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IN publishing a selection from the writings of a divine who nourished in an age and under social conditions so remote from our own as those of a German Dominican monk of the fourteenth century, it seems right to state at the outset whether the aim which has governed the selection is chiefly historical or devotional. The present work was undertaken, in the first instance, with a simply practical object. My earliest acquaintance with Tauler’s Sermons was made while hearing them read in a family service; and believing, from further study, that they contained elements of truth not often brought into sufficient prominence in these days, yet possessing a most direct and valuable influence on Christian life, I wished to compile a volume of sermons for the Sundays and Holydays of the year, such as any head of a family might read to his household, or any district visitor among the poor.
To have carried out this idea completely would, however, have involved the omission, in many of the sermons, of passages either too abstruse for easy comprehension, or too much imbued with references to the Romish ritual and discipline, to be suitable for the Protestant common people. 16But such a mutilation seemed to me scarcely honest in the case of a writer now to be presented for the first time in a foreign language, and it appeared better therefore to reconcile historical truthfulness with practical usefulness, by restricting the selection, but giving all the sermons included in it in their complete form. Had it been my object merely to present an interesting picture of a remarkable man, the selection would possibly have been somewhat different,—certainly much wider. As it is, I have chosen the practical rather than the more metaphysical sermons, and have included none which seemed to me, in my conscientious judgment, open to objections as to their moral tendency.
Among such I should reckon some tinctured with an asceticism throwing contempt on the affections of ordinary life. Of the duties of ordinary life Tauler never speaks disparagingly. When he says that the inward work in the soul is more than all outward good works, it is always the outward practices of religion of which he is speaking—attendance in church, fasting, the repeating of prayers, &c.; never of the exercise of active benevolence, or even the performance of minor household duties. It is one good feature of the school to which he belonged, that these things are restored to their due honour, so far as that is compatible with the whole system of conventual life. But Tauler does teach that repression of the natural affections which is inevitable so long as the vital idea of monasticism,—viz., the severance of the religious from the secular in life,—is retained. That this severance is false and mischievous, Tauler no more perceived than did the 17whole body of his contemporaries; but while we have no right to censure him for errors which he shared with all the men of his age (and which he often divested for his own hearers of much of their baneful influence), it is equally unnecessary to place such doctrine before people at the present time. So, too, the sermons on the Mass and on the Virgin Mary, while containing many excellent practical remarks, are of course based on beliefs that would render them unprofitable to the great multitude of English Protestants nowadays, and I did not deem it needful to insert them merely for the sake of presenting a full view of all that Tauler believed or taught. But neither did it seem essential to practical usefulness to eliminate from sermons whose general scope is rich in Christian instruction, all such passages as might contain passing allusions to purgatory, transubstantiation, the invocation of saints, &c.; mystical and figurative interpretations of Scripture, or questionable philosophical speculations, in order that nothing might be left but what Protestant Christians at the present day actually believe. For private reading it is the less necessary, as it is often curious and instructive to observe how Tauler, in many cases, supplies the practical antidote to the hurtful effects of a Romish doctrine without in the least seeing through the doctrine itself; while, should these sermons be used, as I earnestly wish they may be, for family reading, it will be very easy to omit anything which it might be undesirable to read to uneducated persons.
With regard to those not included, the greater number have been rejected simply because many of their ideas occurred in the sermons which I have 18chosen, and I was anxious to avoid repetition; and among these many were so good as to render the task of selection very difficult. A very small proportion have been omitted on account of their Romish doctrine; more because of their obscure mysticism, and a few because they contained figures that would sound coarse, or at least grotesque and unsuitable for the pulpit, to our modern ears. I believe that those I have given may be regarded, from the absence of omissions, and the variety of their scope, as furnishing, on the whole, a correct picture of the mind and faith of their author.
The edition of Tauler’s Sermons which I have used for my Translation is that published at Franks fort in 1826. Among the numerous ancient and modern editions of these Sermons, that published at Leipsic, in 1498, holds the highest rank as an authority; but of this, now very rare work, it has not been in my power to consult a copy; and of the later editions that of Frankfort is the best. It is based upon an edition published at Cologne in 1543, and contains one hundred and fifty-three sermons; only eighty-four of these, however, are to be found in the mss. now extant. Many of the mss. have, indeed, only portions of these eighty-four; but the best and oldest are also the most complete. They are two which are in the Strasburg Library, and are most probably contemporary with Tauler himself,—certainly not of much later origin. The oldest printed edition, too, that of Leipsic, in 1498, has only these eighty-four sermons. These are, therefore, all of whose genuineness we have distinct certainty from external evidence. In an edition, however, which Johann Rynmann published at Basle 19in 1521 (probably induced to do so by Luther’s republication of the Theologia Germanica, in 1517, and his recommendation of Tauler’s writings to his friends11Thus he writes to Spalatin in Dec. 1516: “Si te delectat puram, solidam, antiquæ” simillimam theologiam legere, in Germanica lingua effusam; Sermones Johannis Tauleri, prædictoriæ professionis, tibi comparare potes, cujus totius velut epitomen ecce hic tibi mitto. Neque enim vel in Latina, vel in nostra lingua theologiam vidi salubriorem et cum Evangelio consonantiorem. Gusta ergo et vide, quam suavis est Dominus, ubi prius gustaris, et videbis quam amarum est, quicquid nos sumus.”—De Wette, Martin Luther’s Briefe, &c, Band i. Berlin, 1825.), forty-two more sermons are added with the preface: “Here followeth the second part of the sermons of the said John Tauler, which 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 his age, and are all based on one foundation, namely, true self-surrender and the preparation of the spirit for God.”
There can be no doubt that several of these are not productions of Tauler; and Surius, in his Latin Edition of 1548, appends the names of the authors Eckart, Suso, Ruysbroek, in several instances where he had ascertained them,—in which the Frankfort Editor follows his example.22It is to the Preface of the Frankfort Editor that I am indebted for these particulars respecting the different editions of Tauler’s Sermons. The styles of Eckart and Suso are, indeed, very distinguishable from Tauler’s. That of Ruysbroek seems to me less so. Finally, the Cologne Edition of 1543, which has been the basis of all the later editions of Tauler’s Sermons, adds twenty-five more, and among these, too, some by the authors already named have crept 20in. Still, I cannot see any reason to question the statement of the Editor, Petrus Noviomagus, who says:—“Having made research in all directions, that I might obtain the most correctly-copied mss., I have at last, in 1542, found in the library of St. Gertrude’s, at Cologne (where the said Doctor had his abode, and was wont to preach God’s word), and also in some other places, old written books, in which many excellent, nay, some of the best of Tauler’s Sermons stand clearly written, which have not yet been printed or made public.”
Tauler did not himself write down his discourses, but they were compiled from notes taken by his hearers, which accounts at once for the fragmentary character of the style, and for the great number of various readings to be found in the different editions. It is important to bear this circumstance in mind in judging of the style of the following sermons. It seems highly probable that the eighty-four sermons contained in the Strasburg mss. were published during his life and received his own corrections; but there appear no adequate grounds for supposing that these eighty-four are the only genuine ones we possess; for in the numerous places where Tauler preached, many of his sermons would probably be taken down by single hearers, which in those times of rare and difficult communication, were never brought under the notice of the Strasburg Collector, but, as his fame spread in after years, came to be gradually put into the hands of later collectors by their possessors, as seems to have been the case with those of which Petrus Noviomagus speaks.
The Frankfort Edition has not, however, been 21the sole source of the following translation; for with great generosity, for which I beg to tender him my warmest thanks, Professor Schmidt of Strasburg, has placed at my disposal a transcript made by himself from the most ancient manuscript extant, by which I have corrected those of the following collection, which belong to the first eighty-four. In a very few passages only have I retained the version of the Frankfort Edition, where the sense was so evidently clearer and fuller as to indicate a high probability that the later collector had had the opportunity of consulting fuller notes than his more ancient predecessor. This, however, is very rarely the case; in general the oldest version is so much the best as to give great force to the supposition generally entertained that it had been corrected by the author himself. Of the following collection Nos. 5, 6, 9, 11, 16, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, may be thus said to be, in effect, translated from the Strasburg ms. The Frankfort Editor gives the sources from which he has taken his version of the sermons, and upon this authority I may mention that Nos. 3, 4, 7, 8, 10,13,14,17, 25, 26, 27, are from the Appendix to the Basle Edition of 1521; and Nos. 1, 2, 12, 15, 19, from that of the Cologne Edition of 1543. The sermon No. 2, is marked as Eckart’s in the Frankfort Edition, and No. 4 as most probably the production of a disciple of his, commonly called Eckart, junior. It is, however, somewhat doubtful whether the two Eckarts were not in truth one and the same. The Cologne Editor expresses the wish that “God would anoint some man enlightened by the Holy Ghost to render this precious treasure into Latin for the comfort of many who desire it;” 22and this wish was fulfilled in 1543, by the Carthusian, Laurentius Surius, the translator also of the works of Suso and Ruysbroek.
The principal sources from which my sketch of Tauler and the “Friends of God” has been derived, are furnished by Professor Schmidt of Strasburg, in his Johannes Tauler von Strasburg; his essay on Eckart in the Theologische Studien und Kritiken, 1839, p. 684; and his work, Die Gottesfreunde im Vierzehnten Jahrhundert, Jena, 1855. I have, however, also to acknowledge my obligations to Wackernagel’s essay on the Gottesfreunde in the Beitraege zur Vaterlaendischen Geschichte (Basle, 1843, B. ii. s. III); to Neander’s Kirchengeschichte; Hase’s Kirchengeschichte; Milman’s Latin Christianity, &c.
Any one acquainted with the admirable Essays of Professor Schmidt, above-named, will perceive how largely I am indebted to him for the facts of Tauler’s life, and the account of Eckart; but will also observe that my theory of them is, in some points, very different from that of M. Schmidt. For my notices of the Gottesfreunde, his recent work has furnished the whole of the facts; but, again, it is only fair to state that for the light in which I regard these facts, I am alone responsible.
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