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Mysticism and Transcendence

From: M. Rubin, W. Simons (ed.), The Cambridge History of Christianity, v. 4, Christianity in Western Europe, c. 1100 - c. 1500, Cambridge 2009 (Pages 297-307).

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Time and Creation in Gregory of Nyssa and Meister Eckhart
Time and Creation
In Gregory of Nyssa and
Meister Eckhart

In the ninth book of his Confessions, the North African theologian Augustine of Hippo (354–430) describes life immediately after his conversion to orthodox Christianity – a conversion for which Augustine's mother, Monica, prayed from the time of his birth. In the midst of recounting the transformations wrought in his life by conversion, Augustine writes in praise of his mother and tells of an episode in which the close tie between her salvation and his own is rendered explicit.

Resting at Ostia before their long sea voyage from Italy to North Africa, Monica and Augustine lean 'from a window which overlooked the garden in the courtyard of the house' where they were staying. There they wondered together 'what the eternal life of the saints would be like' and their conversation led them to conclude 'that no bodily pleasure, however great it might be and whatever earthly light might shed luster upon it, was worthy of comparison, or even of mention, beside the happiness of the life of the saints'. As they spoke, Augustine writes, 'the flame of love burned stronger' in them both and raised them 'higher toward the eternal God'. Their thoughts ranged over all material things and up to the heavens and from thence beyond the material heavens to their own souls.

Yet 'the eternal life of the saints' lay beyond even the realm of immaterial souls, in a place of 'everlasting peace' governed by Wisdom: And while we spoke of the eternal Wisdom, longing for it and straining for it with all the strength of our hearts, for one fleeting instant we reached out and touched it. Then with a sigh, leaving our spiritual harvest bound to it, we returned to the sound of our own speech, in which each word has a beginning and an ending – far, far different from your Word, our Lord, who abides in himself for ever, yet never grows old and gives new life to all things. [1]

[1] Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, bk. IX, Section 10, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961), 197–8.

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