“The Christian faith reveals that the One known to every religion possesses an interior life as Trinity. If we are to transcend the creation when we return to the One, the Christian knows that all we are and do does not perish but is resurrected in the life to come.”
The appeal of the medieval Dominican preacher Meister Eckhart (1260–1327) does not decline, but rather grows with the passage of time. His vernacular sermons radiate a strong and vibrant personality of deep faith, striving to express things that often might have been easier and safer to leave unspoken. Quite apart from the impetus this may have given to the Reformation and the development of German Idealism, it provided, without his realizing or intending it himself, a possible basis for the interreligious dialogue that became unavoidable in the twentieth century, and is increasingly urgent in the twenty-first. This dialogue, I believe, can be advanced by continuing critical yet sympathetic study of Eckhart, forcing us to consider the deepest meaning of what we believe. Only at this level do the true similarities and differences between the religions reveal themselves.
Catholics need to recover a certain facility with metaphysics if they are to make an effective contribution to interreligious dialogue. At the same time they need courage, imagination, and empathy, both to appreciate the views of others and to defend their own. The reading of Eckhart can be a stimulus to metaphysical thought, to courage, imagination, and empathy. Eckhart, however, was not a careful, systematic thinker like his great predecessor Aquinas, but a highly complex and even inconsistent stylist who takes a great deal for granted and often expresses himself in wild flights of rhetoric. What follows is not a systematic and scholarly study of Eckhart’s thought, but an attempt at creative retrieval, motivated by an affection for the personality that reveals itself through his vernacular writings. Eckhart’s fundamental insights, I believe, were both Christian and orthodox. Nevertheless, this exercise in retrieval will include an attempt to fill out somewhat the trinitarian dimension of his thought.1
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1. I am particularly grateful to Adrian Walker for his extensive and insightful editorial help in the development of this article, to Reza Shah-Kazemi for his original inspiration, and to Philip Lyndon Reynolds and Derek Cross for their comments in draft.