Above: Eckhart of Hochheim
Image in the Public Domain
ECKHART OF HOCHHEIM (CIRCA 1260-1327/1328)
Roman Catholic Theologian and Mystic
Do exactly what you would do if you felt most secure.
I conclude that certain ecclesiastical leaders chose to ignore that advice.
Eckhart, born at Hochheim, near Gotha, Turingia, Holy Roman Empire, circa 1260, was a mystic. Like certain mystics before and after his time, he incurred the wrath of ecclesiastical authorities seeking to safeguard their power.
Eckhart joined the Order of Preachers, or the Dominicans, when he was what we would today call a teenager. From 1293 to 1302 he studied theology at St. Jacques, Paris; he graduated as a master (meister). Two years later he became the provincial minister of the order in Saxony. From 1314 to 1322 our saint taught and preached in Strasbourg. Next he preached in Cologne for years. He was the most popular preacher in Germany.
In 1326, however, the charge of heresy fell upon Eckhart. His theology, though, was fairly orthodox. One of the influences on Eckhart’s theology was St. Thomas Aquinas (canonized in 1323), his favorite author. Another major influence on Eckhart’s theology was St. Augustine of Hippo. Eckhart’s main doctrine was the birth of God the Son (Christ) in the soul, signifying the mystical union of the divine and the human. This union, he wrote, was the highest human goal and occurred via a union of wills. This union of wills came about via grace, not human merit. He always affirmed the necessity of the Church and of the sacraments. Furthermore, in true orthodox fashion, Eckhart argued that rituals and good works were spiritually useful only when one was inclined toward God.
So what did Eckhart allegedly do wrong? He wrote and uttered statements that seemed to undermine the authority of the Church.
Seek God and you shall find him. Indeed, with such an attitude, you might step on a stone and it would be a more pious act than to receive the body of our Lord, thinking of yourself.
That statement is orthodox, is it not? Anyhow, Eckhart’s use of Neoplatonist language (He was in the vein of St. Thomas Aquinas, recently canonized.) opened him up to false allegations of pantheism. He was really in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Holy Mother Church pressured Eckhart into recanting the allegedly heretical propositions in 1327. On March 29, 1329, Pope John XXII issued a bull (an appropriate term for the document) condemning those 28 propositions and mentioning Eckhart as being deceased. Our saint had died in the good graces of the Church, which had abused him.
You may call God love, you may call God goodness. But the best name for God is compassion.
Pope John XXII and others who condemned Eckhart should have paid attention to that piece of wisdom.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JANUARY 28, 2017 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINTS ALBERT THE GREAT AND THOMAS AQUINAS, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIANS
THE FEAST OF CHARLES KINGSLEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST, NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF JOSEPH BARNBY, ANGLICAN CHURCH MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER
THE FEAST OF RICHARD FREDERICK LITTLEDALE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS
Almighty God, you gave to your servant Meister Eckhart
special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus:
Grant that by this teaching we may know you, the one true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent; who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 3:5-11
–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 721