Know (7). The Cloud Upon the Sanctuary
Ekhartshausen was not an ordinary Churchman. And his “The Cloud Upon the Sanctuary” is not an ordinary book on Christian theology.
The man speaks in a simple language, invoking frequently-used theological terms. But for those ready to understand, he speaks of a deeper doctrine, one that has resided for centuries at the core of strands of Church teachings, as well as at the core of different strands in other avenues towards the Divine.
Ekhartshausen addresses a narrow audience. He makes clear that he writes for those willing to understand, those who have already gone quite far on their roads towards the Divine. For simple students of theology, what Ekhartshausen wrote would come across as simplistic, for the man does not delve into any of the complicated theological questions that some of the Church’s illustrious minds had written volumes on. On the contrary, Ekhartshausen states simple facts that the uninitiated would not consider worthy of reflection.
Chief among these was Ekhartshausen’s conception of Jesus Christ. He states the terms that he, a devout Catholic, ought to state. But at the depth of his text, Ekhartshausen gives us the old, pre-Christian idea of the “son of God”, gives us the theme, recurring throughout history in a multitude of disciplines, of salvation through inner searching and working and elevation, where man (male and female) ascends to gradually partake of the Divine characteristics - as opposed to simplistic understandings of sin and atonement. And towards the end of his discussion about the Wisdom of God that descended to the world of matter, what Ekhartshausen really invokes is Christ the notion, detached from any simplistic historicity that became the default understanding in many theologies.
Here Ekhartshausen is vastly different from contemporaries such as Goethe or Schelling. Although he shares with them the transcendence beyond the basic theological concepts towards elevated understandings of the nature of man and the relationship to God, he, unlike them, anchors his thinking in the flow of Church teachings. And so, whereas Goethe and Schelling, and later other thinkers, have sought to make clear the essence of God, man, the universe, and the linkages between all, Ekhartshausen sought the same objective by presenting the old Church concepts in their true meaning, rather than the simplistic meanings that were always presented to those not in the know.
Some would say, Goethe and Schelling and later those who followed their steps, were braver and clearer, and were more intellectually entrepreneurial, for they ventured out of the routes known to their cultures and walked on those of other (older and farther) cultures. But whereas Goethe and Schelling addressed anyone who would listen, Ekhartshausen addressed only those who had advanced enough in their journeys to understand. This could be thought of as an elitist approach to learning, but given that Ekhartshausen was writing, effectively, from within the traditions of the Church (as opposed to Goethe and Schelling, and almost every single philosopher of the same leaning afterwards), Ekhartshausen could only be seen as having opted for a difficult route. This was a man seeking theological reform from within the Church, yet without disturbing the machinations of that ‘grand mother’. Ekhartshausen was a devout Catholic who attempted a true reformation not in priesthood and not in the relationship between the Church and its flock, but reformation in the theological pillars upon which Catholicism was built almost 13 centuries before he put pen to paper. Ekhartshausen was holding a torch inside a cave, not like others roaming meadows basking in sunlight.
It is not surprising that in most of his letters (the chapters of the Cloud Upon the Sanctuary), Ekhartshausen does not speak of the “Church”, but of the “Temple”. This denotes a meaning and points to an objective. It denotes that there are various routes towards the Divine. That finding the true meaning of the human and understanding its relationship to the Divine happen through a myriad of approaches. And that reaching the sacred inner core, the point of sensing the connection between matter and spirit is not to be found only in any one church, but in almost all the temples of mind that humans have built throughout the ages.
The objective was that the Church itself ought to see the meaning he intended. That the men (and women) who adhere to the flow of the traditional understandings, but who delve deep in themselves and who attempt to rise towards their own spirits and towards the Divine, ought to comprehend that their doctrine – in its true meaning - is but one component of that ancient, unchangeable doctrine, the one in which the church is but a temple, is but a navel (core) and a heart (centre) and a throat (voice) and a mind (orchestrator), all connected to form a representation of the sacred space in which the microcosm meets the macro, the human meets the Divine. Here, Ekhartshausen attempts his theological reformation.
In this understanding, the sanctuary is the Church itself, and of course the cloud would be the simplistic historicities and flawed narratives that, in Ekhartshausen’s thinking, ought to be lifted so that the deeper, true meanings come to light, be seen, so that the light illuminate the Church and those who follow her.