Dominican Preacher, Theologian and Mystic
(and possible heretic)
s.v. "Meister Eckhart"
CONTEMPLATIONS, HINTS AND PROMISES
When a man delights to read or hear tell about God, that comes of divine
grace and is lordly entertainment for the soul. To entertain God in one's
thoughts is sweeter than honey, but to be sensible of God is teeming
consolation to the noble soul, and union with God in love is everlasting joy
which we relish here as we are fitted for it.
They are all too few who are fully ripe for gazing in God's magic mirror.
Precious few succeed in living the contemplative life at all here upon earth.
Many begin, but fail to consummate it. Because they have not rightly lived the
life of Martha. As the eagle spurns its young that cannot gaze at the sun,
even so fares it with the spiritual child.
He who would build high must lay firm and strong foundations. The true
foundation is the very way and pattern of our Lord Jesus Christ, who himself
declared: 'I am the way, the truth and the life.'
Dionysius says, 'The soul shall follow God into the desert of his Godhead so
far as here the body follows Christ in outward willing poverty.' -- 'But that
soul is idle.' To which St Bernard answers: 'Waiting upon God is not idleness
but work which beats all other work to one unskilled in it.' In order to find
God, we must seek him in his Godhead. Christ says, 'If the father and mother
or anything else be a hindrance, quit them for good and serve God unhindered.'
The philosopher says, 'The soul which is moved by the power of the Prime Cause
need seek no counsel from any human vision; he is obeying what transcends
wisdom, for he is moved by the latent primitive truth.'
Though we meditate upon the blessed works of our Lord's poverty and his
humility, yet coveting them not ourselves, the thoughts are useless. And to
covet them is useless too, unless we diligently seek how we may acquire them.
We would fain be humble: but not despised. To be despised and rejected is the
heritage of virtue. We would be poor too, but without privation. And doubtless
we are patient, except with hardships and disagreeables. And so with all the
The willing poor, unsolaced by corruptibles, descend into the valley of
humility. They are pursued by insult and adversity, the best school of
self-knowledge. And self-knowledge gets God-knowledge.
My children, ye who suffer much insult, if the world reject you, do ye
therewith likewise assail yourselves, helping to reject yourselves. Our Lord
Jesus Christ said, 'The servant is not greater than his lord. If the world
hate you, know ye it hated me before it hated you.'
We ought to recompense our Lord for all that he has done. They are plenty to
follow our Lord half-way, but not the other half. They will give up
possessions, friends, and honours, but it touched them too closely to disown
Some there be, neither wanting nor looking for honours, yet, chancing to come
their way, honours affect them.
St Bernard says: 'When a soul comes to wanting what few desire: to be
nameless, outcast and disgraced, and makes all welcome equally, then she
attains to peace and the true freedom needed for real vision in the mirror of
Perfect rest is absolute freedom from motion. Our Lord says, 'Continue in my
word and the truth shall make you free.' Freedom of soul consists in this: in
finding in herself no sin; in tolerating in herself no spiritual imperfection.
She is more free lacking all hold on what possesses name and it on her. Freest
of all when she transcends her selfhood and flows with all she is into the
bottomless abyss of her primordial mould, into God himself.
Our Lord Jesus Christ exhorts us to renounce all things that we may be less
hindered. St Bernard declares: 'All the time thou occupiest not with God is
accounted unto thee for lost.' And again,' The most subtle temptation that can
beset us is to occupy ourselves too much in outward works.' Further he says,
'The best preparation I know for heaven is having no home among externals.'
Our least interior act is higher and nobler than our grandest outward one, and
yet our loftiest interior act halts in God's unveiled presence in the soul.
The very best work that we can do is to prepare for union with the present God
and wait for this with fixed intention.
St Paul says, Optimum esse unire deo: Best of all is to be one with
God. In this union the soul is dead, not only to all outward but also to all
inward ghostly acts. God operates unhindered, and the soul bears his godly
operation to which she yields obediently enough for God to bring to birth his
only Son in her no less than in himself. This is the atonement wherein, in the
twinkling of an eye, the soul is made more one with God than by her doing any
act, bodily or ghostly. The oftener this birth happens in the soul the closer
grows her union with God.
God is born in the empty soul by discovering himself to her in a new guise
without guise, without light in divine light.
St Augustine says, 'The soul being aflame with divine love, God is born in the
soul, the Holy Ghost being the enkindler of love.'
God has vouchsafed divine light to the soul that he may blithely work in his
Now no creature can do what is not in its power. Hence the soul cannot act
above herself, not even with the bridal gift that God has given her in the
shape of her most exalted faculty. This light, albeit divine, is still
created. The creator is one and the light another. So God comes to the soul in
love, purposing that love shall raise her to a higher power, to a function
superior to her own. But love fails to tell unless she meets or makes her
match. As far as God finds his likeness in the soul, so far is God operation.
If her love is boundless, God acts as boundless love.
A man might live a thousand years and go on growing all the time in love, just
as fire will burn so long as there is wood. The bigger the fire and the
stronger the wind, the more fiercely it burns. Now put love for the fire and
the Holy Ghost for the wind: the greater the love and the stronger the
inspiration of the Holy Ghost in grace, the quicker the work of perfection is
achieved. Yet not suddenly, but by the gradual growth of the soul. It would
not be well for the whole man to be consumed at once.
The soul becomes so one with God that grace confines her; she is not satisfied
with grace, for grace is creaturely. The soul is so curiously glamoured, she
does not realise that she exists: she fancies herself God, so utterly she has
escaped from self. But be she never so far gone from self, she goes on being
creature. Pouring a drop of water into a vat of wine does not destroy it.
Seeing herself the soul sees spirit; seeing the angels she again sees spirit;
but God is such pure spirit that soul and angel are nigh bodily compared with
him. A portrait of the highest seraph limned in black would be a better
likeness far than God portrayed as highest seraph: that were a pre-eminent
Now in the contemplative state we are consumed by fiery love in the Holy
Ghost. Sooner than knowingly commit a sin, venial or mortal, we shall prefer
to suffer every imaginable martyrdom. If by one venial sin we were enabled to
release from hell souls without number, we would not ransom them. Such love to
God must a man have to be familiar with him in contemplation. Moreover, he
must have a mind at ease; and in preparing for it, an undisturbed retired spot
is necessary. The body should be rested from bodily labour, not only of the
hands but of the tongue as well and all five senses. The soul keeps clear best
in the quiet, but in jaded body is often overpowered by inertia. Then by
strenuous effort we travail in divine love for intellectual vision till,
clearing a way through recollected senses, we rise past our own mind to the
wonderful wisdom of God, though this is quite beyond the grasp of any
creature. We rise to divine heights. David says: Accedat homa ad cor altum
et exaltabitur deus, that is, Man rising to the summit of his mind is
exalted God. From this divine eminence we see the lowness and insignificance
of creatures. We feel an inkling of the perfection and stability of eternity,
for there is neither time nor space, neither before nor after, but everything
present in one new, fresh-springing now where millenniums last no
longer than the twinkling of an eye. And we win participation in the manifold
delights of the heavenly host. So great and joy of Mary Queen in heaven, that
having but a thousandth part of it, each member of he heavenly company would
taste far more than ever they have earned. There every spirit rejoices in the
joy of every other, relishing it each in his degree. Every celestial habitant
is, knows and loves in God, in his own self and in every other spirit whether
soul or angel. And the distinctive consciousness of one God in three Persons
and the Three one God gives such ineffable, amazing satisfaction that at all
their passionate longing is fulfilled. And just what they are full of they
crave unceasingly, and what they crave is all their own in new,
fresh-springing joyful ecstasy, theirs to enjoy in all security from
everlasting unto everlasting.
Thereafter we press on into the truth, into the simplicity God is himself not
seeking what is his. So we fall into peculiar wonder. In this wonder let us
remain for human wit is powerless to fathom it. Plumbing the deeps of divine
wonder but stirs facile doubt.
THE IMAGE IN THE SOUL
Faciamus hominem ad imaginem et similitudienem nostram (Gen 1:26).
God said, 'Let us make man in our image.' What is God's speaking? The Father
observing himself with impartible perception perceives the impartible purity
of his own essence. There he sees the image of creatures as a whole, there he
speaks himself. His Word is his clear perception and that is his Son. God's
speaking is his begetting.
God said, 'Let us make.' Theologians ask: Why did not God us, 'Let us do,' or
'Let us work?' Doing is an outward act beseeming not the inward man. Work
comes from the outward man and from the inward man, but the innermost man
takes no part in it. In making a thing the very innermost self of a man comes
When God made man the innermost heart of the Godhead was concerned in his
making. A heathen philosopher says, God made all things with wisdom. The
Doctor says, 'The Son is the wisdom or love of the Father wherewith he made
God said, 'Let us make man.' Why did not God say, 'Let us make manhood,' for
it was manhood that Christ took? Man and manhood differ. Talking of man we
mean a person; talking of manhood we mean human nature. Philosophers define
what nature is. It is the thing that essence can receive. Hence God assumed
manhood and not man. It is written in the book of Moses, Adam was the first
man that God ever made. And I say that Christ was the first man God made. How
so? The philosopher says, what is the first in intention is the last in
execution. When a carpenter builds a house his first intention is the roof and
that is the finish of the house.
God said, 'Let us make man.' Whereby he gave it to be understood that
he is more than one: three in Persons, one in essence. St Augustine relates
that when he was looking for the image in the soul he sought it in the outward
man, and there he found four likenesses and three links and two face. He found
nothing of the image. Then he hunted for it in the inner man, and there he
found one thing which answered to the simple essence in its simplicity and to
the various Persons in its trinity of powers. He found two faces to it. One
working downwards and the other upwards. With the lower face she knows herself
and outward things. The upper face has two activities; with one she knows God
and his goodness and his emanation; with this she loves and knows him to-day
and not to-morrow. Now the image will not lie in her three powers, by reason
of their instability. Another power is in the highest face, which is
concealed; in this concealment lies the image.
The image has five properties. First, it is made by another. Secondly, it
answers to the same. Thirdly, it has emanated from it; not that it is the
divine nature but it is a substance subsisting in itself; it is the pure light
that emanates from God and only differs from him in understanding God.
Fifthly, it tends towards what it came from. Two things adorn this image. One
is, it is according to him; the other, there is somewhat of eternity
therein. The soul has three powers: the image does not lie in them; but she
has one power: the actual (or active) intellect.
Now St Augustine and the New Philosophers declare that in this lies impartible
memory, intellect and will, and these three are inseparate, i.e., the
hidden image answers to God's essence. The divine being (God) is shining
straight into this image, and the image shines straight into God with nothing
May God come into us and we into him and be united with him, So help us God.
Prayer Attributed to Meister
O high abundance of divine nature, show me Thy way that in Thy wisdom Thou
hast ordained and open to me the precious treasure chest to which Thou hast
(namely to be able) to understand with intelligence above all creatures,
to love with the angels and to be familiar with Thy true born Son, Our Lord
and to inherit from Thee and to receive Thee according to Thy eternal wisdom.
And with Thy help, to keep away from all evil.
Because Thou hast elevated me above all creatures
and Thou hast imprinted
on me the insignia of Thy eternal image,
and Thou hast rendered my soul inconceivable to all other creatures
and Thou hast made nothing more like Thee than the human being in its soul,
so teach me (to live in such a way) that I am never more without Thee
and that in the flow of Thy loving work in me Thou shalt never more be
and that I may never be exposed to desire except for Thee
and never occupy my thoughts with any creature but only with Thee.
Thou art a spirit that is inconceivable to all creatures.
Therefore Thou hast made the soul spiritual and ranked it as spiritual above
so that due to Thy eternal wisdom it may, according to Thy divine will,
become self-sufficient and by Thy grace be freed
from all the unworthy images it absorbed into itself.
For Thou hast appropriated the soul and disposed it according to Thy
Keep it, therefore, so that nothing else may stay in it
but only THEE.