Meister Eckhart

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Meister Eckhart with a disciple, sculpture in Bad Wörishofen, Bavaria, Germany

Eckhart von Hochheim (known as Meister Eckhart, also Eckehart; * c. 1260 in Hochheim or in Tambach[1]; † before 30 April 1328 probably in Avignon) was an influential late medieval German Catholic theologian, philosopher and mystic.

Life and work

Book of Meister Eckhart, sculpture in Bad Wörishofen, Kneippstraße
The Meister Eckhart portal

Already as a youth, Eckhart joined the Dominican Order, in which he later attained high offices. He had a particularly strong impact as a preacher; his power of formulation impressed contemporaries and posterity. He made an important contribution to the shaping of German philosophical terminology. His main concern was the dissemination of principles for a consistently spiritual life practice in everyday life. He caused a sensation with unconventional, sometimes provocatively formulated assertions and brusque contradictions to widespread convictions. Controversial, for example, was his assertion that the "ground of the soul" (GermanSeelengrund) was not created by God like all creatures, but was divine and uncreated. In the ground of the soul, the divinity was always directly present.

Eckhart is often characterised as a mystic. In recent research, however, the dominant view is that the variously defined term "mysticism" as a designation for elements of his teaching is misleading or at least in need of explanation.

The mystic, born around 1260, died around 1327 (according to Rudolf Steiner), presumably in Avignon or Cologne. Traditionally, 28 January 1328 is regarded as the date of his death.

Around 1329, Meister Eckhart was condemned in parts of his teachings as a false teacher by Pope John XXII's bull "In agro dominico".[2]

Rudolf Steiner on Meister Eckhart

„But the Meister Eckhart wants to impress Christ's words on man: "It is of use to you that I depart from you, for if I do not depart from you, the Holy Spirit cannot become you. And he expounds these words by saying, "Rightly, as if he said, Ye have put too much joy in my present image, therefore the perfect joy of the Holy Ghost cannot become you." Eckhart means to speak of no other God than he is of whom Augustin, and the Evangelist, and Thomas speak; and yet their testimony of God is not his testimony. "Some men will look upon God with their eyes as they would look upon a cow, and will love God as they would love a cow. So they love God for outward riches and inward comforts; but these people do not love God rightly.... Simple-minded people think they should look at God as if he were standing there and they were standing here. It is not so. God and I are one in recognition." Eckhart's confessions are based on nothing other than the experience of the inner sense. And this experience shows him things in a higher light. He therefore believes that he does not need external light in order to attain the highest insights: "A master says: God became man, and the whole human race is exalted and honoured by this. We may rejoice in this, that Christ is our brother, risen by his own power above all the choirs of angels, and seated at the right hand of the Father. This Master has spoken well, but truly I do not care much. What good would it do me if I had a brother who was a rich man and I was a poor man? What good would it do me if I had a brother who was a wise man, and I were a fool? ... The heavenly Father gives birth to His only begotten Son in Himself and in me. Why in himself and in me? I am one with him; and he is not able to exclude me. In the same work the Holy Spirit receives his being and becomes of me as of God. Why? I am in God, and if the Holy Spirit does not take His essence from me, He does not take it from God. I am in no way excluded."

When Eckhart recalls Paul's word: "Put on Jesus Christ," he wants to underlay this word with the meaning: immerse yourselves in yourselves, dive down into self-contemplation: and from the depths of your being the God will shine out to you; he outshines all things to you; you have found him in yourselves; you have become one with God's being. "God became man that I might become God."“ (Lit.:GA 7, p. 40f)

„Let us go into the chamber of Meister Eckhart. We then stand before the personality who has been declared a heretic by the outer church. One can read through the writings of Meister Eckhart in the most diverse ways and enjoy the intimacy of this Eckartian mysticism. But one is perhaps most deeply moved when one frequently returns to a basic mood of the soul with Meister Eckhart. I would like to characterise this basic mood: Meister Eckhart, earlier than Nicolaus Cusanus, is also permeated by that which Christian theology of the Middle Ages seeks as an ascent to the divinity, to the spiritual world. When we study the writings of Meister Eckhart, we can recognise Thomistic turns of phrase in many of them. But always, when the soul of this master surrenders itself out of theological thinking to such an upsurge towards the actual spiritual world, with which however this soul feels connected, this soul always falls into saying to itself: I cannot reach that which is my innermost, the divine spark in my innermost, with all this thinking, with all this theology. This thinking, this theology, these ideas, they give me something here and something there and something there; everywhere this or that something. But nothing of all these somethings is something that is similar to what is in my own inner being as the spirit-divine spark. And so I am thrown out of everything that fills my soul with thoughts, that fills my soul at first also with feelings and memories, out of all world knowledge that I can absorb up to the highest levels. Thus I am thrown out of all that if I want to seek the deepest essence of my own nature. I am in nothing if I want to seek this deepest essence of my ownness. I have searched and searched. I have gone through them, these paths that lead me to ideas, that lead me to sensations taken out of the world, and I searched for my I on these paths, on which I found many things. And in this search for the I, before I found this I, which everything in the realms of nature guided me to seek, I fell into "nothingness".

And so Meister Eckhart, in his search for the I, felt himself falling into nothingness. And out of this feeling sounds a word of this medieval mystic that touches the heart, that touches the soul deeply, deeply. It is this: And I sink myself into the nothingness of the Godhead and am eternally through this nothingness, through this not an I. I sink myself into the nothingness of the Godhead and become an I, a me, in the not. I must eternally fetch the I from the "nothing" of the Godhead. In all silence, this mystic confronts us with a powerful word. And why then, in the innermost chamber of the heart of this mystic, when he wanted to come out of the world-searching into the I-searching, did this urge for the not, to find the I in the not, sound out, why? Yes, if we go back to earlier times, we find that in all the knowledge of earlier times, when looking into the soul, there lived the possibility that this introspection was counter-lit by the spirit from within. This was still the inheritance from ancient pneumatology, which will be spoken of here. When, for example, let us say Thomas Aquinas looked into the soul, he found spiritual things weaving and living within it. It was not in the soul itself, but in that which weaves and lives as spiritual in the soul, that Thomas Aquinas and his predecessors sought the actual I. They looked through the soul to the soul. They looked through the soul to the spirit, and in the spirit they found the I as the I given to them by God. And they said, at least they could always have said it, even if they didn't always say it, they said: I penetrate the interior of my soul, look into the spirit and find the I in the spirit. - But this had happened in the development of humanity, that in its progress towards the realm of freedom it had lost the ability to find the spirit in looking within.

John Scotus Eriugena, for example, could not have spoken in the same way as Meister Eckhart. Johannes Scotus Erigena would have said: I look into my inner self. When I have traversed the paths that have led me through the realms of the outer world, I discover the spirit in my inner being, in my soul, and thereby find the I that weaves through and lives through the soul. I immerse myself in the divinity as spirit and find I. - It was simply human fate that the same path that was still practicable for humanity in earlier centuries was no longer practicable at the time of Meister Eckhart. By following the same paths as Johannes Scotus Erigena or even the same paths as Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart did not immerse himself in God the Spirit, he immersed himself in the Not of the Godhead and had to extract the I from the Not. But this means nothing less than: Mankind has lost the view of the spirit in its introspection. And Meister Eckhart, out of the deep intimacy of his heart, fetches the I out of the Not.“ (Lit.:GA 326, p. 17ff)

Works - Editions and Translations

Critical complete edition

  • Meister Eckhart: Die deutschen und lateinischen Werke. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart (The Middle High German works comprise five volumes and were completed in 2016. The Latin works comprise six volumes and were completed in 2022)
    • Die deutschen Werke (Middle High German text with translation into modern German)
      • Band 1: Predigten. Ed. by Josef Quint, 1958 (reprint 1986), ISBN 3-17-061210-7 (Predigten 1–24)
      • Band 2: Predigten. Ed. by Josef Quint, 1971 (reprint 1988), ISBN 3-17-071183-0 (Predigten 25–59)
      • Band 3: Predigten. Ed. by Josef Quint, 1976 (reprint 1999), ISBN 3-17-002740-9 (Predigten 60–86)
      • Band 4/1: Predigten. Ed. by Georg Steer, 2003, ISBN 3-17-007593-4 (Predigten 87–105)
      • Band 4/2: Predigten. Ed. by Georg Steer, 2003 ff. (published so far: 1.–2. Lieferung, 2003: Predigten 106–110)
      • Band 5: Meister Eckharts Traktate. Ed. by Josef Quint, 1963 (reprint 1987), ISBN 3-17-071075-3 (Traktate: 1. Liber „Benedictus“ [I. Daz buoch der gœtlîchen trœstunge, II. Von dem edeln menschen]; 2. Die rede der underscheidunge; 3. Von abegescheidenheit)
    • Die lateinischen Werke (Latin text with German translation)
      • Band 1, Hauptteil 1: Magistri Echardi prologi, expositio libri Genesis, liber parabolarum Genesis. Ed. by Konrad Weiß, 1964 (reprint 1988), ISBN 3-17-071082-6.
      • Band 1, Hauptteil 2: Magistri Echardi prologi in opus tripartitum et expositio libri Genesis secundum recensionem Cod. Oxoniensis Bodleiani Laud misc. 222 (L). Liber parabolarum Genesis, editio altera. Ed. by Loris Sturlese, 1987 ff. (published so far: Lieferungen 1–9)
      • Band 2: Magistri Echardi expositio libri Exodi, sermones et lectiones super Ecclesiastici cap. 24, expositio libri Sapientiae, expositio Cantici Canticorum cap. 1,6. Ed. by Heribert Fischer, Josef Koch, Konrad Weiß, 1992, ISBN 3-17-001084-0.
      • Band 3: Magistri Echardi expositio sancti evangelii secundum Iohannem. Ed. by Karl Christ u. a., 1994, ISBN 3-17-001085-9.
      • Band 4: Magistri Echardi sermones. Ed. by Ernst Benz u. a., 1956 (reprint 1987), ISBN 3-17-061207-7.
      • Band 5: Magistri Echardi opera Parisiensia. Tractatus super oratione dominica. Responsio ad articulos sibi impositos de scriptis et dictis suis. Acta Echardiana. Ed. by Bernhard Geyer, Loris Sturlese u. a., 2006, ISBN 3-17-001086-7.
      • Band 6: Indices, Ed. by Loris Sturlese/Markus Vinzent, 2022, ISBN 978-3-17-028588-0.

Modern editions and translations

  • Meister Eckhart: Die deutschen und lateinischen Werke. Herausgegeben im Auftrage der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft. Stuttgart and Berlin: Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 11 Vols., 1936–2022. (This is the critical edition of Meister Eckhart's works. The Latin works comprise six volumes and were completed in 2022. The Middle High German works comprise five volumes and were completed in 2016).
  • Meister Eckhart, the German Works: 64 Homilies for the Liturgical Year. I. De Tempore: Introduction, Translation and Notes,
  • Meister Eckhart, The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises and Defense, trans. and ed. by Bernard McGinn and Edmund Colledge, New York: Paulist Press and London: SPCK, 1981. Re-published in paperback without notes and a foreword by John O’Donohue as Meister Eckhart, Selections from His Essential Writings, (New York, 2005).
  • Meister Eckhart: Teacher and Preacher, trans. and ed. by Bernard McGinn and Frank Tobin, New York and London: Paulist Press/SPCK, 1987.
  • C. de B. Evans, Meister Eckhart by Franz Pfeiffer, 2 vols., London: Watkins, 1924 and 1931.
  • Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation, trans. Raymond B. Blakney, New York: Harper and Row, 1941, Template:ISBN (a translation of many of the works, including treatises, 28 sermons, and Defense).
  • Otto Karrer Meister Eckhart Speaks The Philosophical Library, Inc. New York, 1957.
  • James M. Clark and John V. Skinner, eds. and trans., Treatises and Sermons of Meister Eckhart, New York: Octagon Books, 1983. (Reprint of Harper and Row ed., 1958/London: Faber & Faber, 1958.)
  • Armand Maurer, ed., Master Eckhart: Parisian Questions and Prologues, Toronto, Canada: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1974.
  • Meister Eckhart, Sermons and Treatises, trans. by M. O'C. Walshe, 3 vols., (London: Watkins, 1979–1981; later printed at Longmead, Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element Books, 1979–1990). Now published as The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, trans. and ed. by Maurice O'C Walshe, rev. by Bernard McGinn (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2009).
  • Matthew Fox, Breakthrough: Meister Eckhart's Creation Spirituality in New Translation (Garden City, New York, 1980).
  • Meister Eckhart: Selected Writings, ed. and trans. by Oliver Davies, London: Penguin, 1994.
  • Meister Eckhart's Book of the Heart: Meditations for the Restless Soul, by Jon M. Sweeney and Mark S. Burrows, Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads, 2017.

See also



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References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. On the question of the place of birth, see Winfried Trusen: Der Prozeß gegen Meister Eckhart. Paderborn 1988, pp. 11-15; Burkhard Mojsisch: Notiz 'Eckhart von Hochheim'. In: Bochumer Philosophisches Jahrbuch für Antike und Mittelalter 6, 2001, p. 239.
  2. Cf. Winfried Trusen: Der Prozeß gegen Meister Eckhart. Paderborn 1988