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Meister Eckart – The Complete Mystical Works
Appendix A to Part Two
FOUR ECKHART LEGENDS (Pf III, 67-70, QT pp. 443-48)
- A GOOD MORNING1
Meister Eckhart said to a poor man, ‘God give you good morning, brother.’
‘Keep it for yourself, sir, I have never had a bad one.’
He said, ‘How is that, brother?’
‘Because whatever God has sent me to suffer, I have suffered gladly for His sake and have considered myself unworthy of Him, and so I have never been sad or troubled.’
He asked, ‘Where did you first find God?’2
‘When I left all creatures behind, then I found God. ‘
He said, ‘Where did you leave God, brother?’
‘In every pure, clean heart.’
He said, ‘What kind of a man are you, brother?’
‘I am a king.’
He asked, ‘Of what?’
‘Of my flesh: for whatever my spirit desired from God, my flesh was always more nimble and quick to perform and endure than my spirit was to receive.’
He said, ‘A king must have a kingdom. What is your realm, brother? ‘
‘In my soul.’
He said, ‘In what way, brother?’
‘When I have closed the doors of my five senses and desire God
‘Sitting still and raising my thoughts aloft and uniting with God that has drawn me up to heaven, for I could find no rest in anything that was less than God.
Now I have found Him I have rest and joy in Him eternally, and that surpasses all temporal kingdoms.
There is no outward work so perfect, but it hinders the inner life.’
- THE NAKED BOY3
He said, ‘I come from God.’ ‘Where did you leave Him?’
‘In virtuous hearts.’
‘Where are you going? ‘
‘Where will you find Him?’
‘Where I abandoned all creatures.’
‘Who are you?’
‘Where is your kingdom?’
‘Mind that no one shares it with you.’
Then he took the boy into his cell and said, ‘Take whichever coat you like.’
‘Then I would not be a king! ‘4
And he vanished.
It was God Himself having fun with him.
- MEISTER ECKHART’ S DAUGHTER5
A young girl6 came to a Dominican convent and asked for Meister
The porter said, ‘Whom shall I announce?’
She replied, ‘I don’t know.’
He said, ‘Why don’t you know?’
She said, ‘Because I am neither a girl nor a woman, nor husband nor wife, nor widow nor virgin, nor master nor maid nor manservant.’
The porter went to Meister Eckhart. ‘Come out to the strangest creature I ever saw, and let me go with you, and put your head out and ask, “Who wants me?”
‘He did so. She spoke to him the same as she had spoken to the porter. with all my heart, I find God in my soul, as radiant and joyous as He is eternal life.’
He said, ‘You must be a saint. Who made you one, brother? ‘
He said, ‘My dear child, you speak truthfully and with a ready
tongue: explain to me more fully what you mean.’
She said, ‘If I were a girl, I would still be in my primal innocence; if I were a woman, I would be bearing the eternal Word without cease in my soul; if I were a man, I should put up a stiff resistance to all sins; if I were a wife, I should be faithful to my sole and beloved husband; if I were a widow, I should ever yearn for my one and only love; if I were a virgin, I should be in reverent service; if I were a master, I would command all the divine virtues; if I were a maid, I should be meekly subject to God and all creatures; if I were a manservant, I should be hard at work, serving my Lord with my whole will and without contradiction.
But I am none of all these things: I am just a thing like anything else and go my way.’
The master went and said to his brothers, ‘It seems to me that I
have just heard the purest person I have ever met.’7
- MEISTER ECKHART’S FEAST8
Once9 a poor man came to Cologne on the Rhine in quest of poverty and the life of truth.
Then a maiden came to him and said, ‘Dear child, will you eat with me in God’s love?’
‘Gladly,’ he said. When they sat down, she said, ‘Eat heartily, don’t be ashamed.’
‘If I eat too much it is wrong, if I eat too little it is wrong. The
middle way is best: I will eat like a poor man.’
She asked, ‘What is a poor man?’
He said, ‘That consists in three things. The first is that he is dead to all natural things.
The second is that he cannot desire too much of God.
The third is that he should desire whatever is termed, or is, suffering for no one more than for himself.’
She said, ‘My dear child, tell me, what is the poverty of the inner man? ‘
He said, ‘That too lies in three things.
The first is utter detachment from all creatures, in time and in eternity.
The second is determined humility of the inner and the outer man.
The third is diligent devotion and a continual raising of the mind to God.’
She said, ‘Indeed, I am glad to hear that. Now, dear child, tell me, what is the poverty of the spirit?’
He said, ‘You ask too much!’
She said, ‘ I never heard that there could be too much of what
concerns God’s glory and man’s blessedness.’
The poor man said, ‘You speak truly. This too consists in three
things. The first is, that a man should know nothing in time or eternity but God alone.
The second is, that he should not seek God outside of himself.
The third is, that he should not carry any spiritual goods, as his personal property,10 from place to place.’
‘Well then, should not the Master, your father and mine, not carry his sermon from his cell to the pulpit?’
He replied, ‘Not he.’
‘Why? ‘ she asked.
He said, ‘The more temporal, the more physical; the more physical, the more temporal.’11
She said, ‘This spirit did not come from Bohemia!’
He said, ‘The sun that shines on Cologne also shines on the city of Prague.’12
She said, ‘Explain that to me more clearly.’
He said, ‘It is not my place with the Master here present.’
The Master said, ‘If a man has not the truth within, let him love it outside, then he will also find it within.’ 13
She said, ‘This meal is well paid for.’
Then the poor man said, ‘Maiden, now you must pay for the wine!’
‘Gladly,’ she replied, ‘just ask me.’
He asked, ‘How can a man recognize the works of the Holy Ghost in his soul?’
She said, ‘By three things. The first is that he daily grows less in
the way of bodily things, desires, and natural love. The second is that he continually grows in divine love and grace. The third is that, with love and eagerness, he devotes his labors more to his fellow men than to himself.’
He said, ‘Our Lord’s chosen friends have given good evidence of this.’
Then he said, ‘How can a spiritual man tell if God is present at his prayers and exercises?’
She said, ‘By three things. The first is by the object which God sets before His chosen ones: that is the scorn of the world and physical suffering.
The second is by a growth in grace commensurate with the love that is between him and God.
The third is that God never leaves that man without indicating some new path of wisdom to him.’
He said, ‘That must indeed be true. Now tell me, how can a man tell if all his works are performed according to the sovran will of God?’
She said, ‘By three things. The first is, that he never lacks a clear conscience.
The second is, that he never turns from union with God.
And the third is, that the heavenly Father begets His Son in him continually by grace.’
The Master said, ‘If all debts were as well paid off a s this wine, there is many a soul in purgatory that would now be in eternal life.’
Then the poor man said, ‘If there is any more to pay, that is up to the Master.’
Then the Master said, ‘Let old age be privileged.’ But the poor man said, ‘Let love do its work, which knows no distinctions.’14
The maiden said, ‘You are a Master whose skill has been proven
three times in Paris.’
The poor man said, ‘ I would rather have someone who had been
tried and proven once in the truth than three times in Paris in the
Meister Eckhart said, ‘If there was anything that needed saying to me, it has been said.’ 15
The maiden said, ‘Tell me, Father, how can anyone know he is a child of the heavenly Father?’
He said, ‘By three things. The first is, that a man performs all his actions out of love.
The second is, that he accepts all things equally from God.
The third is, that he pins all his hopes on none but God alone.’
The poor man said, ‘Tell me, Father, how can anyone know whether virtue is operative in him to the highest degree of nobility?’
He said, ‘By three things: you must love God for God’s sake, the good for good’s sake, and the truth for truth’s sake.’
The Master said, ‘Dear children, how should he live who preaches the truth? ‘
The maiden said, ‘He should so live that what he preaches in
words, he practices with deeds.’
The poor man said, ‘That is good. But he should be inwardly
so established that he has more truth within him than he can put
into outward words.16 As the eternal Word is begotten of the heavenly Father, so the will of God is the begetting and becoming of all creatures.’17
This is Meister Eckhart’s Feast.18
- Pf III, 67. The ‘poor man’ evidently represents the ‘poor in spirit’ so frequently mentioned by Eckhart.
- Cf. On Detachment, third paragraph.
- Pf III, 68. A variant on the same theme as Sermon 1.
- Perhaps derived from such texts as Sermon 63.
- Pf III, 69. My own heading. Quint heads this, with the Munich and Wolfenbiittel MSS discovered by him, ‘About a good sister: a goodly conversation she had with Meister Eckhart.’ This piece seems to be developed (negatively turned and expanded) from the theme of the ‘virgin who was a wife’ referred to in Sermon 8.
- The word used is ‘daughter’ (tohter), which can also mean ‘young girl,’ ‘pupil,’ or ‘penitent’ (modern German Beichtkind, lit. ‘confession-child’).
- Pfeiffer’s text, from a Stuttgart MS, concludes: ‘This parable (blspel) is called Meister Eckhart’s Daughter’ (cf. note 5 above), which perhaps links it with the betterknown ‘Sister Cathy’ (Pf II, 6, trans. Evans I, 3 12-34), the heading of which is ‘This
is Sister Cathy (Swester Katrei), Meister Eckhart’s Daughter from Strassburg,’ an elaborate piece containing possible reminiscences of the present text, in which the ‘daughter’ finally declares that she has ‘become God,’ and proceeds to instruct the
Master. The text is later than Eckhart’s time, but if such sentiments reached the ears of the archbishop of Cologne, this would go far to explain his anxiety to have the Master’s teachings condemned!
- Pf III, 70. Quint gives a full analysis of this text, which is found in a number of MSS (QT, 529-31). I give the gist of the commentary here. Each of the three partners in the discussion, the poor man, the maiden, and the Master, has to answer
three questions, and each answer is itself in three parts. There are also two short ‘intermissions’ and a concluding section (see below).
- Pfeiffer’s text, followed by Evans, opens with the words ‘Meister Eckhart said.’ These words, which are not found in all MSS, are clearly wrong and are omitted by Quint.
- Eckhart’s word is eigenschaft, meaning something like ‘ownness’ or ‘possessiveness’: cf. Sermon 6 and note 3 there.
- Quint suggests that the carrying of the spiritual property of the preacher from his cell to the pulpit, being an act in time and space, drags the spiritual down to the material world. See notes 13 and 18.
- The ‘poor man’ i s supposed to have come from Bohemia, of which province Eckhart had been made vicar-general in 1307. From about 1322 Eckhart was in Cologne (see Introduction, p.). The maiden suggests that the spirit of the poor man’s reply is that of Cologne (i.e., of Eckhart), which he cannot have ‘brought with him,’ in the sense referred to, from Prague. The poor man indicates by the image of the sunshine, that the same spirit is after all not unknown in Prague (Q). He also implies, I think, that in spiritual matters neither time (at least fifteen years earlier) nor place is relevant; also, being ‘poor in spirit,’ he has nor carried it as his personal property, emphasizing this by refusing to elaborate further in the presence of the
- Quint interprets this too as a response to the poor man’s words about ‘carrying his sermon from his cell to the pulpit,’ namely, that anyone who does nor find the truth within must learn to love it when he hears it preached (and that the preacher
must, therefore, ‘carry it to the pulpit’). If he loves what he hears, then he will indeed be able to find it within.
- Since love knows no distinctions, age has no special privileges (Q).
- This paragraph is missing in all but two MSS, in one of which it is misplaced (Q). Eckhart was in fact three times in Paris (1 293, ca. 1300-1302, and 1311 1-12)
(cf. Introduction, pages 7-8), and certainly ‘proved himself’ in disputation there. But, says the poor man, to have been ‘tried and proven’ in the truth is more important than such academic distinctions. Despite its omission in several MSS, this passage is
a necessary and important element in the dialogue. Its omission is ascribable merely to a scribal oversight (inefficiently ‘corrected’ in the Munich text) and nor to any doctrinal misgivings.
- Finally, the Master questions the maiden and the poor man, and the poor man’s reply supplements that of the maiden. This indicates that he is wiser than she is, while the Master is, of course, wiser than both. Their answers together indicate the relation that should exist between the teacher or preacher, and the truth that he declares (Q).
- Quint omits these words, found in Pfeiffer’s text. Their relevance is nor perhaps immediately obvious, but they do point to the distinction between ‘outward
words’ and the eternal Word. Even if they are genuine (which I think probable), it is not quite clear whether they form part of the poor man’s speech or nor. Cf. Sermons 36 and Sermon 22.
- Quint has instead of this a doggerel verse from the Munich MS: This is Meister Eckhart’s sermon and question.
Whoever hears them or repeats them, May God grant him a goodly end And after this life a happy resurrection. Amen.
This is a typical scribe’s verse, certainly nor attributable to the author of the dialogue, and of no interest except for its expression of faith in the Master. It is certainly less
relevant than the words mentioned above (note 17). It is also inaccurate since the piece in question is nor a ‘sermon’ of the Master’s. On the other hand, the term ‘feast’ (wirtschaft) in Pfeiffer’s text is in accordance with the contents; indeed, since
wine is included we might even speak of a ‘symposium’! Quint calls the whole an ‘ovation’ for Meister Eckhart and quotes with approval Friedrich von der Leyen’s words (Zeitschrift fur deutsche Philologie 38 :356) that it ’emanates from
the circle of our master’s disciples,’ or that it was ‘produced under his immediate influence.’ We can, I think, go a little further. The dialogue clearly emanates from those who had known the Master in his last days in Cologne. It is rigidly disciplined in form and content, and shows accurate knowledge of the Master’s life (e.g., his three visits to Paris, cf. note 1 5, and his activity in Bohemia) as well as of his teachings. It
is not merely an ‘ovation’ but a defense of the Master, whether produced before or after his death (d. note 7). In this connection, the poor man’s avoidance of excess is significant: on being urged to ear heartily he says he will ear neither too much nor too
little. This could be an implied criticism of some more intemperate followers of the Master, alluded to by Suso in chapter 6 of his Little Book of Eternal Wisdom (trans.
Clark [London, 1 95 3]) in the shape of the ‘nameless wild one’ who, in the manner of some recent Western Zen enthusiasts, misinterpreted the master’s teachings as ‘unrestrained liberty. ‘
There is another possible interpretation of the discussion (cf. notes 11,12, 13)
about the Master’s ‘carrying his sermon from his cell to the pulpit,’ which the poor man deprecates and the Master justifies. As Eckhart himself had said in one sermon (Sermon 5 6): ‘Whoever has understood this sermon, good luck to him. If no one had been here I should have had to preach it to this offertory box.’ He had to preach of that which he knew, even in the full knowledge that he would be misunderstood, and despite the realization that he would probably be – as he was – persecuted for it. ~Meister Eckhart, The Complete Works, Page 582-587