Meister Eckhart

Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 – 1327/8) is one of the great Christian mystics. He was born near Erfurt in Thuringia and in his distinguished career became a Parisian Professor of Theology and took a leading pastoral and organisational role in the Dominican Order.

In the language of the Christian tradition Eckhart expounds the eternal mysteries in a style that is fresh and original in the best sense. Through the vividness of his use of imagery (alluding to the mysteries of the spark of the soul, the Abyss, the desert, the birth of the Word in the heart, etc.) Eckhart paradoxically directs us to that which lies beyond image.

The depth and universality of Eckhart’s teaching has drawn seekers of truth Christian and non-Christian alike. His radical and penetrating insight makes him a natural point of reference for a genuinely ecumenical understanding.

The Controversy

Despite Meister Eckhart’s distinction and popularity, indeed partly because of it, in the political and ecclesiastical turbulence of the fourteenth century, the Meister found himself accused of heresy. Some passages of his work were posthumously condemned as heretical or dangerous and a shadow was cast over his reputation. His works were influential in late medieval spirituality but later were almost forgotten. With the growing interest in Eckhart today, both inside and outside the Church, it needs to be made clear whether he is acceptable to the Church as a Christian theologian and spiritual master.

Since 1980 steps have been taken by the Dominican Order, supported by lay people and friends, to seek an official declaration from the Pope in order to acknowledge “the exemplary character of Eckhart’s activity and preaching and to recommend his writings (particularly the spiritual works, treatises and sermons) as an expression of authentic Christian mysticism and as trustworthy guides to the Christian life according to the spirit of the gospel.”

In 1985 the Master of the Dominican Order set up a Commission to examine the orthodoxy of Eckhart’s teaching, and one of the initial aims of the Eckhart Society was to support the work of that Commission, whose report has now been submitted.

Some sayings of Meister Eckhart:

“Whoever possesses God in their being, has him in a divine manner, and he shines out to them in all things; for them all things taste of God and in all things it is God’s image that they see.”

“People should not worry as much about what they do but rather about what they are. If they and their ways are good, then their deeds are radiant. If you are righteous, then what you do will also be righteous. We should not think that holiness is based on what we do but rather on what we are, for it is not our works which sanctify us but we who sanctify our works.”

“It is a fair trade and an equal exchange: to the extent that you depart from things, thus far, no more and no less, God enters into you with all that is his, as far as you have stripped yourself of yourself in all things. It is here that you should begin, whatever the cost, for it is here that you will find true peace, and nowhere else.” Talks of Instruction.

In 1985 the Pope, John Paul II, said: “Did not Eckhart teach his disciples: ‘All that God asks you most pressingly is to go out of yourself – and let God be God in you’? One could think that, in separating himself from creatures, the mystic leaves his brothers, humanity, behind. The same Eckhart affirms that, on the contrary, the mystic is marvelously present to them on the only level where he can truly reach them, that is in God.”

Source:  The Eckhart Society

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