a way out
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by Simon King




The door of the prison cell was painted green and adorned with a crucifix. The walls were made out of granite and they were covered in rusted white. There was a small rectangular window covered by bars and faint light emanated from it.   

Eckhart lay on the bed. He was not feeling very well; he had been besieged by a bout of pneumonia. He laced his hands and held the crucifix that lay on his chest. Someone knocked on the door and came in.

‘Yes?’ Eckhart meekly asked.

It was one of the cardinals who was assessing his case. Pope John Paul XXII had ordered a tribunal of cardinals and theologians to assess the case of Meister Eckhart, for he had been accused of heresy.

‘Good news, Eckhart,’ he said

‘What is it?’ Eckhart muttered.

‘We have managed to reduce the suspect articles in your writing from one-hundred-and-fifty to twenty-eight. You will have to defend them in your inquisition, of course. I have stoutly defended you. I have no doubts that your writings are orthodox. I am sure that you are a devout believer. The problem is that the archbishop ordered this inquisition because they are concerned about heretical movements in Europe. They are concerned about mystical writings and unorthodoxy. You will have to defend the twenty-eight articles which are allegedly heretical. You know them very well, of course, and deep down know that they are orthodox. I have defended you, but it has not been easy. I do not for a second doubt that these are Christian and scholarly writings. True, the language can be a bit obfuscatory, but I still believe that you are trying to understand God.’ The cardinal finished speaking. His crucifix swung around his red robe. His eyes were blood-shot and wide open. He had clearly been mulling over this for a while.

The cardinal resumed speaking: ‘I am not a theologian, but I am close to God. Some of the theologians have questioned your idiosyncratic style, but I have tried to convince them that it is an expression of heartfelt belief. Your scholastic reasoning is not questioned, either. It is clearly rigorous and it resolves numerous contradictions. After all, I am in a very senior position within the church.’

Eckhart coughed and covered his brow. At the age of sixty-eight, he was an elderly man. ‘Feeling a bit under the weather?’ the cardinal asked him.

‘Just a bit,’ Eckhart retorted.

‘Well, hopefully you will recover. You should be able to defend the articles. They are not heretical.’

Eckhart grunted and removed some sweat from his brow. ‘I will be able to defend them.’

‘I am sure you will. I have to return to the tribunal. Best of luck, Eckhart.’ The cardinal stormed out of the prison cell.

Eckhart really had gone through the most disappointing vicissitudes. He was in charge of forty-seven convents and he had been appointed teacher at the most famous schools of the order. The Dominican authorities had suspected him of heresy throughout his period, but nonetheless his entire career up to this point had followed an upward trajectory. These suspicions kept accumulating until Pope John XXII decided to conduct an investigation into Eckhart’s orthodoxy.

At this very moment, Eckhart knew that he was on the threshold of death. He knew that, although he searched for God, that he was inside him. God, Eckhart knew, was inside all of us. Eckhart knew that God accompanied him at this very moment and that he approved of his philosophy.

The divine world was hidden and it did not exist outside all of us. Eckhart thought that he had to reach it through physical seclusion and through eliminating perfunctory thoughts. After all, Eckhart was alone at this very moment. He was about to leave this world. This room was bare, empty and silent. It was ripe for asceticism. Eckhart knew that he had to eliminate all unnecessary, useless, overbearing thoughts that clouded his mind and which diverged from the word of God. He had to still the mind and still the body. At this very moment, in a moment of such simplicity, he could achieve this.

The birth of the Word was about to begin. Eckhart knew that God was within him right now and that he would join him. After all, he had lived to a ripe old age and he would join him. He would not defend the twenty-eight articles. He would in most likelihood be accused of mystical heresy, but he would not be condemned to death as he was about to die at this very moment.

Eckhart knew that he had to let go and embrace God. He had to detach and relinquish himself so as to commune with God. Eckhart was busy all the time and besieged by responsibilities. He was in charge of numerous convents, he was a renowned theologian and he occupied a senior position within the church. Eckhart knew that communing with God required a leisurely existence, which was unlikely to materialise when he was busy. Now he was lying in bed and he was in a bare room that was unencumbered by distractions.

Eckhart knew that he would truly meet God now. He would leave this world, where he was beleaguered by accusations and defamations. He would pass away and join the heavenly world that he had mapped out in his writings. He might become persona non grata, but Eckhart knew that he was pious. Eckhart knew that his writings would continue to be studied. Eckhart closed his eyes and gripped his crucifix.




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