Heinrich Seuse (c. 1295-1366): Dominican Mystic

Miniature from the medieval French translation of Suso's Horologium Sapientiae

Today, in the liturgical calendar of the Dominican Order, Heinrich Seuse (known in English as Henry Suso) is commemorated.

It is noteworthy that he was a disciple of Meister Eckhart, who was accused of heresy and asked by the Papal Court in Avignon to recant his teaching. Meister Eckhart, excommunicated by Pope John XXII 1329, was one of the most important Neoplatonics of the Middle Age and had an immense influence on medieval mysticism. After his condemnation, his two famous disciples Johannes Tauler and Heinrich Seuse carried further the teaching of their master. Seuse was declared a Blessed of the Church by Pope Gregory XVI in year 1831. Among his many admirers we can find illustrious names like Thomas à Kempis and St. Peter Canisius, who was nominated Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI.

The first writings by Suso was “Büchlein der Weisheit” (Little Book of Eternal Wisdom) which he later translated into Latin and expanded to an almost entirely new work which is called “Horologium Sapientiae” (Clockwork of Wisdom). It became extremely influence in Late Medieval Times and was read in the Netherlands, France, Italy and England.

The following is Chapter One from his “Büchlein der Weisheit”, translated into English by Cardinal Melchior Diepenbrock, Prince-Bishop of Breslau. (The whole book is available as e-book at CCEL)

Her have I loved, and have sought her out from my youth, and have desired to take her for my spouse, and I became a lover of her beauty. These words stand written in the Book of Wisdom22    viii.2 and are spoken by the beautiful and all-loving Wisdom.

A Servant was filled with disgust and dejection of heart on his first setting forth on the uneven ways. Then did the Eternal Wisdom meet him in a spiritual and ineffable form, and lead him through bitter and sweet until she brought him to the right path of divine truth. And after well reflecting on his wonderful progress, he thus spoke to God: Sweet and tender Lord! from the days of my childhood my mind has sought for something with burning thirst, but what it is I have not as yet fully understood. Lord, I have pursued it ardently many a year, but I never could grasp it, for I know not what it is, and yet it is something that attracts my heart and soul, without which I never can attain true rest. Lord, I sought it in the first days of my childhood, as I saw done around me, in creatures, but the more I sought it in them the less I found it, and the nearer I approached them the further I receded from it, for every image that presented itself to my sight, before I wholly tried it, or gave myself up quietly to it, warned me away thus: “I am not what thou seekest!” And this repulsion I have experienced more and more in all things. Lord, now my heart rages after it, for my heart would so gladly possess it. Alas! I have so constantly had to experience what it is not! But what it is, Lord, I am not as yet clear. Tell me, beloved Lord, what it is indeed, and what is its nature, that so secretly agitates me.

Answer of Eternal Wisdom.—Dost thou not know it? And yet it has lovingly embraced thee, has often stopped thee in the way, until it has at length won thee for itself alone.

The Servant.—Lord, I never saw it; never heard of it: I know not what it is.

Eternal Wisdom.—This is not surprising, for its strangeness and thy familiarity with creatures were the cause. But now open thy interior eyes and see who I am. It is I, the Eternal Wisdom, who, with the embrace of My eternal providence, have chosen thee in eternity for Myself alone. I have barred the way to thee as often as thou wouldst have parted company with Me, had I permitted thee. In all things thou didst ever meet with some obstacle and it is the sweet sign of My elect that I will needs have them for Myself.

The Servant.—Tender loving Wisdom! And is it Thou I have so long been seeking for? Is it Thou my spirit has so constantly struggled for? Alas, my God, why didst Thou not show Thyself to me long ago? Why hast Thou delayed so long? How many a weary way have I not wandered!

Eternal Wisdom.—Had I done so thou wouldst not have known My goodness so sensibly as now thou knowest it.

The Servant.—O unfathomable goodness! how very sweetly hast Thou not manifested Thyself to me! When I was not, Thou gavest me being. When I had separated from Thee, Thou didst not separate from me; when I wished to escape from Thee, Thou didst hold me sweetly captive. Yes, Thou Eternal Wisdom, if my heart might embrace Thee and consume all my days with Thee in love and praise, such would be its desire; for truly that man is blest whom Thou dost anticipate so lovingly that Thou lettest him have nowhere true rest, till he seeks his rest in Thee alone. O Wisdom Elect! since in Thee I have found Him whom my soul loveth, despise not Thy poor creature. See how dumb my heart is to all the world in joy and sorrow. Lord, is my heart always to be dumb towards Thee? O give my wretched soul leave, my dearest Lord, to speak a word with Thee, for my heart is too full to contain itself any longer; neither has it anyone in all this world to whom it can unburden itself, except to Thee, my elected Lord, Father, and Brother. Lord, Thou alone knowest the nature of a love-overflowing heart, and knowest that no one can love what he cannot in any way know. Therefore, since I am now to love Thee alone, give me to know Thee entirely, so that I may be also able to love Thee entirely.

Eternal Wisdom.—The highest emanation of all beings, taken in their natural order, is through the noblest beings to the lowest, but their refluence to their origin is through the lowest to the highest. Therefore, if thou art wishful to behold Me in My uncreated Divinity thou must learn how to know and love Me here in My suffering humanity for this is the speediest way to eternal salvation.

The Servant.—Then let me remind Thee to-day, Lord, of Thy unfathomable love, when Thou didst incline Thyself from Thy lofty throne, from the royal seat of the fatherly heart, in misery and disgrace for three-and-thirty years, and didst show the love which Thou hast for me and all mankind, principally in the most bitter passion of Thy cruel death: Lord, be Thou reminded of this, that Thou mayest manifest Thyself spiritually to my soul, in that most sweet and lovely form to which Thy immeasurable love did bring Thee.

Eternal Wisdom.—The more mangled, the more deathly I am for love, the more lovely am I to a well-regulated mind. My unfathomable love shows itself in the great bitterness of My passion, like the sun in its brightness, like the fair rose in its perfume, like the strong fire in its glowing heat. Therefore, hear with devotion how cruelly I suffered for thee.

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One Response to Heinrich Seuse (c. 1295-1366): Dominican Mystic

  1. susan yaden says:

    It is quite fitting that we would read these words on the National Right to Life March Day 2012. It is the Eternal Wisdom that we received on our Baptism day. Let us continue to march for Our Lord, the Eternal Wisdom and always have hope.

    +Peace,
    Susan Y.
    Louisville, Ky.

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