MEISTERECKHART (c.1260–c.1328), German theologian and preacher. Born at Hochheim in Thuringia, he entered the Dominican convent of Erfurt as a youth and was sent to study in Paris. He prob. also studied under St Albertus Magnus at Cologne. He returned to Paris as a lecturer (1293–4) and as a Master in Theology (1302–3 and 1311–13). In between he was prior of Erfurt and vicar of Thuringia (1294–c.1300) and provincial of the new Dominican province of Saxony (1303–11). After his last period in Paris he lived in Strasbourg until 1323, and then in Cologne.
As a scholastic theologian, Eckhart conceived an ambitious and original speculative and exegetical project, the Opus Tripartitum, only parts of which survive. He became famous as a vernacular preacher, esp. to nuns, and prob. also to beguines. His brilliant, creative use of German makes him an author at once attractive and difficult. His readiness to exploit verbal ambiguities and dramatic paradoxes left him open to widely differing interpretations. When he was accused of heretical teaching in 1326 and tried before the court of the Abp. of Cologne, he appealed to the Pope but died during the proceedings. In 1329 John XXII condemned 28 propositions as heretical or misleading, but declared that Eckhart had recanted before his death, in terms which prob. reflect Eckhart’s insistence that he never had any heretical intentions. Up to modern times he has been claimed by numerous ideologies (incl. the Nazis in the 20th century), but recent scholarship, building on the work of H. S. Denifle, has attempted a more scientific interpretation, based equally on his Latin and German writings.
Eckhart teaches that we should ‘break through’ the complexity of all the particulars which confront us, to reach the simple ‘ground’ of all reality, where God and the soul are inseparably one, by abstracting from all that is ‘this’ or ‘that’, both metaphysically and ascetically. ‘Abstractedness’ (Abgescheidenheit) is, for Eckhart, the highest virtue, subsuming both humility and charity, because it produces the most intimate union with God, from which the Christian life flows as spontaneously as God’s own life. The Word is thus born in the soul; indeed, the soul gives birth to the Word. This doctrine skirts round the conventional dichotomy between the active and contemplative lives. In spite of the condemnation, Eckhart’s writings continued to be copied and studied in and beyond the Dominican Order. Among those influenced by him were Henry Suso, J. Tauter, and Nicholas of Cusa.
Crit. edn. for the ‘Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft’ of his Ger. works by J. Quint and others and of his Lat. works, with Ger. tr., by K. Weiss, J. Koch, E. Benz, and others (Stuttgart, 1936 ff., nearing completion). Lat. works also ed., with Fr. tr., by F. Brunner, A. de Libera, and others (Paris, 1984 ff.). The edn. of his Ger. works by F. Pfeiffer (Leipzig, 1857, repr. 1924 and 1962) contains much spurious and doubtful material. Eng. trs. of his Ger. works by M. O’C. Walshe (vols. 1–2, London, 1979–81; vol. 3, Shaftesbury, 1987); of a selection of his Lat. and Ger. works by E. Colledge, OSA, and B. McGinn (Classics of Western Spirituality, 1981); and of Parisian Questions and Prologues by A. A. Maurer, CSB (Toronto, 1974).
H. Denifle, OP, ‘Meister Eckeharts lateinische Schriften, and die Grundanschauung seiner Lehre’, Archiv für Litteratur- und Kirchengeschichte des Mittelalters, 2 (1886), pp. 417–652. G. Théry, OP, ‘Édition critique des pièces relatives an procès d’Eckhart contenues clans le manuscrit 33b de la Bibliothèque de Soest’, AHDLMA 1 (1926), pp. 129–268. J. Quint, Die Überlieferung der Deutschen Predigten Meister Eckeharts (Bonn, 1932). J. Ancelet-Hustache, Maître Eckhart et la Mystique Rhénane (1956; Eng. tr., 1957). J. Koch, ‘Kritische Studien zum Leben Meister Eckharts’, Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, 29 (1959), pp. 5–51; 30 (1960), pp. 5–52; repr. in his Kleine Schriften, 1 (Rome, 1973), pp. 247–347; also other arts. in this vol. U. M. Nix, OP, and R. Öchslin, OP (eds.), Meister Eckhart der Prediger: Festschrift zum Eckhart-Gedenkjahr (Freiburg, etc., 1960). V. Lossky, Théologie négative et connaissance de Dieu chez Maître Eckhart (Études de philosophie médiévale, 48; 1960). I. Degenhardt, Studien zum Wandel des Eckhartbildes (Studien zur Problemgeschichte der antiken und mittelalterlichen Philosophic, 3; Leiden, 1967). R. Schüirmann, Maître Eckhart ou la joie errante: Sermons allemands traduits et commentés, (; expanded Eng. version, Bloomington, Ind., and London, 1978). C. F. Kelly, Meister Eckhart on Divine Knowledge (New Haven, Conn., and London, 1977). A. M. Haas, Meister Eckhart als normative Gestalt geistlichen Lebens (Einsiedeln, 1979); id., Sermo Mystic: Studien zur Theologie und Sprache der deutschen Mystik (Dokimion, 4; 1979), esp. pp. 186–254. É. Zum Brunn and A. de Libera, Maître Eckhart: Métaphysique du Verbe et Théologie Négative (Bibliothèque des Archives de Philosophie, NS 42; 1984). É. Zum Brunn and others, Maître Eckhart à Paris: Une critique médièvale de l’ontothèologie. Les Questions parisiennes no 1 et no 2 d’Eckhart (Bibliothèque de l’École des Hautes Études, section des sciences religieuses, 86; 1984), incl. text and Fr. tr. K. Ruh, Meister Eckhart, Theologe, Prediger, Mystiker (Munich, 1985). W. Trusen, Der Prozess gegen Meister Eckhart (Rechts- und Staatswissenschaftliche Veröffentlichungen der Görres-Gesellschaft, NF 54; 1988). O. Davies, Meister Eckhart: Mystical Theologian (1991). H. Stirnimann and R. Imbach (eds.), Eckardus Theutonicus, homo doctus et sanctus: Nachweise und Berichte zum Prozess gegen Meister Eckhart (Freiburg, 1992). K. Jacobi (ed.), Meister Eckhart: Lebens-Stationen-Rede-Situationen (Quellen und Forschungen zur Geschichte des Dominikanerordens, NF 7 ). M. Wilde, Das neue Bild vom Gottesbild: Bild und Theologie bei Meister Eckhart (Dokimion, 24; Freiburg/Schweiz, 2000). B. McGinn, The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart (New York ). N. Largier, Bibliographic zu Meister Eckhart (Neue Schriftenreihe zur Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophic und Theologie, 9; 1989). Kaeppeli, 1 (1970), pp. 354–8, and 4 (1993), pp. 74–6 R.-L. Oechslin, OP, in Dict. Sp. 4 (pt. 1; 1960), cols. 93–116, s.v.; F. Vandenbroucke, OSB, in NCE 5 (1967), pp. 38–40, s.v.
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