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Monk of Heilsbronn

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This name indicates the unknown author of some small mystical treatises, written about the beginning of the fourteenth century at the Cistercian Abbey of Heilsbronn (between Ansbach and Nuremberg ; not to be confounded with Heilbronn on the Neckar). The Monk cites St. Bonaventure and Albert the Great (d.1280) and draws largely on the works of Conrad of Brundelsheim (Soccus), Abbot of Heilsbronn in 1303 (d. 1321), whose preaching was so efficacious in the diffusion of the spiritual doctrines of St. Bernard. The date of the composition of the treatises is determined by these borrowings and quotations; they are written in Middle German with some traces of the Bavarian dialect. The first, in verse, is "The Book of the Seven Degrees" (Das Buch der siben Grade), which comprises 2218 lines, and has only been preserved in one manuscript — that of Heidelberg, transcibed in 1390 by a priest, Ulric Currifex of Eschenbach. In it the author, taking as his starting point the vision of Ezechiel (xl, 22) describes the seven degrees which make the pure soul mount up to the realms of heaven : prayer, penitence, charity, the habitual thought of God, with the devotion, which purifies and which ravishes, union and conformity with God, contemplation of God. Has the author utilized a treatise of the same nature attributed to David of Augsburg ? This question is still under discussion; in any case, however, his originality is undeniable.

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The other work is in prose with a prologue and epilogue in verse and it is in this prologue that the author was himself the "Monk of Heilsbronn" (einem Muniche von Hailsprunne) and asks the prayers of the reader. The title of the treatise is the "Liber de corpore et sanguine Domini" (or "Das Puch on den VI namen des Fronleichnams", or also the "Goldene Zunge"). In it the author sets himself to give us a collection of the flowers gathered by the Fathers from the broad meadows of Scripture with the purpose of teaching us how to receive and how to conduct ourselves towards the Sacred Flesh of the Saviour. He then passes in review six different names given to the Blessed Sacrament : Eucharist, Gift, Food, Communion, Sacrifice, Sacrament ; he gives the reasons for these names and suggests considerations on the Divine love, union with God, etc. (cf. supra), especially when speaking of the second and the sixth names. He cites St. Bernard, "his father", very frequently, while much less frequently Augustine and Gregory are quoted. We find the same work also in Latin translations. A third work "On Love" (Das Puch von der Minne), if it ever existed, has not been recovered. Two other treatises which are found in the manuscript of Heidelberg have been attributed to the same author, they are "The Daughter of Sion" (Tochter Syon), a short poem of 596 lines, in the Alamannian dialect, rich in matter and full of emotion; it treats of the mystical union of the soul with God, a theme frequently dealt with in the poetry of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The second work (von Sante Alexis) gives us in 456 lines the well-known legend of St. Alexis. However, peculiarities of language, rhyme, and verse, coupled with an original fashion of conceiving things (e.g. the idea of soul and spirit), forbid us to consider the "Monk of Heilsbronn" as the author of these two poems. In his writings, the Monk of Heilsbronn shows a very great humility, an attractive simplicity which draws us towards him, and a really practical good sense; his poetry is full of imagery and rich in comparisons which render the Latin of the Bible very happily. His mystical conceptions, which by no means betray the influence of Eckhart, show a close relation to St. Bernard and to Hugo of St. Victor .


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