SIGNS OF THE TRUE GROUND
According to one master, many people arrive at specific understanding, at formal, notional knowledge, but yet there are few who get beyond the science and the theory; yet one man whose mind is free from notions and from forms is more dear to God than the hundred thousand who have the habit of discursive reason. God cannot enter in and do his work in them owing to the restlessness of their imagination. If they were free from pictures they could be caught and carried up beyond all rational concepts, as St Dionysius says, and also have the super-rational light of faith at its starting-point, where God find his rest and peace to dwell and work in as he will and when he will and what he will. God is unhindered in his work in these so he can do in them his most precious work of all, working them up in faith into himself. These people no one can make out; their life is an enigma, and their ways, to all who do not live the same. To this truth and to this blessed life, to this high and perfect consummation no one can attain except in abstract knowledge and pure understanding. Many a lofty intellect, angels not excepting (for in life and nature an angel is nothing but pure mind), has erred and lapsed eternally from the eternal truth and this may happen also to those who, like the angels, preserve their idiosyncrasy and find satisfaction in the exercise of their own intelligence. Hence the masters urge, and saints as well, the use and the necessity of careful observation and close scrutiny to test the light which flashes in, the light of understanding and of vision which man has here in time, lest he be the subject of hallucination. If you would know and recognize the really sane and genuine seers of God, whom nothing can deceive nor misinform, they can be detected by four and twenty signs. The first sign is told to us by the chief exponent of knowledge and wisdom and transcendental understanding, who is himself the truth, our Lord Jesus Christ. He says, ‘Thereby ye shall know that ye are my disciples, if you love one another and keep my commandment. What is my commandment? That ye love one another as I have loved you,’ as though to say, ye may be my disciples in knowledge and in wisdom and high understanding but without true love it shall avail you little if nothing at all. Balaam was so clever he understood what God for many hundred years had been trying to reveal. This was but little help to him because he lacked true love. And Lucifer, the angel, who is in hell, had perfectly pure intellect and to this day knows much. He has the more hell pain and all because he failed to cleave with love and faith to what he know. — The second sign is selflessness; they empty themselves out of themselves giving free furlough to things. — The third sign: they have wholly abandoned themselves to God: God works in them undisturbed. — The fourth sign: wherever they still find themselves they leave themselves; sure method of advancement. — The fifth sign: they are free from all self-seeking: this gives them a clear conscience. –The sixth sign: they wait unceasingly upon God’s will and do it to their utmost. The seventh sign: they bend their will to God’s will till their will coincide with God’s. — The eighth sign: so closely do they fit and bind themselves to God and God to them in the power of love, that God does nothing without them and they do nothing without God –The ninth: they naught themselves and make use of God in all their works and in all places and all things. — The tenth sing: they take no single thing from any creature, neither good nor bad, but from God alone, albeit God effect it through his creature. — The eleventh sign: they are not snared by any pleasure or physical enjoyment or by any creature. — The twelfth sign: they are not forced or driven by insubordination: they are steadfast for the truth. — The thirteenth sign: they are not misled by any spurious light nor by the look of any creature: they go by the intrinsic merit. — The fourteenth sign: armed and arrayed with all the virtues they emerge victorious from every flight of vice. — The fifteenth sign: they see and know the naked truth and praise God without ceasing from this gnosis. — The sixteenth sign: perfect and just, they hold themselves in poor esteem. –The seventeenth sign: they are chary of words and prodigal of works. — The eighteenth sign: they preach to the world by right practice. The nineteenth sign: they are always seeking God’s glory and nothing at all besides. –The twentieth sign: if any man fight them they will not let him prevail before accepting help of any sort but God’s. — The twenty-first sign: they desire neither comfort nor possessions, of the least of which they deem themselves all undeserving. — The twenty-second sign: they look upon themselves as the most unworthy of all mankind on earth; their humbleness is therefore never-failing. –The twenty-third sign: they take the life and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ for the perfect exemplar of their lives and in the light of this are always examining themselves with the sole intention of removing all unlikeness to their high ideal. –The twenty-fourth sign: to outward appearance they do little who are working all the time at the virtuous life, hence the disteem of many people, which, however, they prefer to vulgar approbation. These are the signs of the true ground wherein lives the image of the perfect truth and he who does not find them in himself may account his knowledge vain and so may other people.
Though there be neither hell nor heaven yet I will love God: thee Father and thy sovran nature wherein the Trinity abides in the unity whence it gets its power. — Now you desire to hear about this hidden and exalted nature of the Trinity. The Persons are God in their personality, Godhead by nature in their oneness. But you must know what God and Godhead are. The former has distinctions; which the soul of me explains by the reflection of the exalted unity. This shines in its own essence wholly indiscriminate. Therein is contained the unity entire, including the distinctions of lofty personality. The river is fontal wherein unity abides; the one alone is unnecessitous, poised in itself in sable stillness. Incomprehensible and yet self-evident. Light is the first thing to appear; it beguiles the mind into the unknown without itself, everlasting, in-drawn, plunged in gloom. There it is befooled, there it is bereft of light’s darkness, losing them both in the abyss; there that mysterious thing the mind is estranged in the unity which is withal its life. O unfathomable sink, in thy depth thou art high in thy height profound! — How so? — That is hidden from us in thy bottomless abysm. St Paul declares that it shall be made known to us. In this gnosis the mind transcends itself; it has been absorbed into the Trinity. There the mind dies all dying in the wonder of the Godhead, for with that unity it is confused; the personal losing its name in sameness. There mind, atoned, is accounted naught; there it loses the means of divinity. Light and darkness, it is rid of both, matter as well as form. The spark thus bare, made naught from its own naught, is swallowed up in its naught’s aught. This same naught is poverty in the Persons, which beguiles the mind and reduces it to unity. In the embrace of this sovran one which naughts the separated self of things, being is one without distinction although a thing created in its individual nature. The one I mean is wordless. One and one united, void shines into void. Where these two abysms hang, equally spirated, de-spirated, there is the supreme being; where God gives up the ghost, darkness reigns in the unknown known unity. This is hidden from us in his motionless deep. Creatures cannot penetrate this aught.
Well that this aught transcends us. Even so loving it transcendently, Plunge in: this is the drowning.
THIS IS THE GLOSS ON THE DROWNING
It is true spiritual perfection to love God for his own sake regardless of hell or heaven. We must love the three Persons in their unity of nature and their one nature in the three Persons. The Trinity has its power in the unity and the unity has its dignity in the Trinity. It belongs, moreover, to the noble mind to perceive the distinctions between God and Godhead: how it is the three Persons in him have gotten his unity as their natural being. Each Person has for nature his entire unity, so each of the Persons is in himself God and in his nature Godhead. God is God in the Persons and Godhead in his nature: in his impartible nature. The unity shines forth in the Trinity as articulate speech. But the perfect reflection of the one is shining by itself in lonely silence, there safely pent as one and indivisible. Further, the three Persons in their utterance keep their distinctive properties. The Father is the source of the Son and the Son is the river abiding within him in essence. The Father and the Son give forth their breath (or spirit). Thus the originated river with its original source is the origin of the Holy Ghost. Unity which, logically speaking, is the condition of the original source is also the condition of the river which, together with its source, is the source of the Holy Ghost. And as this oneness is the nature of them both so too it is the nature of the breath exhaled by both. The river then is fontal. The unity which is in them both is unnecessitous, it has no need of speech, but subsists alone in unbroken silence. Not that the utterance dies, i.e. the spoken essence. But where speech beats into the silence of its nature both have one common character, the character of sameness. What is this? It is the motionless dark that no one knows but he in whom it reigns: the one with its selfhood. First to arise in it is light. Lo, this is the originated river, and origin itself, which has the character of light as proceeding forth in its individual nature. And what here streams forth to view will reveal itself and that from which is springs. In its interior procession this originated river, which is also the origin of itself, has the nature of obscure, unmanifest intelligence, but the light proceeding froth brings revelation to the mind, beguiling it out of itself into its mysterious indwelling cause. There it is shorn of light’s illusion. Of everything, that is, which has been revealed to it in the form of light. Thereof it is despoiled, but now it finds another and better than this light-like understanding. Light has mode without knowledge. Darkness is knowledge without mode, a thing, that is, we can in nowise have. The mind is rid of light when it is rid of mode; and it is rid of darkness when letting go of all natural things, it sinks in nameless actuality. Then it loses both light and darkness in the abyss that creature in its own right never plumbs. Such is the estrangement in one as foreshadowed in the ordinary mind, but the realization of unity which the blessed have lies in the exquisite consciousness of another than themselves. O unfathomable void, bottomless to creatures and to thine own self, in thy depth art thou exalted in thy impartible, imperishable actuality; in the height of thy essential power thou art so deep thou dost engulf thy simple ground which is there concealed from all that thou are not; yet those whom thou wouldest commune with shall know thee with thyself. As St Paul declares, ‘Then shall we know as we are known.’ This knowledge the mind gets not from its individual nature: the unity hales it to the Three into itself, that is, to its true and natural abode where it transcends itself in what it inhales; where ‘the spirit dies all dying in the wonder of the Godhead.’ This dying of the spirit means its confusion with the one essential nature though it remains discrete in the Persons of the Trinity. This shows the activity of spirit; its having variety of Persons. But by their union is shed a single light, for the three Persons are aglow with one intrinsic nature, like three lights with one shine. According to St Augustine this essential light is cast by the Persons into the pure spirit. At its glance the spirit forfeits self and selfhood and the uses of its power. Such is the effect of the shaft of pure impartible light of unity which this spirit is rather than itself when it is reduced to nothing but the same. We call the unity naught because mind has no notion of what it is; What the mind does know is that it is upheld by another than itself. Its upholder then is aught rather than naught, though mind has no idea what it can be. It is more real to him than his own self in that it belies his personal naught. For mind, as actually dwelling there, loses every means of divine nature, which to him is all things. He loses his individual nature and yet he does not die; he wins the nature of divinity although not God by nature but by grace. Now remember, he is something created out of naught. Yet he, a mere created wight, is drawn by the power of God’s essence into his unity, a thing unknown in anywise to any creature. This unity which is in nowise creaturely is poverty, for it is poor of creatures, its content being that of simple actuality. This modeless creature-essence is the being of the Persons who alone contain it in its most primitive and simple form as their nature. This knowledge de-ments the mind. This spiritual dementia means the absolute modeless of the unity which the Persons have in actual mode. The spirit broods in sameness without light or darkness. Sans light, in its impenetrable actuality; sans darkness in its lack of any special name. The spirit free from matter and from form has taken on the form of God. Thus the mind attains to its eternal image which is one in its essential nature and threefold as uttered in the Persons. Though the spirit of this image has entered of its own yet in itself it is a thing created. This created thing is mens; by mens being meant the spark, the living principle of spirit. This is the spirit in itself. Its eternal image is another; this is really God. When the spirit in itself turns from all things becoming into the not-becoming of its eternal object in the Persons, whence it comes, then the mind is said to return to its exemplar. Then void shines into void; the purified becomingness of mind turns to the pure not-becoming nature of its eternal idea. In this embrace is consummated the exalted union wherein at length the spirit at one with all its nature is in divine atonement. Where these two meet in one, equally spirit and not-spirit, there is beatitude. Now consider what the spirit of God means. The most significant and subtile word that creatures can employ is spirit (breath or ghost) and that is why we call God spirit. But creature has no proper name for the nameless God and therefore to our mind God is not spirit. Mark too the meaning of spirituality of soul. It means that, aloof from the coil of nether things, she is living at her summit in thought and love. Here she is one spirit with God. Spirituality of soul, besides, means that in her aught she is no more material than in her naught wherefrom she was created. Such is the spiritual nature of the soul. But she is de-spirited (de-mented) when, at her absorption, she is what is his rather than her own, and, this is the perfection of her sanity. The interior spiration of God, again, is his hidden nature, the quarry of the mind which it escapes; for this mysterious and silent one lies hid in depths of stillness that no creature ever plumbs. This being is beyond our grasp, whereat, rejoicing greatly, let us hasten to seize it with itself: this is our highest happiness. So be it, by thy help, O divine Trinity. Amen.
THE BEATIFIC VISION
King David said: ‘Lord in thy light we shall see light.’ Doctors debate as to the medium in which we shall see God. The common doctrine is that it will be in the light of glory. But this solution appears to me to be unsound and untenable. From time to time I have explained that man has within him a light called the active intellect: this is the light in which man will see God in bliss, so they seek to prove. Now man according to his creaturely nature is in great imperfection and is unable by nature to discern God otherwise than as creatures do, by images and forms, as I have elsewhere demonstrated. The soul is unable of herself and by her innate power to transcend this state; that must happen in some supernatural power such as the light of grace. Mark this solution which I will now proceed to discuss. St Paul says: ‘By God’s grace I am that I am.’ He does not say that he is ‘of grace.’ There is a difference between being by grace and being grace itself. Doctors declare that form gives being to matter. Now there are various definitions of grace current among them. But I say grace is nothing else than the flowing light proceeding direct from God’s nature into the soul: a supernatural form of the soul which gives her a supernatural nature. This is what I had in mind when I stated that the soul was unable of herself to transcend her own natural activity; this she can do in the power of grace which endows her with a supernatural nature. Observe, grace effects nothing by itself. Moreover it exalts the soul above activity. Grace is bestowed in the essence of the soul and is received into her powers; for if the soul is to effect anything in this matter, she must needs have grace by virtue of which to transcend her own activities such as knowing and loving. Whilst the soul is in process of taking this transcendental flight out of herself into the nothingness of herself and her own activity, she is ‘by grace’; she is grace when she has accomplished this transcendental passage and has overcome herself and now stands in her pure virginity alone, conscious of nothing but of behaving after the manner of God. As God lives, while the soul is still capable of knowing and acting after the manner of he creatureliness and as a child of nature, she has not become grace itself though she may well be by grace. For to be grace itself the soul must be destitute of activity, inward and outward, as grace is, which knows no activity. St John says: ‘To us is given grace for grace,’ for to become grace by grace is the work of grace. The supreme function of grace is to reduce the soul to what it is itself. Grace robs the soul of her own activity; grace robs the soul of her own nature. In this supernatural flight the soul transcends her natural light which is a creature and comes into immediate touch with God. Now I would have you understand me. I am going to give an explanation I have never given before. The worthy Dionysius says: ‘When God exists not for the spirit there exists not for it either the eternal image, its eternal origin.’ I have said before and say again that God has wrought one act eternally in which act he made the soul in his own [likeness], and out of which act and by means of which act the soul issued forth into her created existence, becoming unlike God and estranged from her own prototype, and in her creation she made God, who was not before the soul was made. At various times I have declared: I am the cause that God is God. God is gotten of the soul, his Godhead of himself; before creatures were, God was not God albeit he was Godhead which he gets not from the soul. Now when God finds a naughted soul whose self and whose activity have been brought to naught by means of grace, God works his eternal work in her above grace, raising her out of her created nature. Here God naughts himself in the soul and then neither God no soul is left. Be sure that this is God indeed. When the soul is capable of conceiving God’s work she is in the state of no longer having any God at all; the soul is then the eternal image as which God has always seen her, his eternal Word. When, therefore, St Dionysius says that God no longer exists for the spirit, he means what I have just explained. Now it may be asked whether the soul as here seen in the guise of the eternal image is the light meant by David wherein we shall see eternal light? We answer, no. Not in this light will the soul see the eternal light that shall beatify her; for thus says the worthy Dionysius, ‘neither will the eternal image exist for the spirit.’ What he means is that, when the spirit has accomplished its transcendental flights, its creaturely nature is brought to naught, whereby it loses God as I have already explained, and then the soul, in the eternal image, breaks through the eternal image into the essential image of the Father. Thus saith the Scripture: ‘Everything flows back into the soul into the Father who is the beginning of the eternal Word and of all creatures.’ It may be questioned whether this is the light, the Father namely, in which the spirit sees the eternal light? I answer, no. Now mark my words. God works and has created all things; the Godhead does not work, it knows nothing of creation. In my eternal prototype the soul is God for there God works and my soul has equality with the Father, for my eternal prototype, which is the Son in the Godhead, is in all respects equal with the Father. One scripture says: ‘Naught is equal with God; to be equal with God, then, the soul must be naught.’ That interpretation is just. We would say, however: where there is equality there is no unity for equal is a privation of unity; and where there is unity there is no equality for equality resides in multiplicity and separation. Where there is equality there cannot be unity. I am not equal to myself. I am the same as myself. Hence the Son in the Godhead, inasmuch as he is Son, is equal with the Father but he is not one with the Father. There is no equality where the Father and Son are one; that is, in the unity of the divine essence. In this unity the Father knows no Son nor does the Son know any Father, for there is neither Father nor Son nor Holy Ghost. When the soul enters the Son, her eternal prototype, she, with the Son, transcends equality and possesses unity with the three Persons in the unity of the essence. David says: ‘Lord in thy light shall we see light,’ that is: in the light of the impartible divine essence shall we see the divine essence and the whole perfection of the divine essence as revealed in the variety of the Persons and the unity of their nature. St Paul says: ‘We shall be changed from one brightness into the other and shall become like unto him,’ meaning: we shall be changed from created light into the uncreated splendour of the divine nature and shall become like it; that is, we shall be that it is. St John says: ‘All things live in him.’ In that the Father contemplates the Son all creatures take living shape in the Son, that being the real life of creatures. But in another passage St John says: ‘Blessed are the dead that have died in God.’ — It seems passing strange that it should be possible to die in him who himself said that he is the life! — But see: the soul, breaking through her eternal prototype, is plunged in the absolute nothingness of her eternal prototype. This is the death of the spirit; for dying is nothing but deprivation of life. When the soul realizes that any thing throws her eternal prototype into separation and negation of unity, the spirit puts own self to death to its eternal prototype, and breaking through its eternal prototype remains in the unity of the divine nature. These are the blessed dead that are dead in God. No one can be buried and beatified in the Godhead who has not died to God, that is, in his eternal prototype, as I have explained. Our creed says: Christ rose from the dead: Christ rose out of God into the Godhead, into the very unity of the divine essence. That is to say that Christ’s soul and all rational souls, being dead to their exemplar, rise from that divine death to taste the joys above it,
namely the riches of the divine nature wherein the spirit it beatified. Now consider the fact of happiness. God is happy in himself; and all creatures, which God must make happy, will be so in the same happiness that God is happy in, and after the same fashion that he is happy. But sure that in this unity the spirit transcends every mode, even its own eternal being, and everything created as well as the equality which, in the eternal image, it has with the Father, and together with the Father soars up into the unity of the divine nature where God conceives himself in absolute simplicity. There, in that act, the spirit is no longer creature, it is the same as happiness itself, the nature and substance of the Godhead, the beatitude of its own self and all creatures. Further, I hold if God did what he is impotent to do, granted the soul while still a creature the knowledge and enjoyment of actual beatitude, then, were the soul to be and remain happy, it were impossible for God to remain God. Anyone in heaven knowing the saints according to their happiness, would not have anything to say of any saint but only of God; for happiness is God and all those who are happy are, in the act of happiness, God and the divine nature and substance of God. St Paul says: ‘He who being naught, thinketh himself aught, deceiveth himself. ‘ In the act of happiness he is brought to naught and not creaturehood exists for him. As the worthy Dionysius says: ‘Lord lead me to where thou art nothingness,’ meaning: lead me, Lord, to where thou transcendest every created intellect; for as St Paul declares: ‘God dwells in a light that no man can approach unto’; that is: God is not to be discerned in any created light whatever. St Dionysius says: ‘God is nothing,’ and this is also implied by St Augustine when he says: ‘God is everything,’ meaning: nothing is God’s. So that by saying ‘God is nothing,’ Dionysius signifies that there is no thing in his presence. It follows that the spirit must advance beyond things and thingliness, shape and shapeness, existence and existences: then will dawn in it the actuality of happiness which is the essential possession of the actual intellect. I have sometimes said that man sees God in this life in the same perfection and is happy in the same perfect fashion as in the life to come. Many people are astonished by this. Let us try therefore to understand what it means. Real intellect emanates from the eternal truth as intelligence and contains in itself intelligibility all that God contains. This noble divinity, the active intellect, conceives itself in itself after the manner of God in its emanation, and in its essential content it is downright God; but it is creature according to the motion of its nature. This intellect is to the full as noble in us now as in the after life. Now the question may be asked: How then does this life differ from the life to come? I answer that, this intellect which is happy in exactly the same way as God is, is at present latent in us. In this life we know God only according to potentiality. In the after life, when we are quit of body, our potentiality will be transfigured into the act of happiness which belongs to the active intellect. This transfiguration will render the fact of happiness no more perfect than it is now; for active intellect has no accidents nor any capacity to receive more than it contains innately. It follows that when we are beatified we shall be completely deprived of potentiality and shall conceive happiness only actually, after the manner of the divine nature. As David says: ‘Lord in thy light shall we see light’; with the divine nature we shall conceive the perfection of the divine nature, which alone is our entire felicity, here in grace and there in perfect happiness.
Beati pauperes spiritu etc. Let us be eternally as poor as we were when we eternally were not. Abiding in him in our essence we shall be that we are. We shall abound in all things, but in their creator. We shall know God without any sort of likeness and love without matter and enjoy without possession. We shall conceive all things in perfection as the eternal wisdom show them planned out in sight. The poor in spirit go out of themselves and all creatures: they are nothing, they have nothing, they do nothing, and these poor are not save that by grace they are God with God: which they are not aware of. St Augustine says, all things are God. St. Dionysius says, thing are not God. St. Augustine says, God is all of them. But St. Dionysius: God is nothing we can say or think, yet God is the hope of all the saints, their intuition of him wherein he is himself. He (Dionysius) find him more in naught; God is naught, he says. In naught all is suspended. All that has being is in suspension in naught, this naught being itself an incomprehensible aught that all minds in heaven and on earth cannot either fathom or conceive. Hence it remains unknown to creatures. When the soul attains to the perfection of hanging to (being suspended from) naught she will find herself without sin. This is due to the freedom she is poised in. Then on coming to the body and awareness of herself, and again finding sin as before, she becomes bound and then she returns into herself and bethinks her of what she has found yonder. Thus she raises herself up above herself and crosses over to the seat of all her happiness and all her satisfaction. St Bernard says the soul knows very well that her beloved cannot come to her till everything is out of her. St Augustine says, Well and truly loves the man who loves where he well knows he is not loved; that is the best of all loving. St Paul, we know right well that all things work together for good to them that love God. And Christ said, Blessed are the poor in spirit, God’s kingdom is theirs. They tell of various kinds of poverty of spirit. There are four. What he refers to here is the first poverty of spirit the soul knows when, illumined by the spirit of truth, things that are not God weigh with her not a jot; as St Paul tells us, ‘All things are dung to me.’ In this indigence she finds all creatures irksome. In the second poverty she considers the merit of her exemplar Christ and her own demerits and finds her own works worthless, though they be the sum of men’s achievements. Hence she laments her in the Book of Love, crying, ‘The form of my beloved passed me by and I cannot follow him.’ To this passing she is self-condemned, following the spoor of her quarry, Christ. So sweet his scent, she swoon away into forgetfulness of outward pain. As St Augustine says, The soul is where she loves rather than where she is giving life, and St Peter tells us that our dwelling is in heaven. In the third poverty of spirit is that of the soul wherein her own nature is slain; her own natural life is stone dead and there is living in her nothing but the spirit of God. As St Paul declares, ‘I am dead nevertheless I live; yet my life Christ liveth in me.’ In this spiritual death she is grown poor, for all she has to leave or give has been taken from her; moreover she is poor of her free will, for her is doing with it what he will. The fourth poverty is the incomprehensibility of God in her mind, her inability to compass him whether with knowledge or with works. But the deeper she gets the more the incomprehensible splendour of the Deity is reflected in her poverty. For as far as with her inner man she has gotten intuition of divinity so far she follows with her outer man the willing poverty of her pattern Jesus Christ; or in other words, the power of God having deprived her of all selfhood, she uses all creatures as she need them, always without attachment, and if she has them not she can do as well without them and with the same detachment. She knows of nothing more that she can do but she rejoices in his incomprehensible truth and that created things are all as naught which is cleaving to him like a tiny spark. It was this poverty St Paul was in the time that he declared, ‘he heard in God unspeakable thing which it is not lawful for a man to utter.’ On that occasion he was knit to God so that neither life nor death could separate him from his love. Thus it befalls the perfectly lost soul in God, lost, not to creatures merely but to herself as well as aware of nothing but the pure unclouded radiance of God’s essence. Behold her lost in him, her heavenly joy, and all incapable of any real wrong-doing. The saints invariably say that nothing whatever can disturb the fixity they have in God. Real sin is any disobedience to the law of divine love, and departure from the life of Jesus Christ. He is the form and essence of all things. What then is real virtue? Anything wrought in the soul by divine love alone, for that effects naught but its like. Such is the doctrine of spiritual poverty. Into this true poverty lead us, O superfull goodness of God. Amen.
THE SOUL’S RAGE
The soul is furious for self-knowledge. Her face is lit with passion, red with rage for the arrears withheld from her in God, because she is not all God is by nature, because she has not all God has by nature. The masters say there is no fiercer appetite than a friend’s desire to possess his friend and all that he possesses. The soul proclaims her rage so boundless she cannot be appeased by him. The bonds of love are all too cruel for her. Alas! she cries, who shall console me? My misery is too deep. Were I the one creator, beginningless and endless, and had I made creatures and were he soul like me, then I would go straight out of my estate and let her enter in and be God while I be creature; and if it were an obstacle to God to get his being from me, he would be welcome to efface me for I would perish sooner than be a hindrance to him. But seeing it is common to everything created to have somewhat of the eternal in man’s nature ever present in it, therefore I know not where to turn to find a place. So I take refuge in myself and there I find the lowest place, aye, one more base than hell for even thence do my shortcomings hound me. It seems I cannot then escape myself. Here I sit me down and herein will I stay. And I beseech thee, Lord, that thou never callest me to mind and forbiddest any creature ever to console me and deniest to my powers that ever any one of them should come before thy face, lest I offend thee. So I go out and let the soul go in. The third rage of the soul is that she should be God and that there should not be a single creature, like when God was in his eternity ere he created creature, so that she may enjoy God-nature in its simplicity as he did before. But then his love were lacking to him, for it is the nature of good things to communicate themselves. Fourthly, she rages to be absolutely nothing but the naked essence, there being neither God nor creature. She asks, What is the good of the three Persons in the Godhead and what is the use of creatures? But hold, she cries, except for them there would be no creatures. That must be the reason why there are three Persons in the Godhead: they are the cause of creatures. God is God-exalted: the creatures he has made cannot exalt him. All that creatures do to God is themselves: such glory as they can give to God is the same as they are.
ST JOHN SAYS, ‘I SAW THE WORD IN GOD’
St John says, ‘I saw the Word in God.’ God is abstract being, pure perception, which is perceiving itself in itself. St John means that the Son is in the Father, in his nature. ‘I saw the Word with God.’ Here he is referring to the intellect which, flowing into God eternally, proceeded forth from God in distinction of Person, namely, the Son. ‘ I saw the Word before God.’ This means that the Son is ever being born of the Father and that he is the image of the Father. ‘In the Word there is only the Word,’ refers to the eternal emanation of creatures in the Word. ‘I saw the Word under God’; the Son becomes man, as God said, ‘I have loved you in the reflection of my darkness.’ God’s darkness is his nature which is unknowable. Good people know it not and no creature can divine it; therefore it is a darkness. While God was flowing in his own darkness the Son was not distinct from him. In the darkness of his nature the Father flowed as Person so far as he was pregnant. The Father gave his Son birth and gave him his own nature; he gave him not his Person: his nature he can give away but he can give to none his Person for that is the product of his unborn essence. The Father spoke himself and all creatures in his Son; the Father spoke himself to all creature in his Son. The Father turning back into himself speaks himself in himself; he flows back into himself with all creatures. As Dionysius says, ‘God proceeded himself,’ meaning that his hidden nature suffices him, which is concealed from creatures. The soul cannot follow him into his nature, except he absorb her altogether, and then in him she is made dark of all created lights. The darkness of creatures is their incomprehensibility in their simple nature, that is, in the nothing from which they were created. In this uncreated light they discern his uncreatedness. Into his uncreatedness they flow in the reflection of his darkness. –‘Tell me, good Sir, do Father, Son and Holy Ghost speak the same word in the Godhead or has each a different word? ‘ — In the Godhead there is but one word; in it the Father in the Godhead speaks into his unborn essence and into his born essence, the Father flowing into his Son with all that he is and the Son speaks the same word, and the Father and the Son flow into the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost speaks the same word. They speak this one simple word in their essence and each speaks the same word in his own Person, and in their common nature they discourse the truth and the Persons receive the essence as it is essentially. Yet the Persons receive from one another. They bow down to the essence in praise, lauding the essence; and the unborn essence pronounces its unborn word in the Persons, lauding the Persons, and the Persons receive the essence every whit and pass it on to one another. This unborn essence is self-sufficient, without birth and without activity. Birth and activity are in the Persons. The Persons say they are the truth and that creatures have none of the truth. When the soul attains to this divine speech she speaks this very truth and is the Deity to every creature as well as to herself. This comes of his indivisible nature and therein creatures are a matter of the will. The bad are bad and the good good, the Persons preserving justice in the Godhead. They give the bad their due and the good theirs. St Dionysius says, ‘God is the Prime Cause, and God has fashioned all things for himself who is the cause of all; and his works are all wrought in the likeness of the First Cause.’ Father and Son show forth the first cause, and the Son is playing in the Father with all things for he proceeded forth from him. The Son plays before the Father with all things, the Son plays below the Father with all things. The Father begat his Son with his Godhead and with all things. The Father begat his Son in his Godhead with all things. The Godhead is the several Persons and the fullness of the Persons. The Godhead is not given to any thing. On coming to its knowledge the soul sees God and glancing back into herself she sees that the Godhead is in all things. Receiving into her the likeness of the creator she creates what she will but cannot give it essence: she gives it form and is herself its matter and its eternal activities are in her; these are in the eternal birth. Its temporal activities are in time, where God gives his works essence, form and matter out of nothing, which the soul is unable to do; God reduces his works to the unity of Christ and this order shall not pass away but shall be raised up to the glory of the one. Soul, transcending order, enters the naked Godhead where she is seen when God is seen in the soul as God. This soul has God as God in her, she has gotten in her the image of her creator. Now mark the difference between the work of God and creature. God has done all things for himself, for he is the universal cause and all his works are wrought in the likeness of the first cause and creatures all work according to the likeness of the first cause. That is the intention they have towards God. God made all things from nothing, infusing into them his Godhead so that all things are full of God. were they not full of the Godhead they would all perish. The Trinity does all the work in things and creatures exploit the power of the Trinity, creatures working as creatures and God as God, while man mars the work so far as his intention is evil. When a man is at work his body and soul are united, for body cannot act without the soul. When the soul is united with God she does divine work, for God cannot work without the soul and the soul cannot work without God. God is the soul’s life just as the soul is the body’s, and the Godhead is the soul of the three Persons in that it unifies them and in that it has dwelt in them for ever. And since the Godhead is in all things it is all soul’s soul. But in spite of its being all soul’s soul, the Godhead it not creatures’ soul in the way it is the Trinity’s. God does one work with the soul; in this work the soul is raised above herself. The work is creature, grace to wit, which bears the soul to God. It is nobler than the soul as admitting her to God; but the soul is the nobler in her admissibility. This creature which has neither form nor matter nor any being of its own, translates the soul of her natural state into the supernatural. To his eternally elect God gives his spirit as it is, without means; they cannot miss it. Creatures God is going to make at his good pleasure he has known eternally as creatures, for in God they are creatures albeit nothing in themselves: they are uncreated creatures. Creatures are always more noble in God than they are in themselves. In God the soul shall see her own perfection without image and shall see the difference between things uncreated and created and she shall distinguish God from Godhead, nature from Person, form from matter. The Father is the beginning of the Godhead, he is the well-spring of the Godhead, overflowing into all things in eternity and time. The Godhead is a heaven of three Persons. The Father is God and a Person not born nor proceeding any; and the Son is God and a Person and born of the Father; and the Holy Ghost is God and a Person proceeding from both. St Paul speaks of the uncreated spirit flowing into the created spirit (or mind). This meeting which befalls the created spirit is her saving revelation; it happens in the soul who breaks through the boundaries of God to lose herself in his uncreated naught. The three Persons are one God, one in nature, and our nature is shadowing God’s nature in perpetual motion; having followed him from naught to aught and into that which God is to himself, there she has no motion of her naught. Aught is suspended from the divine essence; its progression is matter, wherein the soul puts on new forms and puts off her old ones. The change from one into the other is her death: the one she doffs she dies to, and the one she dons she lives in. St John says, ‘Blessed are the dead that die in God; they are buried where Christ is buried.’ Upon which St Dionysius comments thus: Burial in God is the passage into
uncreated life. The power the soul goes in is her matter, which power the soul can never approfound for it is God and God is changeless, albeit the soul changes in his power. As St Dionysius says, ‘God is the mover of the soul.’ Now form is a revelation of essence. St Dionysius says, ‘Form is matter’s aught. Matter without form is naught.’ So the soul never rests till she is gotten into God who is her first form and creatures never rest till they have gotten into human nature: therein do they attain to their original form, God namely. As St Dionysius hath it, ‘God is the beginning and the middle and the end of all things.’ Then up spake the loving soul, ‘Lord, when enjoyest thou thy creatures?’ — ‘That do I at high noon when God is reposing in all creatures and all creatures in God.’ St Augustine says, ‘All things are God,’ meaning, they have always been in God and shall return to God. So when St Dionysius says,’ All things are naught,’ he means they are not of themselves and that in their egress and their ingress they are as incomprehensible as naught. When St Augustine says, ‘God is all things,’ he means he has the power of all things, one more noble than he ever gave to creatures. And St Dionysius’ dictum, ‘God is naught,’ implies that God is as inconceivable as naught. As King David sings, ‘God has assigned to everything its place: to fish the water, birds the air and beasts the field and to the soul the Godhead.’ The soul must die in every form save God: there at her jouney’s end her matter rests and God absorbs the whole of the powers of the soul, so now behold the soul a naked spirit. Then, as St Dionysius says, the soul is not called soul, she is the sovran power of God wherewith God’s will is done. It is at this point St Augustine cries, ‘Lord thou hast bereft me of my spirit!’ Whereupon Origen remarks, ‘Thou art mistaken, O Augustine. It is not thy spirit, it is thy soul-powers that are taken from thee.’ The soul unites with God like food with man, which turns in eye to eye, in ear to ear. So does the soul in God turn into God; and God combines with the soul and is each power in the soul; and the two natures flowing in one light, the soul comes utterly to naught. That she is she is in God. The divine powers swallor her up out of sight just as the sun draw up things out of sight. What God is to himself no man may know. God is in all things, self-intent. God is all in all and to each thing all things at once. And the soul shall be the same. What God has by nature is the soul’s by grace. God is nothing at all to anything; God is nothing at all to himself, God is nothing that we can express. In this sense Dionysius says, ‘God is all things to himself for he bears the form of all things.’ He is big with himself in a naught; there all things are God, and are not, the same as we were. When we were not then God was heaven and hell and all things. St Dionysius says that ‘God is not’, meaning that he bears himself in a not, namely, the not-knowing of all creatures, and this not draws the soul through all things, over all things and out of all things into that superlative not where she is not-known to any creature. There she is not, has not, wills not, she has abandoned God and everything to God. Now God and heaven gone, the soul is finally cut off from every influx of divinity, so his spirit is no longer given to her. Arrived at this the soul belongs to the eternal life rather than creation; her uncreated spirit lives rather than herself; the uncreated, eternally-existent which is no less than God. Wherewith being all-pervaded to the total loss of her own self, the soul at length returns without herself to eternal indigence, for what is left alive in her is nothing less than God. Thus she is poor of self. This is the point where soul and Godhead part and the losing of the Godhead is the finding of the soul, for the spirit which is uncreated drawing on the soul to its own knowledge she comes nearer to the not-being of the Godhead than by knowing all the Father ever gave. [The gift of the Father is the positive existence of all creatures in the Person of his Son and with the Son the Holy Ghost as well. For the Persons must be looked on as inseparate, albeit distinct illuminations of the understanding.] And so far as she attains this in the body she enjoys the eternal wont and escapes her own. We ought to be eternally as poor as when we were not and then our kingdom shall not pass away, abiding as it does in God whose it is eternally. The Godhead gave all things up to God; it is as poor, as naked and as idle as thought it were not: it has not, wills not, wants not, works not, gets not. St Dionysius says, ‘Be the soul never so bare the Godhead is barer’: a naught from which no shoot was ever lopped nor ever shall be. It is this counsel of perfection the soul is straining after more than after anything that God contains or anything she can conceive of god. Saith the bride in the book of Love, ‘The form of my beloved passed by me and I cannot overtake him.’ It is God who has the treasure and the bride in him, the Godhead is as void as though it were not. God has consumed the form of the soul and formed her with his form into his form. Now she gets all things free from matter, as their creator possesses them in him, and resigns the same to God. Ours to contain all things in the same perfection wherein the eternal wisdom has eternally contained them. Ours to expire them as the Holy Ghost has expired them eternally. Ours to be all things’ spirit and all things spirit to us in the spirit. Ours to know all and deify ourselves with all. Ours to be God by grace as God is by nature; ours to resign the same to God and be as poor as when we were not: free as the Godhead in its non-existence. Christ says, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ These same poor in the spirit enjoy the Father without let or hindrance. The Father knows no difference between this soul and him save that he has by nature what she has by grace. For as Christ declares, ‘Then that follow me I will bring to where I am.’ ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit: God’s kingdom is in them.’ These spiritual poor are those who have abandoned everything to God as he possessed them when we were not and the naught itself. In this naught dwells God and in God dwells the soul. There she has no dwelling and thereinto no creature can get in its own right and no creature can go higher.
Sermons and Collations
Exhibite membra vestra servire justitiae in sanctificationem (Rom. 619). St Paul says, ‘Yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness, for the wages of sin is death but the reward of virtue is eternal life.’ The soul has but two members to offer for the service of the sort acceptable to God, these are will and understanding. One master says, God exerts the whole force of his will in loving the soul. But my point is that God’s sole object in loving the soul is to make her love him in return. Again, I contend that God devotes his divine nature to pleasing the soul, to making her like him and enjoy his society and be friendly with him and love him. Thirdly, I hold that this love which comes up in the ground of the soul, sprouting out of the ground of the Godhead, that is (I say) is the self-same love wherewith God loves his one-begotten Son, and nothing less. And fourthly, if so be that man is planted in God as he is in creature, then I maintain it is in the very ground of the Holy Ghost’s being and becoming, the very ground where the Holy Ghost is coming out in blossom. St Paul does well to say, ‘Yield your members.’ For intellect, albeit natural, is too exalted to be moved by mundane things. Yet, rendered to the sources whence it proceeded forth it is absorbed in God, and that which absorbs it it becomes. Will, that is will proper, is as such omnipotent. But thousands die without acquiring this genuine will. Doubtless they had desires and inclinations like other animals. One man does something trifling, does it just once and sends it on the wings of praise and thankfulness up to its source. Another one does some important work which occupies him long and constantly, and yet this little thing done once is more acceptable to God than the other man’s great work which cost him so much time and trouble. Why? I will tell you. Because the trivial act was carried up past time into the now of eternity, therefore it was to God’s entire satisfaction. Though one should live through all the time from Adam and all the time to come before the judgment day doing good works, yet he who, energising in his highest, purest part, crosses from time into eternity, verily in the sight of God this man conceives and does far more than anyone who lives throughout all past and future time, because this now includes the whole of time. One master says that in this crossing over time into the now, each power of the soul will surpass itself. The five powers must pass into her collective power (or common sense), and common sense will vanish into the formless power wherein nothing forms. Intellect and will are transcended. True, grace is a creature, but by no means altogether. The soul has no inherent grace excepting in his ground, and above this ground of the soul grace is indigenous. Therein grace does nothing, although it is effective in the uses of her powers; but in the ground of the soul grace, happiness and God’s ground are one and the same life wherein God is living. There the power behind the eye is as noble as the understanding; there foot and eye rank equal. What the soul is in her ground has never been determined. But Paul says, ‘The grace of God is eternal life.’ Paul also says, ‘The wages of sin is death.’ The death men die are all of them as nothing to the death of the soul who is divorced from God, from which may God preserve us. Amen.
XCIV THE SOUL
St Paul says, ‘Put off self, put on Christ.’ In abandoning ourself we initiate Christ and holiness and happiness and are ennobled. The prophet marvelled at two things. First, at God’s doings with the sun and moon and stars. And secondly he marvelled at the soul, at the prodigious things God does and has done with her and for her sake, yet do what prodigies he may she still preserves the absolute dispassion which befits one of her noble lineage. Mark the nobility of her descent. I make a letter of the alphabet like the image of that letter in my mind, not like my mind itself. And so with God. God makes things in general like the universal image of them in himself, not like himself. Certain things he has specially made like emanations of his own, such as goodness, wisdom and other so-called attributes of God. But the soul he has made not merely like the image in himself nor like anything proceeding from himself that is predicated of him, but he made her like himself, nay, like he is, all told: like his nature, his essence, his emanating-immanent activity, his ground wherein he is subsisting in himself, wherein he is begetting his alone-begotten Son and where the Holy Ghost comes into flower; in the likeness of his in-dwelling out-going work did God make the soul. It is a law of nature that fluids run downhill into anything adapted to receive them: the higher not receiving from the lower but the lower from the higher. Now God is higher than the soul, and hence there is a constant flow of God into the soul, which cannot miss her. The soul may will miss it, but as long as a man keeps right under God he immediately catches this divine influence straight out of God. Nor is he subject to aught else, not fear not pleasure nor anything that is not God. Put thyself therefore right under God and thou shalt receive from God as from a stranger, as the air does the light of the sun, which it takes as a foreign intrusion. The soul receives her God not as a stranger nor as inferior to God, but inferior is both different and distant. Philosophers say the soul receives as a light from the light, wherein is nothing foreign or remote. There is something in the soul wherein God simply is, and according to philosophers this is a nameless thing and has no proper name. It neither has nor is a definite entity, for it is not this or that nor here nor there; what it is it is from another wherewith it is the same; the one streams into it and it into the one. Hence the exhortation ‘Enter into God in holiness,’ for here is the source of the soul’s whole life and being. This (light) is wholly in God and her other without him, so in this one the soul is ever in God, provided she smother it not and extinguish it in her. Philosophers say this (light) is present in God and never goes out in him and God is ever in it. I say, God has ever been in it and of it eternally. The union of man and God is not a matter of grace (for grace is creature and creature has nothing to do with it), except in the ground of divinity, where the three Persons are one in nature and it (grace) is that nature itself. Wherefore an thou wilt, God and the universe are thine. That is, thou wilt put off self and things: doff the habit of thy personality and take thyself in thy divinity. The philosophers say that human nature has nothing to do with time; that it is deeper-seated and more firmly rooted in a man than he is in himself. God took on human nature and united it with his own Person. Thus human nature was God who donned man’s nature only, not any individual man. Would’st thou be very Christ and God? Put off, then, whatever the eternal Word did not put on. The eternal Word never put on a person. So do thou strip thyself of everything personal and selfish and keep just thy bare humanity; thou shalt be to the eternal Word exactly what his human nature is to him. Thy human nature is no different from him: they are identical: what it is in him it is in thee. And hence I said at Paris that every prophecy of holy scripture is fulfilled in the just man; for being perfect, the whole promise of the old and new testaments is accomplished in thee. How to be perfect? There are two aspects of the question. The prophet says, ‘In the fullness of time the Son was sent.’ Now fullness of time is of two kinds. In the first place a thing is fulfilled when it is done, as day is done at eventide. So when time drops from thee thy time is fulfilled. Again, time is fulfilled when it is finished, that is, in eternity. Time ends when there is no before and after; when all that is is here and now and thou seest at a glance all that has ever happened and shall ever happen. Here there is no before nor after; everything is present, and in this immediate vision I possess all things. This is the perfection of time, and I am perfect and I am truly the only Son and Christ. May we attain to this fullness of time. So help us God. Amen.
THIS IS MEISTER ECKHART
FROM WHOM GOD HID NOTHING
Dum medium silentium tenerent omnia et nox in suo cursu medium iter haberet etc. (Sap. 1814). ‘For while all things were in quiet silence and the night was in the midst of her course, etc.’ Here in time we make holiday because the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity is now born in time, in human nature. St Augustine says this birth is always happening. But if it happens not in me what does it profit me? What matters is that it shall happen in me. We intend therefore to speak of this birth as taking place in us: as being consummated in the virtuous soul; for it is the perfect soul that God speaks his Word. What I shall say is true only of the perfect man, of him who has walked and is still walking the way of God; not of the natural undisciplined man who is entirely remote from and unconscious of this birth. There is a saying of the wise man: ‘When all things lay in the midst of silence then leapt there down into me from on high, from the royal throne, a secret word.’ This sermon is about this word. Concerning it three things are to be noted. The first is where-abouts in the soul God the Father speaks his Word, where she is receptive of this act, where this birth befalls. It is bound to be in the purest, loftiest, subtlest part of the soul. Verily, an God the Father in his omnipotence had endowed the soul with a still nobler nature, had she received from him anything yet more exalted, then must the Father have delayed this birth for the presence of this greater excellence. The soul in which this birth shall come to pass must be absolutely pure and must live in gentle fashion, quite peaceful and wholly introverted: not running out through the five senses and into the manifoldness of creatures, but altogether within and harmonised in her summit. That is its place. Anything inferior is disdained by it. The second part of this discourse has to do with man’s conduct in relation to this act, this interior speaking, this birth: whether it is more profitable to co-operate in it– perhaps by creating in the mind an imaginary image and disciplining oneself thereon by reflecting that God is wise, omnipotent, eternal, or whatever else one is able to excogitate about God — so that the birth may come to pass in us through our own exertion and merit; or whether it is more profitable and conducive to this birth from the Father to shun all thoughts, words and deeds as well as all mental images and empty oneself, maintaining a wholly God-receptive attitude, such that one’s own self is idle letting God work. Which conduct subserves this birth best? The third point is the profit and how great it is, which accrues from this birth. Note in the first place that in what I am about to say I intend to avail myself of natural proof that ye yourselves can grasp, for thought I put more fain in the scriptures than myself, nevertheless it is easier and better for you to learn by means of arguments that can be verified. First we will take the words : ‘In the midst of the silence there was spoken in me a secret word.’ — But, Sir, where is the silence and where the place in which the word is spoken? As I said just now, it is in the purest part of the soul, in the noblest, in her ground, aye in the very essence of the soul. That is mid-silence for thereinto no creature did ever get, nor any image, nor has the soul there either activity or understanding, therefore she is not aware of any image either of herself or any creature. What-ever the soul effects she effects with her powers. When she understands she understands with her intellect. When she remembers she does so with her memory. When she loves she does so with her will. She works then with her powers and not with her essence. Now every exterior act is lined with some means. The power of seeing is brought into play only through the eyes; elsewhere she can neither do nor bestow such a thing as seeing. And so with all the other senses: their operations are always effected through some means or others. But there is no activity in the essence of the soul; the faculties she works with emanate from the ground of the essence but in her actual ground there is mid-stillness; here alone is rest and a habitation for this birth, this act, wherein God the Father speaks his Word, for it is intrinsically receptive of naught save the divine essence, without means. Here God enters the soul with his all, not merely with a part. God enters the ground of the soul. None can touch the ground of the soul but God only. No creature is admitted into her ground, it must stop outside in her powers. There it sees the image whereby it has been drawn in and found shelter. For when the soul-powers contact a creature they set to make of the creature an image and likeness which they absorb. By it they know the creature. Creatures cannot go into the soul, nor can the soul know anything about a creature which she has not willingly taken the image of into herself. She approaches creatures through their present images; an image being a thing that the soul creates with her powers. Be it a stone, a rose, a man, or anything else that she wants to know about, she gets out the image of it which she has already taken in and is thus enabled to unite herself with it. But an image received in this way must of necessity enter from without through the senses. Consequently there is nothing so unknown to the soul as herself. The soul, says a philosopher, can neither create nor absorb an image of herself. So she has nothing to know herself by. Images all enter through the senses, hence she can have no image of herself. She knows other things but not herself. Of nothing does she know so little as of herself, owing to this arrangement. Now thou must know that inwardly the soul is free from means and images, that is why God can freely unite with her without form or similitude. Thou canst not but attribute to God without measure whatever power thou dost attribute to a master. The wiser and more powerful the master the more immediately is his work effected and the simpler it is. Man requires many instruments for his external works; much preparation is needed ere he can bring them forth as he has imagined them. The sun and moon whose work is to give light, in their mastership perform this very swiftly: the instant their radiance is poured forth, all the ends of the world are full of light. More exalted are the angels, who need less means for their works and have fewer images. The highest Seraph has but a single image. He seizes as a unity all that his inferiors regard as manifold. Now God needs no image and has no image: without image, likeness or means does God work in the soul, aye, in her ground whereinto no image did ever get but only himself with his own essence. This no creature can do. — How does God the Father give birth to his Son in the soul: like creatures, in image and likeness? No, by my faith! but just as he gives him birth in eternity and no otherwise. — Well, but how does he give him birth birth there? See. God the Father has perfect insight into himself, profound and thorough knowledge of himself by means of himself, not by means of any image. And thus God the Father gives birth to his Son, in the very oneness of the divine nature. Mark, thus it is and no other way that God the Father gives birth to his Son in the ground and essence of the soul and thus he unites himself with her. Were any image present there would not be real union and in real union lies thy whole beatitude. Now haply thou wilt say: ‘But there is nothing innate in the soul save images.’ No, not so! If that were true the soul would never be happy, for God cannot make any creature wherein thou canst enjoy perfect happiness, else were God not the highest happiness and final goal, whereas it is his will and nature to be the alpha and omega of all. No creature can be happiness. And here indeed can just as little be
perfection, for perfection (perfect virtue that is to say) results from perfection of life. Therefore verily thou must sojourn and dwell in thy essence, in thy ground, and there God shall mix thee with his simple essence without the medium of any image. No image represents and signifies itself; it stands for that of which it is the image. Now seeing that thou hast no image save of what is outside thee, therefore it is impossible for thee to be beatified by any image whatsoever. The second point is, what it does behove a man to do in order to deserve and procure this birth to come to pass and be consummated in him: is it better for him to do his part towards it, to imagine and think about God, or should he keep still in peace and quiet so that God can speak and act in him while he merely waits on God’s operation? At the same time I repeat that this speaking, this act, is only for the good and perfect, those who have so absorbed and assimilated the essence of virtue that it emanates from them naturally, without their seeking; and above all there must live in them the worthy life and lofty teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. Such are permitted to know that the very best and utmost of attainment in this life is to remain still and let God act and speak in thee. When the powers have all been withdrawn from their bodily form and functions, then this Word is spoken. Thus he says: ‘in the midst of the silence the secret word was spoken to me.’ The more completely thou art able to in-draw thy faculties and forget those things and their images which thou has taken in, the more, that is to say, thou forgettest the creature, the nearer thou art to his and more susceptible thou art to it. If only thou couldst suddenly be altogether unaware of things, aye, couldst thou but pass into oblivion of thine own existence as St Paul did when he said: ‘Whether in the body I know not, or out of the body I know not, God knoweth!’ Here the spirit had so entirely absorbed the faculties that it had forgotten the body: memory no longer functioned, nor understanding, nor the senses, nor even those powers whose duty it is to given and grace the body; those powers whose duty it is to given and grace the body; vital warmth and energy were arrested so that the body failed not throughout the three days during which he neither ate nor drank. Even so fared Moses when he fasted forty days on the mount and was none the worse for it: on the last day he was as strong as on the first. Thus a man must abscond from his senses, invert his faculties and lapse into oblivion of things and of himself. Anent which a philosopher apostrophised the soul: ‘Withdraw from the restlessness of external activities!’ And again: ‘Flee away and hide thee from the turmoil of outward occupations and inward thoughts for they create nothing but discord!’ If God is to speak his Word in the soul she must be at rest and at peace; then he speaks in the soul his Word and himself: not image but himself. Dionysius says: ‘God has no image nor likeness of himself seeing that he is intrinsically all good, truth and being.’ God performs all his works, in himself and outside of himself, simultaneously. Do not fondly imagine that God, when he created the heavens and the earth and all creatures, made one thing one day and another the next. Moses describes it thus it is true, nevertheless he knew better: he did so merely on account of those who are incapable of understanding or conceiving otherwise. All God did was: he willed and they were. God works without instrument and without image. And the freer thou art from images the more receptive thou art to his interior operation; and the more introverted and oblivious thou art the nigher thou art thereto. Dionsyius exhorted his disciple Timothy in this sense saying: ‘Dear son Timothy, do thou with untroubled mind swing thyself up above thyself and above thy powers, above all modes and all existences, into the secret, still, darkness, that thou mayest attain to the knowledge of the unknown super-divine God.’ All things must be forsaken. God scorns to work amongst images. Now haply thou wilt say: ‘What is it that God does without images in the ground and essence?’ That I am incapable of knowing, for my soul-powers can receive only images; they have to recognise and lay hold of each thing in its appropriate image: they cannot recognise a bird in the image of a man. Now since images all enter from without, this is concealed from my soul, which is most salutary for her. Not-knowing makes her wonder and leads her to eager pursuit, for she knows clearly that it is but knows not how nor what it is. No sooner does a man know the reason of a thing than immediately he tires of it and goes casting about for something new. Always clamouring to know, he is ever inconstant. The soul is constant only to this unknowing knowing which keeps her pursuing. The wise man said concerning this: ‘In the middle of the night when all things were in quiet silence there was spoken to me a hidden word.’ It came like a thief, by stealth. What doe he mean by a word that was hidden? The nature of a word is to reveal what is hidden. It appeared before me, shining out with intent to reveal and give me knowledge of God. Hence it is called a word. But what it was remained hidden from me. That was its stealthy coming ‘in a whispering stillness to reveal itself.’ It is just because it is hidden that one is and must be always after it. It appears and disappears: we are meant to yearn and sight for it. St Paul says we ought to pursue this until we espy it and not stop until we grasp it. When he returned after having been caught up into the third heaven where God made nothing known to him and where he beheld all things, he had forgotten nothing, but it was so deep down in his ground that his intellect could not reach it: it was veiled from him. He was therefore obliged to pursue it and search for it in himself, not outside himself. It is not outside, it is inside: wholly within. And being convinced of this he said, ‘I am sure that neither death nor any affliction can separate me from what I find within me.’ There is a fine saying of one heathen philosopher to another about this, he says: ‘I am aware of something in me which sparkles in my intelligence; I clearly perceive that it is something but what I cannot grasp. Yet methinks if I could only seize it I should know all truth.’ To which the other philosopher replied: ‘Follow it boldly! for if thou canst seize it thou wilt possess the sum-total of all good and have eternal life!’ St Augustine expresses himself in the same sense: ‘I am conscious of something within me that plays before my soul and is as a light dancing in front of it; were this brought to steadiness and perfection in me it would surely be eternal life!’ It hides yet it shows. It comes, but after the manner of a thief, with intent to take and to steal all things from the soul. By emerging and showing itself somewhat it purposes to decoy the soul and draw it towards itself to rob it and take it from itself. As said the prophet: ‘Lord take from them their spirit and give them instead thy spirit.’ This too the loving soul meant when she said: ‘My soul dissolved and melted away when Love spoke his word: when he entered I could not but fail.’ And Christ signified it by his words: ‘Whosoever shall leave aught for my sake shall be repaid an hundredfold, and whoever will possess me must deny himself and all things and whosoever will serve me must follow me nor go any more after his own.’ Now peradventure thou wilt say: ‘But, Sir, you are wanting to change the natural course of the soul! It is her nature to take in through the senses, in images. Would you upset this arrangement?’ No! But how knowest thou what nobility God has bestowed on human nature, what perfections yet uncatalogued, aye yet undiscovered? Those who have written of the soul’s nobility have gone no further than their natural intelligence could carry them: they never entered her ground, so that much remained obscure an
d unknown to them. ‘I will sit in silence and hearken to what God speaketh within me,’ said the prophet. Into this retirement steals the Word in the darkness of the night. St John says: ‘The light shines in the darkness: it came unto its own and as many as received it became in authority sons of God: to them was given power to become God’s sons.’ Mark now the fruit and use of this mysterious Word and of this darkness. In this gloom which is his own the heavenly Father’s Son is not born alone: thou too art born there a child of the same heavenly Father and no other, and to thee also he gives power. Observe how great the use. No truth learned by any master by his own intellect and understanding, or ever to be learned at this side the day of judgment, has ever been interpreted at all according to this knowledge, in this ground. Call it an thou wilt an ignorance, an unknowing, yet there is in it more than all knowing and understanding without it, for this outward ignorance lures and attracts thee from all understood things and from thyself. this is what Christ meant when he said: ‘Whosoever denieth not himself and leaveth not father and more and is not estranged from all these, he is not worthy of me.’ As though to say: he who abandons not creaturely externals can neither be conceived nor born in this divine birth. But divesting thyself of thyself of everything external thereto does indeed give it to thee. And in very truth I believe, nay I am sure, that the man who is established herein can in no wise be at any time separated from God. I hold he can in no wise lapse into mortal sin. He would rather suffer the most shameful death, as the saints have done before him, than commit the least of mortal sins. I hold that he cannot willingly commit, nor yet consent to, even a venial sin, whether in himself or in another. So strongly is he drawn and attracted to this way, so much is he habituated to it, that he could never turn to any other: to this way are directed all his senses, all his powers. May the God who has been born again as man assist us in this birth, continually helping us, weak man, to be born again in him as God. Amen.
*The works on this page are taken from the following book: Meister Eckhart by Franz Pfeiffer. Trans. C. De B. Evans. John M. Watkins, London, 1924. A note on this edition of Meister Eckhart’s works. It is a non-critical collection of works which Franz Pfeiffer put together as attributed to Meister Eckhart, and some of the works within are suspected as to not being authentic. Nonetheless, they are within the spectrum of “Eckhartian” thought, and can still be a source to give others an idea about the thought and work of Meister Eckhart, even those which are not own writings. Meister Eckhart’s Sermons, for example, tend to come to us from people who listened to them, and not from his own hand, and so it becomes even harder to distinguish between authentic and inauthentic sermons than from tractates and other works attributed to Meister Eckhart. Sometime, I will probably mark the works which are most likely to be authentic, when I have examined the most critical research on the topic.