Richard Wagner's Spiritual Masters - A Sufi Poet and a Dominican Theologian
[Cosima's Diary, 28 October 1873]
Right: a painting by Richard Guhr in which Wagner is portrayed as a mystic pilgrim.
ichard Wagner did not think highly of mainstream religion, especially the teachings of "priests and parsons" from the established Christian churches. In religion, as in other subjects, Wagner read widely and took particular interest in books that had been written by anyone outside of the mainstream. Therefore it is not surprising that he was intrigued by those writings of Meister Eckhart that became available in his lifetime, notably with the publication of Eckhart's German works in 1857 by Franz Pfeiffer. Wagner had read about Eckhart in books by Schopenhauer and Görres respectively, both of whom saw Eckhart as a mystic working outside of the religious mainstream. Schopenhauer wrote (in WWR) about mystics and ascetics who were sometime able to arrive at the truth by working outwards from their inner being; while philosophers could reach the same conclusions by working inwards, from the external world. In this respect, he claimed, his philosophy was unique in its agreement with the conclusions of mystics and ascetics. Even before Wagner had discovered the philosophy of Schopenhauer, in which he found praise of Sufi mysticism, he had already discovered the poems of Hafiz.
[Cosima's Diaries, entry for Thursday, 23 September 1875. Tr. Geoffrey Skelton]
[Cosima's Diary, 26 October 1873]
[Cosima's Diary, 27 October 1873]
he German Dominican, philosopher and theologian Johannes Eckhart, variously known to history as Meister Eckhart or Eckhart von Hochheim, taught what has
been called a mystic pantheism that was to influence later religious mysticism and speculative philosophy. Joseph Görres (in his book Die christliche Mystic, The Christian Mystics, 1836-42)
more of his writings were published, it became clear that Eckhart was a Scholastic in the same tradition as Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus and Dietrich of Freiberg. Although Eckhart took some bold departures from it, his philosophy developed from the mainstream Christian tradition. His approach was unusual mainly in its reliance upon reason rather than on scripture. On the more complete basis of the Latin works in addition to the German works, it becomes difficult to keep applying the label of "mystic" to Eckhart. Recently Kurt Flasch, who calls Meister Eckhart a philosopher of Christianity, has stated that the concept of "mysticism" has no value in discussions of Eckhart. As Schopenhauer noted, Luther spoke approvingly of Eckhart's (German) writings but this should not be taken to mean that Eckhart was some kind of early Protestant: indeed, many of his doctrines are incompatible with those of Luther. There have been attempts both by Protestants and by Catholics to claim Eckhart for their own. During the Nazi era there was even an attempt, in the writings of Josef Quint, to claim Eckhart for National Socialism.
chopenhauer's claim (in WWR vol.2 ch.48) that
[Richard Wagner to August Röckel, 12 September 1852. Tr. Spencer and Millington.]
[Richard Wagner to Theodor Uhlig, September 1852.]
[Arthur Schopenhauer, WWR in the translation by E.F.J. Payne, vol.2 ch.48 p.612]
[Hafiz translated by Gertrude Bell, 1897.]
he Sufi poet Hafiz (Hafez, Hafis), or Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muhammad Hāfez, is widely regarded as the greatest of Persian mystical poets. He lived and died at Shiraz. The ghazals of Hafiz are sweet poems on sensuous subjects: wine, flowers, beautiful women, with esoteric meanings beneath what appear, on the surface, to be love poems. Wagner discovered this poet in 1852 while he was working on the poem of Das Rheingold.
Footnote 1: This sounds like the first of Meister Eckhart's sermons as they appear in the edition of the German works by Franz Pfeiffer, 1857: Dominica infra octavum Nativitatis Domini, the first in a sequence of four Christmas sermons. For this sermon Eckhart takes as his texts Wisdom 18:14-15 and Job 4:12 (in which he finds verbum absconditum, the hidden word). Both texts refer to silence, silentium. Eckhart says:
dû solt swîgen und lâz got würken und sprechen: "You shall keep silent. Let God act and speak".