Markus Vinzent's Blog

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Meiste Eckhart's innovative Trinitarian theology - a paper given at the RIST seminar, King's College London

Summary of Markus Vinzent’s paper
by Susannah Ticciasi, King's College

In his paper, Markus offers an account of Meister Eckhart’s innovative Trinitarian theology, showing quite how radical and challenging it is in relation to the tradition, claiming that it ‘destroys a whole system of inherited philosophical theology’. He also indicates the profound ramifications it has for the place of creation in relationship with God.

As Markus shows, Eckhart’s key innovation is to locate the divine potential for generating and being generated, not in the divine Persons, but in the divine essence. This allows the Persons to share even more than they are traditionally conceived to share, since the Father (not generating through his personal properties but through the divine essence) is able to pass on to the Son even the potential to generate. Thus, generativity is a property of transcendental divine essence. Moreover, once the ground of God is reconceived in this way, Eckhart claims that it is more properly named mother than father, since it is a mother’s work to conceive. Motherhood precedes and grounds fatherhood within the Godhead, even in respect of the person of the Father, who conceives the Word. Indeed, as Markus puts it, ‘motherhood, therefore, is a description of the transcen­dentality of divine essence which allows for fatherhood, sonship, spiritness and creation’. The concept of fatherhood has a more delimited appropriateness in relation to the Father’s activity as expressed in the Son, which is an intellectual work.

The consequence of this rethinking of the divine essence is that it is no longer understood to contain differentiation, but rather is pure potentiality: God’s maternal nature is ‘detachment’. However, this also has far-reaching implications for creation, since God’s potentiality for fatherhood, sonship and spiritness is no longer any different from God’s potentiality for creation. It now becomes clear why Markus began his paper with an account of creation as, like God, ‘beyond eternity’. God is no longer to be opposed to creation as the eternal to the temporal, since creation is invited fully to share in God’s life.

The question this leaves me with is whether distinction between God and creation is nevertheless maintained, as one might infer from Eckhart’s phrase, ‘God is distinct by virtue of being indistinct’. And Markus himself claims that Eckhart does not want to confound God and creation. Such a question, as well as many others which are raised by this fascinating and provocative paper, are a compelling invitation to read the book, just published, whose first chapter is a version of Markus’ paper:

Markus Vinzent, The Art of Detachment (Eckhart: Texts and Studies, Volume 1; Peeters, 2011).

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