« Prev Preface. Next »


TAULER is by no means unknown to English readers, not only of the Catholic Church. Translations of many of his sermons have appeared as early as 1857, together with a Life of Tauler and a Preface by the Rev. Charles Kingsley.

For many interesting particulars relating to the great German Dominican of the fourteenth century we refer the reader to the work in question—“The History and Life of the Reverend Doctor John Tauler of Strasburg, with twenty-five of his Sermons, translated by Susanna Winkworth, and a Preface by the Rev. Charles Kingsley.” This book is very readable, though recent researches, and especially those of Dr. Denifle, have corrected certain erroneous views associated with it.

Anything the translator of the present work can say in praise of the high spirituality and acute intellectual power of Tauler would be viout of place with Catholics. Others will derive a high idea of his excellence from the work to which we have just alluded.

The “Following of Christ” appears to contain many of the special features and excellences of the great Dominican; and being almost entirely apart from any doctrinal, controversial, and formal questions, will commend itself as a book of great edification to a large number of Christians.

Many indeed will take exception to the spirit and tone of his teaching, which is diametrically contrary to, and condemnatory of, the spirit of the world at all times, and especially in our time.

But it is interesting to note that his exaltation of eternal views, and a life centred in them, to the depreciation of time and temporals, is a feature that Tauler shares not only with the most eminent Churchmen,11   He supports his principles primarily by Holy Writ, and secondly by the Fathers, but chiefly St. Austin, St. Gregory the Great, and St. Bernard. but even with the great thinkers of heathen antiquity, as the Stoics,22   Compare many passages of Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius. and many of modern times.

Passing to his method and language, I have to remark that the editions I have used are one in the original Middle High viiGerman, republished at Frankfort in 1833; another in early New High German, also published at Frankfort in 1670, and a modern version, published at Ratisbon in 1855. I have compared these earlier printed editions with that of Dr. Denifle, published at Munich in 1877, to which reference is made further on.

The form of the original Middle High German is peculiarly quaint and muscular, and has suffered considerable softening in the modern German edition. That of 1670 has retained much of the original strength.

In the preface to the latter we read thus: “The ‘Following of Christ’ was first printed at Tübingen in 1621, by Herrn Christophorum Besoldum, J. V. D., and Professor. In the title-page it is stated that this edition of 1621 was printed from a copy one hundred and seventy years old, and thus it has been faithfully, without falsifying, and word for word reprinted.” Comparing this edition with the older Middle High German, reprinted at Frankfort in 1833, I am of opinion that the statement is correct, as the two editions agree in almost every respect. Dr. Denifle’s edition has, however, afforded a different reading of certain passages, resulting from a careful comparison of all the known existing MSS. of the work.

It is further stated in the Frankfort edition viii(1670) that this edition has exactly followed the very old copy of 1448, without changing a single letter, and only adding a new division into chapters33   I have adopted that division of chapters, which seemed most convenient on a comparison of the three earlier editions, which, however, only differ slightly. for the sake of convenience.

While treating of editions it may be added that the “Following of Christ” was translated into Latin by Laurentio Surio, a well-known Carthusian monk.

With regard to Tauler’s method, it is interesting to note how the scholastic influence, and especially that of St. Thomas Aquinas, had imprinted itself on the mind of the writer, who moreover shows a considerable acquaintance with the philosophers of classical antiquity,44   He often describes these as teachers. and a readiness to introduce passages of Scripture at a time when it was more generally known and circulated than has been sometimes alleged.55   The passages are naturally differently translated from versions that had not then appeared, but the sense is the same. “We give the chapter and verse in each case. With regard to the circulation of the Bible, in modern versions, during the fifteenth century, see “Geschichte des Deutschen Volkes,” by J. Janssen (1883), vol. i. p. 51.

Tauler divides his argument invariably ixunder heads, closely and logically connected. He presents the objections of adversaries to combat them, and uses frequent repetitions in matters which, savouring of mysticism, have to be frequently impressed that they may not escape the mind.

With regard to the language of the translation, it has appeared right and necessary to adopt much of the terseness and strength of the English of our early version in order to convey a proper idea of Tauler’s expressions. To fritter him down to the dulcet style of Gibbon, or even the polished propriety of Macaulay, would have been incongruous and unseemly.

It has been necessary to employ terms which, to modern readers and thinkers, may present some difficulty, but a little consideration is sufficient to explain the writer’s line of thought.

In speaking of the natural reason of man he often styles it “Bescheidenheit,” or the power of discretion, which corresponds to the Greek ἠγεμεονικόν of the Stoics. In one place he uses the term synteresis for the highest power of the mind, the term meaning the power of preservation.66   συντήρησις We have mostly translated these terms by reason and understanding, the sound Biblical expressions xfor those faculties. In speaking of the processes of the natural reason, he often dwells on that of distinction, which in modern times we describe as analysis and synthesis.

The objects presented to these faculties are styled images and forms, by which he evidently describes what in modern philosophy are termed representations, ideas, and conceptions (Anschauungen, Vorstellungen, Ideen, und Begriffe). With this explanation his meaning will become sufficiently clear.

It may be added that Tauler belonged to a great school of spiritual writers nourishing in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in Germany and Holland, and including Thomas à Kempis, Süss, Ruysbrock, Seuse, and others. His writings have been commended by many Lutherans, though some of his sentiments were combated by Beza, who naturally, as a Calvinist, had objections to the great stress he lays on charity. Even John Eckius describes him as circa fidem suspectum. But this view was entirely confuted by Ludovicus Blosius.

From the middle of the thirteenth century two Orders in the Church, the Franciscans and the Dominicans, were chiefly instrumental in giving a rapid development to German prose, raising it to a position equal to that of the admirable early poetry of the Nibelungen Lied and the Minnesingers. After the middle xiof the thirteenth century, the Dominicans in particular occupy the first place, and in their sermons and learned treatises show that the German tongue of that time can do justice to the deepest and most difficult themes.

Most of the great Mystics issued from that Order in Germany, and had for nearly a century so great an influence that they almost effaced the poetry of the time. It is with reason that these thinkers have been called the sires of German speculation; for in them we trace the origin of an independent German philosophy, nay, the germs of many celebrated systems developed five centuries later on, in some cases fully outspoken in these early thinkers. Of these men, Eckhart, Seuse, and Tauler are the most striking individualities, and their writings, as well as those of Hermann von Fritzlar, Nicolaus von Strassburg, and David von Augsburg, are well entitled to careful study, and are now accessible to the student of Middle High German by the assiduous labours of modern critics.77   Deutsche Mystiker des 14ten Jahrhunderts, herausgegeben von F. Pfeiffer (Leipzig, 1845-57); Die Deutsche Mystiker des 14ten Jahrhunderts, von Bischof Greith. 1861. But as many are not conversant with that archaic tongue, the translator has thought it might be useful and interesting to not a few of his xiicountrymen to give an English version of one of the most remarkable of their works, rendering it as far as desirable in an older form of English necessary to convey the terse and quaint language of the original.

“The Following of the Poor Life of Christ, or the Book of Spiritual Poverty,” as Denifle would have it called, was presented to the German world in a perfect form by that able critic after a careful study and comparison of the best MSS. in the Leipzig, Munich, St. Gallen, and other collections.88   Denifle enumerates the following MSS.:—
   1. A. At the Leipzig University Library, No. 560, on parchment. Date 1429.

   2. B. Graz, private property, derived from the Convent of Hasslach, on paper. Date 1434.

   3. C. St. Gallen, Stiffs Library. Paper, fifteenth century (No. 962).

   4. D a-f. Munich, Hof Library. Paper, fifteenth century.

   4-9. Six MSS. Dates 1443, 1455, sixteenth century, 1477, sixteenth century, and fifteenth century, Nos. 263, 781, 782, 783, 4306, and 4415.

   Denifle made principal use of A. in his edition (1877).
My translation is mainly in accordance with his published German edition (1877, Munich), though I have retained the earlier division into short chapters (of the editions of 1833 and 1670) as more convenient.


But I have added the division and headings of Denifle’s edition for comparison, and I have largely used his valuable notes in the Preface and Appendix.

Though differing from him in his view of the author and of the work, I readily admit our large debt of gratitude to him for his patient studies and admirable edition which, with its beautiful text and learned annotations, has been of the greatest service to me in the arduous labour of translation.

Though Denifle is inclined to dispute the authorship of the “Following” by Tauler, he gives the work a high antiquity (the fourteenth century), and admits that it was largely quoted by the Provincial of the Franciscans, Marcus of Lindau, about that time.99   Provincial of the Strassburg Franciscan Province, died August 15, 1392, used extensively the “Following” in his book on the Ten Commandments (Introduction to Denifle’s edition, p. lii.)

He further admits that the work has much merit and many passages equal to anything to be found in the mystical writers.

At page liii. of his Introduction he says:—“Let it not be inferred from our representations that all teachings in this work are exaggerated and erroneous. Such a conclusion would not be just. Especially the sections on the Passion of Christ belong to the xivfinest things that the Mystics have written on the subject. And when the author advances the sound normal doctrines of the other Mystics, he develops them always in an original manner, and his description is always supported by a high moral earnestness.”

It is very natural to find a member of the Mendicant Orders, when they were still in the early energy of the movement, stand forth as a powerful expositor of the great principle involved in it. But I propose to show how strongly the best Catholic commentators on the New Testament endorse the conditions of perfection held forth in this book.

Thus basing my argument on far higher and more conclusive authority, I hope to establish that this work is worthy of the great name of Tauler.

The passage of Scripture most frequently recurring in the “Following,” and forming the master theme of the work, occurs in Matt. xix. 16-30.

I shall now compare the view of this passage in the two great Catholic commentators with that taken by the author of the “Following.”

J. Maldonatus (Comment, in Matt., c. xix., p. 409, v. 24, Moguntiae, 1602), says: . . . “Apostoli mirabantur quasi nimis dura esset ac severa sententia; respondit Christus, eam, xvetiam atque etiam exaggerens, et severiorem reddens; atque hoc est quod ait: ‘iterum dico vobis,’ quasi dicat,” non solum quod modo dixi verum est, sed amplius etiam dico vobis, facilius esse camelum per foramen acus transire, quam divitem intrare in regnum coelorum . . . v. 26. “Apud homines hoc impossible est . . . Christumque voluisse sententiam suam magis et magis exaggerando confirmare. Primo enim simpliciter dixit, difficile esse divitem in regno coelorum introire; secundo dixit, facilius esse camelum, etc.; tertio, impossible omnino esse sed apud homines, non apud Deum.

Cornelius a Lapide (Comment, in Matt., c. xix., pp. 265-267; Venetiis, 1761, v. 21-23), has: . . . “Tum quia cupido divitiarum facit eus coacervari per fas et nefas; tum quia eadem ita mentem auro alligat ut nequeat cogitare de coelo; tum quia divitiae sunt materia et stimulus ad superbiam, gulam, luxuriam, omniaque scelera.” “Et iterum Christus enim adaugendo quasi corrigit id quod dixit.” Dixi difficile esse divitem salvari; nunc addo quod amplius est, facilius esse camelum . . . Quemlibet divitem accipias.

Rursum impossibile hie proprie capias; nam divitem salvari impossibile est apud homines (p. 267).—Humanae naturae viribus xviimpossibile est diviti opibus suis intricato salutem consequi . . . imo ut non pauci iis relictis ambiant et sequautur evangelicam Christi paupertatem; hoc enim fecere primo omnes Christiani, qui omnia habebant communia ut patet” (Act. Apost. iv. 32).

After this survey by those who accept Christian and Catholic teaching, it must be admitted that the argument of the “Following,” with reference to the condition of perfection, is founded on the words of Christ, as they are explained by the most competent and approved commentators of the Church.

It has appeared to us useful to show that the teachings in the “Following” are, in many cases, conformable with those of the Mystics of the fourteenth century, and with previous saints and doctors of the Church. But it would be as absurd to deny the author’s originality on this account, as to represent that Schelling and Hegel copied all their views from Fichte and Kant, or that Brown was a plagiarist of Dugald Stewart and Reid.

On the Doctrine of Poverty, in No. 9, p. 7, Part I., &c., and throughout the “Following,” compare Nicolaus von Strassburg in Pfeiffer’s edition, Die Deutsche Mystiker, Predigten (p. 301):

“We are on the way to the kingdom of heaven, and are always waiting for the end xviiof the journey. But whosoever for a short way loadeth himself with much corn, becometh sooner weary, before he cometh to the end, and must suffer much trouble by the way. Thus Thou wishest, O Lord, that thy people be ready for the journey, and not overladen with earthly things. If they have something to carry, let them share this with their shipmates, who have not; thus their burthen is less, and they go quicker, and come thus earlier in the evening to the heavenly shelter. This hast Thou taught us with thy complete poverty, for whoso carrieth not much on the way, is the less frightened by robbers, for many a man hath lost his life on account of the burden he carried.”

Again, at p. 314, “The seven Rules of Virtue:” “The third rule is that the spiritual man do sparingly use the things that are of the world, as far as his necessity alloweth in food, and clothing, and house, and all things. Our Lord Jesus Christ teacheth us this rule, who would not have so much from the world, as even where to lay His head. . . . The more sparingly a man useth the world’s goods and its lusts, the more readily he flieth to the height of the heavenly kingdom. . . . We have high to climb into the heavenly kingdom. . . . But whoso overloadeth himself with a heavy xviiiburden of earthly possession, he is stricken with much sorrow on the evening of his death, like the rich man in the Gospel, who enlarged his dwelling that he might lay in more store. When he comforted himself for many years, with an easy life in store for him, the Lord said, ‘Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.’ Such are they who treasure up here, and are not rich towards God. Thy treasure is what thou lovest more than the right.

“Seneca saith: ‘If two words were not in the world, men would live in concord without any war: these words are “mine and thine.”’ These words were not in Christendom at first, where all earthly things were in common to them, but to each as his necessity required, not according to caprice and lust. Therefore they lived together in concord as if they had only one heart and one soul. This was to us a pattern of peace and Christian perfection.”

On the doctrine of essential virtue (Following, Part I. No. 7, p. 5; Part II. No. 72, p. 241), &c., see Eckhart (Pfeiffer’s edition), 524, 12; 571, 3, &c.

On suffering in God, see Eckhart (op. cit.) 4, 8; 6, 34; 8, 1; 16, 1; 15, 24; 23, 28, &c.

Respecting the drawing in of the powers (the lower powers into the higher), op. cit., 3, xix27; 13, 16, 39; 24, 33 (Part II. No. 112, p. 289, No. 98, p. 274).

If God speaks creatures must hush, op. cit.; 36, 30.

God worketh in the highest union the works of the soul, which is, as it were, an instrument, op. cit., 127, 34; 402, 32; 515, 36; 526, 2 (Part II. No. 95, p. 272).

The spirit becomes divinised, or has a godlike form; op. cit., 156, 5; 161, 26; 240, 14; 643, 19, 38 (Part II. No. 37, p. 193).

Man loses his name in this state (Part II. No. 37, p. 193), (op. cit.) 387, 12; 503, 4; 513, 20.

The comparison of the sun and moon occurs (op. cit.), 505, 5; 509, 18 (Following, Part I. No. 148, p. 128).

The soul becomes, from knowing, knowingless; from loving, loveless; op. cit., 491, 8; 504, 36; 509, 14 (Following, Part II. No. 20, p. 171).

The spirit loses itself in God, so that it knows nothing but God; see op. cit., 519, 25. Even Dionys. in his De Mystica Theolog., c. 1, § 3, says of the νοῦς . . πᾶς ὤν τοῦ πάντων ἐπέκεινα καὶ οὐδενὸς οὔτε έαυτοῦ οὔτε ἑτέρου τῶ παντελῶς δὲ ἀγεώστω . . ἐνοουμενός.

St. Bernard teaches: “Mens . . . quodammodo se sibi furatur, immo rapitur atque elabitnr a seipsa, ut verbo fruatur.” (In Cant. xxSermo, 85, p. 1244, ed. Mediol. 1851.) Confer Epist. 11, No. 8: De dilig. Deo. c. 12, No. 28.—And Richard of St. Victor (De contemplatione, v. 12, p. 321 says: “Cur non recte dicatur spiritus semetipsum non habere, quando incipit a semetipso deficere et a suo esse in supermundanum quemdam et vere plus quam humanum statum transire . . . ita ut ipse jam non sit ipse, eo duntaxat tempore quo Domino incipit altius inhaerere.

Cod. Einsidl., No. 278, translates this passage thus: Book 7—compare c. 9, p. 318: “A semetipsa penitus deficit.

David of Augsburg (De septem processibus religiosi, c. 1 5) explains: “Haec est hominis in vita sublimior perfectio ita uniri Deo ut tota anima cum omnibus potentiis suis et viribus in Deum collecta unus spiritus fiat cum eo, nihil meminerit nisi Deum, nihil sentiat et intelligat nisi Deum.

Albert, M. (De adhaerendo Deo, c. 6): “Et sic transformatur quodammodo in Deum, quod nec cogitare nec intelligere nec amare nec memorari potest nisi Deum pariter et de Deo.” Therefore, says Seuse in his little book, of Truth (c. 6, p. 277, 3 edit, of Diepenbr.), the spirit loses itself in God.

The teaching that a man can scarcely fall after this elevation, is found in Eckhart, op. cit., 10. 14 (Part II. No. 103, p. 280).


The doctrine that accidental reward attaches to external works, but essential reward attaches to merit, as it has its excellence from love or charity, is the ordinary Catholic teaching, and a quotation from St. Thomas suffices to show this:

Labor exterior operatur ad augmentum proemii accidentalis; sed augmentum meriti respectu proemii essentialis consistit principaliter in charitate.” (2, 2, qu. 182, a. 2, ad 1. Comp. 4 dist. 49, qu. 5, a. 1, ad. 3; in Ep. ad Rom. 8, lect. 5.)

The doctrine of the communion of good works (Part I. No. 44, p. 34), in which Schmidt (op. cit. p. 131) sees a suppression of all differences, of all diversity in the spirit that has gone out of itself in union with God, is also the Catholic doctrine. Like the Mystics, St. Thomas also traces back this communion to love working in the Mystical Body of Christ: “Illud quod unus videtur specialiter haberi inter homines, quodammodo omnes communiter habent, in quantum se per charitatem perfectam unusquisque bonum alterius suum reputat.” (1 c. e Libro in Sent. ad 4.)

Peter Blesensis says of the communio sanctorum in heaven: “Bonum; quod in Deo vel in proximo diligam, diligendo faciam meum. (Maxima Bibliotheca, P. P. tom. xxiixxiv. Lugd. 1677, p. 1242.) Comp. Eckhart, 29, 23; 56, 5; 209, 2; and especially 552.

Denifle affirms that the great matter of the perfection of the will (Part II. No. 51, p. 214) is an older teaching than the Mystics. Compare St. Thomas, 2, 2, qu. 81, a. 6 ad 1.): “Laus virtutis in voluntate consistit, non autem in potestate, et ideo deficere ab aequalitate, quae est medium justitiae propter defectum potestatis non diminuit laudem virtutis, si non fuerit defectus ex parte voluntatis.

Hugo of St. Victor (De sacram. lib. 2, p. 14, c. 6, p. 498, ed. Mog. 1618): “Totum meritum voluntate est. Quantum vis, tantum mereris”—provided, as he explains, the will, without any fault on its part, is unable to come to work. (St. Thomas, 1, 2, qu. 20, a. 4 in fine.) This doctrine is, moreover, found in Mark xii. 43, and in 2 Cor. viii. 12.

« Prev Preface. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection