VI Manchester Talk May 31, 2012
For Eckhart, Richard of St Victor, Benedict, the Desert solitaries and other like-minded individuals, seeking God means 'living the ordinary through transfigured perception', that is, participation in the daily round of the most mundane human tasks, the vast majority of which in one way or another have to do with taking care of and creating contentment for the body, and therefore for the mind, soul and spirit, which are inextricably interdependent. The seriousness with which this definition insists on incarnation precludes so-called platonising, angelism, the illusion of a life lived in a so-called altered state of consciousness, or in the sexual catatonia of Bernini's bizarre statue of St Teresa in ecstasy.
Scholars who do not hold the model of two epistemologies in mind often puzzle over thoroughly incarnational writers such as Eckhart and Bonaventure who seem at the last moment to leave incarnation behind. When Eckhart remarks that what is creature or creaturely must be left behind, however, he is not rejecting the material creation but rather indicating a simple shift in attention, a turning away from the self-conscious mind. Similarly in Bonaventure: the Itinerarium builds to the end of Book VI, where there is a sudden string of paradoxes, which most critics either ignore or try through tortured linearity to explain away. Book VII then speaks in praise of silence. Again, the thoroughly grounded Bonaventure is not denying incarnation, he is simply signalling a change of focus and the eliding of self-consciousness.
We need to look again at all of the texts that underlie Western culture through the lens of the two epistemologies, from the most ancient onwards. In this light many texts that have seemed obscure, such as the bible; confusing—such as those of Empedocles and Heraclitus; creation-devaluing—such as those of Plato and the so-called neo-Platonists, or the gnostics—will reveal them to be radically different from the received interpretation. The language of achievement, grasping, and control is entirely inappropriate when talking about these texts, and are indicative that the author who uses them probably has no understanding of the fundamental process at work.