Sermons (Meister Eckhart)/The Self-Communication of God
ST JOHN xiv. 23.—"If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him."
WE read in the Gospels that Our Lord fed many people with five loaves and two fishes. Speaking parabolically, we may say that the first loaf was— that we should know ourselves, what we have been everlastingly to God, and what we now are to Him. The second— that we should pity our fellow Christian who is blinded; his loss should grieve us as much as our own. The third— that we should know our Lord Jesus Christ's life, and follow it to the utmost of our capacity. The fourth— that we should know the judgments of God. All that may be said of the pains of hell is true. St Dionysius saith, "To be separated from God is hell, and the sight of God's countenance is heaven." The fifth is— that we should know the Godhead which has flowed into the Father and filled Him with joy, and which has flowed into the Son and filled Him with wisdom, and the Two are essentially one. Therefore said Christ, "Where I am, there is My Father, and where My Father is, there am I" And They have flowed into the Holy Ghost and filled Him with good will. Therefore said Christ, "I and My Father have one Spirit," and the Holy Ghost has flowed into the soul.
The soul has by nature two capacities. The one is intelligence, which may comprehend the Holy Trinity with all its works and be contained by It as water is by a vessel. When the vessel is full, it has enclosed all that is contained in it, and is united with that which it has enclosed, and of which it is full. Thus intelligence becomes one with that which it has understood and comprehended. It is united therewith by grace, as the Son is one with the Father.
The second capacity is Will. That is a nobler one, and its essential characteristic is to plunge into the Unknown which is God. There the Will lays hold of God in a mysterious manner, and the Unknown God imparts His impress to the Will. The Will draws thought and all the powers of the soul after it in its train, so that the soul becomes one with God by grace, as the Holy Ghost is one with the Father and with the Son by nature. In God it is more worthy to be loved, than it is in itself. Therefore St Augustine saith that the soul is greater by its love-giving power than by its life-giving power. If man might only abide in this union, and do all the works which have ever been done by creatures, he would be no other than God, if his higher powers so brought his lower powers under control, that he could only work God-like works. That however may not be, and man's highest faculty therefore contemplates God as best it can, and so influences his lower faculties that they can discern between Good and Evil.
Adam possessed that union with God which we have spoken of, and while he had it, his capacity contained the capacities of all creatures. The load-stone attracts the needle, and the needle receives the magnetic power, so that it can also attract other needles and draw them to the load-stone. But if one draws the first needle away, all the other needles come with it. Thus was it with Adam: when, in his highest capacity, he was separated from God all his capacities deteriorated. Thence came also discord and the clashing of oppugnant wills among the lower creation, and deterioration of their powers down to the lowest. It is necessary, therefore, for all the creatures which issued forth from God to co-operate earnestly with all their powers to form a Man who may again attain that union with God which Adam enjoyed before he fell, and who may again restore to the creatures their forfeited powers. This is fulfilled in Christ as He Himself said, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me." He means, if He is exalted in our knowledge, He will draw us unto Himself. In Him human nature grew divine, and thanked God and loved Him with immeasurable love. This also befits God that he loves human nature with so great love. I counsel you, sisters and brothers, that you grow in knowledge, and thank God, while you are in time, that He brought you out of non-existence to existence, and united you with the Divine Nature. But if the Divine Nature be beyond your comprehension, believe simply on Christ;Â follow His holy example and remain steadfast. Convert Jews, heathen, heretics, bad Christians, and all who do not enjoy your knowledge of God, and are still astray.
Now rejoice, all ye powers of my soul, that you are so united with God that no one may separate you from Him. I cannot fully praise nor love Him therefore must I die, and cast myself into the divine void, till I rise from non-existence to existence. If I should remain entombed in flesh till the judgment day and suffer the pains of hell, that would be for me a small thing to bear for my beloved Lord Jesus Christ, if I had the certainty at last of not being separated from Him. While I am here, He is in me; after this life, I am in Him. All things are therefore possible to me, if I am united to Him Who can do all things. Previously I could not distinguish whether we were divine by nature or by grace. Then came Jesus and enlightened me so that I recognized in the Divine Nature Three Persons, and that the Father was the Bringer-Forth of all things, as St James says, "every perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights."
The Father and the Son have one Will, and that Will is the Holy Ghost, Who gives Himself to the soul so that the Divine Nature permeates the powers of the soul so that it can only do God-like works. Just as a spring, which perpetually flows and waters the roots of the flowers, so that the flowers bloom and receive their colours from the water of the spring, so the Godhead imparts Itself to the capacities of the soul that it may grow in the likeness of God. The more that the soul receives of the Divine Nature, the more it grows like It, and the closer becomes its union with God. It may arrive at such an intimate union that God at last draws it to Himself altogether, so that there is no distinction left, in the soul's consciousness, between itself and God, though God still regards it as a creature. Wherefore let yourselves not be misled by the light of nature. The higher the degree of knowledge which the soul attains to in the light of grace, the darker seems to it the light of nature. If the soul would know the real truth it must examine itself, whether it has withdrawn from all things, whether it has lost itself, whether it loves God purely with His love and nothing of its own at the same time, so that it may not be separated from Him by anything, and whether God alone dwells in it. If it has lost itself, it is as when the Virgin Mary lost Christ. She sought Him for three days, and yet was sure that she would find Him. All the while Christ was in the highest class in the school of His Father, unconscious of His mother's seeking Him. Thus happens it to the noble soul which goes to God to school, and learns there what God is in His essence, and what He is in the Trinity, and what He is in man, and what is most acceptable to Him. St Augustine saith that the righteousness of God in the Godhead and in the Trinity and in all creatures is the source of the chief joy which is in heaven. God in human nature is a lamp of living light, and "the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not." The darkness must ever more flee the light, as the night flees day. Thus the soul learns to know God's will. St Paul saith, "This is God's will, our sanctification." And this is our sanctification, to know what we were before time; what we are in time, and what we shall be after time. Thus the soul loses itself in these three, and recketh naught of the body, till it comes to it in the temple, and obeys it without murmuring. The Father is a revelation of the Godhead, the Son is an image and countenance of the Father, and the Holy Ghost is an effulgence of that countenance, and a mutual love between Them, and these properties They have always possessed in Themselves. The Three Persons have stooped out of pity down to human nature, and the Son became man, and was the most despised man on the earth, and suffered pain at the hands of the creatures whom He Himself created with the Father, through Whose will He became man. Thus was Christ till His death, and when He rose from the dead then was seen the most despised of all men united with the Godhead in the Person of Christ.