It is the 27th of March 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1329.
So today, we are going back into those dark, and middle, and Medieval… years. We will see a curious Papal Bull written against a Dominican who was considered too much of a mystic. Let's start with some definitions.
As stated, before the Papal Bull refers not to an animal but the "bulla" or stamp that the Pope would put on a document to officially validate it. That's a straightforward definition.
What is a Dominican? A Dominican is a member of the mendicant order founded by St. Dominic. Sorry, "mendicant" means "begging." But they did more than that. If you ever come across someone with the initials "OP," that means they are a Dominican. Why? OP stands for the "Order of Preachers." And the Dominicans were precisely that. They were founded to help combat heresy through itinerant preaching—especially those heresies in the south of France we've highlighted recently on the show. While "St. Dominic" isn't the most famous of Saints with an order named after him, the order can claim Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus as members.
Now, the last definition, and the hardest: Mysticism.
Philosophers of Religion will be very careful to distinguish what kind of mysticism as this is a phenomenon found in most religious bodies. So, we narrow ourselves to "Christian Mysticism." That is a mysticism that has at its goal the "Beatific Vision," or union with God or Christ. Or something like that. The problem is that one of the hallmarks of mysticism is its "ineffability." That is, it's something you can't speak about. At least that's what William James taught. Others have suggested that mysticism isn't ineffable as such, but instead, it is only communicable through analogy and metaphor. The "Beatific Vision" can be a metaphor for so many things. To the outsider, the mystic's experience might seem utterly bizarre. But that's ok. Mysticism is intensely individualistic. And this may have been part of the problem for the Medieval Papacy.
So, on this, the 27th of March in 1329, Pope John XXII issued the Papal Bull, "In Agro Dominico." (Remember, the name of the Bull is just the first words in Latin. Also: it is not at all helpful.) The Bull was curious for several reasons. It declared that the teachings of one Dominican, Meister Eckhart, were "evil sounding, very rash and 'suspect of heresy." So, the order that was supposed to protect against heresy was charged with heresy itself! Also, the Bull was produced in 1329. Meister Eckhart had died the previous year. Sure, they could exhume his body (this wasn't beyond them), but they instead ruled that it was probably ok and that Eckart recanted these things before he died, so we're cool. It's a strange document.
We've talked about Meister Eckhart before. He was a very influential author and mystic who would influence Reformers like Luther because of his often Christo-centric musings and ambivalence to the church hierarchy. Perhaps seeing the influence of Eckhart on the later Reformers illuminates what the Pope sought to condemn in this Bull. The Bull pulled out specific quotes from Eckhart such as:
"Anyone who blasphemes God himself praises God." Of course, this is part of a larger discourse, but fair enough. That could be taken the wrong way. Also, he writes: "Every distinction is foreign to God, both in nature and in Persons." Ok. Watch the "nature" and "persons" talk. But then there is: "God loves souls, not the exterior work" and "Therefore, whoever loves God more than his neighbor, loves well, but not yet perfectly."
Eckhart's doctrine of works and repentance focused not on the external rites but the internal disposition. Eckhart is not some kind of "proto-Reformer," and as a Dominican, his theology would be quite in tune with what the church taught. But his emphasis on the individual, spiritual repentance, and love of neighbor put him, interestingly enough, on the Pope's radar.
Perhaps it was a shot across the bow from the Magesterium to the Mystics, foreshadowing late medieval tensions to come. We remember the curious bull "In Agro Dominico," promulgated on this, the 27th of March in 1329.
The reading for today, a spicy and mystic-tinged quote from Luther himself commenting on Ephesians 3:19.
"And so we are filled with "all the fullness of God." This phrase, which follows the Hebrew manner of speaking means that we are filled in all the ways in which He fills a [person]. We are filled with God, and He pours into us all His gifts and grace and fills us with His Spirit, who makes us contagious. He enlightens us with His light, His life lives in us, His beatitude makes us blessed, and His love causes love to arise in us. Put briefly, He fills us in order that everything that He is and everything He can do might be in us in all its fullness, and work powerfully, so that we might be divinized throughout—not having only a small part of God, or merely some parts of Him, but having all His fullness."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 27th of March 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, who always thought that "OP" meant "Original Poster" or "Over Powered." The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis who always thought OP was the redhead kid from the Andy Griffith Show. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.