30 Meister Eckhart: Semon One






Dum medium silentium tenerent omnia et nox in suo cursu

medium iter haberet etc.1

  • Wisdom of Solomon (18: 14)

[1] Here in time we make holiday because the eternal birth

which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity

is now born in time, in human nature. St Augustine says this

birth is always happening. But if it happens not in me what

does it profit me? What matters is that it shall happen in


[2] We intend therefore to speak of this birth as taking

place in us: as being consummated in the virtuous soul; for

it is the perfect soul that God speaks his Word. What I shall

say is true only of the perfect man, of him who has walked

and is still walking the way of God; not of the natural

undisciplined man who is entirely remote from and

unconscious of this birth.

[3] There is the saying of the wise man: ‘When all things

lay in the midst of silence then leapt there down into me

1 [Translation: ‘For while all things were in peaceful

silence and the night was in the midst of her course, etc.’]

from on high, from the royal throne, a secret word.’ This

sermon is about that word.

[4] Concerning it three things are to be noted. The first is:

Where in the soul does God the Father speaks his Word,

where is she receptive of this act, where does this birth take

place? It is bound to be in the purest, loftiest, subtlest part of

the soul. Verily, if God the Father in his omnipotence had

endowed the soul with a still nobler nature, had she received

from him anything yet more exalted, then must the Father

have delayed this birth for the presence of this greater

excellence. The soul in which this birth shall come to pass

must be absolutely pure and must live in gentle fashion,

quite peaceful and wholly introverted: not running out

through the five senses and into the multiplicity of created

things, but altogether within herself and harmonized in her

single purity. That is its place; it disdains anything less.

[5] The second part of this sermon has to do with man’s

conduct in relation to this act, this interior speaking, this

birth: Whether it is more profitable to co-operate in it —

perhaps by creating in the mind an imaginary image and

disciplining oneself thereon by reflecting that God is wise,

omnipotent, eternal, or whatever else one is able to

excogitate about God — so that the birth may come to pass

in us through our own exertion and merit; or whether it is

more profitable and conducive to this birth from the Father

to shun all thoughts, words, and deeds, as well as all mental

images, and empty oneself, maintaining a wholly Godreceptive

attitude, such that one’s own self is idle, letting

God work. How shall one best serve the eternal birth?

[6] The third point is the profit, and how great it is, that

accrues from this birth.

[7] Note in the first place that in what I am about to say I

intend to avail myself of natural proof that ye yourselves

can grasp, for though I put more faith in the scriptures than

in myself, nevertheless it is easier and better for you to learn

by means of arguments that can be verified.

Meister Eckhart, “Sermon #1” 2 of 4

[8] First we will take the words: ‘In the midst of the silence

there was spoken in me a secret word.’

[9] — But, Sir, where is the silence and where the place in

which the word is spoken?

[10] As I said just now, it is in the purest part of the soul, in

the noblest, in her ground, aye in the very essence of the

soul. There is the central silence, into which no creature

may enter, nor any image, nor has the soul there either

activity or understanding, therefore she is not aware of any

image either of herself or any creature. Whatever the soul

effects she effects with her powers.

[11] When she understands, she understands with her

intellect. When she remembers, she does so with her

memory. When she loves, she does so with her will. She

works then with her powers and not with her essence. Now

every exterior act is lined with some means. The power of

seeing is brought into play only through the eyes; elsewhere

she can neither do nor bestow such a thing as seeing. And so

with all the other senses: their operations are always

effected through some means or others.

[12] In Being, however, there is no action, and thus none in

the essence of the soul; the faculties she works with emanate

from the ground of the essence but in her actual ground

there is a central stillness; here alone is rest and a habitation

for this birth, this act, wherein God the Father speaks his

Word, for it is intrinsically receptive of naught save the

divine essence, without means. Here God enters the soul

with his all, not merely with a part. God enters the ground of

the soul. None can touch the ground of the soul but God

alone. No creature is admitted into her ground, it must stop

outside in her powers. There it sees the image whereby it

has been drawn in and found shelter. For when the soulpowers

contact a creature they set to make of the creature an

image and likeness which they absorb. By it they know the

creature. Creatures cannot go into the soul, nor can the soul

know anything about a creature which she has not willingly

taken the image of into herself. She approaches creatures

through their present images; an image being a thing that the

soul creates with her powers. Be it a stone, a rose, a man, or

anything else that she wants to know about, she gets out the

image of it which she has already taken in and is thus

enabled to unite herself with it.

[13] But an image received in this way must of necessity

enter from without through the senses. Consequently there

is nothing so unknown to the soul as herself. The soul, says

a philosopher, can neither create nor absorb an image of

herself. So she has nothing to know herself by. Images all

enter through the senses, hence she can have no image of

herself. She knows other things but not herself. Of nothing

does she know so little as of herself, owing to this


[14] Now thou must know that inwardly the soul is free from

means and images, that is why God can freely unite with her

without form or similitude. Thou canst not but attribute to

God without measure whatever power thou dost attribute to

a master. The wiser and more powerful the master the more

immediately is his work effected and the simpler it is. Man

requires many instruments for his external works; much

preparation is needed before he can bring them forth as he

has imagined them. The sun and moon, whose work is to

give light, in their mastership perform this very swiftly: the

instant their radiance is poured forth, all the ends of the

world are full of light. More exalted are the angels, who

need less means for their works and have fewer images. The

highest Seraph has but a single image. He seizes as a unity

all that his inferiors regard as a multitude. But God needs no

image and has no image: without image, likeness, or means

does God work in the soul, aye, in her ground into which no

image did ever get but only himself with his own essence.

This no creature can do.

[15] — How does God the Father give birth to his Son in the

soul? As a creature might, in image and likeness?

[16] No, by my faith! but just as he gives him birth in

eternity and not otherwise.

[17] — Well, but how does he give him birth there?

[18] Let us see. God the Father has perfect insight into

himself, profound and thorough knowledge of himself by

means of himself, not by means of any image. And thus

God the Father gives birth to his Son, in the very oneness of

the divine nature. See, thus it is and no other way that God

the Father gives birth to his Son in the ground and essence

of the soul and thus he unites himself with her. Were any

image present there would not be real union and in real

union lies your entire beatitude.

[19] Now you might say: ‘But there is nothing innate in the

soul save images.’ No, not so! If that were true the soul

would never be happy, for God cannot make any creature in

which you can enjoy perfect happiness, otherwise God

would not be the highest happiness and final goal, whereas

it is his will and nature to be the alpha and omega of all. No

creature can be happiness. And here indeed can just as little

be perfection, for perfection (perfect virtue that is to say)

Meister Eckhart, “Sermon #1” 3 of 4

results from perfection of life. Therefore you truly must

enter into and dwell in your essence, in your ground, and

there God will mix you with his simple essence, without the

medium of any image. No image represents and signifies

itself; it stands for that of which it is the image. Now seeing

that you have no image save of what is outside yourself, it is

impossible for you to be beatified by any image


[20] The second point is this: What should a man do in order

to deserve and procure this birth to come to pass and be

consummated in him? Is it better for him to do his part

towards it, to imagine and think about God, or should he

keep still in peace and quiet so that God can speak and act in

him while he merely waits on God’s operation? At the same

time I repeat that this speaking, this act, is only for the good

and perfect, those who have so absorbed and assimilated the

essence of virtue that it emanates from them naturally,

without their seeking; and above all there must live in them

the worthy life and lofty teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Such are permitted to know that the very best and utmost of

attainment in this life is to remain still and let God act and

speak in you.

[21] When the powers have all been withdrawn from their

bodily form and functions, then this Word is spoken. Thus

he said: ‘in the midst of the silence the secret word was

spoken to me.’ The more completely you can withdraw your

faculties and forget those things and their images which you

have taken in, the more, that is to say, you forget the

creature, the nearer you are to his, and the more sensitive

you will be to it. If only you could suddenly be altogether

unaware of things, then you would pass into the oblivion of

your own existence, as St Paul did when he said: ‘Whether

in the body I know not, or out of the body I know not, God

knows!’ Here the spirit had so entirely absorbed the

faculties that it had forgotten the body: memory no longer

functioned, nor understanding, nor the senses, nor even

those powers whose duty it is to give and grace the body.

Vital warmth and energy were stopped, so that the body did

not fail during the three days he neither ate nor drank. Even

so fared Moses when he fasted forty days on the mount and

was none the worse for it: on the last day he was as strong

as on the first. Thus a man must abscond from his senses,

invert his faculties and lapse into oblivion of things and of

himself. As one philosopher spoke to his soul: ‘Withdraw

from the restlessness of external activities!’ And again: ‘Fly

away and hide yourself from the turmoil of outward

occupations and inward thoughts for they create nothing but


[22] If God is to speak his Word in the soul she must be at

rest and at peace; then he speaks in the soul his Word and

himself — not image but himself. Dionysius says: ‘God has

no image nor likeness of himself seeing that he is

intrinsically all good, truth and being.’ God performs all his

works, in himself and outside of himself, simultaneously.

Do not fondly imagine that God, when he created the

heavens and the earth and all creatures, made one thing one

day and another the next. Moses describes it thus, but he

knew better. He did so merely on account of those who are

incapable of understanding or conceiving otherwise. All

God did was this: He willed and they were. God works

without instrument and without image. And the freer you

are from images, the more receptive you will be to his

interior operation; and the more introverted and oblivious

you are, the closer you will be to it.

[23] It was in this sense that Dionsyius exhorted his disciple

Timothy: ‘My dear son Timothy, you should soar above

yourself with untroubled mind, above all your powers,

characteristics, and states, up into the still, secret darkness,

so that you may come to know the unknown God above all

gods. Forsake everything. God despises ideas.’

[24] But perhaps you now say: ‘What is it that God does,

without images, in the ground and essence?’ That I am

incapable of knowing, for my soul-powers can receive only

images; they have to recognise and lay hold of each thing in

its appropriate image: they cannot recognise a bird in the

image of a man. Now since images all enter from without,

this is concealed from my soul, which is most salutary for

her. Not-knowing makes her wonder and leads her to eager

pursuit, for she knows clearly that it is but knows not how

nor what it is. No sooner does a man know the reason of a

thing than immediately he tires of it and goes casting about

for something new. Always clamoring to know, he is ever

inconstant. The soul is constant only to this unknowing

knowing which keeps her pursuing.

[25] The wise man said concerning this: ‘In the middle of

the night when all things were in quiet silence there was

spoken to me a hidden word.’ It came by stealth. like a thief.

What does he mean by a word that was hidden? The nature

of a word is to reveal what is hidden. It appeared before me,

shining out with intent to reveal and give me knowledge of

God. Hence it is called a word. But what it was remained

hidden from me. That was its stealthy coming ‘in a

whispering stillness to reveal itself.’ It is just because it is

hidden that one is and must be always after it. It appears and

disappears: we are meant to yearn and sigh for it.

Meister Eckhart, “Sermon #1” 4 of 4

[26] St Paul says we ought to pursue this until we espy it and

not stop until we grasp it. Once he was caught up into the

third heaven of the knowledge of God and saw everything.

When he came back he had forgotten nothing, but it was so

deep down in his ground that his intellect could not reach it:

it was veiled from him. He was therefore obliged to pursue

it and search for it in himself, not outside himself. It is not

outside, it is inside: wholly within. And being convinced of

this he said, ‘I am sure that neither death nor any affliction

can separate me from what I find within me.’

[27] There is a fine saying of one heathen philosopher to

another about this, he says: ‘I am aware of something in me

which sparkles in my intelligence; I clearly perceive that it

is something but what I cannot grasp. Yet I think if I could

only seize it I should know all truth.’ To which the other

philosopher replied: ‘Follow it boldly! for if you can seize it

you will possess the sum-total of all good and have eternal

life!’ St Augustine expresses himself in the same sense: ‘I

am conscious of something within me that plays before my

soul and is as a light dancing in front of it; were this brought

to steadiness and perfection in me it would surely be eternal

life!’ It hides yet it shows. It comes, but after the manner of

a thief, with intent to take and to steal all things from the

soul. By emerging and showing itself somewhat it purposes

to decoy the soul and draw it towards itself to rob it and take

it from itself. As said the prophet: ‘Lord take from them

their spirit and give them instead thy spirit.’ This too the

loving soul meant when she said: ‘My soul dissolved and

melted away when Love spoke his word: when he entered I

could not but fail.’ And Christ signified it by his words:

‘Whosoever shall forsake everything for my sake shall be

repaid an hundredfold, and whoever will possess me must

deny himself and all things and whosoever will serve me

must follow me nor go any more after his own.’

[28] Now perhaps you are saying: ‘But, Sir, you are wanting

to change the natural course of the soul! It is her nature to

take in through the senses, in images. Would you upset this


[29] No! But how do you know what nobility God has

bestowed on human nature, what perfections yet

uncataloged and undiscovered? Those who have written of

the soul’s nobility have gone no further than their natural

intelligence could carry them; they never entered her

ground, so that much remained obscure and unknown to

them. ‘I will sit in silence and hearken to what God speaks

within me,’ said the prophet. Into this retirement steals the

Word in the darkness of the night. St John says: ‘The light

shines in the darkness: it came unto its own and as many as

received it became in authority sons of God: to them was

given power to become God’s sons.’

[30] See now the fruit and use of this mysterious Word and

of this darkness. In this gloom which is his own the

heavenly Father’s Son is not born alone: you too are born

there, a child of the same heavenly Father and no other, and

to you also he gives power. Observe how great the use. No

truth learned by any master by his own intellect and

understanding, or ever to be learned at this side the day of

judgment, has ever been interpreted at all according to this

knowledge, in this ground. Call it ignorance, an unknowing,

yet there is in it more than all knowing and understanding

without it, for this outward ignorance lures and attracts you

from all understood things and from yourself. This is what

Christ meant when he said: ‘Whosoever does not deny

himself and leave father and more, and is not estranged from

all these, he is not worthy of me.’ As though to say: he who

abandons not creaturely externals can neither be conceived

nor born in this divine birth. But divesting yourself of

yourself of everything external thereto does indeed give you

it. And in very truth I believe, nay I am sure, that the man

who is established herein can in no wise be at any time

separated from God. I hold he can in no wise lapse into

mortal sin. He would rather suffer the most shameful death,

as the saints have done before him, than commit the least of

mortal sins. I hold that he cannot willingly commit, nor yet

consent to, even a venial sin, whether in himself or in

another. So strongly is he drawn and attracted to this way,

so much is he habituated to it, that he could never turn to

any other; to this way are directed all his senses, all his


[31] May the God who has been born again as man assist us

in this birth, continually helping us, weak man, to be born

again in him as God. Amen.


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