Created: August 2003

Blessed Henry Suso OP
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A lovely man. He flourished 1295-1366 in South-West Germany.

In case this weary observation of his may suggest the mind of a misanthrope, he wasn't! Here it is in context.
Suso well knew what a positive difference it makes to hear live testimony as distinct from words in a book, and this regretful simile was his way of emphasising that truth. It comes in the last paragraph of the Prologue to his Little Book of Eternal Wisdom:

One thing you must know: Just as there is no comparison between actually hearing the sound of harp-strings sweetly plucked and listening to somebody talk about it, so too there is no comparison between words which are received in pure grace, issuing from a living heart, spoken by living lips, and those self-same words committed to dry parchment – especially words in German. For these somehow grow chill, losing their vitality like roses cut. For the enchanting melody which, more than anything else, moves human hearts, then fades away, so that the words are now received into the dryness of dry hearts. No harp-strings were ever so sweet but, when stretched across dry timber, they fall silent. An unloving heart can no more understand a love-filled speaker than a German an Italian. Therefore, an eager enquirer should hasten to the out-flowing streams of these sweet teachings so that s/he may see and observe them at their source in all its living and wondrous beauty – that is, the in-flowing of present grace which is able to restore dead hearts to life.

This regretful simile also provided the theme for a paper delivered to the International Medieval Congress in July 2003: wâ sint diu werc? – The power of Suso’s love-filled tongue to sway unloving hearts.

For an account of Suso's Horologium Sapientiae ("Computer of Wisdom") see:

Suso's German writings are available in a fine modern English translation:
Frank Tobin, Henry Suso. The Exemplar, with two German sermons, New York, 1989.

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