“In the breaking-through, when I come to be free of my will of myself and of God’s will and of all his works and of God himself, then I am above all created things, and I am neither God nor creature, but I am what I was and what I shall remain, now and eternally.
Then I receive an impulse that will bring me up above all the angels. Together with this impulse, I receive such riches that God, as he is ‘God,’ and as he performs all his divine works, cannot suffice me; for in this breaking-through I receive that God and I are one.
Then I am what I was, and then I neither diminish nor increase, for I am then an immovable cause that moves all things.”
Sermon 87: Strictest Poverty
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 Professor of Theology in Paris 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 vivid 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.’
God lies in wait for us with nothing so much as with love. For love resembles the fisherman’s hook. The fisherman cannot get the fish till it is caught on the hook. Once it takes the hook, he is sure of the fish; twist and turn as it may, this way or that, he is assured of his catch.
And so I say of love: he who is caught by it has the strongest of bonds, and yet a pleasant burden. He who has taken up this sweet burden fares further and makes more progress than by all the harsh practices any men use. And, too, he can cheerfully bear and endure all that befalls him, whatever God inflicts on him, and can also cheerfully forgive whatever evil is done to him.
Nothing brings you closer to God or makes God so much your own as the sweet bond of love. A man who has found this way need seek no other. He who hangs on this hook is caught so fast that foot and hand, mouth, eyes and heart, and all that is man’s, belongs only to God.
Extract from Sermon 87: The Strictest Poverty
Now pay earnest attention to this! I have often said, and eminent authorities say it too, that a man should be so free of all things and all works, both inward and outward, that he may be a proper abode for God where God can work. Now we shall say something else. If it is the case that a man is free of all creatures, of God and of self, and if it is still the case that God finds a place in him to work, then we declare that as long as this is in that man, he is not poor with the strictest poverty…
So we say that a man should be so poor that he neither is nor has any place for God to work in. To preserve a place is to preserve distinction. Therefore I pray to God to make me free of God, for my essential being is above God, taking God as the origin of creatures.
For in that essence of God in which God is above being and distinction, there I was myself and knew myself so as to make this man. Therefore I am my own cause according to my essence, which is eternal, and not according to my becoming, which is temporal. Therefore I am unborn, and according to my unborn mode I can never die. According to my unborn mode I have eternally been, am now and shall eternally remain. That which I am by virtue of birth must die and perish, for it is mortal, and so must perish with time. In my birth all things were born, and I was the cause of myself and all things: and if I had so willed it, I would not have been, and all things would not have been. If I were not, God would not be either. I am the cause of God’s being God: if I were not, then God would not be God. But you do not need to know this.
A great master says that his breaking-through is nobler than his emanation, and this is true.
When I flowed forth from God, all creatures declared: “There is a God”; but this cannot make me blessed, for with this I acknowledge myself as a creature. But in my breaking-through, where I stand free of my own will, of God’s will, of all His works, and of God himself, then I am above all creatures and am neither God nor creature, but I am that which I was and shall remain for evermore. There I shall receive an imprint that will raise me above all the angels. By this imprint I shall gain such wealth that I shall not be content with God inasmuch as he is God, or with all His divine works: for this breaking-through guarantees to me that I and God are one. Then I am what I was, then I neither wax nor wane, for then I am an unmoved cause that moves all things. Here, God finds no place in man, for man by his poverty wins for himself what he has eternally been and shall eternally remain. Here, God is one with the spirit, and that is the strictest poverty one can find.
If anyone cannot understand this sermon, he need not worry. For so long as a man is not equal to this truth, he cannot understand my words, for this is a naked truth which has come direct from the heart of God.
For a commentary on this text, see Dom Sylvester Houédard: Meister Eckhart