THIS German Dominican combined the mystic’s devotion to the renunciatory life and the Christian shepherd’s responsiveness to the needs of his flock in a preaching ministry of great directness and popular appeal. Less versatile and profound than MPGMeister Eckhart, he reflected much of the Master’s influence. The accent on “the inner voice of the eternal Word” and the bold warning against allowing “outward observance” to stultify “inward recollection” are here clearly evidenced in a context of unquestionable Catholic piety. The following selections are taken in their entirety from pp. 428-33, 494-97 of The Sermons and Conferences of John Tauler of the Order of Preachers . . . First English Translation . . . by the Very Rev. Walter Elliott of the Paulist Fathers. Published by the Apostolic Mission House, Brookland Station, Washington, D. C., 1910. Reproduced by permission of the Superior General, the Very Rev. James F. Cunningham, C. S. P. Cf. Tau.Pr.Vet. and Tau.Pr.Leh.
SYNOPSIS — THIS BEGINS WITH AN ORDINARY GOOD CHRISTIAN LIFE — SINCERELY DONE, IT IS ALL THAT GOD REQUIRES OF MANY SOULS — OTHERS ARE CALLED TO MANY ADDITIONAL WORKS OF RELIGION AND PENANCE AND A HIGHER DEGREE OF VIRTUE — THESE SHALL BE JUDGED BY THEIR INNER FIDELITY RATHER THAN BY THEIR OUTWARD CONFORMITY — NOR DOES THIS MEAN A BARREN INTELLECTUALITY OF RELIGION, BUT DEEPLY-LYING SIMPLICITY OF INTENTION — VARIOUS COMPARISONS — THE SUPREMACY OF LOVING GOD IN A CAREER OF PERFECTION
Be ye therefore merciful as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. Give, and it shall be given to you; good measure and pressed down and shaken together and running over shall they give into your bosoms. For with the same measure that you shall mete withal, it shall be measured to you again.
— Luke 6:36-38
Children, it is a pitiable thing how alien to some men’s hearts is the beautiful virtue of mercy. Every man is bound to be merciful to his neighbor in all his needs, and that not only in temporal matters, for he is bound to have a pitiful heart for his moral and spiritual defects. But, alas, everybody strikes at his neighbor with his condemnation. If any misfortune happens him we add the weight of our accusation, attributing the basest motives we can think of. Blessed be God that He does not do the like. What untold misery comes from an evil tongue, which hurries in with its condemnations without a moment’s consideration. I beg thee, my dear man, for the sake of thy eternal welfare, to pause awhile, and come to an understanding with thyself, carefully weighing both thy thoughts and thy words about thy neighbor. 241 It is a shameful thing and almost blasphemous, thoughtlessly to sit in judgment on thy neighbor, and to launch against him injurious words, spiritually murdering him in the minds of thy hearers. Hence those words of Christ: Judge not, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again (Matt. 7:1-2).
And now, children, let us consider the Lord’s words: With the same measure that you shall mete, it shall be measured to you again. Devout teachers understand four kinds of measures here — good, full, pressed down, and flowing over. The first means a pious Christian life with God’s grace, ending in eternal life. The full measure means God’s gift to us of a glorified body at the last day. The measure pressed down means the blessed companionship granted us among God’s saints and angels in everlasting bliss. And the overflowing measure is our possession of God Himself in perfect happiness and in the fulness of every desire.
Such are God’s measures to us. And now let us inquire what our measures to God, given by that power of loving which we call the will, by which we weigh out all our words and works and life — the will, to whose properties we cannot add nor take away. And let us ever bear in mind that with what measure we mete here in this life, it shall be measured to us again in life eternal.
First, what is our good measure? It is a hearty turning to God, with a sincere purpose to observe God’s commandments and those of holy Church; that we hold fast to the true faith; that we devoutly receive the sacraments; that we interiorly detest our sins and totally give them up; that we live a life of penance, trusting securely in God’s mercy and grace. Alas! It seems as if nobody at all gives God this good measure nowadays, nor lives in His holy fear. But whosoever does follow this true Christian life will without doubt enter into eternal joy. And it is the indispensable rule of our religion for all and every one. There are men from whom God requires no more; it is their good measure. And it may, therefore, happen that some upright souls who thus conform to God in this life, shall go straight to Heaven, escaping all purgatory. And yet it is the very lowest degree of the divine service.
Other men God invites to a much higher degree; and these may, nevertheless, have their purgatory, because before their death they 242 have not perfectly conformed to the will of God in their case — and their pains shall be great beyond expression. But that being done and over, they will be raised very high above the others in Heaven, for they originally had the courage to undertake a far more spiritual career, although death interrupted their progress in perfection.
And what is our full measure? It refers to those whom God calls to a life of holy observances, many prayers and kneelings, and much fasting, and other such devout practices. They give God a full measure, if they will but cultivate an interior spirit of real fervor together with their outward piety, seeking God within their soul and finding His kingdom there. This life is as different from the other two kinds as running is different from sitting.
Ah, dear children, how happy is the man whose outward piety is no obstacle to his interior progress in perfection — happy, indeed, and holy, for two good things are better than one. If, therefore, thou perceivest that any outward observance hinders thy inward recollection, give up the outward and concentrate thy soul upon the interior life with all thy might. This pleases God better. Do as we priests do in our monasteries at Easter and Pentecost; for then our vocal prayers are greatly shortened, in order that the holy interior spirit of these festivals may be the better enjoyed. Thus do you, when God invites you to the high festival of His inner visitation, so that leaving off some of your external devotions, you may be the more intently engaged with Him in your soul’s inmost depths — there He will accomplish His dearest will with you. In such case thou mayest confine thyself to those outward exercises of religion that are required of thee, as, for example, by the rule of thy order, and boldly cut off all the rest — supposing them to impede thy interior recollection. I declare to thee that this interior life is most divine, most sweet, most fruitful of virtue, if thou wilt but hold steadfastly to it. To this end turn to account the best aid thou canst have. And that is to contemplate the blessed life of our Lord Jesus Christ, study His bitter death, and count His blessed wounds streaming with His precious blood. Or meditate even on the eternal Godhead itself and the holy Trinity, God’s eternal wisdom, infinite power, and His merciful goodness to thyself and to all mankind in life and in death.
Whichever of these divine subjects arouses most thy pious sentiments, turn inwards and ponder it, full of humility and gratitude, 243 sinking deep into the divine abyss, and there awaiting God’s coming. Now this method, if followed faithfully, produces more aptitude for receiving God than all outward devotions whatsoever, for the interior life is far better than the exterior. All exterior virtues draw their worth from the interior life of the soul. A drop of the interior spirit will sanctify a whole cask of external exercises.
But it sometimes happens that men can think deeply of our Lord in their interior soul, but yet are spiritually superficial — like a wide stretch of water of scarcely a finger’s depth. Now, the reason is that they are deficient in real humility, and they lack a universal love for their fellowmen. Says St. Augustine: “The blessedness of one’s life consists not in the length of time given to pious exercises, nor in doing many good works; but it consists in the greatness of love.” Take an example from poor farm laborers. They raise the best of wheat and of wine, but not for their own benefit — they eat only brown bread and drink only water. Such is the case with men who do good works without deep interior dispositions.
Let us now consider the measure that is pressed down and overflowing. This means superabundant charity, drawing into a great heart all good works, all painful trials, all that is good in the whole world, whether done by God’s servants or by His enemies. A man of this degree of love is more truly the proprietor of the good works of others than they are themselves — as long as those persons are lacking in such high charity — so strong is the attraction of love. Consider the many recitations of the divine office, the many masses offered, the many sacrifices made for God — the good of all this is more theirs who have this great heart of love than the ones who actually did all these holy things — supposing them not to have this same fulness of divine love. For I assure you that God will not acknowledge any good works of which He is not both the beginning and the end; according to St. Paul: And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing (I Cor. 13:3)
The love of God is a virtue above all virtues, drawing into the bosom of love all the good deeds done by the grace of God in heaven and earth. The evil that is in a man is his own; all the good he has is to be attributed to divine love. As the grain that is poured into a measure is all pressed together and held into one mass by the sides 244 of the measure, so does love press together into unity all the saints and angels in Heaven and all their merits, as well as all the pains suffered on earth for God, — which but for love we should have neglected and lost. Hence the teaching of certain holy commentators of Scripture: “In everlasting life so deep a love shall the elect have for one another, that if one sees another gifted with greater joy and higher contemplation than himself, this will be to him as much happiness as if he himself had merited it, and were now enjoying it.”
In proportion to one’s share of this overflowing love in this life, so shall be his enjoyment of it in the life to come. Hence it is that the evil one hates these men. And he tempts such a one by insinuating a sense of self-righteousness, and by inducing dislike for his neighbor. The devil leads him to sit in judgment on his neighbor’s conduct, to rate his good works and his devotions as hypocritical. If he consents to this uncharity, he has fallen from his holy state of love. He condemns others right and left, and his tongue shoots out poisoned arrows that wound the souls of men unto eternal death. And by the same stroke of false and rash judgment, thou hast stripped thyself of all the merits and virtues thou hadst gathered by thy overflowing measure of love. Thou art now distracted and distressed, peace has fled away from thy soul, and thou art come into a very dangerous state. O, I counsel thee in all fidelity, that thou guard thy tongue most vigilantly, if thou wouldst continue to be called and to be a friend of God.
It often happens that the evil spirit will cause thee to dislike a good pious Christian, and if thou yieldest to this and speakest it out, then God withdraws from thee thy share of that man’s graces in the practice of virtue, as well as thy part in the enjoyment of His own holy love. As the prophet spoke of the oil of consecration flowing down from the head of Aaron even upon his beard, so does God’s love in a holy man’s soul flow out upon all who love Him — it is the overflowing of God’s love and all the virtues that belong to it. Whosoever shuts out any one from the spirit of universal love, is himself deprived of his own share of God’s love. See to it carefully, dear children, that you cling fast to this divine virtue; hold all mankind in good favor; be sure to avoid contention; profane not that temple of God that every man is, a temple consecrated by the Supreme Pope 245 and Father of Christendom, namely, God; take care lest you fall under the ban of the eternal God.
Alas, that our poor human nature should be so turned against true brotherly love. If one happens to see his neighbor fall into mortal sin, he lets him lie there and perhaps says the worst things about him. Look carefully to your own faults. How do you stand before God in reference to love? And learn diligently the fear of God while you are in this life; for beyond this life all is over with you, and you can neither gain nor lose any degree of virtue — tears of blood shed for you (were it possible) by our Blessed Lady and all the saints will then be of no avail. But now God is steadfastly patient; He is ever ready to grant us more than we are ready to ask Him. Meanwhile the love of God is never idle: labor and suffer cheerfully for His sake, and the superabundant fulness of the measure will be given thee, so full and rich and abundant and sweet, that it will spread everywhere over thy life and fill every corner of thy soul.
And now God comes and touches with His finger the well-filled vessel of his graces, and immediately it overflows and is poured back again into the divine being out of which all its treasures originally came. The soul now is united to God without intermediary and loses itself in Him — will, knowledge, love all overflow into God and are lost in Him and made one with Him. The eternal God loves Himself in this soul, all of whose works are done by Him. But this flow and overflow of God into the soul cannot be limited to itself alone, which most longingly petitions our Lord, and says; Ah, dear Lord, have mercy on all mankind, and forgive them their sins; and especially have pity on all those who once did good deeds and then fell away from Thy grace; give them, beloved Lord, the crumbs that fall from Thy table; convert them from their sinful ways and save them through the fires of purgatory; give them the well-filled measure of Thy grace, that by Thy merits they may be saved.
These elect souls thus turn back again into God’s bosom all their gifts whatsoever, their own selves included, and all created things. They embrace within their souls all that happens in holy Church everywhere in the world, offering all up in a happy, humble and self-denying spirit to the eternal heavenly Father, for themselves and for all men whether bad or good. Their love bars out nobody 246 still living in this time of grace, for they constantly join themselves in spirit to the whole human race. And if we in our days did not have among us men of this godlike character, our lot would be an evil one indeed. Therefore let us pray the merciful God that we may be granted this overflowing measure of His love. Amen
SYNOPSIS — IN WHAT DEGREE SATAN IS RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR DULLNESS OF SPIRIT — THE UNRESPONSIVENESS TO GOD THAT AFFLICTS WORLDLINGS; AND EVEN HURTS SPIRITUAL PERSONS — ST. GREGORY’S REMARKABLE TEACHING ON THIS POINT — THANKSGIVING IS A SIGN OF ATTENTIVENESS TO DIVINE CALLS — GOD’S INWARD WORD IN RELATION TO THE SEVEN GIFTS OF THE HOLY GHOST
And they bring to Him one deaf and dumb; and they besought Him that He would lay His hand upon him. And taking him from the multitude apart, He put His fingers into his ears, and spitting, He touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, He groaned, and said to him: Ephpheta, which is, Be thou opened. And immediately his ears were opened and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke right. . . . He hath done all things well; He hath made both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.
— Mark 7:32-37
We are to inquire to-day into man’s spiritual deafness. Since our first parents lent a willing ear to the voice of Satan, we are all deaf to the voice of the eternal Word of God within our souls. And yet we know full well that this divine Word is indescribably close to our souls, closer than our own thoughts, or our very nature to our conscious 247 existence. Within our inmost souls dwells that divine Word, and he addresses us without ceasing. Man hears Him not, for he is afflicted with great deafness. Nor is this a blameless state of deafness, for we are like one to whom something is spoken, and who stops his ears lest he shall hear what it is. We are worse; we have done this so much that at last we have lost knowledge of ourselves, and are become dumb, that is to say, wholly stupid. Ask a worldly man about his interior life, and he is dumb — he knows not if there be any such a life. And the cause of it is that the enemy has crept into that soul, which has hearkened to him, and thus has become deaf and dumb.
Now how does Satan insinuate himself into the soul? Thou shalt detect him in all blameworthy conduct; his guidance is in all the deceit of this world, all inordinate love of created things, such as honors and riches, relatives and friends, and also self love in all its forms. Under cover of any of these does he insinuate himself into thy soul, for he is ever on the watch to take advantage of thy inclination to evil. Sometimes he urges thee to shun a certain pain that thou shouldst manfully bear; again, to seek forbidden joys, whispering inwardly in thy ear, showing pictures before the eyes of thy soul, all that thou mayst shut eyes and ears and soul to the eternal Word. If we but instantly turn away from the enemy’s allurements, his temptations are easily overcome. If, on the contrary, one dallies with the tempter, gazes upon his pictures, listens to his suggestions, then is he nigh to destruction; the temptation is grown very heavy. Resist instantly, turn from him instantly, and thou art close to a victory. Soon thy deafness shall be cured, and thou shalt hear the inner voice of the eternal Word.
This deafness afflicts not only people living in the world but also those called to a spiritual life, but who permit their souls to be occupied by love and enjoyment of created things. This is well known to the devil, who tells them things calculated to gratify their inclinations. Some are made deaf by their infatuation for their self-chosen devotional customs and outward observances, which link them strongly to creatures in a spirit of proprietorship. The clatter of all this hinders the soul from hearing the inner voice of the eternal Word. We know well, of course, that we must have approved spiritual exercises and follow them earnestly; and yet without a feeling of proprietorship. Such are devout prayers to God as well as holy meditation, 248 by means of which our sluggish nature is aroused; we are heartened to our work, and we are drawn inward to the Spirit; but never with an obstinate sense of ownership, and always looking inward to God in the depths of our souls. We should not imitate some men, who persist to their very deaths in certain eternal pious practices and use them in a wholly externized spirit, never seeking to go beyond this. If God wishes to speak to them, the ears of their souls are always preoccupied by other voices. Children, there are so many cases of this sort of spiritual deafness, that at the end of all things we shall be amazed at the revelation of it.
Now God’s Word is never spoken in any man’s ears of whom it may not be said If any one love Me, he will keep My word (John 14:23). St. Gregory explains this: “Wouldst thou know if thou lovest God? Take note of thy conduct when thou art tried. What doest thou do when pain comes on thee, or contradiction, or any other distress from round about thee? And how dost thou bear thyself in time of interior distress, when thy mental anguish is so sharp that thou knowest not whither to turn for relief? What is thy bearing in sudden storms of adversity; when beset with difficulties all unforeseen? If thou shalt rest quiet in these visitations, thy soul resting in peace without any outburst of impatience, with no fault of word or act or even motion, then without doubt thou lovest God truly.” On the heart that truly loves, neither outward pain nor pleasure can make any impression. One may give to thee, one may take from thee, if only thy Beloved abide with thee, it is all one to thee, and thou restest in interior peace. Thy outward man weeps — that thou canst not help; the inner man rests content with God’s holy will. But if, alas, thou canst not stand this test, then art thou deaf — the divine Word will not be heard by thee.
Another test: art thou full of thanksgiving to God for the manifold favors He has conferred on thee, and on all mankind, and on all creatures in earth and heaven and never ceases to confer? And art thou especially thankful for the unspeakable gift of His Son’s holy humanity? Again, thy universal spiritual exercise should be sincere love of all mankind, not only the members of thy own community, but all priests and monks and nuns and sisters, and all humanity besides, of whatever state or condition; and this love should be active, and by no means confined in practice to thy own community, as far 249 as lies in thy power. This universal love is of inestimable benefit; for whosoever are real enlightened friends of God, their hearts are melted with affection for all men living and dead. Had we no such lovers of mankind among us, our lot would be evil indeed. Furthermore, thou shouldst also show thy love by outward works, by making gifts, by speaking words of comfort and counsel, in so far as thy own real necessities will permit. And if thou art unable to give outward help, at least excite thy heart to say in all truth, that thou wouldst do so if it were within thy power. Here then are thy plain signs for true love, and they will show that thy heart is not deaf.
And now comes our Lord to a man deaf and dumb, and He spiritually putteth His finger in his ears, and anoints his tongue with His holy spittal, and immediately the man’s soul can hear and can speak. O children, wonderful words might be said of this act of our Lord; we content ourselves with naming the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, which thus enter the soul and are granted when it hearkens to God in very truth.
First is the spirit of fear, which is given us that we may renounce all self-will, all self-conceit. It teaches us to fly from every evil thing. After that is granted the gift of piety, making us tender-hearted, hindering all rash judgment, rendering us yielding and kindly towards all. The third touch of the Lord’s finger is the gift of knowledge, giving us an interior lesson of divine experience, and guiding us to know the inner ways of union with God’s holy will. The fourth is divine fortitude, by which the soul is so strengthened as to be able easily to suffer all pain for God’s sake, and courageously to undertake all heavy tasks in His honor. The fifth is holy counsel, making all who receive it lovable men, and acceptable guides to others. And now come two touches of the divine finger that are deep and strong, namely, understanding and wisdom; but as to these, one can more easily feel the worth of them than he can describe them. May God grant that our ears may thus be opened to His truth, and that we may ever hearken to His eternal Word. Amen.