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The Rhineland Mystics
The Rhineland Mystics

A Dominican Mystic

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Rhineland Mystics

A Dominican Mystic
Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Another of the Rhineland Mystics was Meister Eckhart. His writings were probably the height of Western nondualism. Carl McColman has written several accessible books on the Christian mystics that broaden and deepen our notion of mysticism. He even makes a mystic like Meister Eckhart understandable! Here McColman captures the essence of Eckhart:

Meister Eckhart stands alongside Bernard of Clairvaux and John of the Cross as one of the most celebrated Christian mystics; he is also one of the most controversial figures, having a number of his teachings declared as heretical shortly after his death. Today, some scholars believe that the censure of Eckhart’s ideas may have been politically motivated and have made efforts to have his name formally cleared by the Vatican.

Eckhart entered the Dominican Order as a youth. After spending some time in Paris, he returned to his native Germany, where he became renowned as a preacher. [The Dominicans are the Order of Preachers, and Meister Eckhart was a very popular homilist in his day.] “Meister” is not his name, but a title, referring to his receiving a master’s degree in theology. Eckhart’s impressive body of work includes academic treatises in Latin, along with about one hundred sermons in his native German. The German writings generally were his more spiritually daring.

The problem with [reading] Eckhart seems to be that his ideas were often expressed using language that could easily be misinterpreted. [I, Richard, believe he was misinterpreted because he was a nondual thinker, speaking to mostly dualistic thinkers—just as Jesus was doing.] He has been accused of pantheism (the belief that all things are God) or monism (the idea that there is ultimately no distinction between God and creation). [Richard again: I believe Eckhart was primarily teaching panentheism, which means God in all things.] He stressed God as a ground of being present throughout creation—including in the human soul—and that each Christian is invited to give birth to Christ within one’s soul. As a preacher, Eckhart saw his sermons as a means of inspiring his listeners to recognize the divine presence within, and in so doing to be “wonderfully united” to God. In his Sermon 5, he offers four goals for his preaching:

When I preach, I am accustomed to talk about detachment, saying that we should become free of ourselves and of all things. Secondly, I say that we should be in-formed back into the simple goodness, which is God. Thirdly, I say that we should be mindful of the great nobility which God has given the soul in order that we should become wonderfully united with [God]. Fourthly, I speak of the purity of the divine nature, and of the radiance within it which is ineffable. God is a word: an unspoken word. [1] [RR: Unspoken, that is, until and unless we ourselves speak from the True Self!]

[1] Meister Eckhart, Misit Dominus manum suam, Sermon on Jeremiah 1:9,10. See Meister Eckhart: Selected Writings, trans. Oliver Davies (Penguin: 1994), 127‒128.

Carl McColman, Christian Mystics: 108 Seers, Saints, and Sages (Hampton Roads: 2016), 130‒131.

Image credit: Motherhood Through the Spirit and Water (detail), c. 1165; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Speak out, Hildegard says. And when you do, when you recognize that inner voice as the voice of God and say what it has taught you, the sickness in your heart will melt away. The fatigue you have lived with for so long that you did not even notice how weary you were will lift. Your voice will ring out with such clarity and beauty that you will not be able to stop singing. To speak your truth, Hildegard teaches us, is to praise God. —Mirabai Starr
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