The “Various Writings of Humanity”: Johannes Tauler on Hildegard of Bingen’s Liber Scivias

  • Jeffrey F. Hamburger
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In his still unsurpassed study of English sermons of the later Middle Ages, published in 1933, G.R. Owst noted, “The contribution of English pre-Reformation preaching to this subject of pictures and statuary of the saints is in its way an interesting little contribution to the slender literature of the times dealing with early English Art, hitherto strangely neglected.”1 Seventy years later, the same could still be said, with no less emphasis, of German sermons of the pre-Reformation period. In this essay, I have no intention of attempting a premature overview of so vast a subject, especially when so much of the relevant material remains unpublished.2 Instead, I will consider perhaps the most remarkable instance of a German sermon that takes an identifiable image as its point of departure. The sermon in question was delivered by Johannes Tauler (ca. 1300–1361) to the Dominican nuns of St. Gertrude in Cologne in 1339. At this time, Tauler, along with the rest of his community in Strasbourg, was just beginning a period of four years of exile in Basel as a result of an interdict imposed by Pope John XXII, who wished to punish Strasbourg’s inhabitants for their loyalty to the emperor, Ludwig der Bayer.3 Although the purpose of Tauler’s trip to Cologne is unknown, it surely had something to do with the city’s having been the seat of a Dominican Studium generale. Fully one-third of Tauler’s sermon is devoted to a detailed discussion of an image in the convent’s refectory. Given the paucity of such passages in sermons of any kind, an extended description of a specific image from the hand of a celebrated preacher is in itself of extraordinary interest. Still more remarkable is that the image itself can be associated with a still more celebrated figure, none other than Hildegard of Bingen.4


Wall Painting Soft Shadow Panel Painting Mystical Union Early Fourteenth Century 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Kathryn Starkey and Horst Wenzel 2005

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  • Jeffrey F. Hamburger

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