Meister Eckhart on what Sanctification really is!

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Now the question arises what is sanctification, since it has so lofty a rank. Thou shouldest know that real sanctification consists in this that the spirit remain as immovable and unaffected by all impact of love or hate, joy or sorrow, honour or shame, as a huge mountain is unstirred by a gentle breeze. This immovable sanctification causes man to attain the nearest likeness to God that he is capable of. God’s very essence consists of His immovable sanctity; thence springs His glory and unity and impassibility. If a man is to become as like God as a creature may, that must be by sanctification. It is this which draws men upward to glory, and from glory to unity, and from unity to impassibility, and effects a resemblance between God and men. The chief agent in this is grace, because grace draws men from the transitory and purifies them from the earthly. And thou shouldest know that to be empty of all creature’s love is to be full of God, and to be full of creature-love is to be empty of God. – From his sixth sermon

I am not a Wesley scholar, nor will I pretend to be. Instead, I will say that from what I’ve read and the little work that I’ve done on Wesley and the East, I see in Eckhart a synergism of the two. (Or maybe Wesley pulled a lot from Eckhart who mirrored the East in several ways.) At the very least, both see sanctification as something not attained to immediately but a process.

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5 Replies to “Meister Eckhart on what Sanctification really is!”

  1. Yup. However, I think we should be careful to imitate Eckhart’s bow toward Divine aseity too much. It is in living in and out of an overflowing love that we are most like God, not when we somehow magically become unlike God and refuse to feel anything, most especially love, in regard to other people, our world, etc.

  2. The “east” Eckhart seems to be bending toward here isn’t as much East as South– toward ancient Greece, and particularly toward Stoicism. Impassibility as an ideal or end state, as Eckhart describes it here, is little different (if different at all) from “apatheia” in Stoic soteriology.

    You’re right that there are links in thought here between Eckhart and John Wesley, perhaps nowhere more clearly articulated than in his Sermon #92, “On Zeal,” where, among other things, Wesley describes sanctification as a movement from unholy tempers to holy tempers, and the unholy tempers are described in terms almost identical to the Stoic “passions” which are to be overcome.

    But I think that’s where the resemblance just about ends. Wesley does not say or seem to believe that all human feelings, or ‘creaturely love’ is somehow an obstacle to sanctification. Rather, following they are a pathway to it and a channel of it for others.

    Eckhart here has followed the Stoics, some of the gnostics, and even to some degree sort of presaged some Enlightenment rationalisms in positing a more or less fleshless, feelingless state as the Summum Bonum.

    Now, there are certainly many good things that happen in us when we achieve such states in meditation, for example. What we now know from the neurosciences is that the brain patterns consistent with things like fear, anger, lust, and grief (the four passions identified in Stoicism) do in fact simply disappear from view in states of deep meditation or contemplation. From the angle of the interior observer in such states, one is indeed freed from them, as least while in that state. And further, going deep like this also stimulates the quiescent responses of the brain that can lead to deafferentation (d’Aquili and Newberg), which is the neural basis for the “out of body” experience which also correlates with a feeling of entire oneness with all. If you’ve ever experienced that, you’d be ready to say there couldn’t possibly be any higher good.

    But to the degree Eckhart has idealized this state as THE good above all others and THE goal of sanctification, and even to the the degree that Wesley did, I think he (and Wesley) may be walking apart from the Incarnational vision of the church and soteriology, in which God’s becoming flesh in Jesus Christ implies and generates the potential for the redemption of our entire being, flesh and mind, if you will, and all of our relationships, including and also using our creaturely capacities and loves– salvation to the uttermost.

    The “unitive state” is indeed a wonderful thing. But it is only one of the wonders of our capacity to connect with God and be more fully signs, servants and channels of God’s lovingkindness (chesed/charis/grace) in the world.

    1. Taylor, thank you a great deal for your comments.

      I have to wonder though if Wesley considered Eckhart and find in him the same deficit that you might? Of course, there are similarities, but even in the similarities they are still separated by 400 (?) years and the Reformation.

      Further, it may be that his Order (OP) played a part in Eckhart’s ebb and flow (I say this because he admitted to mistakes in his theological formation) and that at some times, their precepts rose more in him than a soundness of Scripture.

  3. Joel,

    I’m not aware that Wesley ever referred to Eckhart in his writings. For all his focus on discipline, Wesley remained (in good Anglican fashion!) a rather staunch critic of asceticism and ascetical theologies as he would have known them in England and Europe.

    The identification of “the passions” as a source only of sin and destruction, however, runs deep in Western Christian theologies anyway– less so in Orthodoxy and in non-colonialized or pre-colonialized African and Asian (Indian– Malabar) theologies.

    So, would John Wesley have rejected Eckhart’s more extreme view here? If John might do so more tentatively, I tend to think Charles may have more or less outright. I, at least, can’t read Charles Wesley’s hymns without getting the sense of ALL of our faculties and capacities as humans coming into the sphere of God’s redeeming grace– even if both John and Charles may have remained skeptical or at some remove from commending the practices that can lead to the unitive state of consciousness Eckhart idealizes and describes.

    1. Again, thank you for your comments.

      Being new to Methodism, I am happy to learn.

      I do like what I’ve read from Eckhart (and no less Wesley) and see in the former shades of the latter, although shades. In other areas, Eckhart seems to return more to German theology with a move from asceticism, but no less remains committed to seeking God in everything. It maybe that his own passions forever eluded him in this area – that he sought to control something, but it overwhelmed him. Of course, I speak of his verboseness.

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