By God's Grace and from holy Church I have received my order, my cowl, this habit and my priesthood that I might become a teacher and might hear confessions. Now if it should come to pass that the Pope and the holy Church, from whom I have received them, should wish to take them away from me....I should let them go and I should not question why they did so....I should not remain any longer in the monastery with the brothers, nor be a priest, nor hear confessions nor preach....But if anybody else [but the Church] wanted to take these things from me, I would rather die than allow them to be taken from me. Again, if the holy Church were to refuse us the holy Sacrament externally, we must submit; but nobody can deprive us us the privilege of taking it spiritually." (from Die Predigten Taulers aus den Engelburger und den Freiburger Hndschriften quoted in Jones' The Flowering of Mysticism p 97; 1939)Because of the ongoing struggle between the Bavarian Emperor Louis IV who openly defied Pope John XXII, an interdict was issued by the pope forbidding the administration of sacraments (including the celebration of mass) in cities that were loyal to the Bavarian king. In 1338 Louis of Bavaria issued a law ordering the reinstatement of worship in all cities under the pope's interdict. This forced a Catholic priest into a predicament, because to obey this law mean to disobey the Church; likewise, to obey the Church's interdict meant to break the new law. Regardless, Tauler's Sermon on the Feast of St. Matthew demonstrates that he was willing to obey the papal interdict at all costs if the pope said so, but only if the pope said so. As Jones asserts, Tauler "loved the Church, he was a loyal son, he was not likely to break with the sacred requirements of the Church which had become to him a beloved mother." (97)
The main reason why these German mystics are sometimes mistakenly assumed to be pre-Reformation reformers is because of the creation of a fictional
character known as Der Gottesfreund vom Oberland, or the "friend of God from the Upland" (see gray box for details). The story of this mysterious layman was told in the Meisterbuch ("Book of the Master") and was assumed for centuries to represent an actual person. Today, no serious scholar regards either Tauler, Eckhart, Suso, or even Nicholas of Basle as the Master. Accordingly, Rufus Jones writing in 1939 says the following:
"The research of the last sixty years has assaulted nearly all of Schmidt's historical positions and has left very little of the visible structure of his work standing. Father Denifle began the demolition of Schmidt's work in 1879, while he and later scholars have slowly completed the debacle. Doubts about the story of Tauler's conversion had been expressed much earlier than this date by various writers who felt suspicious that the story was untrustworthy." (87)
|The "Meisterbuch" of the "Friend of God of the Upland" gives an account of a master of the Scriptures who attracted great attention in 1346 by his preaching. One day a layman accused the master of seemingly seeking his own honour rather than that of God, saying also that probably he had not himself borne the burdens he had laid upon others. Without making any stipulations the master allowed himself to be guided by the layman and learned from him to forget the world and himself, to turn all his thoughts upon God and to lead a life of the Spirit. For two years he lived in seclusion. When after this he preached again for the first time the effect was so great that forty of his hearers went into convulsions and twelve could hardly be revived. After the master had lived and laboured for nine years more he fell dangerously ill, and calling for the layman gave him a written account of his conversion. To this account the layman added five sermons of the master that he had copied." (CE)|
The reasons given above led Jones to decide that "we may now take as settled the conclusion that The Meisterbuch has nothing to do with Brother Johannes Tauler and supplies no biographical material for the story of his life." (91-93). Even Schaff admits that "it is doubtful whether such a personage ever lived." (History of the Christian Church, iv, Â Â§ 32). Modern scholarship tends toward the position that the friend of God was a literary creation of an layman named Rulman Merswin, whom Schaff calls the "inventor of this fictitious personage...The reason for this view is that no one else knows of the Oberlander and that, after Rulman's death, attempts on the part of the Strassburg brotherhood to find him, or to find out something about him, resulted in failure."(iv, Â Â§ 32). The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge calls his writing "plainly the work of an ignorant, unskilful layman" (vol. iv p. 393) which would be in stark contrast to the preaching of Suso or Tauler.
None of the editions of Tauler's sermons before 1498 (which is more than 100 years after his death) contain any reference to the story of his conversion.
Tauler was always referred to as "Brother Tauler", as a member of the Dominican order of priests, never as "Master" or "Doctor" (the title of "Doctor" = "Master of Holy Scripture").
The edition published in 1508 (which is the one Martin Luther read and liked so much) is the first one to call Tauler "Doctor".
Tauler never received the degree or title of "Master" or "Doctor" in his lifetime. This began when fifteenth- and sixteenth-century authors who assumed the The Meisterbuch was true began referring to him this way.
The sermons in The Meisterbuch were not even sermons by Tauler in the first place. The first one was actually Tractate No. 7 in the Pfeiffer collection now attributed to Meister Eckhart. The others do not match the well-known style of Tauler.
The sermons in The Meisterbuch show the writer of them to be in a state of revolt against the authority of the Church and an insurgent against the prescriptions and sanctions of the Church. As has been already shown, such as in his Sermon on the Feast of Saint Matthew for example, Tauler never stood against his church.
The date of death of the "Master" is given in The Meisterbuch as 1369, when it is well-documented that Tauler died in 1361.
"Moreover, the godlike man operates and begets the same that God operates and begets. For in God he worked and created heaven and earth. He is also the generator of the eternal word. Nor can God do anything without this man. The god-like man should, therefore, make his will conformable to God's will, so that he should will all that God wills. If, therefore, God wills that I should sin, I ought by no means to will that I may not have sinned. This is true contrition. And if a man have committed a thousand mortal sins, and the man is well regulated and united to God, he ought not to wish that he had not done those sins; and he ought to prefer suffering a thousand deaths rather than to have omitted one of those mortal sins." (quoted from Mosheim, Instititutes of Ecclesiastical History, II. v, 11)In other words, this group took the doctrinally-correct mysticism of Tauler and Suso and turned it into a license to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh. They did so by somehow rationalizing that once you reach that state of perfect union with God, you are not capable of sinning; therefore, any act you commit is not a sin. As appealing as this illogic may seem, the Catholic church understood it as the theological nonsense that it was and reacted the way it always dealt with perceived threats to the moral fabric of society - Nicholas and two of his followers were burned at the stake in Vienna in 1409. It seems that Tauler and Suso were aware of this deviant group because Tauler "shows at every stage a keen awareness of the need to protect himself and to protect his congregations from the dangers of heretical licence based on false claims to mystical experience." (Davies, p. 10) and Suso "distinguishes carefully the role of genuine despoilment from that of the Beghard libertines." (Petry, 247)