Meister Eckhart: ‘Wife’ is the noblest title one can bestow on the soul – far nobler than ‘virgin.’
SERMON E IGHT (Pf 8, Q 2, QT 2)
INTRAVIT JESUS IN QUODDAM CASTELLUM ET MU LIER QUAEDAM EXCEPIT I LLUM ETC. (Luke 10:38)
I have first quoted this saying in Latin; it is written in the Gospel, and in German it means,” Our Lord Jesus Christ went up into a citadel and was received by a virgin1 who was a wife. “2
Now mark this word carefully.
It must of necessity be a virgin, the person by whom Jesus was received.
‘Virgin’ is as much as to say a person who is void of alien images, as empty as he was when he did not exist.3
Now the question may be asked, how a man who has been born and has reached the age of rational understanding can be as empty of all images as he was when he was not; for he knows many things, all of which are images: so how can he be empty of them?
Note the explanation which I shall give you.
If I were possessed of sufficient understanding so as to comprehend within my own mind all the images ever conceived by all men, as well as those that exist in God Himself- if I had these without attachment, whether in doing or in leaving undone, without before and after but rather standing free in this present
Now ready to receive God’s most beloved will and to do it continually, then in truth I would be a virgin, untrammeled by any images, just as I was when I was not.
And yet I say that being a virgin by no means deprives a man of works that he has done he yet remains virgin free, offering no hindrance to the highest Truth, even as Jesus is empty and free and virginal in himself. Since according to the masters union comes only by the joining of like to like, therefore that man must be a maiden, a virgin, who would receive the virgin Jesus.
Now attend and follow me closely.
If a man were to be ever virginal, he would bear no fruit.
If he is to be fruitful, he must be a wife.
‘Wife’ is the noblest title one can bestow on the soul – far nobler than ‘virgin.’
For a man to receive God within him is good, and in receiving he is virgin.
But for God to be fruitful in him is better, for only the fruitfulness of the gift is the thanks rendered for that gift, and herein the spirit is a wife, whose gratitude is fecundity, bearing Jesus again in God’s paternal heart.
Many good gifts, received in virginity, are not reborn back into God in wifely fruitfulness and with praise and thanks.
Such gifts perish and all comes to naught, and a man is no more blessed or the better for them. In this case his virginity is useless because to that virginity he does not add the perfect fruitfulness of a wife.
Therein lies the mischief.
Hence, I have said, “Jesus went up into a citadel and was received by a virgin who was a wife.”
It must be thus, as I have shown you.
Married folk bring forth little more than one fruit in a year.
But it is other wedded folk that I have in mind now: all those who are bound with attachment to prayer, fasting, vigils, and all kinds of outward discipline and mortification.
All attachment to any work that involves the loss of freedom to wait on God in the here and now, and to
follow Him alone in the light wherein He would show you what to do and what not to do, every moment freely and anew, as if you had nothing else and neither would nor could do otherwise – any such attachment or set practice which repeatedly denies you this freedom, I call a year; for your soul will bear no fruit till it has done this work to which you are possessively attached, and you too will have no trust in God or in yourself before you have done the work you embraced with attachment, for otherwise you will have no peace.
Thus, you will bring forth no fruit till your work is done.
That is what I call ‘a year, ‘and the fruit of it is paltry because it springs from attachment to the task and not from freedom. These, then, I call ‘wedded folk,’ for they are bound by attachment.
They bring forth little fruit, and paltry at that, as I have said.
A virgin who is a wife is free and unfettered by attachment; she is always as near to God as to herself.
She brings forth many and big fruits, for they are neither more nor less than God Himself.
This fruit and this birth that virgin bears who is a wife, bringing forth daily a hundred and a thousandfold!
Numberless indeed are her labors begotten of the most noble ground or, to speak more truly, of the very ground where the Father ever begets His eternal Word: – it is thence she becomes fruitful and shares in the procreation.
For Jesus, the light and splendor of the eternal heart (as St. Paul says [Heb. 1:3] , h e i s the glory and splendor of the Father’s heart and illumines the Father’s heart with power), this same Jesus is made one with her and she with him; she is radiant and shining with him in one single unity, as one pure brilliant light in the paternal heart.
Elsewhere I have declared that there is a power in the soul4 which touches neither time nor flesh, flowing from the spirit, remaining in the spirit, altogether spiritual.
In this power, God is ever verdant and flowering in all the joy and all the glory that He is in Himself.
There is such heartfelt delight, such inconceivably deep joy as none can fully tell of, for in this power the eternal Father is ever His eternal Son without pause, in such wise that this power jointly begets the Father’s Son and itself, this self-same Son, in the sole power of the Father.
Suppose a man owned a whole kingdom or all the goods of this world; then suppose he gave it up purely for God’s sake, and
became one of the poorest of the poor who ever lived on earth, and that God then gave him as much suffering as He ever imposed on any man, and that he bore all this to his dying day, and that God then gave him one fleeting glimpse of how He is in this power – that man’s joy would be so great that all this suffering and poverty would still be insignificant.
Yea, though God were never to vouchsafe him any further taste of heaven than this, he would yet be all too richly rewarded for all that he had ever endured, for God is in this power as in the eternal Now.
If a man’s spirit were always united with God in this power, he would not age.
For the Now in which God made the first man and the Now in which the last man shall cease to be, and the Now I speak in, all are the same in God and there is but one Now.
Observe, this man dwells in one light with God, having no suffering and no sequence of time, but one equal eternity.
This man is bereft of wonderment and all things are in him in their essence.
Therefore, nothing new comes to him from future things nor any accident, for he dwells in the Now, ever new and without intermission.
Such is the divine sovereignty dwelling in this power.
There is another power,5 immaterial too, flowing from the spirit, remaining in the spirit, altogether spiritual.
In this power God is fiery, aglow with all His riches, with all His sweetness and all His bliss.
Truly, in this power there is such great joy, such vast unmeasured bliss that none can tell of it or reveal it fully.
Yet I declare that if ever there were a single man who in intellectual vision and in truth should glimpse for a moment the bliss and the joy therein, then all his sufferings and all God intended that he should suffer would be a trifle, a mere nothing to him – in fact I declare it would be pure joy and comfort to him.
If you would know for certain whether your suffering is your own or God’s then you can know by this: If you suffer for yourself, in whatever way, that suffering hurts and is hard to bear.
But if you suffer for God and God alone, your suffering does not hurt and is not hard to bear, for God bears the load.
In very truth, if there were a man willing to suffer purely for God’s sake and for God alone, then although he were suddenly called upon to bear all the suffering that all men have ever endured, the collective sufferings of all the world, it would not hurt him or bear him down, for God would bear the burden.
If they put a hundredweight burden on my neck and another were to bear it on my neck, I would as willingly bear a hundred pounds as one, for it would not burden me or cause me pain.
In brief, whatever a man suffers for God and God alone, He makes light and pleasant.
As I said in the beginning, in the opening words of this sermon, ‘Jesus went up into a citadel and was received by a virgin who was a wife.’
It had to be so, that she was a virgin and a wife.
Now I have told you that Jesus was received, but I have not yet told you what the citadel is, as I shall now proceed to do.
I have sometimes said that there is a power in the soul which alone is free.
Sometimes I have called it the guardian of the spirit, sometimes
I have called it a light of the spirit, sometimes I have said that it is a little spark.6
But now I say that it is neither this nor that; and yet it is a something that is more exalted over ‘this’ and ‘that’ than are
the heavens above the earth.
So now I shall name it in nobler fashion than I ever did before, and yet it disowns the nobler name and mode, for it transcends them.
It is free of all names and void of all forms, entirely exempt and free, as God is exempt and free in Himself.
It is as completely one and simple as God is one and simple, so that no man can in any way glimpse it.
This same power of which I have spoken, wherein God ever blooms and is verdant in all His Godhead, and the spirit in God, in this same power God ever bears His only begotten Son as truly as in Himself, for verily He dwells in this power, and
the spirit gives birth with the Father to the same only begotten Son, and to itself as the selfsame Son, and is itself the selfsame Son in this light, and is the Truth.
If you could know with my heart, you would understand, for it is true, and Truth itself declares it.
Now pay attention!
So, one and simple is this citadel in the soul, elevated above all modes, of which I speak and which I mean, that that noble power I mentioned is not worthy even for an instant to
cast a single glance into this citadel; nor is that other power I spoke of, in which God burns and glows with all His riches and all His joy, able to cast a single glance inside; so truly one and simple is this citadel, so mode- and power-transcending is this solitary One, that neither power nor mode can gaze into it, nor even God Himself!
In very truth and as God lives!
God Himself never looks in there for one instant, insofar as He exists in modes and in the properties of His persons.
This should be well noted: this One Alone lacks all mode and property.
And therefore, for God to see inside it would cost Him all His divine names and personal properties: all these He must leave outside, should He ever look in there.
But only insofar as He is one and indivisible, without mode or properties, (can He do this):7
in that sense He is neither Father, Son, nor Holy Ghost, and yet is a Something which is neither this nor that.
See, as He is thus one and simple, so He can enter that One that
I here call the citadel of the soul, but in no other mode can He get in: only thus does He enter and dwell therein.
In this part the soul is the same as God and not otherwise.
What I tell you is true: I call the Truth as a witness and offer my soul as pledge.
That we may be such a citadel to which Jesus may ascend and be received to abide eternally in us in such wise as I have said, may God help us to this!
Amen. ~Meister Eckhart, The Complete Works, Page 77-81
- Eckhart’s rendering is very free here: the Latin says nothing about a virgin!
- The play on the two meanings of enpfangen, ‘received’ and ‘conceived,’ cannot be rendered into English.
- When he was a (Platonic) idea in God.
- The higher intellect: cf. Sermon 1, note 8.
- The will. The Franciscans gave the will supremacy, the Dominicans (and therefore Eckhart) the intellect.
- See Introduction, Note A: Synteresis, p. 22
- Supplied (after Miss Evans) to complete the sense.