The Five Kinds of Poverty

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Note: Let truth guide you, not us. Our humble disclaimer.

By Meister Eckhart

The really virtuous man does not need God. What I have I don’t lack. He makes no plans, he sets no store by things. As God is higher than man, so is he readier to give than man is to receive.

Not by his fasts and vigils and his many outward works does a man prove his progress in the spiritual life, but it is a sure sign of his growth if he finds eternal things more and more attractive than the things that pass. The man who has a thousand marks of God and gives it all away for love of God is doing a fine thing, yet I say it is far finer and far better for him to despise it, regarding it as nothing on God’s account.

A man should orient his will and all his works to God. Having only God in view, he should go forward unafraid, not thinking, “am I right or am I wrong?” One who worked out all the chances before starting his first fight would never fight at all. If going to some place we must think how to set the front foot down, we shall never get there.

It is our duty to do the next thing: go straight on. That is the right way.

There are five kinds of poverty: the first is devilish poverty; the second, golden poverty; the third is willing poverty; the fourth is spiritual poverty; the fifth, divine poverty.

The first, or devilish poverty, applies to all who have not what they wish to have, outwardly or inwardly. That is their hell.

The second, golden poverty, is theirs who in the midst of goods and properties pass empty without and within. If everything they own were burnt, the effect on them would be to leave them quite unmoved. Heaven would be theirs and they would have no less.

The third is willing poverty and belongs to those who, renouncing goods and honors, body and soul, leave everything with right good grace. These give judgment to the twelve apostles. They know what they leave, yet set another in their heart and mightily stir themselves up about their own departure. Such are the willing poor.

The fourth are spiritually poor. These have forsaken friends and kindred, not merely goods and honor, body and soul. Further, they have given up all good works; the eternal Word does all their work while they are idle and exempt from all activity. And since in the eternal Word is neither bad nor good, therefore they are absolutely empty.

The fifth are godly poor, for God can find no place in them to work. Theirs is riddance without and within, for they are bare and free from all contingent form. This is the man: in this man all men are one man, and that man is Christ. Of him one master says, “Earth was never worthy of this man who looks on heaven and earth the same.” This man is object-free in time and in eternity.

Now enough of those who have no object in eternity, but one thing more of those who are objectless in time. What is meant by object? There are two objects: one is otherness (not I); the other is a man’s own proper self (his I).

The first otherness is becoming all that has come into existence; such things breed otherness and pass away. This applies to the passage of time.

He who knows one matter in all things remains unmoved. For matter is the subject of form, and there can be no matter without form nor form devoid of matter. Form without matter is nothing at all, but matter ever cleaved to form and is one undivided whole in every single part of it. Now since form in itself is nothing, therefore it moves nothing. And since matter is perfectly indivisible, therefore it is unmoved. This man then is unmoved by form or matter and is therefore objectless in time.

Man’s other object is to possess his proper self, to identify himself with all perfection, with that most precious treasure of his own. That is his quest. Now when a thing has gotten its own form, no more nor less, that thing is all its own and no one else’s. He who conceives this really is perfect in the sense that he is wholly objectless to eternity.

Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) was a German Dominican priest whose preaching was greatly popular during his own life and whose work continues today to play an important role for people seeking a direct connection with God. A good introduction to Eckhart can be found in the book, “Meister Eckhart: From Whom God Hid Nothing.”


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