Dominican, philosopher, theologian, and mystic, Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 – c. 1327) was born outside of Erfurt, Germany, in Hochheim. His given name was Eckhart, yet became known as Meister Eckhart owing to an academic title he gained in Paris. Eckhart’s ideas relate to a wide range of ideas and individuals, such as Immanuel Kant’s critical idealism, the Eastern mystics, and pantheism. Eckhart’s appeal is based mainly on his unorthodox understandings of how God works and interacts with creation; his unique view of time and God are foundational to this understanding.
Not much is known of Eckhart’s early life. He entered a Dominican order in Erfurt and eventually attained the degree of master in Paris in 1302. He was evidently an exceptional preacher; some sermons are extant. He also gained fame as a teacher and author.
Later in life, Eckhart was accused of heresy. By 1309 Pope Clement V had decided to live in Avignon, France, and so Eckhart’s heretical charge came to light during a contentious period within the Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Cologne wanted to try Eckhart in 1326, yet Eckhart appealed to Pope John XXII (who lived in Avignon). Eckhart affirmed his obedience to Catholic teaching in a letter dated February 13, 1327. He apparently died soon afterward because no further knowledge of his actions is recorded. John XXII issued a bull on March 27, 1329, in which he listed 28 heresies of Eckhart. The Dominican Order over time has attempted to reestablish Eckhart’s Catholic orthodoxy. Although Pope John Paul II wrote favorably concerning Eckhart, the matter is still unresolved.
Eckhart’s concept of time was counterintuitive to his milieu. From a medieval viewpoint, God worked within physical time and space. Yet Eckhart believed that time and space worked against a true understanding of God because it limited God to the physical world of time and space. He wrote, “For while the soul is occupied with time or place or any image of the kind, it cannot recognize God.” Therefore, to Eckhart a true understanding of God must begin with God and not the Creation.
Eckhart believed in the importance of the union of the individual and God. Examples follow: “Divine light enlightens me in everything I do.” “Only God flows into all things, their very essences. . . . God is in the innermost part of each and every thing, only in its innermost part.” “God . . . is the being of all beings.” In each of these statements, Eckhart attempted to explain the mechanics of a union with God.
Since at least the time of John Climacus (d. 649), Christian mystics have attempted to explain how to grow in union with God; Eckhart attempted to explain how it worked.
See also Christianity; God and Time; Kant, Immanuel; Mysticism; Time, Sacred
Backhouse, H. (Ed.). (1993). The best of Meister Eckhart. New York: Crossroad.
McGinn, B. (2001). The mystical thought of Meister Eckhart: The man from whom God hid nothing. New York: Crossroad.