Meister Eckhart on
“The Nobility Inside”

We have been speaking of the forgotten “nobility inside” of men in our time and of women as well, though the phrase comes from a Native American chaplain working in a men’s prison.  The great prophet and mystic of the middle ages, Meister Eckhart (1260-1329), devotes an entire treatise to the “Noble” or “Aristocrat” that resides in each of us.  Following are some observations he offers on the nobility we carry within us.

“Our Lord says in the Gospel: ‘A man of royal birth went to a distant country to be appointed king, and afterward he returned’ (Lk. 19:12).  Our Lord teaches us in these words how royal people have been created in their nature; how divine is the state to which they can rise through grace; and, in addition, how people are to reach that point.  In addition, a large part of the Holy Scripture touches upon these words.”

“Adam in the Mind of God,” Chartres Cathedral.

We all have within us an outer person or a false self as well as an inner person or true self. This “person, who is hidden within us, is the inner person.  Scripture calls this person a new person, a heavenly person, a young person, a friend, and a royal person.

Eckhart plays with the German words for eagle (Adler) and for “noble” (Edler) in the following observation: “What our Lord calls a royal person is named by the prophet (Ezk. 17:3-4) a large eagle.  Who then is more royal than one who was born, on the one hand, from the highest and best that a creature possesses and, on the other hand, from the most intimate depths of the divine nature and its wilderness?”   

The royal person is one who bears good fruit, indeed who bears Divinity itself for “The seed of God is in us….Now the seed of a pear tree grows into a pear tree, a hazel seed into a hazel tree, the seed of God into God” (cf. Jn. 3:9). 

Eckhart’s entire spirituality can be seen as a spirituality of the emergence of the royal person in us.  A noble person is responsible for preserving the gift of creation and such a person is committed to fighting for justice.  Justice the ultimate test of the goodness of the king or royal person and therefore of what it means to be in touch with the “nobility inside.”

Matthew Fox, Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, pp. 510-530.

Banner photo depicts noble women of our time: Harriet Tubman, Dorothy Day, Rosa Parks, Jane Goodall, Mary Oliver, Pema Chodron, Wangari Maathai, Winona LaDuke, Arundhati Roy, Malala Yosafzai

Queries for Contemplation

In prayerful meditation, sit with the following questions: what are the insights that they open within you?

  • Do you feel you are born “from the most intimate depths of the divine nature and its wilderness?”
  • How does that feel to you? 
  • What does it mean about relationships with others?
  • How do you wrestle with finding your true self as distinct from your false (or external) self?

Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.

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