Meister Eckhart: Mystic Critiquing Unjust Economic Consciousness

We are meditating on what lessons we need to take from the coronavirus and climate emergencies and how they might awaken some moral imagination to excite us to create an economic system anew—one that “works for everyone.”  In my lifetime many people have dedicated themselves to imagining an economics “that works for everyone”—not just the 1% and those who hover around them; and not just the humans; but all the creatures who people the earth. 

Senator Ed Markey speaks at a rally for the Green New Deal, 3/26/19, shortly before the Senate vote. Photo by Victoria Pickering on Flickr.

If we fail to create an economics that serves the whole, the Earth as we know it will not endure.  In some subsequent Daily Meditations I want to share what some of these forwarding-thinking scholars and activists propose for an alternative economics.

But I want to begin with one of the greatest mystics of the West, Meister Eckhart.  It is no coincidence that I gathered these economic prophets in a final chapter of my book on Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times. A true mystic and warrior (or prophet) enters the battle of the Via Transformativa, the world of politics and economics, to awaken justice there.  And Eckhart (1260-1327) is a true mystic and warrior/prophet. 

“Beguines from the city of Goes [Holland] at the church.” Painting by Cecil Jay. Wikimedia Commons

He paid a steep price for taking the stands he did on behalf of the peasants of Germany and also on behalf of the women’s movement of the Middle Ages, the Beguines.  The Beguines also stood with the poor, the young, the sick and the disenfranchised.

In his day, Eckhart spoke to peasants in their own language about the dangers of following the ideologies of those at the top of the political and economic hierarchy and about the importance to recognize their own “nobility.”  Preaching to peasants about their own “nobility” did not sit too well with the aristocratic class of Germany at the time.  This had everything to do with the enemies he made that ultimately resulted in his trial and condemnation one week after he died. 

Illuminated initial ‘C'(lergie) depicting a cleric, a knight and a peasant, c. 1285 CE. From the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, on Wikimedia Commons.

Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch said Eckhart was an important influence on Karl Marx.  Though Eckhart lived 500 years before Marx, like Marx he had read the prophets of Israel and learned the hard teaching that “compassion means justice” and therefore one fights injustice to make room for love and compassion to happen.

Bloch says that “in Eckhart the heretical, anti-ecclesiastical lay movement of the late Middle Ages became articulate in German, which is a decisive factor in any socialist evaluation” and that Eckhart fought for “the common people” whom he inspired.  He denied the “ruling class of the mystic fog” because he taught that all people are mystics and lovers of the Divine. 

Eckhart teaches that we should create a heaven on earth and not project heaven onto another time or place.  For him the “kingdom of God” is already here but we need to open up to perceive this.  (Jesus obviously said the same thing.)  And Eckhart teaches that “bread is given to us not that we eat it alone but that others who are indigent might be participants.”   To be continued

See Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior, for Our Times, pp. 221-250.

Also: Matthew Fox, “Meister Eckhart and Karl Marx: The Mystic as Political Theologian,” in Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life, pp. 165-198.

Banner Image: detail from “Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry Octobre.” Between 1412-1416. Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Does it surprise you that one of the greatest mystics of the West critiqued both religion and economics and influenced Karl Marx?  What does that tell us about true religion and authentic mysticism?

Recommended Reading

Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time

While Matthew Fox recognizes that Meister Eckhart has influenced thinkers throughout history, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.
“Matthew Fox is perhaps the greatest writer on Meister Eckhart that has ever existed. (He) has successfully bridged a gap between Eckhart as a shamanistic personality and Eckhart as a post-modern mentor to the Inter-faith movement, to reveal just how cosmic Eckhart really is, and how remarkably relevant to today’s religious crisis! ” — Steven Herrmann, Author of Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward

Wrestling with the Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life

In one of his foundational works, Fox engages with some of history’s greatest mystics, philosophers, and prophets in profound and hard-hitting essays on such varied topics as Eco-Spirituality, AIDS, homosexuality, spiritual feminism, environmental revolution, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, Art and Spirituality, Art as Meditation, Interfaith or Deep Ecumenism and more.

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