Lest yestreday’s blog left you with the impression that the Church of England in its’ persecution of Roman Catholics in the 1500s is alone in its ability to miss thepoint, I bring you today’s tidbit of interesting history. Aparently, there are days in RC History which are sort of a sad statement as well.
On this day in 1329 Pope John XXII condemned some of Meister Eckhart’s writings as heretical.
In fact Eckhart was tried and reportedly died before his verdict was rendered. Today many progressive theologians look at Eckhart as a philosopher and theologian who was ahead of his day. While I understand his work is used in some circles and in some seminaries, the Vatican has still not restored this man to a ‘state of orthodoxy.’ His reputation has not been rehabilitated as it were. In the prologue of the ‘papal bull’ that condemned him are found these words;
“In the field of the Lord over which we, though unworthy, are guardians and labourers by heavenly dispensation, we ought to exercise spiritual care so watchfully and prudently that if an enemy should ever sow tares over the seeds of truth (Mt. 13:28), they may be choked at the start before they grow up as weeds of an evil growth. Thus, with the destruction of the evil seed and the uprooting of the thorns of error, the good crop of Catholic truth may take firm root. We are indeed sad to report that in these days someone by the name of Eckhart from Germany, a doctor of sacred theology (as is said) and a professor of the order of Preachers, wished to know more than he should, and not in accordance with sobriety and the measure of faith, because he turned his ear from the truth and followed fables.
The man was led astray by that Father of Lies who often turns himself into an angel of light in order to replace the light of truth with a dark and gloomy cloud of the senses, and he sowed thorns and obstacles contrary to the very clear truth of faith in the field of the Church and worked to produce harmful thistles and poisonous thornbushes. He presented many things as dogma that were designed to cloud the true faith in the hearts of many, things which he put forth especially before the uneducated crowd in his sermons and that he also admitted into his writings.”
You can read this ‘bull’ in its entirety by clicking here. It is an astonishing thought to me that Meister Eckhart, whose writings I so love, is considered to have taken to the ‘Father of Lies.’ The Pope, then writing from Avignon, seems to find most offensive the idea that his ‘heretical’ ideas were mostly offered to “the uneducated crowd” when he preached. The uneducated crowd that John XXII was referring to were the people of God. One of the scariest prospects for the Holy See at the time was the fact that Eckhart was preaching his theology of self emptying and looking to accept the divine in others to the people in the vernacular, which in his case was German. I imagine it was a dangerous proposition for the church to allow the people of God the power to embrace knowledge, thought, instruction, and dialogue. In knowledge there is power, and I am certain that was the greatest threat of all to the church.
One of his offences was his theology of God in humanity. His theology was very incarnational. The church never understood the encouragement he gave to the people that the Divine can be found within them and that they should nurture that sense of the Holy and allow it to grow. He wrote; “The seed of God is in us. Given an intelligent and hard-working farmer, it will thrive and grow up to God, whose seed it is; and accordingly its fruits will be God-nature. Pear seeds grow into pear trees, nut seeds into nut trees, and God-seed into God.” Again – I find myself on the outside of the church’s position and embracing the ‘heresy’ of Eckhart. The Dominicans to which he belongs lobbied at the end of the last century to have Eckhart fully embraced by Rome. While there were rumours that John Paul II was sympathetic to their cause, Rome has not issued any official response. It’s a pity really.
It is interesting that over the many years that have passed since Meister Eckhart was reeled in by the church; his writings and his teaching have become stronger than ever. It is worth noting that while Eckhart may have died with no record of where he is even buried, his words have not just survive but have instructed for centuries. It is the Easter story all over again. God arrives in places and persons that often make the institution uncomfortable. Again and again the institution responds poorly to the lights that arrive in its midst. Miraculously, those lights are not extinguished. The darkness does not prevail. Love lives -even after death.
Eckhart once said, “God is at home, it’s we who have gone out for a walk.” Indeed, I believe that the church has oft gone for a long stroll while God waited at home patiently. I just hope God’s patience does not run out.