This M. Eckhart text is from a translation by Maurice O'C Walshe and compressed to optimize reading in the internet age.


Excerpts from SERMON EIGHTY SEVEN: "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matt. 5:3)

 

Beatitude itself opened its mouth of wisdom and said: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven'. This wisdom has declared that the poor are blessed.

Bishop Albert says a poor man is one who finds no satisfaction in all things God ever created, and this is very well said. But we shall speak better, taking poverty in a higher sense: a poor man is one who wants nothing, knows nothing and has nothing. We shall now speak of these three points, and I beg you for the love of God to understand this wisdom if you can; but if you can't understand it, don't worry, because I am going to speak of such truth that few good people can understand.

Firstly, we say that a poor man is one who wants nothing. There are some who do not properly understand the meaning of this: these are the people who cling with attachment to penances and outward practices, making much of these. These people are called holy from their outward appearances, but inwardly they are asses, for they are ignorant of the actual nature of divine truth. These people say that a poor man is one who wants nothing and they explain it this way: A man should so live that he never does his own will in anything, but should strive to do the dearest will of God. It is well with these people because their intention is right, and we commend them for it.

As long as a man is so disposed that it is his will with which he would do the most beloved will of God, that man has not the poverty we are speaking about: for that man has a will to serve God's will and that is not true poverty! For a man to possess true poverty he must be as free of his created will as he was when he was not. For I declare by the eternal truth, as long as you have the will to do the will of God, and longing for eternity and God, you are not poor: you want something for yourself; for a poor man is one who wills nothing and desires nothing.

While I yet stood in my first cause, I had no God and was my own cause: then I wanted nothing and desired nothing, for I was bare being and the knower of myself in the enjoyment of truth.

Then I wanted myself and wanted no other thing: what I wanted I was and what I was I wanted, and thus I was free of God and all things. But when I left my free will behind and received my created being, then I had a God. For before there were creatures, God was not 'God'. But when creatures came into existence and received their created being, then God was not 'God' in Himself - He was 'God' in creatures.

We conclude, then: if a man is to be poor of will, he must will and desire as little as he willed and desired when he was not. And this is the way for a man to be poor by not wanting.

Secondly, he is a poor man who knows nothing. We have sometimes said that a man should live as if he did not, whether for himself, or for truth, or for God. But now we will speak differently and go further, and say: For a man to possess this poverty he must live so that he is unaware that he does not live for himself, or for truth, or for God. He must be so lacking in all knowledge that he neither knows nor recognises nor feels that God lives in him: more still, he must be free of all the understanding that lives in him. For when that man stood in the eternal being of God nothing else lived in him: what lived there was himself. Therefore we declare that a man should be as free from his own knowledge as he was when he was not.

That man should let God work as He will, and himself stand idle. For all that ever came out of God, a pure activity is appointed. The proper work of man is to love and to know. Now the question is: Wherein does blessedness lie most of all? Some masters have said it lies in knowing, some say that it lies in loving: others say it lies in knowing and loving, and they say better. But we say it lies neither in knowing nor in loving: for there is something in the soul from which both knowledge and love flow: but it does not itself know or love in the way the powers of the soul do. Whoever knows this, knows the seat of blessedness.

This has neither before nor after, nor is it expecting any thing to come, for it can neither gain nor lose. And so it is deprived of the knowledge that God is at work in it: rather, it just is itself, enjoying itself God-fashion. It is in this manner, I declare, that a man should be so acquitted and free that he neither knows nor realises that God is at work in him: in that way can a man possess poverty.

The masters say God is a being, an intellectual being, that knows all things. But we say God is not a being and not intellectual and does not know this or that. Thus God is free of all things, and so He is all things. To be poor in spirit, a man must be poor of all his own knowledge: not knowing any thing, not God, nor creature nor himself. For this it is needful that a man should desire to know and understand nothing of the works of God. In this way a man can be poor of his own knowledge.

Thirdly, he is a poor man who has nothing. Many people have said that perfection is attained when one has none of the material things of the earth, and this is true in one sense - when it is voluntary. But this is not the sense in which I mean it. I have said before, the poor man is not he who wants to fulfil the will of God but he who lives in such a way as to be free of his own will and of God's will, as he was when he was not. Of this poverty we declare that it is the highest poverty. Secondly, we have said he is a poor man who does not know of the working of God within him.

He who stands as free of knowledge and understanding as God stands of all things, has the purest poverty. But the third is the straitest poverty, of which we shall now speak: that is when a man has nothing.

Now pay earnest attention to this! We say that a man should be so poor that he neither is nor has any place for God to work in. To preserve a place is to preserve distinction. Therefore I pray to God to make me free of God, - for my essential being is above God, taking God as the origin of creatures. That which I am by virtue of birth must die and perish, for it is mortal, and so must perish with time. In my birth all things were born and I was the cause of myself and all things: and if I had so willed it, I would not have been, and all things would not have been. If I were not, God would not be either. I am the cause of God's being God: if I were not, then God would not be God.

But you do not need to know this. A great master says that his breaking-through is nobler than his emanation, and this is true. When I flowed forth from God, all creatures declared: "There is a God"; but this cannot make me blessed, for with this I acknowledge myself as a creature. But in my breaking-through, where I stand free of my own will, of God's will, of all His works, and of God Himself, then I am above all creatures and am neither God nor creature, but I am that which I was and shall remain for evermore.

If anyone cannot understand this sermon, he need not worry. For so long as man is not equal to this truth, he cannot understand my words, for this is a naked truth which has come direct from the heart of God.

That we may live so as to experience it eternally, may God help us. Amen.

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Good old Meister Eckhart!

 

"Eckhart lived in an age in which gave great emphasis to explicit & visible piety...it is difficult not to read Eckhart's repeated & emphatic appeal to interiority & interior intention with respect to devotional works as being a subtle critique of the widespread spiritual mores of his contemporary world. He does not attack the principle of devotional practices within the religious life as such...but always seeks to relativize them within the context of a personal and interior relationship with God. As he wisely reminds us: 'they do him wrong who take God just in one particular way. They take the way rather than God.' (Sermon 19)."

Oliver Davies - Meister Eckhart: Selected Writings

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