Eckhart, Meister

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Eckhart, Meister

Meister Eckhart (mīs´tər ĕk´härt) (Johannes Eckhardt), c.1260–c.1328, German mystical theologian, b. Hochheim, near Gotha. He studied and taught in the chief Dominican schools, notably at Paris, Strasbourg, and Cologne, and held a series of offices in his order. Eckhart communicated in various ways his burning sense of God's nearness to humanity. Exhorting the Dominicans, he wrote scholarly tracts, addressed the Book of Divine Comfort to the queen of Hungary, and preached everywhere to the humble and ignorant, urging them all to seek the divine spark. His evangelical activities among the undisciplined were deemed suspect, and his election (1309) to be provincial of the German province was not confirmed. Toward the end of his life he was wrongly accused of connection with the Beghards and charged with heresy. He was upheld by his order, but the charge was pressed. Eckhart appealed to Rome. He died between 1327, when his appeal was denied, and 1329, when John XXII issued a bull condemning 17 of Eckhart's propositions as heretical. His disciples tried vainly to have this decree set aside. From Eckhart's influence there sprang up a popular mystical movement in 14th-century Germany, which included among its leaders Tauler, Suso, and various Dominicans. These were all intellectual as well as practical preachers and did not show the tendency to separate holiness and learning that characterized the mystics of the popular school of Gerard Groote. Eckhart was perhaps the first writer of speculative prose in German, and from that time German, not Latin, was the language of popular tracts.

See R. B. Blakney, Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation (1941); J. M. Clark and J. V. Skinner, ed., Meister Eckhart: Selected Treatises and Sermons (1958); studies by J. Ancelet-Hustache (tr. 1957) and J. M. Clark (1957).

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