Mysticism in the Middle: The Mandorla as Interpretive Tool for Reading Meister Eckhart, by Jeffrey Cooper

In an article appearing in the latest issue of Spiritus, Jeffrey Cooper draws on terminology from the art world to interpret a medieval mystic’s teachings. His essay begins with the following paragraph:

The spirituality of Meister Eckhart (1260–1328) is fundamentally chiaroscuro in form and expression. This word, coming from the world of art, represents in itself the collision of clarity and brightness (chiaro) with obscurity and darkness (oscuro). In one single word we have two opposites existing side-by-side creating a tension out of which arises the transformative interplay between darkness and light. The word, chiaroscuro, therefore is also an example of a language mandorla. This is another word arising from the world of art, but in this case specifically from the world of religious art and architecture. The mandorla is the almond-shaped space that results in the overlap of two complete circles. It represents a middle, or in-between, space where opposites collide and “conflict-without-resolution” and arises as the “direct experience of God.” Meister Eckhart is both a master of the chiaroscuro and the mandorla. His spiritual art, founded on incarnatio continua, issues forth in both structure and expression through the on-going interplay between human and divine often represented in his works by the relationship between darkness and light. In this essay then I will seek to demonstrate how the mandorla can serve as an interpretive tool for reading the chiaroscuro language art of Meister Eckhart. In doing so I hope to provide readers today with a means to grapple with, and more deeply appreciate, the German Dominican’s mysticism in and of the middle.

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