To Professors Colledge's and McGinn's masterful presentation of Meister Eckhart in these pages I have been asked to add a few lines to point out why the book is important today. I shall speak first to the importance it shares with other volumes in this series and then proceed to its unique place within the series itself.
A half-century ago a master comparativist, A. K. Coomaraswamy, wrote that Eckhart resumed and concentrated "in one consistent demonstration the spiritual being of Europe at its highest tension." 1 This tension has since slacked. Alexander Solzhenitsyn may go too far in seeing the contemporary West as "spiritually exhausted," but few seem to doubt a certain anemia. The world we face seems in many ways to be decomposing before our eyes.
If civilizations are like organisms, decline is inevitable, but with the single important exception of Oswald Spengler the West has not thought so—not since its Hebraic infusion. So it is in character for us to ask if there is a cause for our current decline, one that might be corrected. The leading candidate, it seems clear to me, is, I shall not say science, but rather the position it has come to assume in our lives.
Science in the form we have come to know it entered the seventeenth-century West as a new way of knowing, one that promised to augment our power and proceeded to deliver on that promise dramatically. The power it delivered has proved to be over nature only; it has not increased our power over ourselves (to become better people), or over our superiors (angels or God, let us say). How could it have? Power in an inclusive sense can be wielded only over one's inferiors or at most one's equals.
At the time, though—I use this phrase to cover the last three centuries—we did not see this clearly. We did not see that the scientific method has limitations built into it: It is restricted in principle to telling