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Mystics of the Renaissance
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Pages (PDF): 98
Publication Date: 1911
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From the Foreword: 'The matter which I am laying before the public in this book formed the content of lectures which I delivered during last winter at the Theosophical Library in Berlin. I had been requested by Grafin and Graf Brockdorff ‘to speak upon Mysticism before an audience for whom the matters thus dealt with constitute a vital question of the utmost importance. Ten years earlier I could not have ventured to fulfil such a request. Not that the realm of ideas, to which I now give expression, did not even then live actively within me.'
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The world of Meister Eckhart’s conceptions is aglow through and through with the feeling that things become reborn as higher entities in the spirit of man. Like the greatest Christian theologian of the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas, who lived from 1225 till 1274, Meister Eckhart belonged to the Dominican Order. Eckhart was an unqualified admirer of St. Thomas; and this will seem the more intelligible when we fix our gaze upon Eckhart’s whole manner of conceiving things. He believed himself to be as completely in harmony with the teachings of the Christian Church as he assumed a like agreement on the part of St. Thomas. Eckhart had neither the desire to take aught away from the content of Christianity, nor the wish to add anything to it; but he desired to bring forward this content anew in his own way. It forms no part of the spiritual needs of a personality such as he was to set up new truths of this or the other kind in the place of old ones. Such a personality has grown completely intertwined with the content which it has received from tradition; but it craves to give to this content a new form, a new life.
Eckhart desired, without doubt, to remain an orthodox Christian. The Christian truths were his own; only he desired to regard these truths in another way from that, for instance, in which St. Thomas Aquinas had done. St. Thomas accepted two sources of knowledge: Revelation, in matters of faith, and Reason, in those of research. Reason recognises the laws of things, that is, the spiritual in nature. Reason can raise itself above nature and grasp in the spirit from one side the Divine Being underlying nature. But it does not attain in this way to merging itself in the full being of God. A still higher truth-content must come to meet it. That is given in the Holy Scripture, which reveals what man cannot attain to through himself. The truth-content of the Scripture must be accepted by man; Reason can defend it, Reason can seek to understand it as well as possible through its powers of knowing; but never can Reason engender that truth from within the spirit of man. Not what the spirit perceives is the highest truth, but what has come to this spirit from without. St. Augustine declares himself unable to find within himself the source for that which he should believe. He says: I would not believe in the Gospel, did not the authority of the Catholic Church move me thereto.” That is in the same spirit as the Evangelist, who points to the external testimony: “That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life; that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us.” But Meister Eckhart would rather impress upon man the words of Christ: “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you”; and he explains these words by saying: “Just as if he had said: Ye have set too much joy upon my present appearance, therefore the full joy of the Holy Ghost cannot come to you.” Eckhart thinks that he is speaking of no God other than that God of whom Augustine, and the Evangelist, and Thomas, speak, and yet this testimony as to God is not his testimony, their witness is not his. “Some people want to see God with the same eyes they see a cow withal, and want to love God as they would love a cow. So they love God for the sake of outer riches and inner comfort; but such folk do not rightly love God - Simple folk fancy they should behold God as though He stood there and they here. But it is not so. God and I are one in the act of knowing (im Erkennen)What underlies such expressions in Eckhart’s mouth is nothing else than the experience of the inner sense; and this experience shows him things in a higher light. He therefore believes himself to have no need of an external light in order to attain to the highest insight:
"A Master says: God became man, whereby the whole human race is uplifted and made worthy. Thereof may we be glad that Christ our brother of His own strength rose above all the choirs of angels and sitteth at the right hand of the Father. That Master spake well; but, in truth, I would give little for it. What would it help me, had I a brother who was a rich man, and I therewithal a poor man? What would it help me, had I a brother who was a wise man, and I were a fool?... The Heavenly Father be-getteth His Only-Begotten Son in Himself and in me. Wherefore in Himself and in me? I am one with Him; and He has no power to shut me out. In the self-same work, the Holy Ghost receives its being and proceeds from me, as from God. Wherefore? I am in God, and if the Holy Ghost takes not its being from me, neither does it take it from God. In no wise am I shut out."
When Eckhart recalls the saying of St. Paul: “Put ye on Jesus Christ,” he means to imply in this saying the meaning: Sink yourselves into yourselves, dive down into self contemplation: and from out the depths of your being, God will shine forth to meet you; He illumines all things for you; you have found Him within you; you have become united with God’s Being. “God became man, that I might become God.”
In his booklet upon Loneliness, Eckhart expresses himself as follows upon the relation of the outer perception to the inner:
"Here thou, must know that the Masters say that in every man there are two kinds of man: the one is called the outer man, and yet he acts through the power of the soul. The other man is called the inner man, that is, that which is within the man. Now thou must know that every man who loveth God maketh no more use of the powers of the soul in the outer man than so far as the five senses absolutely require; and that which is within turns not itself to the five senses, save in so far as it is the guide and conductor of the five senses, and shepherds them, so that they follow not after their craving to bestiality."
One who speaks in such wise of the inner man can no longer direct his gaze upon a Being of things lying outside himself; for he sees clearly that from no kind or species of the outer world can this Being come to him.
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