Meister Eckhart, mysticism beyond the centuries

“What good are poets in times of distress?” “, wondered the poet and philosopher Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843). We could add: and what is the use of mystics in the hour of catastrophes, those incandescents whose words burn with their love for God? John of the Cross, Thérèse d’Avila, Bernard de Clairvaux… From these most famous names, the Church has made saints. But of another she made a heretic.

This Dominican who was the first to preach in a vernacular language is the father of a current known as “Rhenish mysticism”: Maître Eckhart, whose sermons challenge us for over seven centuries. “Meister Eckhart’s words do not represent any escape from the world, but the ‘shortest way’ to reach God, in a world that is sinking into confusion, dissension and chaos”, writes the Dominican Rémy Valléjo in Reduced to nothing, a literary account of the last days of a life that ended somewhere on the road between Cologne and Avignon, in 1328, where he was going to plead his case himself to Pope John XXII.

The century following the death of Johannes Eckhart, born around 1260 in Hochheim, Germany, was also a time of disaster. Plague and wars “Awaken in his contemporaries doubt, dread and even fear of divine punishment”, writes Rémy Valléjo, specialist in Rhine mystics and author in 2018 of Meister Eckhart. I do not know (ed. of Cerf).

Unity and Grace

Does the clarity of the Dominican’s addresses explain the interest that our time has in it? “Reading a German sermon by Eckhart is therefore always reading a theological text and a literary text ”, underlines Elisabeth Boncour, in a “Que sais-je? »On the author of Sermons appeared in the spring.

If Eckhart’s theology influences Nicolas de Cues (1401-1464), the father of Protestantism Martin Luther (1483-1546), then modern philosophers like Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) and Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), a renewed interest has been observed for several decades. In France, at least, where Eckhartian studies have «Proliféré» since the 1950s, notes Elisabeth Boncour, specialist in medieval philosophy and teacher at the Catholic Institute of Paris.

Eckhart, who was twice a “master” – of reading (Reading master) and life (Life master) -, therefore always speaks to us. Perhaps this is because, to an allegedly disenchanted modernity, his verb deals with the most universal part of the Christian message: the sense of unity and the quest for grace. “When everything around everything collapses and slips away, when no solid support is possible, man experiences his being ‘naked’ and destitute”, notes Rémy Valléjo, who precisely portrays, in his story, a man in complete destitution whose purity of the message is misunderstood by the clerics who instruct his trial in heresy – his conviction will be confirmed by a papal bull after his death.

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