Meister Eckhart O.P.
(c. 1260–c. 1328), is the most
common formula used to refer to Eckhart von
Hochheim, a German theologian, philosopher
and mystic, born near Gotha, in Thuringia. Meister is German for "Master",
referring to the academic title Magister in theologia he
obtained in Paris.
Coming into prominence during the decadent Avignon Papacy
and a time of increased
tensions between the Franciscans
Eckhart's Dominican Order
Preacher Friars, he was brought up on charges later in life before
the local Franciscan-led Inquisition
Tried as a heretic
by Pope John XXII
, his "Defence" is famous for
his reasoned arguments to all challenged articles of his writing
and his refutation of heretical intent. He purportedly died before
his verdict was received, although no record of his death or burial
site has ever been discovered. Well known for his work with pious
lay groups such as the Friends of God
and succeeded by his more circumspect disciples of John Tauler
, he has gained a large following in recent years. In his
study of medieval
, Richard Southern
includes him along with Saint
Bede the Venerable
and Saint Anselm
as emblematic of the intellectual spirit of the Middle Ages
Eckhart was one of the most influential 14th c. Christian Neoplatonist
, and although technically a
(as a prominent member of
the Dominican Order
), Eckhart wrote
and spiritual psychology
, drawing extensively on mythic
imagery, and was notable for his sermons communicating the
metaphorical content of the gospels to laymen and clergy alike.
Major German philosophers have been influenced by his work.
Novel concepts Eckhart introduced into Christian metaphysics
clearly deviate from the common scholastic
canon: in Eckhart's vision,
is primarily fertile. Out of overabundance
of love the fertile God gives birth to the Son
in all of us. Clearly (aside from a
rather striking metaphor of "fertility"), this is rooted in the
Neoplatonic notion of "overflow" of the One that cannot hold back
its abundance of Being. Eckhart had imagined the creation not as a
"compulsory" overflowing (a metaphor based on a common hydrodynamic
picture), but as the free act of
will of the triune
nature of Deity (refer
). Another bold
assertion is Eckhart's distinction between God and Godhead
in German). These notions
had been present in Pseudo-Dionysius
's writings and John the Scot
's De divisione
, but it was Eckhart who, with characteristic vigor and
audacity, reshaped the germinal metaphors into profound images of
polarity between the Unmanifest and Manifest Absolute. One of his
most intriguing sermons on the "highest virtue of disinterest,"
unique in Christian theology both then and now, conforms to the
Buddhist concept of detachment and more contemporarily, Kant
's "disinterestedness." Meister Eckhart's
was also admired by Alexei Losev
in that contemplative ascent
(reunion with meaning) is bound with resignation/detachment from
the world. The difference is that truth/meaning in the
phenomenological sense was not the only result, as expressed in
Eckhart's practical guide "for those who have ears to hear", but
creation itself. He both understood and sought to communicate the
practicalities of spiritual (psychological) perfection and the
consequences in real terms.
Eckhart expressed himself both in learned Latin for the clergy in
his tractates, and more famously in the German vernacular (at that
time Middle High German) in his sermons. Because, as he said in the
defence he gave at his trial, his sermons were meant to inspire in
listeners the desire above all to do some good; he frequently used
unusual language or seemed to stray from the path of orthodoxy. His
unorthodox teachings made him suspicious to the Catholic Church
during the tension filled years of the Avignon Papacy, and he was
tried for heresy in the final years of his life. We do know that he
disappeared from the public arena before the papal verdict, and is
suspected by some of continuing his ministry in anonymity. However
there is no single medieval source giving evidence of this
He is also considered by some to have been the inspirational
"layman" referred to in Johannes Tauler's and Rulman Mershwin's
later writings in Strasbourg where he is known to have spent time
(although it is doubtful that he authored the simplistic "Book of
the Nine Rocks" published by Mershwin and attributed to the layman
knight from the north). On the other hand most scholars consider
the "layman" to be a pure fiction invented by Rulman Mershwin to
hide his authorship because of the intimidating tactics of the
Inquisition at the time.
It has also been suspected that his practical communication of the
mystical path is behind the influential 14th c. "anonymous"
disseminated after his disappearance. According to the medieval
introduction of the document, its author was an unnamed member of
the Teutonian Order of Knights living in Frankfurt.
was probably born in the village of Tambach (Thuringia) in approximately 1260.
He was born to a
noble family of landowners, but little is known about his family
and early life except that he attended the University of Paris.
There is no authority for giving him the Christian name of Johannes
which sometimes appears in biographical sketches, his Christian
name was Eckhart; his surname was von Hochheim.
Eckhart joined the Dominicans at Erfurt, and it is assumed he
studied at Cologne
. Later he was Prior
at Erfurt and Provincial
of Thuringia. In 1300, he was
sent to Paris to lecture and take the academical degrees, and
remained there till 1303. At this point he returned to Erfurt, and was
made Provincial for Saxony, a province
which reached at that time from the Netherlands to Livonia.
Complaints made against him and the provincial of Teutonia
at the general chapter held in Paris in
1306, concerning irregularities among the ternaries, must have been
trivial, because the general, Aymeric of Piacenza
, appointed him in
the following year his vicar-general for Bohemia
with full power to set the demoralized
monasteries there in order.
Eckhart was appointed by the general chapter of Naples as teacher
at Paris. Then follows a long period of which it is
known only that he spent part of the time at Strasbourg.
A passage in a chronicle of the year 1320,
extant in manuscript (cf. Wilhelm
, i. 352–399), speaks of a prior Eckhart at
Frankfurt who was suspected of heresy, and some have referred
this to Meister Eckhart.
It is unusual that a man under
suspicion of heresy would have been appointed teacher in one of the
most famous schools of the order, but Eckhart's distinctive
expository style could well have already been under scrutiny by his
Eckhart next appears as teacher at Cologne, where the archbishop,
Hermann von Virneburg
eventually accuses him of heresy before the Pope. But Nicholas of Strasburg
, to whom the
pope had given the temporary charge of the Dominican monasteries in
Germany, promptly exonerated him. The archbishop, however, further
pressed his charges against Eckhart and against Nicholas before his
own court, forcing them to deny the competency of the archepiscopal
and demanded litterce
for an appeal to the Pope.
On February 13, 1327, he stated in his protest, which was read
publicly, that he had always detested everything wrong, and should
anything of the kind be found in his writings, he now retracts. Of
the further progress of the case there is no information, except
that Pope John XXII
issued a bull
(In agro dominico
), March 27, 1329, in which a series of
statements from Eckhart is characterized as heretical; another as
suspected of heresy (the bull is given complete in ALKG
ii. 636–640). At the close, it is stated that Eckhart recanted
before his death everything which he had falsely taught, by
subjecting himself and his writing to the decision of the Apostolic See
. By this is no doubt meant the
statement of February 13, 1327, and it may be inferred that
Eckhart's death, concerning which no information or burial site
exists, took place shortly after that event.
the general chapter of the order at Toulouse decided to proceed against preachers who "endeavor
to preach subtle things which not only do (not) advance morals, but
easily lead the people into error".
Eckhart's disciples were
admonished to be more cautious, but nevertheless they cherished the
memory of their master. The lay group, Friends of God
, followers of Eckhart, existed
in communities across the region and carried on his ideas under the
leadership of such priests as John Tauler and Henry Suso.
Works and doctrines
Although he was an accomplished academic theologian, Eckhart's
best-remembered works are his highly unusual sermons in the
vernacular during a time of disarray among the clergy and monastic
orders, rapid growth of numerous pious lay groups, and the Inquisition
's continuing concerns over heretical
movements throughout Europe. With the move of the Papacy from Rome
to Avignon and the tension between the second Avignon Pope John
XXII and Holy Roman Emperor
IV who battled for power, Eckhart as a preaching friar attempted to
guide his flock, as well as monks and nuns under his jurisdiction
with practical sermons on spiritual/psychological transformation
and New Testament metaphorical content related to the creative
power inherent in disinterest (dispassion or detachment).
The central theme of Eckhart's German sermons is the presence of
God in the individual soul, and the dignity of the soul of the just
man. Although he elaborated on this theme, he rarely departed from
it. In one sermon, Eckhart gives the following summary of his
When I preach, I usually speak of detachment and say
that a man should be empty of self and all things; and secondly,
that he should be reconstructed in the simple good that God is; and
thirdly, that he should consider the great aristocracy which God
has set up in the soul, such that by means of it man may
wonderfully attain to God; and fourthly, of the purity of the
The lack of imprimatur
from the Church
and anonymity of the author of the "Theologia germanica" did not
lessen its influence for the next two centuries — including
at the peak of public
and clerical resistance to Catholic indulgences
— and was viewed by some historians
of the early twentieth century as pivotal in provoking Luther's
actions and the subsequent Protestant Reformation
“The two eyes of the soul of man,” says the Theologia
,”cannot both perform their work at once: but if the
soul shall see with the right eye into eternity, then the left eye
must close itself and refrain from working, and be as though it
were dead. For if the left eye be fulfilling its office toward
outward things, that is holding converse with time and the
creatures; then must the right eye be hindered in its working; that
is, in its contemplation. Therefore, whosoever will have the one
must let the other go; for ‘no man can serve two masters.’“
Eckhart's status in the contemporary Church is uncertain.
Dominican Order pressed in the last decade of the 20th century for
his full rehabilitation and confirmation of his theological
orthodoxy; the late Pope John Paul II voiced favorable opinion on
this initiative, but the affair is still confined to the corridors
of the Vatican.
century philosopher Schopenhauer
compared Eckhart's views to the teachings of Indian, Christian, and Islamic
mystic and ascetics:
In 1891, Karl Eugen Neumann
translated large parts of the Tripitaka
found parallels between Eckhart and Buddhism
, a third generation Kyoto
philosopher and scholar in medieval philosophy showed
similarities between Eckhart's soteriology
in an article ("Eckhardt um zen am problem", 1989). In
the 20th century, Eckhart's thoughts were compared to Eastern
mystics by both Rudolf Otto
and D.T. Suzuki
other scholars. Interestingly, one of the pioneer translators of
Eckhart's writings to English, Maurice O'Connell Walshe
, was also
an accomplished translator of Buddhist scriptures such as the
. However, Reiner
Schurmann, Ph.D., a Professor of Philosophy, while agreeing with
Daisetz T. Suzuki that there exist certain similarities between Zen
Buddhism and Meister Eckhart’s teaching, also disputed Suzuki’s
contention that the ideas expounded in Eckhart’s sermons closely
approach Buddhist thought, “so closely indeed, that one could stamp
them almost definitely as coming out of Buddhist speculations.”
[Wandering Joy: Meister Eckhart’s Mystical Philosophy,” at
p. 217 - C The Estate of Reiner Schurmann 2001,
Lindisfarne Books, Great Barrington, MA.
Schurmann’s several clarifications included, to name of few: 1) on
the question of “Time” and Eckhart’s view (claimed as parallel to
Buddhism in reducing awakening to instantaneity) that the birth of
the Word in the ground of the mind must accomplish itself in an
instant, in “the eternal now”, that in fact Eckhart in this respect
is rooted directly in the catechisis of the Fathers of the Church
rather than merely derived from Buddhism [Id.]; 2) on the question
of "Isness” and Suzuki’s contention that the “Christian experiences
are not after all different from those of the
Buddhist…[;][t]erminology is all that divides us,” that in Eckhart
“[t]he Godhead’s isticheit [translated as `isness’ by Suzuki] is a
negation of all quiddities; it says that God, rather than
non-being, is at the heart of all things” thereby demonstrating
with Eckhart's theocentrism that “[t]he isticheit of the Godhead
and the isness of a thing then refer to two opposite experiences in
Meister Eckhart and Suzuki: in the former, to God, and in the
latter, to `our ordinary state of the mind'” and Buddhism's
attempts to think "pure nothingness" (Id. At p. 218); and 3) on the
question of “Emptiness” and Eckhart’s view (claimed as parallel to
Buddhist emphasis “on the emptiness of all `composite things’”)
that only a perfectly released person, devoid of all, comprehends,
“seizes,” God, that the Buddhist “emptiness” seems to concern man’s
relation to things while Eckhart’s concern is with what is “at the
end of the road opened by detachment [which is] the mind espouses
the very movement of the divine `dehiscence’…[;] [i]t does what the
Godhead does: it lets all things be…[;][n]ot only must God also
abandon all of his own—names and attributes—if he is to reach into
the ground of the mind (this is already a step beyond the
recognition of the emptiness of all composite things), but God’s
essential being, releasement, becomes the being of a released man.”
([Id. At 219.)
More recently, although most scholars accept that Eckhart's work is
divided into philosophical and theological, Kurt Flasch
and other interpreters see Eckhart
strictly as a philosopher. Flasch argues that the opposition
between "mystic" and "scholastic" is not relevant because this
mysticism (in Eckhart's context) is penetrated by the spirit of the
, in which it occurred.
Eckhart has also influenced contemporary theologians, such as
, who draws heavily
on Eckhart for his own theology and whose "Breakthrough" presents
an alternative and substantially different view of the nature and
significance of Eckhart's thinking from that taken in earlier
sections of this article. The notable humanistic psychoanalyst and
philosopher Erich Fromm
scholar who brought renewed attention in the west to Eckhart's
writings, drawing upon many of the latters themes in his large
corpus of work. Eckhart was a significant influence in developing
's conception of
spiritual growth through selfless service to humanity, as detailed
in his book of contemplations called Vägmärken
Renewed academic attention to Eckhart has attracted favorable
attention to his work from contemporary non-Christian mystics.
Eckhart's most famous single quote, "The Eye with which I see God
is the same Eye with which God sees me", is commonly cited by
thinkers within neopaganism
as a point of contact
between these traditions and Christian mysticism.
In popular culture
- In Jacob's
Ladder, Louis, the main character's friend, quotes Eckart:
"You know what he [Eckart] said? The only thing that burns in Hell
is the part of you that won't let go of your life; your memories,
your attachments. They burn 'em all away. But they're not punishing
you, he said. They're freeing your soul. ... If you're frightened
of dying and holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away.
But if you've made your peace then the devils are really angels,
freeing you from the Earth".
- Meister Eckhart: Die deutschen und lateinischen Werke.
Herausgegeben im Auftrage der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft.
Stuttgart and Berlin: Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 11 Vols., 1936.
- Augustine Daniels, O.S.B., ed., "Eine lateinische
Rechtfertigungsschrift des Meister Eckharts," Beiträge zur
Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters, 23, 5 (Münster,
1923): 1 - 4, 12 - 13, 34 - 35, 65 - 66.
- Franz Jostes, ed., Meister Eckhart und seine Jünger:
Ungedruckte Texte zur Geschichte der deutschen Mystik, De
Gruyter, 1972 (Series: Deutsche Neudrucke Texte des
- Thomas Kaepelli, O.P., "Kurze Mitteilungen über
mittelalterliche Dominikanerschriftsteller," Archivum Fratrum
Praedicatorum 10, (1940), pp. 293 - 94.
- Thomas Kaepelli, O.P., Scriptores ordinis Praedicatorum
medii aevi. Vol. I (A-F). Rome, 1970.
- M.H. Laurent, "Autour du procés de Maître Eckhart. Les
documents des Archives Vaticanes," Divus Thomas (Piacenza)
39 (1936), pp. 331 - 48, 430 - 47.
- Franz Pelster, S.J., ed., Articuli contra Fratrem Aychardum
Alamannum, Vat. lat. 3899, f. 123r - 130v, in "Ein Gutachten aus
dem Eckehart-Prozess in Avignon," Aus der Geistewelt des
Mittelalters, Festgabe Martin Grabmann, Beiträge Supplement 3,
Munster, 1935, pp. 1099 - 1124.
- Josef Quint, ed. and trans. Meister Eckehart: Deutsche
Predigten und Traktate, Munich: Carl Hanser, 1955.
- Josef Quint, ed., Textbuch zur Mystik des deutschen
Mittelalters: Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler, Heinrich
Seuse, Halle/Saale: M. Niemeyer, 1952.
- Rubin, Bruce Joel, Jacob's Ladder. Mark Mixson, general editor,
The Applause Screenplay Series, Applause Theatre Book Publishers,
1990. ISBN 1-55783-086-X.
- Gabriel Théry, O.P., "Édition critique des piéces relatives au
procés d'Eckhart continues dans le manuscrit 33b de la Bibliothèque
de Soest," Archives d'histoire littéraire et doctrinal du moyen
âge, 1 (1926), pp. 129 - 268.
Translations and commentaries
- Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation, trans. Raymond
B. Blakney, New York: Harper and Row, 1941, ISBN 0-06-130008-X,
about one-half the works including treatises, 28 sermons, Defense
- Meister Eckhart, The Essential Sermons, Commentaries,
Treatises and Defense, trans. and ed. by Bernard McGinn and
Edmund Colledge, New York: Paulist Press, 1981.
- Meister Eckhart: Teacher and Preacher, trans. and ed.
by Bernard McGinn and Frank Tobin, New York and London: Paulist
Press / SPCK, 1987.
- Meister Eckhart, Sermons and Treatises, trans. by M.
O'C. Walshe, 3 vols., Longmead, Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element Books,
- J ames Midgely Clark, Meister Eckhart: An Introduction to
the Study of His Works with an Anthology of His Sermons,
Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson, 1957.
- James M. Clark and John V. Skinner, eds. and trans.,
Treatises and Sermons of Meister Eckhart, New York:
Octagon Books, 1983. (Reprint of Harper and Row ed., 1958.)
- Meister Eckhart: Selected Writings, ed. and trans. by
Oliver Davies, London: Penguin, 1994.
- C. de B. Evans, Meister Eckhart by Franz Pfeiffer, 2
vols., London: Watkins, 1924 and 1931.
- Ursula Fleming, Meister Eckhart: The Man from whom God Hid
Nothing, Leominster, Herefordshire: Gracewing, 1995.
- Matthew Fox, O.P., ed., Breakthrough: Meister Eckhart's
Creation Spirituality in New Translation, Garden City, NY:
- Armand Maurer, ed., Master Eckhart: Parisian Questions and
Prologues, Toronto, Canada: Pontifical Institute of Medieval
- Reiner Schürmann, Meister Eckhart: Mystic and
Philosopher, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.
- Otto Karrer Meister Eckehart Speaks The Philosophical
Library, Inc. New York, New York, 1957.
- Shizuteru Ueda, Die Gottesgeburt in der Seele und der
Durchbruch zur Gottheit. Die mystische Anthropologie
Meister Eckharts und ihre Konfrontation mit der Mystik des
Zen-Buddhismus, Gütersloh: Mohn, 1965.
- Jeanne Ancelet-Hustache, Master Eckhart and the Rhineland
Mystics, New York and London: Harper and Row/ Longmans,
- James M. Clark, The Great German Mystics, New York:
Russell and Russell, 1970 (reprint of Basil Blackwell edition,
- James M. Clark, trans., Henry Suso: Little Book of Eternal
Wisdom and Little Book of Truth, London: Faber, 1953.
- Oliver Davies, God Within: The Mystical Tradition of
Northern Europe, London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1988.
- Oliver Davies, Meister Eckhart: Mystical Theologian,
London: SPCK, 1991.
- Eckardus Theutonicus, homo doctus et
sanctus, Fribourg: University of Fribourg, 1993.
- Robert K. Forman, Meister Eckhart: Mystic as
Theologian, Rockport, Mass. / Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element
- Gundolf Gieraths, O.P., '"Life in Abundance: Meister Eckhart
and the German Dominican Mystics of the 14th Century",
Spirituality Today Supplement, Autumn, 1986.
- Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy: An Interpretation
of the Great Mystics, East and West, New York: HarperCollins,
- Amy Hollywood, The Soul as Virgin Wife: Mechthild of
Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, and Meister Eckhart, Notre Dame
and London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1996.
- Rufus Jones, The Flowering of Mysticism in the Fourteenth
Century, New York: Hafner Publishing Co., 1971 (facsimile of
- Bernard McGinn, "Eckhart's Condemnation Reconsidered" in
The Thomist, vol. 44, 1980.
- Bernard McGinn, ed., Meister Eckhart and the Beguine
Mystics Hadewijch of Brabant, Mechthild of Magdeburg, and
Marguerite Porete, New York: Continuum, 1994.
- Arthur Schopenhauer,
The World as
Will and Representation, Vol. II, ISBN 0-486-21762-0
- Cyprian Smith, The Way of Paradox: Spiritual Life as Taught
by Meister Eckhart, New York: Paulist Press, 1988.
- Frank Tobin, Meister Eckhart: Thought and Language,
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986.
- Denys Turner, The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian
Mysticism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
- Winfried Trusen, Der Prozess gegen Meister Eckhart,
Fribourg: University of Fribourg, 1988.
- Andrew Weeks, German Mysticism from Hildegard of Bingen to
Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Literary and Intellectual History,
Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.
- Richard Woods, O.P., Eckhart's Way, Wilmington, DE:
Glazier, 1986 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991).
- Richard Woods, O.P., Meister Eckhart: The Gospel of Peace
and Justice, Tape Cassette Program, Chicago: Center for
Religion & Society, 1993.
- The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V. Published 1909.
New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909. Remy
Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New
- Meister Eckhart's Sermonstranslated into English by
Claud Field. At Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
- Meister Eckhart
und seine Zeit German Website, most texts in German
translation, some in Latin
- Meister Eckhart Bibliography (1800-1997)
- Meister Eckhart Bibliography (1997-2008)
Encyclopedia of Philosophy: " Meister Eckhart" by B. Mojsisch & O.F.
- Brown, Arthur, " The Man From Whom God Hid Nothing."
- The Eckhart Society. Research by catholic
- The Meister Eckhart Site, including full text of
the papal bull against Meister Eckhart.
- Meister Eckhart on www.mysticism.nl.
- The Mysticism
of Catherine of Siena