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Tauler was a Dominican monk of Strasburg, a man of the deepest piety, and of great courage and ability, 73 whose sermons were the delight of Luther, and are full of instruction to us now. The Dominicans and Franciscans had for some time availed themselves of the privilege early granted to their order of celebrating mass during a time of interdict, and had thus earned themselves a high place in the popular favour; but after the open breach between the Emperor and the Pope in 1338, they too, in many instances, refused to say mass. Tauler was one of the few who steadily adhered to the national side; and, believing that the Pope himself had no right to deny the guidance and consolations of religion to the people, considered it his duty to disregard the interdict. Throughout this period, therefore, and especially when the Black Death was raging, he laboured assiduously, not only in Strasburg, but in all the great cities along the Rhine to Cologne; and being a mighty preacher, he was followed by grateful crowds, his sermons were taken down by listening friends, and with his letters widely circulated over Germany.
Tauler and those who thought like him were called Mystics, because they spoke often of a mystical or hidden life of God in the soul, and the worthlessness of the creature and outward things. But though there is much in their phraseology and turn of thought which belongs to their age, and seems at first alien to us now, the real core of their faith, which made them of such help and use in their day and the beginners of a work that has lasted to our own, was their strong grasp of the truths, that an immediate and personal relation may and ought to exist between each individual soul and the living God; and that since God is absolute goodness, the highest welfare and 74 happiness of His creatures must lie in the voluntary blending of their will with His. Outward helps had indeed failed these men utterly, and so they fell back on that which no outward privation could take away, the presence of God himself in the heart as the ground of all belief, and held this faith with an intense realization proportioned to the difficulties and discouragements around them. What seems to us morbid and exaggerated in their depreciation of all outward things, and sometimes even of the affections of ordinary life, was but the result, partly of their being thus thrown in so absolutely on their own consciousness, partly of their circumstances; and when all this is eliminated, there remain in their writing some of the truest piety, and of the deepest and wisest thoughts on the relation of God and Christ to the human soul, on the nature of sin and of salvation, that we can meet with anywhere.88The "Theologia Germania" was long attributed to Tauler, but was probably written by his friend and teacher, Nicholas of Basle.
This school encouraged the study of the Scriptures, and the first complete German version of the Bible was made by Matthias of Beheim, as early as the fourteenth century. They also promoted both preaching and singing in German, and a large number of mystical and didactic poems were written by them. Tauler himself wrote several, which were widely known, and we give two of them:--
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