Who was Meister Eckhart?
Meister Eckhart was a German theologian and philosopher of the Middle Ages. Here is a summary of his life and ideas:
- He was born around 1260 in the Thuringia region (present-day Germany) and died in 1328. He was a member of the Dominican Order.
- He studied and taught theology and philosophy at the University of Paris. He was appointed Provincial of Saxony and Vicar General of Bohemia.
- His sermons and writings in Latin made him one of the most influential thinkers of the Middle Ages. He is considered one of the masters of Rhineland mysticism.
- His thinking focused on the direct relationship between the human soul and God, without the intervention of the Church. He advocated an ascetic detachment from the world to unite with God.
- He developed a philosophy of the “divine spark” in the human soul, which allows one to unite with the divine through a process of detachment and contemplation.
- Accused of heresy by the Inquisition, he was condemned in 1329, a year after his death. His ideas influenced mystics like Johannes Tauler and the Devotio Moderna.
What do you know about the circumstances of his death?
Here is what I know about the circumstances surrounding Meister Eckhart’s death:
- In 1326, the Archbishop of Cologne, Henry II of Virneburg, opened an investigation for heresy against Meister Eckhart. His writings were examined and he was mainly criticized for his conception of the divine nature of the soul.
- Eckhart was summoned before the court of the Inquisition in Cologne in 1327 to answer the charges. He decided to defend himself and denied having preached heresy.
- However, he died before the end of his trial, on January 28, 1328 in Cologne. His death ended the proceedings against him personally.
- In 1329, after his death, Pope John XXII published the bull “In agro dominico” which condemned 28 propositions extracted from Eckhart’s works as heretical.
- The exact circumstances of his death are not known for certain. According to some accounts, he died of natural causes related to his old age (around 60 years old). Others suggest he may have been poisoned, but no formal evidence exists.
- His trial and posthumous condemnation show the tensions between his radical mystical thinking and the Catholic orthodoxy of the time. But his ideas survived and influenced generations of thinkers.
Do we know how he defended himself against the accusations?
There are few details about how Meister Eckhart precisely defended himself before the Inquisition court in Cologne, but here are the known facts:
- Eckhart denied having ever preached or taught anything heretical. He claimed his writings and sermons were orthodox.
- He argued that some of his statements had been misunderstood or taken out of context. He insisted that his entire body of work must be read to properly understand him.
- Regarding his conception of the “divine spark” in the soul, he clarified that it is not a part identical with or consubstantial with God, but rather that the soul possesses a faculty to know and love God.
- He defended the ascetic and contemplative life as a path to Christian perfection, which was classical in the mystical tradition.
- Eckhart appealed to his privileges as a member of the Dominican Order, exempt from external jurisdiction. But the Archbishop of Cologne ignored this appeal.
- Although Eckhart vigorously defended himself, the court considered him suspect of heresy. His death prevented a final judgment during his lifetime.
In summary, Eckhart used theological and philosophical arguments to defend the orthodoxy of his thinking, in vain. His ideas were too bold for his time.
Could you write me some particularly bold quotes from him?
Here are some quotes from Meister Eckhart that were considered bold and radical in his time:
- “The spark of the soul is identical to God.” This sentence summarizes his conception of the divine spark in the soul, interpreted as a form of pantheism by his detractors.
- “All that God the Son has done, I do and work along with him; and all that he has suffered, I suffer with him.” This mystical identification with Jesus Christ was seen as too extreme.
- “If I had committed all sins […] and if I had no will to confess them or repent of them, I would not be damned.” The possibility of salvation without redemption by the Church shocked orthodoxy.
- “We pray God to be delivered from God.” A shocking statement interpreted as a rejection of God, but Eckhart explained it was about being freed from our limited images of God.
- “The eye by which I see God is the same eye by which He sees me.” Affirmation of an intimate union with God beyond the senses and reason.
- “One asks: What does God do in heaven? I answer: He begets his Son […] that is his eternal work and never accomplished.” Scandalous likening of God to the perpetual work of Creation.
These quotes give a glimpse into Eckhart’s radical and poetic formulations which offended the scholastic thinking of his time.
Did he have a spiritual experience?
There is no direct account from Meister Eckhart describing a personal mystical or spiritual experience. However, his writings suggest that he achieved very high contemplative states during his lifetime.
Several elements imply Eckhart had a very rich inner life:
- His detailed descriptions of different spiritual states (ascetic detachment, inner stillness, ecstatic union with God, etc.) imply he experienced them directly.
- His conception of the “birth of God in the soul” appears to come from a strong personal intuition during contemplative moments.
- His insistence on the “divine spark” in the soul and the possibility of uniting with God implies an intimate contact with the divine.
- The radicalness and assurance of his teaching suggest it was not just theological speculation but lived experiences.
- In his German sermons, he uses vivid, poetic language to describe mystical union, suggestive of altered states of consciousness.
- Contemporary accounts describe him as a fascinating preacher and spiritual master, able to provoke spiritual ecstasy in his listeners.
Therefore, even without a personal account, his thinking and teaching allow deducing that Eckhart reached exceptional contemplative heights for his time. He was not only a great theologian but an authentic mystic.
Could you write me some extracts from his sermons that provoked spiritual ecstasy in listeners?
Here are some extracts from Meister Eckhart’s sermons that could have provoked powerful spiritual emotions in his listeners:
“Friends, practice inner detachment. All that God has ever given man in time, He has given inwardly.”
“Dear friends, let everyone rid themselves of everything and gather in themselves, as entirely detached from all created things as when they were not yet.”
“O noble souls, learn to leave yourselves, and let God work as He wills. Be without your own will, devoid of self.”
“My beloved, let God see in you what He wants to see! Let Him hear in you what He wants to hear! Be empty of yourselves.”
“Friends, meditate on the eternal birth of God in the soul, and you will taste divine joy, transcendent love. The Father ceaselessly begets His Son in the innermost depth of the spirit.”
“Plunge into the depths of yourselves, where the living source of love wells up. There you will find God, in your own heart.”
One can perceive in these extracts all the evocative power of Eckhart, his ability to touch the souls of his listeners and arouse intense mystical emotions through the poetic force of his imagery.
Did he talk about miracles?
Meister Eckhart does not seem to have placed great importance on miracles. Here are some elements about his position on this issue:
- In his writings, he criticizes those who seek miracles out of curiosity and thirst for extraordinary sensations. For him, the essential thing is the inner experience of God.
- He warns against judging a person’s holiness by their miracles. What really matters in his view is the soul’s inner perfection in union with God.
- Eckhart values spiritual miracles (“the birth of God in the soul”) over physical miracles which he sees as belonging to a lower order.
- He never claimed to have performed miracles and does not seem to have attributed them to other mystics of his time.
- In one sermon, he states: “What God works in the soul is better than if He raised a dead man.”
- In his trial, his accusers did not indict him for performing fake miracles or claiming them.
In summary, Eckhart focuses on the contemplative experience of divine union. Miracles are not an end for him, just secondary manifestations.
Although a great mystic, Meister Eckhart does not seem to have been a “wonder-worker”, unlike some popular saints of his time. His approach to spirituality is quite intellectualized.
Could you write me some quotes from him that send the reader or listener back to themselves?
Here are some quotes from Meister Eckhart that invite the reader or listener to refocus on themselves:
“Do not seek God elsewhere than where He dwells. His dwelling is in the innermost depth of your soul.”
“You will not find God unless you find Him in your own heart and in the heart of your brother.”
“Why do you seek God by strange paths when it is in you that He dwells?”
“Look into your heart, for that is where the Lord’s glory resides. Your bliss lies within you.”
“The Kingdom of God will not come by observing outward signs. It will not be said: Look, here it is, or there it is. The Kingdom of God is within you.”
“You carry eternal life within yourselves, you are that life itself, you have only to look within yourselves to find it.”
These few quotes show that Eckhart, in the mystical tradition, constantly invites us to return to the center of ourselves to find God there. His spirituality is highly inward-focused and oriented toward the direct experience of the divine at the core of the soul.