Eckhart’s Call to Compassion and Justice

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.”

Stained glass window illustrating the Good Samaritan parable. Photo by Falco on Pixabay.

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:

The year 2020 threw wealth inequality into global attention as the planet’s 500 richest people added $1.8 trillion to their combined net worth. Uploaded to YouTube by Bloomberg Quicktake: Now

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.

Jobs with ecojustice: Former Patagonia Clothing CEO Kristine Tompkins cofounded Tompkins Conservation, creating vast national parks and nature preserves in South America. She continues working with businesses to conserve pristine ecosystems there, while boosting jobs and incomes in local communities. Photo by Enidan7 on Wikimedia Commons.

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

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3 thoughts on “Eckhart’s Call to Compassion and Justice”

  1. Avatar

    We should be compassionate toward all people at all times…but few of us are.

    Compassion is passion for commonality, community and communion amongst all.

    It is easy to be compassionate when we recognize our shared humanity and spirit.

  2. Avatar

    Compassionate living is simply following the teachings of Jesus as “The Tree of Life”. He was present among us who follow the teachings of “The tree of knowledge of good and evil”. The Tree of Life unconditionally forgives the path we are on of knowledge of good and evil. Compassion is not knowledge. It is a relationship with the hosts of Life, in living things. This is the Truth that will set us free. “Come follow Life”. We have the ability to make this transformation. We must first let go of personal self importance of our accomplishments and our associations with the people who write books of knowledge. This is why Jesus never wrote anything, as it would be interpreted as knowledge. We then can join the importance of all living things and be included in our true importance, in the unity of all things. Compassion as justice and celebration takes on our service to living things and the service of living things to us. Life doesn’t need our service. This then is the Way to serve in imitation that the Life in all living things, serves its hosts. The loving, living God is born to serve. Deacon’82 Environment and Global Interdependence.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      … or as Jesus said according to the gospel of Luke. “Be therefore compassionate, as your Father also is compassionate” (Luke 6:36). And as for “We must first let go of… our associations with the people who write books of knowledge. This is why Jesus never wrote anything, as it would be interpreted as knowledge.” But there is nothing wrong with knowledge. As a matter of fact, sometime in medieval times the Jews came up with Kabbalah, the mystical path in Judaism with the central image being the “Tree of Life.” The Tree of Life is made up of ten spheres, connected by 22 paths. The top of the tree is the most spiritual and as one goes down the tree it becomes more material. My point here is at the top of the Tree of Life below “Keter” the “Crown” are the two spheres called, “Binah” or “Understanding” and “Hochmah” or “Wisdom” and between them and just below in the middle is the secret sphere of “Daat” or “Knowledge.” The teaching here is you must understand wisdom first before it becomes knowledge to you…

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