Meister Eckhart: When God Shows Himself

When God shows Himself (Sermon Sixty Eight)


(Luke 1:57)

“Elizabeth’s time was completed and she gave birth to a son. John is his name. Then the people said, What wonders shall come of this child, for the hand of God is with him!”

One scripture says: “The greatest gift is that we are God’s children and that He begets His son in us.”1 The soul should give birth to nothing inside herself if she wishes to be the child of God in whom God’s son shall be born; in her nothing else should be born. God’s chief aim is begetting. He is never content till He begets His son in us. And the soul, too, is in no way content until the son of God is born in her. And from that there springs forth grace. Grace is thereby infused. Grace does not work: its work is its becoming. It flows out of God’s essence and flows into the essence of the soul and not into her powers.

“When the time was completed, grace was born.”2 When is the completion of time? When time is no more. If anyone has, in time, set his heart on eternity so that in him all temporal things are dead, that is the completion of time.

I once said, ‘He will not always rejoice who rejoices in time.’4 St. Paul says, Rejoice in God all the time. He rejoices all the time who rejoices above time and apart from time. One writer says there are three things that so hinder a man that he cannot know God at all: the first is time, the second corporeality, the third multiplicity.5 As long as these three things are in me, God is not in me, nor is He properly at work in me. St. Augustine says it comes from the greed of the soul, because she wants to have and hold so much that she reaches into time and corporeality and multiplicity, thereby losing what she has.6 For as long as you want more and more, God cannot dwell or work in you. These things must always go out if God is to go in, and then you may have them in a higher and better way, namely, that the many are made one in you. Then, the more there is of multiplicity in you, the more there is of unity, for the one is changed into the other.

I once said, ‘Unity unites all multiplicity, but multiplicity does not unite unity.’7 When we are lifted above all things (stucke), and everything within us is raised up, nothing can oppress us. What is beneath me cannot weigh on me. If my attention were fixed on God alone, so that there was nothing above me but God, then nothing whatsoever would bother me, and I should not be easily distressed. St. Augustine says: Lord, when I turn to thee, all heaviness, sorrow, and distress is taken from me.8 When we have gotten beyond time and temporal things, then we are free and always happy, and then there is the completion of time, and then God’s son is born in you.9

I once said, ‘In the completion of time, God sent His son.’10 If anything is born in you except the son, then you do not have the Holy Ghost, and grace is not at work in you. The origin of the Holy Ghost is the son. If it were not for the son, there would be no Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost cannot have his outflowing or his blossoming forth anywhere but from the son.11 When the Father begets the son, He gives all that He has of [his] essence and nature. In that giving, the Holy Ghost gushes forth. In this way it is God’s intention to give Himself entirely to us. It is like when fire seeks to draw the wood into itself, and to penetrate the wood, finding the wood unlike itself. Therefore it takes time. First it makes it warm, then hot, then it smokes and crackles on account of its unlikeness: and the hotter the wood gets, the more still and quiet it becomes, and the more like the fire, the more peaceful it is, until it becomes all fire. If the fire is to press the wood into itself, all unlikeness must be cast out.

In the truth which is God, if you are intent upon anything but God alone, or if you seek anything but God, whatever your work may be, it is neither yours nor God’s. What you intend to accomplish by the work is the work. That which works in me is my Father, and I am dependent upon Him. It is impossible in nature that there should be two fathers: there must always be one father in nature.

When all other things are finished and complete, then this birth takes place. A thing that fills is everywhere in contact with its boundary and nowhere falls short: it has breadth and length, height and depth. If it had height and no breadth, length or depth, it would not fill. St. Paul says: Pray that you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, the height, the length and the depth ( Eph. 3 : 14-18). These three things stand for three kinds of knowledge.12 The first is sensible: the eye sees from afar things outside it. The second is rational, and is much higher. The third denotes a noble power of the soul, which is so high and so noble that it takes hold of God in His own being. This power has nothing in common with anything; it makes anything and everything out of nothing. It knows no yesterday or the day before, or tomorrow and the day after, for in eternity there is neither yesterday nor tomorrow, only a present now. That which was a thousand years ago and that which will occur in a thousand years is present there, and so is what is beyond the ocean. This power seizes God in His robing room.13 One scripture says: In Him, by Him, through Him.14 In Him means in the Father, by Him means in the son, through Him means in the Holy Ghost. St. Augustine says something that sounds quite different from this but is very similar: There is no truth but it contains in itself all truth.15 This power grasps all things in truth. Nothing is hidden from this power. . . .

“What wonders shall come of this child?” Speaking not long ago in opposition to certain people who are very likely here as well, I said, ‘There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed’ (Matt. 10:26). Nothings shall be cast aside and so covered up that they will not be thought of again.  We should have no knowledge of nothings and should have naught in common with nothings. All creatures are pure nothing.18 That which is neither here nor there, and is a forgetting of all creatures, embraces the fullness (pleroma – πλήρωμα) of all being.

I said then that nothing within us should be hidden: we should reveal it all to God and give it all to Him. Whatever the state in which we find ourselves, whether in strength or in weakness, in joy or in sorrow, whatever we find ourselves attached to, we must abandon. In truth, if we reveal all to Him, He in return will show us all that He has. In truth He will hide absolutely nothing of all that He can perform—neither wisdom nor truth nor mystery nor divinity nor anything else. This is as true as that God lives, provided we reveal ourselves. But if we do not reveal ourselves, then it is no wonder if He reveals naught to us, for it must be on equal terms—we to Him as He to us.

It is lamentable how some people think themselves very lofty and quite one with God and yet have not abandoned self, and cling to such petty things in joy and sorrow. They are a long way from where they imagine themselves to be. They are full of notions and wants. I once said, ‘If a man seeks nothings, to whom should he complain if he finds nothing?’19 He has found what he was seeking. Whoever seeks or aims at something is seeking and aiming at nothing, and he who prays for something will get nothing. But he who seeks naught and aims at naught but God alone, to him God will reveal and give all things He has hidden in His divine heart, so that it becomes his own just as it is God’s own, neither less nor more, provided his aim is God alone, without means. (ane mite – see 21)

If a sick man does not relish food and wine, is that surprising? For he does not get the true taste of the wine or the food. The tongue has a coating and a cover with which it tastes, and that is bitter through the disorder of the disease. It never reached the place where it could be properly savored: it seems bitter to the sick man, and he is right, because it must be bitter on account of the coating that intervenes. Unless this hindrance is removed, it cannot taste according to its proper flavor. As long as that which intervenes has not been removed in us, we will never get the proper flavor of God, and our life will often be harsh and bitter.20

I once said, ‘The virgins follow the lamb, wherever he goes, without anything in-between.’21 Some of these are virgins and some are not virgins, though they think they are. Those who are true virgins follow the lamb wherever he goes, in joy and sorrow. Some follow the lamb as long as he goes in sweetness and ease: but as soon as the going leads to sorrow and discomfort and suffering, they turn back and cease to follow him. Assuredly, they are not virgins, whatever they seem to be. Some say, ‘Well now, Lord, I can well come to this in honor, riches, and comfort.’ All right, if the lamb has lived that way and has led you that way, I wish you well in following in his footsteps. But the maidens scramble after the lamb through narrow places and broad, wherever he scrambles.

“When the time was fulfilled, grace was born. ” May all things be fulfilled in us so that God’s grace may be born in us, so help us God. Amen.

1. Cf. 1 John 3:1 . This is the text of Sermon 7 (q.v. ) .
2. John is derived from the Hebrew name יוֹחָנָן (Yochanan), which means “YAHWEH is gracious”
4. Cf. Sermon 27 , on the text referred to.
5. Cf. Sermon 57:
“If the soul is to know God, she must not regard anything in time, for as long as the soul is regarding time and place or any such idea, she can never know God. A master says, if the soul is to know God, she must have nothing in common with anything. He who knows God knows that all creatures are nothing.”
6 . Cf. Confessions 10.41 ( Q ) .
7 . “Multiplicity does not unite unity.” Of course, there is no need to unite what is already one, so this may be Eckhart’s way of pointing out the futility trying to attain oneness through actions.
8. Cf. Confessions 4.15 (Clark).
9. Change of pronoun as in the original.
10. Cf. Sermon 29.
11. In the Pistis Sophia, Mind and Truth are aeons; united as Mind-and-Truth they begat the aeons Christ and the Holy Ghost, also written as a union:
“Mind-and-Truth emanated Christ-and-Holy Spirit for the enforming and elimination of the abortion, and the relief and appeasing of the complaints of Wisdom. Thus with Christ-and-Holy Spirit there are thirty aeons.” (Hippolytus, quoted in Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, p. 341)
12. Cf. St. Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram 1 2.34 ( Q ).
13. “Thirdly, he must take God not as being good or just, but he must take Him in the pure and naked substance where He is nakedly taking Himself. For goodness and justice are God’s garment which covers Him. Therefore, strip God of all His clothing—seize Him naked in his robing room, where He is uncovered and bare in Himself. Then you will abide in Him.” (Sermon 63)
14. Cf. Rom. 11:36.
15. A quotation hard to identify. Quint, following Skutella, compares De Iibera arbitrio 1.2 . 12; Clark thinks of Confessions 10.24, last sentence.
18. Cf. Nos. 7 and 13a. A fuller formulation of this was condemned in the bull of 1329.
19. Cf. Sermon 40.
20. Cf. Sermon 53.
21. Cf. Sermon 24a: ‘not lagging behind’ is a loose rendition of ane mite: ‘without means’, i.e., without ulterior motives.

Paul’s Prayer for the Ephesians (3:14)
“. . . for reason of this I bow my knees to the Father . . . for Christ to dwell in your hearts through faith . . . so that you may be fully able, with all the saints, to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ surpassing knowledge, so that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.” (Berean Literal)

Walshe, Maurice O’C. (2009). The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company. (pdf)