Johannes Tauler


Johannes Tauler OP (c. 1300 in Strasbourg – 15 June 1361) was a German mystic, a Catholic preacher and a theologian. A disciple of Meister Eckhart, he belonged to the Dominican order. Tauler was known as one of the most important Rhineland Mystics. He promoted a certain neo-platonist dimension in the Dominican spirituality of his time.

He was born about the year 1300 in Strasbourg, entered the Dominican order (probably at the age of about fifteen) and was educated at the Dominican convent in that city. Meister Eckhart, who greatly influenced him, was active in Strasbourg c1313-26, though it is unclear what relationship they may have had. From Strasbourg he went to the Dominican college of Cologne, and perhaps to St James’s College, Paris, ultimately returning to Strasbourg. In 1324 Strasbourg, along with other cities, was placed under a papal interdict, and so all Dominican friars left the city. Tauler went to Basel. The legend that he stayed in Strasbourg and continued to perform religious services for the people is probably due to the desire of the 16th century reformers to enroll the famous preachers of the Middle Ages among their forerunners.

Around 1330 Tauler began his preaching career in Strasbourg. The city contained eight convents of Dominican nuns and perhaps seventy smaller beguine communities. It seems likely that (as with Meister Eckhart and Henry Suso), much of his preaching was directed to holy women. Most of Tauler’s nearly eighty sermons seem to reflect a convent situation, although this may partly reflect the setting in which such sermons were most likely to be written down and preserved.

In 1338 or 1339 the Dominicans were exiled from Strasbourg as a result of the tensions between Pope John XXII and Lewis of Bavaria. Tauler spent his exile (c1339-43) in Basel. Here, he became acquainted with the circles of devout clergy and laity known as the Friends of God (Gottesfreunde). Tauler mentions the Friends of God often in his sermons. Evidence for further connections with this group is found in the letters exchanged between the secular priest Henry of Nördlingen and his spiritual friend, the Dominican nun Margaret Ebner. Through Henry, Tauler also became acquainted with Mechthild of Magdeburg’s Flowing Light of the Godhead.

Tauler worked with the Friends of God, and it was with them that he taught his belief that the state of the soul was affected more by a personal relationship with God than by external practices. In this way, he was more of a proselytizer than his counterpart, Eckhart.

Tauler returned to Strasbourg around 1343, but the following years brought various crises. Strasbourg experienced a devastating earthquake and fire in 1346. From late 1347 until 1349, the city was ravaged by the Black Death. It is said that when the city was deserted by all who could leave it, Tauler remained at his post, encouraging his terror-stricken fellow-citizens with sermons and personal visits.

Tauler travelled fairly extensively in the last two and a half decades of his life. He made several trips to Cologne. A number of his sermons were clearly delivered there, as indicated by their survival in the Cologne dialect of Middle High German. A credible tradition suggests he visited John Ruusbroec in Groenendaal at some point in the 1350s.

Tauler leaves no formal treatises, either in Latin or the vernacular. Rather, he leaves around eighty sermons. Tauler’s sermons began to be collected in his own lifetime – three fourteenth-century manuscripts date from around the time of Tauler’s return to Strasbourg after his exile in Basel.

Tauler was famous for his sermons, which were considered among the noblest in the German language—not as emotional as Henry Suso’s, nor as speculative as Eckhart’s, but rather intensely practical, and touching on all sides the deeper problems of the moral and spiritual life.

Tauler was one of several notable Christian universalists in the Middle Ages, along with Amalric of Bena, John of Ruysbroeck, and Julian of Norwich. He taught that “All beings exist through the same birth as the Son, and therefore shall they all come again to their original, that is, God the Father.”


Excerpts from his sermons:

“Become a fertile ground for the divine birth. Cherish this deep silence within, nourish it frequently frequently.”

“One man can spin, another can make shoes, and all these are gifts of the Holy Spirit. I tell you, if I were not a priest, I should esteem it a great gift that I was able to make shoes, and I would try to make them so well as to be a pattern to all.”

“The soul has a hidden abyss,
untouched by time and space,
which is far superior to anything
that gives life and movement to the body.
Into this noble and wondrous ground,
this secret realm,
there descends that bliss of which we have spoken.
Here the soul has its eternal abode.
Here a man becomes so still and essential,
so single-minded and withdrawn,
so raised up in purity,
and more and more removed from all things. . . .
This state of the soul cannot be compared to what it has been before,
for now it is granted to share in the divine life itself.”

“It is certain that if God is to be
born in the soul
it must turn back to eternity….
It must turn in toward itself with all
is might, must recall itself,
and concentrate all its faculties within itself,
the lowest as well as the highest.
All its dissipated powers must be gathered up into one,
because unity is strength.”

“Next the soul must go out.
It must travel away from itself,
above itself….
There must be nothing left in us
but a pure intention towards God;
no will to be or become or obtain anything for ourselves.
We must exist only to make a place for God,
the highest innermost place,
where He may do His work;
there, when we are no longer putting ourselves in His way,
He can he born in us.”

“If one would prepare an empty place in the depths of the soul
there can be no doubt that God must fill it at once.
If there were a void on earth the heaven would fall to fill it.”

“So you must be silent.
Then God will be born in you,
utter his word in you and you shall hear it;
but be very sure that if
you speak the word will have to be silent.
If you go out, he will most surely come in;
as much as you go out for him
He will come in to you; no more, no less.”

“When shall we find an know
this birth of God within us?
Only when we concentrate
all our faculties within us
and direct them all towards God.
Then he will be born in us
and make himself our very own.
He will give himself to us as our own,
more completely ours than anything we have ever called our own.”

When the spirit looks within, to the Spirit of God, from the ground of the heart,
where man, empty and bare of all works, seeks God only, far above all thoughts, works and reason, it is truly a thorough conversion, which will ever be met with a corresponding reward, and God will be with him. Another conversion may take place in an ordinary external way, whenever man turns to God, thinking wholly and entirely of Him, and of nothing else but of God for Himself and in Himself.

But the first turning is in an inner, undefined, unknown presence, in an immaterial entrance of the created spirit into the uncreated Spirit of God. If a man could only once in his life thus turn to God, it would be well for him. Those men whose God is so powerful, and Who has been so faithful to them in all their distress, will be answered by God with Himself. He draws them so mysteriously unto Himself and His own blessedness; their spirits are so lovingly attracted, while they are at the same time so filled and transfused with the Godhead, that they lose all their diversity in the Unity of the Godhead. These are they to whom God makes their work here on earth a delight; so that they have a real foretaste of that which they will enjoy forever. These are they on whom the Holy Christian Church rests; and, if they did not form part of Christianity, Christianity could no longer exist; for their mere existence, what they are, is infinitely worthier and more useful than all the doings of the world. These are they of whom our Lord has said: “He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of Mine eye.” Therefore, take heed that ye do them no wrong. May God help us.”

“Now we intend to talk about the three stages that a person can be at – the lowest, the middle, or the highest. The first stage of an interior virtuous life that leads one directly to close proximity to God happens when a person turns to the marvelous works and signs of inexpressible gifts and effusions of the hidden goodness of God. Out of this is born a state of soul called jubilatio. The second stage is poverty of spirit and a strange abandonment by God that leaves the spirit tortured and naked. The third stage is the transformation to a divine-like existence, into a unity of the created spirit with the very being of the spirit of God. This one can call a conversion to an essentially higher plane. And one cannot imagine that those who right reach this stage could ever fall away from God.”

In the first stage, that of jubilatio, a person becomes intensely aware of the dear signs of his love that God has marvelously given us in the heavens and on earth, how marvelously much good he has done for us and all creatures, how everything blossoms, sprouts forth, and is filled with God, and how unimaginable the generosity of God has inundated all creatures with his great gifts and how God has gone searching for him, showered him with gifts, carried him, advised him, waited for him, cared for him, and to what inexpressible nearness he has invited him, and how the most Holy God has expectantly awaited him eternally so that he might be filled with joy forever. And when a person experiences this fully through loving insight, there is born in him great genuine joy. The person who perceives these things with genuine love is so flooded with an interior joy that his frail body cannot contain this joy and erupts in its own way. And in this way our Lord showers him with great sweetness and gives him inwardly an embrace and palpable union. Thus does God lure, pull and yank a person, first of all out of himself, and then out of all dissimilarity to himself.”

“The second stage is like this: When God has drawn a person so far away from all things, and he is no longer a child and he has been strengthened with the comfort of sweetness. Then indeed one gives him coarse rye bread. He has become a man and has reached maturity. Solid, strong food is what is good and useful for a grown man. He shouldn’t be given milk and soft bread any longer, and such is withheld from him. He is then led on a terribly wild path, very gloomy and forsaken. And on this path God takes back from him everything that he had ever given him. Then and there the person is left so completely to himself that he loses all notion of God and gets into such a distressful state that he cannot remember whether things had ever gone right for him, so as not to know any more if he were ever on the right path, whether he has a God or not, nor does he know if God does or does not exist, or if he is alive or dead and whether he is the same person; and he suffers such incredible pain that this whole wide world is too confining for him. A very strange sorrow comes over him that makes him think that the whole world in its expanse oppresses him. He neither has any feeling for nor knowledge of God, and he has no liking for any other things and even all the rest seems repugnant to him, so that it seems that he is a prisoners between two walls. It seems to him that he is suspended between two walls with a sword in back of him and a sharp spear in front. What does he do then? He can go neither forward nor back. He can only sit down and say, “Hail, bitterer bitterness, full of grace!” If there could be hell in this life, this would seem to be more than hell – to be bereft of loving and the good thing loved. Anything that one might say to such a person would console him about as much as a stone. And he could stand even less hearing about creatures. The more the sense of and feel for God stood formerly in the foreground, the greater and more unendurable are the bitterness and misery of this abandonment.”

“Even then take heart! The Lord is certainly nearby. Hold fast to the support of the true living faith. Things will be fine. But it is unbelievable to the poor soul in its tortured state that this unbearable darkness could ever turn into light.”

“When our Lord has prepared a person in this unbearable state of misery – for this prepares him much better than all the spiritual practices that all people might be able to accomplish – then our Lord comes and leads him to the third stage. In this stage the Lord removes the cloak from his eyes and reveals the truth to him. Bright sunshine appears and lifts him right out of all his misery. It seems to this person just as though the Lord had raised him from the dead. In this stage the Lord leads a person out of himself into himself. He makes him forget all his former loneliness and heals all his wounds. God draws the person out of his human mode into a divine mode, out of all misery into divine security. Here a person becomes so divinized that everything he is and does God does and is in him. And he is lifted up so far above his natural state that he becomes through Grace what God in his essence is by nature. In this state a person feels and is aware that he has lost himself and does not at all feel himself or is he aware of himself. He is aware of nothing but one simple Being.”

Children, to be truly in this stage is the deepest ground of genuine humility and annihilation. This, in truth, cannot be grasped by the senses. For here he receives the most profound insight possible into his nothingness. Here he sinks as deep as it is possible into the ground of humility; the deeper, the higher, because here high and deep are one and the same. In this state one achieves true unity of prayer spoken of in the epistle that truly brings it about that a person becomes one with God.”

“It is impossible for us in words to describe the ineffable dignity of the soul, and we cannot in any way comprehend it. If we had here with us a human being in his primal nobility, pure as Adam in paradise in his natural state apart from grace, his simple nature unadorned — that person would be so luminous and pure, so ravishing and richly favoured by God that no one would be able to comprehend his purity nor with his reason conceive of it.”

“It is something like fire working on wood; the heat draws out all the moisture, the greenness and the heaviness. It grows warm, begins to glow, becomes more like the fire itself. As the wood slowly takes on the likeness of fire, the dissimilarity between the two grows less until finally, in a rapid movement, the fire takes from the wood its own substance; the wood becomes fire and loses at the same time its separateness and inequality, since it has become fire. No longer merely like fire, it has become one substance with the fire. Likeness is lost in union.”

“This food of love draws the soul above distinction or difference, beyond resemblance to divine unity. This is what happens to the transfigured spirit. When the divine heat of love has drawn out all the moisture, heaviness, unfitness, then this holy food plunges such a one into the life of God. As Our Lord himself said to St Augustine, “I am the food of the strong: believe and feast on me. You will not change me into yourself; rather you will be changed into me”.”

“God is pure Being, a calm seclusion, much nearer than anything is to itself in the depth of the heart, but He is hidden from all our senses. He is far above every outward thing and every thought, and is found only where thou hidest thyself in the secret place of thy heart, in the quiet solitude where no word is spoken, where is neither creature nor image nor fancy. This is the quiet Desert of the Godhead, the Divine Darkness—dark from His own surpassing brightness, as the shining of the sun is darkness to weak eyes, for in the presence of its brightness our eyes are like the eyes of the swallow in the bright sunlight.”

Quotes about Tauler:

“Among all the medieval mystics, the Rhineland mystics are perhaps the ones best known today. They are widely accessible and cited more frequently than any others. Their message has a directness and freshness of expression that communicates itself across the centuries…Initially one might expect that all mystics from the Rhine region would be counted as Rhineland mystics. But the term “Rhineland mystics” is customarily used in a more restricted sense. It refers only to the mystics of the fourteenth century who lived in Germany and the Low Countries. It applies particularly to a group of several men—Meister Eckhart, Henry Suso, Johannes Tauler and Jan van Ruusbroec. The most daring and original of the Rhenish mystics was Meister Eckhart, whose disciples were Johannes Tauler and Henry Suso. These three Germans all belonged to the Dominican order. Suso is seen as the most intimate and personal mystic, Tauler was known as an inspiring preacher, whereas the Flemish mystic Jan van Ruusbroec was probably the most profound. These men, deeply involved in the theological debates of their own age, describe the deepest levels of inward experience where God is known in the inner recesses of the human soul, a most intimate presence that is also a transcendence. Their message addresses us so directly because it relates to a search for what is most essential to religion, its deepest, most inward dimension, and it emphasizes a real indwelling of ourselves in God and of God in us. The mysticism of the Rhineland is known in German as Wesensmystik, a mysticism of being or essence.

If Meister Eckhart’s teachings are highly abstract, intellectual and speculative, Tauler’s are much closer to ordinary Christian life and its devotions are easier to absorb and follow, although he retains much of Eckhart’s thought and terminology and shows a genuine understanding of his master’s message. Tauler never wrote in Latin, the universal language of medieval scholars. While he possessed a healthy suspicion of mere book learning, he nevertheless had a deep grasp of theological truths and, in about 1325, was ordained a Dominican priest. He soon became famous as a spiritual director, especially of nuns, and acquired a tremendous reputation as a popular preacher. His popularity probably also had much to do with his many travels. He even visited Groenendaal, outside Brussels, to meet Jan van Ruysbroeck. During the Black Death of 1348 he devoted himself to the care of the sick, which further increased his popularity and reputation. Tauler is so closely associated with Strasbourg, where he died and is buried, that he is sometimes called “Johannes Tauler of Strasbourg.” His popularity meant that numerous works were later attributed to him, but few are genuine. He left eighty-four sermons in German, recorded by his listeners, most likely written down by nuns. But the clarity and form of these texts makes one think that he revised or at least approved their final version. These Sermons were first printed in 1498 and then translated into Latin in 1548. They found their widest diffusion in this Latin form and became known as far as Spain. Luther read Tauler’s German Sermons and greatly admired “such sterling theology, equal to that of the ancients.” But this referred mainly to Tauler’s spiritual advice on practical matters, whereas Luther mistrusted his essentially mystical teaching. Like Eckhart, Tauler emphasized the indwelling of God in the human soul without stressing the identity of creature and creator to the same degree. Tauler has more room for the role of grace and for the place of the Holy Spirit in mystical union. Yet his deeply mystical theology is, like Eckhart’s, based on “the uncreated ground of the soul” present in all human beings, the soul’s insatiable hunger for God, and the need for passivity so that God can work in the soul. This work can be a form of suffering, however, a teaching whereby he already anticipates the later “dark night of the soul” in St John of the Cross.

The difference between Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler was later summarized by contrasting Eckhart as a Lehrmeister, a “master of thinking,” with Tauler as a Lebemeister, or a “master of living.”…Yet Tauler follows Eckhart in describing God in negative terms. The way to God is for Tauler the via negativa of the desert fathers and of Dionysius, finding God in withdrawal and the wilderness. At the same time he also possesses a strongly affirmative spirituality, as when he says that works of love are more acceptable to God than even contemplation, that spiritual enjoyment is food for the soul, which should be taken only to support us in our active work. Thus his mystical teaching is eminently practical, translating experience into action. The down-to-earth, commonsense humility of this Dominican mystic is well expressed in the often quoted words: “One man can spin, another can make shoes, and all these are gifts of the Holy Spirit I tell you, if I were not a priest, I should esteem it a great gift that I was able to make shoes, and I would try to make them so well as to be a pattern to all.”

~Ursula King, in “Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies Throughout the Ages”

Quotes Source:


About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: Verses and ramblings on life as it is: Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: Verses on the Play of Consciousness: Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: Poems of the Mountain Hermit: Love Poems from The Book of Yes: Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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