Johannes Tauler

Johannes Tauler

Statue of Johannes Tauler, the Strasbourg Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune Protestant Church.
Born c. 1300
Died 15 June 1361
Nationality German
Occupation German mystic, a Catholic preacher and a theologian
Known for most important Rhineland Mystics
Title Doctor Illuminatus et sublimis
Religion Christian

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.[1] 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.[2]

In 1338 or 1339 the Dominicans were exiled from Strasbourg as a result of the tensions between Pope John XXII and Lewis of Bavaria.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5] In this way, he was more of a proselytizer than his counterpart, Eckhart.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8]

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 of Ruusbroec in Groenendaal at some point in the 1350s.[9]

According to tradition, Tauler died on 16 June 1361 in Strasbourg. He was buried in the Dominican church in Strasbourg with an incised gravestone that still survives in the Temple Neuf.[10]

The well-known story of Tauler's conversion and discipline by "The Friend of God from the Oberland" cannot be regarded as historical.[11]


1522 title page of Tauler's sermons, by Holbein.

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.[12]

Tauler's sermons were printed first in Leipzig in 1498, reprinted in 1508 at Augsburg, and then again with additions from Eckhart and others at Basel (1521 and 1522), at Halberstadt (1523), at Cologne (1543), and in Lisbon (1551). A Latin translation was printed first at Cologne in 1548 and 1553. In the nineteenth century, editions were produced by Julius Hamberger (Frankfurt, 1864) and Ferdinand Vetter (Berlin, 1910, reprinted Dublin/Zürich, 1968;[13]).

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.[14] 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."[15]

See also

Hearken: God is infinite and without end, but the soul's desire is an abyss which cannot be filled except by a Good which is infinite; and the more ardently the soul longeth after God, the more she wills to long after Him; for God is a Good without drawback, and a well of living water without bottom, and the soul is made in the image of God, and therefore it is created to know and love God.

- Tauler

Modern editions

There are various foreign language editions of the sermons:[16]

A good English translation of Tauler's sermons is lacking.

Older English translations of Tauler include various inauthentic pieces, and were often made from the Latin version of Laurentius Surius. They are therefore problematic. These include:

Further reading


  1. It used to be stated that Eckhart was professor of theology in the monastery school at Strasbourg, but this is entirely supposition with no supporting evidence.
  2. Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism, (2005), p241.
  3. Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism, (2005), p242.
  4. Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism, (2005), p242.
  5. Cairns, Earle. Christianity Through the Centuries. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
  6. Cairns, Earle. Christianity Through the Centuries. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
  7. Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism, (2005), p242.
  8. Chisholm 1911.
  9. Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism, (2005), p243.
  10. Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism, (2005), p243.
  11. Chiaholm 1911.
  12. Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism, (2005).
  13. Online im Digitalen Mittelhochdeutschen Textarchiv (mhgta)
  14. "Apocatastasis". New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. I.
  15. "Johann Tauler". at Accessed Dec. 5, 2007.
  16. On what follows, see Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism, (2005), p586.


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