A letter received from the Master of the Dominican Order
At the 2013 Eckhart Society Conference, Vivian Boland OP, who was representing the Master of the Dominican Order, read out this letter from the Master.
Original is available here for download below is the text.
FRATRES ORDINIS PRAEODICATORUM
Rome. September 12th 2012.
To participants in the Eckhart Society's 25th Annual Conference and to all members of the Eckhart Society
Prot. 50/12/690 Letters MO
I write to send my best wishes to you on the occasion of the 25th annual Eckhart Society Conference. In recent decades the Society has played a crucial role in promoting knowledge and understanding of Meister Eckhart's writings and thought. The Society was founded at a time of renewed interest in his work, when the question of his orthodoxy had once agatn become a live issue. Through the 1970s Eckhart's work was promoted by some in ways that threatened to confirm suspicions and prejudices about his thought. The General Chapter of 1980 set up a commission of scholars to investigate the background to Eckhart's condemnation. The work of that commission showed that the bull In agro dominico, while it condemned certain formulations of the Meister, did not condemn his doctrine, and certainly not the person himself. I would like to acknowledge here the work of the late Ursula Fleming and of the Eckhart society in encouraging that fresh investigation of Eckhart's orthodoxy.
It is now widely accepted that Eckhart is a reliable theologian and spiritual guide. His teaching has been used by Pope John Paul II and many others find rich resources in his thought for engaging with contemporary questions of spirituality, theology, and inter-religious dialogue. Our Dominican brother, Donagh O'Shea, speaks about being introduced to Eckhart's work by a friend he met inZencircles. 'I had gone around the world to discover my own house', he writes, referring to the fact that he had always lived in houses where Eckhart's writings were to be found but had not been inclined to read them until encouraged to do so by hrs Zen Buddhist friend (Go Down to the Potter's House, p.47).There are today many brothers and sisters in the Order using the works of Meister Eckhart and the other Rhineland mystics in dialogue with Buddhism and other approaches to spirituality. Eckhart is a providential bridge between classical Christian spirituality and modern currents of spirituality. For Dominican spirituality and for the preaching mission of the Order today, Eckharl has much to offer us. He takes us directly to the centraL question of God and the human being's relationship with God. In the Talks of Instruction given to his novices Eckhart speaks as follows about what it means really to 'have' God:
A man should not have, or be satisfied with, an imagined God, for then, when the idea vanishes, God vanishes! Rather, one should have an essential God, who far transcends the thought of man and all creatures. Such a God never vanishes unless a man witlfutly turns away from Him. He who has God thus essentially, takes Him divinely, and for him God shines forth in all things, for all things taste divinely to him, and God's image appears to him from out of all things. God flashes forth in him always, in him there is detachment and turning away, and he bears the imprint of his beloved, present God (Talks of Instruction 6, 'On Detachment and on Possessing God').
Many of the themes of Dominican theology are contained in this rich text: it is theocentric and yet reserved about theological language and imagination, it recognizes God's transcendence and yet presence in all things, it witnesses to the transforming power of grace by which we are both detached and engaged.
A text much valued by Dominicans is Eckhart's sermon on the Lord's visit to Martha and Mary. He found too simplistic the traditional typology for which Martha and Mary represented the active and contemplative lives. Eckhart sees in Martha the free and mature contemplative whose contemplation is bearing fruit in compassionate service. Her anxiety is that Mary should grow beyond the need for sweet ecstasy and Jesus re-assures her that, for now, Mary is choosing what she needs most. Martha represents the preacher, then, internally free and completely available for the loving service of the Word. It is Eckhart's version of Aquinas's description of the teacher or preacher as one who not only contemplates but hands on to others what has been contemplated.
In many ways Eckhart's work complements that of his brother and master, Saint Thomas. I note that this year's conference has 'Eckhart and Thomas' for its theme. Thomas presents his thought almost always with a detached objectivity, whereas Eckhart's work is significant for its awareness of the self in the spiritual journey. This awareness seems more immediately congenial to contemporary sensibilities than does the way of Thomas. Recent historical work has shown how devoted Eckhart was to the memory of Saint Thomas and how keen to defend him. They were the only two to be recalled to the Dominican chair at Paris, Thomas to defend the unity and integrity of the human person in philosophical disputes with Averroism, and Eckhart to defend Thomas's positions and to strengthen what was emerging as the ' Dominican' theological perspective.
Theology in the West has tended to rationalism and it is figures like Eckhart who correct that tendency. His texts are challenging, encouraging us to search deeper, for the understanding and wisdom that may be gained through entering into paradox and mystery. By speaking the language of Christian mysticism Eckharl leads us towards the heart of our faith. At that heaft, standing on the ground of our true humanity, we discover windows that open on some surprising neighbors. We are also helped to relearn our own spiritual language and to live again with a part of our spirit that has been ignored by the discursive mind. Eckhart helps us also to read Thomas well, for his theology too has often been rationalized and there is much to be rediscovered in him also.
I hope that your Conference this year will be very successful and I pray that the Society will continue to flourish. I am grateful to all who are studying the works of Eckhart and promoting his thought. He is one of the great figures of Domirìican history. He gave himself completely to the Order and its mission. He served it unstintingly as a teacher and preacher, as a prior and provincial, as a spiritual companion and a courageous thinker. !
With all good wishes
fr. Bruno-Cadoré, O.P.
Master of the Order.