Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Meister Eckhart: Philosopher of Christianity

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Meister Eckhart: Philosopher of Christianity

Article excerpt

Meister Eckhart: Philosopher of Christianity. By Kurt Flasch. Translated from the German by Anne Schindel and Aaron Vanides. (New Haven: Yale University Press. 2015. Pp. xv, 321. $38.00. ISBN 978-0-300-20486-5.)

This important intellectual biography of Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1328?) represents the culmination of Kurt Flasch's sixty-year involvement with Eckhart's thought. Comprehensive, richly learned, and trenchantly argued, it is also highly polemical. Flasch, an eminent historian of medieval thought, settles accounts with various nineteenth- and twentieth-century Eckhart scholars. Special targets are those who think the Meister a mystic, or-worse-see in his work some "unrestrained Faustian-Nordic drive for depth" (p. 164).

All wrong, Flasch argues. The basis for reading Eckhart correctly has been available since the publication of his more difficult Latin works, rediscovered well after the more famous/notorious vernacular writings. These, as Flasch makes clear, provide the necessary intellectual framework for understanding the German texts. With considerable textual support Flasch argues that Eckhart's project is the attempt to provide a "philosophy of Christianity" (p. 14). The Meister wrote in the preface of his commentary on John, "[My] intention is the same as in all [my] works-to explain what the holy Christian faith and the two Testaments maintain through the help of the natural arguments of the philosophers" (Lateinische Werke 3, p. 4). The resulting teachings were so strikingly different from what the Roman Church had become accustomed to that the papal condemnation of twenty-eight of Eckhart's propositions in 1329 was, according to Flasch, inevitable (chapter 20).

Flasch sees "the source of Eckhart's thinking" (p. 38) in a metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical thesis involving intentionality, the epistemic image. Following Aristotle, as well as Christian, neo-Platonic, Arabic, and Jewish sources, Eckhart asserts the identity of knower and known. …

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