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Life and times of the 14th century German spiritual leader Meister Eckhart, whose theory of a personal path to the divine inspired thinkers from Jean Paul Sartre to Thomas Merton, and most recently, Eckhart Tolle
Meister Eckhart was a medieval Christian mystic whose wisdom powerfully appeals to seekers seven centuries after his death. In the modern era, Eckhart's writings have struck a chord with thinkers as diverse as Heidegger, Merton, Sartre, John Paul II, and the current Dalai Lama. He is the inspiration for the bestselling New Age author Eckhart Tolle's pen name, and his fourteenth-century quotes have become an online sensation. Today a variety of Christians, as well as many Zen Buddhists, Sufi Muslims, Jewish Cabbalists, and various spiritual seekers, all claim Eckhart as their own. Meister Eckhart preached a personal, internal path to God at a time when the Church could not have been more hierarchical and ritualistic. Then and now, Eckhart’s revolutionary method of direct access to ultimate reality offers a profoundly subjective approach that is at once intuitive and pragmatic, philosophical yet non-rational, and, above all, universally accessible. This “dangerous mystic’s” teachings challenge the very nature of religion, yet the man himself never directly challenged the Church.
Eckhart was one of the most learned theologians of his day, but he was also a man of the world who had worked as an administrator for his religious order and taught for years at the University of Paris. His personal path from conventional friar to professor to lay preacher culminated in a spiritual philosophy that combined the teachings of an array of pagan and Christian writers, as well as Muslim and Jewish philosophers. His revolutionary decision to take his approach to the common people garnered him many enthusiastic followers as well as powerful enemies. After Eckhart’s death and papal censure, many religious women and clerical supporters, known as the Friends of God, kept his legacy alive through the centuries, albeit underground until the master’s dramatic rediscovery by modern Protestants and Catholics.
Dangerous Mystic grounds Meister Eckhart in a world that is simultaneously familiar and alien. In the midst of this medieval society, a few decades before the Black Death, Eckhart boldly preached to captivated crowds a timeless method, a “wayless way,” of directly experiencing the divine.
This impressive book by Harrington (The Faithful Executioner) adroitly places Meister Eckhart's (1260 1328) key ideas about the accessibility of direct, personal, universal experience of God through the approach of Gelassenheit ("letting-go-ness") back into proper historical and cultural context. Harrison's key contention is that Eckhart's original ideas have been distorted by "modern syncretists" (particularly Eckhart Tolle) and should be reconsidered through an understanding of the era's literature, the development of the Dominican Order, and religious concerns about the relationship between clergy and laity. Harrington begins by providing a short medieval cultural history to explain Eckhart's likely youthful influences, then considers Eckhart's early friarhood and the seeds of his philosophy, and explores the maturation of his thought as an academic and theologian, which led him to become a pariah of the Catholic church. The final chapter looks at the conflicts caused by Eckhart's preaching on esoteric concepts to everyday people for whom his ideas of a via negativa living without reliance on good deeds, aestheticism, or intermediaries for salvation had strong appeal. Harrington's text shows that Eckhart was a man of his time: his teachings were radical, but grounded in Catholic orthodoxy and not intended to be as dangerous as many modern seekers might believe. This illuminating book successfully explains Meister Eckhart's philosophy and large influence on Western Christian mysticism.