objection and a solution, often by providing a verse-by-verse defense and other times by arguing that his accusers’ misunderstanding is a testimony to their own ignorance. From reading the objections brought up by his accusers, one would find few truly objectionable statements, or at least many statements that would call into question Eckhart’s orthodoxy. There were admittedly some objectionable statements made by Eckhart, not least of which was his statement in Section IV that the Father begets his Son in man. This was also an important part of the rest of his theology as well, constantly placing an emphasis on the unity of the divine and human.[27] He defended against the false accusation against him that his statement meant that the human became God or was God. Certainly this was not the only instance of misunderstanding or just simply false accusations of what Eckhart said or wrote. Indeed, most of the objections are either misunderstandings or false accusations. Throughout Eckhart refers his accusers to the context of each so-called questionable statement. The papal bull issuing the final verdict said that through many explanations and additions, they might take on or possess a Catholic character. The problem then lied in taking the statements out of context. The context itself was the explanations and additions needed. Be that as it may, Eckhart’s Defense provides readers with Eckhart’s last attempt to clear his name of any unjust charges of heresy and some insight into a small portion of his theology.






[1] Matthew Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, (Sante Fe: Bear & Company, 1981), 3.
[2] Edmund Colledge and Bernard McGinn, eds., Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense, (Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press, 1981), 5. There are some scholars such as Raymond Blankrey [Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation, (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1941), xvi] that argue for a knightly or noble birth of Eckhart. College [College and McGinn, Meister Eckhart, 5] contends that this is a false legend. College argues further that this fiction originated from a misinterpretation of the archives of that period. College is to be preferred here for a number of reasons, two of which are that his qualifications exceed those of Blankrey and that his more recent research includes scholarship and information unavailable at the time of the publication of Blankrey’s book.
[3] Colledge and McGinn, Meister Eckhart, 5.
[4] Blankrey, Meister Eckhart, xvi.
[5] College and McGinn, Meister Eckhart, 5. Blakney [Meister Eckhart, xvi] argues that “it is not considered probable that Eckhart sat under this famed teacher.” However, the argument that he might have or that he did is to be preferred, considering more contemporary scholarship has argued such. For examples of this, see Colledge and McGinn, Meister Eckhart, 5-6; and William Harmless, Mystics, (NY: Oxford University Press, 2008), 109.
[6] Harmless, Mystics, 109. See also note 3 in the same work.
[7] Blankrey, Meister Eckhart, xvii. Blankrey dates his trip to Paris at around 1300, but Colledge and McGinn [Meister Eckhart, 7] trace this back to 1293-1294. Their timeline seems more extensive and comprehensive and so their dating is to be preferred.
[8] Colledge and McGinn, Meister Eckhart, 7. On Peter Lombard’s Sentences: David Hogg, “Sufficient for All, Efficient for Some,” in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective, eds. David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 80-81, 89, had this to say about Lombard and his Sentences: “Peter Lombard was a twelfth-century canon in the cathedral of Notre Dame, in Paris, whose most significant contribution to theological discourse was his systematic theology known as the Sentences… Peter’s Sentences was not just another of a long string of systematic theologies being churned out during the development of cathedral schools in the eleventh century; rather, his was the work that was adopted as the best and most effective. For centuries, Peter’s Sentences were the required reading of all theology students. Thus, Peter not only synthesized and summarized the popular positions of theology in the centuries leading up to his lifetime, but he became an astoundingly effective purveyor of those views for generations to follow.” He goes on to say that every student for hundreds of years read it and countless theologians commented on it for an equally long time, making this the standard reading for students and scholars until long after the Reformation. Here it should be noted that Eckhart was not teaching some obscure or unimportant subject, but a required, popular subject. It can be inferred, then, that Eckhart was in a respectable position during his stint at the University of Paris.
[9] Blankrey, Meister Eckhart, xvii. For more on the Franciscan-Dominican rivalry, see Christie Caldwell Ames, Righteous Persecution: Inquisition, Dominicans, and Christianity in the Middle Ages, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), 61-74.
[10] Colledge and McGinn, Meister Eckhart, 6.
[11] Blankrey, Meister Eckhart, xix.
[12] Harmless, Mystics, 110.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Colledge and McGinn, Meister Eckhart, 10.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Harmless, Mystics, 110.
[18] Ibid., 111.
[19] Ibid., 113.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Blankrey, Meister Eckhart, xxiii-xxiv.
[22] Harmless, Mystics, 113.
[23] Colledge and McGinn, Meister Eckhart, 12.
[24] Harmless, Mystics, 114.
[25] Colledge and McGinn, Meister Eckhart, 12-13.
[26] Fox, Meditations, 3.
[27] Blankrey, Meister Eckhart, xx.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Answer to Blair

*DISCLAIMER: If you're reading this and you're not Blair, just know that you'll have no idea what I'm talking about.

Well, the quick answer to your question, Blair, is "The Bible doesn't say." But there are a few note worthy things in or assumed in the question that I'd like to point out:

1) The Bible, from my knowledge, only calls Satan an angel once, and in such a way as to make us realize he is not one: 2 Cor. 11:14- "And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light." Does this mean definitively that Satan was never an angel of some sort? No, but I don't think it's enough to prove that he is either. A few other texts also come to mind, and those texts are 2 Pet. 2:4, Rev. 12:7-12, possibly Jude 6, and perhaps Is. 14:12 (although I think Isaiah is talking about Babylon, and I'm not convinced there's a need to link Satan to this reference although I am sure some theologians or exegetes could make a good case for it).
2 Pet. 2:4 says, "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment..." This is, perhaps, a better text to prove the angelic-ness of Satan, but again, the Bible only says his followers were angels. This again, I suppose, brings up the question of if there can be sin in heaven, since the angels most likely were. I'll return to this point shortly.
I'm not going to post all of Rev. 12:7-17. Read it real quick. Done? No, finish it and then keep reading. Done now? Good. Suffice it to say that I think that this is more concerned with the Incarnation of Christ and the spread of the Gospel than some past or future event. I think Satan's "fall" in v. 9-12 is a reference to the spread of the Gospel, and the "fall" again in v. 13-17 is a reference to Satan's fight (and loss) again the Incarnation of Christ in God's ultimate, unstoppable plan of redemption through the sovereignty of his free grace in election.
The other passage, Jude 6 says this, "And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day." This passage is debated, and without going into too much detail, I'm not convinced this is about their fall from heaven. See the ESV Study Bible on this verse and 1 Pet. 3:19 for a good summary of the different views on these peculiar and ambiguous passages.
Now, back to the 2 Peter 2:4 problem. So apparently some angels sinned in heaven. This doesn't mean that Satan was an angel. From reading revelation, as well as a few passages in the OT, we find that there are numerous supernatural beings that aren't angels. I am personally under the persuasion that Satan was not an angel, but some other supernatural being, who "has been sinning from the beginning" (1 Jn. 3:8). The Bible gives no record of allowing Satan some opportunity to sin or not sin like he does Adam and Eve, so really there's no way of knowing when or where he sinned, but only that he "has been sinning from the beginning." But what we do know is that God is good... even in his sovereignty.

2) Arguably more important to know is this: heaven is not what we are looking forward to as Christians. Revelation 21-22:5 is our hope. Read it and take it in. There is a new heaven and new earth coming that will make this heaven and earth pale in comparison. We look forward to the renewal (and perfection) of all things (see Romans 8).

3) I'm not an expert. And wrote this in like 20 minutes, so sorry if it sucks. Haha.

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