To follow Eckhart’s teaching on compassion and justice would be to enter a New Normal. Eckhart devotes a long and substantive Latin treatise to an exegesis of Jesus’s words (Luke 6:36): “Be you compassionate as your Creator in heaven is compassionate.” He recognizes compassion as being the divine presence in us, for “compassion divinely adorns the soul, clothing it in the robe which is proper to God.”
Meister Eckhart defines compassion as “justice” on a number of occasions. For him, “compassion means justice.” Elsewhere he writes, “What is compassion is also justice,” and Jesus is the “Son of Justice,” and “unbegotten justice itself” for God is “Justissimus,” the Most Just One. There is a kind of continuous, ongoing process of justice. “The just man is always in process of being born from justice itself.” It is never completed. Eckhart likes to cite Psalm 85:10: “Justice and peace have kissed” — that is his definition of compassion. Compassion is the “robe of Divinity” we are all called to wear because we are all called to our divinity.
In this respect he is simply echoing the deep teaching of the prophets of the Jewish tradition. Eckhart writes:
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.
Justice heals, and a healing life, he says, is a “living life,” for Isaiah (58) says: “Your healing will spring up speedily and justice will go before your face and the glory of the Lord will surround you.” As applied to one’s neighbor, “compassion is just to the extent that it gives each one what is his.” Eckhart cites St. Isidore of Seville (c. 560–636) who wrote:
It is a great crime to give the wages of the poor to the rich and from the livelihood of the poor to increase the luxuriates of the powerful taking water for the needy earth and pouring it into the rivers.
Eckhart cites Ecclesiasticus: “Having compassion toward your own soul, you are pleasing to God.” He responds:
How then can anyone be compassionate toward me or toward you who is not compassionate toward oneself? [Jesus] wants us to be compassionate even to our own body and soul.
Since compassion incorporates justice, it also requires both left- and right-brain thinking, it requires judgment as well as intuition.
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.
Thus compassion and justice often require strategy and research and thinking things through.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Warriors for Ecological and Economic Justice,” in Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, pp. 223f.
See Matthew Fox, “Sermon Thirty: Be Compassionate as Your Creator in Heaven is Compassionate,” in Fox, Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, pp. 417-439.
Banner Image: Stork in flight in the Brazilian Pantanal, largest wetland in the world, spanning Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia. In 2020, more than 3,700 wildfires due to climate change and ranchers’ arson devastated the region, one of the most biodiverse in the world. Photo by adaviles on Flickr.
What is lost when we separate compassion from justice? And “mercy” from justice and compassion?
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