Meister Eckart – The Complete Mystical WorksSERMON FOUR (Pf 4, Q 1 03, QT 59)

ET CUM FACTUS ESSET JESUS ANNORUM DUODECIM ETC. (Luke 2:42)

We read in the Gospel that when our Lord was twelve years old he went with Joseph and Mary to the Temple in Jerusalem, and when they left, Jesus stayed behind in the Temple without their knowing; when they reached home and missed him, they sought him among acquaintances, among their kindred and amidst the throng, and they could not find him.

They had lost him in the crowd.

And so they had to go back to where they had come from.

And when they got back to their starting point, the Temple, they found him.

And so in truth, if you would find this noble birth, 1 you must leave the crowd and return to the source and ground whence you came.

All the powers of the soul, and all their works – these are the crowd.

Memory, understanding, and will, they all diversify you, and therefore, you must leave them all: sense perceptions, imagination, or whatever it may be that in which you find or seek to find yourself.

After that, you may find this birth but not otherwise – believe

me! He was never yet found among friends, nor among kindred or acquaintances: there, rather, one loses him altogether. Accordingly the question arises, whether a man can find this birth in any things which, though divine, are yet brought in from without through the senses, such as any ideas about God as being good, wise, compassionate, or anything the intellect can conceive in itself that is in fact divine – whether a man can find this birth in all these.

In fact, he cannot.

For although all this is good and divine, it is all brought in from without through the senses.

But all must well up from within, out of God, if this birth is to shine forth truly and clearly, and all your activity must cease, and all your powers must serve His ends, not your own.

If this work is to be done, God alone must do it, and you must just suffer it to be.

Where you truly go out from your will and your knowledge, God with His knowledge surely and willingly goes in and shines there clearly.

Where God will thus know Himself, there your knowledge cannot subsist and is of no avail.

Do not imagine that your reason can grow to the knowledge of God.

If God is to shine divinely in you, your natural light cannot help toward this end. Instead, it must become pure nothing and go out of itself altogether, and then God can shine in with His light, and He will bring back in with Him all that you forsook and a thousand times more, together with a new form to contain it all.

Of this we have a parable in the Gospel. When our Lord had spoken in such friendly fashion to the Gentile woman at the well, she left her pitcher and ran to the town announcing to the people that the true Messiah had come.

The people, not believing her words, went out with her and saw for themselves.

Then they said to her, “Now we believe, not because of your words: we believe rather because we have seen him ourselves” (John 4: 42 ) .

So, in truth, no creaturely skill, nor your own wisdom nor all your knowledge can enable you to know God divinely. For you to know God in God’s way, your knowing must become a pure unknowing, and a forgetting of yourself and all creatures.

Now you might say, ‘Well sir, what use is my intellect then, if it is supposed to be empty and functionless?

Is that the best thing for me to do – to raise my mind to an unknowing knowledge that can’t really exist?

For if I knew anything at all it would not be ignorance, and I should not be empty and bare.

Am I supposed to be in total darkness?’

Certainly.

You cannot do better than to place yourself in darkness

and in unknowing.

‘Oh sir, must everything go then, and is there no turning back?’

No indeed, by rights there is no returning.

‘But what is this darkness? What do you call it?

What is its name? ‘

The only name it has is ‘potential receptivity,’ which certainly does not lack being nor is it deficient, but it is the potential of receptivity in which you will be perfected.

That is why there is no turning back from it.

But if you do turn back, that is not on account of any truth,

but because of something else – the senses, the world, or the devil.

And if you give way to the impulse to turn back, you are bound

to lapse into sin, and you may backslide so far as to fall eternally.

Therefore there is no turning back, but only a pressing forward, so as to attain and achieve this possibility.

It never rests until it is filled with all being.

Just as matter never rests till it is filled with every possible form, so too intellect never rests till it is filled to its capacity.

On this point a pagan master says, ‘Nature has nothing swifter than the heavens, for they surpass all else in swiftness.’

Yet surely the mind of man outstrips them by its speed!

If only it were to retain its potentiality intact, remaining undefiled and unrent by base and gross things, it would outstrip the highest heaven, never ceasing till it reached the summit, there to be fed and cherished by the Greatest Good.

As for what it profits you to pursue this possibility, to keep yourself empty and bare, just following and tracking this darkness and unknowing without turning back – it contains the chance to gain Him who is all things.

And the more barren you are of self and unwitting of all things, the nearer you are to Him.

Of this barrenness it is said in Jeremiah, “I will lead my beloved into the wilderness and will speak to her in her heart. ” 2

The true word of eternity is spoken only in solitude, where a man is a desert and alien to himself and multiplicity.

For this desolate self-estrangement the prophet longed, saying, “Who will give me the wings of a dove that I may fly away and be at rest? ” (Ps. 55: 6).

Where does one find peace and rest?

There, truly, where there is rejection, desolation, and estrangement from all creatures.

Therefore, David says, “I would rather be rejected and spurned in the house of my God than dwell with great honor and wealth in the tavern of sinners ” (Ps. 84:10).

Now you might say, ‘Oh sir, is it really always necessary to be barren and estranged from everything, outward and inward: the powers and their work, must that all go?

It is a grievous matter for God to leave a man without support, as the prophet says, “Woe is me that my exile is prolonged ” (Ps. 1 20:5), if God prolongs my exile here, without either enlightening or encouraging me or working within me, as your teaching implies.

If a man is in such a state of pure nothingness, is it not better to do something to beguile the gloom and desolation, such as praying or listening to sermons or doing something else that is virtuous, so as to help himself?’

No, be sure of this.

Absolute stillness for as long as possible is best of all for you. You cannot exchange this state for any other without harm.

That is certain.

You would like to partly prepare yourself and partly let God prepare you, but this cannot be.

You cannot think or desire to prepare yourself more quickly than God can move in to prepare you.

But even if it were shared, so that you did the preparing and God did the working or the infusion – which is impossible then you should know that God must act and pour Himself into you the moment He finds you ready.

Do not imagine that God is like a human carpenter, who works or not as he likes, who can do or leave undone as he wishes.

It is different with God: as and when God finds you ready, He has to act, to overflow into you, just as when the air is clear and pure the sun has to burst forth and cannot refrain.

It would surely be a grave defect in God if He performed no great works in you and did not pour great goodness into you whenever He found you thus empty and bare.

In the same sense the masters write that in the very instant the material substance of the child is ready in the mother’s womb, God at once pours into the body its living spirit which is the soul, the body’s form.

It is one instant, the being ready and the pouring in.

When nature reaches her highest point, God gives grace: the very instant the spirit is ready, God enters without hesitation or delay.

In the Book of Secrets it says that our Lord declared to mankind, ” I stand a t the door knocking and waiting; whoever lets me in, with him I will sup ” (Rev. 3 : 20).

You need not seek Him here or there; He is no further than the door of your heart; there He stands patiently awaiting whoever is ready to open up and let Him in.

No need to call to Him from afar: He can hardly wait for you to open up.

He longs for you a thousand times more than you long for Him: the opening and the entering are a single act.

Now you might say, ‘How can that be? I can’t feel Him.’ – Pay attention.

Your being aware of Him is not in your power but in His.

When it suits Him, He shows Himself, and He can hide when He wishes.

This is what Christ meant when he said to Nicodemus, “The spirit breathes where it will: you hear its voice but do not know where it comes from, or where it is going” (John 3: 8 ) .

In so speaking he contradicted himself: “You hear yet know not. ”

By hearing we come to know. Christ meant that by hearing it is imbibed or absorbed, as if to say, you receive it, but unawares. You should know, God cannot leave anything void or unfilled, God and nature cannot endure that anything should be empty or void.

And so, even if you think you can’t feel Him and are wholly empty of Him, that is not the case.

For if there were anything empty under heaven, whatever it might be, great or small, the heavens would either draw it up to themselves or else, bending down, would have to fill it with themselves. God, the Lord of nature, does not allow that anything be empty or void.

Therefore, stand still and do not waver from your emptiness; for at this time, you can turn away, never to turn back again.

Now you might say, ‘Well sir, since you are always assuming that someday this birth will occur in me, that the Son will be born in me – now, can I have any sign by which to recognize that this has taken place?’

Yes indeed! There are three certain signs. I will tell you just one of them.

I am often asked if a man can reach the point where he is no longer hindered by time, multiplicity, or matter. Assuredly! Once this birth has really occurred, no creatures can hinder you; instead, they will all direct you to God and this birth.

Take lightning as an analogy.

Whatever it strikes, whether tree, beast, or man, it turns at once toward itself.

A man with his back toward it is instantly turned round to face it.

If a tree had a thousand leaves, they would all turn right side up toward the stroke.

So, it is with all in whom this birth occurs, they are promptly turned toward this birth with all they possess, be it never so earthy.

In fact, what used to be a hindrance now helps you most.

Your face is so fully turned toward this birth that, no matter what you see or hear, you can get nothing but this birth from all things.

All things become simply God to you, for in all things you notice only God, just as a man who stares long at the sun sees the sun in whatever he afterward looks at.

If this is lacking, this looking for and seeking God in all and sundry, then you lack this birth.

Now you might ask, ‘Ought anyone so placed to practice penance?

Does he lose anything by dropping penitential exercises? ‘

Pay attention.

Penitential exercises, among other things, were instituted for a particular purpose: whether it be fasting, watching,

praying, kneeling, being disciplined,3 wearing hair shirts, lying hard, or whatever it may be, the reason for all that is because body and flesh are always opposed to spirit.

The body is often too strong for the spirit, and there is a real fight between them, an unceasing struggle.

Here in the world the body is bold and strong, for it is at home,

the world helps it, the earth is its fatherland, it is helped by all its kin: food, drink, soft living – all is opposed to spirit.

The spirit is an alien here, but in heaven are its kin, its whole race: there it has good friends, if it strives for there and makes its home there.

And so, in order to succor the spirit in this alien realm, and to impede the flesh somewhat in this strife lest it should conquer the spirit, we put on it the bridle of penitential practices, thus curbing it so that the spirit can resist it.

All this is done to bring it under control; but if you would capture and curb it in a thousand times better fashion, then put on it the bridle of love!

With love you overcome it most surely, with love you load it most heavily.

Therefore, 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.

Therefore, you cannot better prevail over this foe4 and prevent him from harming you, than by love.

Therefore it is written, ” Love is as strong as death and as hard as hell” (Song 8:6).

Death separates soul from body, but love separates all things from the soul – it will not tolerate what is not God or God’s. Whoever is caught in this net, whoever walks in this way, whatever he does is all one: whether he does anything or nothing is of no account.

And yet the least action or practice of such a man is more profitable and fruitful to himself and all men, and more pleasing to God, than all the works of others who, though free from mortal sin, are inferior to him in love.

His rest is more useful than another’s labor.

Therefore, just watch for this hook, so as to be blessedly caught: for the more you are caught, the more you are free.

That we may be thus caught and freed, may He help us who is love itself.

Amen. more useful than another’s labor.

Therefore, just watch for this hook, so as to be blessedly caught: for the more you are caught, the more you are free.

That we may be thus caught and freed, may He help us who is love itself. Amen. ~Meister Eckhart, The Complete Works of Meister Eckhart, Page 55-61

Notes

  1. The transition is a little abrupt: we are back with Eckhart’s constant theme of the birth of the Word in the soul. cf. Sermon 1, note 4.
  2. Hos. 2:14.
  3. I.e., scourged.
  4. The body.

Notes

  1. The transition is a little abrupt: we are back with Eckhart’s constant theme of the birth of the Word in the soul. cf. Sermon 1, note 4.
  2. Hos. 2: 14.
  3. I.e., scourged.
  4. The body.