Blessed Henry Suso, (Heinrich Seuse in German), was a German Dominican friar and the most popular vernacular writer of the fourteenth century. He was a native of the German city of Constance. He entered the Dominican convent there at the age of 13. After five years of routine religious life, he experienced a conversion and adopted rigid standards focused on devotion to the Holy Wisdom. He says that he made himself “the Servant of Eternal Wisdom”, which he identified with the divine essence become human 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. About 1322 he was sent to study theology at Cologne where he was profoundly influenced by Meister Eckhart. He returned to Constance as a lector and there wrote his first work “The Little Book of Truth,” a speculative elucidation of the doctrines of Eckhart. Caught in the tension between the conflicting parties in the Dominican Order on account of Eckhart’s teaching, he was deprived of his teaching post. In the following years he preached widely and was a venerated spiritual director and leader of the Friends of God movement, an informal movement of mystical piety in Germany and Switzerland, which advocated inner transformation rather than the external religion. His spiritual writings and teachings were much valued, especially the “Little Book of Eternal Wisdom,” which is his main undisputed work (Büchlein der ewigen Wahrheit – German Horologium Sapientiae – Latin).
The Little Book of Eternal Wisdom is a practical devotional work in dialogue form and is a meditation on Christ’s humanity as the way to know God. In his foreword Suso explains that he received a number of meditations from God and wrote them in German, because he had so received them from God. He received them solely by mediation in the light of Holy Writ whose answers can deceive in nothing. In the first part he speaks of someone who is dejected and disgusted in his spiritual pilgrimage because he seems to make no progress. But God assures him of his election. “But now open thy interior eyes and see who I am. It is I, the Eternal Wisdom who with embrace of My eternal providence have chosen thee in eternity for Myself alone.” God then reveals to the seeker the sufferings of Christ’s passion and gives the message, “No one can attain divine exaltation except by passing through the image of My human abasement and bitterness. My humanity is the way one must go.” The way to this is to participate in the good works of Christ through asceticism. Suso is concerned to stress that on the seeker’s part only total renunciation of self and world will do. “It is as impossible as to compress the heavens together and enclose them in a nutshell” as it is for a person to love God and still indulge in temporal love. The reader is then warned of the many that chose temporal joys over discipline and love and now endure the everlasting agonies of hell. Suso presents suffering, a favourite topic of the mystics, as a gift of God intended to keep people from indulging the pernicious lusts to which they are inclined by nature. To meditate on the passion of Christ is the highest wisdom for in it everything is found. This meditation can spare one any purgatory at all. One dies to self when one strives to do one’s best and is scorned for it, keeps oneself pure and innocent, renounces the love of all human kind, abandons even friends when they come between one and Christ and detaches oneself from temporal things. In the second part of the book Suso teaches that we should learn to die by dying to self and the entire world. Until we learn this we are wasting our time fretting about doctrine. Those who are unprepared die like cattle, ignorant and blind. This can be prevented if one lives an interior and godly life. Part three consists of one hundred meditations and prayers. It is a practical, warmly devotional book of meditations and was widely read in the 14th and 15th centuries. He died in Ulm in 1366 and was beatified in 1831.
(Professor of Church History
at Oriens Theological College, Shillong)