Meister Eckhart: Sermon Fifty Six

Meister Eckhart

Portrait of St. Dominic, 1515


(Pf 56, Q 1 09, QT 26)
(Matthew 10 : 28)

“Fear not those who would kill the body, for they cannot kill the soul,” for spirit does not kill spirit: spirit gives life to spirit. Those who would kill you are flesh and blood, and whatever is flesh and blood, all that perishes. The noblest thing in man is blood, when it wills good. But the most evil thing in man is blood, when it wills evil. When the blood rules the flesh, a man is humble, patient and chaste and has all the virtues. But when the flesh rules the blood, a man is haughty, angry, and lascivious and has all the vices. We are here praising St. John.3 I cannot praise him so much that God has not praised him more.

Now observe: I will now say something I have never said before. When God created heaven, earth, and all creatures, God did not work: he had no work to do, there was no work in Him. God said, “We will make a likeness” (Gen. 1 : 7). To create is easy; we do it when and as we will. But what I make, I make myself and within myself, imprinting my image expressly in it. “We will make a likeness,” not Thou Father or Thou Son or Thou Holy Ghost, but rather We, the Holy Trinity in concert. We will make a likeness.

When God made man, He wrought in the soul His like work, His active work and His ever-enduring work. This work was so great that it was nothing other than the soul, and the soul was nothing less than the work of God. God’s nature, His being and His Godhead depend upon His working in the soul. God be praised, God be praised!

When God works in the soul, He loves His work. Where the soul is in which God performs His work, that work is so great that it is nothing but love, and the love is nothing but God. God loves Himself and His nature, His being and His Godhead. In the love in which God loves Himself, He loves all creatures—not as creations,* but as God. In the love in which God loves Himself, He loves all things.  [Eckhart uses only one word, usually translated as ‘creatures’, to mean both sentient beings and insentient things. The outer man with his mind has no more reality than a man made of wood.]

Now I will say something I have never said before: God savors Himself. In the savoring in which God savors Himself, therein He savors all creatures—not as creations, but as God. In the savoring in which God savors Himself, therein He savors all things. And mark my words: all creatures tend toward their ultimate perfection.

Now I beg of you to attend to my words by the eternal truth and by the everlasting truth and by my soul! Yet again I will say something I never said before: God and Godhead are as different as heaven and earth. I say further: the inner and the outer man are as different as heaven and earth; but God is loftier by many thousands of miles. God becomes and unbecomes.4

But to return to what I was saying: God savors Himself in all things. The sun sheds its light on all creatures, and whatever the sun shines on absorbs the sunshine, yet the sun does not lose its brightness. All creatures give up their life in favor of being. All creatures enter my understanding that they may become rational in me.5 I alone prepare all creatures for their return to God. Take care, all of you, what you do!

Now I return to my inner and my outer man. I see the lilies in the field, their brightness, their color, and all their leaves; but I do not see their fragrance. Why? Because the fragrance is in me. But what I say is in me and I speak it forth from me. All creations are savored by my outer man as creations, like wine and bread and meat. But my inner man savors things not as creations, but as God’s gift. But my inmost man savors them not as God’s gift, but as eternity.

I take a bowl of water and put a mirror in it and set it under the disc of the sun. Then the sun sends forth its light-rays both from the disc and from the sun’s depth, and yet suffers no diminution. The reflection of the mirror in the sun is a sun, and yet it is what it is.6 So it is with God. God is in the soul with His nature, with His being and with His Godhead, and yet He is not the soul.7 The reflection of the soul in God is God, and yet she is what she is. God becomes when all creatures say ‘God’—then God comes to be. 8

When I subsisted in the ground, in the bottom, in the river and fount of Godhead, no one asked me where I was going or what I was doing: there was no one to ask me. When I flowed forth, all creatures said, ‘God.’ If anyone asked me, ‘Brother Eckhart, when did you leave your house?’ then I was in there. That is how all creatures speak of God. And why do they not speak of the Godhead? Everything that is in the Godhead is one, and of that there is nothing to be said. God works, the Godhead does no work. There is nothing for it to do, there is no activity in it. It never peeped at any work. God and Godhead are distinguished by working and not-working.

When I return to God, if I do not remain there,9 my breakthrough will be far nobler than my outflowing. I alone bring all creatures out of their reason into
my reason, so that they are one with me. 10 When I enter the ground, the bottom, the river and fount of the Godhead, none will ask me whence I came or where I have been. No one missed me, for there God unbecomes.” 11

Whoever has understood this sermon, good luck to him. If no one had been here I should have had to preach it to this offertory box. There are some poor people who will go back home and say, ‘I shall settle down and eat my bread and serve God.’ By the eternal truth I declare that these people will remain in error, and will never be able to strive for and win what those others achieve who follow God in poverty and exile. Amen.

3 . This sermon was given on 29 August, the day the Church commemorates the beheading of St. John the Baptist.
4. Got der wirt und entwirt. This refers, as Clark notes, to the difference between God and Godhead. See note 8 and note 1 1 .
5 . They are illumined by the active intellect (Clark).
6 . I.e., a mirror.
7. As Clark notes, Eckhart here clearly shows he is no pantheist.
8. The explanation of the phrase ‘God becomes and unbecomes” (note 4).
9. If I penetrate beyond ‘God’ to the ‘Godhead.’
10 . Cf. note 5 .
11 . The further explanation of ‘God becomes and unbecomes’ (note 4 and note 8 ) .