[4.16.3] Meister Eckhart on God, Intellect and Trancendentals

(This post zooms in the structure presented in [4.16.1])

Meister Eckhart (Eckhart von Hochheim 1260 – 1328 AD), in different works written in Latin and German language (Opus Tripartitum, Essential Sermons) writes about the inner structure of the trinitarian God:

  • Eckhart states (unlike Avicenna [3.3.1] and Thomas Aquinas [4.9.3]), that essence of God is the Divine Intellect, which is prior to its being.
  • The transcendentals, which are being, one, truth, good, primarily refer to God, not to creatures, things, as Philip the Chancellor (see [4.7]) and Thomas Aquinas sustain: “according to Thomas, the transcendentals belong to the level of ens or esse commune, while for Eckhart they belong primarily to God.”
  • Eckhart equates the transcendentals with the different persons of the Trinty (Father – One, Son – Truth, Holy Spirit – Good), grounding his theology into philosophy.

The following OntoUML diagram shows Eckhart’s model of God:

ClassDescriptionRelations
EssenceEssence, is the property or set of properties that defines the identity of a substance, and which it has by necessity, and without which ceases to exist. See also [4.9.3]
(Divine)Intellect“Eckhart shows that God possesses no Being outside his thinking. Rather, he possesses unity as the identity of thinking and Being. He is thus pure and uncreatable [Divine] intellect.
Since God is nothing other than pure intellect, it was only through the intellect that he gave all the creatures existence. The unity proper to God is therefore ‘nowhere and never anywhere else than in the intellect, and here too it is not, but is thought.’ Accordingly, God’s unity is realized in his being spirit, which is identical with God. In another passage in the same sermon, Eckhart expresses, with a clarity that could scarcely be stronger, this conviction that God’s simple essence is spirit and nothing else than spirit: ‘The one God is intellect and the intellect is the one God. This is why God is never and nowhere God other than in the intellect’. (Enders)
subkind of Essence; exclusive part of God
GodTrinitarian God
Father“the One or Father initiates the origination of the whole of divinity and all creatures (thus, in the latter case, the generation of plurality), he is the original unity in the divinity.” role of God; communicates, begets Son
SonFor Eckhart it means that the One as the One and Father generates the truth—the third transcendental— as the Son proceeds only from the Father. So the third transcendental (verum) is equated with the Son.” (Hackett, Hart Weed) role of God
HolySpirit(Love)“As later texts by Eckhart show, however, this necessity is based in God’s essential goodness or love. Since God is truly good, and being good consists in communicating oneself, giving a share ungrudgingly in one’s own fullness, and pouring oneself out (bonum est diffusivum sui), God as the perfect good must be ‘the most communicative of all,’ that is to say, the pure gift of self. In his Book of the Divine Consolation, Eckhart expounds this self-communicating love of God in terms of Trinitarian theology: the perfect equality of the divine Son with the divine Father is the ‘ground’ within the Godhead for the ‘birth’ of the Holy Spirit as the divine being of pure love—which is the love of the divine Son for the divine Father. Selflessness, equality, and universality characterize this pure love of the perfect good, into which the human being who has become the son of God by grace is called to enter.” (Enders)
“Father and Son are related to each other. They are to be thought of as Father and as Son only in this relation. At the same time, they relate to each other reciprocally: one is not to think of the Father without the Son nor the Son without Father. If the Son is, so too is the Father, and if the Father exists, so too does the Son. Therefore, one cannot think of any time in which the Father would exist without the Son. […]
Goodness (bonum) belongs to love [the Holy Spirit] and connects them both, Father and Son. It is this connection itself.” (Hackett, Hart Weed)
relates Father with Son
Being“Eckhart starts the argument with the declaration that nothing
arises from the indifferent and the indefinite. He argues that these characteristics (the transcendentals) are suitable for being (esse), because being applies to the inner and essence. So, being is equated with the divine essence. [that is the Divine Intellect].” (Hackett, Hart Weed)
characterizes DivineEssence; subkind of Trancendental
One“Eckhart follows book ten of Aristotle’s Metaphysics and argues that the One as the One is definite through its being one. The One is clearly distinguishable from plurality. Therefore, the One according to its content and peculiarity is the origin of plurality and, hence, the origin of all divinity and of all creatures. Thus, the One is equated with the Father, who is the first origin. Also, as the One or Father initiates the origination of the whole of divinity and all creatures (thus, in the latter case, the generation of plurality), he is the original unity in the divinity. The Father is the One as unity; as unity he is the essence or the essential unity, and being in the One is not being as common being any more, it is simply the One itself.” (Hackett, Hart Weed)characterizes Father; subkind of Transcendental
Truth“One is not being as common being any more, it is simply the One itself. The One at the same time is the prior; hence it is the origin of all. To be the origin means that the One creates everything that is created after the One according to a certain order. For Eckhart it means that the One as the One and Father generates the truth—the third transcendental— as the Son proceeds only from the Father. So the third transcendental (verum) is equated with the Son.” (Hackett, Hart Weed)characterizes Son; subkind of Transcendental
Good“Father (unum) and Son (verum) are one whole, insofar as they have the divine essence (i.e. the same kind of being). The consequence of this unity is the goodness that is generated from the One (Father) and the truth (Son). Goodness (bonum) belongs to love and connects them both, Father and Son. It is this connection itself.” (Hackett, Hart Weed)characterizes HolySpirit(Love); subkind of Transcendental
Transcendental“The main questions of the first four treatises of the Opus tripartitum are Being, Unity, Truth, Goodness, and the concepts that are opposed to these. One significant characteristic of Eckhart’s theory of transcendentals is that they apply primarily not to common being (ens commune) but to the inner life of God. In his Expositio sancti evangelii secundum Iohannem, Eckhart claims that:
‘Those properties which are God’s own are Being or being, Unity, Truth, Goodness. For God has these four transcendental as properties in as much as is ‘the first,’ which is ‘rich in itself.’ God has these because the rich in itself has that which is proper to itself. For the aforementioned four (terms) are for everyone ‘guests’ within the First, and ‘immigrants,’ household members to God.’
In this, Eckhart uses the theory of the transcendentals to provide a philosophical explanation of the inner divine life of the Trinity. Through it, he achieves a new dimension in speculative thinking about the Trinity that leads to the equating of the persons of the Trinity with the transcendentals.” (Hackett, Hart Weed)

Sources:

  • Hackett, Jeremiah and Hart Weed, Jennifer: “From Aquinas to Eckhart on Creation, Creature, and Analogy”, A companion to Meister Eckhart, Brill 2013, edited by Jeremiah M. Hackett.
  • Enders, Markus: “Meister Eckhart’s understanding of God”, A companion to Meister Eckhart, Brill 2013, edited by Jeremiah M. Hackett.
  • Mojsisch, Burkhard and Orrin F. Summerell, “Meister Eckhart“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 25/7/2021

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