[4.16.1] Meister Eckhart on Transcendentals in God and Creatures

Meister Eckhart (Eckhart von Hochheim 1260 – 1328 AD) in different works written in Latin and German language (Opus Tripartitum, Rechtsfertigungschrift/Defense Document, Essential Sermons) presents an original take on the theory of transcendentals, according to which:

  • 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.”
  • The transcendentals explain the inner divine life of the Trinity.
  • God is primarily characterized by being and goodness, while being and truth and being and goodness are convertible.
  • God creates the creatures. The transcendentals in creatures are analogically ordered the real transcendentals (in God). As such, the creature’s existence, oneness, goodness, truth depends, “eats” from the existence, oneness, goodness, truth of God.

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

Meister Eckhart on transcendence in God and creatures
ClassDescriptionRelations
(Trinitarian)God“Eckhart uses the theory of the transcendentals to provide a philosophical explanation of the inner divine life of the Trinity [trinitarian God]. 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. […]
The integration of henological and ontological discourses builds the following ontological scheme: God is Being (esse) per se as well as One (unum) per se. […]
only God is Being, One, True, and Good in the full sense of these words.” (Tsopurashvili)
creates Creature
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.” (Tsopurashvili)
BeingIn Eckhart’s view “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.” (Tsopurashvili) subkind of Transcendental; characterizes (Trinitarian)God
One“The integration of henological and ontological discourses builds the following ontological scheme: God is Being (esse) per se as well as One (unum, [ens]) per se. The One per se means unity, the unity of essence, or even the essential unity. The One as essential unity is without relationality in itself, but as such it is the grounding ground of all entities even through its relationality. God as relationless and the One is the unique One in which one does not find difference (i.e. the difference according to the persons): God as the unique One is neither Father, nor Son, nor Holy Spirit. God as something means that God is completely free from the definite modes of divine Being. So, he is the simple One. The simple One is undefined and simple by comparison with the modes of Trinity. It is determined essentially through its simple and One-Being. Therefore, the simple One, as the positive in regard to the mode of triplicity of being, is negative at the same time as it itself presents the defining moment of being. […]
The One (unum) or the unity (unitas) are the explications of the uniqueness of God.” (Tsopurashvili)
subkind of Transcendental; characterizes (Trinitarian)God
Truth; Good When Meister Eckhart equates the transcendentals with God, he harkens back to the scholastic doctrine about the convertibility of the transcendentals. He formulates this idea with the following words: ‘Unum enim, ens, verum, bonum convertuntur.’ The reason for their convertibility is that all of them can name God in the full sense. He accentuates also the convertibility of Truth with Being as well as the convertibility of Being with Truth: ‘Verum et ens convertuntur.’
Based on this convertibility Eckhart understands truth not only as the truth of a sentence, but also as the truth of Being, that is, truth receives an ontological status through its convertibility with ens and connotes the truth of Being.
It also concerns bonum [Good], which receives ontological status through the convertibility with ens and connotes the goodness of Being. So truth has epistemological as well as ontological meaning: what is true, also is. Goodness expresses the ethical as well as the ontological sense: what is good, also is.” (Tsopurashvili)
subkind of Transcendental; characterizes Being
Creature“God acts and produces things [Creatures] through his divine nature. But God’s nature is intellect, and for him existence is in the understanding. Therefore, he produces all things in existence through intellect.” (Eckhart)
AnalogyAnalogous things are not distinguished according to things, nor through the differences of things, but ‘according to the modes [of being] of one and the same simple thing. For example, one and the same health that is in an animal is that (and no other) which is in the diet and the urine [of the animal] in such a way that there is no more of health as health in the diet and urine as there is in a stone. Urine is said to be ‘healthy’ only because it signifies health, the same in number, which is in the animal, just as a circular piece of wood which has nothing of wine in it [signifies] wine.” (Hackett, Hart Weed) relates Transcendental with Transcendental InCreature
TranscendentalIn CreatureTranscendentals in creatures are analogue and ordered to the transcendentals (in God), and “eat” from those: “Being or existence and every perfection, especially general ones such as existence, oneness, truth, goodness, light, justice, and so forth, are used to describe God in an analogical way. It follows from this that goodness and justice and the like [in creatures] have their goodness totally from something outside to which they are analogically ordered, namely, God. […]
The proof can be briefly summarized and formulated thus. Analogates have nothing of the form according to which they are analogically ordered rooted in positive fashion in themselves. But every created being is analogically ordered to God in existence, truth and goodness. Therefore every created being radically and positively possesses existence, life, a wisdom from and in God, not in themselves as a created being. And thus, it always “eats” as something produced and created, but it always hungers because it is always from another and not from itself.” (Hackett, Hart Weed)
ordered, “eats from” Transcendental
BeingInCreature; OneIn CreatureBeing in creature (esse hoc et hoc) and one in creature (ens hoc et hoc) is analogically ordered to Being and One (in God) and “eat” from those.
“Eckhart’s doctrine of analogy, then, is his way of showing that the creature is not autonomous, that is, in total self-possession of being. It has possession as an imparted possession, on loan as it were. The created is even in its own being a pointing away from itself to Being in itself, to the Absolute Being.” (Hackett, Hart Weed)
subkind of TranscendentalIn Creature; chatacterizes Creature
TruthInCreature; GoodInCreatureTruth in creature (verum hoc et hoc) and good in creature (bonum hoc et hoc) Analogically ordered to Truth and Good (in God) and “eat” from those. subkind of TranscendentalIn Creature; characterizes BeingInCreature

Sources:

  • Tsopurashvili, Tamar: “The Theory of the Transcendentals in Meister Eckhart”, A companion to Meister Eckhart, Brill 2013, edited by Jeremiah M. Hackett.
  • 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.
  • Eckhart: “The Commentaries on the Book of Genesis”, Colledge and McGinn, Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons

First published: 11/7/2021

[4.15.11] John Duns Scotus on Natural Law

John Duns Scotus (the “Subtle Doctor,” 1265/66–1308 AD), in his work “Ordinatio” writes about the natural law in the context of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments):

  • Natural law, in the strict sense, contains only the self-evident moral propositions, along with those that can be derived from them deductively. These are necessary, non-contradictory propositions, unchangeable even by God’s will. These are the commandments I, II, and probably III.
  • The natural law in the wider sense contains moral propositions that agree with those in the strict sense, but their opposites not. These are the commandments from the second tablet (VI-X).
  • The natural laws in the wider sense are contingent; they depend entirely on God’s free will.
  • Some commandments prescribing ceremonies and customs belong to the positive law.

The following UML Use Case diagram presents Scotus’s model of natural law:

Scotus on natural law
ClassDescriptionRelations
LawLaw
NaturalLaw“The ‘nature’ appealed to by classical and medieval theories of natural law – however it might have been conceived by any particular thinker – was invariably associated with two criteria: it represented an authoritative standard, with determinate content, that was understood as both universal (that is, not prescriptive for just one individual) and accessible to human beings through their natural powers. Because natural law rests on a nature that cannot be changed by human action, it has universal validity. Because human beings themselves belong to that nature, they are in principle capable of knowing the corresponding law. […]
This linking of natural law to eternal law does not merely place the natural law beyond the power of human beings to change. It also raises most pointedly the question of whether, and in what way, the natural law can be changed by divine action. […]
Scotus follows the main thread of this way of posing the problem when he devotes Ordinatio 3, d. 37, the central text in which he develops his conception of natural law, to the question of whether all the commandments of the Decalogue belong to the natural law. […]
Scotus understands all the commandments, both those that belong to natural law in the strict sense and those that belong to it only in the wider sense, as practical truths (vera practica): the former because they are self-evident, the latter because of their accordance or agreement (consonantia) with the former”
subkind of Law
NaturalLawStrictSense“Scotus first offers a purely formal criterion for belonging to natural law: a commandment belongs to natural law in the strict sense if, simply on the basis of the content expressed in the commandment, it is conceptually necessary that the commandment be valid. Nowhere in his work does Scotus trace the content of the natural law back to the eternal law; in fact, the doctrine of eternal law has
no importance in his system. […]
Neither the context in which a commandment is operative, nor the intention with which it is laid down, is relevant to its validity, if it is to count as belonging to the natural law in the strict sense. Scotus then makes clear what he means by this conceptual necessity when he goes on to discuss whether following the commandments is necessary for attaining the ultimate end. Only for these self-evident principles, he concludes, is it the case that what they prescribe is unqualifiedly necessary in order to attain the ultimate end. ‘Unqualifiedly necessary,’ as the context makes clear, means that it is inconceivable that one could repudiate the goodness prescribed in these commandments without thereby also repudiating the goodness of the ultimate end itself. Since the ultimate end of all action is the attainment of the highest good, and the highest good is identical with God, the only commandments that can belong to natural law in the strict sense are those that have God himself as their object. As far as the Decalogue is concerned, the result of Scotus’s reflections is that only the commandments of the first table belong to natural law in the strict sense. So only the first two commandments – Scotus is uncertain about the third – belong to the natural law in the strict sense, since only ‘these regard God immediately as object.’ The content of the natural law in the strict sense can be summarized in the formulation that ‘God is to be loved’ or rather, in the more precise negative formulation, that ‘God is not to be hated.’ This commandment meets the formal criterion of self-evidence because in essence (as Scotus emphasizes in Ord. 3, d. 27) it simply states that ‘what is best must be loved most.’ On this interpretation it becomes obvious that the commandment to love God is a self-evident practical principle and therefore meets the formal criterion for belonging to the natural law. […]”
A natural law in the strict sense is necessary.
subkind of NaturalLaw
NaturalLawWiderSenseNatural law in a wider sense: “The criterion in virtue of which they belong is not their conceptual necessity but their broad agreement (consonantia) with natural law in the strict sense. […] As Scotus makes clear in another context, this conception of consonantia allows for two interpretations. On the one hand, there are commandments that accord with general commandments but whose opposites would also be compatible with those same general commandments; on the other hand, there are those whose opposites are not compatible with the overarching general principles. Only the latter belong to the natural law in the wider sense. […] The commandments of the second table can be counted as belonging to the natural law only in a looser sense.”
These laws are contingent.
subkind of NaturalLaw; in agreement with NaturalLawStrictSense
FreedomFrom Contradiction“The only limit is the limit of God’s absolute power itself; there can be no dispensation from commandments whose validity is outside the domain of God’s absolute power. And the only constraint on God’s absolute power is the requirement of freedom from contradiction. […] Applied to the doctrine of natural law, this means that the natural law in the strict sense comprises all commandments that are such that any dispensation from them would involve a contradiction.”characterizes NaturalLawStrictSense
Agreement”‘Scotus’s concept of agreement is defined negatively insofar as it implies that there is no strict deductive connection that would permit a necessary inference from overarching self-evident principles.
More positively, these commandments can be understood as elaborations (declaratio) or explanations (explicatio) of some overarching general commandment – as Scotus makes clear in an example. Commandments with this sort of consonantia extend general commandments by making them applicable to specific cases.”
relates NaturalLawStrictSense with NaturalLawWiderSense
DivineWillGod’s Will
PositiveLaw“As Scotus makes clear in another context, this conception of consonantia allows for two interpretations. On the one hand, there are commandments that accord with general commandments but whose opposites would also be compatible with those same general commandments; on the other hand, there are those whose opposites are not compatible with the overarching general principles. Only the latter belong to the natural law in the wider sense; the former belong only to positive law. On this understanding, a commandment prescribing certain ceremonies or customs belongs to positive law, since a comparable commandment prescribing other ceremonies – and perhaps even forbidding the practice of ceremonies of the first sort – can also be conceived as being in accordance with natural law in the strict sense.”subkind of Law
  • All citations from: Möhle, Hannes, “Scotus’s Theory of Natural Law”, The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus, Cambridge University Press 2003, ed. Thomas Williams
  • Williams, Thomas, “John Duns Scotus“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 24/6/2021