John Tauler, German Mystic, Preacher

John Tauler, German Mystic, Preacher

His fiery tongue that has kindled the horizon..." Those are the words that Christina Ebner, one of John Tauler's listeners, used to describe his effect.

We don't know much about John except that he made people open their ears. They liked to listen to him and to his sermons which claimed they could live close to God if they wanted to. He gained such a reputation for himself that authors who came after him attached his name to their own writings to give them prestige. Protestants--beginning with the great reformer Martin Luther himself--have often said kind things about John Tauler. He has sometimes been called a reformer before the Reformation. This is not really true.

John was a Dominican friar and a mystic. Like Meister Eckhart and Henry Suso, who he probably met, he believed that a soul could spend its time with God even while here on earth. It took real spiritual discipline, of course, and he gave some practical suggestions for that.

First of all, he recognized that mankind is steeped in sin. It takes God's grace to overcome it. But we can prepare our hearts for that grace. He suggested that one way of getting closer to God was to turn away from everything that is not simply and purely God. This was quite a different emphasis than the Reformation would later give, when it taught that all things are to be used and enjoyed because God created them for us.

John also urged "resignation," that is, accepting whatever happens as coming from the hand of God and giving up our own will. This way of thinking is foreign to the majority of Protestants who emphasize the human need to take action to change situations. However, John did stress the importance of doing loving deeds and said it was good to work. He was against spending one's whole life in meditation.

One means John saw for allowing God to act upon the soul was by suffering like Christ with patient endurance. His emphasis on the cross of Christ and on an "alive" relationship with God is probably what attracted Martin Luther to his writings.

On the other hand, there are passages in John's writing as in the writing of many of the German mystics which sound pantheistic (that everything is part of God). That kind of thinking is dangerous.

During his life, John was closely associated with a Christian group called the Friends of God. Surely they grieved when John died in Strasburg on this day, June 16, 1361. His sermons remain of interest to scholars.


  1. Loffler, Klemens. "John Tauler." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York://Robert Appleton, 1912.
  2. Ozment, Steven E. Homo Spiritualis; a comparative study of the anthropology of Johannes Tauler, Jean Gerson and Martin Luther (1509-16) in the context of their theological thought. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1969.
  3. "Tauler, John." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  4. "Tauler, Johann." Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1949 - 1950.
  5. "Tauler, Johannes." Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth edition.

Last updated July, 2007

Originally published April 28, 2010.