Meister Eckhart is crazy and almost heretical in a lot of ways. These are among the many reasons I like him. Today's excerpt is one of his difficult ones, at least at first, because he starts with a very bizarre translation of the Gospel of Luke and doesn't really explain (in the passage in McGinn's anthology, anyway) why he chooses this reading. What Eckhart manages to explore and convey on the basis of that shaky premise, however, is super cool, and I hope you'll enjoy reading about it.
"Our Lord Jesus Christ went up into a citadel and was received/conceived by a virgin who was a wife." This is the translation of Eckhart's translation of the Latin of the Greek of Luke 10:38 by the Buddhist-affiliated Maurice Walshe, a translator McGinn seems to favor for Eckhart's work. Talk about derivatives! Needless to say, this is not the present day Catholic translation of 'our' own introduction to the famous Mary and Martha in the Gospel, but it proves effective perhaps in the old German and in the metaphor that Eckhart builds up afterwards.
To Eckhart, a virgin is someone who is open and empty, "offering no hindrance to the highest Truth" (McGinn 36). To be a wife, on the other hand, is to bear fruit. "For a man to receive God within him is good, and in receiving he is virgin. But for God to be fruitful in him is better, for only the fruitfulness of the gift is the thanks rendered for that gift, and herein the spirit is a wife, whose gratitude is fecundity, bearing Jesus again in God's paternal Heart" (37). Deep (and sometimes convolutedly-written) stuff! I rewrote it in my notes in these ways:
FAITH & WORKS
SERENITY & COURAGE
FATHER & SON
OPENNESS & ACTION
Indeed, both of these are necessary, in Eckhart's mind and, in part, in mine, to do good work. I offer these as pairs of concepts, and thinking about them this way makes me appreciate the idea of the Trinity even more. Faith and Works must be Inspired (by the spirit). Serenity and Courage have to come with Wisdom. Father, Son, and Spirit. Openness, Action, and... well, you fill in the blank :-)
All of this is well and good. Then Eckhart goes even further and gives me a reason to introduce you to his apophatic type of mysticism, the type that groks on the idea of being the open virgin and takes it even further. I'll quote Eckhart himself here:
People wedded to things of this world bear little fruit, including "all those who are bound with attachment to prayer, fasting, vigils and all kinds of outward discipline and mortification. All attachment to any work that involves the loss of freedom to wait on God in the here and now, and to follow him alone in the light wherein he would show you what to do and what not to do, every moment freely and anew, as if you had nothing else and neither would nor could do otherwise--any such attachment or set practice wich repeatedly denies you freedom, I call a year; for your soul will bear no fruit till it has done this work to which you are possessively attached, and you too will have no trust in God or in yourself before you have done the work you embraced with attachment, for otherwise you will have no peace. Thus you will bring forth no fruit till your work is done. This is what I call 'a year,' and the fruit of it is paltry because it springs from attachment to the task and not from freedom" (37).
Attachment = Bad
There is a beautiful passage by Eckhart on the next page in which he describes the joy of God and the exquisiteness of existing in the moment devoid of all else with and of God. Perhaps I will transcribe it later or otherwise relay it to anybody who is interested.
Beyond those passages, the rest of the sermon was rather difficult without a lot of context and I did not want to share it. Eckhart talks about how God in the citadel is beyond form, explanation, how he is "indivisible, without mode or properties," transcending the trinity and becoming what I can only approximate as Tao (40). I'm personally fond of this interpretation, but I wonder how much of it comes from Walshe's Eastern biases as translator. O, if only I wanted to go back and learn medieval German and translate it myself. But that's a highly esoteric Ph.D. for much for focused and selfish Emily.
Next: a 17th century woman's take on Song of Songs.