The Medieval Review 10.09.13

Dobie, Robert J. Logos & Revelation: Ibn 'Arabi, Meister Eckhart, and Mystical Hermeneutics. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2009. Pp. xii, 313. . $34.95 ISBN 978-0-8132-1677-5.

Reviewed by:

Antonella Doninelli
antodoninelli@libero.it

In both Islam and Christianity there seems to be possible a "mystical" way of living and understanding of religious traditions. As Gershom Scholem, probably the most important authority on the subject, pointed out in his famous work Major trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York 1974), "there is no mysticism as such, there is only the mysticism of a particular religious system, Christian, Islamic, Jewish mysticism and so on." The mystical approach is characterized by searching for the deeper meaning in Holy Scripture that could lead souls directly to Divine Logos and therefore it represents the only true access to understand souls themselves and then to go further towards God's nature and will.

The book Logos and Revelation. Ibn 'Arabi, Meister Eckhart, and mystical Hermeneutics, by Robert J. Dobie, proposes the idea that Muhyaddin Ibn 'Arabi and Meister Eckhart are closely linked to each other in all those aspects that concern their mystical and philosophical approach to religious phenomena. This is mostly evident if one considers their mystical perspective about man and his relationship with the Divine.

A first and very important assumption is that mystical thought is about the "primal revelation of being" (Introduction, 2). The author's choice of Ibn 'Arabi and Meister Eckhart, both considered borderline to their religious traditions, has the role of claiming that mysticism could never exist without religions, particularly without revealed religions.

Above all Dobie wants to refute the modernist thesis according to which mysticism is something different or even opposed to religious authorities. The book shows very well that it is not at all necessary that a mystical thinker be outside orthodox religion. Another idea proposed by the author is that most recent studies about mystical traditions, particularly as they were born during the medieval period, did not point out the central role of hermeneutics. In fact, Dobie states "Human Beings do not experience the world as either pure concepts or mere material things. Just as human beings are not pure minds or pure bodies, but embodied spirits, so human beings experience the world as a realm of meaningful things" (Introduction, 11).

A central role in the philosophy of Ibn 'Arabi and Meister Eckhart is played by the Holy Text. The Qur'an is often the point of departure of Ibn 'Arabi's thought, and at the same time is the goal to reach with his argumentation. Obviously Meister Eckhart has an approach to the Bible quite different from that of Ibn 'Arabi to the Qur'an mainly because of the influence of Scholasticism on religious matters, but he added to the Scholastic way his mystical interpretation of Scripture. In particular he gave a great importance to the so-called "inner birth," a sort of revelation within Revelation. Each good Christian man should give birth to the deeper sense of Holy Text in his soul. This is a different level of understanding God's word: not a literal but a hermeneutic one. Both thinkers had a specific name for people who arrive at this high level of spirituality: in Ibn 'Arabi we find the "Universal Man" while in Meister Eckhart there is the description of someone who is detached from material things and is called "Nobleman." Dobie explains, "the basic concept behind both is that the realization of unity with the divine is a restoration of our primal humanity or, in Sufi terminology, our 'Adamitic nature'" (221-222).

In my opinion, the most interesting part of book is the second: chapters 3 and 4. Here the author shows that Meister Eckart and Ibn 'Arabi have the same concept of the unity of opposites: this is not a rational perspective, but a mystical one. "The true knower of God does not put any limit on the Real" (101). Attributing to God the presence at the same time of both opposites to exalt his Omnipotence is something that we can find also in other medieval thinkers, first of all Saint Bonaventure (according to whom Christ himself represents the unity of opposites, see Ewert H. Cousins, Bonaventure and the Coincidence of Opposites) and John Duns Scotus, who seemed to have a whole ontology grounded on non-classical logic, i.e. a logic that is not limited by the classical principle of non-contradiction (see for example some recent publications by Antoine de Vos and Luca Parisoli).

To Meister Eckhart and Ibn 'Arabi Coincidentia oppositorum goes beyond rationality, and no human being could understand God through his rationality. Man could not have an intellectual idea of God, he should not pretend to know God, but he should live to conform himself to God's will. But the possibility to know something about God, according with both thinkers, it is something that remains in their religious traditions. Reader can find again the central thesis of book: mysticism is always within a particular religion. The relationship between a particular religion and its own form of mysticism and also the relationships with other religions is well explained by Dobie through the concept of analogy: Islam:Islamic mysticism = Christianity:Christian mysticism (Islam is to its mysticism as Christianity is to its own mysticism and so on). The relationship, says Dobie, is neither identical nor absolutely different, it is analogous.

In my opinion, Dobie's contribution to the matter is very important and it would be possible to sum it up it as follows: God's Logos could be interpreted and understood in different ways, but the mystical approach always needs a revelation of this Logos, and revelation always takes place within a well defined religious tradition, grounded in a written or oral Book. Perhaps it would be useful to stress a little more the difference between a mysticism that remains within the bounds of traditional religion and a mysticism that is closer to gnosis or esoteric contexts, but without any doubt this work is an interesting one, an excellent way to go deeper into the subject.