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Meister Eckhart on Poverty of Spirit

Samuel Baudinette

Abstract: The thirteenth century was a period when the notion of voluntary and spiritual poverty was adopted by a number of religious and lay peoples who desired to return to an apostolic vision of the Christian life. Groups such as the Order of Preachers, founded by St. Dominic in c. 1220s, and the Beguine spirituals of the Rhineland both contributed, in different ways, to the developing discourse of poverty during this age. This paper examines the thoughts on spiritual poverty which were expressed in radical vernacular sermons by the famed German mystic Meister Eckhart (c.1260-1329). It does so in response to an earlier paper on the Meister s attitude towards poverty of spirit written in 1978 by David Linge, which is based on certain works attributed to Eckhart now considered inauthentic. As such, this paper shall present an analysis of two sermons from the Meister, most likely delivered to lay women in the Rhineland, and one vernacular treatise, written for Dominican novices under Eckharts care, which traces the influence of Dominican and Beguine discourse about poverty on Meister Eckharts thought whilst nuancing Linges basically correct premises.

Charlotte C. Radler has recently argued that the late thirteenth century German Dominican Meister Eckharts mystical thought must be understood as a praxis of detachment, an ideal of active temporal poverty harmonised with the inner contemplative life.1 In a vernacular sermon, the Meister explains that in his preaching he is accustomed to speak about detachment (gelzenheit), and that man should be free of himself and of all things.2 In another sermon, Eckhart identifies this detachment from self and images as an inward poverty, that is to be held distinct from the external poverty practiced by Christ and his apostles during their time on earth. 3 The ultimate
1

Charlotte C. Radler, Living From the Divine Ground: Meister Eckharts Praxis of Detachment, Spiritus, 2006, 6(1), pp. 25-47. 2 Sermon 53, in Edmund Colledge and Bernard McGinn, Meister Eckhart, the essential sermons, commentaries, treatises, and defense, New York: Paulist Press, 1981, p. 203. (Hereafter, Essential Eckhart). 3 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 199.

goal of detachment, then, is to become what Eckhart calls a virginal wife, where the Birth of the Word is brought to fruition within the inner recesses of the soul. 4 Anyone opposed to this notion of detachment is characterized by Eckhart as those that seek something in their works or those who work because of a why, who are best described as servants and hired hands.5 The Mittelhochdeutsch word which Eckhart employs for the opposite state to detachment, attachment (eigenschaft), carries the connotation of ownership or spousal relation, and is diacritically opposed to the notion of poverty.6 This paper intends to engage with the idea of detachment in Eckhart by examining a number of his vernacular works. In particular this paper demonstrates how Eckharts notion of spiritual poverty as detachment fits into the greater tradition of Dominican thought on the virtue of poverty. In his somewhat dated paper Mysticism, Poverty and Reason in the Thought of Meister Eckhart, originally published in 1978, David E. Linge argued that Meister Eckharts notion of poverty was an integral part of a carefully worked out metaphysical scheme and should be understood as a theological response to the popular religious piety and the socio-economic expansion that transformed European society in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.7 The mystical vision which Eckhart advocated is explained by Linge as [breaking] sharply with the love- or will- centered mystical tradition represented by Augustine, Bernard and the Franciscans and is a direct religious
4 5

Sermon 2, Essential Eckhart, p. 177. Sermon 39,in Bernard McGinn, Meister Eckhart: Teacher and Preacher, New York: Paulist Press, 1986 p. 296 (Hereafter, Teacher and Preacher); Amy Hollywood translates the MHG servelings and traders in Suffering Transformed, McGinn (ed.) Meister Eckhart and the Beguine Mystics, New York: Continuum, 2001, p. 107. 6 Reiner Shrmann, Wandering Joy: Meister Eckharts Mystical Philosophy, Great Barrington: Lindisfarne Books, 2001, p. 13. 7 David E. Linge, Mysticism, Poverty and Reason in the Thought of Meister Eckhart, American Academy of Religion, 1978, 46(4), p. 465.

response to the material wealth that had already begun to mesmerize the European spirit [of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries].8 He suggests that Eckhart employs the term poverty to explain a direct awareness of God which is achieved when ordinary, mediated awareness of the world is stilled. 9 Frank Tobin concurs in a later monograph, noting that poverty of spirit acts as one of the characteristic themes of the Meisters thought and is employed in his vernacular sermons as an alternate description for union with God. 10 The major issue with Linges paper, however, is its use of material ascribed to the Meister which more recent research has largely discredited as inauthentic.11 Importantly, Linge is not aware of (or fails to take into account) the notable influence that Beguine spirituality played in the formation of Eckharts attitude towards spiritual poverty. This is particularly notable in the case of Marguerite Porete, whose treatment of the spiritual experience as neither wanting, knowing or willing God, in her Mirror of Simple Souls is echoed throughout a number of the Meisters most notable vernacular works. 12 The twelfth century saw the development of a new religious consciousness which sought to realize Christianity as a religious way of life immediately binding upon every

Linge, Mysticism, Poverty and Reason in the Thought of Meister Eckhart, p. 465. For an account of the th th development of an ideal of poverty set against the backdrop of a developing economy in the 13 and 14 centuries, see Lester K. Little, Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe, New York: Cornell University Press, 1978. 9 Linge, Mysticism, Poverty and Reason in the Thought of Meister Eckhart, p. 465. 10 Frank Tobin, Meister Eckhart: Thought and Language, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986, p. 140. 11 A discussion of which works attributed to the Meister are, indeed, authentic is available in A Note on Eckharts Works and the Present Selections, Essential Eckhart, pp. 62-68. 12 This now familiar recognition was only realised in the 1980s. See Edmund Colledge and J. C. Marler, Poverty of the Will: Ruusbroec, Eckhart and The Mirror of Simple Souls, in Mommaers, P. and de Paepe, N. (eds) Jan van Ruusbroec: The Sources, Content and Sequels of his Mysticism, Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1984, pp. 14-57.

Christian.13 This was largely in response to the ecclesiastical reform of Pope Gregory VII and the concern that arose over the question whether the divine plan for salvation called for by the gospel message could truly be realised only within the established orders of the Church. In particular, a new wave of religiosity came into being which sought to follow the biblical norms of Christian life, especially the examples of the apostles, by abandoning all worldly and temporal goods.14 The Meisters views on spiritual poverty need to be examined against the background of such ideas. In particular, two groups which emerged from this apostolic movement directly influenced not only Eckharts thought, but also his manner of religious life. The first group, founded c. 1220s, is the Order of Preachers of St. Dominic, which Meister Eckhart had joined at a young age.15 Ostensibly established as a response to heresy and false belief in southern France, the Dominican project should best be viewed as an attempt at religious reform through a focus on the practice of mendicancy and preaching. 16 The other group, the Beguine movement, consisted of women, and some men, who lived religious lives without binding themselves to the rule of any particular order.17 Eckharts years preaching to this group of lay religious in the Rhineland were instrumental for the development of the Meisters concern for spiritual poverty, and as mentioned, his vernacular sermons were likely influenced by the Beguine Marguerite Porete.

13

Herbert Grundmann, Religious Movements in the Middle Ages, trans. Rowan, Steven, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995, p. 9. 14 Grundmann, Religious Movements in the Middle Ages, p. 7-9. 15 James M. Clark, The great German mystics: Eckhart, Tauler, and Suso, New York: Russel & Russel, 1970, p. 7. 16 For the early history of the Dominican order and the role mendicancy played in its foundation, see Anthony Lappin, From Osma to Bologna, From Canons to Friars, From the Preaching to the Preachers: the Dominican Path towards Mendicancy, in Prudlo, Donald (ed.), The Origin, Development, and Refinement of Medieval Religious Mendicancies, Leiden: Brill, 2011, pp. 31- 58. 17 Richard Kieckhefer, Repression of heresy in Medieval Germany, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979, p. 20.

The Order of Preachers, since its foundation in the early thirteenth century, had cultivated its own particular notion of poverty. As Berthold Altaner reports, poverty, for Dominic, was an instrument of the apostolate. It freed the friars for the ministry which was their primary calling instead of providing the means for achieving personal holiness.18 The Dominicans, then, emphasised the pragmatic, or instrumental, aspect of poverty. For Simon Tugwell, the notion that poverty was introduced as an apostolic gimmick also deserves some scrutiny as it is plausible that the adoption of a life of poverty was calculated to appeal precisely to those people who were impress ed by the heretics and their own ascetic ideals.19 It is related by Pierre de Vaux Cernai in his Historia Albigensis (History of the Albigensian Crusade) that the heretics often raised against [the papal legates sent to preach against them] the objection of the appalling lives of the clergy.20 Dominic, according to an account written by Gerard de Frachet in his Vitae Fratrum (Lives of the Brothers), argued therefore that the heretics are to be convinced by an example of humility and other virtues far more readily than by any external display or verbal battles. So let us arm ourselves with devout prayers and set off showing signs of genuine humility and barefooted to combat Goliath. 21 This humility was linked closely to the notion of mendicancy, a life of poverty supported by alms. In his Liber de eruditione praedicatorum (Treatise on Preaching) Humbert of Romans, the fifth Master of the Order, often stresses how the example of humility in a preacher aids

18

Berthold Altaner, Der Armutsgedanke beim hl. Dominikus, Theologie und Glaube, 1919, 11, pp. 404417. See also William A. Hinnebusch, Poverty in the Order of Preachers, The Catholic Historical Review, 1960, 45(4), pp. 436-453; Anthony Lappin, The Dominican Path Towards Mendicancy, in Prudlo (ed.), The Origin, Development, and Refinement of Medieval Religious Mendicancies, pp. 31- 58. 19 Simon Tugwell, Early Dominicans, New York: Paulist Press, 1982, p. 16. 20 Historia Albigensis 20-21, trans. Tugwell, Early Dominicans, p.86. 21 Vitae Fratrum II: 2, trans. Tugwell, Early Dominicans, pp. 87-88.

in the receptivity of his message and in the salvation of souls, which is the primary role of the preacher and the most perfect iteration of the religious life.22 Much of the Dominican thought on poverty is structured around a discussion of the standard religious virtues of poverty, chastity and obedience. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Liber de perfectione spiritualis vitae (Treatise on the Perfection of the Spiritual Life), written at the height of the debate between the mendicant orders and the secular masters of Paris in 1256-1259, stresses that the renunciation of earthly possessions is simply the first step on the path to spiritual perfection. 23 Thomas argues that the first among the material possessions to be renounced are those extrinsic goods that we call riches. Our Lord counselled us to relinquish them when He said, If you would be perfect, go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow me (Matt. xix. 21).24 More important than poverty, however, is the renunciation of ones will, a familiar spiritual ideal recognisable from the time of St. Bernard. Thomas writes, following Pseudo-Dionysius, that a man seeking the perfect religious state must also, in a certain sense, relinquish himself.25 In this way, the religious may be filled only by the will of God. Thomas, to a certain extent, blunts the notion of spiritual poverty in his writings. He rejects the absolutist interpretation of evangelical poverty and [holds] out for the communal possession of

22

Cf. Walter M. Conlon (ed.), Treatise on Preaching translated by the Dominican Students of the Province of St, Joseph, London: Blackfriars Publications, 1955. 23 For a summary, see D. L. Douie, The Conflict Between the Seculars and the Mendicants at the University of Paris in the Thirteenth Century, London: Blackfriars Publications, 1954; Edward Brett, Humbert of Romans: His Life and Views of Thirteenth-Century Society, Torronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1984; Andrew Travers The Forging of an Intellectual Defense o f Mendicancy in the Medieval University, in Prudlo, Medieval Religious Mendicancies, pp. 157-195. 24 J. Proctor (trans.) in The Religious State, the Episcopate, and the Priestly Office , London: Sands & Co., 1902, p. 19. 25 Proctor (trans.), The Religious State, p. 41.

goods,26 which is actually a characteristic of the Dominican Order at large. Imitating Christs poverty, though a necessary doctrine of his own Order, is a virtue that has the least significance for Thomas in his scheme of spiritual perfection, and is one that is not even fully necessary as Our Lord, did not mean, by [his] counsel, that rich men cannot be perfect, or cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but He meant that they cannot do so easily.27 Finally, Thomas stresses that it is only the member of the religious order, with their vows of poverty, who may properly expect to reach the perfect spiritual life- any form of popular apostolic poverty amongst the laity should be viewed as dangerous.28 In his earliest known work, the Counsels of Discernment, delivered to novices of the Dominican Order, Meister Eckhart frames his discussion of detachment upon the same religious virtues as his predecessor Thomas; that is, poverty, chastity and obedience. Obedience always produces the best of everything in everything, says Eckhart.
29

Take as humble a work as you like, he continues, [and] true obedience makes it finer and better for you.30 What is true obedience for the Meister? Like Thomas Aquinas, it consists in the abnegation of ones own will, the relinquishing of self. If I deny my own will, putting it in the hands of my superior, and want nothing for myself, then God must want it for me, Eckhart explains; when I empty myself of self, [God] must necessarily want everything for me that he wants himself.31 Eckhart believes that there is no better form of the religious life than the denial of the self, and explains this is why Jesus said
26 27

Linge, Mysticism, Poverty and Reason in the Thought of Meister Eckhart, p. 470. Proctor (trans.), The Religious State, p. 23. 28 Proctor (trans.), The Religious State, p. 48. 29 Couns., Essential Eckhart, p. 247. 30 Couns., Essential Eckhart, p. 247. 31 Couns., Essential Eckhart, p. 248.

blessed are the poor in spirit. Whenever you find yourself, deny yourself, says Eckhart, [and] that is the best of all.32 Eckharts Sermon 52 on Mt. 5: 3 Beati pauperes spiritu, quoniam ipsorum est regnum caelorum (blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs), which has been described as a spirited reply to the accusations of heresy made against [Eckhart] in his last embattled days preaching in Cologne, focuses almost exclusively on the idea of spiritual poverty.33 It is also the text which demonstrates the greatest ties to the mystical thought of Marguerite Porete and the Beguine spirituals. 34 Eckhart begins his sermon by noting that there exist two kinds of poverty. The first kind, external poverty, is good and is greatly esteemed in a man who voluntarily practices it for the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.35 Yet this first kind of poverty does not interest the Meister, who wishes to address a different poverty, an inward poverty, with which the verse from Mt. 5: 3 is directly concerned.36 Various people have asked me what poverty may be in itself and what a poor man may be, Eckhart preaches. 37 Disregarding the words of his mentor Albert the Great, who had described the poor man as one who does not find satisfaction in all the things God created, Eckhart instead takes poverty in a higher sense, by explaining that the truly poor man wants nothing, and knows nothing, and has nothing.38 We might paraphrase this tripartite definition,

32 33

Couns., Essential Eckhart, p. 248. Bruce Milem, The Unspoken Word: Negative Theology in Meister Eckharts German Sermons , Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2002, p. 22. See also Kurt Ruh, Meister Eckhart: Theologe, Prediger, Mystiker, Munich: C. H. Beck, 1985, p. 158. 34 <insert Amy Hollywood citation here> 35 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 199. 36 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 199. 37 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 199. 38 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 199.

Tobin remarks, by calling poverty of spirit poverty of will, of intellect, and of being.39 Poverty of spirit, inward poverty, should be understood by this three-fold definition, which is to structure the rest of the Meisters sermon. Outward poverty, on the other hand, is no more than owning few or no material possessions, and is not the true state of blessedness, even if it is a condition often embraced by the religious who desire to imitate Christ and live an apostolic life. Eckhart begins his instruction on spiritual poverty by turning to the first part of his definition, the poor man as one who wants nothing.40 This is poverty of will. Eckhart believes many have misunderstood the notion of poverty of will, interpreting the principle of wanting nothing by saying that a man ought to live s o that he never fulfils his own will in anything, but that he ought to comport himself so that he may fulfil Gods dearest will.41 This is the view held by Thomas, and even advocated by Meister Eckhart in his early Counsels. These people, Eckhart complains, attach themselves to their own penances and external exercises, but hold divine truth in such low esteem that, whilst they present an outward picture that gives them the name of saints, in actuality they are donkeys.42 The behaviour of such people is commendable, Eckhart concedes, but they should not be understood as truly poor men. The poverty which Eckhart wants to address does not consist in wanting to fulfil Gods will. The man who is poor, rather, has a will and longing for nothing.43 As Bruce Milem has argued, this does not make nothing a new object of desire for the will to pursue for Eckhart, but is instead a condition distinct from the kind of will that we usually understand a creature to
39 40

Tobin, Thought and Language, p. 141. (my emphasis) Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 199. 41 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 199. 42 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 199. 43 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 200.

possess.44 Union with Gods will is not enough. As Tobin puts it one must surrender the capacity to will.45 Thus Eckhart says, if a person wants really to have poverty, he ought to be as free (ledic) of his own created will as he was when he was not. 46 This notion is a highly complex one, and requires close examination. The term which Eckhart employs, ledic, refers to an unattached, unencumbered, even unmarried, freedom.47 Thus, ledic should be understood as the opposite of eigenschaft (ownership). Describing this state of freedom, Eckhart explains that when I stood in my first cause, I then had no God, and then I was my own cause. I wanted nothing, I longed for nothing, for I was an empty being.48 In this pre-eternal moment the self was the cause of its own being. There was yet to be any distinction between God and the self. Therefore, the self had no God as it was identifiable with God. Because of this, Eckhart explains, it was myself I wanted and nothing else. What I wanted I was, and what I was I wanted; and so I stood, empty of God and of everything.49 The will in this instance, then, does not operate in the manner of creatures who only desire what is not theirs or what they are not. Instead, the will is directed to a desire for itself, a desire fulfilled by the very manner of the selfs being. This is what Eckhart takes freedom from the created will to express. It is a freedom from any desire for God and any created thing as, at this moment, one only wants what one is. As the Meister makes clear, when I went out from my free will and received my created being, then I had a God,

44 45

Milem, The Unspoken Word, p. 25. Tobin, Thought and Language, p. 141. 46 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 200. 47 Milem, The Unspoken Word, p. 27. 48 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 200. 49 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 200.

for before there were any creatures, God was not God, but he was what he was. 50 When creatures received their created being, only then did God become God in creatures, rather than God in himself.51 God, so far as he is God, Eckhart concludes, is not the perfect end of created beings. Thus, one who desires to attain poverty of spirit must want nothing and pray to God that we be free of God, so as to reach the state of freedom from created will and become divine being.52 In his earlier sermon on Lk. 10: 38, Intravit Jesus in quoddam castellum (Jesus entered a certain village), the Meister further expounds upon the concept of being as free as he was when he was not.53 Here the person who is free is described as a virgin a person who is free of all alien images.54 This pithy statement from Eckhart, Rainer Schrmann explains, calls for a philosophical interpretation as it contains an allusion to the theory of the imprint which a representation places upon the intellect.55 The person who wishes to receive Jesus, then, must become free from all representations. By describing this state as being as free as he was when he was not, Eckhart intends to describe a person who has no need to attach themselves to the knowledge of sensible things by representations drawn from the sensible, as they are already free from all images.56 Thus, they are truly open and receptive to Jesus, as logos. The key to achieving this state is detachment. Even should one comprehend every image that all men had ever received, and those that are present in God himself, the Meister explains, provided that one avoids clinging to these images with attachment,
50 51

Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 200. Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 200. See Milem, The Unspoken Word, n. 17, pp. 28-9 52 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 200. See Milem, The Unspoken Word, n. 17, pp. 28-9 53 Sermon 2, Eseential Eckhart, p. 177. 54 Sermon 2, Eseential Eckhart, p. 177. 55 Shrmann, Wandering Joy, p. 10. 56 Ibid.

standing free and empty according to Gods precious will then truly [one] should be a virgin.57 Thus, to be as free as he was when he was not, is a state of wanting nothing, as discussed above, and being free of created images. The second aspect of spiritual poverty, according to Meister Eckhart, is knowing nothing. This is poverty of intellect. Eckhart explains in Sermon 52 that a man who would possess this poverty ought to live as if he does not even know that he is not in any way living for himself or for the truth or for God.58 This description of knowing nothing repeats many of the same features as wanting nothing. Poverty of intellect and poverty of will are closely aligned in Eckharts thought. Being free of knowledge is not ignorance, in much the same way that being free of wanting was not apathy. Here, according to Milem, Eckharts distinction between God and divine being falls away. 59 Yet the essential strategy employed earlier by the Meister remains the same. Eckharts discussion about poverty of intellect centres upon Gods oneness with the soul. When man was established in Gods everlasting being, declares Eckhart, there was no different life in him.60 The poor man, Eckhart says, should be so free of all knowing that he does not know or experience or grasp that God lives in him.61 If one does otherwise, it is implied that there exists a duality between the poor person and God. Not surprisingly, the Meister further states that the poor man must be as free of his own

57 58

Sermon 2, Eseential Eckhart, p. 177. Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 201. 59 Milem, The Unspoken Word, p. 33. 60 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 201. 61 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 201.

knowing as he was when he was not, and that we must let God perform what he will, and let man be free (ledic).62 The actions most proper to man, the Meister remarks, are knowing and loving. Eckhart says, referring to a debate he had in Paris with the Franciscan Gonsalvo of Spain, that some authorities believe that blessedness consists in knowing, others that it consists in loving, whilst others have argued that it consists in the two. 63 But I say that it does not consist in either knowing or loving, says the Meister, but that there is that in the soul from which knowing and loving flow. This something, he explains, does not know or love as do the powers of the soul.64 The source of the souls power of knowing and loving resembles the divine being itself, which acts as the source of creation.65 For example, both are eternal. As Eckhart notes, that something [ie. the source] has neither before nor after, and it is not waiting for anything that is to come, for it can neither gain nor lose.66 The source is also entirely self-sufficient, it is itself the very thing that rejoices in itself as God does in himself.67 Because of this, Tobin has argued that the only true knowledge and the only real act of knowing are purely divine. 68 To be as free of knowledge as one was when he was not is thus to abandon creaturely knowledge so that it is only God who knows. A man ought to be established, free and empty, not

62 63

Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 201. Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 201. For the debate with Gonsalvo see Armand A. Maurer, Master Eckhart: Parisian Questions and Prologues, Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1974, pp. 55-67. 64 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 201. 65 See Kurt Flasch, Predigt Nr. 52: Beati pauperes spiritu, in Steer, Georg & Sturlese, Loris (eds), Lectura Eckhardi: Predigten Meister Eckharts von Fachgelehrten gelesen und gedeutet , Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1998, pp. 191-94. 66 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 201. 67 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 201. 68 Tobin, Thought and Language, p. 143.

knowing or perceiving that God is acting in him, the Meister argues. 69 In this way may man further possess poverty of spirit. The final dimension of poverty of spirit that Eckhart discusses in Sermon 52 is when a man has nothing.70 This is poverty of being. Essentially, this aspect of spiritual poverty emphasises the need for the soul to rid itself of all that distinguishes it from God, so that the soul may put off its own nature and take on Gods.71 It is not Gods intention in his works that man should have in himself a place for God to work in, the Meister explains.72 Rather, Eckhart argues that a truly poor man is one who is kept so free of God and of all his works that if God wishes to work in the soul, he himself is the place in which he wants to work; and that he will gladly do. 73 This view stands in direct contrast to the view of those who desire union with God by emptying the soul in order to create a place where God may work. This belief, as Tobin has argued, implies a duality and a condition of imperfection.74 As the Meister says, when man clings to place, he clings to distinction.75 To overcome this duality of place and the distinction between creature and divinity, where God works in himself in the poor mans soul, is to overcome the duality of being.76 Thus, Eckhart concludes, in this poverty man pursues that everlasting being which he was and which he is now and which he will evermore remain. 77 This leads the Meister once more to pray for a release from God. Make me free of God, Eckhart

69 70

Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 201. Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 202. 71 Milem, The Unspoken Word, p. 39. 72 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 202. 73 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 202. 74 Tobin, Thought and Language, p. 143. 75 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 202. 76 Tobin, Thought and Language, p. 143. 77 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 202.

requests, for my real being is above God if we take God to be the beginning of created things.78 The conclusion of the sermon takes the three aspects of poverty of spirit; wanting nothing, knowing nothing, and having nothing, and unites them into a single term: the breaking-through (durchbrechen). Creatures separate existence from divinity is described by Eckhart by utilizing the Neoplatonic concept of emanation. This is the flowing-out (zvliezen) from the Godhead.79 When I flowed out from God, all things said: God is, the Meister explains, and this cannot make me blessed, for with this I acknowledge that I am a creature.80 The state of flowing-out thus stands in direct opposition to the spiritual poverty that Eckhart has spent the entire sermon explaining. Poverty of will, intellect and being are three different ways to describe the stripping away of creatureliness and recognising the souls identity with God. This is breaking through. It is described by the Meister as a state where one comes to be free of will of myself and of Gods will and of all his works and of God himself, where one is above all created things, and is neither God nor creature.81 Echoing Ex. 3: 14, Eckhart asserts that in this state I am what I was and what I shall remain, now and eternally. 82 In this breaking-through I receive that God and I are one, the Meister concludes, and that is the most intimate poverty one can find.83

78 79

Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 202. For a full account of the Meisters metaphysics of flow see Bernard McGinn, The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart: the Man from whom God hid Nothing, New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2001, pp. 71-113. 80 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 202. 81 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 203. 82 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 203. 83 Sermon 52, Essential Eckhart, p. 203.

Poverty of spirit, therefore, stresses the abandonment of the self. By doing so, by detaching oneself from self and recognising the identification between the self and divinity, one reaches the perfection of the spiritual life. But it must be stressed that this is not a state which can be reached through obsessive attention to active religious pursuits such as fasts, bodily mortification, sexual abstinence, and penance.84 In his Counsels, Eckhart warned against those who complained that I should like to be poor, or else, things will never go right for me till I am in this place or that, or till I act one way or another.85 Such behaviour, the Meister stresses, is simply self-will. We can think what we like, he says, that a man ought to shun one thing or pursue another, but it has to be realised that such ways of life or such matters are not what impedes you. It is what you are in these things that cause the trouble.86 Therefore, Eckhart argues, we ought not to think of building holiness upon action; we ought to build it upon a way of being.87 Holy works cannot make one holy- only the ground on which the works are built matter.88 One must practice spiritual poverty for with such an attitude you could tread upon a stone, and that would be a more godly thing for you to do than for you to receive the Body of our Lord.89 Yet, in his Counsels, Eckhart stresses that one should not entirely abandon works for a life of contemplation. One ought to force himself to do something, whether it be an interior or exterior work, because he should not allow himself to become self-

84 85

Radler, Living From the Divine Ground, p. 34. Couns., Essential Eckhart, p. 249. 86 Couns., Essential Eckhart, p. 249. 87 Couns., Essential Eckhart, p. 250. 88 Couns., Essential Eckhart, p. 251. 89 Couns., Essential Eckhart, p. 251.

complacent in anything.90 What is required is that man should transform inwardness into an activity and bring his activities into his inwardness, so that he can train himself to act in freedom.91 This freedom is the state of spiritual poverty Eckhart preached later in sermon 52. Radler argues that the Meister holds such a position because he appreciates the influence of the activities and situations of everyday life- including the community with its mores, traditions, history, economics, and politics- on the mystical life.92 Eckharts practice of detachment and spiritual poverty, she believes, acts as a critique of those figures who viewed spirituality as an inner affair of the heart, soul and intellect protected from exterior influences and devoid of ability to change the outer world.93 Eckharts spiritual and mystical message had a significant impact upon the lives of his contempories in the Rhineland. What is perhaps most remarkable about the Meister, however, is the extent to which his thought shaped the intellectual life of the German Dominicans of the fourteenth century. In fact, the Meister, and his disciples the Blessed Henry Suso and Johannes Tauler, brought about a movement in Dominican thought far more concerned with spiritual, rather than temporal, poverty. As Hinnebusch notes, they sought to determine, as far as the human mind can do so, who God is, what life is, what man is, how he reaches out toward union with God.94 Several works of the period, like the anonymous Buch von geistlichen Armut (Book of Spiritual Poverty) which had falsely been attributed to Tauler advocated detachment as the road to true liberty,

90 91

Couns., Essential Eckhart, p. 280. Couns., Essential Eckhart, p. 280. 92 Radler, Living From the Divine Ground, p. 26. 93 Radler, Living From the Divine Ground, p. 41. 94 William A. Hinnebusch, The History of the Dominican Order: Intellectual and Cultural Life to 1500 , New York: Alba House, 1973, p. 321.

imitation of Christ, and union with God.95 At the very beginning, the book teaches that poverty is a state of Being detached from all creatures and that poverty is a likeness to God.96 The biographical Life of the Servant, which recounts the spiritual and mystical experiences of Suso, tells of the Dominicans conversion by the Meister from the path of bodily mortification and excessive ascetic practice to a life of detachment. 97 Eckharts spirituality also significantly influenced both the Theologia Deutsch and the Devotio Moderna, which heavily emphasised the active dimension of the Meisters teaching.98 In conclusion, it must be remarked that though Linge, in 1978, was correct to stress that Meister Eckharts thoughts on poverty were raised in opposition to will-centred mystical approaches, there is much more that needs to be said. In particular, Eckharts thoughts, formed in a Beguine milieu, fashioned part of a Dominican response to the notion of spiritual poverty. Yet whereas earlier Dominicans had stressed the instrumental, or pragmatic, role that poverty played in the religious life, Eckhart instead held that poverty was the core spiritual virtue that allowed for union with the divine. Eckhart advocated a doctrine of spiritual poverty centred upon the notions of wanting nothing, knowing nothing, and having nothing, which he had adopted from the spiritual climate of his time. This poverty of will, intellect and being, stressed the identity of the self with God and argued that the most perfect form of the religious life was a practical ideal of detachment that sought to harmonise the inner and outer experiences of the spiritual life. These lessons are particularly observable in the Meisters Sermon 52 and his

95 96

Hinnebusch, The History of the Dominican Order, p. 322. J. R. Morell (trans.), The Following of Christ by Johannes Tauler, London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1910, p. 1. 97 James M. Clark (trans.), The Life of the Servant by Henry Suso, London: Camelot Press, 1952, p. 30. 98 Hinnebusch, The History of the Dominican Order, p. 322.

Counsels on Discernment, and would go on to influence a number of spiritual texts from the Rhineland during the fourteenth century.

Bibliography Primary Literature: Clark, James M. (trans.), The Life of the Servant by Henry Suso, London: Camelot Press, 1952. Colledge, Edmund and McGinn, Bernard, Meister Eckhart, the essential sermons, commentaries, treatises, and defense, New York: Paulist Press, 1981. Conlon, Walter M. (ed.), Treatise on Preaching translated by the Dominican Students of the Province of St, Joseph, London: Blackfriars Publications, 1955. Flasch, Kurt, Predigt Nr. 52: Beati pauperes spiritu, Steer, Georg & Sturlese, Loris (eds), Lectura Eckhardi, pp. 191-94. Maurer, Armand A., Master Eckhart: Parisian Questions and Prologues, Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1974. McGinn, Bernard, Meister Eckhart: Teacher and Preacher, New York: Paulist Press, 1986. Morell, J. R. (trans.), The Following of Christ by Johannes Tauler, London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1910. Proctor, J. (trans.), The Religious State, the Episcopate, and the Priestly Office, London: Sands & Co., 1902. Steer, Georg and Sturlese, Loris (eds), Lectura Eckhardi: Predigten Meister Eckharts von Fachgelehrten gelesen und gedeutet, Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1998. Tugwell, Simon, Early Dominicans, New York: Paulist Press, 1982.

Secondary Literature: Altaner, Berthold, Der Armutsgedanke beim hl. Dominikus, Theologie und Glaube, 1919, 11, pp. 404-417. Brett, Edward, Humbert of Romans: His Life and Views of Thirteenth-Century Society, Torronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1984.

Clark, James M., The great German mystics: Eckhart, Tauler, and Suso, New York: Russel & Russel, 1970. Colledge, Edmund and Marler, J. C., Poverty of the Will: Ruusbroec, Eckhart and The Mirror of Simple Souls, in Mommaers, P. and de Paepe, N. (eds) Jan van Ruusbroec, pp. 14-57. Douie, D. L., The Conflict Between the Seculars and the Mendicants at the University of Paris in the Thirteenth Century, London: Blackfriars Publications, 1954. Grundmann, Herbert, Religious Movements in the Middle Ages, trans. Rowan, Steven, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995. Hinnebusch, William A., Poverty in the Order of Preachers, The Catholic Historical Review, 1960, 45(4), pp. 436-453. Hinnebusch, William A., The History of the Dominican Order: Intellectual and Cultural Life to 1500, New York: Alba House, 1973. Hollywood, Amy, Suffering Transformed, in McGinn (ed.) Meister Eckhart and the Beguine Mystics, pp. 87-113. Kieckhefer, Richard, Repression of heresy in Medieval Germany, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979. Lappin, Anthony, From Osma to Bologna, From Canons to Friars, From the Preaching to the Preachers: the Dominican Path towards Mendicancy, in Prudlo, Donald (ed.), Medieval Religious Mendicancies, pp. 31- 58. Linge, David E., Mysticism, Poverty and Reason in the Thought of Meister Eckhart, American Academy of Religion, 1978, 46(4), pp. 465-488. Little, Lester K., Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe, New York: Cornell University Press, 1978. McGinn, Bernard (ed.), Meister Eckhart and the Beguine Mystics, New York: Continuum, 2001. McGinn, Bernard, The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart: the Man from whom God hid Nothing, New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2001. Milem, Bruce, The Unspoken Word: Negative Theology in Meister Eckharts German Sermons, Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2002. Mommaers, P. and de Paepe, N. (eds) Jan van Ruusbroec: The Sources, Content and Sequels of his Mysticism, Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1984. Prudlo, Donald (ed.), The Origin, Development, and Refinement of Medieval Religious Mendicancies, Leiden: Brill, 2011.

Radler, Charlotte C., Living From the Divine Ground: Meister Eckharts Praxis of Detachment, Spiritus, 2006, 6(1), pp. 25-47. Ruh, Kurt, Meister Eckhart: Theologe, Prediger, Mystiker, Munich: C. H. Beck, 1985. Shrmann, Reiner Wandering Joy: Meister Eckharts Mystical Philosophy, Great Barrington: Lindisfarne Books, 2001. Tobin, Frank, Meister Eckhart: Thought and Language, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986. Travers, Andrew The Forging of an Intellectual Defense of Mendicancy in the Medieval University, in Prudlo (ed.), Medieval Religious Mendicancies, pp. 157-195.