Meister Eckhart

Discussion in 'Belief and Spirituality' started by Sancho, Feb 21, 2010.

  1. Sancho

    Sancho New Member

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    This thread is for trying to piece together Meister Eckhart's vision. Welcome to anyone with interest or curiosity about this sagacious German priest who was born in 1260 and died about 1328. Please add whatever comments or quotes you wish. Part of Eckhart's brilliance was in his ability to condence glimpses of a broad vision in succinct sentences. Searching for Eckhart on this site reveals that many posts have mentioned him so apparently there is no shortage of interest in his vision which bridges East and West like no other.

    A sermon I just read yesterday can serve as threadstarter as well as anything else he wrote. It begins with the sermon on the mount.

    "Blessedness opened the mouth that spake wisdom and said: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'
    . . .
    "Now, there are two kinds of poverty. One is external poverty and it is good, and much to be praised in people who take it on willingly, for the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he himself practiced it in the earthly realm.
    . . .
    "Now, I pray you that you may be like this, so that you may understand this address; for, by the eternal truth, I tell you that if you haven't this truth of which we are speaking in yourselves, you cannot understand me."
    . . .
    "If I were asked, then, what it is to be a poor man who wants nothing, I should answer and say: As long as a person keeps his own will, and thinks it his will to fulfill the all-living will of God, he had not the poverty of which we are talking, for this person has a will with which he wants to satisfy the will of God, and that is not right. For if one wants to be truly poor, he must as free from his creature will as when he had not yet been born. For, by the everlasting truth, as long as you will to do God's will, and yearn for eternity and God, you are not really poor, for he is poor who wills nothing, knows nothing, and wants nothing.
    Back in the Womb from which I came, I had no god and merely was, myself. I did not will or desire anything, for I was pure being, a knower of myself by divine truth. Then I wanted myself and nothing else. But when I parted from my free will and received my created being, then I had a god. For before there were creatures, God was not god, but rather, he was what he was. When creatures came to be and took on creaturely being, then God was no longer God as he is in himself, but god as he is with creatures."
    . . .
    "Now the question is raised: In what does happiness consist most of all? Certain authorities have said that it consists in loving. Others say that it consists in knowing and loving, and this is a better statement. But we say that it consists neither in knowledge nor in love, but that there is something in the soul, from which both knowledge and love flow and which, like the agents of the soul, neither knows nor loves. To know this is to know what blessedness depends on. This something had no 'before' or 'after' and it waits for nothing that is yet to come, for it has nothing to gain or lose. Thus, when God acts in it, it is deprived of knowing that he has done so. What is more, it is the same kind of thing that, like God, can enjoy itself. Thus I say that man should be so disinterested and untrammeled that he does not know what God is doing in him. Thus only can a person possess poverty.
    The authorities say that God is a being, an intelligent being who knows everything. But I say that God is neither a being nor intelligent and he does not 'know' either this or that. God is free of everything and therefore he is everything. He, then, who is to be poor in spirit must be poor in his own knowledge, so that he knows nothing of God, or creatures, or of himself."
     
  2. Eudaimonist

    Eudaimonist In Galt We Trust

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    I don't find his self-nullifying vision all that appealing. But thanks for posting these quotes.


    eudaimonia,

    Mark
     
  3. Tariki

    Tariki New Member

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    Maybe Eckhart is not for everyone. Basically he points to the way of negation - the via negativa - and this has many affinities with certain Buddhist paths. D.T.Suzuki, known for his books on Zen, has also written about Eckhart, with approval. Suzuki was also rich in his love of Shin Buddhism, the Buddhist way of faith. Faith, love, positive, negative....the words flow! All seem to have their moments, and have their place in us.

    I think that there is a "false" self, a social self..........and this seems to be the self that Eckhart would nullify, in his usual very radical manner. To me he is attempting to say that no amount of "adjustments", "polishing" or "spring cleaning" of the false self will ever make it "suitable" for God; that rather the false must be "seen through" and the real realised, uncovered - and that the true is when the false is gone, and that it can be lived, but not thought. Speaking positively of it, seeking to describe it, can only fill our minds with erroneous pictures, maybe creating confusion rather than clarity.

    In giving us His love God has given us His Spirit so that we can love Him with the love wherewith He loves Himself. We love God with His own love; awareness of it deifies us. (Eckhart)
     
  4. Sancho

    Sancho New Member

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    Thanks for both of your replies. I'm glad to hear any reactions. Certainly Eckhart is not for everyone, neither now or in his day --as his heresy trials can attest. Personally I find his words resound with whatever it is within me that connects with something called truth more than, well, most others.
    I was hoping someone would mention D.T. Suzuki's
    book on mysticism East and West. I haven't finished it yet so I don't want to blather on about it. Suzuki is someone I've been interested in recently as well.
    In some ways Eckhart's thinking is very medieval, especially when going on about such topics as poverty of spirit, but in many ways Eckhart is still ahead of the times, especially when talking about time.

    From a sermon called, "Get beyond time!"

    "To say that God created the world yesterday or tomorrow would be foolishness, for God created the world and everything in it in the one present Now. Indeed, time that has been past for a thousand years is as present and near to God as the time that now is. The soul that lives in the present Now-moment is the soul in which the Father begets his only begotten Son and in that birth the soul is born again. It is still one birth, however often the soul is reborn in God, as the Father begets his only begotten Son."

    Meister Eckhart has much more to say about the Now-moment. I'll find some other passages later. For now, here is a passage that suggests a similarity between Eckhart and Eastern thought. A footnote says the 'old authority' here is unknown, though the passage has a striking similarity to Lao Tzu.

    "An old authority says that the soul is made between one and two. The 'one' is eternity, that remains always aloof and changeless. The two is time, which changes and multiplies. He means to say that, with its agents, the soul touches eternity --that is, God --and with it's lower agents, touches time and thereby becomes changeable and degraded, and inclined to material things."
     
  5. earl

    earl ?

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    Yes, Sancho, many of ME's words sound Buddhist. As to that view of time, certainly Dogen's thoughts on "Being-Time," (Uji), might strike a similar chord. Perceptions of time-linear vs. "Spherical," (where past, present, and future seem a seemless whole), seem to occur based on states of consciousness. Personally, I believe it is only in the embodied state that we naturally view time linearly. earl
     
  6. Sancho

    Sancho New Member

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    Dogen is someone I haven't yet read. Since his name has come up in other threads, and you, earl, point to him in this connection, I'm looking to learn more about and from Dogen.
     
  7. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Meister Eckhart stands in the line of the Christian Apophatic Tradition, and specifically in the line of metaphysical thought called 'meontology' — the study on non-being, or beyond-being.

    I'm no expert, but when reading Eckhart, it would be useful to have reference to other thinkers in this tradition who would have, even if indirectly, shaped his thought — he was educated at Paris and entered the Dominican Order there — like many of his predecessors he was a Christian Neoplatonist, raised on the thought of the likes of Gregory of Nyssa, Dionysius the pseudoAreopagite, Augustine, and of course St Thomas Aquinas.

    (After Eckhart we have Nicholas of Cusa ... but thinkers in this tradition are thin on the ground... )

    What is particular to meontology is the relation of the intellect to being — in this line of thinking the mind is prior to being, 'mind' in man is the image of God, mind is the capax dei (the capacity for God) of St Augustine.

    This is a far-reaching metaphysic, never fully expressed in Eckhart (more a speculative mystic than a metaphysician), but founded in Scripture, brought out in the Fathers (eg Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor in the East; Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo in the West) and was, I believe, brought to an as yet unexplored fruition in Johannes Scottus Eriugena (according to contemporary sources).

    This is almost a case of 'mind over matter', in Eriugena — as in Eckhart — being (image, form, body) is such because it is accessible to the mind, and the mind, as transcending subjectivity, is not limited or confined to the hierarchical objectivity of forms...

    One thing Sancho ... can you reference the quotes you provide? It's good to be able to look at the excerpt in context of the whole. I've got the three-volumes of Eckhart's writings, it saves me having to hunt through the lot!

    Thomas
     
  8. Sancho

    Sancho New Member

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    Thanks for providing some context Thomas. The edition of Eckhart I've been quoting from was published in 1941 by Harper Torchbooks, translated by Raymond Bernard Blakney. The contents of this collection: Talks of instuction; the book of divine comfort; the aristocrat; about disinterest; sermons; fragments; legends; the defence. So far I've quoted only from sermons 28 (Blessed are the poor), 25 (Get beyond time!), and 14 (Nothing above the soul). The numbers and titles could quite possibly be different in different translations.
     
  9. Sancho

    Sancho New Member

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    After Thomas mentioned 'mind over matter' this morning I read this in the fragments section of Eckhart translations:

    "The question has been raised as to whether it is possible to make the senses obey the mind.
    "Meister Eckhart answered it by saying: If the mind is fixed on God and continues so, the senses will obey it. It is like hanging a needle on a magnet and then another onto that and so on. It might even be possible to suspend four needles from the magnet in this way. As long as the first needle hangs onto the magnet, the rest will hang onto it, but if the first drops off it will lose all the rest. And so, as long as the mind is firmly fixed on God, the senses will obey it but when the mind drops away from God, the senses drop off from the mind and are unruly."
     
  10. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    from The Philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena (Dermot Moran):
    Eriugena argues
    Periphyseon, Book I.

    For Eriugena, and I believe Eckhart, man cannot define himself or God, for what defines is greater than what is defined, and encompasses it.

    For a Scriptural contemplation of the above, it is worth pondering the 'follow me' texts of Christ. Man cannot walk with or beside (or before) Christ, but only follow; as close as one draws to Christ, Christ draws away, ever a figure on the horizon ... the Infinite Logos who encompasses all things.

    Thomas
     
  11. Radical_Reformer

    Radical_Reformer Interfaith Forums

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    This is very foundational, Eriugena lived from 815 to 877 so he essentially led the way out of the dark ages. However, I must challenge your premise. Why do you believe that " man cannot define himself or God" ? We can define anything, however the definition may or may not be suitable. This is an important distinction.
     
  12. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    I'd like to think so, but I don't think we can say that. That he was an influence, certainly, but he was never central. There's not enough subsequent reference to him to say that.

    I think Eriugena was 'out of his time'. Some commentators speak of his 'prescience', or that his outlook holds a particularly contemporary resonance — I think his work is timeless.

    His was a 'negative dialectic' though, and, if you'll excuse the pun, it left his audience in the dark. His first work 'On Predestination' was written to refute Gottschalk, who was a Calvin before his time. No-one understood it then, or rather they accepted that he refuted predestination, but didn't really understand where he went from there, and it got him into trouble ...

    (Interestingly then, as in later disputes, both sides were arguing from Augustine, which shows how misunderstood he was and still is ... that Eriugena can advance a thesis of a profound apophaticism, a complete meontology, argued from Augustine, says something about the North African bishop that few would recognise.)

    And that is precisely the point. I use 'define' as Eriugena does, to mean the mind can know essentially what a thing is ... that the mind, as the essence of man, can see the essences of things ... that the knower is greater than the thing known.

    Eriugena employs the term in the sense that the mind can encompass what it knows, but goes on to argue the mind cannot encompass itself, or God, as both itself, and God, are infinite, albeit the former is relative and dependent upon the latter.

    The important distinction for Eriugena (and I think for Eckhart) is once a definition is made, the thing is, in a sense fixed, it becomes a fixed body, and indeed the cosmos is composed of fixed bodies. But man is not, or should not be, a fixed body. Man is mediate.

    Man is about subjectivity. Sadly, for centuries now, the 'subjective' is seen as simply something lacking the quality of objectivity, whereas, in the Christian tradition at least, the subject transcends the objective domain, because the human soul is, or should be, free to move and act as it wills.

    This is what the Fathers, Eriugena, Eckhart and Cusanus talk about as 'divine ignorance'. 'Divine ignorance' and 'divine love' are one and the same. It's not about destinations, it's all about the journey. Again, it's not about the possession of things, it's about the delight in things.

    'Divine knowledge' in that sense, the objectification of things, and with it the determination of their value and their utility, is what caused the fall, and what causes it continually, locking us ever more fixedly into time, space and matter.

    Thomas
     
  13. Tariki

    Tariki New Member

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    Thomas,

    Many thanks for your posts on this thread.
     
  14. Sancho

    Sancho New Member

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    Thanks Thomas for your comments on Eriugena.

    One thing I'd like to add at this point is that the so called dark ages were likely quite different than how they are customarily represented. Especially when the words of monks and clerics are taken as representative of the times. Eckhart was nearly contemporary with Dante; Boccaccio, Petrarch, Chaucer, and the Gowain poet were close on his heels. The world Boccaccio presents is vivacious and unrestrained to say the least. His ladies are fond of erotic stories; like hearing about hippoctitical monks; and don't mind making a mockery of marriage. Besides that very Italian world, cases have been made for considering the gothic cathedrals of Northern Europe some of humanity's greatest creations. Eckhart likely would have preached in some of those cathedrals. Also, to go beyond a euro-centric view, the Japan of Murasaki's Genji, a couple centuries earlier, was at a height of refinement descending into decadence (court life involved speaking in verse, wittily alluding to past poems). The Japanese looked to the refinement of China, especially Tang China (when every civil servant had to be thoroughly versed in poetic composition) which was contemporary with Eriugena. Both the Japanese and the Chinese saw India as "the Western Paradise". Marco Polo lived from 1254-1324.

    I meant to move on to approaching Eckhart's vision from another perspective but it is time for bed. Good-night.
     
  15. Sancho

    Sancho New Member

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    Here's the last Eckhart fragment, 'Envoi'.

    "Meister Eckhart's good friends bade him: 'Since you are going to leave us, give us one last word.'
    'I will give you,' he replied, a rule which is the stronghold of all I have said, in which are lodged all the truths to be discussed or put into practice.
    'It often happens that what seems trivial to us is more important to God than what we think important. Therefore, we ought to take everything God puts on us evenly, and not comparing and wondering which is more important, or higher, or best. We ought simply to follow where God leads, that is, to do what we are most inclined to do, to go where we are repeatedly admonished to go --to where we feel most drawn. If we do that, God gives us his greatest in our least and never fails.
    "Now, some people despise the little things of life. It is their mistake, for they thus prevent themselves from getting God's greatness out of these things. God is every way, evenly in all ways, to him who has eyes to see. But sometimes it is hard to know whether one's inclinations come from God or not, but that can be decided in this way: if you find yourself always possessed of a knowledge or intimation of God's will, which you obey before anything else, because you feel urged to obey it and the urge is frequent, then you may know that it is from God.
    Some people want to recognize God only in some pleasant enlightenment --and then they get pleasure and enlightenment but not God. Somewhere it is written that God shines in the darkness where every now and then we get a glimpse of him. More often, God is where his light is least apparent. Therefore we ought to expect God in all manners and all things evenly.
    Someone may now say: I should be glad to look for God evenly in all shapes and things, but my mind does not always work the same way --and then, not as well with this as with that. To which I reply: That is too bad! All paths lead to God and he is on them all evenly, to him who knows. I am well aware that a person may get more out of one technique than another but it is not best so. God responds to all techniques evenly to a knowing man. Such and such may be the way, but it is not God.
    "But even if God is in all ways and all things evenly, do I not still need a special way to get to him? Let us see. Whatever the way that leads you most frequently to awarness of God, follow that way; and if another way appears, different from the first, and you quit the first and take the second, and the second works, it is all right. It would be nobler and better, however, to achieve rest and security through evenness, by which one might take God and enjoy him in any manner, in any thing, and not delay and hunt around for your special way: that has been my joy! To this end all kinds of activities may contribute and any work may be of help; but if it does not, let it go!"
     
  16. Radical_Reformer

    Radical_Reformer Interfaith Forums

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    This is a very pantheistic view of reality, would you agree ? I prefer a more panentheistic view which goes well beyond the material. My concept includes compassion, emotion, and spirituality. Does everyone agree or disagree ? :)
     
  17. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    I tend to disagree as panentheism rolls into God the very things Eckhart is saying God is free of ...

    ... but the argument becomes very involved. If there is to be any 'dialogue' between the human and the divine, then there must be something in common between them, yet more than a few masters of the apophatic tradition have observed that the difference between man and God is immeasurably greater than the difference between man and everything else.

    I think pantheism and panentheism is an attempt to bridge that gap.

    Following from that premise then, where or how is this commonality located or identified? Eckhart, like the others, says it resides in the soul. I don't think he goes so far as to say the soul is uncreated, but he does say there is something uncreated about the soul.

    Eckhart (like Eriugena) belongs in the idealist tradition that would flower in later German piety ... but in so doing his idealism often oversteps the bounds of reason.

    Eckhart says:
    "This spark rejecteth all creatures, and will have only God, simply as He is in Himself. It rests satisfied neither with the Father, nor with the Son, nor with the Holy Ghost, nor with the three Persons, so far as each existeth in its particular attribute."
    Here Eckhart assumes a creaturely attribute to the Three Persons of the Trinity, which I think is an error and an over-emphasis on reading the idea of 'person' in an anthropological rather than a theological/metaphysical sense — God as He is in Himself is Triune.

    "It is determined to enter into the simple Ground, the still Waste, the Unity where no man dwelleth. Then it is satisfied in the light; then it is one: it is one in itself, as this Ground is a simple stillness, and in itself immovable; and yet by this immobility are all things moved."
    Here a number of conundrums — we have 'it' which is 'determined' to enter the other — the 'Unity (Trinity) where no man dwelleth'.

    Then it is one, by participation, not by nature; its itself is not the Ground ...

    Eckhart I believe offers a number of such paradoxical statements — the basic one above is undone by the idea that the true soul does not 'determine' anything ... or rather, as long as it determines, it's missing the mark.

    From the sermon quoted above:
    This is the assertion of the self: I want to do God's will. The Lord's prayer says: 'Thy will be done', not 'I want to do your will' or 'let me do your will' or even 'my will is your will' or 'your will is my will' ... all these assert the discriminating will.

    Only in the former, 'thy will be done' is there seen the 'let go and let be' of Eckhart.

    There is a world of difference between wanting to do God's will with your will, as opposed to letting God's will be done, which is detachment and true humility.

    When he was not, that is, when he was an idea the mind of God ("before the foundation of the world" Matthew 25:34, Ephesians 1:4), prior to its becoming.

    Here we are deep into Eriugena territory again, that the true and perfect human nature exists in the mind of God before time and space, and this is its essential and ontological reality, it is this which renders every other mode of existence relatively 'unreal'.

    Thomas
     
  18. Sancho

    Sancho New Member

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    Eckhart has certainly been called pantheistic before. It was likely a point of contention in his heresy trial. I'm not sure what he would say (I haven't read his defence against the accusations yet), but I think he would see no need to distinguish between monothieism or pantheism as both describe unity.
    The thing is, God is only everything when an individual person recognizes God's presence in individual moments. It is a matter of subjectivity, as Thomas has pointed out.

    Radical reformer, you mention liking pantheism as you want to get beyond the material. I see my only freedom as the choice between recognizing a subjective spiritual reality or recognizing an accepted reality of worldly ways that guide us to go with the flow of the status quo and do onto others as others did onto us. This is an obvious dualism, which I'd rather avoid, but the dualism disappears as soon as unity is arrived at subjectively.
    My perhaps peculiar understanding of the worldly/spiritual divide is influenced by atheist thinkers such as Louis Althusser and Judith Butler who describe a world where there is no soul (no pre-discoursive agency), all of our thoughts, habits, hopes, and convictions are determined by ideology, gender acts, power, or whatever else they choose to call it. This is what I refer to as worldly ways. Choosing spiritual reality is not about escaping that worldly reality where everyone is out for their own though unwittingly serving the interests of those with the most power, it is about negating that reality --seeing it as illusory. Choosing spiritual reality involves recognizing a spiritual presence that makes everything a necessary illusion, a momentary creation made just for the soul experiencing it. Experiencing spiritual reality could be as varried as people are. It is subjective afterall. For me it is mostly about discovering individual laws governing individual moments.
     
  19. Radical_Reformer

    Radical_Reformer Interfaith Forums

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    Yes but some of those things are very realistic indeed.

    But these differences are difficult to compare quantitatively. For example, what is the diffence between man and a molecule of argon ?


    Indeed they are, but they provide a reasonable view of just that gap.



    Ok, back to the soul. How can the soul be uncreated ? Does that mean there is some question of its existance ?

    Doesn't idealism always overstep the bounds of reason ?



    Anthropological vs. theological / metaphysical, I like the constrast. I say the anthro trumps, mainly because it is more scientific.

    Incidently, please provide a specific citation with your reference. Proper citation etiquette is important for forum participation. :)



    What is meant by "the still Waste" ?

    This quote makes sense, especially since we have some serious doubt about the existance of the soul.



    Do you mean "detachment" in a positive sense ?




    How can anything exist before time and space ? Thomas I think you are being unrealistic, however, I think your ideas are very creative and I enjoy reading them immensely.
     
  20. Sancho

    Sancho New Member

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    Hi,

    To address a few issues that have come up, I'll begin with the claim that Eckhart understood the trinity anthropologically. Though I can't claim to understand how Eckhart understood the trinity, and though I'm not particularly interested in the long winded debates surrounding that subject, I seriously doubt that Eckhart understood the 'persons' in that way. Rather, the point he was making has more in common with the point quoted earlier about God being on all paths though no single path is itself God. God is unity, as soon as the unity is divided, God is lost.
    Moving on from this point, all the nitpicking debates over whether this divisive term or that divisive term best describe truth fail to see the forest for the trees.

    The concept of detachment has come up. This is central to Eckhart's vision, and is one of the many similarities he has with Buddhists and other Easterners.

    Here is a quote I copied into my notebook a few months ago from a different translation than used above. I failed to properly annotate it, though I believe it is from, 'On detachment'. By the way, the iPhone which is my only internet connection causes problems with block quotes for some reason.

    "One should learn to be free and unimpeded in all one's activities. But for an experienced person it is an unusual enterprise to bring oneself to such a point that no multiplicity or work can hinder us. Great enthusiasm is needed before one attains this, so that God can be present to us continually and shine unveiled at all times and in all surroundings."
    . . .
    "Now it is not enough that the human heart should be detached in the moment of time in which one will be united with God, but one must have a practiced detachment which precedes and also follows this experience. Then one can receive great things from God and receive God in all things, but if one is not prepared one spoils the gift and God with the gift. That is the reason why God cannot give us always just what we ask. It is not His fault, for he us a thousand times more eager to give than we are to receive."
    . . .
    "God never gave Himself, nor does He ever except in His own will. Where God finds His will He gives himself to him and passes into him with all that is His. And the more we grow out of our own, the more truly we grow in this. Therefore, it is not enough for Him that we give up ourselves just once with all that we have and are able to do, but we should often renew ourselves and thus unite and liberate ourselves in all respects."
     

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