The years of Eckhart’s posting in Strasbourg coincided almost exactly with the social and meteorological crisis of 1315 – 22.
Heralded by the ominous appearance of a new comet in 1315, northern Europeans experienced a series of savage and extended winters, followed by severe and sustained spring and summer downpours.
The people looked to the heavens in vain.
The Baltic Sea froze over in 1315 with sub-zero temperatures; while widespread floods and wind storms during the warmer months led to famine, uncontrollable inflation, malnutrition and mass starvation.
Hordes of homeless and hungry beggars roamed the land and crime rates rocketed. Chroniclers record multiple cases of cannibalism and infanticide.
Religious processions of barefoot self-flagellating penitents begged God to change his mind and restore good weather and prosperity.
Many believed the comet and other celestial signs indicated the Last Judgement was at hand.
These were also the days of Meister Eckhart’s popular sermons on the divine birth in the human soul.
Amid social despair and extraordinary turbulence – and whether you consider it timely or irrelevant – Eckhart spoke of the soul.
‘Why did the indescribable God take on flesh?’ he asked. ‘In order that God may be born in the soul and the soul be born in God.’
This was the reason for the stable scene in Bethlehem; for God becoming us – a theme he often returned to.
And, on the very edge of Christmas, and in fractured times ourselves, we’ll return to it tomorrow.