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The History And Life Of The Reverend Doctor John Tauler by Catherine Winkworth


How God had wrought a great miracle through this pious man, and how this had come to pass because God found in him a good and thorough humility.

THEN said the Master, |I pray thee, for God's sake to tell me how it is that thou hast attained to such a life, and how thou didst begin thy spiritual life, and what have been thy exercises and thy history.| The man said, |That is, indeed, a simple request: for I tell you truly, if I should recount, or write, all the wondrous dealings of God with me, a poor sinner, for the last twelve years, I verily believe that you have not a book large enough to contain it if it were all written; however, I will tell you somewhat thereof for this time.

|The first thing that helped me was, that God found in me a sincere and utterly self-surrendering humility. Now I do not think there is any need to tell you the bodily exercises by which I brought my flesh into subjection: for men's natures and dispositions are very unlike; but whenever a man has given himself up to God with utter humility, God will not fail to give him such exercises, by temptations and other trials, as He perceives to be profitable to the man, and such as he is well able to bear and endure if he be only willing. But this you ought to know: he who asks counsel of many people will be apt to go often astray; for each one will point him to his own experience. But ofttimes a man may exercise himself in a certain practice which is good and profitable to himself; while, if another did the same, it might very likely be useless, or even hurtful to him. The Devil often stirs up a man to practise great austerities, with the intent that the man may grow sick and infirm thereby, or weak in his brain, or do himself some other injury.

|I will tell you how it befell me in the beginning. I was reading the German books about the lives of the Saints, when I thought to myself, These were men who lived on this earth as well as I, and perhaps, too, had not sinned as I have.' And when these thoughts came into my head, I began to exercise myself in the life of the Saints with some severities, but grew so sick thereby that I was brought to death's door. And it came to pass one morning at break of day, that I had exercised myself so that my eyelids closed from very weakness, and I fell asleep. And in my sleep it was as though a voice spoke to me and said, Thou foolish man, if thou art bent upon killing thyself before thy time, thou wilt have to bear a heavy punishment; but if thou didst suffer God to exercise thee, He could exercise thee better than thou by thyself, or with the Devil's counsel.' When I heard speak of the Devil I awoke in a great fright, rose up, and walked out into a wood nigh to the town. Then I thought within myself, I had begun these exercises without counsel: I will go and tell the old hermit all that has happened to me. And I did so, and told him the words that I had heard in my sleep, and besought him in God's name to give me the best counsel he could. So the hermit said, Thou must know that if I am to advise, thou must first tell me all about thy exercises.' So I did, and he said, By whose counsel hast thou done these things?' and I answered, Of my own will. Then the hermit said, Then know that it has been the Devil's counsel, and thou must not obey him any more as long as thou livest, but thou must utterly give thyself up to God; He can exercise thee much better than thou thyself, or the Devil.' Behold, dear Master, thereupon I ceased from these exercises, and yielded myself and my doings altogether up to God. For the rest, dear sir, you must know that by nature I was a very ingenious, clever, good-hearted man; but I had not the Scriptures in my hand, like you, but could only learn to know myself by my natural intelligence; and with this sometimes I got so far that I was surprised at myself. And once upon a time, I thought in my reason, Thou hast such good parts, may be, if thou shouldst give thy mind to it with all earnestness, thou couldst attain to comprehend somewhat of divine things.' But as this thought came into my head I marked straightway that it was the Devil's counsel, and saw that it was all false. So I said, O thou Evil Spirit, what an impure false counsel hast thou put in my heart, thou bad, false counsellor! If we had such a God I would not give a berry for him.' After that, another night, when I was saying my matins, an ardent longing came over me, so that I said, O eternal and merciful God, that it were thy will to give me to discover something that should be above all our sensual reason!' As soon as I had said it I was sorely affrighted at this great longing, and said with great fervour, Ah, my God and my Lord, forgive me of Thy boundless mercy for having done this, and that it should have entered into the heart of a poor worm like me to desire such a great gift of such rich grace, and I confess indeed that I have not always lived as I ought of right to do. I confess, moreover, dear Lord, that I have been unthankful to Thee in all things, so that methinks I am not worthy that the earth should bear me, still less that such an ardent, gracious desire should spring up in me; wherefore my body must be punished for my sin.' With that I threw off my garments and scourged myself till the blood ran down my shoulders. And as these words remained in my heart and on my lips till the day broke, and the blood was flowing down, in that same hour God showed His mercy on me, so that my mind was filled with a clear understanding. And in that same hour I was deprived of all my natural reason; but the time seemed all too short to me. And when I was left to myself again I saw a supernatural mighty wonder and sign, insomuch that I could have cried with St. Peter, Lord, it is good for me to be here!' Now know, dear sir, that in that self-same short hour I received more truth and more illumination in my understanding than all the teachers could ever teach me from now till the Judgment Day by word of mouth, and with all their natural learning and science. Now, dear Master, I have said enough for this time, as to how it stands with you.|

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