Whatever Eckhart ’s own intentions may have been, his expressions have fathered a long tradition of the divine “need” of man in the German tradition. Among the mystics, God ’s need of man is found in Jacob Boehme and in Angelus Silesius in The Cherubinic Wanderer, where it receives its classic expression:
God Does Not Live Without MeI know that God cannot live an instant without me;Were I to become nothing, He must give up the ghost . (CW, 1, 8)
In the philosophical tradition, God’s need of man certainly recalls the nineteenth-century idealists. Where Eckhart says that the “highest striving of God” (Gottes höchstes Streben: Q, 208, 9/Serm., 218) is to bear the Son in the soul , for Fichte the Absolute Ego will also be a process of striving (Streben), not for the birth of the Son in man, but for the achievement of moral order in and through him. And perhaps the most important representative of this tradition of all is Hegel himself for whom the Absolute is estranged from itself until it attains self-knowledge in and through speculative thought.
Thus Hegel, in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion (Sämtliche Werke, Bd. XV, p. 228), cites the following text of Eckhart:
The eye with which God sees me is the eye with which I see Him; my eye and His eye are one. In justice, I am weighed in God and He in me. If God were not, I would not be. If I were not, then He would not be. But it is not necessary to know this, since there are things which are easily misunderstood and which could be grasped only in a concept.
For Hegel, Eckhart seems to say that the Absolute comes to know itself in the same act in which man rises to a knowledge of the Absolute. In fact, Eckhart is alluding to the Aristotelian doctrine that the knower-in-act and the knowable-in-act are one, and to De trinitate, Bk. IX, c. 12, in which Augustine says that the knower and the known, when thus united, conceive a common offspring for Eckhart, the Word which is born in the soul (Théry, 224-5, 238). Moreover, Hegel’s text appears to be corrupt. I find in Quint this version of the first sentence:
The eye in which I see God is the same eye in which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye are one eye and one seeing and one knowing and one loving. (Q, 216,24-7/Serm., 226-7)
I do not find the second sentence in Quint at all, although the same sentiment is there (Q, 267-9). The third and fourth sentences, which would be easily misunderstood if one were unfamiliar with the distinction between “Gott” and “Gottheit,” can be found as follows in an altogether different sermon:
. . . but if I were not, so also would “God” not be. I am the reason that God is “God.” If I were not, God would not be ‘’God.” It is not necessary to know this. (Q, 308,21-4/B1., 231)
“Gott” is a name assigned to the divine being in virtue of its relationship to creatures. Hence if I were noti.e., if I were not created God would not be called “God,” i.e., the cause of being. Eckhart also refers to the ideal pre-existence of the self as an Idea in the Divine Mind . The last half of the fourth sentence, which represents Hegel’s but not Eckhart’s views, I find nowhere in Quint.
Thus Eckhart is not a German idealist who maintains that God needs the human “spirit” in order to be actualized as God. He means to say only that God extends to the soul by grace the opportunity to attain a knowledge of Himself in precisely the same medium in which He already knows Himself in Eternity: the divine Word. But Eckhart’s bold language, coupled with our metaphysical predisposition to take his sermons as essays in “onto-theo-logic,” produced a serious, even if historically fruitful, misunderstanding of his own intentions.