Like other mystics, he insists that love, when perfect, is independent of the hope of reward, and he shows great freedom in handling Purgatory, Hell, and Heaven. They are states, not places; separation from God is the misery of hell, and each man is his own judge. “We would spiritualise everything,” he says, with especial reference to Holy Scripture.
In comparing the Mysticism of Eckhart with that of his predecessors, from Dionysius downwards, and of the scholastics down to Gerson, we find an obvious change in the disappearance of the long ladders of ascent, the graduated scales of virtues, faculties, and states of mind, which fill so large a place in those systems. These lists are the natural product of the imagination, when it plays upon the theory of emanation. But with Eckhart, as we have seen, the fundamental truth is the immanence of God Himself, not in the faculties, but in the ground of the soul. The “spark of the soul” is for him really “divinae particula aurae.” “God begets His Son in me,” he is fond of saying: and there is no doubt that, relying on a verse in the seventeenth chapter of St. John, he regards this “begetting” as analogous to the eternal generation of the Son. This birth of the Son in the soul has a double aspect—the “eternal birth,” which is unconscious and inalienable, but which does not confer blessedness, being common to good and bad alike; and the assimilation of the faculties of the soul by the pervading presence of Christ, or in other words by grace, “quae lux quaedam deiformis est,” as Ruysbroek says. The deification of our nature is therefore a thing to be striven for, and not given complete to start with; but it is important to observe that Eckhart places no intermediaries between man and God. “The Word is very nigh thee,” nearer than any object of sense, and any human institutions; sink into thyself, and thou wilt find Him. The heavenly and earthly hierarchies of Dionysius, with the reverence for the priesthood which was built upon them, have no significance for Eckhart. In this as in other ways, he is a precursor of the Reformation.
With Eckhart I end this Lecture on the speculative Mysticism of the Middle Ages. His successors, Ruysbroek, Suso, and Tauler, much as they resemble him in their general teaching, differ from him in this, that with none of them is the intellectual, philosophical side of primary importance. They added nothing of value to the speculative system of Eckhart; their Mysticism was primarily a religion of the heart or a rule of life. It is this side of Mysticism to which I shall next invite your attention. It should bring us near to the centre of our subject: for a speculative religious system is best known by its fruits.
[Footnote 188: Conf. viii. 2-5. The best account of the theology of Victorinus is Gore’s article in the Dictionary of Christian Biography.]