Antecedents of New Thought: Meister Eckhart

Meister Johannes Eckhart 1260-1328

Meister Johannes Eckhart – 1260-1328

In the syllabus for Unity's class in the Background of the New Thought Movement, Tom Thorpe writes,

Eckhart brought together the work of Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas, a Christian monk and father of the school of thought known as Scholasticism, adding his own insights to present a view of God, humankind, and the relationship between God and humankind which thrills the minds and hearts of New Thought students (Thorpe :20).

Eckhart's writings on metaphysics and spiritual psychology drew on mythic imagery, and seems to have centered on three great themes that echo those of New Thought: abundance, the spark of the soul and oneness with God.

Abundance

In Eckhart's vision, God is primarily fertile, which is a Neoplatonic notion of the “overflow” of the One that cannot hold back its abundance of Being. Eckhart taught that the fertile God, through an overabundance of love, gives birth to the Son, the Word in all of us (“Meister Eckhart” Wikipedia). In a powerful and astonishing statement, Eckhart says that God the Father who “gives birth” is constantly doing so, that God the Father is “eternally begetting” the Son. Metaphysically, we know this fertility as “God-Mind” which is constantly emitting Divine ideas, which includes the Son, the Divine idea of the Christ. Eckhart referred to this Christ idea as the “spark of the soul.”

Spark of the Soul

The nature of this spark of the soul is powerfully described in an anonymous article (“Meister Eckhart” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy):

All creatures have part in the divine essence; but this is true of the soul in a higher degree … The soul is an image of God, in so far as its chief powers, memory, reason, and will, answer to the divine persons. Just as there is the absolute Deity, which is superior to the persons of the Godhead, so in the soul there is something that is superior to its own powers. This is the innermost background of the soul, which Eckhart frequently calls a “spark,” or “little spark.”

The spark of the soul is known in Unity as the second basic principle, “Human beings have a spark of divinity within them, the Christ spirit within.”

Oneness

Thorpe continues, “Eckhart’s view of God is quite similar to the view we now call panentheism, the belief that all of creation exists in God, but that the total of creation does not begin to exhaust what God is.” This is known in New Thought as oneness, which recognizes the unity of all things while at the same time acknowledging their unique expression. Uniqueness and oneness are not in conflict when the expression turns to God. The anonymous article continues,

In its real nature this basis of the soul is one with the Deity. But it is not in this original unity with God that the soul finds its perfection and bliss. As it has a subjective being, it must turn to God, in order that the essential principle implanted in it may be truly realized. It is not enough that it was made by God; God must come and be in it. But this has taken place without hindrance only in the human soul of Christ.

Eric Butterworth on Eckhart (Antecedents: Philosophy)

Eric Butterworth on Eckhart (Great Teachers)


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