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  • Royce's Reinvention of Meister Eckhart
  • David K. Glidden

Having been set free from sin,

You have become slaves of righteousness.

—Rom. 6.18

Beginning with The Religious Aspect of Philosophy (1885), Josiah Royce's views gradually evolved into a growing celebration of community affiliations. Philosophy of Loyalty (1908) eloquently articulated his distinctive social philosophy.1 Royce's vision of ideal community life soon became beatified in The Problem of Christianity (1913) in the form of "the Beloved Community," where Royce venerated the Pauline model of a gathered community consisting of those who share a common faith. Heartfelt community loyalty thereby acquired a spiritual dimension that transformed human nature. Against the background of this transfiguration, Royce downplayed the life of prayer and private devotion to Jesus as personal savior. Instead, Royce emphasized the Divine presence emanating from within the community of the faithful. This marked the spiritual apotheosis of Royce's social philosophy.

From this perspective, Royce belittled what he termed "quietism," where the devout turn away from the centrality of community life, by surrendering their persons to God, abandoning their individuality as well. "Quietism" came into popular parlance only toward the end of the seventeenth century in response to the mysticism of the Spanish heretic Molinus, who advocated surrendering one's will to God alone. But its origins grew out of medieval mysticism; its roots lay in ancient Platonism. By the eighteenth century, the term also came to denote a form of inner tranquility and surrender of the self to contemplation, characteristic of Buddhism and Eastern religious practices.

Quietism posed a direct challenge to Royce's vision of the Beloved Community as the proper focus for individual identity and faithful loyalty. The legacy of Platonism, Christian mysticism, and Paul's occasional emphasis on becoming "slaves of righteousness" posed a problem Royce needed to address. The widely revered mysticism of Meister Eckhart (1260–1328), not to mention the growing Western embrace of Buddhist contemplative practices, required a response. [End Page 104]

In chapter 14 ("The Doctrine of Signs") of The Problem of Christianity (1913), Royce brought a passage from Schopenhauer into the discussion:

In strong contrast to the affirmation of the will to live, Schopenhauer placed that attitude which he defined as the resignation,—the denial of the will to live. . . . This is the attitude of the will which Southern Buddhism taught as the sole and sufficient way of salvation. In the form of saintly resignation the same ideal has received countless Christian expressions. Repeatedly this form of self-denial has been supposed to constitute the essence of Christianity.


Royce spurned willful resignation and ascetic self-denial, because "resignation alone does not save. To abandon his will to live does not by itself enable the individual to win the true goal of life" (Problem of Christianity 354). Royce rejected any such reading of Christianity, despite its romantic popularity: "Repeatedly the expounders and defenders of the Christian doctrine of life have been obliged to insist that the Christian form of salvation does not consist in this simple abandonment of the will to live" (Problem of Christianity 354). Royce dismissed as metaphysics of the mystic that abandonment of self some had claimed was the essence of Christianity.3

Here and elsewhere in his writings,4 Royce emphatically rejected sacrifice of self, or ascetic self-denial, just as he spurned the "quietism" of the guru or hermit who spent his days in mindful contemplation. To live that sort of life would be to efface individuality in the name of an all-consuming devotion to Divinity. The raison d'être for community would fall away as well. One would lose the will to live a life of one's very own, the will to contribute one's uniqueness to the community. The Beloved Community would afford no cause for loyal service once its members merged with the Divine, as if they themselves had vanished into another realm entirely. The very dichotomy between individual identity and community would evanesce into irrelevance.

By 1913, then, Royce had pointedly rejected the sort of self-surrender so characteristic of Buddhist or Hindu asceticism and Christian mysticism. But long before his Philosophy of Loyalty had been published...


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pp. 104-119
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