Eckhart on Birthing a New Economics of Justice and Compassion

Eckhart warns us that the “merchant mentality” can take over our souls.  Some people look on God as they do a cow—”for the milk and cheese and profit it makes them.  This is how it is with people who love God for the sake of outward wealth or inward comfort.” 

“Christ Driving the Money-changers from the Temple,” by Theodoor Rombouts, 17th century, Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp. On Wikimedia Commons.

Instead, he urges us to let go.

Truth needs no huckstering….If you would be entirely free from huckstering, so that God will leave you in this temple, you should do everything that is possible in all your actions purely in praise of God and should be as free as you were when you did not exist.  You should ask for nothing in return. 

This is what it means to live without a why.

Eckhartian scholar Reiner Schuurman comments that Eckhart’s spirituality “is not oriented towards contemplation.  It produces a new birth: the birth of the Son” in all of us.  It leads to the Via Creativa which in turn leads to birthing justice and compassion.  It leads to the Via Transformativa writ large. 

A clergyman bearing witness at the United for Peace and Justice Anti-War protest & march, Washington DC. Photo by Danny Hammontree on Flickr

Who is this Son of God we are birthing in self and culture?  Eckhart says Jesus is the “Son of Justice” and “unbegotten justice itself,” for God is “Justissimus,” the Most Just One.  Justice is continuous, and ongoing, a process, therefore.

The just man is always in process of being born from justice itself.

Justice is never completed; each generation must birth it anew.  For him, compassion is the place “where justice and peace kiss.”

Drawing on the Jewish prophetic tradition, Eckhart says:

We read in Proverbs 21 that those who follow compassion find life and justice and glory. Life pertains…to oneself; Justice pertains…to the neighbor; and glory pertains…to God.” 

Self, neighbor and God are all served in the work of compassion whereby we find life, justice and glory. 

Dorothy Day icon by Nicholas Tsai. Image uploaded to Flickr by Jim Forest

Eckhart alerts us to how true compassion is not just about intuition or feeling—it is also about using our intellects to their full, therefore it is about creating a just economic system, one that works for all and not just a few. This is how he puts it.:

We therefore are compassionate like the Father when we are compassionate, not from passion, not from impulse but from deliberate choice and reasonable decision.  For Psalm 84 says: ‘Compassion and truth meet one another’—that is passion and reason.  And again, in Psalm 32: ‘He loves compassion and judgment.’….The passion does not take the lead but follows, does not rule but serves. 

Clearly, by incorporating knowledge and intuition, Eckhart challenges us to use all our faculties in extending compassion.  “We should be very much on the alert lest the force of passion dominate our actions.”  We must corral our emotions, not let them run unbridled:  “Those whom passion dominates are very much like horses.  It is against this that it is said in Psalm 32:9: ‘Don’t be like the horse and mule.’”

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, pp. 223-237.

See also: Also: Matthew Fox, “Meister Eckhart and Karl Marx: The Mystic as Political Theologian,” in Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life, pp. 165-198.

Banner Image: “Works of Mercy” by Ada Bethune; first published in The Catholic Worker. Image uploaded to Flickr by Jim Forest .

Queries for Contemplation

Eckhart is more interested in Birthing than in Contemplating by itself.  He wants to see all of us birth a Christ who is Justice and Compassion in ourselves and in our cultures.  How are we doing?  How can we do better?

Recommended Reading

Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time

While Matthew Fox recognizes that Meister Eckhart has influenced thinkers throughout history, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.
“Matthew Fox is perhaps the greatest writer on Meister Eckhart that has ever existed. (He) has successfully bridged a gap between Eckhart as a shamanistic personality and Eckhart as a post-modern mentor to the Inter-faith movement, to reveal just how cosmic Eckhart really is, and how remarkably relevant to today’s religious crisis! ” — Steven Herrmann, Author of Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward

Wrestling with the Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life

In one of his foundational works, Fox engages with some of history’s greatest mystics, philosophers, and prophets in profound and hard-hitting essays on such varied topics as Eco-Spirituality, AIDS, homosexuality, spiritual feminism, environmental revolution, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, Art and Spirituality, Art as Meditation, Interfaith or Deep Ecumenism and more.

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7 thoughts on “Eckhart on Birthing a New Economics of Justice and Compassion”

  1. Avatar

    Hi Matt!

    Apropos of today’s meditation (May 27) on Eckhart and Economics, I thought you might be interested in the core doctrine of Contract Law, which I have taught for over 30 years, called the consideration doctrine. That doctrine says that no promise may be enforced unless the person making the promise received something in exchange…a “consideration.” Even more, the element given in exchange must be “bargained-for,” meaning that quid pro quo is the single central element of a valid exchange.

    With the rise of the New Deal, very small inroads have been made on this doctrine, in which something called detrimental reliance on a promise may in special circumstances make the promise enforceable to the extent of the reliance.

    But the consideration doctrine remains the very core of capitalist private law, and links justice inherently with the self-interest of a person engaging in an economic transaction.

    I always criticize this with my students, BUT I also have to teach it to them with many examples of what does and does not count as consideration. So the next generation of lawyers all over the country are conditioned to think justice requires, rather than abhors, the quid pro quo.

    Lots of affection,
    Peter Gabel
    Author of The Desire for Mutual Recognition: Social Movements and the Dissolution of the False Self (Best Non-Fiction Book Nominee, Routledge Press, 2018)

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Peter, thank you so much for your enlightening comment concerning some of the implications concerning quid pro quo. It seems that this information would have been important with the whole issue of how President Trump dealt with the Ukrainian leaders concerning Joe Biden’s son….

  2. Avatar

    I notice the icon of Dorothy Day and wonder if you are familiar with the Plowshare 7, one of whom is the granddaughter of Dorothy Day and one of whom is the widow of Fr, Berrigan. They are awaiting sentencing for “invading” the Georgia Trident submarine base a bit over 2 years ago to protest the dangers of increase in nuclear weapons. The court refused to hear their defense on religious grounds, although we all know that religion has been used by at least one company as a basis to refuse to pay for contraception for employees, for instance. I wonder if the Rev. Fox would comment on what this brave group is doing. One of its members, Stephen Kelly, SJ, is in a local jail and has been for 2 years. They have dared to challenge a very dangerous structure.

  3. Avatar

    I appreciate both the daily meditations with Matthew Fox, as well as with Richard Rohr. I just sent the following message, along with both meditations, including my own high-lights, to members of the Norbertine Community, here, in De Pere, WI:

    “Both Richard Rohr and Matthew Fox have much to say to us these days ……… They are both ‘leading us’ onto and INto a Transformative Path, which neither bypasses nor excludes both the Via Negativa and Via Positiva , as both are necessary for greater wholeness and fullness of life, of Being. I have come to recognize and honor the “Truth” of this, as I now know/honor that we come ‘to G O D’ through both our pain, suffering, darkness, loss, grief, angst, confusion, bewilderment, abandonment ……. and through our joy, wonder, awe, beauty, experiences of ‘blessed-ness,’ goodness.
    This ‘down-time’ during this pandemic might be giving us all the ‘time’ and ‘space’ we need to come into ‘seeing,’ not only a ‘new vision,’ but actually WITH new vision — with new eyes ….. and hearing with new ears ……. listening and understanding with new hearts …… living with new minds ……… becoming a ‘new creation…….’ …….’in, with, by, for Christ……’ ‘Christ-in-with-by-for-us.’
    Both Matthew Fox and Richard Rohr are telling us ‘the same thing ….’ And the great beauty of these two is that they ALWAYS include others in their ‘telling,’ in the ‘vision ….’ They make good use of the gifts and gifted-ness of many others, who, like themselves, allow themselves to be fully and completely used by G O D for the good of all others, and for the good of Earth, Herself, sacred vessel that She is ……..
    I hope such a vision, such a reality as this, can come to be so, here, in the Green Bay-De Pere area. That would be a “dream-come-true!” :)”

    Yes, I do truly hope — pray — so. After sending this message to the Norbertine Community, in today’s mail I received a publication of, “The Voice of the Martyrs.” And a reflective question stood out to me as one that will be helpful in imagining a-new the vision of the ‘reign of G O D,’ as JESUS ‘saw’ and ‘understood’ and ‘lived’ it.
    “How will we advance G O D’s purposes in today’s fallen world?”
    And I started to realize how I/we are being called upon to “be martyrs” in a ‘new’ kind of way, as we are being called to continually ‘die to sin,’ ‘die to ego-self,’ ‘die to false and arrogant pride,’ ‘die to ignorance that breeds arrogance,’ ‘die to consumerism, ‘ ‘die to materialism,’ ‘die to racism,’ [on-and-on we could go.]
    So, I do really hope, and pray, and want for this shared vision that both Matthew Fox and Richard Rohr have ‘caught’ and are ‘on fire with,’ to come to reality here, in our area, in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
    Please pray for this to be so. And if you have the chance to mention it to the Norbertine Community, or chat with the Abbot, Dane Radecki, that would be good, too. 🙂

    “LORD, JESUS, Christ, Son of the Living God ~ have mercy on our ignorance…
    LORD, JESUS, Christ, Son of the Living God ~ have mercy on our arrogance…

    LORD, JESUS, Christ, Son of the Living God ~ have mercy on our ignorance…
    LORD, JESUS, Christ, Son of the Living God ~ have mercy on our arrogance…

    LORD, JESUS, Christ, Son of the Living God ~ have mercy on our ignorance…
    LORD, JESUS, Christ, Son of the Living God ~ have mercy on our arrogance…”

    Thank you for “listening …..”
    Thank you for praying with me …..

    + Linda Patzke +

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Linda, what a rich letter you write! You speak of the commonalities between the work of Matthew and Richard Rohr, and you are wright in saying that they, “have much to say to us theses days.”You also speak of the fact that they are both leading us down a path of transformation, Some come by way of the Via Positiva when they are swept away with awe over the beauty and symmetry of the world and our universe, while others come by way of the Via Negativa when we are in pain and suffering or emotional darkness. But we can also be transformed by the Via Creativa where we link our creativity and imagination with the divine! Here we can find the divine in our own work and the works of others. And these works lift us out of mere obedience to the Self, and in this you are right to say that we need to die to ourselves in terms of working via our love rather than out of self interest. Thank you sooo much for your thoughtful words, and all the best to those at the Norbertine Community!

      1. Avatar

        Gratias. + Deo Gratias.
        Thank you, Richard. Your words of understanding mean much to me.
        + Linda Patzke +

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