Tauler knows the Suffering of those to whom he preaches and he preaches as a "wounded healer." His personal experience is the primary vehicle for his preaching. His rhetoric follows one of the eight precepts of Humbert of Romans, namely the topic of religious experience (scientia experimentalis).28 He does not employ the current preaching "techniques," but reaches the listeners by "meeting them where they are" and thus convincing them of his authenticity. Tauler's preaching in the German vernacular, rather than the Latin, enabled him greater flexibility of expression and allowed him to enter the world of his listeners through popular images, proverbs, and stories. His sermons "do not show signs of systematic or direct use of popular ancillary manuals,"29 nor does he strictly follow a structured form of preaching. A 1979 study, comparing the styles of Eckhart, Tauler, and Suso, concluded that Tauler was the most "spontaneous and audience-oriented" of the three preachers. "He presents points of reflection that are almost self-contained units without caring too much for a logical disposition. Sentences are comparatively short and reflect an oral pattern."30 Clark writes, "He is well-versed in proverbial lore and does not despise alliteration, antithesis, and metaphor, though he is no rhetorician. . . His imagery is derived from hunting, war, sea-faring, viniculture, farming, trade and natural history.''31 While a learned Dominican scholastic, Tauler nonetheless made it his priority to preach to the people in a way they could understand--and his power and authority flowed from his personal conviction.
The preaching of Johannes Tauler addresses the fear and the hopelessness encountered by the Christians of his time. Nothing for Tauler is beyond God's power. Rather, humility is needed in order to acknowledge the supremacy of God in all matters, especially as regards our own failings. In Sermon 75 (on temptations) he insists, "In temptation we are made aware of the ground of our own soul. . . When temptation exposes the stain and the roots of sin, then these are torn out, humility is born by the fear of God, and we are urged to flee to God, to seek His help and to hand our battle against sin over to him."32 This is remarkably similar to the "Twelve-Step Spirituality" of Alcoholics Anonymous and other addiction-related groups, which call for recognition of the "Higher Power" in order to be truly free from addiction. Even faults "of which you cannot rid yourself or overcome" can be used for the purpose of God, in the same way that horse dung which is "unclean and evil-smelling" can be strewn across the ''fields where fine wheat and good sweet wine grow from it, which would never grow so well if the dung were not there." Tauter then exhorts those who are despairing of their faults, "Scatter your dung on this noble field [the field of God's will] and, without any doubt, there shall spring up noble and delightful fruit."33 So then, Tauler is not only a "wounded healer" but he preaches the word as if to extricate those of his listeners who are caught in the briars of desperation, or to exorcise those overtaken by fear.
It isn't difficult to understand how it was that the recorded preaching of Tauler exercised the greatest influence upon the Carmelite mystic, St. John of the Cross.34 Perhaps Alois Haas best summarizes Tauler's spirituality:
It is the imitation of Christ, placing an emphasis on His humanity never to be abrogated, which makes His passion and suffering the sole model to be followed. Not that the Areopagitic and Neoplatonic language of apophasis is absent in Tauler. However, without shunning ecstasy, it [this apophasis] occupies the rank of an ascending movement toward God, to which corresponds paradoxically a descending movement, marked by humility and self-knowledge, as a concrete force of self-expropriation. Thus this spirituality is characterized by a decisive paradox: it is a mysticism of ascent to the same degree it is a mysticism of descent [emphasis added].35
Christ is both a model as "crucified" and an efficient cause of grace as "glorified."36 As mentioned above, this kind of preaching is salvific, it proclaims to those who are powerless, because of sin or unexpected misfortune, that the message of the Cross is relevant today. For those who experience sudden tragedy or who grow fatalistic in response to the complexity of the world's problems, or especially those who experience inner chaos and doubt, Tauler offers an "image of God [which] is one of unbounded beneficence."37
How is the preaching and the message of this fourteenth-century Dominican friar relevant for preachers at the turn of the millennium? First, Tauler's preaching conveys a genuine optimism, borne by the conviction of God's presence among us and His power to save. Such a message befits our world which considers itself more and more a "victim" of impersonal forces--war, crime, family breakdown, AIDS, natural disasters, poverty and starvation. This preaching recalls the first word of the resurrected Christ to His disciples in the Upper Room--"Peace!" Tauler preaches of Emmanuel (God-with-us) present to us at the "core of our being" and with us unconditionally. At the same time he does not preach a message of "retreat" per se or an absconding from tribulation, but instead a more truthful entrance into reality--through suffering with Christ. To a people who felt alone, he assured them they were not. Today in a society where suffering is considered scandalous and beneath human dignity, people need to hear that suffering has been made redemptive through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because of Christ, that meaningless "scandal" of suffering, which is inherent to human nature as consequence of original sin, becomes an opportunity to receive God's life within us.
Secondly, calling the people to a consciousness of God's immediate presence to us, Tauler challenges us to be "present" to whatever situation in which we find ourselves. "Whatever God ordains or allows in our regard, happiness or misfortune, pleasure or pain, it all contributes toward our eternal bliss, for everything that comes to us has been foreseen by God from all eternity."38
Who knows where and when and by what means God will choose to come and bestow His gifts? It is a hundred times better to stand patiently under the shelter of the divine will than to aspire toward high virtue with its full-blown emotional satisfactions which we love so dearly.39
In our technological world which often races to the next moment, there is little or no sense of a "present." Yet how does one racing toward the future find the God Who is ever in the present? Such acceptance of the present is not meant to be an abject submission to "what happens to be" but a faith-filled willingness to confront the present reality confident in God's faithfulness.
Lastly Tauler challenges today's preacher to be truly compassionate. The ardent conviction of God's abundant goodness and the acute awareness of his own dependency upon that goodness compelled Tauler to preach compassionately. The main thrust behind his preaching is the desire to confirm others and to lead them to greater awareness of God's love and mercy. Tauler identified with his neighbors' deepest hunger, and he was prompted to "speak the truth in love." Today as much as at any time previously there is need for the preacher to speak to the heart of the listener--to offer, as an ambassador of Christ, the gift of salvation.
The fourteenth century message of Johannes Tauler is germane to our day and age because it addresses human issues which are "ageless" and without cultural bounds--God and suffering, grace and works, mysticism and love of neighbor. The effectiveness of his preaching stems from his self-knowledge, his humility, and his ability to articulate his experience of God within. Inflamed with the knowledge of God's power at work within his own life, he zealously but gently directs his listeners toward that same knowledge.
l Simon Tugwell, Early Dominicans: Selected Writings, The Classics of Western Spirituality Series, (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 193.
2James M. Clark, The Great German Mystics: Eckhart, Tauler, and Suso, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1949), 36.
3Josef Schmidt, introduction to Sermons, by Johannes Tauler, The Classics of Western Spirituality Series, (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 4; Clark, 36.
4Frank Tobin, Introduction to Henry Suso: The Exemplar, with Two German Sermons, Translated and edited by Frank Tobin, The Classics of Western Spirituality Series, (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), 13-14.
5Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Rise of Christian Europe, (New York: W W. Norton and Company, 1966), 165-166.
10Tobin, 17-18, Jordan Aumann, Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), 150.
11Eric Colledge, Introduction to Spiritual Conferences by Johannes Tauler, Cross and Crown Series of Spirituality, ed. Jordan Aumann, O.P, no 20., (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1961), 20.
14Clark, 46; Aumann, Christian Spirituality, 151-152.
15Tauler, Sermons, 97.
17Tauler, Sermons, 38.
19Richard Kieckhefer, "John Tauler," In An Introduction to the Medieval Mystics of Europe, edited by Paul E. Szarmach, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984), 262.
20Aumann, Christian Spirituality, 152, 204. Tauler's conferences and sermons--including pseudo-Tauleriana writings--were condemned or forbidden in Spain, France, and Belgium during the sixteenth century. The Jesuits banned Tauler's "writings" from the Society in March, 1575, because of their "Quietistic tendencies"; Alois Haas, Preface to Sermons by Johannes Tauler, The Classics of Western Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), xiv. At one point Pope Sixtus V placed Tauler on the Roman Index.
21 Tauler, Sermons, 97.
22Richard Kieckhefer, Unquiet Souls: Fourteenth Century Saints and Their Religious Milieu, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984), 71.
26Henry Suso, The Exemplar with Two German Sermons, Translated and edited by Frank Tobin, The Classics of Western Spirituality Series, (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), 147ff.
32Oliver Davies, ed., The Rhineland Mystics: Writings of Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler, and Jan van Ruusbroec and Selections from the Theologia Germanica and the Book of Spiritual Poverty, (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 80.
33 Ibid ., 86
34Aumann, Christian Spirituality, 195ff.
35Haas, Preface, xv.
36Richard Kieckhefer, "The Role of Christ in Tauler's Spirituality," Downside Review 96 (July 1978): 189.
37Richard Kieckhefer, "John Tauler," 271.
38Tauler, Sermons 83.
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