The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Eckhart, Johannes

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ECKHART, ek'härt, Johannes (“Meister Eckhart”), the first of the German mystics in order of time and among the foremost in rank; the probable place of his birth is Cologne, and the year 1260 or a little earlier; d. 1329. He studied philosophy and theology in the University of Paris and joined the order of the Preaching Friars, or Dominicans, in which he was promoted to offices of high responsibility, for example, that of vicar-general of the Dominicans for Bohemia, provincial of the order in Saxony. In these places he effected many reforms in the houses of the order and was in high estimation as a preacher notwithstanding the abstruseness of his mystical speculations. Toward the end of his life this dissemination of his mystical views touching the nature of God and the relations between Deity and the human soul brought him under suspicion of being in sympathy with the Beghards, the Brethren of the Free Spirit, the Apostolic Brethren and other fanatics, and 1327 he was cited before the Court of Inquisition at Cologne to make answer to charges of heretical teaching based on passages in his sermons. There be defended the inculpated propositions as entirely orthodox, but expressed his readiness to repudiate them if in the judgment of the head of the Church they were in conflict with the Church's creeds. In 1329 the decision arrived from Rome: 28 propositions contained in his sermons were condemned as heretical and Eckhart was ordered to recant; but he was now dead.

Whether these 28 propositions were or were not formally heretical, contradictory of the express teachmgs of the Church, they certainly contain doctrines that never have been put forth in any of the Church's formularies. However extravagant, they might have been tolerated or ignored had they been entertained or discussed merely in the schools of theology and philosophy; but proclaimed from the pulpit and addressed to the common people, some of them ignorant, they were incitations to rebellion against all Church authority in teaching. His doctrine concerning the Godhead is plainly pantheistic. For him there is no real being but God. God is the unknown and the unknowable. We cannot validly affirm anything of the Godhead; to predicate anything of Deity is to limit infinity. Yet though God is unknown and unknowable, and though we cannot predicate anything of him, still we can know the true God, the personal God, the Father; in this personal God, the Godhead itself. The triune God, Father, Son and Spirit, is evolved from the Godhead. And the Father comes to know himself in the Son; the return of the Son into the Father is the Spirit. In begetting the Son — who is coeternal with the Father — the Father brings into existence the universal world of things. His death occurred a little while before the arrival of the Pope's condemnation of his doctrines.