Aquinas, Eckhart, Heschel and Hart on Holy Existence  

Thomas Aquinas reminds us that “to exist is the most perfect thing of all, for compared to existence, everything else is potential.”  And that “God is pure existence….God is essential existence and all other things are beings by participation.”

God as nurturing mother: “Legend of Aataentsic…Mother Earth.” Photo by Dennis Jarvis from the MosaiCulture Gatineau on Flickr.

His Dominican brother Meister Eckhart puts it this way: “God is being” and a “fountain of being.”  Eckhart defines creation as “the giving of being” and says that “Isness is God.” He is saying that all being is a representation of Divinity.  

Greek Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart underscores the uniqueness and the necessity of God as being when he observes that:

All physical reality is contingent upon some cause of being as such, since existence is not an intrinsic physical property, and since no physical reality is logically necessary.

He recognizes:

Cosmic birth announcement: a newborn star shoots twin jets of superheated gas out from its rotation axis into space. Image credit: NASA/ESA/STScI

The ultimate source of existence cannot be some item or event that has long since passed away or concluded, like a venerable ancestor or even the Big Bang itself—either of which is just another contingent physical entity or occurrence—but must be a constant wellspring of being, at work even now. 

Aquinas holds the very same perspective when he says: 

God’s work whereby God brings things into being must not be taken as the work of a craftsman who makes a box and then leaves it.  For God continues to give being.  

Indeed, God “continually pours out existence into things.”

Rabbi Heschel concurs when he says:

[Creation] is not an act that happened once upon a time, once and for ever.  The act of bringing the world into existence is a continuous process. God called the world into being, and that call goes on….Every instant is an act of creation.

Baby chick in utter trust: sentient being, livestock or…? Photo by Ramiro Martinez on Unsplash

Hart makes a stern judgment about our culture when he declares that we are out of touch with being: we “may well be the social order that has ventured furthest away from being in its quest to master beings.”

The specialness of the divine Being and its relationship to being resides in the fact that “nothing within the cosmos contains the ground of its own being.”  Because:

It is far easier to think about beings than about being as such….we therefore always risk losing sight of the mystery of being behind the concepts we impose upon it.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God…Including the Unnameable God, pp. 5-7.  

And Fox, Passion for Creation: Meister Eckhart’s Earth-Honoring Creation Spirituality, pp. 72, 88f, 539.  

And Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations on Creation Spirituality with Thomas Aquinas pp. 87, 125f., 81.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Creation continually flowing, interacting, birthing, dying, evolving. Brainard Lake, Colorado, USA Photo by Kody Goodson on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree with Aquinas that “to exist is the most perfect thing of all?”  What follows from that?  And with Heschel that “every instant is an act of creation?”

Recommended Reading

Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God …Including the Unnameable God

Too often, notions of God have been used as a means to control and to promote a narrow worldview. In Naming the Unnameable, renowned theologian and author Matthew Fox ignites our imaginations by offering a colorful range of Divine Names gathered from scientists and poets and mystics past and present, inviting us to always begin where true spirituality begins: from experience.
“This book is timely, important and admirably brief; it is also open ended—there are always more names to come, and none can exhaust God’s nature.” -Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, author of Science Set Free and The Presence of the Past

Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart

Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.
“The most important book on mysticism in 500 years.”  — Madonna Kolbenschlag, author of Kissing Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.  

Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him.  He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French).  He  gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way. 
“The teaching of Aquinas comes through will a fullness and an insight that has never been present in English before and [with] a vital message for the world today.” ~ Fr. Bede Griffiths (Afterword).
Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake

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12 thoughts on “Aquinas, Eckhart, Heschel and Hart on Holy Existence  ”

  1. Avatar
    Malka Mittelman

    The simple and elegant translation of the words of Aquinas, that the Eternal Source “continues to give being,” reminds my heart and soul of my favorite verse of Jewish prayer, which I translate from Hebrew to speak of the Eternal Oneness “making new, every day, the handiworks of creation.”

  2. Avatar

    Yes, I think the most simple, yet paradoxically the most difficult for most of us human beings, on our sacred spiritual journeys, is consciously integrating our human nature and our Divine Nature in the sacred process of the Eternal Present Moment… I believe that the main barrier of this simplicity/complexity conscious integration transformation spiritual process toward our Wholeness~Oneness is our conditioned egocentric mind that keeps us feeling separate and limited in our own individual consciousness from our ‘True Heart Selves~Sacred Eternal Souls’ present within us and consequently others, Mother Nature/Earth, and All ongoing co-Creation~Incarnation~Evolution in the Sacredness of the Present Moment…
    Being~Becoming Cosmic Consciousness of Divine Loving Diverse Oneness…. By the grace of God many saints, mystics, prophets, indigenous people, and many unknown good human beings have inspired us with their spiritual transformations and lives/actions in human history to the present day, to remind us of the sacredness of our own inner~outer spiritual journeys….

  3. Avatar

    Mysticism can be charted so that people understand its expression more fully (as I’ve tried to do). Very intellectual and thus necessarily “dualistic”: an analyst stands “outside” Mysticism to highlight important aspects and give a clearer idea of the big picture.

    But the actual Truth in it comes ONLY from stepping “inside” the Totality/G*d (non-dualistic One) that Mysticism expresses. All the conceptual analysis is useful only if it “points to” important aspects of the non-dualistic, intuitive direct, LIVING immersion in G*d and gives people more information on how to directly live it.

    In the same way, some of the “official” religious doctrine and theology can be understood as intellectual/dualistic signposts for deeper experiences of sacred Truth: “DIG HERE for Treasure!” Rather than telling people that the (memorized, recited, and debated) intellectualized doctrine itself is the Truth, theologians should tell people that there are often deeper insights and sometimes Mystical non-dualistic flowing, healing, and loving streams of intuitive, living Truth to be found and lived from, if they look under the intellectual frameworks.

    Trapping people in intellectualism cuts both them and intellect itself off from the Totality. Mysticism/non-dualism expresses and incorporates the Whole of existence, opening it up into and within G*d.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Melinda, you make a good point when you write: “Rather than telling people that the (memorized, recited, and debated) intellectualized doctrine itself is the Truth, theologians should tell people that there are often deeper insights and sometimes Mystical non-dualistic flowing, healing, and loving streams of intuitive, living Truth to be found and lived from, if they look under the intellectual frameworks.” Thank you !

  4. Avatar

    I love the idea that creation is ongoing, incarnation is ongoing, it is a dynamic and fluid world. I think that the biblical name of God that is usually translated as “I am” can also be translated “I will be what I will be”, which indicates to me that God both creates and inhabits existence–the mystery of immanence and transcendence. Gratitude and joy and love stem from that realization, which should never be intellectualized but which should be felt and experienced. And there is a danger of getting stuck in navel gazing and failing to move on to the next step, which is love for all of out relations, human and otherwise.

  5. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    The query in today’s DM, “Do you agree that to exist is the most perfect thing of all”, brought to the surface a tension between the via negativa and the via positiva. This tension arises from my own experiences of being in solidarity with those whom are suffering the anguishing pain of a body that no longer supports their physical existence. I have held many, whom have wept and begged to be released from this… whom no longer deemed their existence to be the most perfect thing of all.

    And yet, within this process, at times there is an awareness of existence beyond the physical body. It is this faith, hope and trust in this belief of existence, beyond the physical; that becomes the very thing that slowly begins to transform all of this suffering, anguish and pain… as one surrenders all of this and much more to the mystery of this something and someone.

    In that inbetween place of death and life, there is a mysterious unfoldment, evolvement, emergence and convergence of truly awakening into the remembrance of one’s wholeness of existence. This holy union and sacred communion with this mystery of the I AM… experienced through the death of one’s physical existence… I sense fully awakens oneself to the most perfect thing of all… the LOVE of God, whom holds all that exists in compassionate mercy. Jesus’s words, “Into your hands Father/Mother I surrender my Spirit,” offer some comfort… with regards to this tension I speak of.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, I have been a minister for well over thirty years, and over the years I have spent time with many who you describe perfectly, when you say: “I have held many, whom have wept and begged to be released from this… whom no longer deemed their existence to be the most perfect thing of all.” It may be perfect in and of itself, but for those who suffer it may sometimes be even a greater cause of suffering.

      1. Avatar

        I agree–Canada has the right idea about granting people the right to depart existence with dignity. Suffering for the person who is in pain may be in some way holy, but I believe that relief of that suffering is even more holy.

  6. Avatar

    I love the image of meditating on the empty chair, and I have shared the idea with others. How precious it is that we get to walk on this beautiful earth; to see the stars and the mountains and the waves come rolling onto the shore; to hear bird songs and the rush of wind; to feel sand or snow or pointy rocks beneath our feet; to touch a sea anemone or a beloved’s skin; to smell oranges and smoke and the earth after rain; to taste ice cream and pistachios; even to feel pain–physical and emotional–and to give comfort. To meditate on the empty chair is to remember that we have a physical life on this planet when so many who might have incarnated didn’t. Thank you, Matthew, for reminding us to take time now and then to meditate on the empty chair.

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