Research Proposal regarding the Meister Eckhart

Jinghan Zhang

Professor Michael

THRS104 01

November 10, 2014

Research Proposal regarding the Meister Eckhart


The aim of this research proposal is to examine the life of Meister Eckhart, a theologian, philosopher, and mystic leader who lived between thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In order to demonstrate a full analysis of his life, this research will attempt to explain when and where lived. The research proposal will also tackle any major precipitating life events that compelled him to mysticism. It will also be appropriate to examine any conflicts of his life with the religious community, as well as the legacy he left behind following his death. The second part of the proposal will discuss the overall mystical “philosophy” and spiritual practice and how to understand it.  Lastly, It will also consist of a discussion about how the philosophy features in poetry, music/art, or primarily prose, sermons, and other more “philosophical” and spiritual writings.

Part 1

Where and when did the mystic live

Meister Eckhart was born in Hochheim which is a village located in northern part of Gotha. It is approximated he was born in 1260. He joined Dominicans at Erfurt later. Eckhart did in primary studies in Cologne. In 1300, he received a notification for transfer to Paris in order to lecture and pursue academic degrees. Notably, he dwelt there until 1303 (“Meister Eckhart” 1). He later returned to Erfurt where he was appointed provincial for Saxony. It is notable that this was a province that had a geographical coverage between Netherlands and Livonia. During his tenure in the new post, he faced several complaints from the people who blamed him for irregularities. It was trivial since General Aymeric later appointed him as Vicar-General in-charge of Bohemia. At this point, he had full power to help in setting the demoralized monasteries in order at his new workplace. In 1311, he was appointed as a teacher in Paris by the general of Naples. It is believed that Eckhart spent the other parts of his life in Strasburg later after leaving Paris. His appointment as a teacher in that time came with much criticism from the people that doubted his integrity. Analytically, this happened since he was initially linked with heresy. However, it was not possible to appoint him as a teacher in such a famous school the allegations against him were strong and factual.  

Were there any major precipitating life-events which compelled them into their mysticism (in other words, is there something in their life that brought them into the position of mystic)?

Meister Eckhart was known as a brilliant Christian scholar during his time. It is believed that Eckhart’s mystical decision resulted from his curiosity most of the Christian teachings of his time. His brilliance in school enabled him to pursue his dreams throughout his career. In addition, it is notable that Eckhart demonstrated the urge to understand most of doctrines of the church at that time (“Meister Eckhart” 1). These concerns led him to research works that helped him to produce several literary works regarding the teachings of Christianity. Eckhart’s desire to understand the doctrines taught in church contributed to his accusation for teaching and preaching heresy. Arguably, this happened because of his diverse knowledge and understanding of Christian philosophy and theology. In effect, he wrote and taught about his findings regarding some of the Christian teachings of his time. He was later accused of heresy before Pope John XXII.

Did they conflict with, or live happily in accordance with, their religious community or the relevant religious community at large (i.e., the Catholic Church, etc.)?

Meister Eckhart faced several controversies and conflict with the religious community and relevant religious community of his time. He faced accusations from archbishop von Virneburg who accused him of preaching and teaching heresy. The accusation was made before the pope of that time. However, he was exonerated by Nicholas of Strasburg who was the temporary head of Dominican Monasteries. Later, the archbishop pressed charges against Nicholas and Eckhart in his court. Eckhart denied the competency of archiepiscopal inquisition at that time and demanded an appeal before the pope. In 1327, he protested in writing by indicating that he detested everything wrong and agreed to retract any such wrongs in his writings should they be found. Later, Pope John XXII decided to issue a bull in 1329 as several statements from Eckhart were characterized as heresy (“Meister Eckhart” 1). According to the historical records, it is noted that Eckhart recanted every false teaching through subjection of his writings and himself to the apostolic examination. However, it is believe that his death occurred before the pope declared a judgment concerning the case facing him. General Chapter at Toulouse proceeded against the preachers who preached subtle concepts to advance morals and mislead Christian followers. At this point, Eckhart’s followers were instructed to exercise caution in their teachings and beliefs despite cherishing their master’s memory.

 What sort of legacy did they leave behind following their death — were they immediately celebrated, forgotten (or never known whilst alive in the first place), or celebrated only much later (and so on)?

Meister Eckhart left an unforgettable legacy upon his death. Despite the controversies and charges he faced with the church during his lifetime, Eckhart commanded a great respect among Christians after his death. He is remembered a highly influential Christian leader of the thirteenth century church. His literary works remained widely exploited and read in later Middle Ages. It is notable that Friends of God, lay group and followers of Eckhart dwelt in communities around the region. They continued with Eckhart’s ideas and teachings through the leadership of priests such as Henry Suso and John Tauler. The legacy of Eckhart continued for many years in the church despite that early bull by the pope that banned his teachings in the church. In addition, there was a 1960 manuscript discovery that contained nearly 600 Eckhart’s excerpts. These excerpts were the original manuscripts that the pope banned at the bull’s promulgation. According to historical records, the manuscript belonged to Carthusians in Basel. In this regard, it is evident that both Carthusians and Dominicans continued to study the work of Eckhart. In addition, it was apparent that Archbishop of Cologne, Nicholas of Cusa studied Eckhart’s works between 1430 and 1440. It is recorded that he gathered a collection of various Latin works by Eckhart and studied them carefully.

Part 2

What were his overall mystical “philosophy” and/or spiritual practice and how should we understand it?

Eckhart’s mystical philosophy was based spiritual psychology and metaphysics. These teachings drew extensively on the use of mythic imagery. They were notable through the summons that communicated metaphorical contents of gospels to the clergy and laymen. It is also vital to note that most of his works were influenced by major German philosophers. Eckhart’s spiritual practices are evident through his trial defense. At this point, his sermons consisted of inspirational messages that would motivate listeners to pursue and act morally and ethically in the society. As a result, he was known for frequent use of unusual languages that strayed from orthodoxy path. These languages caused him to be suspect in the church at a time when there was tension of Avignon Papacy (Ancelet-Hustache 32).

Eckhart’s preaching guided the followers including the nuns and monks under his care to practical sermons regarding psychological and spiritual transformation. In addition, the teachings utilized metaphorical contents that helped in explaining his concepts accurately. Eckhart’s major themes in Eckhart’s German sermons were based on God’s presence in the soul of human being, as well as the soul’s dignity in a just man (Ancelet-Hustache 32). It is clear that despite his significant elaboration of this theme in most of his works, he did not depart from it.

Eckhart chose to focus on a subject that many in the church did not preach at the time. He was concerned with the awakened consciousness. People are able to realize their true identities when they detach themselves. Eckhart noted the importance of detachment from everything; a separation of the self, as a way of acquiring new knowledge and insight towards the things of God. He based his beliefs on the biblical teachings, especially the words of Jesus and the teachings of Paul. Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again so that he could receive the kingdom of God. Similarly, Paul urged the believers to strip themselves off the old ways and embrace the new life (Eckhart x). Following these commands requires detachment from what is known, as this will make room for new things.

A continuous process of detachment leads to releasement. Only people who have perfect releasement can receive and understanding teaching and instruction. During the detachment period, people get the chance to rearrange the things that are out of order, to fill in the places that are missing, to decode names, and to check directions independent of experience constantly (Eckhart xi). Just like detachment, releasement is a continuous process, which involves getting rid of the assumptions that a person has. Doing this will make room for another person, capable of believing God’s word and living according to His instruction. The word of God becomes incarnate within the person and the person becomes embodied in God’s word.

The Christian doctrine that Eckhart taught might have appeared different from what the church was used to because it taught in the possibility of human ability to reach a spiritual state. Jesus taught that people have to receive a second birth. Eckhart taught the people that they could undergo the birthing process through the process of detachment, releasement, and dehiscence. This birthing process is the movement from the outer life to the inner awakened consciousness.

Eckhart’s philosophy involved distinguishing between a God and a Godhead. He believed that the Godhead was the God beyond God and that he was not created. According to Eckhart, God cannot wander beyond the Godhead. He discussed the idea of nothingness and he noted its importance in human life, as it leads to the regaining of the freedom that people once had (Eckhart xii). The Godhead that Eckhart identifies is transformational. God flows out of the trinity and into creation and so there is a continuity between the creator and his creation. He recognizes that human beings cannot live apart from God. Thus the soul is present where God is and god is present where the soul is.

Eckhart preached and taught at a time when many people replied on the church as their sole source of biblical interpretations. The Catholic Church was the main church and it controlled people’s beliefs through its teachings and beliefs. Therefore, it is easy to see why the church would be concerned about the teachings of Eckhart. He dared to venture into an area that the church leaders were not familiar or comfortable with at the time. The church leadership understood that such teachings would cause a division within the church. Therefore, they wanted a way to control the messages that the people received. They wanted something that they were familiar with because then they would not have to deal with different doctrines.

The way that Eckhart taught made the people to believe that they could learn and understand God on their own. By following the process of detachment of any feelings or assumptions, the people would prepare their minds to understand the God that Eckhart tried to preach to them. They would learn more about their souls and the connection they had with their creator. He concentrated on breaking down the biblical message from its theological understanding, which many people could not relate to, to a language that they could understand easily. His use of vernacular languages as well as signs and metaphors are evidence of the commitment he had towards preaching the message to the people.

How is it conveyed: in poetry, music/art, or primarily prose, sermons, and other more “philosophical” and spiritual writings?

Eckhart uses metaphors to convey his philosophy in most of this sermons and spiritual writings. His choice of language consisted of various symbolic descriptions and discussion of the major topics that concerned him. As a result, he used several stylistic devices in his literary works in a bid to express his ideas to the church. Eckhart’s philosophy and spiritual practice is evident is his sermons that indicate that God is Sovereign. He adds that the fertile God bore a son out of overabundance in his love for the people he created. Notably, this philosophy finds its basis on the Neo-platonic notion that God cannot withhold his abundance of Being towards his creation. He never imagined his creation as ‘compulsory’ overflowing (Ancelet-Hustache 32). In the contrary, he imagined them as independent beings that have free wills to determine the course of their actions and choices on life. Eckhart’s philosophy is also visible through his sermons as he makes a bold assertion regarding the difference between the Godhead and God. Notably, these assumptions were initially present in the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius, as well as John the Scot. Later, he reshaped his philosophy through the characteristic audacity and vigor in the use of metaphors in profound images regarding the popularity between Manifest Absolute and Unmanifest.

Eckhart recognized the use of metaphors to communicate his message. Perhaps, taking from Jesus use of parables, he understood the importance of using examples that people could relate to in their daily lives as a way of understanding biblical concepts. When speaking of the birthing process, he used terms such as ‘firming the pod’, ‘ripening of the seed’, and ‘splitting forth of the fruit’. Eckhart was a poet and a punstar. He often engaged in wordplay, used bold paradoxes, and employed rhetorical effects in both the Latin and the vernacular texts. By doing this, he managed to engage the audience in different capacities. He enticed the intellectuals and the uneducated in the same breadth. He urged the hearers and readers of his message to reflect more on what he taught and he used the different literary devices to enhance their interest.

Does their mysticism relate to the classical philosophy we studied in the beginning of the class, if so how?

Meister Eckhart’s mysticism relates to the classical philosophy in the class study. Firstly, the study of his life and events present relevant information regarding the early religious leaders that influenced the church. The study of Eckhart is also relevant to the study in the class since his life and events occurred between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Consequently, the discussion of his life meets the threshold for the class work. In addition, Eckhart’s life presents distinct features necessary for the class discussion such as the presence of mystic lifestyle, conflict with the religious community, and communication of his ideas, concepts and philosophies through the use of literary works such as books and sermons (Ancelet-Hustache 34). Lastly, the mysticism of Eckhart relates to the class work in terms of its analysis of the literary works such as books by the mystic leader.

Works Cited

Ancelet-Hustache, Jeanne. Master Eckhart and the Rhineland Mystics. New York and London: Harper and Row/ Longmans, 1957. Print.

Eckhart, Meister. Wandering Joy: Meister Eckhart’s Mystical Philosophy. New York: Steinerbooks, 2001. Print

 “Meister Eckhart (1260—1328).” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2014. Web. 7 Nov. 2014. <>

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