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Meister Eckhart’s Parisian Question of ‘Whether the omnipotence of God should be considered as potentia ordinata or potentia absoluta?’

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Ever since the Latin term omnipotentia announced that God could do everything, the inevitable question was raised about the things God could not do. Manuscript, Vat. Lat. 1086 contains the reportationes of student Prosper taken from a disputatio in which his accomplished teacher, Meister Eckhart, considers whether the potentia of God should be considered as ordinata or absoluta. Through his astute mind and efficient administrative skills, Eckhart was re-appointed to the Dominican Chair of theology at the University of Paris circa 1312, and following his Commentary on Exodus and Latin Sermon XXVIII, this was the third occasion, that we know of, to expand his thoughts on how God actualises power, and the perceived power distinction. This previously unexplored treatment is in the middle of a series of questions which present a developing image of the thinking of this Meister who stretched notions of God beyond any boundaries.
The first part of this thesis issue reviews how the question of a power distinction reached Eckhart. The all-powerfulness of the one God had seen anthropomorphic Hebrew roots adapted to incorporate Greek aspects of a more abstract, sustaining and emanating oneness. The 13th Century, saw turbulent times in Paris with disputes between the university, its students, the church, and not only between mendicant orders but also within them, meanwhile, with scholarly advances, the terms of the distinction were refined to become a sharp issue for debate in the classroom and an available tool for refining the increasingly powerful canon law.
The second part reviews the codex with a new transcription and English translation. From this, a commentary of the text presents how the Meister considers earlier treatments on the power of God by notables such as Augustine and Thomas, and challenges them with a striking modification to the conception of the potentia absoluta. Through these notes which are substantiated by his other works, Eckhart forwards his own radical view, that God does not just perform actions distinctly in power, but is one, total, continuous, active, power.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2017


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