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Scope of the Present Publication
In this volume are contained the thirty-seven Sermons of John Tauler, which form the Third Part of the complete editions published at Frankfort in 1826 and at Prague (ed. Hamberger) in 1872. These are the Sermons for Festivals (de sanctis), while the First and Second Parts contain the Sermons for the Christian Year (de tempore); the total number being 145. Should this volume of the Festal Sermons meet with a favourable reception, the Sermons for the Christian Year may follow in two or three volumes. Up to the present time only twenty-seven of Tauler’s sermons have appeared in English, these being contained in Miss Susanna Winkworth’s well-known but now scarce volume, to which Charles Kingsley contributed a preface.11 “The History and Life of the Reverend Doctor John Tauler of Strasbourg; with Twenty-five of his Sermons (temp. 1340) translated from the German with additional Notices of Tauler’s Life and Times, by Susanna Winkworth.” London, 1857. Of the thirty-seven Festal Sermons Miss Winkworth translated only three (nos. 4, 12, and 31 in the present volume) so that thirty-four of those now presented to the reader appear here for the first time in English. The Sermons for the Christian Year were translated into French by M. Charles Sainte-Foi, and were published in Paris in 1855; but he did not include the Sermons de sanctis. They are to be found, however, together with all else that is rightly or wrongly ascribed to Tauler, in the Latin version, or rather paraphrase, by Laurentius Surius, a Carthusian,22 D. Joannis Thauleri preaclarissimi viri sublimisque theologi tam de tempore quam de sanctis conciones plane pilassimae...eaeteraque opera omnia...nune primum ex Germanico idiomate in Latinum transfusa sermonem, interprete Laurentio Surio, Lubecensi, Carthusiae Coloniensis alumno, Coloniae, 1548. which was based on the Cologne German edition of 1543, and which was reprinted at least twelve times before the end of the seventeenth century, while it was also translated into Italian, French and Dutch.
Until the appearance of Hamberger’s edition (Prague, 1872), the standard German edition of the Sermons was that published at Frankfort, in 1826, without an editor’s name. This was used by Miss Winkworth, and also by M. Sainte-Foi; and it forms the basis of the present publication, as I have only been able to refer to Hamberger’s edition in the British Museum. In the anonymous Introduction are indicated the MSS. sources on which the earlier standard German editions (Leipzig, 1498; Augsburg, 1508; Basle, 1521; Halberstadt, 1523; Cologne, 1543; Frankfort, 1565; Amsterdam, 1588; Antwerp, 1593; and Hamburg, 1621) were based. The original Leipzig edition (1498) was printed from MSS. at Strasburg, said to be contemporary with Tauler, and to have been corrected by him. The eighty-four sermons in this edition may therefore be reckoned as authentic, with the exception of four, which are known to have been Eckhart’s. To the Basle edition of 1521 forty-two sermons were added, the editor, John Rymann, saying of them that “they have been more recently discovered and collected with great care and diligence. Although there may be a doubt about some of them, let not that offend thee, for it is certain that they have been written by a right learned man of that age, and are all based on one foundation, namely, true self-surrender and the preparation of the spirit for God.” Some of these are probably to be ascribed to Eckhart, Suso or Ruysbroek. Such of them as are found in this volume are distinguished by the mark * in the Table of Contents. Of this Basle edition it should be noted that it was issued in the interests of the Reformation; and the article on Tauler in the new edition of the Kirchenlexicon (1899) seems to ignore these forty-two additional sermons altogether, and to admit as authentic only five of those added to the Cologne edition presently to be referred to. Something is said below as to the sense in which alone Tauler can be described as “a Reformer before the Reformation”; but it may be convenient here to note that Luther, who in 1517 put forth an edition of the Theologia Germanica, the work of one of Tauler’s contemporaries, had in the previous year written to Spalatin a commendation of Tauler’s sermons, of which, as a recognition of their Protestant tendency, too much has certainly been made. The fact that the words were written when Luther was still Prior of Wittenberg, and before there was any breach with Rome, should have sufficed to secure them from such misinterpretation.33 Luther’s commendation is as follows: - “Si te dilectat puram, solidam, antiquae simillimam theologiam legere in Germanica lingua effusam, sermones Johannis Tauleri, praedictoriae professionis, tibi comparare potes, cujus totius velut epitomen ecce hic tibi mitto. Neque enim in Latina neque in nostra lingua theologiam vidi salubriorem et cum Evangelio consonantiorem.” On this Weiss, in the Biographic universelle (edition of 1826) comments as follows: - “Les eloges donnes a ses i.e. Tauler’s ouvrages par Luther, Melanchthon, et la plupart des chefs de la reforme religieuse, avaient fait soupconner ia purete des principes de Tauler; mais d’illustres ecrivian catholiques ont pris soin de justifier sa menoire; et Bossuet dit (“Instruction sur les etats d’oraison”) qu’il le regarde comme un des plus solides et des plus corrects des mystiques.” Finally, to the Cologne edition of 1543 (the standard for all subsequent ones) Petrus Noviomagus, the editor, added twenty-five sermons more, which he had found chiefly in the library of St Gertrude’s Convent in Cologne; and the authenticity of these is in a general way supported, both by internal evidence, and by the fact that to the nuns at St Gertrude’s Tauler frequently preached. Of the Festal Sermons contained in this volume, eighteen are to be found in the original Leipzig edition, fifteen form part of the Basle supplement, and four are of those that were added to the Cologne edition. Miss Winkworth, selecting from the whole number of 145 sermons, took eleven from the original edition, eleven from the Basle supplement, and five from the Cologne supplement. Of the Festal Sermons she selected only three, her principle of selection being rather edification than authenticity.
But, on the general question of authenticity, it must be confessed that not one of the 145 sermons can claim such as it would have possessed had it been written by Tauler’s own hand and been put forth by him as representing what he said or desired to say on the occasion. His sermons were always spoken; and the MSS. are at best only the reports of those who heard him; and such reports, it is hardly necessary to say, do not reproduce the sermons as they actually were delivered; though the way in which the sermons have thus come down to us explains the differences of reading in various editions and also the obscurity of certain passages. A critical edition of Tauler’s Sermons by a competent hand is doubtless a thing to be desired; but it would be a misfortune, from the point of view of edification, if, in such an edition, matter otherwise admirable found no place, on account of the uncertainty of its authorship.
The scope of Miss Winkworth’s edition of Tauler’s Sermons differed from that of the present publication. She had learnt to admire them by hearing some of them read in German Protestant households as a part of domestic worship; and her idea was to introduce a previously unknown preacher to an English audience, compiling “a volume of sermons for the Sundays and Holy-days of the year, such as any head of a family might read to his household, or any district visitor among the poor.” But as she was very properly anxious to publish in their entirety such sermons as she selected, she felt compelled to omit such as, either in whole or in part, were “too much imbued with references to the Romish ritual and discipline to be suitable for the Protestant common people.” I cannot say that any of the sermons strike me as particularly suitable for such a purpose. They contain, indeed, many thought that have become pulpit commonplaces since Tauler’s day, and other thoughts that might very well acquire such acceptance; but for such a use as Miss Winkworth contemplated, the sermons need more than mere translation. Their spirit must first be made his own by any man who is to expound it profitably; and this he then must do in his own language. My idea has therefore rather been to present these sermons of Tauler’s in such a form as may aid towards a more accurate historical appreciation of the man and his teaching. I have had no thought of either pruning or adapting his words. He was a Dominican friar of the fourteenth century, and he held all the beliefs of his age and of his Church without any trace of reserve. The ardour of his Marian devotion is especially noticeable; and it would be as improper to omit this or to tone it down in a translation, as it would be to correct any other illustrations of his beliefs and practices, crude and almost grotesque as some of them undoubtedly are.44 With reference to the singularly detailed account of the way in which the Blessed Virgin occupied her time, given by Tauler in the Sermon here numbered vii., the Rev. Andrew Burn, rector of Kynnersley, Salop has called my attention to similar language in the gnomes of the Nicene Synod, quoted by Professor Achelis (Journal of Theological Studies, II., 128) which certainly suggests that the two have a common source in traditions contained in some now lost Apocryphal Gospel. The Gnomes are at present only available in two Coptic MSS.; the supposed date of the treatise is c.400. Indeed, in order to preserve throughout the impression of a Catholic preacher addressing a Catholic congregation, I have even gone out of my way to give the English translation of the Scripture texts from the Douai version; since, though that did not exist in Tauler’s day any more than our own Authorized Version, it is a faithful translation from the Vulgate, which Tauler used in the pulpit, translating it into German for the benefit of his hearers. Such at least has been my intention; though, from inadvertence and a greater familiarity with King James’ version, I may not have adhered to it throughout. To the lady, by her own desire anonymous, to whose patient labour the bulk of the translation of the Sermons is due, I desire here to record my most sincere thanks. Tauler’s sentences are sometimes obscure because they are so long; and that obscurity the translator has in many cases succeeded in removing by breaking up a sentence into two or more; but it has not been found possible to remove in all cases the obscurity of the original. (See, at the end of this Introduction, an illustration of the methods used by some earlier translators of Tauler.) The version here presented will, however, be found as a whole, readable and easy; and it should serve to render more familiar one of the most notable figures in the history of the Christian Church; one whose teaching shows how essential is the unity that underlies a spiritual conception of the Christian Creed, however much its exponents may differ as to matters of form.
A word must be said in explanation of the title, “The Inner Way,” which the present volume bears. It is used merely by way of convenience, at the urgent request of the publishers. For myself, I had thought that “Tauler’s Festal Sermons” would have amply sufficed to identify the contents of the volume for all those whom it is likely to interest; and that any additional title might even cause perplexity, especially to those who know that all the spiritual works, except the sermons, once attributed to Tauler, are now generally regarded as unauthentic. But it appears that, in book selling regarded as a business, the word “Sermons” bears a fatal significance, and must be avoided at any cost. Thus urged, I have selected a title which marks the general character of Tauler’s teaching, and which will not, I trust, give rise to any misconception as to what the volume professes to be.
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