From The Temptation of St. Anthony, Hieronymus Bosch
Here, in time, we are celebrating the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity, because this same birth is now born in time, in human nature.
—The Complete Mystical Works, sermon 1, p. 29
The word eternity is generally taken to mean either, forever, or, outside time. We encounter this concept of both circumstances and events that lie outside of time over and over again as we examine Eckhart’s sermons.
In a certain sense, from the very beginning, Eckhart asks us to abandon our understanding of time. Time, as he sees it, is a part of creation — if it is not a creature itself, then it is inextricably tied to creatures, and must be left behind in our effort to understand God.
This idea of an eternal birth, a birth outside time, reminds us strongly of the idea of the Big Bang, the generative force which created the universe, and cannot be considered as an event within time, since all time unfolded and proceeded from it. The measurement of time begins from this generation or birth; and that generation or birth is timeless, that is, fundamental or rooted within an eternal and immeasurable moment. This ties the idea of birth, that is, generation, to an event that is transcendent — it lies beyond understanding, yet is in itself the root of all understanding.
This simple phrase brings us at once to the idea of an eternal birth, that is, a birth that is always taking place — the second meaning of the word. In this sense, human nature is eternally reborn, reborn before time and beyond time, at once, and in the present moment. This imparts a quality to life which is forever within now, now itself being a moment that, although it exists within time, cannot be measured by time itself.
This perhaps peculiar conjunction of concepts thrusts us into a piece of territory where the transcendent is forever extant within us, now, not located in some other place or time. The idea is, generally speaking, consonant with Buddhist formulations.
“I must be about my Father's business." This text is most appropriate to what we have to say concerning the eternal birth which took place in time and still happens daily in the innermost part of the soul, in her ground, remote from all adventitious events. In order to become aware of this interior birth it is above all necessary for a man to be concerned with his Father's business.
—sermon 3, p. 46
Here the idea of eternal birth gains complexity and dimension, as though a simmering vegetable stock were made even richer by the addition of marrow. As we saw in the first passage, this interior birth — this fecund and endlessly generative process — which takes place within human nature does not just take place in eternity, beyond time, but also inserts itself into time. It sounds like a paradox; eternity, a quality that lives outside of time and is defined by time, finds itself within time, as though it were able to be its own shadow.
Returning to the parabolic hypothesis of the Big Bang, the premise here is that consciousness — that sacred property of the soul — is born outside of time, but forever expressed within time as a birth of awareness. This is indicated by the idea that a man should be concerned with— that is, aware of — his Father’s business. The Father, in Eckhart’s work, is inextricably intertwined with this process of being and becoming, which is forever generative. It calls to mind the endless unfolding of a lotus blossom, which opens petal after petal into a garden of consciousness in action.