Tauler, Johannes (c. 1300–1361)

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(c. 13001361)

The German mystic Johannes Tauler entered the Dominican order at Strasbourg about the age of fifteen and probably studied in the Dominican studium generale at Cologne, where he may have been taught by Meister Eckhart. He was certainly influenced by the latter and by the contemplative movement known as the Gottesfreunde (Friends of God). He was in Strasbourg at the time of Pope Innocent XXII's interdict on the city for taking the wrong side in the war between different sections of the Holy Roman Empire, but there is no good evidence for the story that during the Black Death he defied the interdict by administering sacraments to the dying. He remained a loyal and orthodox member of the church. Much legendary material surrounds his life, and various spurious works are attributed to him. It was on the basis of these sources that some earlier scholars mistakenly thought of Tauler as a precursor of the Reformation.

In his sermons, Tauler geared mystical teachings, which made use of Eckhartian and Neoplatonic concepts, to practical purposes. He was deeply committed to the view that mystical experiences are a nourishment to the soul in supporting the individual in a life of active love and that there are behavioral criteria for estimating their worth. He believed that in this active life we may possess God through a fusion of the divine and human wills. However, far from reducing contemplative religion to the exercise of good works, Tauler believed that the love of God and the love of men go together and that the former finds its consummation in the inner union of the soul with the Creator.

In principle, all men should be capable of this return of the soul to its Source (the notion of return was typical of the Neoplatonic tradition with which Tauler was acquainted). Two qualifications, however, must be made. First, the way of return, according to Tauler's account, involves great heroism and suffering. The creaturely side of man must be crucified. Self-mortification is a sign of burning love of God, and eventually the friend of God may acquire a real desire for, rather than an aversion to, suffering. In this emphasis on suffering, Tauler was strongly Christocentric in his preaching. But second, the fall of man has so tainted the human being that the divine light, which illuminates the contemplative and brings about the return to God, is something that man cannot achieve on his own. It is the gift of divine grace. Thus, the culmination of the mystic's quest is not a personal achievement of the mystic, but an enjoyment granted from beyond.

The importance of the need for grace gave Tauler's mysticism a firmly orthodox character. Nevertheless, he maintained that the operation of divine grace requires a right attitude on the part of men. Tauler speaks of God as a fisherman who lets down a baited hook into the ocean. Those fish who are not disposed toward the bait will not be hooked. This simile had its basis in Tauler's account of human psychology.

According to his psychology, three aspects of the soul can be distinguished. At the deepest level is the Ground of the soulotherwise referred to as the Spark, the Apex (Punkt ), and God in the soula concept deriving from Eckhart's teaching. However, Tauler is eager to assert that the Ground is God-given and is not an intrinsic, natural property of the individual. At another level, the soul possesses intellect, sense faculties, and will. Third, there is what Tauler refers to as the heart (das Gemüt). The attitude of the individual toward the divine Being is determined by whether his heart is turned toward the Ground or away from it. If the former, God will descend, draw the spirit up to himself, and unite it with him. Man's choice is therefore essentially a choice of disposition. Once this choice has been made, God through his grace will conform the human will to his own. Thus, the end of the contemplative life is a state in which the mystic is, so to speak, "taken over" by God, so that all his actions express God's purposes rather than his own.

See also Eckhart, Meister; Mysticism, History of; Neoplatonism; Reformation.


Tauler's works include Twenty-five Sermons, translated by Susanna Winkworth, 2nd ed. (London, 1906); The Sermons and Conferences of John Tauler, edited and translated by Walter Elliott (Washington, DC: Apostolic Mission House, 1910); Die Predigten Taulers, edited by F. Vetter (Berlin: Weidmann, 1910); and Johannes TaulerPredigten, edited by G. Hofmann (Freiburg, 1961).

See also J. M. Clark, The Great German Mystics (Oxford: Blackwell, 1949).

Ninian Smart (1967)