6Life in Abundance:
Meister Eckhart & the German
Dominican Mystics of the 14th Century

by Gundolf M. Gieraths, O.P.

Autumn 1986 Vol. 38 Supplement

Mystical Writers: John Tauler


Today Christians throughout the world are commemorating a threefold birth. On this feast day our hearts should be filled with such sentiments of love and gratitude that they are exuberant with joy and gladness. Anyone not experiencing at least a little of this holy delight is to be pitied.

The first and most sublime of these births is the birth, within the Godhead, of the only Son of the heavenly Father, alike to him in divine substance but distinct from him in person. The second is his human birth which was effected in the virginal womb of Mary. The third is God's daily and hourly rebirth by grace and love in the souls of the just.

We solemnize these three births in the three Christmas Masses. The first, celebrated at midnight, begins with the words: "The Lord said to me: You are my son, this day I have begotten you." These words refer to the mysterious birth which occurred in the depth of the unsearchable Godhead. "This day shall a light shine upon us," the opening words of the second Mass, refer to the light of the Godhead shining through his human nature. This Mass is offered at dawn because the second birth is partly known and partly unknown. When the sun is fully risen, we intone the Words of the third Mass: "A child is born to us and a son is given to us." These words signify the interior birth which is continually going on in the souls of men of good will who turn lovingly and prayerfully toward God. To experience this mystical birth, is to attain the highest bliss possible on earth.

To approach properly this glorious birth symbolized by the third Mass we must study the eternal birth of the divine Word in the bosom of his Father. The Father desired with an infinite desire to pour himself out and to share his goodness. According to St. Augustine, it is of God's nature and essence to diffuse himself. This we see exemplified in the procession of the divine Persons, and in the divine indwelling in creatures. St. Augustine says further that we exist only because God is good, and whatever good a creature has can be traced back to God's essential goodness.

What then, is to be learned from the eternal birth of the Son of God from the Father? The Father, as Father, turns to himself with his divine knowledge, looks into the abyss of his eternal essence, and by virtue of his pure comprehension of himself he expresses himself perfectly and completely. The Word by which he expresses himself is his Son, and the eternal birth is nothing else than the Father's knowing of himself. The Son remains within the Godhead in essential unity, and proceeds from him in distinction of person. Thus, God first turns in and knows himself, then expresses himself in begetting his Word, and then reflects on himself in perfect satisfaction with his own being. And this satisfaction flows out in an ineffable love of Father and Son, of which the Holy Spirit is the term.

Man's soul is made to the image of the Blessed Trinity. It is endowed with three spiritual functions: memory, intelligence, and free will. These three functions enable the soul to receive God and whatever God may wish to bestow upon it, and to contemplate him in time as a preparation for eternal contemplation. Almighty God created the human soul both for time and eternity. By its higher faculties the soul is in touch with eternity; by its lower faculties, which are sensible and animal, it is in touch with time.

In the present state of union between soul and body, the soul's higher and lower faculties, occupied as they are with temporal things, are prone to lose taste for the eternal. Therefore, a person who longs for spiritual birth must discipline and integrate his faculties. As an archer closes one eye so as to fix his gaze on a target, so a man must collect all his spiritual and physical powers and direct them toward God. Stripping himself of self-will and selfish desires, he must resolve to live and work for God alone, to refuse no request God makes of him, to permit God to dwell within him. If two persons are to become one, one must remain passive while the other acts. In order to see a certain picture on the wall, man must divert his eyes from other images and concentrate on that one picture. The eye cannot clearly see one color while it is blurred with many colors. Nor can a person hear other sounds clearly if there is a continual ringing in his car. The soul, too, to be receptive of God must be empty, passive, and free.

St. Augustine puts it this way: "Empty yourself, so that you may be filled; go out, so that you can go in." Elsewhere he asks: "Why do you seek outside yourself for him who is always and truly within you? You share in the divine nature: why do you entangle yourself with creatures? If man prepares the place, God will surely come and fill it with himself. If there were a void here on earth the heaven would fall to fill it. God allows nothing to be void. To do so would be contrary to his very nature.

If you wish to hear the Word of God speaking within you, you must be silent. If you speak, he will be silent. The best way to serve the Word is to keep silent and listen. He will fill you with himself in the measure that you empty your soul of self.

So much for the first and third birth. Let us now turn to the second, in which God's son was born of a human mother on this holy night, and became our brother. In eternity he is born without a mother; in time he is born without a father. St. Augustine tells us that Mary's sanctity shines forth more by reason of her conceiving God spiritually in her soul than by conceiving him physically in her body. If we wish God to be born spiritually in our souls, we should know what were the qualities possessed by Mary, who was his spiritual and physical mother. She was a pure and spotless virgin; she was an espoused virgin; and when the angel came to her, she lived in seclusion, cut off from the world.

Each of us, first of all, should desire to be a pure and spotless virgin. If we have perhaps failed in this matter, we should promptly return by penance to the path of virtue. To men's eyes a virgin appears to be sterile, but she is inwardly fruitful. "All the splendor of the king's daughter is from within." This should be true of every virgin. If she lives detached from the world with her thoughts fixed on God, she will be most fruitful. She will give birth to God's Son, to God's Word, who is everything and contains all things within himself.

Secondly, Mary was an espoused virgin, as we also should be. St. Paul said: "I have betrothed you all to Christ." We must sink our vacillating wills in God's unchangeable will and exchange our weakness for his strength.

Thirdly, the virgin should imitate Mary's seclusion if God is to be truly born in her. She must cultivate and maintain interior silence, tranquility, and detachment. The Introit of the Mass of the Sunday following Christmas tells us: "When all around was in silence and everything was utterly still, when the night had run its course, then, O Lord, your almighty Word descended from the kingly throne." This is how it must be with us: perfect silence everywhere. Then we shall be able to hear the Word. (1)


"They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in foreign tongues, even as the Holy Spirit prompted them to speak" (Acts 2:4). These words refer to the sacred day on which the Holy Spirit descended in fiery tongues on the apostles and those who were gathered with them. On that occasion the treasure was restored which had been lost in Paradise through man's weakness and the demon's counsel. Even outwardly this was a wonderful day. Sense and reason could not fathom the inconceivable, ineffable marvel which transpired. So magnificent is the Holy Spirit's abundance that human reason staggers before it. Compared with it, heaven and earth sink into nothingness and all creatures combined seem less than a speck of dust. Therefore, the Holy Spirit must himself prepare the tabernacle which is to receive him, and then receive himself in it. God's unutterable abyss must be his own tabernacle and prepare his creatures to receive him.

"The whole house was filled." When God fills, he fills to the brim. When God comes to a soul, he permeates and penetrate every nook and corner.

The disciples "were filled with the Holy Spirit." Notice where the disciples were at the time of this inpouring. They were locked together in a room, and were sitting in silence. In this lies a profound lesson for us, for the Holy Spirit comes to men whenever they turn away completely from creatures and convert themselves to God. Neither does he tarry in his coming, nor give himself sparingly. And conversely, he immediately and utterly leaves the soul, taking along all his graces and gifts, the very moment a man inordinately chooses creatures in preference to God. To seek self is to reject God.

"The whole house was filled." According to some scholars, the house symbolizes the Catholic Church, God's dwelling. Others say it signifies every single person in whom the Holy Spirit abides. And as in one house there are many rooms and closets, so likewise in man there are many faculties and senses. To each of these the Holy Spirit comes in a particular manner, embracing, stimulating, enlightening, strengthening, and guiding according to individual needs. Although he dwells in all good men, yet whoever

would experience his presence must shut himself up in holy recollection, lock out all worldly distractions, and permit the Holy Spirit to perform his deeds in an atmosphere of peace and repose. Only then does man truly find himself and the Holy Spirit within himself. And the more freely a man permits the Holy Spirit to perform his wondrous works, so much the more will he reveal himself.

The disciples were "gathered together." Here we see the necessity of quieting our inner and outer faculties so that the Holy Spirit may find a place wherein to work. He cannot work unless we provide a place for him. Furthermore, they were "seated." So we must be firmly "seated" in the truth, and set all creatures in God's will: love and sorrow, pleasure and displeasure. This is important advice for spiritual persons, for they are termed "spiritual" precisely because their will is united, conformed, and joined to the Spirit's. In order to be saved, all Christians must will what God wills; all must strive for perfection. (2)


The noblest, most productive, and most necessary occupation of man on earth is prayer. It is important, then, for us to understand what prayer is, what are the methods of prayer, and how we should pray.

I shall speak to you about how we should pray, how we should prepare ourselves for prayer, and how we should behave while we pray. The person who sincerely desires to pray, no matter what his spiritual state, should recollect himself outwardly and inwardly and concentrate all his senses and faculties on God. A good way for him to do this is to ask himself what obstacles hinder his devout contemplation, and then remove them.

It is important to remember that he who wants his prayer to be heard must resolutely turn his back to all temporal concerns, reject all that is not of God, be it vanity in clothing or adornments or anything that has not God for its end, and curtail anything that might distract him from God in word or conduct, within or without.

If a man prepares himself thus for prayer, he will find that his soul is completely dependent on God, his inner vision riveted on the divine indwelling, his will lovingly attached to God, and his appetites completely unified.

My children, all that we have we have from God. We cannot return all to him unless our soul is completely detached from creatures and attached to him. That is why we should stretch forth and offer to him all our faculties, interior and exterior.

This is the correct way to pray. Do not suppose that true prayer consists in chattering many words with the lips, reading many pages in the psalter or some other pious book, clattering a rosary while the heart is roaming hither and thither. If you find that vocal prayer or other acts of devotion hinder you in the spirit of prayer, you should not hesitate to give them up, however efficacious they may be in themselves. This does not apply, of course to your Office or to other prayers prescribed by law.

Prayer in spirit far excels in efficacy all merely outward prayers The Father loves those who pray to him in this manner. All other kinds of prayer are merely to help us toward such prayer. Those that are not conducive to prayer in spirit should be renounced.

Here we can draw a lesson from a crew of men building a cathedral. All the varied skills and activities are directed to one task: the completion and perfection of the cathedral, the house of prayer.

When true, interior prayer of the spirit has been achieved, all the sacrifices that have helped toward its accomplishment have fulfilled their purpose. Such prayer is much better than outward prayer, unless the individual can use both without their interfering with each other. This occurs when he can enjoy the repose of contemplation in the midst of external activity. But for contemplation and an active life to be properly blended, neither impending the other, we need to be truly spiritual. Our lives must resemble the life of God, in whom the loftiest activity and the serenest contemplation coexist without impediment. (3)


Our Lord said: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself." (John 12:32) "All things" means man, because he has points of resemblance to all things. Every man has a cross to carry, and unless he carries it he will not attain God. But it is not enough to discover a cross; man must lift, exalt the cross, as we celebrate in today's feast of the Holy Cross. If a man looked attentively into himself he would daily discover countless opportunities to carry and exalt his cross. But human nature is sadly prone to superficiality. As a result, few men recognize the cross, embrace it, exalt it, and experience the truth of Christ's words: "I will draw all things to myself."

We find some persons, especially in the religious state, who carry the cross outwardly in an edifying manner. They sing and study, go to choir and refectory, serving Christ externally. But God has not chosen these religious merely to be his songbirds; he has greater things in mind for them; he wants them to be his friends, his spouses. Still, they continue to carry their cross merely in an outward way, taking care that it does not penetrate into their innermost self. They love their interior distractions and will not part with them. These persons are not bearing the cross with Christ but with the unwilling Simon. But even this type of cross bearing is good, because it protects them against many bad habits, shortens their purgatory, saves them from hell.

Our Lord promised to draw all things to himself. Before a person can draw things to himself, he must collect them. This is precisely what our Lord does. First of all, by withdrawing a man from his occupations and distractions, he collects his senses, powers, words, deeds, thoughts, intentions, desires, imaginations, understanding, will, and love. This step is necessary because man cannot be attached to God while inordinately attached to creatures. This process of detachment is always a cross, heavy or light depending on man's attachment. Every unruly affection which man places in creatures, no matter how holy it may appear, must be removed before he can be drawn up to God. This utter renouncement is the first step toward divine union.

The next cross man faces is an interior one, the renouncement of spiritual joy, the satisfaction resulting from the practice of virtue. Spiritual writers discuss whether or not we should enjoy virtue, or whether we should practice virtue without seeking any personal satisfaction in it and caring only for God's good pleasure. My children, our Lord does not want us to seek self-satisfaction in fastings, vigils, prayers, observances; he wants us to do these things for a higher purpose: his glory. These practices, it is true, may sometimes cause us enjoyment, but we should not perform them for this egocentric purpose.

Have you ever wondered why it is that you seldom live through an entire day in the same spiritual state? What helps Your devotion in the morning, may hinder it at night. Today you make plans; tomorrow they may vanish. Take this changeableness as a cross, accept it from God, embrace it. Whether or not a cross unites you to God depends on how you accept it. You must clasp it with conformity to God's will and tranquility of spirit, saying in a spirit of gratitude, "My soul magnifies the Lord;" "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away" (Luke 1:46; Job 1:21).

My children, you are basically good, but you still cling to and relish spiritual and sensible delights. Refrain from these things and aim at true resignation, considering yourself unworthy of consolation. Choose the cross of afflictions in preference to the blossoms of sweetness. Man must always have a cross.

Our Lord said: "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Mark 8:34). Not with pleasant experiences, but with the cross do we follow him. The lovable St. Andrew exclaimed: "I greet thee, most cherished cross, my heart's desire. Take me away from men and give me back to my Master." It is not enough to repeat this prayer one day in the year and then forget about it. Every day, without interruption, in all circumstances, interiorly and exteriorly, this should be your prayer.

Consider also your sins and offenses. If you fall seventy times a day, then get up seventy times a day and ask God's forgiveness. Instead of keeping you from God, your sins should take you to, him. Even your sins will turn to your good because they make you realize your weakness and nothingness and thus increase your humility and resignation. You do not share in Our Lady's sinlessness. So be content with your suffering and your cross. But be careful not to exaggerate your difficulties and to be sincere in your contrition.

No condemnation awaits those who are in Christ Jesus; but there is damnation in store for those who turn inordinately to creatures. For those who love God with their whole heart all things turn to the good. Listen to my warning: if you freely occupy yourself with Creatures and seek after distractions you will cause your own damnation. And even if you should, by a very special grace, repent at the end, a long and painful purification awaits you in purgatory.

May God give us the grace to be numbered among those whom Christ draws to himself, to embrace our cross and follow him to that holy mount upon which he died for us on a cross. (4)


Consider St. Paul's words: "There are varieties of workings, but the same God who works all things in all" (I Cor. 12:6). The same body has various members, and each member has its particular function. Eyes, ears, mouth, hands, and feet do what they are supposed to do and refrain from usurping the function of other members. This is part of God's plan. In the spiritual order we are diverse members of the body of which Christ is the head. The Church's official teachers are the eyes. The other members should strive to discover the particular duty to which Christ has called them and for which he has given them grace. No matter how insignificant their function may appear it is a great privilege, and if they correspond with God's grace, the Holy Spirit will use them to effect great good for mankind.

The feet and the hands should not envy the eyes. No matter how humble your job, you should accomplish it as being God's will for you. Perhaps no one else could do that particular job. This holds true also for sisters living in a religious community. Each one has her assigned charge or duty. Those who can sing well should chant the psalms. All this diversity originates in the Spirit of God. In the words of St. Augustine: "God is a uniform, divine, simple being. But he performs diverse operations and is all in all, one in all, and all in one." It is only by a special gift of God that man is permitted to perform even the most insignificant action. Moreover, each man should lovingly and graciously assist his neighbor whenever possible. And remember that he who does not assist his fellow man according to his ability must render to God a strict account of his stewardship, for God wills that every man share his God-given gifts with his neighbor.

Man should work assiduously, but leave the results to God. He should preserve recollection of spirit, live in intimacy with God, and, while occupied with exterior duties, frequently turn within himself so as to examine his motives. Whether working or resting, he should be sensitive and docile to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. Then he will perform his duties peacefully and virtuously. He should be helpful to the aged, the sick, and the poor. If he ignores the opportunities he has of serving God in his neighbor, God will punish him with spiritual aridity and poverty. If his duties distract him, let him examine whether he has done them from wrong motives or in too hurried a manner.

Every man should set aside a certain period of time, during the day or at night, which he will devote to devout meditation. If possible, he should meditate without the aid of sensible images. But if anyone feels the need of pictures or symbols, he may use them as long as necessary. We cannot all be pure contemplatives, but all of us can fulfill our duties with love, peace, and conformity to God's will. God answers the prayers of those who serve him according to his will. He also answers the prayers of those who serve him according to their own will -- but according to his will, not theirs.

My children, true peace results from the practice of virtue and the denial of self-will. Of this be sure: any other peace is spurious. And true virtue must be both interior and exterior. The peace which comes from within no one can snatch from you. (5)


1 Sermon; Vetter 7, 12; transcribed from Der stumme Jubel (Bonn: 1926), p. 247 ff.

2 Sermon 26: Vetter 103, 6; transcribed from W. Oehl, Deutsche Mystiker, Bd. 4; Tauler, Kempten-München (I. J.) p. 46 ff.

3 Sermon 39: Vetter 154, 8; Der stumme Jubel 187 ff:

4 Sermon 65; Vetter 353, 26; W. Oehl, p. 98 ff.

5 Sermon 42; Vetter 177, 4; Der stumme Jubel, p. 103 ff.