Johannes Tauler (†1361), the Image of God, and the ‘Dominican’ Proclus

For those interested in the recovery of Neoplatonic texts in Late Medieval Europe and/or the Protestant Reformation, TaulerJohannes Tauler should be quite interesting. He was a Dominican student of Meister Eckhart and his works were quite influential for Martin Luther. Tauler’s concept of the imago Dei was one of the most unique of his time. In a sermon on John 3:11 Tauler explicitly distances himself from Thomas Aquinas’s concept of the imago. For Tauler the Seelengrund (ground of the soul) is the true image of the Trinity as opposed to the traditional Augustinian concept of the imago as reflected in memory, understanding, and will. One may only enter their Seelengrund, says Tauler, by shedding “all outward attachments” and “pious action” since, in one’s return to the hidden God “exterior precepts and techniques will be of no avail.” Tauler’s doctrine of the Seelengrund is unique because it is partly influenced by his readings of a quite recently translated passage from Proclus’s De Providentia. Tauler explains:

(English translation below)

Hievon sprach ein heidenscher meister Proculus: alle die wile und also lange da der mensche mit den bilden die under uns sint, umbget und mangeld do nút, so ist daz nut gelouplich daz der mensche in disen grunt iemer komen múge; das ist uns zümole ein ungloube daz das in uns si; wir múgent nút gelouben das es si und ouch in uns si, sunder – sprach er – wiltu daz bevinden das ez si, so la alle manigvaltekeit und sich dis an mit eime verstentlichen gesihte dis ein; wiltu nu noch hoher kummen, so la das vernúnftige gesihte und daz ansehen, wan die vernunft ist under dir unde wurt eins mit dem einen, und er nemmet dis eine alsus: eine stille swigende sloffende götteliche unsinnige dúnsternisse. Kinder, das ein heiden dis verstunt und darzü kam, das wir dem also verre und also ungelich sint, das ist uns laster und grosse schande. Dis bezúgete unser herre do er sprach: ‘das rich Gottes ist in úch’…

A pagan master, Proclus, has this to say on the subject [of the imago Dei]: “As long as man is occupied with images inferior to himself, and as long as he does not go beyond them, it is unlikely that he will ever reach this depth. It will appear an illusion to really believe that this groung exists within us; we doubt that it can actually exist in us. Therefore,” he continues, “if you wish to experience its existence, you must abandon all multiplicity and concentrate your attention on this one thing with the eyes of your intellect; and if you wish to rise higher, you must put aside all rational methods, for reason is now beneath you, and then you may become united with the One.” And he calls this state a divine darkness: still, silent, at rest , and above all sense perception. Beloved, it is a disgraceful thing that a pagan philosopher understood and attained this truth, while we are so far from both. Our Lord expressed the same truth when he said: “The kingdom of God is within us.” – Tauler, translated by Maria Shrady in Johannes Tauler: Sermons, The Classics of Western Spirituality, (Paulist Press, 1985), 105.

According to Loris Sturlese, Tauler does not merely quote Proclus as an authority but implies that he understands the context and some of the more intricate details of Proclus’s philosophy. Judging the content of Tauler’s few references to Proclus, Sturlese determines that he must have had full access to three whole chapters of Proclus’s De Providentia (from where the references originate) within the Tria Opuscula translated by William of Moerbeke ca. 1268. Sturlese explains the full extent of the influences on Tauler’s concept of the Seelengrund:

(English translation below)

Tauler lehnt die thomistische These ab, die Gottebenbildlichkeit der Seele bestehe in der aktuallen Entfaltung ihrer Seelenvermögen (Gedächtnis, Verstand und Wille), und betont, das Bild Gottes liege vielmehr »in dem allerverborgensten tieffesten grunde der selen«, wobei er sich ausdrücklich auf Proklos … und stillschweigend auf Dietrich und Berthold beruft […]. Die Lehre Dietrichs, die er für sich in Anspruch nimmt, ist seine bekannte Identifizierung des Bildes Gottes mit dem »abditus mentis« Augustins […]. Die Lehre des Proklos ist die des »unum animae«, in noch ausführlicherer Weise im Rahmen der Erklärung des Begriffes vom Gemüt … dargestellt wird […]. Tauler macht sich das Proklische »unum animae« zunutze, um der Interpretation des »abditum mentis« im Sinne des Intellekts, die Dietrich von Freiberg – einem Motiv Alberts des Großen folgend – vorgetragen hatte (Tauler kennt sie…), die Deutung des »abditum mentis« als transintellektuelles Prinzip gegenüberzustellen […]. Hierbei zeigt sich Tauler als vom philosophischen Denken Bertholds von Moosburg abhängig, denn er interpretiert die Proklischen Texte zum »unum« in einer Weise, die bei Berthold, und nur bei ihm, eine genaue Entsprechung findet… Unter dem Gesichtspunkt der damaligen deutschen philosophischen Debatte betrachtet, ist Taulers Übereinstimmung mit Berthold als eine Stellungnahme gegen den Thomismus anzusehen, welche die in der Dominikanerprovinz verbreitete Stimmung reflektierte, die ihre markanteste Erscheinung im Prokloskommentar des Moosburger Lektors fand… – Loris Sturlese, Homo Divinus: Philosophische Projekte in Deutschland zwischen Meister Eckhart und Heinrich Seuse, (Kohlhammer GmbH: Stuttgart, 2007), 194, 195).

Tauler rejected the thomistic position, that the image of God in the soul consists in the actual development of its faculties (memory, understanding, and will), and stresses , that the image of God lies, rather, “in the completely hidden, deepest ground of the soul,” whereby he makes explicit reference to Proclus … and by implication to Dietrich [von Freiberg] and Berthold [von Moosburg] […] Dietrich’s theory, which [Tauler] claimed for himself, is his well-known identification of the image of God with the “abditus mentis” [the hidden depth of the mind] of Augustine. Proclus’s theory is that of the “unum animae” [the one in the soul], depicted in a yet more detailed way in the context of the representation of ideas from the mind. Tauler made use of Proclus’s doctrine of the “unum animae” in order to counterpose the interpretation of the “abditum mentis” as properly intellectual – and Tauler knew that Dietrich von Freiberg followed the motive of Albert the Great in handing down this concept – with the reading of the “abditus mentis” as a trans-intellectual principle. By this Tauler shows that he is dependent upon the philosophical thought of Berthold von Moosburg, because he interpreted the text of Proclus regarding the “one” in such a way that one finds an exact equivalent [of it] in Berthold’s work and only in his work. When viewed from the perspective of the German philosophical debate of the time, Tauler’s agreement with Berthold is seen as a reaction against Thomism, which reflected a common attitude in the Dominican Order and which found its most marked appearance in the Proclus-commentary of the Moosburg lecturers.

Tauler was a fellow Dominican and resided in the same cloister as Berthold von Moosburg, the first in the European West to read and comment upon a major work of Proclus’s, i.e., the Elements of Theology – Aquinas commented on a portion of the Liber de Causis which contains selections from Proclus’s Elements translated from Arabic. So, Sturlese argues, it is most likely the case that Tauler received excerpts from Proclus’s De Providentia from his Dominican brother. Combining this new teaching of the “one in the soul” with the mysticism of Albertus Magnus mediated by Dietrich’s earlier teaching (which Eckhart also incorporated into his theology) on Augustine’s abditus mentis, Tauler was able to construct a theology of the imago Dei that challenged the hegemony of the Dominican magisterium. Tauler’s theology also functioned as an apologetic for what he saw as humanity’s absolute need of the divine mediation of Christ to enable one to lose oneself and return to the One within the Seelengrund, which, as he says, is the “Kingdom of God within us.”

Calvin on Original Justice as Donum Pulcherrimum

I ran across John Calvin’s tract against the German Interim and discovered a more Medieval explanation of original sin than what he sets forth in his Institutes. I call Calvin’s demonstration in this tract “Medieval” because it mirrors the teaching of Thomas Aquinas, who taught that original sin was a privation of original justice formally and an added habit of concupiscence materially. I have provided the Latin with translations to follow each paragraph.

Deus creavit initio hominem ad imaginem & similitudinem suam, eum que gratia ornavit, & fecit per originalem iustitiam, ut esset omnibut cum corporis, tum animi viribus rectus, nec agitaretur ullis turpidis & pravis motibus: sed in eo caro spiritui, atque inferiores animi vires superioribus, quae tantum ad bonum hortabantur, parerent. (John Calvin, Interim Adultero-Germanum: cui adiecta est vera Christianae pacificationis, et ecclesiae reformandae ratio, p. 3)

God created man in the beginning in his image and likeness and adorned him with grace and by means of original justice made him to be upright in all the powers of the body and the soul, and unable to be shaken by anything foul or by perverse movements: but in him the flesh was obedient to the spirit, and also the inferior powers of the soul were obedient to the superior, which were so strongly encouraging him to good.

Verum, postquam premus parens noster contra, quam mandaverat Deus, fecit: incidit in poenam a Deo propositam, & iustitiae originalis donum pulcherrimum amisit: hinc carentia iustitiae huius, una cum vitioso concupiscentiae habitu, quae spiritui & superioribus animi viribus perpetuo repugnat. Quod peccatu, hoc est, privationem illius iustitiae, qua parte rationem subditam reddebat Deo, una cum concupiscentia in omnem posteritatem suam propagavit… (ibid., p. 4)

But after our first parent acted against God’s commandment he fell into the penalty proposed by God and lost the most beautiful gift (donum pulcherrimum) of original justice; hence there was a loss of justice, together with the vicious habit of concupiscence which continually battles with the spirit and the superior powers of the soul. Which sin, that is the privation of justice, by which it rendered reason subject to God, together with concupiscence, he passed down to all his posterity.

Vermigli on Why the Natural Law Accuses Mankind

Peter Martyr VermigliVermigli affirms that the natural law accuses  man because of the corruption resulting from the loss of original righteousness.  He affirms against Pighius that there are three laws that bind our nature, thus rendering the lack of original righteousness a sin: (1) The institution of man as the imago Dei (image of God), which consists primarily in his endowment with the “divine properties” of justice, wisdom, goodness, and patience, (2) the law of nature that depends upon the original justice of the imago Dei, and (3) the Law of God.  (Commentary upon the Epistle to the Romanes, 124, 125) Vermigli explains why the second of these laws requires original righteousness:

We have also the law of nature, and to live agreably unto it (as Cicero saith in his 3. booke de finibus) is the principall and last end of mans estate.  And this lawe dependeth of that other law [original justice] which we before put:  For it commeth of no other thinge, that we have in our mind cogitations, accusing, and defending one another, but only for that they are taken of the worthiness of nature, as it was instituted of God.  For whatsoever Philosophers, or lawgivers have written of the offices of mannes life, the same wholy dependeth of the fountaines of our constitution.  For those precepts cannot come out of a corrupt nature, out of selfe love, and malice, hereby we are prone to evil:  but they come of that forme of upright nature, which they imagine is required of the dignity of man, and which we know by the scriptures was instituted of God, and commaunded of us to be renued. (ibid.)

Therefore, the natural law accuses mankind because we fail to live up to the justice with which man was originally endowed.  When the pagan philosophers wrote about man’s duties (i.e., offices) they believed that the precepts derived from the natural law could be fully kept by the prudent person.  However, Vermigli counters that an upright nature is a gift that must come from God.

John Calvin on the Studying of Greek Philosophers de Anima

I, indeed, agree that the things they [the philosophers] teach [about the soul] are true, not only enjoyable, but also profitable to learn, and skillfully assembled by them.  And I do not forbid those who are desirous of learning to study them. Therefore I admit in the first place that there are five senses, which Plato preferred to call organs, by which all objects are presented to common sense, as a sort of receptacle.  There follows fantasy, which distinguishes those things which have been apprehended by common sense; then reason, which embraces universal judgment; finally understanding, which in intent and quiet study contemplates what reason discursively ponders. Similarly, to understanding, reason, and fantasy (the three cognitive faculties of the soul) correspond three appetitive faculties: will, whose functions consist in striving after what understanding and reason present; the capacity for anger, which seizes upon what is offered to it by reason and fantasy; the capacity to desire inordinately, which apprehends what is set before it by fantasy and sense. (Institutes, I.XV.6.)

Potential Being Actualized In Christ

Parmenides argued that a particular being cannot become another particular being. For example air cannot become fire but must first cease to be air as such.  The change of air to fire would be in this case a mere replacement of one being for another.  Aristotle answered this problem with his distinction between three factors in change:  Form, matter, and privation.  A ball of clay is not a vase, but it has the potential for being a vase.  In this example clay is the matter, vase is the form, and the privation is the clay’s lack of being a vase.  According to Aristotle air can be changed into fire because air is never just air.  Air is potential fire.  Therefore when it is changed into fire it is not annihilated but part of its potential being (fire) is turned into actual being.  An acorn is a potential tree.  When an acorn is changed into a tree it does not lose part of its being but has its capacity for treeness fulfilled. This does not mean that change is illusory but that change is real.    

This distinction is helpful for understanding Thomas Aquinas on the Eucharist. Although he notes that natural changes are changes of accidental form and not substantial form in the Eucharist the bread and the wine do not lose their composition of essence and existence but are changed from a potential glorified being to actual glorified substances.  They in turn actualize other potentialities within the believer – faith resulting in union with Christ through the Holy Spirit.  As others have pointed out this change is meta-substantial. It transcends substance to the nature of created being itself. Believers do not lose their substance but receive that substance back fully renewed in Christ. They receive Christ and all of his benefits: his mind, will, nature, etc.  Of course, this assumes an ontological, not merely legal, sinful nature in man. Since the Fall man lacks full being but also actualized being of a certain type.  Adam was created in God’s image but was intended for glorification in union with God.  Just as the acorn was intended to be a tree man’s final cause is a shared being, a mutual indwelling with our incarnate glorified Lord. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” [2 Cor. 3:18] Christ’s body on earth is being transformed from a potential body to a pure, glorified, actualized body.

Historical Survey: Chrysostom and the Origenist Controversy (II)

Although Epiphanios had been writing against the teachings of Origen for quite some time the controversy came to a head when Theophilos of Alexandria issued his festal letter in 399.  Upon the arrival of the letter in Scete the Anthropomorphite monks were shocked with Theophilos’ discussion of the incorporeality of God.  These monks were simple-minded ascetics who had come from areas recently purged of paganism.  Evidently the idol worship of these monks had only taken a new form, the idol of God in the mind. “It [Origenism] was a dispute with a past, a past located historically in the conversion of native Egyptians from paganism (“idolatry”) to Christianity…”  In fact much of Evagrios’ thought can be seen as an attempt to cleanse the mind of idolatry.  Many of the more simple ascetics asserted that God was corporeal, having a human figure; therefore any discussion of God as incorporeal was a denial that man is in the image of God.  The question of whether man is in the image of God became the center of the controversy – the Anthropomorphites answering in the affirmative and the Origenists answering in the negative. 

The festal letter of Theophilos caused an uprising of Anthropomorphite monks who were threatening his life in the city of Alexandria.  Theophilos quickly changed his mind on the subject of God’s incorporeality during the turmoil to support the Anthropomorphites.  This was partly due to the advice of the monk Aphou who demonstrated to him that if humans do not truly image God then Christ cannot be truly present in the Eucharist (the corporeal bread cannot correspond to an incorporeal Christ), a proposal that no orthodox Christian could affirm.  After this volte-face on the part of Theophilos he began to seek the eradication of what he understood was Origenist heresy.  This desire to eliminate Origenism was one impetus for the excommunication of Isidore and the subsequent banishment of the “Long Brothers” (a nickname given in description of their tall stature).  Theophilos had at one time held Isidore and the Long Brothers (Dioskoros, Ammonios, Eusebios, and Euthymios) in high regard (nominating Isidore for bishop of Constantinople and appointing Dioskoros bishop of Hermopolis) until Isidore was accused of managing church funds behind his back.  Isidore, excommunicated, sought refuge with the Long Brothers (whom Theophilos had learned were avid supporters of Origen; also, Ammonios was a close friend of Evagrios) in their dwelling in the Nitrian desert.  Infuriated at the apparent betrayal by former friends, Theophilos enlisted his band of Anthropomorphite monk fighters to expel the Nitrian monks.  Apparently shortly after this, Ammonios confronted Theophilos in Alexandria about his violent actions, but Theophilos, recognizing him, seized him by the throat, punched him in the face and exclaimed, “Anathematize Origen, you heretic!” Continue reading “Historical Survey: Chrysostom and the Origenist Controversy (II)”

Aquinas: Two Ways of Christ’s Reconciliation of Man

It is important to ask if sin is an ontological reality rather than an exclusive legal reality. To ask this is also to ask if man’s relationship to God is effected by the nature of man’s reflecting God’s own image.  Aquinas’ distinction in two ways is helpful:

On the part of Christ he [Paul] writes of two ways through which Christ has made us pleasing [to God]. For within us there exists two antagonisms to the divine good pleasure, the stains of sin and the punishing injuries [sin inflicts]. Justice is as opposed to sin as life is to death, so that through sin, having departed from our likeness to God, we cease being pleasing to God. But through Christ he has made us pleasing. First, indeed, by abolishing the punishment; and in reference to this he says that in Christ we have redemption from the slavery of sin. “You know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as gold or silver, from the vain manner of life handed down from your fathers: but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled” (1 Pet. 1:18*-19). “Thou hast redeemed us to God, in thy blood” (Apoc. 5:9).  Continue reading “Aquinas: Two Ways of Christ’s Reconciliation of Man”