Henry Suso

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Blessed Henry Suso, O.P.
Suso bild.jpg
Servant of the Eternal Wisdom
Religious, priest and mystic
Born21 March 1295
Free Imperial City of Überlingen, Holy Roman Empire
DiedJanuary 25, 1366(1366-01-25) (aged 70)
Free Imperial City of Ulm,
Holy Roman Empire
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
(Dominican Order)
Beatified 1831 by Pope Gregory XVI
Feast 23 January (previously 2 March)

Henry Suso (also called Amandus, a name adopted in his writings, and Heinrich Seuse in German), was a German Dominican friar and the most popular vernacular writer of the fourteenth century (when considering the number of surviving manuscripts). Suso is thought to have been born on March 21, 1295. An important author in both Latin and Middle High German, he is also notable for defending Meister Eckhart's legacy after Eckhart was posthumously condemned for heresy in 1329. [1] He died in Ulm on 25 January 1366, and was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1831.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium and Liechtenstein. It is one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages that are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch, including Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

Dominican Order Roman Catholic religious order

The Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominican Order, is a mendicant Catholic religious order founded by the Spanish priest Dominic of Caleruega in France, approved by Pope Innocent III via the Papal bull Religiosam vitam on 22 December 1216. Members of the order, who are referred to as Dominicans, generally carry the letters OP after their names, standing for Ordinis Praedicatorum, meaning of the Order of Preachers. Membership in the order includes friars, nuns, active sisters, and affiliated lay or secular Dominicans.

Meister Eckhart German theologian

Eckhart von Hochheim, commonly known as Meister Eckhart or Eckehart, was a German theologian, philosopher and mystic, born near Gotha, in the Landgraviate of Thuringia in the Holy Roman Empire.



Suso was born Heinrich von Berg, a member of the ruling family of Berg. He was born in either the Free imperial city of Überlingen on Lake Constance or nearby Constance, on 21 March 1295 (or perhaps on that date up to 1297-9). [2] Later, out of humility and devotion to his mother, he took her family name, which was Sus (or Süs). At 13 years of age he was admitted to the novitiate of the Dominican Order at their priory in Constance. After completing that year of probation, he advanced to do his preparatory, philosophical, and theological studies there.

Free imperial city Self-ruling city that enjoyed Imperial immediacy

In the Holy Roman Empire, the collective term free and imperial cities, briefly worded free imperial city, was used from the fifteenth century to denote a self-ruling city that had a certain amount of autonomy and was represented in the Imperial Diet. An imperial city held the status of Imperial immediacy, and as such, was subordinate only to the Holy Roman Emperor, as opposed to a territorial city or town which was subordinate to a territorial prince – be it an ecclesiastical lord or a secular prince.

Überlingen Place in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Überlingen is a German city on the northern shore of Lake Constance (Bodensee) near the border with Switzerland. After the city of Friedrichshafen, it is the second largest city in the Bodenseekreis (district), and a central point for the outlying communities. Since 1 January 1993, Überlingen has been categorized as a large district city.

Lake Constance lake in Germany, Switzerland and Austria

Lake Constance refers to three bodies of water on the Rhine at the northern foot of the Alps: the Obersee or Upper Lake Constance, the Untersee or Lower Lake Constance, and a connecting stretch of the Rhine, called the Seerhein. These waterbodies lie within the Lake Constance Basin, which is part of the Alpine Foreland and through which the Rhine flows.

In the prologue to his Life, Suso recounts how, after about five years in the monastery (in other words, when he was about 18 years old), he experienced a conversion to a deeper form of religious life through the intervention of Divine Wisdom. He made himself "the Servant of Eternal Wisdom", which he identified with the divine essence and, in more specific terms, with divine Eternal Wisdom made man in Christ. From this point forward in his account of his spiritual life, a burning love for Eternal Wisdom dominated his thoughts and controlled his actions; his spiritual journey culminated in a mystical marriage to Christ in the form of the Eternal Wisdom. [3]

Within the Christian tradition, bridal theology, also referred to as mystical marriage, is the New Testament portrayal of communion with Jesus as a marriage, and God's reign as a wedding banquet. This tradition in turn traces back to the Old Testament. This theology has influenced the works of Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Ávila, Gregory the Great and Bernard of Clairvaux. A similar concept existed in Valentinian Gnosticism with the notion of the bridal chamber, which involved a marriage to one's heavenly counterpart. Some mystics take this 'marriage' as a symbol of Union with God and hence, no negative connotations are sharpened for orthodox thinkers.


Suso was then sent on for further studies in philosophy and theology, probably first at the Dominican monastery in Strasbourg, perhaps between 1319 and 1321, and then from 1324 to 1327 he took a supplementary course in theology in the Dominican Studium Generale in Cologne, where he would have come into contact with Meister Eckhart, and probably also Johannes Tauler, both celebrated mystics. [4]

Strasbourg Prefecture and commune in Grand Est, France

Strasbourg is the capital and largest city of the Grand Est region of France and is the official seat of the European Parliament. Located at the border with Germany in the historic region of Alsace, it is the capital of the Bas-Rhin department.

Cologne City in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Cologne is the largest city of Germany's most populous federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the fourth most populous city in Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich. With slightly over a million inhabitants within its city boundaries, Cologne is the largest city on the Rhine and also the most populous city both of the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Region, which is Germany's largest and one of Europe's major metropolitan areas, and of the Rhineland. Centered on the left bank of the Rhine, Cologne is about 45 kilometres (28 mi) southeast of North Rhine-Westphalia's capital of Düsseldorf and 25 kilometres (16 mi) northwest of Bonn. It is the largest city in the Central Franconian and Ripuarian dialect areas.

Johannes Tauler German theologian

Johannes Tauler OP was a German mystic, a Catholic preacher and a theologian. A disciple of Meister Eckhart, he belonged to the Dominican order. Tauler was known as one of the most important Rhineland mystics. He promoted a certain neo-platonist dimension in the Dominican spirituality of his time.

Returning to his home priory at Constance in about 1327, Suso was appointed to the office of lector (lecturer). His teaching, however, aroused criticism - most likely because of his connection with Eckhart in the wake of the latter's trial and condemnation in 1326-9. Suso's Little Book of Truth, a short defence of Eckhart's teaching, probably dates from this time, perhaps 1329. In 1330 this treatise, and another, were denounced as heretical by enemies in the Order. Suso traveled to the Dominican General Chapter held at Maastricht in 1330 to defend himself. The consequence is not entirely known - at some point between 1329 and 1334 he was removed from his lectorship in Constance, though he was not personally condemned. [4]

Maastricht City and municipality in Limburg, Netherlands

Maastricht is a city and a municipality in the southeast of the Netherlands. It is the capital and largest city of the province of Limburg. Maastricht is located on both sides of the Meuse, at the point where the Jeker joins it. It is adjacent to the border with Belgium.

Knowledge of Suso's activities in subsequent years is somewhat sketchy. It is known that he served as prior of the Constance convent - most likely between 1330 and 1334, though possibly in the 1340s. [4] It is also known that he had various devoted disciples, a group including both men and women, especially those connected to the Friends of God movement. His influence was especially strong in many religious communities of women, particularly in the Dominican Monastery of St. Katharinental in the Argau, a famous nursery of mysticism in the 13th and 14th centuries. In the mid-1330s, during his visits to various communities of Dominican nuns and Beguines, Suso became acquainted with Elsbeth Stagel, prioress of the monastery of Dominican nuns in Töss. The two became close friends. She translated some of his Latin writings into German, collected and preserved most of his extant letters, and at some point began gathering the materials that Suso eventually put together into his Life of the Servant.

Friends of God

The Friends of God was a medieval mystical group of both ecclesiastical and lay persons within the Catholic Church and a center of German mysticism. It was founded between 1339 and 1343 during the Avignon Papacy of the Western Schism, a time of great turmoil for the Catholic Church. The Friends of God were originally centered in Basel, Switzerland, and were also fairly important in Strasbourg and Cologne. Some late-nineteenth century writers made large claims for the movement, seeing it both as influential in fourteenth-century mysticism and as a precursor of the Protestant Reformation. Modern studies of the movement, however, have emphasised the derivative and often second-rate character of its mystical literature, and its limited impact on medieval literature in Germany.

Diessenhofen Place in Thurgau, Switzerland

Diessenhofen is a village and a municipality in Frauenfeld District in the canton of Thurgau in Switzerland. The village is situated on the south shore of the High Rhine just opposite the German town of Gailingen am Hochrhein.

Nun Member of a religious community of women

A nun is a member of a religious community of women, typically living under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in the enclosure of a monastery. Communities of nuns exist in numerous religious traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Jainism, and Taoism.

Suso shared in the exile of the Dominican community from Constance between 1339 and 1346, during the most heated years of the quarrel between Pope John XXII and the Holy Roman Emperor. He was transferred to the monastery at Ulm in about 1348. He seems to have remained there for the rest of his life. Here, during his final years (possibly 1361-3), he edited his four vernacular works into The Exemplar.

Suso died in Ulm on 25 January 1366.


Early in his life, Suso subjected himself to extreme forms of mortifications; later on he reported that God told him they were unnecessary. During this period, Suso devised for himself several painful devices. Some of these were: an undergarment studded with a hundred and fifty brass nails, a very uncomfortable door to sleep on, and a cross with thirty protruding needles and nails under his body as he slept. In the autobiographical text in which he reports these, however, he ultimately concludes that they are unnecessary distractions from the love of God. [5]


Suso and Johannes Tauler were students of Meister Eckhart, forming the nucleus of the Rhineland school of mysticism. As a lyric poet and "troubadour of divine wisdom," Suso explored with psychological intensity the spiritual truths of Eckhart’s mystical philosophy.[ citation needed ]

Suso's first work was the Büchlein der Wahrheit (Little Book of Truth) written between 1328 and 1334 in Constance. This was a short defence of the teaching of Meister Eckhart, who had been tried for heresy and condemned in 1328-9. In 1330 this treatise and another (possibly the Little Book of Eternal Wisdom) were denounced as heretical by Dominican opponents, leading Suso to travel to the Dominican General Chapter held at Maastricht in 1330 to defend himself. [4]

Suso's next book, Das Büchlein der ewigen Weisheit (The Little Book of Eternal Wisdom), written around 1328-1330, [4] is less speculative and more practical. At some point between 1334 and 1337 Suso translated this work into Latin, but in doing so added considerably to its contents, and made of it an almost entirely new book, which he called the Horologium Sapientiae (Clock of Wisdom). This book was dedicated to the new Dominican Master General, Hugh of Vaucemain, who appears to have been a supporter of his. [4]

At some point in the following decades, Stagel formed a collection of 28 of Suso's letters in the Grosses Briefbuch (Great Book of Letters), which survives. Suso also wrote a long text purporting to tell the story of his spiritual life and ascetic practices (variously referred to as the Life of the Servant, Life, Vita, or Leben Seuses), and revised the Büchlein der Wahrheit, and the Büchlein der ewigen Weisheit. At some point in his later years, perhaps 1361-3, he collected these works, together with 11 of his letters (the Briefbüchlein, or Little Book of Letters, a selection of letters from the Grosses Briefbuch), and a prologue, to form one book he referred to as The Exemplar. [6]

There are also various sermons attributed to Suso, although only two appear to be authentic. [6] A treatise known as the Minnebüchlein (Little Book of Love) is sometimes, but probably incorrectly, attributed to Suso. [6]

Suso was very widely read in the later Middle Ages. There are 232 extant manuscripts of the Middle High German Little Book of Eternal Wisdom. [7] The Latin Clock of Wisdom was even more popular: over four hundred manuscripts in Latin, and over two hundred manuscripts in various medieval translations (it was translated into eight languages, including Dutch, French, Italian, Swedish, Czech, and English). Many early printings survive as well. The Clock was therefore second only to the Imitation of Christ in popularity among spiritual writings of the later Middle Ages. [8] Among his many readers and admirers were Thomas à Kempis and John Fisher. [9]

Wolfgang Wackernagel and others have called Suso a "Minnesinger in prose and in the spiritual order" or a "Minnesinger of the Love of God" both for his use of images and themes from secular, courtly, romantic poetry and for his rich musical vocabulary. [10] The mutual love of God and man which is his principal theme gives warmth and color to his style. He used the full and flexible Alemannic idiom with rare skill, and contributed much to the formation of good German prose, especially by giving new shades of meaning to words employed to describe inner sensations. [11]

Legacy and veneration

In the world Suso was esteemed as a preacher, and was heard in the cities and towns of Swabia, Switzerland, Alsace, and the Netherlands. His apostolate, however, was not with the masses, but rather with individuals of all classes who were drawn to him by his singularly attractive personality, and to whom he became a personal director in the spiritual life.

Suso was reported to have established among the Friends of God a society which he called the Brotherhood of the Eternal Wisdom. The so-called Rule of the Brotherhood of the Eternal Wisdom is but a free translation of a chapter of his Horologium Sapientiae, and did not make its appearance until the fifteenth century.

Suso was beatified in 1831 by Pope Gregory XVI, who assigned 2 March as his feast day, celebrated within the Dominican Order. The Dominicans now celebrate his feast on 23 January, the feria , or "free" day, nearest the day of his death.

The words of the Christmas song In dulci jubilo are attributed to Suso. [12]

Editions and translations

The Exemplar (Middle High German):

(translated by Frank Tobin, in The Exemplar, with Two German Sermons, New York: Paulist Press, 1989, pp. 61–204.)

(trans. in F. Tobin, ibid., pp. 204–304.)

(trans. in F. Tobin, ibid., pp. 305–332.)

(trans. in F. Tobin, ibid., pp. 333–360.)

Preaching and Letters (Middle High German):


(translated by Edmund Colledge, Wisdom's Watch upon the Hours, Catholic University of America Press [1994])

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  1. Retucci, Fiorella (2012). "On a Dangerous Trail: Henry Suso and the Condemnations of Meister Eckhart". In Hackett, Jeremiah (ed.). A Companion to Meister Eckhart. Brill. pp. 587–606. ISBN   9789004183476 . Retrieved 22 October 2015.
  2. Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism, (2005), p. 197.
  3. Barbara Newman, God and the Goddesses (2003), pp. 12-4
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism, (2005), p. 198.
  5. http://www.philosophy, r. o. (2004). "Internal Suffering and Christianity." available from "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-06-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. 1 2 3 Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism, (2005), p. 204.
  7. "Gesamtverzeichnis Autoren/Werke Seuse, Heinrich: 'Büchlein der ewigen Weisheit'". Handschriftencensus Eine Bestandsaufnahme der handschriftlichen Überlieferung deutschsprachiger Texte des Mittelalters. Retrieved 22 October 2015.
  8. Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism, (2005), p. 199 and 201
  9. Debongnie, Pierre (1940). "Henri Suso et l'Imitation de Jesus-Christ". Revue d'Ascetique et de Mystique. 21: 242–68.
  10. Rozenski, Steven (2008), "The Visual, the Textual, and the Auditory in Henry Suso's Vita or Life of the Servant", Mystics Quarterly, 34 (1/2): 35–72, JSTOR   20722446
  11. McMahon 1913.
  12. "In Dulci Jubilo - Notes On The Carol". www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  13. Catalog of Copyright Entries, Third Series: Books and Pamphlets, Vol 16 Part 1 No 1, Jan-June 1962, p.756; Library of Congress, Washington DC; 1963

Further reading