Johannes Tauler

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Statue of Johannes Tauler on the outside of the church Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune protestant in Strasbourg

Johannes Tauler (* around 1300 in Strasbourg; † 16 June 1361 in Strasbourg) was a Dominican German theologian and preacher who belonged to the neo-platonic movement. Alongside Meister Eckhart and Heinrich Seuse, he is one of the most important representatives of German mysticism.

Life and work

Tauler came from a wealthy family, as his own words indicate. The name of the family, which had been living in Strasbourg for decades, is mentioned several times in contemporary documents. A Klaus Tauler, presumably Johannes Tauler's father, was a councillor.

Tauler entered the Dominican convent in his home town. He underwent the usual training for priests of the Dominican Order, i.e. a course of study lasting six to eight years, which imparted extensive philosophical and theological knowledge. This probably did not take place in Strasbourg, but in another monastery of the Dominican province of Teutonia in southern Germany. It was probably in the Strasbourg Dominican convent that he met Meister Eckhart, who is documented as having visited the city several times between 1314 and 1322/1324. After his training, Tauler was mainly active in the pastoral care of spiritual women (Dominican nuns and Beguines). For them he wrote his approximately 80 German-language sermons, which were early compiled into collections; the handwritten tradition begins during his lifetime. Apart from a personal letter, these sermons are his only surviving authentic work.

During the conflict between Emperor Louis the Bavarian and Pope John XXII, Strasbourg decided to support the Emperor and was given an interdict by the Pope. Since the Strasbourg Dominicans obeyed the Pope's instruction and refused to continue celebrating mass for the citizens, they were expelled from the city in 1339. Tauler had probably already left Strasbourg in 1338. Like most of his confreres affected by the expulsion, he went to Basel. He remained there at least until the Dominican convent returned to Strasbourg (1342/43).

Tauler spent the last part of his life, weakened by illness, in the garden house of the Dominican convent of St. Nikolaus am Gießen (St. Nicolaus in undis) in Strasbourg. After his death on 16 June 1361, he was buried in the Dominican monastery; the grave slab showing a drawing of his figure has been preserved.

Rudolf Steiner on Johannes Tauler

„Christian esotericism has a powerful foundation, of which only a faint ray penetrates into the outer world through the works of the Christian mystics, Meister Eckhart, [Johannes] Tauler and Jakob Böhme. Tauler and his work "The Layman and the Unknown from the Oberland" give only a faint semblance of the secret doctrine of Christian esotericism.“ (Lit.:GA 111, p. 117f)

„At the time of Johannes Tauler there lived a personality who is called "The Unknown from the Oberland". This personality taught Johannes Tauler, who afterwards preached so powerfully that some of the listeners remained as if dead. The individuality which appeared in this personality was the individuality of the Master Jesus, who had always guided the development of the West, even if in secret. Together with this individuality, the other Master individuality worked in the West: Christian Rosenkreutz. They are also now the Masters of the West who are guiding the development in Central Europe.“ (Lit.:GA 264, p. 330)

„The mystic feels united with the primordial divine life: this is being enlightened, which in mysticism is called man's self-knowledge. It shows that, just as the mathematician produces numbers, man can produce the highest from himself. Self-knowledge becomes immediate enthusiasm, because self-knowledge means devotion to the divinity.

In Johannes Tauler, this moodiness of the mystic comes out in his whole life: his life was an exposition of the divine life. He says that as long as I only discuss and present the highest divine wisdom, I have not achieved the right thing. I must disappear completely myself and let God speak from me. He says God looks at his own laws, by which he created the world, through me, my self is the self-life: I must let God experience himself in me.

Eckhart's mysticism is a mystical knowledge; in Tauler we find mystical life. From that time on, a special artistic expression of the mystic is found: he who experiences God in himself is called "God-friend".

An unknown personality appeared during Tauler's sermon; he is called the "God-friend from the Oberland". We never encounter him in any other way than that he appears, as it were, as a mirror of the other personalities who are influenced by him. Johannes Tauler states in his master book that he communicated knowledge of God to people, but he could not yet let life overflow; then the Friend of God came and gave Johannes Tauler his enlightenment. The original source itself came alive in him. For a long time he gave up all preaching and withdrew with the unknown man from the upper country, in order to bring himself into the state of mind in which this life of the spirit was rising, so that he made himself the channel of divine wisdom and through him it overflowed into others. His speech gained fire, he made the greatest impression; people were transformed by his words, through which people found the spark within them kindled. The dying to all that lives in the outer world, that is the revival of the new man: that is what Johannes Tauler could now bring about through the power of his word. Goethe says: "For as long as you do not have this, this dying and becoming, you are only a dull guest on the dark earth." The experience of the conceptio immaculata is dying and becoming, in the lower sense and in the higher sense. Those who listened to Tauler experienced the unio mystica. Just as man feels all external beauties that come from outside through sensation, so the mystic feels the beauty of the spiritual world through Christ, whom he experiences; it is an experience that makes him drunk: this is the true music of the spheres. Just as man feels the sensual harmony in the world of sensation, so the mystic feels in the soul the coherence of the great laws of the world, the working, the creating of the Logos, of God Himself, the music of the spheres. Through the human soul, the eternal God expresses himself in his Logos.“ (Lit.:GA 51, p. 208ff)

„One must be completely clear about how man stands in relation to his higher knowledge if one wants to let the difference between personalities like Eckhart and Tauler come before the soul. Man is caught up in the world of the senses and in the laws of nature by which the world of the senses is dominated. He is himself a result of this world. He lives because its forces and substances are active in him; indeed, he perceives this world of the senses and judges it according to the laws according to which it and he are constructed. When he directs his eye to an object, not only does the object present itself to him as a sum of interacting forces governed by the laws of nature, but the eye itself is a body constructed according to such laws and by such forces; and seeing takes place according to such laws and through such forces. If we had come to an end in natural science, we could well follow this play of natural forces in the sense of the laws of nature up to the highest regions of thought formation. - But even in doing this we rise above this play. Are we not above all mere laws of nature when we survey how we integrate ourselves into nature? We see with our eyes according to the laws of nature. But we also recognise the laws according to which we see. We can place ourselves on a higher plane and at the same time see the outer world and ourselves in their interplay. Is there not a being working in us that is higher than the sensuous-organic personality working according to natural laws and with natural forces? Is there still a partition between our inner being and the outer world in such activity? What judges there, what obtains enlightenment, is no longer our individual personality; it is rather the general world-being which has torn down the barrier between inner world and outer world, and which now encompasses both. As true as it is that I still remain the same individual in outward appearance when I have broken down the barrier in this way, it is also true that I am no longer this individual in essence. In me now lives the feeling that in my soul the All-being speaks, which embraces me and all the world. - Such feelings live in Tauler when he says: "Man is right as if he were three men, his animal man, as he is according to the senses, then his rational man, and finally his supreme God-shaped, God-formed man".... "The one is the external, animal, sensual man; the other is the internal, rational man, with his rational powers; the third man is the mind, the very uppermost part of the soul" (cf. W. Preger, "Geschichte der deutschen Mystik", j.Bd., p. 161). How this third person is sublime above the first and second, Eckhart said in the words: "The eye through which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me. My eye and God's eye are one eye and one seeing and one recognising and one feeling. But in Tauler, another sensation lives at the same time as this one. He struggles through to a real view of the spiritual and does not, like the false materialists and the false idealists, continually mix up the sensual-natural with the spiritual. If Tauler, with his attitude, had become a naturalist, he would have had to insist on explaining everything natural, including the whole human being, the first and the second, in purely natural terms. He would never have put "pure" spiritual forces into nature itself. He would not have spoken of a "purposefulness" in nature conceived according to human patterns. He knew that where we perceive with our senses there are no "thoughts of creation" to be found. On the contrary, in him lived the strongest consciousness of the fact that man is a merely natural being. And since he did not feel himself to be a natural scientist, but a nurturer of moral life, he felt the contrast that opens up between this natural being of man and the vision of God that arises in the midst of naturalness, in a natural way, but as spirituality. It was precisely in this contrast that the meaning of life became apparent to him. Man finds himself as an individual being, as a creature of nature. And no science can reveal to him anything else about this life than that he is such a creature of nature. As a creature of nature, he cannot go beyond the creatureliness of nature. He must remain in it. And yet his inner life leads him beyond it. He must have faith in that which no science of outer nature can give and show him. If he calls this nature the "there-being", he must be able to advance to the view which recognises the non-existent as the higher. Tauler does not seek a God who exists in the sense of a natural force; he does not seek a God who would have created the world in the sense of human creations. In him lives the realisation that even the concept of creation of the church teachers is only idealised human creation. It is clear to him that God cannot be found in the same way that science finds the workings of nature and the laws of nature. Tauler is aware that we must not add anything to nature as God. He knows that whoever, in his sense, thinks God, thinks no more thought-content than whoever has conceived nature in thought. Tauler therefore does not want to think God, but he wants to think divinely. The knowledge of nature is not enriched by the knowledge of God, but transformed. The knower of God does not know differently from the knower of nature, but knows differently. Not one letter can the knower of God add to the knowledge of nature; but through his whole knowledge of nature a new light shines.“ (Lit.:GA 7, p. 53ff)

„Tauler, because he focuses on the natural human being, is less concerned to say what will happen when the higher human being moves into the natural one, than to find the paths which the lower forces of the personality have to take if they are to be transferred into the higher life. As the nurturer of the moral life, he wants to show man the ways to the All-being. He has the unconditional faith and confidence that the Universal Being will shine forth in man if he arranges his life in such a way that there is a place for the Divine in him. But this universal being can never shine forth if man closes himself off in his mere, natural, individual personality. In Tauler's language, this separate human being is only a member of the world, a single creature. The more man encloses himself in this existence as a member of the world, the less can the All-being find a place in him. "If man is to become one with God in truth, all the powers of the inner man must die and be silent. The will must itself become devoid of good and of all will and become willless." "Man must give up all his senses, and all his powers, and come into a forgetfulness of all things and of himself." "For the true and eternal Word of God is spoken in the wilderness alone, when man has gone out of himself and out of all things, and stands all alone, desolate and solitary."“ (Lit.:GA 7, p. 58f)

„As definite and clear as the direction in which he has to move his steps is to him, it is also clear to him that he can never speak of a goal. A new goal is only the beginning of a new path. Through such a new goal man has reached a degree of development; development itself moves into the immeasurable. And what it will achieve on a more distant stage it never knows in the present one. There is no recognition of the ultimate goal; only a trust in the path, in development. There is a recognition of everything that man has already achieved. It consists in the penetration of an already existing object through the powers of our spirit. There is no such recognition for the higher life of the inner being. Here the powers of our spirit must first bring the object itself into existence; they must first create for it an existence that is like natural existence. Natural science traces the development of beings from the simplest to the most perfect, man himself. This development lies before us as completed. We recognise it by penetrating it with our spiritual powers. Once the development has reached the human being, he finds no further continuation available. He carries out the further development himself. He now lives what he merely recognises for earlier stages. He recreates for the object what he recreates for the preceding only in accordance with the spiritual being. That truth is not one with what exists in nature, but naturally embraces what exists and what does not exist: Tauler is completely filled with this in all his feelings. We are told that he was led to this fulfilment by an enlightened layman, a "friend of God from the Oberland". This is a mysterious story. There is only conjecture as to where this friend of God lived, and not even as to who he was. He is said to have heard much of Tauler's way of preaching and, after hearing this, decided to travel to Tauler, who was working as a preacher in Strasbourg, in order to fulfil a task on him. Tauler's relationship with the friend of God and the influence he exerted on him are described in a text that is printed with the oldest editions of Tauler's sermons under the title "The Master's Book". In it, a friend of God, in whom one wants to recognise the one who has entered into relationships with Tauler, tells of a "Master", as whom one wants to recognise Tauler himself. He tells how a change, a spiritual rebirth was brought about in a "master", and how this master, when he felt his death approaching, called the friend to him and asked him to write the story of his "enlightenment", but to see to it that no one ever learns of whom the book speaks. He asks this because all the knowledge that comes from him is not from him. "For know, God has wrought all things through me poor worm, that is it, it is not mine, it is God's."“ (Lit.:GA 7, p. 60f)



References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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