Heinrich Suso /Sus /Seuse.
Writing as Amandus
Catholic Memorial 2nd March
assigned feast in the Dominican Order to 2nd March
upon the declaration of him being Blessed, in 1831
by Pope Gregory XVI.
Born March 21. 1300, in Constance
Dead Jan 25. 1366, in Ulm
Accounted to be foremost among the Friends of Godalong with John Tauler(1300-1361). This society of pious persons, both ecclesiastical and lay, sought different measures to advance the life of holiness in Catholic society. An endeavour inspiring many others, both heterodox and orthodox – among them The Brethren of the Common Life, founded by Geert Groote, and attended by Thomas à Kempis who was himself greatly inspired by HenrySuso.
He studied under Meister Eckhart in Cologne in a period from 1322-1325, enrolled with the Dominican Order at the time he turned 13.
Already in whilst still a young man put in charge of several mendicant “houses” for the society The Friends of God, whose
administration and organization resembled that of the Beghards and Beguines.
Began teaching theology to students in Constance. Spent years imprisoned in a dungeon “due to slander” and his association with Meister Eckhart, a controversial figure in his own time (Eckhart`s authority was never revoked, but mysticism troubled the Catholic church due to the influx of dissenting and apostatizing sects, among them the great bogaboo of the day, the Brethren and Sisters of the Free Spirit.
Like Eckhart, Suso was repeatedly forced to exercise discretion with whom he associated, especially spiritually – that is to say, to whom he spoke with and wrote with in confidence and earnestly, sincerely and passionately from the heart.
Henry Suso came from a family of nobles, but chose early away the privileges which his blood would have secured him. This coincides almost with all traditional
mystics from that period, as well as a good share of the heterodox enthusiasts.
He was secured the very best education in spiritual, religious and judicial matters. He chose to bear the name of his mother`s family line, since she was a devout Christian in contradistinction to the mighty,wealthy and rich father who was firmly invested in his trade. Henry was a delicate and sickly child, and tradition predicated that he was destined to ministry, to be abandoned under the ministrations of the monastic institutions; with illness comes melancholy, idle thought and unproductive meditation; that such people comes anywhere near such influence the secular trades would secure them was an unseemly, frightful prospect, which his contemporaries sought to ward themselves against with all possible means. The paranoia over the Free Spirit heresy were as much a political and social one as anything theological; Norman Cohn, while I disagree with most of his conclusions in his The Pursuit of the Millenium, correctly diagnosed the heresies as coming out of an acute awareness of alienation among the unprivileged and poor, but also a kind of righteous affront among certain children of the wealthy masses, who for some reason did not follow the rhythm of a seamless, lean money grubbing machine.
The 14th century was full of wars that made traders
and money lenders rich overnight- these in turn invested in memorials over themselves, in art, in clerical services and the all-overhaddowing simony all regretfully administered by the Church. Henry Suso, while imprisoned and disciplined at several intervals in his life, remained faithful to Her because he secretly believed a change would come about, if only Christians repaired their attitudes towards their brothers and sisters, increasing the heartbeat of the true body of Christ buried somewhere deep beneath it all.
Henry Suso had an unbending confidence in the ability of love to transform human beings and instill in them a resolve to sin no more; a love and compassion which penetrates through all layers of convention, invention and privilege which society had draped itself in. Growing into adolescence, and awakening to his own responsibility towards his visions and his works, he grew tired with the monastic routine, his confidence in its perfecting and sustaining qualities waning. These communities, especially the greater ones which was
home for chiefly privileged children inducted early into the tonsure of monks and clerics – where by far immune from the corruption of that age, perhaps young Suso, like many of his brethren before in the history of mysticism in the west, discovered or experienced some manifestation of such invasions.
He began seeking for a higher and more intense manifestation
of spirituality, he adopted the extreme measures which the Beghards themselves preferred –
remaining for years in solitude and silence, wearing a hair shirt studded with nails… shunning
comfort, subduing his body and sensual dispositions.
Eventually he made his way towards theological study in Cologne and Strasburg, where he
encountered the circle around Meister Eckhart. He was immediately struck at the spiritual
brilliance of Eckhart and his depth of understanding in Christian Spirituality, and would not
disassociate him even when he was under investigation for heresy.
Until his 40th year Henry Suso lived as a penitent and practiced severe forms of ascetic
observance, at his 40th year his body gave in and his constitution was so weakened that
further practice of the same severities would remove him from this life.
At the time, he chose to live. Eventually he made his way back to his old monestary and
served there as lector and teacher. The political turmoil that the disputes between the Pope
and Louis of Bavaria caused him, because he sided with the Pope, to be deported from
Constance and sent to Diessenhoven (1339-1346), here his mandate and permission to
function in the monastic communities were all stripped from him by the secular powers
and he was forbidden to preach – here he chose to embrace the life of an itinerant preacher,
a vagant, his choice and the fervour of his message for a time stigmatizing him as a representative
of the Free Spirit heresy. Nevertheless, he kept in contact with the Dominicans, who did not
approve of Louis, but kept their views hidden from the authorities.He eventually entered the
Dominican convent at Töss where he met Elsbet Stagel, the inspiration for his publication
of his life-work, the Ezemplar; his Biography,The Little Book of Eternal Wisdom,
The Little Book of Truth and The Little Book of Letters, as well as assorted Sermons on
different occasions, no doubt inspired by Meister Eckhart`s style.
Eventually the conflict was over, his writings became widely distributed, but in lieu of his
reputation as a wandering star, the epithet for the Free Spirits, and in considering
some of his “doctrinal” positions, the prelates of the Roman Church became disturbed
and eventually recalled all authority from him again, as well as starting heresy investigations;
the “heresy trial” situation with Eckhart was worse after his death than during his life – Henry
appears to have been questioned as much concerning the views represented in the entire
“Eckhartian” circle`s writings rather than just his own. His writings where put on index, he
was officially censured by a Church Council for his views and made to admit grievous mistakes
and errors which he supposedly had let be distributed among the populace and intellectuals.
The Biography owed its existence to the diligent documentation of Suso`s life and thought
pursued by his friend Elsbet Stagel. This was done in secret from him, so when he discovered
he was heading for a trial he sat down and carefully corrected and censured it, in the editing
process he came to destroy a good portion of the notes and never restored the intended
ordering, apparently chronological, which Elsbet Stagel had followed in writing them down.
The Biography was also appended to, and that, rather than the initial purged records from
his conversations with the prioress, became a great inspiration to the generations to follow,
a Diarium Spiritualis of his accomplishment as a mystic; like so many other autobiographies
of spiritual teachers, an introduction into the spiritual life and the quest for its perfection and fulfillment.
He devoted himself thoroughly to it and finished approximately close to the hour and day of his
leaving this world. His Little Book of Eternal Wisdom became a guide to Christian meditation
for his contemporaries and generations of Christians after his time in Germany. His Book of Truth
is a defense for Meister Eckhart`s teaching and masterly executed as such; one of the serious charges
against him where that he thaught pantheistic doctrines, juxtaposing him with the teachings of several
charismatic teachers circulating their treatises at this time, especially the Beghards who apparently
adopted both Eckhart`s and Suso`s writings as inspiration for their speculative mysticism.
Here we meet the stranger from nowhere, who professes to be nothing and whose affiliation with
the moral world of Christians is nil, someone who have read into the ministry of Jesus
immunity from both the evils and the privileges of society, who refuse all authorities apart from
the spiritual and who have become champion of evading the consequences of such dissension.
Suso argues against the negations of this view, which demonstrately were present in Cologne
and other places where he himself resided – because of its implementation of an egotic love
instead of a love which is universal and which intervenes with social evils and beseech conscience
over preference and spiritualistic bias.
The aim of Suso`s discipline, work and preaching where to present a consequent and practical
approach towards a Perfection only Christ could fulfill, in and through – and above for
Man. It hails back to the pursuit of the authors of the Didache, the earliest writers of “monastic”
discipline and ideologically merges with the attempted resurrections of the Vita Apostolica,
the sacrificing, selfless approach believed to be the lifestyle and work of the Apostles at the time
of Jesus and immediately afterwards.In this he had some dependence on the great Fransiscan
doctor Bonaventure as well as the theoretician of monastic Gnosis, John of Damascus.
Like Geert Groothe and Thomas a Kempis before him, he attempted to amplify the Practical
over the Theoretical, a Truth is to be lived, and so passionately as if life depended upon
it – not passively pondered upon, never subject to compromise of doubt, never deliberated for
deliberation alone. Never embellished for the sake of embellishment or the glory of words.
Henry Suso`s own success in such “poverty in the spirit” is negotionable, since his words most
of all is acute, beautiful and somewhat sentimental reminders of what is most neccessary and
most important – but he inspired such success in others, this was his great strenght.
A Hymn meditating on John iv.7 (from The Hymns of Ter Steegen,Suso and others – at the
Christian Classics Ethereal Library website):
THE THIRST OF GOD
John iv. 7.
The hart panteth after the waters,
The dying for life that departs;
The Lord in His glory for sinners,
For the love of rebellious hearts.
Call back all the days of the ages,
All snow-flakes come down from above;
All flowers of summers departed,
But think not to measure His love.
Behold Him, O soul, where He told it,
Pale, bleeding, and bearing thy sin;
He knocketh, saith, “Open, beloved,
I pray thee to let Me come in.
Behold, I have borne all the judgment,
Thy sins, O beloved, are gone;
Forgotten, forgotten for ever,
God seeketh, but findeth not one.
“Behold, with what labour I won thee,
Behold in My hands and My feet,
The tale of my measureless sorrow–
Of love that made sorrow so sweet.
A flax-thread in oceans of fire
How soon swallowed up would it be!
Yet sooner in oceans of mercy
The sinner that cometh to Me.”
Henry Suso`s Little Book of Eternal Wisdom at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library
New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of religious knowledge on Suso
Excerpts from Henry Suso`s Horologium Sapientiae, at
the Godfriends website
Accounted to be foremost among the Friends of Godalong with John Tauler(1300-1361). This society of pious persons, both ecclesiastical and lay, sought different measures to advance the life of holiness in Catholic society. An endeavour inspiring many others, both heterodox and orthodox – among them The Brethren of the Common Life, founded by Geert Groote, and attended by Thomas