ECKHART wrote and taught in scholarly Latin while holding administrative posts in the Order of Preachers. His theological innovations and mystical perorations penetrated the hearts of a receptive populace through his colorful preaching in the German vernacular. The following sermons show his mastery of words and his forthright exhortations in their context of philosophical abstruseness. They suggest, also, the hazardous flights of his mystical imagery across the peaks of Christian doctrine and forbidden speculation. Eck.Pf. II, 220-33; II, 33-38. Translation used by permission from Meister Eckhart; A Modern Translation, by Raymond B. Blakney, Harper & Brothers, Publishers. Pp. 129-32. 156-60. (Eck.Tr.Bl.).
Our beloved Lord says that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Indeed, the Kingdom of God is within us; and St. Paul says that our salvation is nearer than we think. Now you shall hear how the Kingdom of God is at hand, and to this end we must not what is meant with great care.
If I were a king, and were not aware of the fact, I should not be king. But if I were sure that I was a king, and everybody else shared this conviction, and I knew that people everywhere thought so and believed it, then I could be a king and all the wealth of the kingdom could be mine. Yet if I lacked even one of these three, I could not be a king at all. Even so, man’s blessedness depends on his awareness and recognition of the highest good: God himself.
There is an agent in my soul which is perfectly sensitive to God. I am as sure of this as I am that I am alive: nothing is as near to me as God is. God is nearer to me than I am to myself. My being depends on God’s intimate presence. So, too, he is near to a stick or a stone but they do not know it. If the stick knew God and recognized how near he is, as the holy angels know such things, the stick would be as blessed as the angels. For that reason, a person may be more blessed than a stick, in that he recognizes God and knows how near he is. And the more he knows it, the more blessed he is; the less he knows it, the less his blessing. Man is not blessed because God is in him and so near that he has God — but in that he is aware of how near God is, and knowing God, he loves him.
When I think about the Kingdom of God, I am struck dumb by its grandeur; for the Kingdom of God is God himself with all his fullness. The Kingdom of God is no small thing: all the worlds one could imagine God creating would still not be as the Kingdom of God. When the Kingdom appears to the soul and it is recognized, there is no further need for preaching or instruction: it is learnéd enough and has at once secured eternal life. To know and see how near God’s Kingdom is, is to say with Jacob: God is in this place and I did not know it (Gen. 28:16).
God is equally near to every creature. The wise man says: “God has spread his nets and lines out over all things, so that he may be found in any one of them and recognized by whoever chooses to 232 verify this.” One authority says: “To see God aright is to know him alike in everything. To serve God with fear is good; to serve him out of love is better; but to love him while fearing is best of all.” It is good to have a peaceful life in rest with God; it is better to bear a life of suffering with patience; but to find rest in a life of suffering is best of all. To walk through the fields and say your prayers, and see God, or to sit in church and recognize him, and to know God better because the place is peaceful: this is due to man’s defective nature and not to God. For God is equally near to everything and every place and is equally ready to give himself, so far as in him lies, and therefore a person shall know him aright who knows how to see him the same, under all circumstances.
St. Bernard asks: “Why do my eyes behold the sky and not my feet? It is because my eyes are more like the sky than my feet.” If then my soul is to see God, it must be heavenly. How shall the soul be prepared so that it may see God and know him in itself — how near he is? Now listen! Heaven may not receive any alien impress; neither pain nor want, brought from without, may be stamped upon it. Even so, the soul that is to know God must be so firm and steady in God that nothing can penetrate it, neither hope nor fear, neither joy nor sorrow, neither love nor suffering, nor any other thing that can come in it from without.
So, too, heaven is equidistant from earth at all places. Likewise, the soul ought to be equidistant from every earthly thing, so that it is not nearer to one than to the other and behaves the same in love, or suffering, or having, or forbearance; toward whatever it may be, the soul should be as dead, or dispassionate, or superior to it. Heaven is pure and clear and without spot, touching neither time nor space. Corporeal things have no place in it. It is not inside of time; its orbit is compassed with speed beyond belief. The course of heaven is outside time — and yet time comes from its movements. Nothing hinders the soul’s knowledge of God as much as time and space, for time and space are fragments, whereas God is one! And therefore, if the soul is to know God, it must know him above time and outside of space; for God is neither this nor that, as are these manifold things. God is One!
If the soul is to see God, it must not look again on any temporal thing, for as long as the soul dwells on time or space or any image 233 of them it may never know God. If the eye is to distinguish colors, it must first be purged of them all. If the soul is to see God, it must have nothing in common with things that are nothings. For to see God is to know that all creatures are as nothing. Compare one creature to another, and it appears to be beautiful and is something; but compare it with God and it is nothing!
Further, I say that if the soul is to know God, it must forget itself and lose [consciousness of] itself, for as long as it is self-aware and self-conscious, it will not see or be conscious of God. But when, for God’s sake, it becomes unself-conscious and lets go of everything, it finds itself again in God, for knowing God, it therefore knows itself and everything else from which it has been cut asunder, in the divine perfection. If I am to know the highest good or the eternal goodness, then surely I must know it where it is good in itself and not where its goodness is separate. If I am to know true being, I must know it where it is being itself, and that is in God and not where it is divided among creatures.
The whole divine being is in God alone. The whole of humanity is not in one man, for one man is not the whole of humanity. But in God all humanity is known to the soul, and all things else, in their highest [reality], for in him they are known as beings.
If a person lived in a beautifully decorated home, he would know much more about it than one who never entered it, but who enjoys talking about it. Thus I am as sure as I am that I live and God lives, that if the soul is to know God it must know him above space and time. And such a soul [thus acquainted with God] knows him, and is aware of how near his kingdom is, that is, God with all his fullness. The authorities in the schools ask often how it is possible for the soul to know God. It is not from God’s strictness that he requires so much of man, but rather from his kindness that he expects the soul to progress to that point where it may receive much, as he gives so much of it.
No one ought to think that it is hard to attain this, however hard it sounds and however hard it may be at first to cut one’s self asunder and be dead to everything. But once you have come in, no life is easier, nor pleasanter, nor lovelier, for God is very anxious at all times to be near to people, and to teach them how to come to him, if they are only willing to follow him. Nobody ever wanted anything 234 as much as God wants to bring people to know him. God is always ready but we are not ready. God is near to us but we are far from him. God is within; we are without. God is at home; we are abroad.
The prophet says: God leads the righteous through a narrow way out onto a broad street, so that they may come into his wide and open spaces (Cf. Job 36:16) — which is to say, into the true freedom of the spirit which has become one spirit with God. May God help us all to follow as he leads us to himself. Amen.
We read in the holy Gospel that our Lord went into the temple and drove out all those that bought and sold, and said to the venders of doves: “Get these things out of here!” He gave them clearly to understand that he wanted the temple pure, just as if he had said: “I have a right to this temple and I alone will be in it, to have control of it.”
What does that tell us? The temple in which God wants to be master, strong to work his will, is the human soul, which he created and fashioned exactly like himself. We read that the Lord said: Let us make man in our own image (Gen. 1:26). And he did it. He made the human soul so much like himself that nothing else in heaven or on earth resembles him so much. That is why God wants the temple to be pure, so pure that nothing shall be in it except he (sic.) himself. And that is the reason he is well pleased with it when it is really prepared for him, and why he takes such comfort there — when he is there alone.
Now let us see who the people were that bought and sold — and who they still are, but understand me correctly, I shall now speak only of the good people. Nevertheless, at this time I shall indicate who the merchants were that bought and sold, whom our Lord struck and drove out of the temple. He is still doing just that to those who buy and sell in it. He will not allow a single one of them to be there. See! The merchants are those who guard against mortal sins, who 235 would like to be good people, and do their good deeds to the glory of God, such as fasting, watching, praying and the like — all of which are good — and yet they do these things so that the Lord will give them something they want in exchange, or do something they ardently want to have done.
They are all merchants. That is plain to see. They want to give one thing for another and to trade with our Lord but they will be cheated out of their bargain — for all they ever have or attain is given then by God and they do what they do only by means of God, and thus he is obligated to them for nothing. He will give them nothing and do nothing for them that he would not do or give of his own free will anyway. What they are they are because of God, and whatever they have they have from God and not by their own contriving. Therefore God is not in the least obligated to them for their deeds or their gifts. By reason of his grace, he will like to do for them, of his own free will — but certainly not for the sake of any act they perform or offering they bring. For [in these things] they are not giving what is their own and their acts do not come out of themselves. For God himself says: Without me, ye can do nothing (John 15:5).
They are very foolish people who want to trade with our Lord and they know little or nothing of the truth. Therefore, God strikes them and drives them out of the temple. Light and darkness cannot exist side by side. God is the truth and a light in himself. When he enters the temple, he drives out ignorance and darkness and reveals himself in light and truth. Then, when the truth is known, the merchants must begone — for truth wants no merchandising!
God does not seek his own. In all his acts, he is innocent and free and acts only out of true love. That is why the person who is united to God acts that way — he, too, will be innocent and free, whatever he does, and will act out of love and without asking why, solely for the glory of God, seeking his own advantage in nothing — for God is at work in him.
And what is more, as long as a man is looking for pay for what he does, or wants to get from God anything that God could or would give, he is like a merchant. If you want to be rid of the commercial spirit, do all you can in the way of good works, solely for the praise of God, and efface yourself as completely as if you did not exist. Whatever you do, you shall not ask anything in return for it and 236 then your efforts will be both spiritual and divine. Then only are the merchants driven out of the temple and God is alone in it — when a person thinks only of God. See! This is how the temple is cleared of merchants: the man who thinks only of God, to revere him, is free and innocent of any mercantilism in his various acts, for he seeketh not his own.
Furthermore, as I said, our Lord spoke to the people who trafficked in doves, saying: “Get these all out of here!” Take them away! But in scolding and driving them out, he was really not too severe. Rather, he spoke quite kindly: “Take it all out!” — meaning, perhaps, “this is not so bad in itself, but it does constitute a hindrance to the simple truth.” They were all good people, working impersonally for God and not for themselves, but they were working under their own limitations of time and number, antecedent and consequence. In their varied efforts, they are kept from the highest truth, from innocence and freedom such as our Lord Jesus Christ had. He was incessantly refreshed in spirit by his heavenly Father apart from time, and reborn into the perfection of his Father with each eternal moment — each passing Now. His praise to the father-like Highest was gratitude for like dignity.
Everybody who wants to be sensitive to the highest truth must be like this, conscious of neither “before” nor “after,” unhindered by their past records, uninfluenced by any idea they ever understood, innocent and free to receive anew with each Now-moment a heavenly gift, and to consecrate them to God in the same light, with thankful praise to our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus the doves are cleared out, that is, the hindrances, the good deeds that smack of selfishness, which are good enough in their way to enable one to get what he wants for himself. But of these our Lord spoke gently, saying: “Take them all out — get rid of them!” He may have meant merely: “No harm done — but they are just some more obstacles.”
When the temple is cleared of every hindrance, that is, of strangers and their properties, its appearance is beautiful and it shines so clear and pure above all, and in all God has created, that no one but the uncreated God can be reflected in it. To be sure, nothing is like this temple but the uncreated God himself. Nothing lower than the angels can be compared to it. In some ways, but not in all, the highest angels are comparable to this temple — the aristocratic soul. That they are 237 like the soul at all is due to knowledge and love, but a limit is set for them, beyond which they cannot go. Only the soul may surpass that limit: for let the soul be equated to the highest element in human nature existing within time: a person with his possibility of freedom may rise unspeakably higher than the highest angel, in every Now-moment — moments without number and without specified nature — rising above the angels and all creature minds. Since God alone is free and uncreated, he is like the soul in being free — but not in uncreatedness, for the soul is created.
Comes then the soul in to the unclouded light of God. It is transported so far from creaturehood into nothingness that, of its own powers, it can never return to its agents or its former creaturehood. Once there, God shelters the soul’s nothingness with his uncreated essence, safeguarding its creaturely existence. The soul has dared to become nothing, and cannot pass from its own being into nothingness and then back again, losing its own identity in the process, except God safeguarded it. This must needs be so.
As I said before, Jesus went into the temple and drove out those that bought and sold and began to say to the others: “Take this all away!” See! I have it in these words: “Jesus went in and began to say: ‘Take all this away!’ — and they took it away.” Observe, too, that then there was nobody left but Jesus, and being alone, he began to speak in the temple of the soul. Observe this also, for it is certain: if anyone else is speaking in the temple of the soul, Jesus keeps still, as if he were not at home. And he is not at home in the soul where there are strange guests — guest with whom the soul holds conversation. If Jesus is to speak in the soul and be heard, then the soul must be alone and quiet. So he got in, and began to talk. What does Jesus say then?
He says that he is! Then what is he? He is the Father’s Word. In this Word, God expresses himself, together with all the divine Being, all that God is, as only he can know it. And he knows it as it is, because he is perfect in knowledge and power. Therefore, he is also perfect in self-expression. When he utters his Word, he expresses himself and everything else in a second Person, to whom he gives his own nature. He speaks, and all intelligent spirits, re-echoing the Word, repeat his idea, just as rays shining from the sun bear the sun in themselves. So each intelligent spirit is a Word in itself; even 238 though it is not like God’s Word in all respects, it has received the power to become a likeness of the Word of God, full of grace. And thus the Father has completely expressed his Word, as it really is, with all that is in him.
Since, then, the Father has expressed himself, what does Jesus say in the soul? As I have said, the Father utters the Word and speaks in the Word and not otherwise. But Jesus speaks in the soul. What he says is a revelation of himself and all the Father has said to him, in proportion as one’s soul is sensitive to it. He reveals the Father’s majesty with unmeasured power. If, in his spirit, one discovers this power in the Son, he will have like power in whatever he does, power for all virtue and purity. Neither joy nor sorrow, no, nor anything God ever created in time, shall be able to disturb this person, for he remains, strengthened by divine power, opposed to which creature things are insignificant and futile.
Once again, Jesus reveals himself in the soul in unmeasured wisdom, which he is. He reveals himself in the wisdom which is God’s self-knowledge or his knowledge of his own fatherly power. And that Word, of which we spoke, is also wisdom and welds all those things it touches into unique oneness. When wisdom is joined to the soul, all doubt, error, and darkness fly away and the soul is set in a pure clear light, which is God himself. That is what the prophet says: Lord, in thy light, we shall see light (Ps. 36:9; D. 35:10). Thus God is known through God in the soul, and the soul, through this wisdom, comes to know itself; and thence, too, the soul knows the paternal glory in its fruitful procreation, and the real is-ness in its simple unity, in which are no distinctions.
Jesus also reveals himself in unmeasured sweetness and fullness, which flows from the powerhead of the Holy Spirit, overflowing its unsearchable riches and sweetness into hearts which are sensitive to it. And thus, when Jesus does unite with the soul, the soul’s tide moves back again into its own, out of itself, over itself, above all things, with grace and power back to its prime origin. Then the outward man is obedient to the inner man until death and he has constant peace in the service of God for all time. That Jesus may also come into us and drive out all hindrances of body and soul, and that we may be one with them, here on earth as in heaven, may God help us all! Amen.