May 14, 2013

Reiner Schürmann - Time, the Body, Nothingness

Father Reiner Schürmann, O.P., Ph.D. (February 4, 1941 – August 20, 1993) was Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York.

 Born in Amsterdam in 1941 of German parents, Reiner Schürmann wrote all his major published work in French. Director of the faculty of philosophy at the New School for Social Research Graduate Faculty of New York at the time of his death, he was the author of three notable philosophical works: Maître Eckhart et la joie errante ("Master Eckhart and the Wandering Joy", 1972; translated into English as Meister Eckhart: Mystic and philosopher ISBN 0-253-35183-9, 1978), Le Principe d'anarchie, Heidegger et la question de l'agir (From Principles to Anarchy: Heidegger on Being and Acting, 1982), and lastly, the monumental work Des Hégémonies brisées (Broken Hegemonies ISBN 0-253-21547-1, 2003), published posthumously in 1996.
Below is an excerpt from Reiner Schürmann's commentary on Meister Eckhart's sermon, "Woman, the Hour Is Coming." The section appears under the headline, "Time, the Body, Nothingness."

Source: Wandering Joy: Meister Eckhart's Mystical Philosophy. Translation and Commentary by Reiner Schürmann; Foreword by David Appelbaum. 2001. Lindisfarne Books: Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Pg. 58-60.
Mulier, venit hora et nunc est, quando veri adoratores adorabunt patrem in spiritu et veritate.

This is written in the Gospel of Saint John. Of the long story, I keep only one word. Our Lord says: "Woman, the time will come, and it is now, when the true adorers will adore the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to adore him."

1. Consider the opening words, when he says: "the time will come, and it is now." Whoever wishes to adore the Father has to commit himself with his desire and his trust into eternity. There is a higher part of the mind which keeps itself above time, and which ignores time as well as the body. All that happened a thousand years ago, the day of a thousand years ago, is no more remote in eternity than the moment in which I stand right now; again, the day which will come a thousand years from now, or in as many years as you can count, is no more distant in eternity than this very moment in which I stand presently.

"The time will come, and it is now"; to speak of time is for Eckhart here again, to speak of man. The time which is measured and counted, which "has a before and an after," is often opposed to "time without time," to the now of the birth of the Word in man. Time divides the human being into two zones: that by which he remains subject to duration and to the succession of physical things, and that where he possesses all things, in God, in an eternal instant. We have already met and commented on the expressions "power of the mind beyond time" and "higher part of the mind."

Speaking of time, then, is a manner of saying: eternity is now. The events of a thousand years ago, the events that will occur in a thousand years, and the events of today are collected into the instantaneity of the present by the divine spark in the mind. The key word of the first paragraph is "time"; it refers back to the created-uncreated constitution of man and to what we have called the "henology of the grunt."

But he says that the "true adorers will adore the Father in spirit and truth." What then is truth? The truth is so noble that, even if God could turn his back on truth, I would cling to the truth, and would leave God. But indeed, God is the truth, and everything which is in time, everything created by God, is not the truth.

The key word of this second paragraph is "truth." Its development is expeditious: God alone is true, everything created is not truth. Truth is so "noble" that it is preferable to God himself. If God could take leave from the truth, Eckhart would not hesitate to attach himself to the truth and to abandon God. "Noble" is here a technical term. Eckhart has devoted an entire treatise to the "noble man." The "nobleness" of the mind consists in its being of the same kind as God. God alone is the truth: if then his creation is not the truth, and if the "higher part of the mind" is uncreated and uncreatable, then to speak of God, to speak of the truth, and to speak of the summit of the mind will be to speak of things, not only very close in nature, but ultimately identical. God, the noble faculty of the mind, and the truth are mutually related. To these is opposed "what God has ever created," time and the body.
Then he says: "These will adore the Father." Alas, how many are there who adore a shoe, a cow, or any other creature, and for whom this is their only concern. How foolish they are! As soon as you pray to God for the sake of creatures, you pray for your own damage; for as long as the creature is creature, it carries in itself bitterness and harm, wrong and distress. So it is no wonder that these people obtain distress and bitterness. Why?---They have prayed for it!
In this paragraph Eckhart now treats more specifically of the "creature," which is not the truth as it carries in itself "bitterness and harm, wrong and distress." At first sight, these epithets seem inspired by a depreciation of the entire empirical world. Do they not banish as evil whatever comes into contact with body and matter, with time and space? Does not Meister Eckhart preach, then, a retreat into the spiritual spark in the mind, which alone is worthy of consideration and of love? Such a "gnostic" dualism seems to suit Eckhart all the better as he declares: to pray to God with the hope of securing some visible advantage is to pray for one's own harm, so that "it is no wonder that these people obtain distress and bitterness. Why?---They have prayed for it!" This text has a parallel in the Latin work. A passage from his commentary on the Book of Wisdom will help us to see if Eckhart is indeed to be ranked among the authors that extol a flight from all creatures.
All that is created in itself is nothing. "He created all things that they may be," and being is preceded by nothing. He then who loves the creature, loves nothingness and becomes himself nothingness. Love indeed transforms the lover into the beloved.---He who prays for these perishable things prays for nothingness, he prays badly and for what is bad.
The biblical text on which these lines comment says: "He has created everything, that it may be." It is a traditional passage from which medieval writers would develop their theology of creation. It allowed them especially to raise questions about the end of the created work. The end of the act of creating is the being of creatures, replies Eckhart in accordance with the scriptural verse; this conforms entirely to classical theses. How then, if God creates all things that they may be, that they may possess being, can Eckhart conclude: "All that is created in itself is nothing"?

Eckhart considers the being of created things in its provenance---their being belongs first to God. Creatures receive being as a loan, not as their own. Their being resides in God, it is a gift; but he who gives can also take back. Their being is precarious, it comes to them from another. The created in itself is nothingness: what deserves attention in creatures is the origin of the gift, which is greater than its term. He alone attracts our love in creatures who has made them, and not "shoes or a cow. . . . " Hence, to keep one's look riveted on things is the source of harm: in themselves they are non-being, nothingness, for their being comes from elsewhere. Learn then to see the elsewhere! Learn to see the Creator in the creature.

This doctrine has nothing in common with the theories of a Zoroaster or a Mani. For Meister Eckhart there are not two principles, Good and Evil, that battle for dominance of the earth, but one alone. The unique, necessary, and sufficient determination of the creature is the gift by which being comes to it. The creature is not "bad," nor is it to be fled from, but it is "nothing in itself": it does not exist by itself. One sole and unique principle is deployed throughout the world: the superabundance of the divine being which becomes visible in the objects all around.