Circling the Brain
However, "if we are not to teach people who have not been taught, no one will ever be taught, and no one will ever be able to teach and write" -- the result being that we'll all be as dense and reactionary as the trolls, only permanently so. Imagine the nightmare of a progressivism without the possibility of progressing toward conservatism!
According to McGinn, there continues to be controversy in the scholarship as to whether Eckhart was primarily a "philosopher-theologian" or a "master of the spiritual life" -- in contemporary terms (since the word did not exist then), a mystic. But just as there can be no real conflict between religion, theology, and rightly understood science (as opposed to the anti-intellectual ideology of scientism), so too can there be no conflict between these and mysticism.
From my perspective, I simply see mysticism as the empirical or phenomenological confirmation of the truths of religion. One cannot have one in the absence of the other, any more than one can have bones without flesh, or body without soul. As the soul is the form of the body, so too might mysticism be thought of as the form of dogma (and dogma the substance of mysticism).
I think you can well understand the dangers of a breach between these complementary modalities. Yesterday a commenter said that he couldn't discern any difference between me and Matthew Fox, but the difference relates to just this area. In Fox's case, he has detached Eckhart from his orthodox soil and tried to transplant him into a graceless ideology of gaia-worshiping, crapto-Marxist, ovary-tower new-age environmentalist mush. But ideology in any form is the replacement for, and enemy of, Christianity. In Fox's hands, as with Deepak, Truth is reduced to twaddle, inside a hysteria, wrapped in an enema.
That faith and reason cannot be in conflict is standard issue scholasticism. But McGinn notes that Eckhart "went further, claiming that Moses, Aristotle and Christ 'teach the same thing, differing only in the way they teach.'" (By "Moses" and "Aristotle," he means revelation and philosophy in general.)
However, the "way" in which they teach is not insignificant, in that Eckhart "contrasts the 'pagan masters who knew only in a natural light' with 'the words of the sacred masters who knew in a much higher light.'" Natural intelligence alone can only go so far, and is unable "to enter or know the ground of the soul, which is attainable only by unknowing." (However, it should be emphasized that Eckhart did not believe that certain pagan masters such as Plato were devoid of the higher illumination; rather, it's a matter of degree.)
From this we may gather that, to a certain extent, we must overcome the extreme brightness of the natural light in order to clear a kind of "dark space" for the higher illumination to be perceived. In other words, this is where "not-knowing," "learned ignorance," or what the Raccoon calls "higher bewilderness" come into play.
Again, it is very much analogous to the manner in which the central sun blots out perception of the infinite stars, each a sun in its own right. This is a necessarily paradoxical formulation, for man's intellect is (relatively) central, but in so being, also knows that it is (absolutely) peripheral -- or, that it is capable of multiple perspectives (which can be the pretext for the postmodern deconstructionist who erroneously believes that multiple truths = no truth).
In fact, I read a wonderful quote the other day from Emerson, that I wish I had known at the time I wrote my book: "Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning..."
Again, we are center, but a kind of unstable and dynamic center, without which growth would be impossible. Being that we are central, we may know truth; but since we are not God (i.e., the Absolute center), our life is more like a process of "centration," as we metabolize and assimilate more and more of the divine center.
Regarding scripture, Eckhart maintained the classic hull-kernal distinction, which, in a way, mirrors the unavoidable distinction between appearance and reality in science. Science does not -- cannot -- ignore the empirical world as it presents itself to our senses, but it then discovers a deeper world "behind," "above," or "underneath" this (the same can be said for psychoanalysis, which observes the roiling sea of the unconscious beneath the solid ground of the empirical ego).
Here again, the distinction betweeen hull and kernel mirrors the distinction between mind and body, spirit and matter. You might say that scripture is the form of revelation, while revelation is the substance of scripture. As McGinn describes it, this is the complementary space "in which the exegete-preacher and the attentive hearer 'break through' the surface of the biblical word to reach the hidden meaning that negates both ordinary reason and the created self."
In other words, in scripture just as in nature, there is always that "wider circle" we can draw around the existing one, which is none other than growth, as we slowly and gradually contain that which once contained us.
But we can never contain the "all," or we would be God. God is the container that cannot be contained; or, if you want to look at it in a slightly heretical way, perhaps the inner activity of God also mirrors -- or is the very prototype of -- this process, in that the Trinity is, in a sense, eternally "surpassing itself" in love, surrender, and generativity.
This would be consistent with Eckhart's view that "the profundity of the Bible, indeed, of every text in the Bible, means that it contains an inexhaustible fecundity of truths." And "No one can be thought to understand the scriptures who does not know how to find its hidden marrow -- Christ, the Truth."
So even the most solid appearing bone has the waters of spirit invisibly coursing through it. But also, watch for bones in the water. Meanwhile, we'll see you tomarrow!