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    God the Fisherman

    God’s love is like a fisherman’s hook, Eckhart writes. Wait for this hook, for the more you are caught the more you will be set free.

    By Meister Eckhart

    August 7, 2022

    You might ask: “Should one do penances? Isn’t one missing something if one doesn’t?”

    The whole of a life of penitence is only one among a number of things such as fasting, watching, praying, kneeling, being disciplined, wearing hair shirts, lying on hard surfaces, and so on. These were all devised because of the constant opposition of the body and flesh to the spirit. The body is too strong for the spirit and so there is always a struggle between them – an eternal conflict. The body is bold and brave here, for it is at home and the world helps it. This earth is its fatherland and all its kindred are on its side: food, drink, and comforts are all against the spirit. Here the spirit is alien. Its race and kin are all in heaven. It has many friends there. To assist the spirit in its distress, to weaken the flesh for its part in this struggle so that it cannot conquer the spirit, penances are put upon the flesh, like a bridle, to curb it, so that the spirit may control it. This is done to bring it to subjection, but if you wish to make it a thousand times more subject, put the bridle of love on it. With love you may overcome it most quickly and load it most heavily.


    Illustration from Tacuinum Sanitatis, fourteenth or fifteenth century

    That is why God lies in wait for us with nothing so much as love. Love is like a fisherman’s hook. Without the hook he could never catch a fish, but once the hook is taken the fisherman is sure of the fish. Even though the fish twists hither and yon, still the fisherman is sure of him. And so, too, I speak of love: he who is caught by it is held by the strongest of bonds and yet the stress is pleasant. He who takes this sweet burden on himself gets further, and comes nearer to what he aims at than he would be by means of any harsh ordinance ever devised by man. Moreover, he can sweetly bear all that happens to him; all that God inflicts he can take cheerfully. Nothing makes you God’s own, or God yours, as much as this sweet bond. When one has found this way, one looks for no other. To hang on this hook is to be so completely captured that feet and hands, and mouth and eyes, the heart, and all that one is and has, become God’s own.

    Therefore there is no better way to overcome the enemy, so that he may never hurt you, than by means of love. Thus it is written: “Love is as strong as death and harder than hell” (Song of Sol. 8:6). Death separates the soul from the body but love separates everything from the soul. It cannot endure anything anywhere that is not God or God’s. Whatever he does, who is caught in this net, or turned in this direction, love does it, and love alone; and whether the man does it or not, makes no difference.

    The most trivial deed or function in such a person is more profitable and fruitful to himself and all people, and pleases God better, than all other human practices put together, which, though done without deadly sin, are characterized by a minimum of love. His rest is more profitable than another’s work.

    Therefore wait only for this hook and you will be caught up into blessing, and the more you are caught the more you will be set free. That we all may be so caught and set free, may he help us, who is love itself.

    From Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation, by Raymond Bernard Blakney (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1941), 123–124.

    Contributed By portrait of Meister Eckhart Meister Eckhart

    Famous as a mystic after his death, in life Meister Eckhart (ca. 1260–1328) was a noted scholar and active administrator, serving as a Dominican provincial and teaching at the University of Paris.

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