SERMON FIFTEN (Pf 15, Q 1 05, QT 44)
MORTUUS EST ET REVIXIT, PERIERAT ET INVENTUS EST (Luke 15:32)
“He was dead and has come back to life. He was lost and has been found again.”
I have said in a sermon that I wanted to teach a man who had done good works while in mortal sin, how these works come to life again with the time in which they were done.1 And this I will now show as it truly is, because I have been asked to make my meaning clear.
I will do so, although it is in opposition to all masters now living.
The masters all say that as long as a man is in a state of grace, all his works are worthy of eternal reward, and that is true, for God does the works in grace, and I agree with them.
But the masters concur in saying that if a man falls into mortal sin, all the works that he does while in mortal sin are dead, just as he himself is dead, and they are not worthy of eternal reward, because he is not living in a state of grace.
And in this sense it is true, and I agree with them.
Now the masters say: if God restores to grace a man who repents his sins, all the works he ever did in a state of grace before he fell into mortal sin – these all arise again in the new state of grace and live, as they did before.
And I agree with them.
But, they say, those works the man did while he was in mortal sin are eternally lost – the time and the works together.
And that I, Master Eckhart, totally deny, and I say this.
Of all the good works that a man did while he was in mortal sin, not a single one is lost, nor the time in which they occurred, if he is restored to grace.
Observe, this is contrary to all masters now living!
Now pay close attention to what my words imply; then you will grasp my meaning.
I declare roundly: all good works that man ever did or ever will, as well as the time in which they occurred or ever will occur – works and time are totally lost, works as works, time as time.
I say further, no work was ever good or holy or blessed. I say also that time was never holy or blessed or good, nor ever will be, neither the one nor the other. How then could it be preserved, since it is not good, blessed, or holy?
And so, since good works, and also the time in which they occurred, are altogether completely lost, how could those works be preserved that took place in mortal sin and the time in which they occurred ?
But I declare: they are lost altogether, works and time, evil and good, works as works, time as time – they are altogether lost eternally.
Now the question arises: Why is a work called ‘a holy work,’ ‘a blessed work,’ and ‘a good work,’ and likewise the time in which the work occurred?
Note, as I said: the work and the time in which it occurred is neither holy, nor blessed, nor good. Goodness, holiness and blessedness – that is a name attached to the work and the time, and not its possession.
Why? – A work as a work is not of itself, it is not there for its own sake, it does not occur of its own accord, or for its own sake, and it knows nothing of itself.
And therefore it is neither blessed nor unblessed: rather, the spirit out of which the work proceeds rids itself of the ‘image,’ and that never comes in again.2
For the work, as work, perished at once, and likewise the time in which it occurred, and is neither here nor there, for the spirit has nothing more to do with the work.
If it is to work any more, it must be with other works, and in another time.
Therefore works and time are altogether lost, evil and good are equally lost, for they have not resting place in the spirit, nor have they any being or place in themselves, and God too has no need of them.
And so, in themselves, they are lost and perish.
If a good work is done by a man, he rids himself with this work, and by this ridding he is more like and closer to his origin than he was previously, before the ridding occurred, and by that much he is the more blessed and better than previously, before the ridding occurred.
That is why the work is called holy and blessed, as well as the time in which the work occurred; but it is not really true, for the work has no being, nor has the time in which it occurred, since it perishes in itself.
Therefore it is neither good nor holy nor blessed, but rather the man is blessed in whom the fruit of the work remains, neither as time nor a s work, but a s a good disposition which is eternal with the spirit as the spirit is eternal in itself, and it is the spirit itself.
Observe, in this why no good deed was ever lost, nor the time in which it occurred; not that it was preserved as work and as time, but rather as being freed of work and time with the disposition in the spirit, in which it is eternal as the spirit is eternal in itself.
Now let us consider those works done while in mortal sin.
As you have heard (those of you who have understood me) , as works and as time, those good works done in mortal sin are lost, works and time together.
But I have also said that works and time are nothing in themselves.
But if works and time are nothing in themselves, then, see, he who loses them loses nothing.
That is true.
But I have said further: Works and time have no being and place in themselves; as a work it has been dropped by the spirit in time.
If the spirit is to perform further, this must be another work and in a different time.
And therefore it can never enter the spirit, as far as it was work and time.
And it can in no way enter God, for no time or temporal work ever came into God.
And therefore it must perish and be lost.
And yet I have said that all good works a man does while he is in mortal sin are none of them lost, neither time nor works.
And that is true, in the sense which I shall explain.
And, as I said before, it is contrary to all masters now living.
Now observe, in brief, the true sense of the matter.
If a man does good works while he is in mortal sin, he does not do the works from
out of that mortal sin, for these works are good and mortal sins are evil.
He does them rather out of the ground of his spirit, which is good in itself by nature, although he is not in a state of grace, and the works do not, in themselves, merit heaven at the time of their occurrence.
Nevertheless, it does not harm the spirit, for the fruit of the work, free from work and time, remains with the spirit and is spirit with the spirit, and perishes as little as the essence of the spirit perishes.
But the spirit frees its being by working out these images, which are good, just as truly as it would were it in a state of grace (even though it does not gain heaven by these works, as would be the case in a state of grace), for in this way it creates the same readiness for union and likeness, work and time being of use only to enable man to work himself out.
And the more a man frees himself and works himself out, the more he approaches God, who is free in Himself; and inasmuch as a man frees himself, to that extent he loses neither works nor time.
And when grace returns, whatever was in him by nature is now entirely in him by grace.
And to the extent that he has freed himself with good works while he was in mortal sin, just so far does he leap forward to unite with God – which he would not have been able to do unless he had freed himself with these works while he was in mortal sin.
If he had to work them off now, he would have to take time for this.
But since he freed himself in the previous period while in mortal sin, he has gained for himself the time in which he is now free.
Accordingly, the time in which he is now free is not lost, because he has gained this time and can do other works in this time, which will bring him into still closer union with God.
The fruits of the works that he did in the spirit remain in the spirit, and are spirit with the spirit.
Although the works and the time have passed away, the spirit, out of which they were done, still lives, and the fruit of the works, free from works and time, full of grace as the spirit is full of grace.
See, thus we have proved the truth of my assertion, as it truly is.
And all those who contradict it, I contradict them and care not a jot for them, for what I have said is true, and truth itself declares it.3
If they understood what spirit is, and what work and time are in themselves, and in what manner the work corresponds to the spirit, then they would certainly not declare that any good deed or disposition would or could ever be lost.
Although the work passes away with time and perishes, yet in that it corresponds to the spirit in its essence, it never perishes.
The correspondence consists just in this, that the spirit is freed4 by the disposition which takes effect in the works.
That is the power of the work, for the sake of which the work occurred.
This remains in the spirit and has never come out, and it can no more perish than the spirit in itself, because it is that spirit.
Now see, if a man were able to understand this, how could he say that any good work could ever perish as long as the spirit has its being and lives in the new grace?
That we may become one spirit with God, and that we may be found in a state of grace, may God help us.
Amen. ~Meister Eckhart, The Complete Works, Page 119-123
- Cf. Sermon 1 3, note 4.
- The mind that conceived the idea has thereby become ‘free’ of it.
- This expression normally means that there is biblical confirmation for a
statement. But no text is quoted, and Quint does not adduce any.
- Reading gelediget with Quint. Pfeiffer has geedelt ‘ennobled.’