Ludolph of Saxony
(Ludolph the Carthusian ).
An ecclesiastical writer of the fourteenth century, date of birth unknown; d. 13 April, 1378. His life is as little known as his works are celebrated. We have no certain knowledge of his native country; for in spite of his surname, "of Saxony ", he may well, as Echard remarks, have been born either in the Diocese of Cologne or in that of Mainz, which then belonged to the Province of Saxony. He first joined the Dominicans, passed through an excellent course of literary and theological studies, and may have learnt the science of the spiritual life at the school of the celebrated doctors Tauler and Suso, his contemporaries and companions in religion. After about thirty years spent in the active life, he entered the Charterhouse of Strasburg towards the year 1340. Three years later he was called upon to govern the newly founded (1331) Charterhouse of Coblentz; but scruples of conscience led him to resign his office of prior in 1348; and, having again become a simple monk, first at Mainz and afterwards at Strasburg, he spent the last thirty years of his life in retreat and prayer, and died almost an octogenarian, universally esteemed for his sanctity, although he never seems to have been honoured with any public cult.
Ludolph is one of the many writers to whom the authorship of "The Imitation of Christ " has been assigned; and if history protests against this, it must nevertheless acknowledge that the true author of that book has manifestly borrowed from the Carthusian. Other treatises and sermons now either lost or very doubtful have also been attributed to him. Two books, however, commend him to posterity: (1) A "Commentary upon the Psalms", concise but excellent for its method, clearness, and solidity. He especially developed the spiritual sense, according to the interpretations of St. Jerome, St. Augustine, Cassiodorus, and Peter Lombard. This commentary, which was very popular in Germany in the Middle Ages, has passed through numerous editions, of which the first dates from 1491, and the last (Montreuil-sur-Mer) from 1891. (2) The "Vita Christi", his principal work. This is not a simple biography as we understand such today, but at once a history, a commentary borrowed from the Fathers, a series of dogmatic and moral dissertations, of spiritual instructions, meditations, and prayers, in relation to the life of Christ, from the eternal birth in the bosom of the Father to His Ascension. It has been called a summa evangelica , so popular at that time, in which the author has condensed and resumed all that over sixty writers had said before him upon spiritual matters. Nothing shows better the great popularity of the "Vita Christi" than the numerous manuscript copies preserved in libraries and the manifold editions of it which have been published, from the first two editions of Strasburg and Cologne, in 1474, to the last editions of Paris (folio, 1865, and 8vo, 1878). It has besides been translated into Catalonian (Valencia, 1495, folio, Gothic), Castilian (Alcala, folio, Gothic), Portuguese (1495, 4 vols., folio), Italian (1570), French, "by Guillaume Lernenand, of the Order of Monseigneur St. François", under the title of the "Great Life of Christ" (Lyons, 1487, folio, many times reprinted), and more recently by D. Marie-Prosper Augustine (Paris, 1864) and by D. Florent Broquin, Carthusian (Paris, 1883). St. Teresa and St. Francis de Sales frequently quote from it, and it has not ceased to afford delight to pious souls, who find in it instruction and edification, food for both mind and heart.
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