Question: Fr Manohar
A mystic in Catholic Church is said to have preached “in love I am more God than I am in myself” How do you explain this and how to understand it?
Answer: Jacob Parappally MSFS
The statements of the mystics in all centuries and all religions are not the conclusions of any discursive thinking. They are imperfect articulations of their profound, deep and life-transforming experience of the Ultimate whom we call God. The mystics use symbolic and evocative language. They cannot be analysed. They cannot be comprehended. They point to the truth of our own existence and reveal to us to some extent who we are and what we can become. They cannot be taught. They are to be caught!
If this statement, were to be made in the Indian context of non-dualism or that God and the world are not-one reality but also not-two realities, this statement of Meister Eckhart would have been better understood. But in the Christian world-view with its understanding of reality as dichotomized such a mystical insight would not be easily understood. As at the time when the great mystic Meister Eckhart made this statement “in love I am more God than I am in myself” in our times too this mystical statement challenges the Church and its systems and the faithful and their infantile faith.
A dichotomized understanding of Reality as Absolute and Relative, Necessary and Contingent, Infinite and Finite, Eternal and Temporal etc. would find the mystical statement unacceptable, erroneous and even heretical. Any binary vision of reality ends up in hierarchical systems of domination and subjugation or as opposites in perpetual confrontation, competition and opposition. In this mystical statement about the mystic’s identity as not separate from the reality of God overcomes the paradoxes, oppositions and transcends any form of separation and division. Reality is participative where each part or participant is distinct and not separate from one another. In the Christian experience of God as Love each one finds his or her identity in terms of that love and every life is an actualization of that Love in history. Love and the Being of God are experienced by mystics that they cannot separate one from the other. The essence of God is love and therefore one who lives and actualizes love becomes Love that God is or is divinized. Humans cannot be identified with love but they have the innate capacity for love as they are created in the image and likeness of God, the Absolute love and communion. When this love is actualized in loving relationship with God and others I become more God than I am in myself.
Growing in Love and becoming God
Humans can never become the Being of God but can become the maximum possible Love as God. It is a simple truth that when we experience God as Love we are becoming God or are being divinized when we grow in authentic, self-emptying love in relationship with other humans and with God. St John affirms this truth, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us. …God abides in him, and he in God. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world (1 John 4:11-17). The most important revelation which John shares is not very different from what the mystics have experienced. “As He [God] is so are we [God] in this world.” For God, love is an essential attribute. Humans are created out of love and for love. By our total self-surrender and self-giving to God and to other humans we become love to the extent possible for us to become as humans and so to that extent that we become God. Therefore, the statement of the mystic is correct that in love we become God.
Meister Eckhart’s insightful mystical statement “in love I am more God than I am in myself” is, indeed, very similar to the statement of St Augustine, “we become what we love.” If we love God, the Creator who is absolute love itself, we become like Him but if we set our hearts on created things we do not become the love for which we are created. Therefore, in His Sermon on John 4:1-12, He says, “Once and for all, I give you this one short command: love, and do what you will. If you hold your peace, hold your peace out of love. If you cry out, cry out in love. If you correct someone, correct them out of love. If you spare them, spare them out of love. Let the root of love be in you: nothing can spring from it but good.…” One who has realized that he or she is more God than he or she is in oneself cannot but act except out of that love as God would act. St Augustine’s ‘city of God,’ the Church is different from the ‘earthly city’ or the city of humans which is the empire. In the city of God, love is the law because God is love. In the city of humans there are only idols of greed, power and selfishness and absence of God. In our times the tragedy is that the earthly city extends its space into the city of God and we are blinded by its light and enjoy its warmth. In fact, “the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb… By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it” (Rev 21:23-24). The Church becomes truly the city of God when it is a communion of those who experience and realize that in love they are more God than they are in themselves and live a life worthy of that realization. Those who ‘practise abomination or falsehood’ should not enter this city’ (Rev. 21:17) and those who are inside of it should never practise any falsehood or deceit. It is absolutely unworthy of their human and Christian vocation to be divinized through love!
Call to a Higher Spirituality
Meister Eckhart lived at a time when magnificent cathedrals and parish churches were built which externally expressed the glory and majesty of God and interior designs which encouraged popular piety. The side altars and ornate niches for particular saints for popular devotions and the liturgical and para-liturgical celebrations with elaborate rituals etc. were popular in the middle ages. The belief that God can be encountered through the visible realities of bread and wine transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ was extended to other objects related to the Eucharist, “such as water, candles, oil; in things or persons linked in one way or another with the human Christ whose death and resurrection they remembered in the Eucharist — in rush crosses and wayside crucifixes, in shrines and memorials of Christ’s mother and Joseph and the apostles, in the cultivation of the relics of saints and others in whom they thought they had caught sight of God at work in their midst, and hence had something physical to hold on to as an intermediary on their own level, whether dead or alive did not matter, with the God they had never met in person.” These practices along with Eucharistic processions and pageants, and various other semi-liturgical, para-liturgical and non-liturgical forms of devotion to the Eucharist expressed the need of humans for something tangible through which to express gratitude for faith and divine benevolence. Though they are expressions of faith by the believers they could be manipulated by those who are unscrupulous in the Church for financial benefits. In fact, they did it and it was one of the immediate causes of Reformation two centuries later. Any commercialisation of religion transforms the temple into a market place which is the den of robbers and extortionists. This was happening at the time of Meister Eckhart and it is happening even now at least in some places. The need of the hour is the presence and action of prophets and mystics.
The believers are to be taught to move from an infantile faith that can be manipulated by unscrupulous preachers and teachers. They make the liberating message of Jesus Christ into an enslaving religion of exaggerated and sometimes inhuman adherence to rules and regulations, meaningless rituals and soulless devotions instilling fear and guilt. The joyful message of the Gospel of love and that all can become God to the extent that they live, love and act lovingly with the grace of God are reduced to some pious practices without corresponding spirituality. The great gift of the Church bequeathed to the disciples by forming them into a communion and inviting all who follow Christ at all times to participate in that communion through the power of the Spirit is often made into religion with more emphasis on institution and structures of power and domination rather than a participatory communion of all brothers and sisters. Therefore, it is imperative that the Church become a true light of Christ and authentic communion in which all believers are led to the enlightening vision and experience that in love they are more God than they are in themselves and live a life worthy of that divine enlightenment.