Choosing Well: Eckhart and Cusanus Sermons on Martha and Mary

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Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464) devoted Sermones 55 and 71 to considering the episode in Luke’s Gospel on Mary having chosen the better part instead of her sister Martha (Luke 10. 38–42), though those sermons were preached on 15 August, the feast of the Virgin Mary’s Assumption (1445–46). He also considered that episode within two other sermons: Sermon 5 on the feast of John the Baptist (24 June) and Sermon 8 for Mary’s Assumption, both preached earlier in his career in 1431. This essay also engages Meister Eckhart’s German Predigten 2 and 86. Eckhart (c. 1260–1328) broke with the conventional wisdom that Mary chose the better part by saying Martha enjoyed greater freedom and fulfilment than Mary because the older sister married prayer and service. Thus he offered an untraditional exegesis. While most patristic and medieval exegetes focused on the words good, better, best, or the vita mixta, Eckhart and Cusanus emphasized the action of choosing: the free human will of reviewing options and then choosing wisely from among a variety of paths. For Eckhart, it is Martha who chooses well. For Cusanus, it is her sister Mary. Though Eckhart likely had no Greek and Cusanus only some, their exegesis was more in line with the Koine tēn agathēn merida exelexato (τὴν ἀγαθὴν μϵρίδα ἐξϵλέξατο) than the Vulgate optimam partem eligit.

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Medieval Sermon Studies

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