In yesterday’s poem, composed from his hospital bed, Merton addresses “Eckhart’s castle.”  

Castle, Calton Hill, Edinburgh. Photo by Nicola Gadler on Unsplash

Eckhart’s talk about the soul as a “castle” relates to the Biblical phrase, “the kingdom of God.” Kingdoms in Eckhart’s day boasted castles and Eckhart invokes the castle as an archetype for the soul and the deepest part of the soul where our divinization occurs. “God glows and burns with all his wealth and all his bliss” in this castle.

Jesus enters into this castle “in his being rather than in his acting, giving graciously to the mind the divine and deiform being.  This regards the essence of being according to the words: ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’”

This castle however “is free of all names and bare of all forms, totally free and void just as God is void and free in himself.  It is totally one and simple just as God is one and simple, so that we can in no manner gaze into it.” 

Indeed, it is the “place” where “the Father begets his only begotten Son as truly as in himself [and] with this part of itself the soul is equal to God and nothing else.”  The castle for Eckhart is the place/space where the Divine marries the human. 

“Lady Poverty enter my door/Give me the riches of my Lord.” John Michael & Terry Talbot

Eckhart and Merton name nothingness and the void.  Sister Lentfoehr points out that “Merton takes the Zen and Eckhartian approach that of kenosis variously described as “emptiness,’ ‘dark night,’ ‘perfect freedom,’ ‘poverty.’

Merton’s poem is explicitly based on Eckhart’s Sermon on the poverty of spirit, which speaks of God as “identical with the spirit and that is the most intimate poverty discoverable.”  Merton says:

It is when we lose the ‘self,’ according to Eckhart, ‘the persona that is the subject of virtues as well as visions, that perfects itself by good works, that advances in the practice of piety—that Christ is finally born in us in the highest sense.’  This is the pure, the perfect poverty, when one is no longer a ‘self,’ a concept that touches the ‘point of nowhereness, a point of nothingness in the midst of being.’   

Contemplative expression of Thomas Merton’s prayer of oneing with God, offered by Betsey Beckman. SDI-Home of Spiritual Companionship.

Eckhart said “everything which is created, in itself is nothing” and  explains what he means: 

The color of the wall depends on the wall and so the existence of creatures depends on the love of God.  Separate the color from the wall and it would case to be.  So all creation would cease to exist if separated from the love that God is.  

Notice that our existence and God’s love are the same thing for Eckhart.


Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 75f.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: “El Greco’s landscape of Toledo depicts the priory [from which St. John of the Cross escaped in his Dark Night], just below the old alcázar (fort) and perched on the banks of the Tajo on high cliffs.” Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

How do Merton and Eckhart assist you to understand Nothingness more deeply?


Recommended Reading

A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey

In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.
“This wise and marvelous book will profoundly inspire all those who love Merton and want to know him more deeply.” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism

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13 thoughts on “Merton & Eckhart on Nothingness, continued”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    ATTENTION: Comments must be limited to just “180 words which works out to be about 10 lines.” If it exceeds 180 words it will be removed from the comment section. You will however be able to resubmit your comment after you pare it down. Also, your comments must be limited to responding to the “Queries for Contemplation” for the day.

  2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you tell us that Eckhart used the idea of the castle as a metaphor for the soul. In this he wrote that Jesus enters into this castle “in his being rather than in his acting.” This castle however “is free of all names and bare of all forms, totally free and void just as God is void and free in himself.” So we can see the nothingness of it all. In our Query for Contemplation you ask us: “How do Merton and Eckhart assist you to understand Nothingness more deeply?” Eckhart always does, because I see him as a master of speaking of the Via Negativa. I understand that he was even pregnant himself with nothing… And Merton says, “It is when we lose the ‘self,’ according to Eckhart… ‘that Christ is finally born in us in the highest sense.’ This is the pure, the perfect poverty, when one is no longer a ‘self,’ a concept that touches the ‘point of nowhereness, a point of nothingness in the midst of being.’”

    1. Avatar

      In response to Richard Reich’s comment about Eckhart himself being pregnant with nothing, I was reminded of Scripture of ancient Prophet Isaiah who was frustrated and writing such things as “we have given birth to wind” and “Is it not just one Father that we all have?”

  3. Avatar

    When we become so big, so immersed in Christ consciousness, the ‘self’ is relegated to nothingness. We have only found ‘gain’ and lost nothing. Until that time, we will continue to consider ‘nothing’ as something. That is our illusion. — BB.

  4. Avatar

    When we become so big, so immersed in Christ consciousness, the ‘self’ is relegated to nothingness. We have only found ‘gain’ and lost nothing. Until that time, we will continue to consider ‘nothing’ as something. That is our illusion. — BB.

  5. Avatar

    Because God is inexpressible, Christian tradition has either used multiple metaphors as referents for the divine (Jesus, “vine,” Merton, “holy spark’, Eckhart, “castle”), or used terms like “nothingness,” credited to Eckhart, first used by Dionysius. In reality, spirituality is the physics we don’t yet know. Called the “axis mundi” (world axis), there’s a magnetic still point at the center of all things at all scales of the universe, quark to quasar. Called Spirit, it’s the Source of all being, life, and energy. Envisioning Spirit as a “vortex” or “whirlpool,” a fecund and boiling energy bubbling forth from the innermost (axis) “into leaf of everything in the world,” little did Eckhart know that such would be the exact quantum prototype of the space-time interface some 700 years later! Such are the power of archetypal images downloaded to those inwardly attuned. God is electromagnetic (light), we and all of creation are the lamps. This energy reveals the coherence between rock, beast, and flower, the secret at the heart of reality that few hearts are ready to receive.

  6. Avatar

    Matthew, I feel that your meditations recently on Nothingness by the mystics, especially Eckhart and Merton, are spiritually very valuable for all of us on our spiritual journeys, especially in these perilous times of destruction of Mother Earth and Her sacred resources, the decay of our global industrial societies, and the continued societal violence in many forms by our historically unbalanced and toxic patriarchal societies and institutions. Michael Dowd in the last three years has had Conversations (recorded on his website, postdoom.com) with about 85 prominent environmentalists, scientists, social thinkers, and spiritual teachers, who are beyond denial, about their feelings and thoughts regarding these imminent losses and societal endings. I’m still in shock and grieving in sadness, especially for the ongoing and increasingly worse suffering ahead for humanity. Our contemplative faith in God’s Spirit of Divine Love~Wisdom~Creativity~Compassion within and among us is going to be deeply needed more than ever….
    ?❤️??

  7. Avatar

    I particularly enjoyed the explication of the metaphor of the castle. While I was reading through the opening I kept thinking “What about St. Theresa of Avila’s Interior Castle?” Then in your remarks, you included a gesture at that metaphor also. Interior Castle is my favorite of St. Theresa’s books and I bring to my understanding of today’s thinking the angle of moving through the rooms of our castles closer to the core of something divine. In other words, it’s a journey through each room with all of the experiences that will be surpassed on this journey.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Carol, I’m right there with you! When I heard Eckhart’s reference to the castle, I immediately thought of St. Theresa of Avila’s Interior Castle too !!!

  8. Avatar

    In response to todays quirey… I don’t have to struggle to understand the incomprehensibility of my existence… I need only surrender to trusting that I am being mysteriously comforted, consoled, wisely counseled and intuitively guided… by the living essence and loving presence of God’s Spirit that dwells within… giving birth to my soul.

  9. Avatar

    I love the line in Mathews book, A Way To God… which relates to today’s DM… “The castle/soul… is the place/space where the divine marries the human.” This speaks to me of the true meaning of the words… Brides of Christ… and the Cosmic Christ being the Bridegroom. As well it deepens my understanding of Holy Communion… as being a sacred new covenant union… of Oneing With… which the mystics experientially encountered and gave testimony to within there spiritual writings… which we all can respond to the invitation of… experiencing and encountering this marriage of the divine with our humanness… for ourselves.

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