Meister Eckart – The Complete Mystical Works
SERMON FOURTEEN (b) (Pf 14, Q 1 6b)
QUASI VAS AUREUM SOLIDUM ORNATUM
OMNI LAPIDE PRETIOSO (Ecclesiasticus 5 0: 10)
I have quoted a text in Latin which is read today in the epistle, 1 that can be applied to St. Augustine or to any virtuous and holy soul.
Such are likened to “a gold vessel which is strong and firm and is adorned with the noble nature of all precious stones.”
It is on account of the noble nature of the saints that we cannot do justice to them with any one likeness, and therefore they are likened to trees, to the sun and the moon.2
So here St. Augustine is likened to a golden vessel, strong and firm, adorned with the noble nature of all precious stones.
Indeed, the same may be said of any virtuous and saintly soul who has abandoned all things to possess them where they are eternal.
Whoever leaves things insofar as they are contingent, possesses them there, where they are pure being and eternal.
Every vessel has two properties: it receives and it contains. Spiritual vessels are different from physical vessels.
The wine is in the cask, the cask is not in the wine.
And the wine is not in the cask as it is in the staves, for if it were in the cask as it is in the staves, we could not drink it.
With a spiritual vessel it is different.
Whatever is received in that is in the vessel and the vessel in it, and it is the vessel itself.
Whatever the spiritual vessel receives, is its own nature.
God’s nature is to give Himself to every virtuous soul, and the soul’s nature is to receive God, and this can be said in regard to the soul’s noblest achievement.
There, the soul bears God’s image and is like God.
There can be no image without likeness, but there can be likeness without images.
Two eggs are equally white, but one is not the image of the other, for that which is the image of another must have come from its nature and be born of it and be like it.3
Every image has two properties.
One is that it takes its being immediately from that of which it is the image, involuntarily, for it is a natural product, thrusting forth from nature like the branch from the tree.
When a face is cast before a mirror, the face must be imaged
in it whether it will or not.
But its nature does not appear in the mirror image, though the mouth and eyes and all the features of the face appear in the mirror.
God has reserved this to Himself that, in whatever reflects Him, there His nature and all that He is and can perform, is at once involuntarily reflected.
For the image precedes the will and the will follows the image, the image first breaking forth from His nature and drawing into itself all that nature and essence can perform: all His nature pours out into His image while yet remaining intact within itself; for the masters locate this image not in the Holy Ghost but rather in the middle Person; for the Son is the first issue of His nature, and therefore he is properly called an image of the Father, but the Holy Ghost is not this – he is simply an efflorescence of the Father and the Son, yet having one nature with them.
But the will is not a mediator between image and nature; indeed, neither understanding nor knowledge nor wisdom can be a mediator here, for the divine image breaks forth from the fecundity of nature without mediation.
But if there is any mediator of wisdom, that is the image itself.
Therefore, in the Godhead the Son is called the Wisdom of the Father.
You should know that this simple divine image which is impressed on the soul’s inmost nature is received without means.
It is the inmost and noblest part of the (divine) nature that is most truly patterned in the image of the soul, and here neither will nor wisdom is a means; as I have said, if wisdom is a means, it is the image itself.
God is here in the image without means, and the image is without means in God.
But God is in far nobler fashion in the image than the image is in
The image does not receive God as the creator, but as He is a rational being, and the noblest part of the divine nature is most truly patterned in the image.
This is a natural image of God which God has impressed by nature in every soul.
More than this I cannot ascribe to the image; to ascribe more to it would make it God Himself, which is not the case, for then God would not be God.
The second property of the image is to be observed in the image’s likeness.
And here especially note two things: an image is, firstly, not of itself, and (secondly), not for itself.
In the same way that the image received in the eye is not the eye’s and has no existence in the eye, but merely depends on and is attached to that of which it is the image, therefore it is not of itself or for itself, but really belongs to that of which it is the image, is its property, takes its being therefrom and is the same being.
Now listen carefully.
What an image really is can be seen from four things, or maybe there will be more.
An image is not of itself or for itself; it is solely that thing’s whose image it is, and all that it is belongs to that.
Whatever is alien to that which it represents, it is not and does not belong to.
An image takes its being solely from that of which it is the image without means, has one essence with it and is the same essence.
I am not speaking here of matters discussed in the schools, but they can well be spoken of from the pulpit as doctrine.4
You often ask how you ought to live. Now pay close attention.
Just as I have told you about the image – that is the way you should live!
You should be His and for Him, you should not be your own or for yourself, or belong to anyone.
When I came to this convent yesterday, I saw sage and herbs on a grave, and I thought, here lies someone’s dear friend, and he loves this plot of earth the more on that account.
Whoever has a very dear friend, loves whatever belongs to him, and can do nothing against his friend’s interests.
Take the dog, an irrational beast, as an example.
He is so faithful to his master that he hates whatever opposes his master, and whoever is his master’s friend he likes, taking no heed of riches or poverty.
If a blind beggar were his master’s bosom friend, the dog would like him better than a king or emperor who was his master’s foe.
In fact, I tell you that if it were possible for half the dog to be unfaithful to his master, he would hate half himself.
But now some complain that they have no inwardness nor devotion nor rapture nor any special consolation from God.
Such people are still not on the right way: one can bear with them but it is second best.
I declare truly that, as long as anything is reflected in your mind
which is not the eternal Word, or which looks away from the eternal Word, then, good as it may be, it is not the right thing.
For he alone is a good man who, having set at naught all created things, stands facing straight, with no side glances toward the eternal Word, and is imaged and reflected there in righteousness.
That man draws from the same source as the Son, and is himself the Son.
Scripture says, “No man knows the Father but the Son ” (Matt. 11:27).
Therefore, if you would know God, you must not merely be like the Son, you must be the Son yourself.
But some people want to see God with their own eyes as they see a cow, and they want to love God as they love a cow.
You love a cow for her milk and her cheese and your own profit.
That is what all those men do who love God for outward wealth or inward consolation – and they do not truly love God, they love their own profit.
I truly assert that anything you put in the forefront of your mind, if it is not God in Himself, is – however good it may be – a hindrance to your gaining the highest truth.
And as I said before that St. Augustine is compared to a gold vessel, closed at the bottom and open at the top – see, that is how you should be!
If you would stand with St. Augustine and in the sanctity
of all the saints, your heart must be closed to all created things and receive God as He is in Himself.
Thus men are compared to the higher powers because they always go bareheaded, and women to the lower powers because their head is always covered.
The higher powers transcend time and space, springing immediately from the soul’s essence, so they are compared to men, who always go uncovered.
Hence their activity is eternal.
A master5 says that all the lower powers of the soul, insofar as they are touched by time and space, have to that extent lost their virginal purity, and can never be so finely attenuated or sifted that they can reach the highest powers.
Yet they can receive the imprint of a similar image.
You should be firm and steadfast; that is, you should be the same in weal and woe, in fortune and misfortune, having the noble nature of precious stones;6 that is, all virtues should be enclosed in you and flow out of you in their true being.
You should traverse and transcend all the virtues, drawing virtue solely from its source in that ground where it is one with the divine nature.
And, inasmuch as you are more united to the divine nature than are the angels, they must get it from you.
That we may be One, may God help us.
- St. Augustine’s Day (August 28).
- In the Dominican missal (Q).
- If B is derived from A, it is the image o f A. But if C i s also derived from A, it may resemble B, but is the image of A, not B.
- i.e., this is not just a point for academic discussion, but has a practical value for instruction. This follows.
- Avicenna (Ibn Sina, 980-1 037), On the Soul 4.2.
- Precious stones were believed to have magic powers.