Tauler, Johannes

views updated May 18 2018


Dominican preacher and mystic; b. Strasbourg, c. 1300; d. there, June 16, 1361. He entered the Dominican novitiate c. 1315 in his native city, where Meister eckhart had been sent to teach in 1312. About ten years later Tauler, with henry suso, was at the Cologne studium generale, and it was during this period that they were greatly influenced by their teacher, Eckhart. We know that Eckhart was lecturing there in 1326, when he was formally accused of heresy. In the next year he died, and two years later, in John XXII's bull, In agro dominico, which condemned certain of Eckhart's propositions, we learn that on his deathbed he submitted himself and his doctrine to the Apostolic See.

Suso and Tauler never fully recovered from this tragic end to the career of one whom they had revered both as a man and a teacher. Their reactions were different, however. In Suso's writings, so similar in many ways to those of his English contemporary, Richard rolle, there is a constant element of lamentation, of railing against the world for the wrongs it has inflicted upon the chosen lovers of God. In sharp contrast, Tauler's tone is easy, gentle, equable; and though in places he gives his hearers to understand that part of Eckhart's misfortune was the incomprehension of those whom he had tried to teach"He talked about eternity, but you took it as referring to time"there is in Tauler no trace of bitterness or selfpity. In saying this, of course, one must allow for the difference in circumstances under which he and Suso composed their works. Suso's are set literary pieces, designed to reveal his private thoughts and written in times of great desolation.

The Preacher. Tauler, strictly speaking, wrote nothing. Apart from some writings long attributed to him but now universally rejected as spurious, he has survived only through his sermons, which seem to have been recorded, largely from recollection, by members of his audience, usually nuns of the Dominican houses of the Rhineland to which he ministered.

The style and the brevity of pulpit discourse suited him as an artist and as a theologian. Despite deficiencies in the surviving manuscripts, his power as a preacher is evident. He avoided rhetorical effect, making his points plainly, directly, and with a common sense and freedom from hyperbole that make him the antithesis of Eckhart as a writer. In Eckhart we are forced to recognize intellectualism gone astray, a carelessness, if not contempt, for the mental limitations of his public, a disregard of the harm he might be causing them. Tauler, however, preaching to his nuns, always has clearly in view their diversities of vocation. For us all, he insists with St. Thomas, that humility and simplicity are needful. The best possible exposition of the mystery of the Trinity is "more like a lie than the truth," and we must not be overawed by the subtleties of scholars who can do no more than "stammer something for the sake of Holy Church." Yet even so, he reminds us that we are called by God to employ all our faculties, such as they are, in the effort to reach Him. The road to God, he says, lies between knowing and unknowing.

Action and Contemplation. The rival claims upon the contemplative soul of activity and passivity presented acute difficulty in his time, when many had been seduced by the false passivity taught by such heretics as the "Brethren of the Free Spirit," whose doctrine in this matter seemed to be encouraged by Eckhart. But Tauler often speaks in praise of the active life, which, he reminds his nuns, some members of every religious community must lead. "When our Lord blamed Martha, it was not because she was working. What He blamed her for was her over-anxiety." Yet even so, those called to the contemplative life must find and use a true passivity. In a sermon on the Eucharist, he says that to receive its richest blessings we must be separated from the world and ourselves, we must cease from action and suffer God to act within us, and we must be one within ourselves with God. In such teaching on activity and passivity, he agrees with Ruysbroek that our lives must mirror the life of the Blessed Trinity, that we must go into God as the Persons enter into one another, and come out again from God, replenished and enriched by union with Him, to spend in the active life what in stillness and silence we have received. He praises such silence and stillness:

Mary was enclosed; so too ought the handmaiden of God to keep herself apart abstaining not only from those earthly activities that may seem of their nature to be harmful, but even from the merely sensory practices of virtues. She should very often be silent and at peace with herself, inwardly enclosed, hidden within the spirit, so that she may withdraw herself and escape from the senses and make for herself a place of silence and inward repose.

Suffering. To seek in distractions, however harmless, in pious colloquies, however edifying, or in consolations, an escape from the spirit's afflictionsdryness, grief, and desolationis to turn aside from the road that God points to those who would follow and find Him. Such spiritual sufferings are often in Tauler's mind: in one place he says "What then remains to the man formed after God's image? A soul full of God and a body full of suffering." Elsewhere we read that when Christ in Heaven meets those who have suffered much for Him on earth, He will say "I am very pleased with you, because you helped Me to carry My Cross to Calvary." Yet such affective writing is entirely free from morbidity because Tauler's eyes are always fixed upon joys to be tasted in this life, joys not to be had without such sorrows, but which are ineffable:

When, by this intolerable affliction, our Lord has prepared a soul thoroughly He then comes and raises it up. He unbinds our eyes andshows us the truth. The clear light of day dawns, and the soul is raised up out of all its afflictions. It is just as if God had raised us out of death into life. The Lord lifts us up, out of ourselves and up to Him, consoling us for all our miseries, healing all our wounds. We are drawn out of human activities into a divine life, out of all sorrow into a divine peace, in which man is so deified that everything which he is and does, God is and does in him.

Bibliography: j. tauler, Die Predigten Taulers, ed. f. vetter (Berlin 1910), standard ed. of the orig. medieval German; Sermons de Tauler, 3 v., tr. hugueny, et al. (Paris 192735), an excellent modern French trans. of the whole works, embodying much research; Spiritual Conferences, tr. and ed. e. colledge and m. jane (St. Louis, 1961), an anthology in modern English, with intro.

[e. colledge]

Tauler, Johannes

views updated May 29 2018


TAULER, JOHANNES (c. 13001361), German Dominican and mystic. Born at Strasbourg, Tauler entered the convent of the Strasbourg Dominicans as a young man and was probably a student, and certainly a disciple, of Meister Eckhart. Living at a time of political upheaval, aggravated by the social excesses that came in the wake of the Black Death, Tauler was distinguished by a remarkable sobriety of language and thought, a refusal of extremism, and a profound understanding of human nature, which did not keep him from being a demanding spiritual guide. His surviving sermons, all in German, were preached to Dominican nuns, written down, copied, and sent to other convents eager for spiritual nourishment, then often in scarce supply.

Primarily a pedagogue and a "master of life," Tauler takes as his starting point a carefully defined conception of "man as being really like three men (Menschen), though remaining one": the sensible man, with sensations, perceptions, imagination, action, and sensible will; the rational or intellectual man, capable of abstract thought, conceptualization, and deduction; and the higher, or interior and essential man, the "depth" (Grund) from which the spark emerges and in which the birth of God takes place.

The spiritual life starts with sensible devotion (images of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ) and a love that is felt strongly at the time of the first "conversion" of the heart, often with a degree of exaltation that approaches intoxication. But such devotion and love, though useful, remain "in nature," and there follows a lengthy period in which the person advances with difficulty, under the guidance of reason as it exercises discernment, often amid obscurity and aridity when reduced to its own powers and sustained by naked faith. If the person perseveres, this period brings a detachment that will do away with all obstacles to the unmediated encounter with God. In this process an experienced teacher is needed. If God wills it, the person will attain supernatural contemplation, a pure gift that cannot be merited.

In addition to Bernard of Clairvaux, William of Saint-Thierry, and Meister Eckhart, Tauler drew on Christian (Dionysius the Areopagite) and non-Christian (Proclus) Neoplatonism. Tauler exercised an extensive influence in the Germanic countries (as a young man, Luther read and reread him) and alsothrough Latin translations and complex channelson Spanish and French spiritual writers.


An exhaustive bibliography of works published before 1961 is in Johannes Tauler: Ein Deutscher Mystiker, edited by Ephrem Filthaut (Essen, 1961), pp. 436479. A bibliography of works from 1961 until 1969 is in Bibliographisches Handbuch der Deutschen Literaturwissenschaft, vol. 1, edited by Clemens Köttelwesch (Frankfurt, 1973). For 1969 through 1973 there is Bibliographie der Deutschen Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft, edited by Hildegard Huttermann, Clemens Köttelwesch, and Heinz-Georg Halbe (Frankfurt, 1973). The original texts of Tauler's sermons are published as Sermons de Tauler, 2 vols., edited by A. L. Corin (Liège, 19241929). A critical edition was produced by Ferdinand Vetter as Die Predigten Taulers, "Deutsche Texte des Mittelalters," vol. 11 (Berlin, 1910). A. L. Corin has translated the sermons into French in three volumes, Sermons de Tauler (Paris, 19271935), and Georg Hofmann has produced a German edition in two volumes, Sämtliche Predigten (Freiburg, 1983). An English translation by Maria Shrady is available as Johannes Tauler: Sermons (New York, 1985). Selections from Tauler have been translated and edited by Eric Colledge and Sister M. Jane, O.P., as Spiritual Conferences (Saint Louis, 1961). A brief secondary source on Tauler is James M. Clark's The Great German Mystics (Oxford, 1949), pp. 3654, with bibliography, pp. 114117.

Claire Champollion (1987)

Translated from French by Matthew J. O'Connell

Tauler, Johann

views updated May 18 2018

Tauler, Johann (c.1300–61). German Christian mystic. He became a Dominican at Strasbourg in 1315 where he probably came under the influence of Meister Eckhart and Henry Suso. Famous as a preacher and director, especially of nuns, he became still more popular because of his devotion to the sick during the Black Death. His mystical doctrine, found mainly in his sermons, is firmly grounded in Thomism, and concentrates on the practical consequences of God's indwelling, manifest particularly in humility and abandonment to the will of God.

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