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Updated:  Aug 12, 2013
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John Tauler

German Dominican, one of the greatest mystics and preachers of the Middle Ages, b. about 1300; d. June 16, 1361

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Tauter, JOHN, German Dominican, one of the greatest mystics and preachers of the Middle Ages, b. at Strasburg about 1300; d. at the same place, June 16, 1361. He was the son of a prosperous citizen of that city. Apparently while still a youth he entered the Dominican Order at Strasburg, because according to his own confession the ascetic life of the order attracted him. It is possible that while taking the customary eight years' course of study at the monastery he heard Eckhart preach. When a student at the university of the order at Cologne, he became more closely acquainted with Eckhart. In the same way he probably came to know Henry Suso at Cologne. Whether he also studied at Paris is uncertain; more probably he returned from Cologne to Strasburg. From about 1339 to 1347 or 1348 he lived at Basle where he and Henry of Nordlingen were the center of the large society called the Friends of God of Basle; these were persons who favored the mystical life and who gave themselves this name from St. John, xv, 15. Tauler then returned to Strasburg where he labored as a preacher. Christina Ebner praises his fiery tongue that kindled the entire world; Rulman Merswin chose him as confessor. Later he lived for some time at Cologne. During the last period of his life he was again at Strasburg.

The "Meisterbuch" of the "Friend of God of the Upland" gives an account of a master of the Scriptures who attracted great attention in 1346 by his preaching. One day a layman accused the master of seemingly seeking his own honor rather than that of God, saying also that probably he had not himself borne the burdens he had laid upon others. Without making any stipulations the master allowed himself to be guided by the layman and learned from him to forget the world and himself, to turn all his thoughts upon God and to lead a life of the Spirit. For two years he lived in seclusion. When after this he preached again for the first time the effect was so great that forty of his hearers went into convulsions and twelve could hardly be revived. After the master had lived and labored for nine years more he fell dangerously ill, and calling for the layman gave him a written account of his conversion. To this account the layman added five sermons of the master that he had copied. It was customary at an earlier date to regard Tauler as this master, and the "Meisterbuch" was from the year 1498 included in the editions of Tauler's sermons. In more recent times Preger has also supported this opinion. But in the treatise "Taulers Bekehrung" Denifle has produced strong proofs against attributing to Tauler the role of this master; this view is now generally maintained. The story told by the later Strasburg chronicler, Speckle (d. 1589) is a tissue of falsehoods; it relates that Tauler opposed the pope and the interdict that the pope had laid upon Strasburg in the struggle between the papacy and the Emperor Louis the Bavarian.

Tauler's writings have not yet been subjected to a thorough critical investigation. Much that is attributed to him is doubtful, much not genuine. He certainly did not write the book of the "Nachahmung des armen Lebens Christi" or "Von der geistlichen Armut". The "Exercitia super vita et passione Jesu Christi" and the spiritual songs attributed to him are also spurious. At the most he only wrote a small part of the "Medulla animae" or of "Institutiones divinae". Only the sermons, therefore, remain as the actual works of Tauler. The first edition appeared in 1498 at Leipzig and includes 84 sermons; the second edition (Basle, 1521-22) added 42 more some of which, however, even in the opinion of the editor of the edition, were not Tauler's; in the third edition (Cologne, 1543) 25 new sermons were added, part of which are also spurious. The Cologne edition was translated into or rather paraphrased in, Latin by Laurentius Surius (Cologne, 1548). This Latin edition was the copy used for translations into various foreign languages and for both Catholic and Protestant retranslations into German. The modern editions (Frankfort, 1826, 1864, 1872; Berlin, 1841) are based on the old German editions. Lately, Ferdinand Vetter has prepared an edition (Berlin, 1910) based on the Engelberg manuscript (the only one made at Cologne and the oldest one that may perhaps represent the collection revised by Tauler himself), also on the Freiburg manuscript, and on copies of the three manuscripts burned at Strasburg in 1870. This edition contains 81 sermons. The sermons are among the finest monuments of the German language, of German fervor of belief, and of profound spiritual feeling. The language is quiet and measured, yet warm, animated, and full of imagery. Tauler is not so speculative as his teacher Eckhart, but he is clearer, more practical, and more adapted to the common people; with all this he united Suso's fervor. The expression used by Christina Ebner, that he had set the whole world aflame by his fiery tongue, does not mean that he was a preacher of fiery, entrancing eloquence, but a preacher who warmed and inflamed the hearts of his hearers by the quiet flame of the pure love that burned in his own breast.

The center of Tauler's mysticism is the doctrine of the visio essentiae Dei, the blessed contemplation or knowledge of the Divine nature. He takes this doctrine from Thomas Aquinas, but goes further than the latter in believing that the Divine knowledge is attainable in this world also by a perfect man, and should be sought by every means. God dwells within each human being. In order, however, that the transcendent God may appear in man as a second subject, the human, sinful activities must cease. Aid is given in this effort by the light of grace which raises nature far above itself. The way to God is through love; God replies to its highest development by His presence. Tauler gives advice of the most varied character for attaining that height of religion in which the Divine enters into the human subject. Something needs to be said as regards Tauler's position towards the Church. Luther praised him greatly and Protestants have always had a very high opinion of him, and have included him among the "reformers before the Reformation". However, it is now conceded by Protestants that he was "in reality entirely mediaeval and not Protestant". He was in fact a dutiful son of the Church and never thought of withdrawing his allegiance. He expresses his opinion very plainly in his sermon on St. Matthew. He set his face against all heresy, especially that of the Brethren of the Free Spirit. What attracted Luther was probably not Tauler's doctrine itself, but only here and there some subordinate thought. Perhaps it pleased him that the word indulgence appears only once in Tauler's sermons, or it aroused his sympathy that Tauler laid less stress upon works, or again he was attracted by the tremendous earnestness of this seeker after God.

KLEMENS LOFFLER


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