Christian Gnosis: Meister Eckhart

Carl Jung regarded Meister Eckhart and Dante as two of the Ten Pillars of the Bridge of the Spirit.

Faust is the most recent pillar in that bridge of the spirit which spans the morass of world history, beginning with the Gilgamesh epic, the I Ching, the Upanishads, the Tao-Te-Ching, the fragments of Heraclitus, and continuing in the Gospel of St. John, the letters of St. Paul, in Meister Eckhart and in Dante… ~ Carl Jung

The Traditional author, Ananda Coomaraswamy (AKC), in Vedanta and the Western Tradition exclaimed:

Eckhart, with the possible exception of Dante, can be regarded from an Indian point of view as the greatest of all Europeans.

Valentin Tomberg included Meister Eckhart among those who arrived at the point of contemplation using Thomism as their starting point. In the Letter on the Sun, we read:

Meister Eckhart, Ruysbroeck, or, lastly, St. John of the Cross are spirits amongst whom you will search in vain for a spirit of opposition to scholasticism. For them also it was true that scholasticism was “like straw”, but they knew from their own experience that this straw proved to be an excellent combustible. They certainly surpassed scholasticism, but they did so by attaining its aim. For the aim of scholastic endeavor is contemplation, and it is mysticism which is the fruit of the scholastic tree.

The starting point of scholasticism are the two sources of knowledge: Reason and Revelation. While Reason strives to understand the nature of the world, it can only penetrate part of the way to knowledge of the Divine Essence. For the latter knowledge requires Revelation. However, deep contemplation seeks to penetrate into an intuitive grasp of the Divine. According to Tomberg, this task is also the Hermetic task, viz., to unite intelligence and the intuition of faith.

Among those who are “very advanced in substantially” uniting them, there is Nicholas Berdyaev. Berdyaev, in The Divine & the Human, asserts that the opposition of the divine and the human will be overcome in the Holy Spirit. Without going into all the details at this time, he claims that the era of the Spirit was anticipated by Meister Eckhart, then by his successors Johannes Tauler, Jacob Boehme, and Angelus Silesius.

Wolfgang Smith, in Christian Gnosis, takes up the same themes: the union of the divine and the human, as well as the role of the Holy Spirit. Through an analysis of Eckhart’s mystical vision, Smith describes a Trinitarian non-dualism. There are two phases: the Trinity and the birth of the Logos in the soul.


Eckhart develops ideas from Dionysius and Augustine in his understanding of the Trinity. Augustine regarded the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as analogous to “Being, knowing, and loving or willing.”  Vladimir Solovyov thought highly of Augustine’s explanation of the Trinity from the Confessions. Augustine related the Trinity of Plotinus to the Christian understanding as shown in this chart:

Plotinus Augustine Trinity
The One Being Father
Idea-world Knowing Son
Psyche Willing (or loving) Holy Spirit

Augustine derived this understanding from the phenomenology of his own spiritual life. Solovyov shows how these three acts are identical to each other.

  1. I am the One who Knows and Wills
  2. I know (or am conscious of) my Being as well as my Willing. I know that I am (being) and that I will.
  3. I will myself as one who is and who knows.

Each of these acts of the Spirit is completed by the other two, so that they constitute a unity.

The Father is Being, even beyond being, the One, the unknowable essence of the Godhead, or Thearchy as Dionysius called it. The Father is beyond sense experience and intellect so that the self-emptying of apophatic theology is ultimately the only path to approach God.

He knows himself in the Son, the articulated word. The Son, as the Logos, conveys the intelligibility of the Father. The Father knows himself as reflected in the Son, and the Son knows the Father. The Holy Spirit is the unifying love.

This is the way to know God. Eckhart makes this clear:

if you would know God, you must not merely be like the Son, you must be the Son yourself.

It is not enough to be “Christ-like”; rather we must be transformed. When we put on the mind of Christ, we become the Son, so that God is reflected in the soul. The Holy Spirit unites the divine and the human.

The Birth of the Word in the Soul

There is difficulty for the hylic personality to attain to spiritual vision, since sensual imagery is his primary mode of knowing. Eckhart writes:

Some people want to look upon God with their eyes, as they look upon a cow, and want to love God as they love a cow.

So Jesus is the Son incarnated in the flesh. Nevertheless, for the Holy Spirit to come, he must go:

It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.” (John 16:7)

The point is clear. In Jesus Christ, the human and divine were united in a visible way. For us, however, the Spirit must come in order to overcome that division that separates us from the divine in our own consciousness. Eckhart warns us about the neglect of the Spirit. Although Christ ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of the father, that avails us nothing.

What would it avail me if I had a brother who was a rich man, and for my part I were a poor man? What would it avail me if I had a brother who was a wise man, and I were a fool?

He continues:

The Heavenly Father brings forth his only-begotten Son in Himself and in me.

The birth of the Logos in the soul is the whole point of Letter II: The High Priestess in Meditations on the Tarot. The Son is by generation, but the Son who lives in us, makes us children of God by adoption. This is what the Meditations calls Initiation. Eckhart goes even further, bringing out the consequences on his non-dual understanding. In Sermon 6, we read:

The Father begets his Son like himself in eternity. “The Word was with God and God was the Word.” It was the same in the same nature. I will say more: he has begotten him in my soul. Not only is it with him and he with it alike, but he is in it. The Father begets his Son in the soul in the same way as he begets him in eternity, and not otherwise.

The sacrifice of the Eucharist is not a repetition nor a re-enactment, but is the same sacrifice as Calvary. This is something that happens in eternity, not in time. Similarly – and this is what Eckhart is driving at – the birth of the Logos in the soul is not a different “logos” but is the same Logos that is with the Father eternally. That is how it looks from the standpoint of eternity.

It is the birth of the Logos in the soul that brings knowledge of the Father, otherwise it would be impossible. That is the non-dualism. This second birth overcomes the duality of wills. Sermon 12 states:

A person who is so established in the will of God wants nothing else but what is God and hwat is God’s will.

The Father knows himself in the Son, and the Son knows the Father. When “I” am united with the Son, we can understand Eckhart:

The eye in which I see God is the same eye in which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye are one eye and one seeing, one knowing, and one loving.

And in Sermon 6:

In the innermost spring I went forth in the Holy Spirit. There is one life and one being and one activity there.

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