Eckhart and Tauler


Given that we have already seen the debt of Tauler to Meister Eckhart, it might be assumed that this lineage is traceable from Eckhart all the way to Luther. But this is not necessarily true. There are some differences between Eckhart and Tauler that change the emphasis of the Theologia Germanica. For instance, there is a sense in Eckhart sometimes that we leave the natural behind. It is perhaps the legacy of Plotinus. For Tauler, there is more a sense that man is a being who will have to make do with the natural as it exists in contrast to the spiritual. There is a paradox to human existence. The person who knows God does not know anything different from nature; he only knows it differently. So, there is a tension here; you can't go straight from natural knowledge to knowledge of God. That is the scholastic argument, and there is evidence of this in Eckhart. Tauler reports his own experience of conversion, through the auspices of a (possibly fictional) Friend. What happened was that Tauler came to the realization that he had thought all the right things about God, but he had not lived them in the sense that they had not reverberated through him. He was transformed from a thinker about the nature of God into a reborn being

There is another difference between Eckhart and Tauler.
Eckhart has an emphasis on the Incarnation of God, while Tauler emphasizes the cross and the resurrection. The difference is that Eckhart then tends to centre on the philosophical (neoplatonic) speculation on the nature of the divine. Tauler, on the other hand, has a pastoral, almost existential concern with the life of the individual. When Eckhart thinks about the common mystical phrase "the birth of God in the ground of the soul", he means something which blurs the distinction between God, nature, and man. When Tauler thinks about that phrase, he emphasizes more the dualistic distance between God and man, and man's sinfulness before God. So, there is less of a continuity between nature and spirit in Tauler than in Eckhart.

One way to distinguish the two is using a distinction of Nathan Soderblom's between
personality mysticism and infinity mysticism. The first refers to the experience of God in the midst of life's problems, an experience of the human I meeting the divine Thou. The second refers to an experience of the super-human beyond the vicissitudes of life. The first is trust and forgiveness in this life. The second is immersion in nature and exercise according to technical patterns. The first is a relationship to a personal God, the second is a dissolution of the self into the impersonal beyond. So, the first is Tauler, and the second Eckhart.

Tauler, then, takes the speculation of Eckhart into the realm of the vita activa and publica. It is a mysticism of active life. But it is also a mysticism that tries to make sense out of human existence in terms of its own relationships, rather than in terms of anything otherworldly. The mystical is the here and now, conceived in different ways. It is no special experience.