HISTORY of the CHRISTIAN CHURCH*
THE GERMAN MYSTICS.
§ 27. Sources and Literature.
General Works.—*Franz Pfeiffer: Deutsche Mystiker, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1857, 2d ed of vol. I., Göttingen, 1906.—*R. Langenberg: Quellen und Forschungen zur Gesch. der deutschen Mystik, Bonn, 1902.—F. Galle: Geistliche Stimmen aus dem M. A., zur Erbauung, Halle, 1841.—Mrs. F. Bevan: Three Friends of God, Trees planted by the River, London.—*W. R. Inge: Light, Life and Love, London, 1904. Selections from Eckart, Tauler, Suso, Ruysbroeck, etc.—The works given under Eckart, etc., in the succeeding sections. R. A. Vaughan: Hours with the Mystics. For a long time the chief English authority, offensive by the dialogue style it pursues, and now superseded.—W. Preger: Gesch. der deutschen Mystik im Mittelalter, 3 vols., Leipzig, 1874–1893.—G. Ullmann: Reformatoren vor der Reformation, vol. II., Hamburg, 1841.—*Inge: Christian Mysticism. pp. 148 sqq., London, 1899. — Eleanor C. Gregory: An Introd. to Christ. Mysticism, London, 1901.—W. R. Nicoll: The Garden of Nuts, London, 1905. The first four chapp. give a general treatment of mysticism.—P. Mehlhorn: D. Blüthezeit d. deutschen Mystik, Freiburg, 1907, pp. 64.—*S. M. Deutsch: Mystische Theol. in Herzog, XIX. 631 sqq.—Cruel: Gesch. d. deutschen Predigt im M. A., pp. 370–414. A. Ritschl: Gesch. d. Pietismus, 3 vols., Bonn, 1880–1886.—Harnack: Dogmengesch., III. 376 sqq.—Loofs: Dogmengesch., 4th ed., Halle, 1906, pp. 621–633.—W. James: The Varieties of Relig. Experience, chs. XVI., XVII.
For § 29. Meister Eckart.—German Sermons bound in a vol. with Tauler’s Sermons, Leipzig, 1498, Basel, 1521.—Pfeiffer: Deutsche Mystiker, etc., vol. II., gives 110 German sermons, 18 tracts, and 60 fragments.—*Denifle: M. Eckehart’s Lateinische Schriften und die Grundanschauung seiner Lehre, in Archiv für Lit. und Kirchengesch., II. 416–652. Gives excerpts from his Latin writings.—F. Jostes: M. Eckehart und seine Jünger, ungedruckte Texte zur Gesch. der deutschen Mystik, Freiburg, 1895.—*H. Büttner: M. Eckehart’s Schriften und Predigten aus dem Mittelhochdeutschen übersetzt, Leipzig, 1903. Gives 18 German sermons and writings.—G. Landauer: Eckhart’s mystische Schriften in unsere Sprache übertragen, Berlin, 1903.—H. Martensen: M. Eckart, Hamburg, 1842.—A. Lasson: M. E. der Mystiker, Berlin, 1868. Also the section on Eckart by Lasson in Ueberweg’s Hist. of Phil.—A. Jundt: Essai sur le mysticisme spéculatif d. M. E., Strassburg, 1871; also Hist. du pathéisme populaire au moyen âge, 1876. Gives 18 of Eckart’s sermons. Preger, I. 309–458.—H. Delacroix: Le mysticisme spéculatif en Allemagne au 14e siècle, Paris, 1900.—Deutsch’s art. Eckart in Herzog, V. 142–154.—Denifle: Die Heimath M. Eckehart’s in Archiv für Lit. und K. Gesch. des M. A., V. 349–364, 1889.—Stöckl: Gesch. der Phil., etc., III. 1095–1120.—Pfleiderer: Religionsphilosophie, Berlin, 2d ed., 1883, p. 3 sqq.—INGE.—L. Ziegler: D. Phil. und relig. Bedeutung d. M. Eckehart in Preuss. Jahrbücher, Heft 3, 1904.—See a trans. of Eckart’s sermon on John 6:44, by D. S. Schaff, in Homiletic Rev., 1902, pp. 428–431
Note.—Eckart’s German sermons and tracts, published in 1498 and 1521, were his only writings known to exist till Pfeiffer’s ed., 1867. Denifle was the first to discover Eckart’s Latin writings, in the convent of Erfurt, 1880, and at Cusa on the Mosel, 1886. These are fragments on Genesis, Exodus, Ecclesiastes and the Book of Wisdom. John Trithemius, in his De Scripp. Eccles., 1492, gives a list of Eckart’s writings which indicates a literary activity extending beyond the works we possess. The list catalogues four books on the Sentences, commentaries on Genesis, Exodus, the Canticles, the Book of Wisdom, St. John, on the Lord’s Prayer, etc.
For § 30. John Tauler.—Tauler’s Works, Leipzig, 1498 (84 sermons printed from MSS. in Strassburg); Augsburg, 1508; Basel, 1521 (42 new sermons) and 1522; Halberstadt, 1523; Cologne, 1543 (150 sermons, 23 being publ. for the first time, and found in St. Gertrude’s convent, Cologne); Frankfurt, 1565; Hamburg, 1621; Frankfurt, 3 vols., 1826 (the edition used by Miss Winkworth); ed. by J. Hamberger, 1864, 2d ed., Prag, 1872. The best. Hamberger substituted modern German in the text and used a Strassburg MS. which was destroyed by fire at the siege of the city in 1870; ed. by Kuntze und Biesenthal containing the Introdd. of Arndt and Spener, Berlin, 1842.—*Engl. trans., Susanna Winkworth: The History and Life of Rev. John Tauler with 25 Sermons, with Prefaces by Canon Kingsley and Roswell D. Hitchcock, New York, 1858.—*The Inner Way, 36 Sermons for Festivals, by John Tauler, trans. with Introd. by A. W. Huttons London, 1905.—C. Schmidt: J. Tauler von Strassburg, Hamburg, 1841, and Nicolas von Basel, Bericht von der Bekehrung Taulers, Strassburg, 1875.—Denifle: D. Buch von geistlicher Armuth, etc., Munich, 1877, and Tauler’s Bekehrung, Münster, 1879.—A Jundt: Les amis de Dieu au 14e siècle, Paris, 1879.—Preger, III. 1–244.—F. Cohrs: Art. Tauler in Herzog, XIX. 451–459.
Note.—Certain writings once ascribed to Tauler, and printed with his works, are now regarded as spurious. They are (1) The Book of Spiritual Poverty, ed. by Denifle, Munich, 1877, and previously under the title Imitation of Christ’s Life of Poverty, by D. Sudermann, Frankfurt, 1621, etc. Denifle pointed out the discord between its teachings and the teachings of Tauler’s sermons. (2) Medulla animae, consisting of 77 chapters. Preger decides some of them to be genuine. (3) Certain hymns, including Es kommt ein Schiff geladen, which even Preger pronounces spurious, III. 86. They are publ. by Wackernagel.
For § 31. Henry Suso,—Ed. of his works, Augsburg, 1482, and 1512.—*M. Diepenbrock: H. Suso’s, genannt Amandus, Leben und Schriften, Regensburg, 1829, 4th ed., 1884, with Preface by J. Görres.—H. Seuse Denifle: D. deutschen Schriften des seligen H. Seuse, Munich, 1880.—*H. Seuse: Deutsche Schriften, ed. K. Bihlmeyer, Stuttgart, 1907. The first complete edition, and based upon an examination of many MSS.—A Latin trans. of Suso’s works by L. Surius, Cologne, 1555. French trans. by Thirot: Ouvages mystiques du bienheureux H. Suso, 2 vols., Paris, 1899. Engl. extracts in Light, Life and Love, pp. 66–100.—Preger: D. Briefe H. Suso’s nach einer Handschrift d. XV. Jahrh., Leipzig, 1867.—C. Schmidt: Der Mystiker, H. Suso in Stud. und Kritiken, 1843, pp. 835 sqq.—Preger: Deutsche Mystik, II. 309–419.—L. Kärcher: H. Suso aus d. Predigerorden, in Freiburger Diöcesenarchiv, 1868, p. 187 sqq.—Cruel: Gesch. d. deutschen Predigt, 396 sqq.—Art. in Wetzer- Welte, H. Seuse, V. 1721–1729.
For § 32. The Friends of God.—The works of Eckart, Tauler, Suso, Ruysbroeck.—Jundt: Les Amis de Dieu, Paris, 1879.—Kessel: Art. Gottesfreunde in Wetzer-Welte, V. 893–900.—The writings of Rulman Merswin: Von den vier Jahren seines anfahenden Lebens, ed. by Schmidt, in Reuss and Cinitz, Beiträge zu den Theol. Wissenschaften, V., Jena, 1854.—His Bannerbüchlein given in Jundt’s Les Amis.—Das Buch von den neun Felsen, ed. from the original MS. by C. Schmidt, Leipzig, 1859, and in abbreviated form by Preger, III. 337–407, and Diepenbrock: Heinrich Suso, pp. 505–572.—P. Strauch: Art. Rulman Merswin in Herzog, XVII. 20–27.—For the "Friend of God of the Oberland" and his writings. K. Schmidt: Nicolas von Basel: Leben und ausgewählte Schriften, Vienna, 1866, and Nic. von Basel, Bericht von der Bekehrung Taulers, Strassburg, 1876.—F. Lauchert: Des Gottesfreundes im Oberland Buch von den zwei Mannen, Bonn, 1896.—C. Schmidt: Nic. von Basel und die Gottesfreunde, Basel, 1856.—Denifle: Der Gottesfreund im Oberland und Nic. von Basel. Eine krit. Studie, Munich, 1875.—Jundt: Rulman Merswin et l’Ami de Dieu de l’Oberland, Paris, 1890.—Preger, III. 290–337.—K. Rieder: Der Gottesfreund vom Oberland. Eine Erfindung des Strassburger Johanniterbruders Nicolaus von Löwen, Innsbruck, 1905.
For § 33. John Of Ruysbroeck.—Vier Schriften, ed. by Arnswaldt, with Introd. by Ullmann, Hanover, 1848.—Superseded by J. B. David (Prof. in Louvaine), 6 vols., Ghent, 1857–1868. Contains 12 writings.—Lat. trans. by Surius, Cologne, 1549.—*F. A. Lambert: Drei Schriften des Mystikers J. van Ruysb., Die Zierde der geistl. Hochzeit, Vom glanzenden Stein and Das Buch uon der höchsten Wahrheit, Leipzig. No date; about 1906. Selections from Ruysbroeck in Light, Life and Love, pp. 100–196.—*J. G. V. Engelhardt: Rich. von St. Victor u. J. Ruysbroeck, Erlangen, 1838.—Ullmann: Reformatoren, etc., II. 35 sqq.—W. L. de Vreese: Bijdrage tot de kennis van het leven en de werken van J. van Ruusbroec, Ghent, 1896.—*M. Maeterlinck: Ruysbr. and the Mystics, with Selections from Ruysb., London, 1894. A trans. by Jane T. Stoddart of Maeterlinck’s essay prefixed to his L’Ornement des noces spirituelles de Ruysb., trans. by him from the Flemish, Brussels, 1891.—Art. Ruysbroeck in Herzog, XVII. 267–273, by Van Veen.
For § 34. Gerrit de Groote and the Brothers of the Common Life.—Lives of Groote, Florentius and their pupils, by Thomas À Kempis: Opera omnia, ed, by Sommalius, Antwerp, 1601, 3 vols., Cologne, 1759, etc., and in unpubl. MSS.— J. Busch, d. 1479: Liber de viris illustribus, a collection of 24 biographies of Windesheim brethren, Antwerp, 1621; also Chronicon Windeshemense, Antwerp, 1621, both ed. by Grube, Halle, 1886.—G. H. M. Delprat Verhandeling over de broederschap van Geert Groote en over den involoed der fraterhuizen, Arnheim, etc., 1856.—J. G. R. Acquoy (Prof. in Leyden): Gerhardi Magni epistolae XIV., Antwerp, 1857. G. Bonet-Maury:: Gerhard de Groot d’après des documents onédites. Paris 1878.—*G. Kettlewell: Thomas à Kempis and the Brothers of the Common Life, 2 vols, New York, 1882.—*K. Grube: Johannes Busch, Augustinerpropst in Hildesheim. Ein kathol. Reformator in 15ten Jahrh., Freiburg, 1881. Also G. Groote und seine Stiftungen, Cologne, 1883.—R. Langenberg: Quellen and Forschungen, etc., Bonn, 1902.—Boerner: Die Annalen und Akten der Brüder des Gemainsamen Lebens im Lichtenhofe zu Hildesheim, eine Grundlage der Gesch. d. deutschen Brüderhäuser und ein Beitrag zur Vorgesch. der Reformation, Fürstenwalde, 1905.—The artt. by K. Hirsche in Herzog, 2d ed., II. 678–760 and L. Schulze, Herzog, 3rd ed., III., 474–507, and P.A. Thijm in Wetzer-Welte, V. 1286–1289.—Ullmann: Reformatoren, II. 1–201.—Lea: Inquisition, II. 360 sqq.—Uhlhorn: Christl. Liebesthätigkeit im M. A., Stuttgart, 1884, pp. 350–375.
Note.—A few of the short writings of Groote were preserved by Thomas à Kempis. To the sermons edited by Acquoy, Langenberg, pp. 3–33, has added Groote’s tract on simony, which he found in the convent of Frenswegen, near Nordhorn. He has also found Groote’s Latin writings. The tract on simony—de simonia ad Beguttas — is addressed to the Beguines in answer to the question propounded to him by some of their number as to whether it was simony to purchase a place in a Beguine convent. The author says that simony "prevails very much everywhere," and that it was not punished by the Church. He declares it to be simony to purchase a place which involves spiritual exercises, and he goes on to apply the principle to civil offices pronouncing it simony when they are bought for money. The work is written in Low German, heavy in style, but interesting for the light it throws on practices current at that time.
For § 35. The Imitation of Christ.—Edd. of À Kempis’ works, Utrecht, 1473 (15 writings, and omitting the Imitation of Christ); Nürmberg, 1494 (20 writings), ed. by J. Badius, 1520, 1521, 1528; Paris, 1549; Antwerp, 1574; Dillingen, 1676; ed. by H. Sommalius, 3 vols., Antwerp, 1599, 3d ed. 1615; ed. by M. J. Pohl, 8 vols. promised; thus far 5 vols, Freiburg im Br., 1903 sqq. Best and only complete ed.—Thomas à Kempis hymns in Blume and Dreves: Analecta hymnica, XLVIII. pp. 475–514.—For biograph. and critical accounts.—Joh. Busch: Chron. Windesemense.—H. Rosweyde: Chron. Mt. S. Agnetis, Antwerp, 1615, and cum Rosweydii vindiciis Kempensibus, 1622.—J. B. Malou: Recherches historiq. et critiq. sur le véritable auteur du livre de l’Imitat. de Jesus Chr., Tournay, 1848; 3d ed., Paris 1856.—*K. Hirsche: Prologomena zu einer neuen Ausgabe de imitat. Chr. (with a copy of the Latin text of the MS. dated 1441), 1873, 1883, 1894.—C. Wolfsgruber: Giovanni Gersen sein Leben und sein Werk de Imitat. Chr., Augsburg, 1880.—*S. Kettlewell: Th. à Kempis and the Brothers of the Common Life, 2 vols., London, 1882. Also Authorship of the de imitat, Chr., London, 1877, 2d ed., 1884.—F. R. Cruise: Th. à Kempis, with Notes of a visit to the scenes in which his life was spent, with some account of the examination of his relics, London, 1887.—L. A. Wheatley: Story of the Imitat. of Chr., London, 1891.—Dom Vincent Scully: Life of the Venerable Th. à Kempis, London, 1901.—J. E. G. de Montmorency: Th. à Kempis, His Age and Book, London, 1906—*C. Bigg in Wayside Sketches in Eccle. Hist., London, 1906, pp. 134–154.—D. B. Butler, Thos. à Kempis, a Rel. Study, London, 1908.—Art. Thos. à Kempis in London Quarterly Review, April, 1908, pp. 254–263.
First printed ed. of the Latin text of the Imitat. of Christ, Augsburg, 1472. Bound up with Jerome’s de viris illust. and writings of Augustine and Th. Aquinas.—Of the many edd. in Engl. the first was by W. Atkynson, and Margaret, mother of Henry VII., London, 1502, reprinted London, 1828, new ed. by J. K. Ingram, London, 1893.—The Imitat. of Chr., being the autograph MS. of Th. à Kempis de Imitat. Chr. reproduced in facsimile from the orig. in the royal libr. at Brussels. With Introd. by C. Ruelens, London, 1879.—The Imitat. of Chr. Now for the first time set forth in Rhythm and Sentences. With Pref. by Canon Liddon, London, 1889.—Facsimile Reproduction of the 1st ed. of 1471, with Hist. Introd. by C. Knox-Little, London, 1894.—The Imitat. of Chr., trans. by Canon W. Benham, with 12 photogravures after celebrated paintings, London, 1905.—An ed. issued 1881 contains a Pref. by Dean Farrar.—R. P. A. de Backer: Essai bibliograph. sur le livre de imitat. Chr., Liège, 1864.—For further Lit. on the Imitat. of Chr., see the Note at the end of § 35.
§ 28. The New Mysticism.
In joy of inward peace, or sense
Of sorrow over sin,
He is his own best evidence
His witness is within.
—Whittier, Our Master.
At the time when the scholastic method was falling into disrepute and the scandals of the Avignon court and the papal schism were shaking men’s faith in the foundations of the Church, a stream of pure pietism was watering the regions along the Rhine, from Basel to Cologne, and from Cologne to the North Sea. North of the Alps, voices issuing from convents and from the ranks of the laity called attention to the value of the inner religious life and God’s immediate communications to the soul.
To this religious movement has recently been given the name, the Dominican mysticism, on account of the large number of its representatives who belonged to the Dominican order. The older name, German mysticism, which is to be preferred, points to the locality where it manifested itself, and to the language which the mystics for the most part used in their writings. Like the Protestant Reformation, the movement had its origin on German soil, but, unlike the Reformation, it did not spread beyond Germany and the Lowlands. Its chief centres were Strassburg and Cologne; its leading representatives the speculative Meister Eckart, d. 1327, John Tauler, d. 136l, Henry Suso, d. 1366, John Ruysbroeck, d. 1381, Gerrit Groote, d. 1384, and Thomas à Kempis, d. 1471. The earlier designation for these pietists was Friends of God. The Brothers of the Common Life, the companions and followers of Groote, were of the same type, but developed abiding institutions of practical Christian philanthropy. In localities the Beguines and Beghards also breathed the same devotional and philanthropic spirit. The little book called the German Theology, and the Imitation of Christ, were among the finest fruits of the movement. Gerson and Nicolas of Cusa also had a strong mystical vein, but they are not to be classed with the German mystics. With them mysticism was an incidental, not the distinguishing, quality.
The mystics along the Rhine formed groups which, however, were not bound together by any formal organization. Their only bond was the fellowship of a common religious purpose.
Their religious thought was not always homogeneous in its expression, but all agreed in the serious attempt to secure purity of heart and life through union of the soul with God. Mysticism is a phase of Christian life. It is a devotional habit, in contradistinction to the outward and formal practice of religious rules. It is a religious experience in contrast to a mere intellectual assent to tenets. It is the conscious effort of the soul to apprehend and possess God and Christ, and expresses itself in the words, "I live, and yet not I but Christ liveth in me." It is essentially what is now called in some quarters "personal religion." Perhaps the shortest definition of mysticism is the best. It is the love of God shed abroad in the heart.427 The element of intuition has a large place, and the avenues through which religious experience is reached are self-detachment from the world, self-purgation, prayer and contemplation.
Without disparaging the sacraments or disputing the authority of the Church, the German mystics sought a better way. They laid stress upon the meaning of such passages as "he that believeth in me shall never hunger and he that cometh unto me shall never thirst, " "he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father "and "he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness." The word love figures most prominently in their writings. Among the distinctive terms in vogue among them were Abgeschiedenheit, Eckart’s word for self-detachment from the world and that which is temporal, and Kehr, Tauler’s oft-used word for conversion. They laid stress upon the new birth, and found in Christ’s incarnation a type of the realization of the divine in the soul.
German mysticism had a distinct individuality of its own. On occasion, its leaders quoted Augustine’s Confessions and other works, Dionysius the Areopagite, Bernard and Thomas Aquinas, but they did not have the habit of referring back to human authorities as had the Schoolmen, bulwarking every theological statement by patristic quotations, or statements taken from Aristotle. The movement arose like a root out of a dry ground at a time of great corruption and distraction in the Church, and it arose where it might have been least expected to arise. Its field was the territory along the Rhine where the heretical sects had had representation. It was a fresh outburst of piety, an earnest seeking after God by other paths than the religious externalism fostered by sacerdotal prescriptions and scholastic dialectics. The mystics led the people back from the clangor and tinkling of ecclesiastical symbolisms to the refreshing springs of water which spring up into everlasting life.
Compared with the mysticism of the earlier Middle Ages and the French quietism of the seventeenth century, represented by Madame Guyon, Fénelon and their predecessor the Spaniard Miguel de Molinos, German mysticism likewise has its own distinctive features. The religion of Bernard expressed itself in passionate and rapturous love for Jesus. Madame Guyon and Fénelon set up as the goal of religion a state of disinterested love, which was to be reached chiefly by prayer, an end which Bernard felt it scarcely possible to reach in this world.
The mystics along the Rhine agreed with all genuine mystics in striving after the direct union of the soul with God. They sought, as did Eckart, the loss of our being in the ocean of the Godhead, or with Tauler the undisturbed peace of the soul, or with Ruysbroeck the impact of the divine nature upon our nature at its innermost point, kindling with divine love as fire kindles. With this aspiration after the complete apprehension of God, they combined a practical tendency. Their silent devotion and meditation were not final exercises. They were moved by warm human sympathies, and looked with almost reverential regard upon the usual pursuits and toil of men. They approached close to the idea that in the faithful devotion to daily tasks man may realize the highest type of religious experience.
By preaching, by writing and circulating devotional works, and especially by their own examples, they made known the secret and the peace of the inner life. In the regions along the lower Rhine, the movement manifested itself also in the care of the sick, and notably in schools for the education of the young. These schools proved to be preparatory for the German Reformation by training a body of men of wider outlook and larger sympathies than the mediaeval convent was adapted to rear.
For the understanding of the spirit and meaning of German mysticism, no help is so close at hand as the comparison between it and mediaeval scholasticism. This religious movement was the antithesis of the theology of the Schoolmen; Eckart and Tauler of Thomas Aquinas, the German Theology of the endless argumentation of Duns Scotus, the Imitation of Christ of the cumbersome exhaustiveness of Albertus Magnus. Roger Bacon had felt revulsion from the hairsplitting casuistries of the Schoolmen, and given expression to it before Eckart began his activity at Cologne. Scholasticism had trodden a beaten and dusty highway. The German mystics walked in secluded and shady pathways. For a catalogue of dogmatic maxims they substituted the quiet expressions of filial devotion and assurance. The speculative element is still prominent in Eckart, but it is not indulged for the sake of establishing doctrinal rectitude, but for the nurture of inward experience of God’s operations in the soul. Godliness with these men was not a system of careful definitions, it was a state of spiritual communion; not an elaborate construction of speculative thought, but a simple faith and walk with God. Not processes of logic but the insight of devotion was their guide.428 As Loofs has well said, German mysticism emphasized above all dogmas and all external works the necessity of the new birth.429 It also had its dangers. Socrates had urged men not to rest hopes upon the Delphian oracle, but to listen to the voice in their own bosoms. The mystics, in seeking to hear the voice of God speaking in their own hearts, ran peril of magnifying individualism to the disparagement of what was common to all and of mistaking states of the overwrought imagination for revelations from God.430
Although the German mystical writers have not been quoted in the acts of councils or by popes as have been the theologies of the Schoolmen, they represented, if we follow the testimonies of Luther and Melanchthon, an important stage in the religious development of the German people, and it is certainly most significant that the Reformation broke out on the soil where the mystics lived and wrought, and their piety took deep root. They have a perennial life for souls who, seeking devotional companionship, continue to go back to the leaders of that remarkable pietistic movement.
The leading features of the mysticism of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries may be summed up in the following propositions.
1. Its appeals were addressed to laymen as well as to clerics.
2. The mystics emphasized instruction and preaching, and, if we except Suso, withdrew the emphasis which had been laid upon the traditional ascetic regulations of the Church. They did not commend buffetings of the body. The distance between Peter Damiani and Tauler is world-wide.
3. They used the New Testament more than they used the Old Testament, and the words of Christ took the place of the Canticles in their interpretations of the mind of God. The German Theology quotes scarcely a single passage which is not found in the New Testament, and the Imitation of Christ opens with the quotation of words spoken by our Lord. Eckart and Tauler dwell upon passages of the New Testament, and Ruysbroeck evolves the fulness of his teaching from Matthew 25:6, "Behold the Bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him."
4. In the place of the Church, with its sacraments and priesthood as a saving institution, is put Christ himself as the mediator between the soul and God, and he is offered as within the reach of all.
5. A pure life is taught to be a necessary accompaniment of the higher religious experience, and daily exemplification is demanded of that humility which the Gospel teaches.
6. Another notable feature was their use of the vernacular in sermon and treatise. The mystics are among the very earliest masters of German and Dutch prose. In the Introduction to his second edition of the German Theology, Luther emphasized this aspect of their activity when he said, "I thank God that I have heard and find my God in the German tongue as neither I nor they [the adherents of the old way] have found Him in the Latin and Hebrew tongues." In this regard also the mystics of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were precursors of the evangelical movement of the sixteenth century. Their practice was in plain conflict with the judgment of that German bishop who declared that the German language was too barbarous a tongue to be a proper vehicle of religious truth.
The religious movement represented by German and Dutch mysticism is an encouraging illustration that God’s Spirit may be working effectually in remote and unthought-of places and at times when the fabric of the Church seems to be hopelessly undermined with formalism, clerical corruption and hierarchical arrogance and worldliness. It was so at a later day when, in the little and remote Moravian town of Herrnhut, God was preparing the weak things of the world, and the things which were apparently foolish, to confound the dead orthodoxy of German Protestantism and to lead the whole Protestant Church into the way of preaching the Gospel in all the world. No organized body survived the mystics along the Rhine, but their example and writings continue to encourage piety and simple faith toward God within the pale of the Catholic and Protestant churches alike.
A classification of the German mystics on the basis of speculative and practical tendencies has been attempted, but it cannot be strictly carried out.431 In Eckart and Ruysbroeck, the speculative element was in the ascendant; in Tauler, the devotional; in Suso, the emotional; in Groote and other men of the Lowlands, the practical.
§ 29. Meister Eckart.
Meister Eckart, 1260–1327, the first in the line of the German mystics, was excelled in vigor of thought by no religious thinker of his century, and was the earliest theologian who wrote in German.432 The philosophical bent of his mind won for him from Hegel the title, "father of German philosophy." In spite of the condemnation passed upon his writings by the pope, his memory was regarded with veneration by the succeeding generation of mystics. His name, however, was almost forgotten in later times. Mosheim barely mentions it, and the voluminous historian, Schroeckh, passes it by altogether. Baur, in his History of the Middle Ages, devotes to Eckart and Tauler only three lines, and these under the head of preaching, and makes no mention at all of German mysticism. His memory again came to honor in the last century, and in the German church history of the later Middle Ages he is now accorded a place of pre-eminence for his freshness of thought, his warm piety and his terse German style.433 With Albertus Magnus and Rupert of Deutz he stands out as the earliest prominent representative in the history of German theology.
During the century before Eckart, the German church also had its mystics, and in the twelfth century the godly women, Hildegard of Bingen and Elizabeth of Schoenau, added to the function of prophecy a mystical element. In the thirteenth century the Benedictine convent of Helfta, near Eisleben, Luther’s birthplace, was a centre of religious warmth. Among its nuns were several by the names of Gertrude and Mechthild, who excelled by their religious experiences, and wrote on the devotional life. Gertrude of Hackeborn, d. 1292, abbess of Helfta, and Gertrude the Great, d. 1302, professed to have immediate communion with the Saviour and to be the recipients of divine revelations. When one of the Mechthilds asked Christ where he was to be found, the reply was, "You may seek me in the tabernacle and in Gertrude’s heart." From 1293 Gertrude the Great recorded her revelations in a work called the Communications of Piety—Insinuationes divinae pietatis. Mechthild of Magdeburg, d. 1280, and Mechthild of Hackeborn, d. 1310, likewise nuns of Helfta, also had visions which they wrote out. The former, who for thirty years had been a Beguine, Deutsch calls " one of the most remarkable personalities in the religious history of thirteenth century." Mechthild of Hackeborn, a younger sister of the abbess Gertrude, in her book on special grace,—Liber specialis gratiae,—sets forth salvation as the gift of grace without the works of the law. These women wrote in German.434
David of Augsburg, d. 1271, the inquisitor who wrote on the inquisition,—De inquisitione haereticorum,—also wrote on the devotional life. These writings were intended for monks, and two of them435 are regarded as pearls of German prose.
In the last years of the thirteenth century, the Franciscan Lamprecht of Regensburg wrote a poem entitled "Daughter of Zion" (Cant. III. 11), which, in a mystical vein, depicts the soul, moved by the impulse of love, and after in vain seeking its satisfaction in worldly things, led by faith and hope to God. The Dominicans, Dietrich of Freiburg and John of Sterngassen, were also of the same tendency.436 The latter labored in Strassburg.
Eckart broke new paths in the realm of German religious thought. He was born at Hochheim, near Gotha, and died probably in Cologne.437 In the last years of the thirteenth century he was prior of the Dominican convent of Erfurt, and provincial of the Dominicans in Thuringia, and in 1300 was sent to Paris to lecture, taking the master’s degree, and later the doctorate. After his sojourn in France he was made prior of his order in Saxony, a province at that time extending from the Lowlands to Livland. In 1311 he was again sent to Paris as a teacher. Subsequently he preached in Strassburg, was prior in Frankfurt, 1320, and thence went to Cologne.
Charges of heresy were preferred against him in 1325 by the archbishop of Cologne, Henry of Virneburg. The same year the Dominicans, at their general chapter held in Venice, listened to complaints that certain popular preachers in Germany were leading the people astray, and sent a representative to make investigations. Henry of Virneburg had shown himself zealous in the prosecution of heretics. In 1322, Walter, a Beghard leader, was burnt, and in 1325 a number of Beghards died in the flames along the Rhine. It is possible that Eckart was quoted by these sectaries, and in this way was exposed to the charge of heresy.
The archbishop’s accusations, which had been sent to Rome, were set aside by Nicolas of Strassburg, Eckart’s friend, who at the time held the position of inquisitor in Germany. In 1327, the archbishop again proceeded against the suspected preacher and also against Nicolas. Both appealed from the archbishop’s tribunal to the pope. In February, Eckart made a public statement in the Dominican church at Cologne, declaring he had always eschewed heresy in doctrine and declension in morals, and expressed his readiness to retract errors, if such should be found in his writings.438
In a bull dated March 27, 1329, John XXII. announced that of the 26 articles charged against Eckart, 15 were heretical and the remaining 11 had the savor of heresy. Two other articles, not cited in the indictment, were also pronounced heretical. The papal decision stated that Eckart had acknowledged the 17 condemned articles as heretical. There is no evidence of such acknowledgment in the offenders extant writing.439
Among the articles condemned were the following. As soon as God was, He created the world.—The world is eternal.—External acts are not in a proper sense good and divine.—The fruit of external acts does not make us good, but internal acts which the Father works in us.—God loves the soul, not external acts. The two added articles charged Eckart with holding that there is something in the soul which is uncreated and uncreatable, and that God is neither good nor better nor best, so that God can no more be called good than white can be called black.
Eckart merits study as a preacher and as a mystic theologian.
As a Preacher.—His sermons were delivered in churches and at conferences within cloistral walls. His style is graphic and attractive, to fascination. The reader is carried on by the progress of thought. The element of surprise is prominent. Eckart’s extant sermons are in German, and the preacher avoids dragging in Latin phrases to explain his meaning, though, if necessary, he invents new German terms. He quotes the Scriptures frequently, and the New Testament more often than the Old, the passages most dwelt upon being those which describe the new birth, the sonship of Christ and believers, and love. Eckart is a master in the use of illustrations, which he drew chiefly from the sphere of daily observation,—the world of nature, the domestic circle and the shop. Although he deals with some of the most abstruse truths, he betrays no ambition to make a show of speculative subtlety. On the contrary, he again and again expresses a desire to be understood by his hearers, who are frequently represented as in dialogue with himself and asking for explanations of difficult questions. Into the dialogue are thrown such expressions as "in order that you may understand," and in using certain illustrations he on occasion announces that he uses them to make himself understood.440
The following is a resumé of a sermon on John 6:44, "No man can come unto me except the Father draw him."441 In drawing the sinner that He may convert him, God draws with more power than he would use if He were to make a thousand heavens and earths. Sin is an offence against nature, for it breaks God’s image in us. For the soul, sin is death, for God is the soul’s true life. For the heart, it is restlessness, for a thing is at rest only when it is in its natural state. Sin is a disease and blindness, for it blinds men to the brief duration of time, the evils of fleshly lust and the long duration of the pains of hell. It is bluntness to all grace. Sin is the prison-house of hell. People say they intend to turn away from their sins. But how can one who is dead make himself alive again? And by one’s own powers to turn from sin unto God is much less possible than it would be for the dead to make themselves alive. God himself must draw. Grace flows from the Father’s heart continually, as when He says, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love."
There are three things in nature which draw, and these three Christ had on the cross. The first was his fellow-likeness to Us. As the bird draws to itself the bird of the same nature, so Christ drew the heavenly Father to himself, so that the Father forgot His wrath in contemplating the sufferings of the cross. Again Christ draws by his self-emptiness. As the empty tube draws water into itself, so the Son, by emptying himself and letting his blood flow, drew to himself all the grace from the Father’s heart. The third thing by which he draws is the glowing heat of his love, even as the sun with its heat draws up the mists from the earth.
The historian of the German mediaeval pulpit, Cruel, has said,442 "Eckart’s sermons hold the reader by the novelty and greatness of their contents, by their vigor of expression and by the genial frankness of the preacher himself, who is felt to be putting his whole soul into his effort and to be giving the most precious things he is able to give." He had his faults, but in spite of them "he is the boldest and most profound thinker the German pulpit has ever had,—a preacher of such original stamp of mind that the Church in Germany has not another like him to offer in all the centuries."
Eckart as a Theological Thinker.—Eckart was still bound in part by the scholastic method. His temper, however, differed widely from the temper of the Schoolmen. Anselm, Hugo of St. Victor, Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventura, who united the mystical with the scholastic element, were predominantly Schoolmen, seeking to exhaust every supposable speculative problem. No purpose of this kind appears in Eckart’s writings. He is dominated by a desire not so much to reach the intellect as to reach the soul and to lead it into immediate fellowship with God. With him the weapons of metaphysical dexterity are not on show; and in his writings, so far as they are known, he betrays no inclination to bring into the area of his treatment those remoter topics of speculation, from the constitution of the angelic world to the motives and actions which rule and prevail in the regions of hell. God and the soul’s relation to Him are the engrossing subjects.443 The authorities upon whom Eckart relied most, if we are to judge by his quotations, were Dionysius the Areopagite, and St. Bernard, though he also quotes from Augustine, Jerome and Gregory the Great, from Plato, Avicenna and Averrhoes. His discussions are often introduced by such expressions as "the masters say," or "some masters say." As a mystical thinker he has much in common with the mystics who preceded him, Neo-Platonic and Christian, but he was no servile reproducer of the past. Freshness characterizes his fundamental principles and his statement of them. In the place of love for Jesus, the precise definitions of the stages of contemplation emphasized by the school of St. Victor and the hierarchies and ladders and graduated stairways of Dionysius, he magnifies the new birth in the soul, and sonship.444
As for God, He is absolute being, Deus est esse. The Godhood is distinct from the persons of the Godhead,—a conception which recalls Gilbert of Poictiers, or even the quaternity which Peter the Lombard was accused of setting up. The Trinity is the method by which this Godhood reveals itself by a process which is eternal. Godhood is simple essence having in itself the potentiality of all things.445 God has form, and yet is without form, is being, and yet is without being. Great teachers say that God is above being. This is not correct, for God may as little be called a being, ein Wesen, as the sun may be called black or pale.446
All created things were created out of nothing, and yet they were eternally in God. The master who produces pieces of art, first had all his art in himself. The arts are master within the master. Likewise the first Principle, which Eckart calls Erstigkeit, embodied in itself all images, that is, God in God. Creation is an eternal act. As soon as God was, He created the world. Without creatures, God would not be God. God is in all things and all things are God—Nu sint all Ding gleich in Gott und sint Got selber.447 Thomas Aquinas made a clear distinction between the being of God and the being of created things. Eckart emphasized their unity. What he meant was that the images or universals exist in God eternally, as he distinctly affirmed when he said, "In the Father are the images of all creatures."448
As for the soul, it can be as little comprehended in a definition as God Himself.449 The soul’s kernel, or its ultimate essence, is the little spark, Fünkelein, a light which never goes out which is uncreated and uncreatable.450 Notwithstanding these statements, the German theologian affirms that God created the soul and poured into it, in the first instance, all His own purity. Through the spark the soul is brought into union with God, and becomes more truly one with Him than food does with the body. The soul cannot rest till it returns to God, and to do 80 it must first die to itself, that is, completely submit itself to God.451 Eckart’s aim in all his sermons, as he asserts, was to reach this spark.
It is one of Eckart’s merits that he lays so much stress upon the dignity of the soul. Several of his tracts bear this title.452 This dignity follows from God’s love and regenerative operation.
Passing to the incarnation, it is everywhere the practical purpose which controls Eckart’s treatment, and not the metaphysical. The second person of the Trinity took on human nature, that man might become partaker of the divine nature. In language such as Gregory of Nyssa used, he said, God became man that we might become God. Gott ist Mensch worden dass wir Gott wurden. As God was hidden within the human nature so that we saw there only man, so the soul is to be hidden within the divine nature, that we should see nothing but God.453 As certainly as God begets the Son from His own nature, so certainly does He beget Him in the soul. God is in all things, but He is in the soul alone by birth, and nowhere else is He so truly as in the soul. No one can know God but the only begotten Son. Therefore, to know God, man must through the eternal generation become Son. It is as true that man becomes God as that God was made man.454
The generation of the eternal Son in the soul brings joy which no man can take away. A prince who should lose his kingdom and all worldly goods would still have fulness of joy, for his birth outweighs everything else.455 God is in the soul, and yet He is not the soul. The eye is not the piece of wood upon which it looks, for when the eye is closed, it is the same eye it was before. But if, in the act of looking, the eye and the wood should become one, then we might say the eye is the wood and the wood is the eye. If the wood were a spiritual substance like the eyesight, then, in reality, one might say eye and wood are one substance.456 The fundament of God’s being is the fundament of my being, and the fundament of my being is the fundament of God’s being. Thus I live of myself even as God lives of Himself.457 This begetment of the Son of God in the soul is the source of all true life and good works.
One of the terms which Eckart uses most frequently, to denote God’s influence upon the soul, is durchbrechen, to break through, and his favorite word for the activity of the soul, as it rises into union with God, is Abgeschiedenheit, the soul’s complete detachment of itself from all that is temporal and seen. Keep aloof, abgeschieden, he says, from men, from yourself, from all that cumbers. Bear God alone in your hearts, and then practise fasting, vigils and prayer, and you will come unto perfection. This Abgeschiedenheit, total self-detachment from created things,458 he says in a sermon on the subject, is "the one thing needful." After reading many writings by pagan masters and Christian teachers, Eckart came to consider it the highest of all virtues,—higher than humility, higher even than love, which Paul praises as the highest; for, while love endures all things, this quality is receptiveness towards God. In the person possessing this quality, the worldly has nothing to correspond to itself. This is what Paul had reference to when he said, "I live and yet not I, for Christ liveth in me." God is Himself perfect Abgeschiedenheit.
In another place, Eckart says that he who has God in his soul finds God in all things, and God appears to him out of all things. As the thirsty love water, so that nothing else tastes good to them, even so it is with the devoted soul. In God and God alone is it at rest. God seeks rest, and He finds it nowhere but in such a heart. To reach this condition of Abgeschiedenheit, it is necessary for the soul first to meditate and form an image of God, and then to allow itself to be transformed by God.459
What, then, some one might say, is the advantage of prayer and good works? In eternity, God saw every prayer and every good work, and knew which prayer He could hear. Prayers were answered in eternity. God is unchangeable and cannot be moved by a prayer. It is we who change and are moved. The sun shines, and gives pain or pleasure to the eye, according as it is weak or sound. The sun does not change. God rules differently in different men. Different kinds of dough are put into the oven; the heat affects them differently, and one is taken out a loaf of fine bread, and another a loaf of common bread.
Eckart is emphatic when he insists upon the moral obligation resting on God to operate in the soul that is ready to receive Him. God must pour Himself into such a man’s being, as the sun pours itself into the air when it is clear and pure. God would be guilty of a great wrong—Gebrechen — if He did not confer a great good upon him whom He finds empty and ready to receive Him. Even so Christ said of Zaccheus, that He must enter into his house. God first works this state in the soul, and He is obliged to reward it with the gift of Himself. "When I am blessed, selig, then all things are in me and in God, and where I am, there is God, and where God is, there I am."460
Nowhere does Eckart come to a distinct definition of justification by faith, although he frequently speaks of faith as a heavenly gift. On the other hand, he gives no sign of laying stress on the penitential system. Everywhere there are symptoms in his writings that his piety breathed a different atmosphere from the pure mediaeval type. Holy living is with him the product of holy being. One must first be righteous before he can do righteous acts. Works do not sanctify. The righteous soul sanctifies the works. So long as one does good works for the sake of the kingdom of heaven or for the sake of God or for the sake of salvation or for any external cause, he is on the wrong path. Fastings, vigils, asceticisms, do not merit salvation.461 There are places in the mystic’s writings where we seem to hear Luther himself speaking.
The stress which Eckart lays upon piety, as a matter of the heart and the denial to good works of meritorious virtue, gave plausible ground for the papal condemnation, that Eckart set aside the Church’s doctrine of penance, affirming that it is not outward acts that make good, but the disposition of the soul which God abidingly works in us. John XXII. rightly discerned the drift of the mystic’s teaching.
In his treatment of Mary and Martha, Eckart seems to make a radical departure from the mediaeval doctrine of the superior value of pure contemplation. From the time of Augustine, Rachel and Mary of Bethany had been regarded as the representatives of the contemplative and higher life. In his sermon on Mary, the German mystic affirmed that Mary was still at school. Martha had learned and was engaged in good works, serving the Lord. Mary was only learning. She was striving to be as holy as her sister. Better to feed the hungry and do other works of mercy, he says, than to have the vision of Paul and to sit still. After Christ’s ascension, Mary learned to serve as fully as did Martha, for then the Holy Spirit was poured out. One who lives a truly contemplative life will show it in active works. A life of mere contemplation is a selfish life. The modern spirit was stirring in him. He saw another ideal for life than mediaeval withdrawal from the world. The breath of evangelical freedom and joy is felt in his writings.462
Eckart’s speculative mind carried him to the verge of pantheism, and it is not surprising that his hyperbolical expressions subjected him to the papal condemnation. But his pantheism was Christian pantheism, the complete union of the soul with God. It was not absorption in the divine being involving the loss of individuality, but the reception of Godhood, the original principle of the Deity. What language could better express the idea that God is everything, and everything God, than these words, words adopted by Hegel as a sort of motto: "The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye are the same, and there is but one sight, one apprehension, one love."463 And yet such language, endangering, as it might seem, the distinct personality of the soul, was far better than the imperative insistence laid by accredited Church teachers on outward rituals and conformity to sacramental rites.
Harnack and others have made the objection that the Cologne divine does not dwell upon the forgiveness of sins. This omission may be overlooked, when we remember the prominence given in his teaching to regeneration and man’s divine sonship. His most notable departure from scholasticism consists in this, that he did not dwell upon the sacraments and the authority of the Church. He addressed himself to Christian individuals, and showed concern for their moral and spiritual well-being. Abstruse as some of his thinking is, there can never be the inkling of a thought that he was setting forth abstractions of the school and contemplating matters chiefly with a scientific eye. He makes the impression of being moved by strict honesty of purpose to reach the hearts of men.464 His words glow with the Minne, or love, of which he preached so often. In one feature, however, he differed widely from modern writers and preachers. He did not dwell upon the historical Christ. With him Christ in us is the God in us, and that is the absorbing topic. With all his high thinking he felt the limitations of human statement and, counselling modesty in setting forth definitions of God, he said, "If we would reach the depth of God’s nature, we must humble ourselves. He who would know God must first know himself."465 Not a popular leader, not professedly a reformer, this early German theologian had a mission in preparing the way for the Reformation. The form and contents of his teaching had a direct tendency to encourage men to turn away from the authority of the priesthood and ritual legalism to the realm of inner experience for the assurance of acceptance with God. Pfleiderer has gone so far as to say that Eckart’s "is the spirit of the Reformation, the spirit of Luther, the motion of whose wings we already feel, distinctly enough, in the thoughts of his older German fellow-citizen."466 Although he declared his readiness to confess any heretical ideas that might have crept into his sermons and writings, the judges at Rome were right in principle. Eckart’s spirit was heretical, provoking revolt against the authority of the mediaeval Church and a restatement of some of the forgotten verities of the New Testament.
§ 30. John Tauler of Strassburg.
To do Thy will is more than praise,
As words are less than deeds;
And simple trust can find Thy ways
We miss with chart of creeds.
– Whittier. Our Master.
Among the admirers of Eckart, the most distinguished were John Tauler and Heinrich Suso. With them the speculative element largely disappears and the experimental and practical elements predominate. They emphasized religion as a matter of experience and the rule of conduct. Without denying any of the teachings or sacraments of the Church, they made prominent immediate union with Christ, and dwelt upon the Christian graces, especially patience, gentleness and humility. Tauler was a man of sober mind, Suso poetical and imaginative.
John Tauler, called doctor illuminatus, was born in Strassburg about 1300, and died there, 1361. Referring to his father’s circumstances, he once said, "If, as my father’s son, I had once known what I know now, I would have lived from my paternal inheritance instead of resorting to alms."467 Probably as early as 1315, he entered the Dominican order. Sometime before 1330, he went to Cologne to take the usual three-years’ course of study. That he proceeded from there to Paris for further study is a statement not borne out by the evidence. He, however, made a visit in the French capital at one period of his career. Nor is there sufficient proof that he received the title doctor or master, although he is usually called Dr. John Tauler.
He was in his native city again when it lay under the interdict fulminated against it in 1329, during the struggle between John XXII. and Lewis the Bavarian. The Dominicans offered defiance, continuing to say masses till 1339, when they were expelled for three years by the city council. We next find Tauler at Basel, where he came into close contact with the Friends of God, and their leader, Henry of Nördlingen. After laboring as priest in Bavaria, Henry went to the Swiss city, where he was much sought after as a preacher by the clergy and laymen, men and women. In 1357, Tauler was in Cologne, but Strassburg was the chief seat of his activity. Among his friends were Christina Ebner, abbess of a convent near Nürnberg, and Margaret Ebner, a nun of the Bavarian convent of Medingen, women who were mystics and recipients of visions.468 Tauler died in the guest-chamber of a nunnery in Strassburg, of which his sister was an inmate.
Tauler’s reputation in his own day rested upon his power as a preacher, and it is probable that his sermons have been more widely read in the Protestant Church than those of other mediaeval preachers. The reason for this popularity is the belief that the preacher was controlled by an evangelical spirit which brought him into close affinity with the views of the Reformers. His sermons, which were delivered in German, are plain statements of truth easily understood, and containing little that is allegorical or fanciful. They attempt no display of learning or speculative ingenuity. When Tauler quotes from Augustine, Gregory the Great, Dionysius, Anselm or Thomas Aquinas, as he sometimes does, though not as frequently as Eckart, he does it in an incidental way. His power lay in his familiarity with the Scriptures, his knowledge of the human heart, his simple style and his own evident sincerity.469 He was a practical every-day preachers intent on reaching men in their various avocations and trials.
If we are to follow the History of Tauler’s Life and Conscience, which appeared in the first published edition of his works, 1498, Tauler underwent a remarkable spiritual change when he was fifty.470 Under the influence of Nicolas of Basel, a Friend of God from the Oberland, he was then led into a higher stage of Christian experience. Already had he achieved the reputation of an effective preacher when Nicolas, after hearing him several times, told him that he was bound in the letter and that, though he preached sound doctrine, he did not feel the power of it himself. He called Tauler a Pharisee. The rebuked man was indignant, but his monitor replied that he lacked humility and that, instead of seeking God’s honor, he was seeking his own. Feeling the justice of the criticism, Tauler confessed he had been told his sins and faults for the first time. At Nicolas’ advice he desisted from preaching for two years, and led a retired life. At the end of that time Nicolas visited him again, and bade him resume his sermons. Tauler’s first attempt, made in a public place and before a large concourse of people, was a failure. The second sermon he preached in a nunnery from the text, Matt. 25:6, "Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him," and so powerful was the impression that 50 persons fell to the ground like dead men. During the period of his seclusion, Tauler had surrendered himself entirely to God, and after it he continued to preach with an unction and efficiency before unknown in his experience.
Some of Tauler’s expressions might give the impression that he was addicted to quietistic views, as when he speaks of being "drowned in the Fatherhood of God," of "melting in the fire of His love," of being "intoxicated with God." But these tropical expressions, used occasionally, are offset by the sober statements in which he portrays the soul’s union with God. To urge upon men to surrender themselves wholly to God and to give a practical exemplification of their union with Him in daily conduct was his mission.
He emphasized the agency of the Holy Spirit, who enlightens and sanctifies, who rebukes sin and operates in the heart to bring it to self-surrender.471 The change effected by the Spirit, which he called Kehr — conversion—he dwelt upon continually. The word, which frequently occurs in his sermons, was almost a new word in mediaeval sermonic vocabulary. Tauler also insisted upon the Eckartian Abgeschiedenheit, detachment from the world, and says that a soul, to become holy, must become "barren and empty of all created things," and rid of all that "pertains to the creature." When the soul is full of the creature, God must of necessity remain apart from it, and such a soul is like a barrel that has been filled with refuse or decaying matter. It cannot thereafter be used for good, generous wine or any other pure drink.472
As for good works, if done apart from Christ, they are of no avail. Tauler often quoted the words of Isaiah 64:6. "All our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment." By his own power, man cannot come unto God. Those who have never felt anxiety on account of their sins are in the most dangerous condition of all.473
The sacraments suffer no depreciation at Tauler’s hands, though they are given a subordinate place. They are all of no avail without the change of the inward man. Good people linger at the outward symbols, and fail to get at the inward truth symbolized. Yea, by being unduly concerned about their movements in the presence of the Lord’s body, they miss receiving him spiritually. Men glide, he says, through fasting, prayer, vigils and other exercises, and take so much delight in them that God has a very small part in their hearts, or no part in them at all.474
In insisting upon the exercise of a simple faith, it seems almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that Tauler took an attitude of intentional opposition to the prescient and self-confident methods of scholasticism. It is better to possess a simple faith—einfaltiger Glaube — than to vainly pry into the secrets of God, asking questions about the efflux and reflux of the Aught and Nought, or about the essence of the soul’s spark. The Arians and Sabellians had a marvellous intellectual understanding of the Trinity, and Solomon and Origen interested the Church in a marvellous way, but what became of them we know not. The chief thing is to yield oneself to God’s will and to follow righteousness with sincerity of purpose. "Wisdom is not studied in Paris, but in the sufferings of the Lord," Tauler said. The great masters of Paris read large books, and that is well. But the people who dwell in the inner kingdom of the soul read the true Book of Life. A pure heart is the throne of the Supreme Judge, a lamp bearing the eternal light, a treasury of divine riches, a storehouse of heavenly sweetness, the sanctuary of the only begotten Son.475
A distinctly democratic element showed itself in Tauler’s piety and preaching which is very attractive. He put honor upon all legitimate toil, and praised good and faithful work as an expression of true religion. One, he said, "can spin, another can make shoes, and these are the gifts of the Holy Ghost; and I tell you that, if I were not a priest, I should esteem it a great gift to be able to make shoes, and would try to make them so well as to become a pattern to all." Fidelity in one’s avocation is more than attendance upon church. He spoke of a peasant whom he knew well for more than forty years. On being asked whether he should give up his work and go and sit in church, the Lord replied no, he should win his bread by the sweat of his brow, and thus he would honor his own precious blood. The sympathetic element in his piety excluded the hard spirit of dogmatic complacency. "I would rather bite my tongue," Tauler said, "till it bleed, than pass judgment upon any man. Judgment we should leave to God, for out of the habit of sitting in judgment upon one’s neighbor grow self-satisfaction and arrogance, which are of the devil."476
It was these features, and especially Tauler’s insistence upon the religious exercises of the soul and the excellency of simple faith, that won Luther’s praise, first in letters to Lange and Spalatin, written in 1516. To Spalatin he wrote that he had found neither in the Latin nor German tongue a more wholesome theology than Tauler’s, or one more consonant with the Gospel.477
The mood of the heretic, however, was furthest from Tauler. Strassburg knew what heresy was, and had proved her orthodoxy by burning heretics. Tauler was not of their number. He sought to call a narrow circle away from the formalities of ritual to close communion with God, but the Church was to him a holy mother. In his reverence for the Virgin, he stood upon mediaeval ground. Preaching on the Annunciation, he said that in her spirit was the heaven of God, in her soul His paradise, in her body His palace. By becoming the mother of Christ, she became the daughter of the Father, the mother of the Son, the Holy Spirit’s bride. She was the second Eve, who restored all that the first Eve lost, and Tauler does not hesitate to quote some of Bernard’s passionate words pronouncing Mary the sinner’s mediator with Christ. He himself sought her intercession. If any one could have seen into her heart, he said, he would have seen God in all His glory.478
Though he was not altogether above the religious perversions of the mediaeval Church, John Tauler has a place among the godly leaders of the Church universal, who have proclaimed the virtue of simple faith and immediate communion with God and the excellency of the unostentatious practice of righteousness from day to day. He was an expounder of the inner life, and strikes the chord of fellowship in all who lay more stress upon pure devotion and daily living than upon ritual exercises. A spirit congenial to his was Whittier, whose undemonstrative piety poured itself out in hearty appreciation of his unseen friend of the fourteenth century. The modern Friend represents the mysterious stranger, who pointed out to Tauler the better way, as saying:—
What hell may be, I know not. This I know,
I cannot lose the presence of the Lord.
One arm, Humility, takes hold upon
His dear humanity; the other, Love,
Clasps His divinity. So where I go
He goes; and better fire-walled hell with Him
Than golden-gated Paradise without.
My prayer is answered. God hath sent the man,
Long sought, to teach me, by his simple trust,
Wisdom the weary Schoolmen never knew.
§ 31. Henry Suso.
Henry Suso, 1295?-1366, a man of highly emotional nature, has on the one hand been treated as a hysterical visionary, and on the other as the author of the most finished product of German mysticism. Born on the Lake of Constance, and perhaps in Constance itself, he was of noble parentage, but on the death of his mother, abandoned his father’s name, Berg, and adopted his mother’s maiden name, Seuse, Suso being the Latin form.479 At thirteen, he entered the Dominican convent at Constance, and from his eighteenth year on gave himself up to the most exaggerated and painful asceticisms. At twenty-eight, he was studying at Cologne, and later at Strassburg.
For supporting the pope against Lewis the Bavarian, the Dominicans in Constance came into disfavor, and were banished from the city. Suso retired to Diessehoven, where he remained, 1339–1346, serving as prior. During this period, he began to devote himself to preaching. The last eighteen years of his life were spent in the Dominican convent at Ulm, where he died, Jan. 25, 1366. He was beatified by Gregory XVI., 1831.
Suso’s constitution, which was never strong, was undermined by the rigorous penitential discipline to which he subjected himself for twenty-two years. An account of it is given in his Autobiography. Its severity, so utterly contrary to the spirit of our time, was so excessive that Suso’s statements seem at points to be almost incredible. The only justification for repeating some of the details is to show the lengths to which the penitential system of the Mediaeval Church was carried by devotees. Desiring to carry the marks of the Lord Jesus, Suso pricked into his bare chest, with a sharp instrument, the monogram of Christ, IHS. The three letters remained engraven there till his dying day and, "Whenever my heart moved," as he said, "the name moved also." At one time he saw in a dream rays of glory illuminating the scar.
He wore a hair shirt and an iron chain. The loss of blood forced him to put the chain aside, but for the hair shirt he substituted an undergarment, studded with 150 sharp tacks. This he wore day and night, its points turned inwards towards his body. Often, he said, it made the impression on him as if he were lying in a nest of wasps. When he saw his body covered with vermin, and yet he did not die, he exclaimed that the murderer puts to death at one stroke, "but alas, O tender God, — zarter Gott,—what a dying is this of mine!" Yet this was not enough. Suso adopted the plan of tying around his neck a part of his girdle. To this he attached two leather pockets, into which he thrust his hands. These he made fast with lock and key till the next morning. This kind of torture he continued to practise for sixteen years, when he abandoned it in obedience to a heavenly vision. How little had the piety of the Middle Ages succeeded in correcting the perverted views of the old hermits of the Nitrian desert, whose stories this Swiss monk was in the habit of reading, and whose austerities he emulated!
God, however, had not given any intimation of disapproval of ascetic discipline, and so Suso, in order further to impress upon his body marks of godliness, bound against his back a wooden cross, to which, in memory of the 30 wounds of Christ, he affixed 30 spikes. On this instrument of torture he stretched himself at night for 8 years. The last year he affixed to it 7 sharp needles. For a long time he went through 2 penitential drills a day, beating with his fist upon the cross as it hung against his back, while the needles and nails penetrated into his flesh, and the blood flowed down to his feet. As if this were not a sufficient imitation of the flagellation inflicted upon Christ, he rubbed vinegar and salt into his wounds to increase his agony. His feet became full of sores, his legs swelled as if he had had the dropsy, his flesh became dry and his hands trembled as if palsied. And all this, as he says, he endured out of the great inner love which he had for God, and our Lord Jesus Christ, whose agonizing pains he wanted to imitate. For 25 years, cold as the winter might be, he entered no room where there was a fire, and for the same period he abstained from all bathing, water baths or sweat baths—Wasserbad und Schweissbad. But even with this list of self-mortifications, Suso said, the whole of the story was not told.
In his fortieth year, when his physical organization had been reduced to a wreck, so that nothing remained but to die or to desist from the discipline, God revealed to him that his long-practised austerity was only a good beginning, a breaking up of his untamed humanity,—Ein Durchbrechen seines ungebrochenen Menschen,—and that thereafter he would have to try another way in order to "get right." And so he proceeded to macerations of the inner man, and learned the lessons which asceticisms of the soul can impart.
Suso nowhere has words of condemnation for such barbarous self-imposed torture, a method of pleasing God which the Reformation put aside in favor of saner rules of piety.
Other sufferings came upon Suso, but not of his own infliction. These he bore with Christian submission, and the evils involved he sought to rectify by services rendered to others. His sister, a nun, gave way to temptation. Overcoming his first feelings of indignation, Suso went far and near in search of her, and had the joy of seeing her rescued to a worthy life, and adorned with all religious virtues. Another cross he had to bear was the charge that he was the father of an unborn child, a charge which for a time alienated Henry of Nördlingen and other close friends. He bore the insinuation without resentment, and even helped to maintain the child after it was born.
Suso’s chief writings, which abound in imagery and comparisons drawn from nature, are an Autobiography,480 and works on The Eternal Wisdom—Büchlein von der ewigen Weisheit — and the Truth—Büchlein von der Wahrheit. To these are to be added his sermons and letters.
The Autobiography came to be preserved by chance. At the request of Elsbet Staglin, Suso told her a number of his experiences. This woman, the daughter of one of the leading men of Zürich, was an inmate of the convent of Tosse, near Winterthur. When Suso discovered that she had committed his conversations to writing, he treated her act as "a spiritual theft," and burnt a part of the manuscript. The remainder he preserved, in obedience to a supernatural communication, and revised. Suso appears in the book as "The Servant of the Eternal Wisdom."
The Autobiography is a spiritual self-revelation in which the author does not pretend to follow the outward stages of his career. In addition to the facts of his religious experience, he sets forth a number of devotional rules containing much wisdom, and closes with judicious and edifying remarks on the being of God, which he gave to Elsbet in answer to her questions.481
The Book of the Eternal Wisdom, which is in the form of a dialogue between Christ, the Eternal Wisdom, and the writer, has been called by Denifle, who bore Suso’s name, the consummate fruit of German mysticism. It records, in German,482 meditations in which use is made of the Scriptures. Here we have a body of experimental theology such as ruled among the more pious spirits in the German convents of the fourteenth century.
Suso declares that one who is without love is as unable to understand a tongue that is quick with love as one speaking in German is unable to understand a Fleming, or as one who hears a report of the music of a harp is unable to understand the feelings of one who has heard the music with his own ears. The Saviour is represented as saying that it would be easier to bring back the years of the past, revive the withered flowers or collect all the droplets of rain than to measure the love—Minne — he has for men.
The Servant, after lamenting the hardness of heart which refuses to be moved by the spectacle of the cross and the love of God, seeks to discover how it is that God can at once be so loving and so severe. As for the pains of hell, the lost are represented as exclaiming, "Oh, how we desire that there might be a millstone as wide as the earth and reaching to all parts of heaven, and that a little bird might alight every ten thousand years and peck away a piece of stone as big as the tenth part of a millet seed and continue to peck away every ten thousandth year until it had pecked away a piece as big as a millet seed, and then go on pecking at the same rate until the whole stone were pecked away, so only our torture might come to an end; but that cannot be."
Having dwelt upon the agony of the cross and God’s immeasurable love, the bliss of heaven and the woes of hell, Suso proceeds to set forth the dignity of suffering. He had said in his Autobiography that "every lover is a martyr,"483 and here the Eternal Wisdom declares that if all hearts were become one heart, that heart could not bear the least reward he has chosen to give in eternity as a compensation for the least suffering endured out of love for himself .... This is an eternal law of nature that what is true and good must be harvested with sorrow. There is nothing more joyous than to have endured suffering. Suffering is short pain and prolonged joy. Suffering gives pain here and blessedness hereafter. Suffering destroys suffering—Leiden tödtet Leiden. Suffering exists that the sufferer may not suffer. He who could weigh time and eternity in even balances would rather he in a glowing oven for a hundred years than to miss in eternity the least reward given for the least suffering, for the suffering in the oven would have an end, but the reward is forever.
After dwelling upon the advantages of contemplation as the way of attaining to the heavenly life, the Eternal Wisdom tells Suso how to die both the death of the body and the soul; namely, by penance and by self-detachment from all the things of the earth—Entbrechen von allen Dingen. An unconverted man is introduced in the agonies of dying. His hands grow cold, his face pales, his eyes begin to lose their sight. The prince of terrors wrestles with his heart and deals it hard blows. The chill sweat of death creeps over his body and starts haggard fears. "O angry countenance of the severe Judge, how sharp are thy judgments!" he exclaims. In imagination, or with real sight, he beholds the host of black Moors approaching to see whether he belongs to them, and then the beasts of hell surrounding him. He sees the hot flames rising up above the denizens of purgatory, and hears them cry out that the least of their tortures is greater than the keenest suffering endured by martyr on the earth. And that a day there is as a hundred years. They exclaim, "Now we roast, now we simmer and now we cry out in vain for help." The dying man then passes into the other world, calling out for help to the friends whom he had treated well on the earth, but in vain.
The treatise, which closes with excellent admonitions on the duty of praising God continually, makes a profound spiritual impression, but it presents only one side of the spiritual life, and needs to be supplemented and expurgated in order to present a proper picture. Christ came into the world that we might have everlasting life now, and that we might have abundance of life, and that his joy might remain in us and our joy might be full. The patient endurance of suffering purifies the soul and the countenance, but suffering is not to be counted as always having a sanctifying power, much less is it to be courted. Macerations have no virtue of themselves, and patience in enduring pain is only one of the Christian virtues, and not their crown. Love, which is the bond of perfectness, finds in a cheerful spirit, in hearty human fellowships and in well-doing also, its ministries. The mediaeval type of piety turned the earth into a vale of tears. It was cloistral. For nearly 30 years, as Suso tells us, he never once broke through the rule of silence at table.484 Innocent III. could write, just before becoming world-ruler, a treatise on the contempt of the world. The piety of the modern Church is of a cheerful type, and sees good everywhere in this world which God created. Suso’s piety was what the Germans have called the mysticism of suffering—die Mystik des Leidens. His way of self-inflicted torture was the wrong way. In going, however, with Suso we will not fail to reach some of the heights of religious experience and to find nearness to God.
Suso kept company with the Friends of God, and acknowledged his debt to Eckart, "the high teacher," "his high and holy master," from whose "sweet teachings he had taken deep draughts." As he says in his Autobiography, he went to Eckart in a time of spiritual trial, and was helped by him out of the hell of distress into which he had fallen. He uses some of Eckart’s distinctive vocabulary, and after the Cologne rnystic’s death, Suso saw him "in exceeding glory" and was admonished by him to submission. This quality forms the subject of Suso’s Book on the Truth, which in part was meant to be a defence of his spiritual teacher.
A passage bearing on the soul’s union with Christ will serve as a specimen of Suso’s tropical style, and may fitly close this chapter. The soul, so the Swiss mystic represents Christ as saying—
"the soul that would find me in the inner closet of a consecrated and self-detached life,—abgeschiedenes Leben,—and would partake of my sweetness, must first be purified from evil and adorned with virtues, be decked with the red roses of passionate love, with the beautiful violets of meek submission, and must be strewn with the white lilies of purity. It shall embrace me with its arms, excluding all other loves, for these I shun and flee as the bird does the cage. This soul shall sing to me the song of Zion, which means passionate love combined with boundless praise. Then I will embrace it and it shall lean upon my heart."485
§ 32. The Friends of God.
The Friends of God attract our interest both by the suggestion of religious fervor involved in their name and the respect with which the prominent mystics speak of them. They are frequently met within the writings of Eckart, Tauler, Suso, and Ruysbroeck, as well as in the pages of other writers of the fourteenth century. Much mystery surrounds them, and efforts have failed to define with precision their teachings, numbers and influence. The name had been applied to the Waldenses,486 but in the fourteenth century it came to be a designation for coteries of pietists scattered along the Rhine, from Basel to Strassburg and to the Netherlands, laymen and priests who felt spiritual longings the usual church services did not satisfy. They did not constitute an organized sect. They were addicted to the study of the Scriptures, and sought close personal fellowship with God. They laid stress upon a godly life and were bent on the propagation of holiness. Their name was derived from John 16:15, "Henceforth I call you not servants, but I have called you friends." Their practices did not involve a breach with the Church and its ordinances. They had no sympathy with heresy, and antagonized the Brethren of the Free Spirit. The little treatise, called the German Theology, at the outset marks the difference between the Friends of God and the false, free spirits, especially the Beghards.487
A letter written by a Friend to another Friend488 represents as succinctly as any statement their aim when it says, "The soul that loves God must get away from the world, from the flesh and all sensual desires and away from itself, that is, away from its own self-will, and thus does it make ready to hear the message of the work and ministry of love accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ." The house which Rulman Merswin founded in Strassburg was declared to be a house of refuge for honorable persons, priests and laymen who, with trust in God, choose to flee the world and seek to improve their lives. The Friends of God regarded themselves as holding the secret of the Christian life and as being the salt of the earth, the instructors of other men.489
Among the leading Friends of God were Henry of Nördlingen, Nicolas of Löwen, Rulman Merswin and "the great Friend of God from the Oberland." The personality of the Friend of God from the Oberland is one of the most evasive in the religious history of the Middle Ages. He is presented as leader of great personal power and influence, as the man who determined Tauler’s conversion and wrote a number of tracts, and yet it is doubtful whether such a personage ever lived. Rulman Merswin affirms that he had been widely active between Basel and Strassburg and in the region of Switzerland, from which he got his name, the Oberland. In 1377, according to the same authority, he visited Gregory XI. in Rome and, like Catherine of Siena, petitioned the pontiff to set his face against the abuses of Christendom. Rulman was in correspondence with him for a long period, and held his writings secret until within four years of his (Rulman’s) death, when he published them. They were 17 in number, all of them bearing on the nature and necessity of a true conversion of heart.490
This mystic from the Oberland, as Rulman’s account goes, led a life of prayer and devotion, and found peace, performed miracles and had visions. He is placed by Preger at the side of Peter Waldo as one of the most influential laymen of the Middle Ages, a priest, though unordained, of the Church. After Rulman’s death, we hear no more of him.
Rulman Merswin, the editor of the Oberland prophet’s writings, was born in Stra6sburg, 1307, and died there, 1382. He gave up merchandise and devoted himself wholly to a religious life. He had undergone the change of conversion—Kehr. For four years he had a hard struggle against temptations, and subjected himself to severe asceticisms, but was advised by his confessor, Tauler, to desist, at least for a time. It was towards the end of this period that he met the man from the Oberland. After his conversion, he purchased and fitted up an old cloister, located on an island near Strassburg, called das grüne Wört, to serve as a refuge for clerics and laymen who wished to follow the principles of the Friends of God and live together for the purpose of spiritual culture. In 1370, after the death of his wife, Rulman himself became an inmate of the house, which was put under the care of the Knights of St. John a year later. Here he continued to exhort by pen and word till his death. He lies buried at the side of his wife in Strassburg.
Merswin’s two chief writings are entitled Das Bannerbüchlein, the Banner-book, and Das Buch von den neun Felsen, the Nine Rocks. The former is an exhortation to flee from the banner of Lucifer and to gather under the blood-red banner of Christ.491 The Nine Rocks, written in the form of a dialogue, 1352, opens with a parable, describing innumerable fishes swimming down from the lakes among the hills through the streams in the valleys into the deep sea. The author then sees them attempting to find their way back to the hills. These processes illustrate the career of human souls departing from God into the world and seeking to return to Him. The author also sees a "fearfully high mountain," on which are nine rocks. The souls that succeed in getting back to the mountain are so few that it seemed as if only one out of every thousand reached it. He then proceeds to set forth the condition of the eminent of the earth, popes and kings, cardinals and princes; and also priests, monks and nuns, Beguines and Beghards, and people of all sorts and classes. He finds the conditions very bad, and is specially severe on women who, by their show of dress and by their manners, are responsible for men going morally astray and falling into sin. Many of these women commit a hundred mortal sins a day.
Rulman then returns to the nine rocks, which represent the nine stages of progress towards the source of our being, God. Those who are on the rocks have escaped the devil’s net, and by climbing on up to the last rock, they reach perfection. Those on the fifth rock have gained the point where they have completely given up their own self-will. The sixth rock represents full submission to God. On the ninth the number is so small that there seemed to be only three persons on it. These have no desire whatever except to honor God, fear not hell nor purgatory, nor enemy nor death nor life.
The Friends of God, who are bent on something more than their own salvation, are depicted in the valley below, striving to rescue souls from the net in which they have been ensnared. The Brethren of the Free Spirit resist this merciful procedure.
The presentation is crude, and Scripture is not directly quoted. The biblical imagery, however, abounds, and, as in the case of the ancient allegory of Hermas, the principles of the Gospel are set forth in a way adapted, no doubt, to reach a certain class of minds, even as in these modern days the methods of the Salvation Army appeal to many for whom the discourses of Bernard or Gerson might have little meaning. 492
Rulman Merswin is regarded by Denifle, Strauch and other critics as the author of the works ascribed to the Friend of God from the Oberland, and the inventor of this fictitious personage.493 The reason for this view is that no one else knows of the Oberlander and that, after Rulman’s death, attempts on the part of the Strassburg brotherhood to find him, or to find out something about him, resulted in failure. On the other hand, it is difficult to understand why Rulman did not continue to keep his writings secret till after his own death, if the Oberlander was a fictitious character.494
Whatever may be the outcome of the discussion over the historic personality of the man from the Oberland, we have in the writings of these two men a witness to the part laymen were taking in the affairs of the Church.
§ 33. John of Ruysbroeck.
Independent of the Friends of God, and yet closely allied with them in spirit, was Jan von Ruysbroeck, 1293–1381. In 1350, he sent to the Friends in Strassburg his Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage—Chierheit der gheesteleker Brulocht. He forms a connecting link between them and the Brothers of the Common Life. The founder of the latter brotherhood, de Groote, and also Tauler, visited him. He was probably acquainted with Eckart’s writings, which were current in the Lowlands.495
The Flemish mystic was born in a village of the same name near Brussels, and became vicar of St. Gudula in that city. At sixty he abandoned the secular priesthood and put on the monastic habit, identifying himself with the recently established Augustinian convent Groenendal,—Green Valley,—located near Waterloo. Here he was made prior. Ruysbroeck spent most of his time in contemplation, though he was not indifferent to practical duties. On his walks through the woods of Soignes, he believed he saw visions and he was otherwise the subject of revelations. He was not a man of the schools. Soon after his death, a fellow-Augustinian wrote his biography, which abounds in the miraculous element. The very trees under which he sat were illuminated with an aureole. At his passing away, the bells of the convent rang without hands touching them, and perfume proceeded from his dead body.
The title, doctor ecstaticus, which at an early period was associated with Ruysbroeck, well names his characteristic trait. He did not speculate upon the remote theological themes of God’s being as did Eckart, nor was he a popular preacher of every-day Christian living, like Tauler. He was a master of the contemplative habit, and mused upon the soul’s experiences in its states of partial or complete union with God. His writings, composed in his mother-tongue, were translated into Latin by his pupils, Groote and William Jordaens. The chief products of his pen are the Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, the Mirror of Blessedness and Samuel, which is a defence of the habit of contemplation, and the Glistening Stone, an allegorical meditation on the white stone of Rev. 2:17, which is interpreted to mean Christ.
Ruysbroeck laid stress upon ascetic exercises, but more upon love. In its highest stages of spiritual life, the soul comes to God "without an intermediary." The name and work of Christ are dwelt upon on every page. He is our canon, our breviary, our every-day book, and belongs to Laity and clergy alike. He was concerned to have it understood that he has no sympathy with pantheism, and opposed the heretical views of the Brethren of the Free Spirit and the Beghards. He speaks of four sorts of heretics, the marks of one of them being that they despise the ordinances and sacraments of the Catholic Church, the Scriptures and the sufferings of Christ, and set themselves above God himself. He, however, did not escape the charge of heresy. Gerson, who received a copy of the Spiritual Marriage from a Carthusian monk of Bruges, found the third book teaching pantheism, and wrote a tract in which he complained that the author, whom he pronounced an unlearned man, followed his feelings in setting forth the secrets of the religious life. Gerson was, however, persuaded that he had made a mistake by the defence written by John of Schoenhofen, one of the brethren of Groenendal. However, in his reply written 1408, he again emphasized that Ruysbroeck was a man without learning, and complained that he had not made his meaning sufficiently clear.496
The Spiritual Marriage, Ruysbroeck’s chief contribution to mystical literature, is a meditation upon the words of the parable, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him." It sets forth three stages of Christian experience, the active, the inner and the contemplative. In the active stage the soul adopts the Christian virtues and practises them, fighting against sin, and thus it goes out "to meet the bridegroom." We must believe the articles of the Creed, but not seek to fully understand them. And the more subtle doctrines of the Scripture we should accept and explain as they are interpreted by the life of Christ and the lives of his saints. Man should study nature, the Scriptures and all created things, and draw from them profit. To understand Christ he must, like Zaccheus, run ahead of all the manifestations of the creature world, and climb up the tree of faith, which has twelve branches, the twelve articles of the Creed.
As for the inner life, it is distinguished from the active by devotion to the original Cause and to truth itself as against devotion to exercises and forms, to the celebration of the sacrament and to good works. Here the soul separates itself from outward relations and created forms, and contemplates the eternal love of God. Asceticism may still be useful, but it is not essential.
The contemplative stage few reach. Here the soul is transferred into a purity and brightness which is above all natural intelligence. It is a peculiar adornment and a heavenly crown. No one can reach it by learning and intellectual subtlety nor by disciplinary exercises. In order to attain to it, three things are essential. A man must live virtuously; he must, like a fire that never goes out, love God constantly, and he must lose himself in the darkness in which men of the contemplative habit no longer find their way by the methods known to the creature. In the abyss of this darkness a light incomprehensible is begotten, the Son of God, in whom we "see eternal life."
At last the soul comes into essential unity with God, and, in the fathomless ocean of this unity, all things are seized with bliss. It is the dark quiet in which all who love God lose themselves. Here they swim in the wild waves of the ocean of God’s being.497
He who would follow the Flemish mystic in these utterances must have his spirit. They seem far removed from the calm faith which leaves even the description of such ecstatic states to the future, and is content with doing the will of God in the daily avocations of this earthly life. Expressions he uses, such as "spiritual intoxication,"498 are not safe, and the experiences he describes are, as he declares, not intended for the body of Christian people to reach here below. In most men they would take the forms of spiritual hysteria and the hallucinations of hazy self-consciousness. It is well that Ruysbroeck’s greatest pupil, de Groote, did not follow along this line of meditation, but devoted himself to practical questions of every-day living and works of philanthropy. The ecstatic mood is characteristic of this mystic in the secluded home in Brabant, but it is not the essential element in his religious thought. His descriptions of Christ and his work leave little to be desired. He does not dwell upon Mary, or even mention her in his chief work. He insists upon the works which proceed from genuine love to God. The chapter may be closed with two quotations:—
"Even devotion must give way to a work of love to the spiritual and to the physical man. For even should one rise in prayer higher than Peter or Paul, and hear that a poor man needed a drink of water, he would have to cease from the devotional exercise, sweet though it were, and do the deed of love. It is well pleasing to God that we leave Him in order to help His members. In this sense the Apostle was willing to be banished from Christ for his brethren’s sake."
"Always before thou retire at night, read three books, which thou oughtest always to have with thee. The first is an old, gray, ugly volume, written over with black ink. The second is white and beautifully written in red, and the third in glittering gold letters. First read the old volume. That means, consider thine own past life, which is full of sins and errors, as are the lives of all men. Retire within thyself and read the book of conscience, which will be thrown open at the last judgment of Christ. Think over how badly thou hast lived, how negligent thou hast been in thy words, deeds, wishes and thoughts. Cast down thy eyes and cry, ’God be merciful to me a sinner.’ Then God will drive away fear and anxious concern and will give thee hope and faith. Then lay the old book aside and go and fetch from memory the white book. This is the guileless life of Christ, whose soul was pure and whose guileless body was bruised with stripes and marked with rose-red, precious blood. These are the letters which show his real love to us. Look at them with deep emotion and thank him that, by his death, he has opened to thee the gate of heaven. And finally lift up thine eyes on high and read the third book, written in golden script; that is, consider the glory of the life eternal, in Comparison with which the earthly vanishes away as the light of the candle before the splendor of the sun at midday."499
§ 34. Gerrit de Groote and the Brothers of the Common Life.
It was fortunate for the progress of religion, that mysticism in Holland and Northwestern Germany did not confine itself to the channel into which it had run at Groenendal. In the latter part of the fourteenth century, and before Ruysbroeck’s death, it associated with itself practical philanthropic activities under the leadership of Gerrit Groote, 1340–1384, and Florentius Radewyn, 1350–1400, who had finished his studies in Prag. They were the founders of the Windesheim Congregation and the genial company known as the Brothers of the Common Life, called also the Brothers of the New Devotion. To the effort to attain to union with God they gave a new impulse by insisting that men imitate the conduct of Christ. 500 Originating in Holland, they spread along the Rhine and into Central Germany.
Groote was born at Deventer, where his father had been burgomaster. After studying at Paris, he taught at Cologne, and received the appointment of canon, enjoying at least two church livings, one at Utrecht and one at Aachen. He lived the life of a man of the world until he experienced a sudden conversion through the influence of a friend, Henry of Kolcar, a Carthusian prior. He renounced his ecclesiastical livings and visited Ruysbroeck, being much influenced by him. Thomas à Kempis remarks that Groote could say, after his visits to Ruysbroeck, "Thy wisdom and knowledge are greater than the report which I heard in my own country."
At forty he began preaching. Throngs gathered to hear him in the churches and churchyards of Deventer, Zwolle, Leyden and other chief towns of the Lowlands.501 Often he preached three times a day. His success stirred up the Franciscans, who secured from the bishop of Utrecht an inhibition of preaching by laymen. Groote came under this restriction, as he was not ordained. An appeal was made to Urban VI., but the pope put himself on the side of the bishop. Groote died in 1384, before the decision was known.
Groote strongly denounced the low morals of the clergy, but seems not to have opposed any of the doctrines of the Church. He fasted, attended mass, laid stress upon prayer and alms, and enforced these lessons by his own life. To quote an old writer, he taught by living righteously—docuit sancte vivendo. In 1374, he gave the house he had inherited from his father at Deventer as a home for widows and unmarried women. Without taking vows, the inmates were afforded an opportunity of retirement and a life of religious devotion and good works. They were to support themselves by weaving, spinning, sewing, nursing and caring for the sick. They were at liberty to leave the community whenever they chose. John Brinkerinck further developed the idea of the female community.
The origin of the Brothers of the Common Life was on this wise. After the inhibition of lay preaching, Groote settled down at Deventer, spending much time in the house of Florentius Radewyn. He had employed young priests to copy manuscripts. At Radewyn’s suggestion they were united into a community, and agreed to throw their earnings into a common fund. After Groote’s death, the community received a more distinct organization through Radewyn. Other societies were established after the model of the Deventer house, which was called "the rich brother house,"—het rijke fraterhuis,—as at Zwolle, Delft, Liége, Ghent, Cologne, Münster, Marburg and Rostock, many of them continuing strong till the Reformation.502
A second branch from the same stock, the canons Regular of St. Augustine, established by the influence of Radewyn and other friends and pupils of Groote, had as their chief houses Windesheim, dedicated 1387, and Mt. St. Agnes, near Zwolle. These labored more within the convent, the Brothers of the Common Life outside of it.
The Brotherhood of the Common Life never reached the position of an order sanctioned by Church authority. Its members, including laymen as well as clerics, took no irrevocable vow, and were at liberty to withdraw when they pleased. They were opposed to the Brethren of the Free Spirit, and were free from charges of looseness in morals and doctrine. Like their founder, they renounced worldly goods and remained unmarried. They supported the houses by their own toil.503
To gardening, making clothes and other occupations pertaining to the daily life, they added preaching, conducting schools and copying manuscripts. Groote was an ardent lover of books, and had many manuscripts copied for his library. Among these master copyists was Thomas à Kempis. Classical authors as well as writings of the Fathers and books of Scripture were transcribed. Selections were also made from these authors in distinct volumes, called ripiaria — little river banks. At Liege they were so diligent as copyists as to receive the name Broeders van de penne, Brothers of the Quill. Of Groote, Thomas à Kempis reports that he had a chest filled with the best books standing near his dining table, so that, if a course did not please him, he might reach over to them and give his friends a cup for their souls. He carried books about with him on his preaching tours. Objection was here and there made to the possession of so many books, where they might have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor.504 Translations also were made of the books of Scripture and other works. Groote translated the Seven Penitential Psalms, the Office for the Dead and certain Devotions to Mary. The houses were not slow in adopting type, and printing establishments are mentioned in connection with Maryvale, near Geissenheim, Windesheim, Herzogenbusch, Rostock, Louvaine and other houses.
The schools conducted by the Brothers of the Common Life, intended primarily for clerics, have a distinguished place in the history of education. Seldom, if ever before, had so much attention been paid to the intellectual and moral training of youth. Not only did the Brothers, have their own schools. They labored also in schools already established. Long lists of the teachers are still extant. Their school at Herzogenbusch had at one time 1200 scholars, and put Greek into its course at its very start, 1424. The school at Liége in 1524 had 1600 scholars.505 The school at Deventer acquired a place among the notable grammar schools of history, and trained Nicolas of Cusa, Thomas à Kempis, John Wessel and Erasmus, who became an inmate of the institution, 1474, and learned Greek from one of its teachers, Synthis. Making the mother-tongue the chief vehicle of education, these schools sent out the men who are the fathers of the modern literature of Northwestern Germany and the Lowlands, and prepared the soil for the coming Reformation.
Scarcely less influential was the public preaching of the Brethren in the vernacular, and the collations, or expositions of Scripture, given to private circles in their own houses. Groote went to the Scriptures, so Thomas à Kempis says, as to a well of life. Of John Celle, d. 1417, the zealous rector of the Zwolle school, the same biographer writes: "He frequently expounded to the pupils the Holy Scriptures, impressing upon them their authority and stirring them up to diligence in writing out the sayings of the saints. He also taught them to sing accurately, and sedulously to attend church, to honor God’s ministers and to pray often."506 Celle himself played on the organ.
The central theme of their study was the person and life of Christ. "Let the root of thy study," said Groote, "and the mirror of thy life be primarily the Gospel, for therein is the life of Christ portrayed."507 A period of each day was set apart for reflection on some special religious subject,—Sunday on heaven, Monday on death, Tuesday on the mercies of God, Wednesday on the last judgment, Thursday on the pains of hell, Friday on the Lord’s passion and Saturday on sins. They laid more stress upon inward purity and rectitude than upon outward conformities to ritual.508
The excellent people joined the other mystics of the fourteenth century in loosening the hold of scholasticism and sacerdotalism, those two master forces of the Middle Ages.509 They gave emphasis to the ideas brought out strongly from other quarters,—the heretical sects and such writers as Marsiglius of Padua,—the idea of the dignity of the layman, and that monastic vows are not the condition of pure religious devotion. They were the chief contributors to the vigorous religious current which was flowing through the Lowlands. Popular religious literature was in circulation. Manuals of devotion were current, cordials and praecordials for the soul’s needs. Written codes of rules for laymen were passed from hand to hand, giving directions for their conduct at home and abroad. Religious poems in the vernacular, such as the poem on the wise and foolish virgins, carried biblical truth.
Van viff juncfrou wen de wis weren
Unde van vif dwasen wilt nu hir leren.
Some of these were translations from Bernard’s Jesu dulcis memoria, and some condemned festivities like the Maypole and the dance.510
Eugene IV., Pius II., and Sistus IV. gave the Brothers marks of their approval, and the great teachers, Cardinal Cusa, D’Ailly and John Gerson spoke in their praise. There were, however, detractors, such as Grabon, a Saxon Dominican who presented, in the last days of the Council of Constance, 1418, no less than twenty-five charges against them. The substance of the charges was that the highest religious life may not be lived apart from the orders officially sanctioned by the Church. A commission appointed by Martin V., to which Gerson and D’Ailly belonged, reported adversely, and Grabon was obliged to retract. The commission adduced the fact that there was no monastic body in Jerusalem when the primitive Church practised community of goods, and that conventual walls and vows are not essential to the highest religious life. Otherwise the pope, the cardinals and the prelates themselves would not be able to attain to the highest reach of religious experience.511
With the Reformation, the distinct mission of the Brotherhood was at an end, and many of the communities fell in with the new movement. As for the houses which maintained their old rules, Luther felt a warm interest in them. When, in 1532, the Council of Hervord in Westphalia was proposing to abolish the local sister and brother houses, the Reformer wrote strongly against the proposal as follows: "Inasmuch as the Brothers and Sisters, who were the first to start the Gospel among you, lead a creditable life, and have a decent and well-behaved community, and faithfully teach and hold the pure Word, such monasteries and brother-houses please me beyond measure." On two other occasions, he openly showed his interest in the brotherhood of which Groote was the founder.512
§ 35. The Imitation of Christ. Thomas à Kempis.
... mild saint
À Kempis overmild.
The pearl of all the mystical writings of the German-Dutch school is the Imitation of Christ, the work of Thomas à Kempis. With the Confessions of St. Augustine and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress it occupies a place in the very front rank of manuals of devotion, and, if the influence of books is to be judged by their circulation, this little volume, starting from a convent in the Netherlands, has, next to the Sacred Scriptures, been the most influential of all the religious writings of Christendom. Protestants and Catholics alike have joined in giving it praise. The Jesuits introduced it into their Exercises. Dr. Samuel Johnson, once, when ill, taught himself Dutch by reading it in that language, and said of its author that the world had opened its arms to receive his book.513 It was translated by John Wesley, was partly instrumental in the conversion of John Newton, was edited by Thomas Chalmers, was read by Mr. Gladstone "as a golden book for all times" and was the companion of General Gordon. Dr. Charles Hodge, the Presbyterian divine, said it has diffused itself like incense through the aisles and alcoves of the Universal Church.514
The number of counted editions exceeds 2000. The British Museum has more than 1000 editions on its shelves.515
Originally written in the Latin, a French translation was made as early as 1447, which still remains in manuscript. The first printed French copies appeared in Toulouse, 1488. The earliest German translation was made in 1434 and is preserved in Cologne, and printed editions in German begin with the Augsburg edition of 1486. Men eminent in the annals of German piety, such as Arndt, 1621, Gossner, 1824, and Tersteegen, 1844, have issued editions with prefaces. The work first appeared in print in English, 1502, the translation being partly by the hand of Margaret, the mother of Henry VII. Translations appeared in Italian in Venice and Milan, 1488, in Spanish at Seville, 1536, in Arabic at Rome, 1663, in Arminian at Rome, 1674, and in other languages.516
The Imitation of Christ consists of four books, and derives its title from the heading of the first book, De imitatione Christi et contemptu omnium vanitatum mundi, the imitation of Christ and the contempt of all the vanities of the world. It seems to have been written in metre.517 The four books are not found in all the manuscripts nor invariably arranged in the same order, facts which have led some to suppose that they were not all written at the same time. The work is a manual of devotion intended to help the soul in its communion with God. Its sententious statements are pitched in the highest key of Christian experience. Within and through all its reflections runs the word, self-renunciation. Its opening words, "whoso followeth me, shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life," John 8:12, are a fitting announcement of the contents. The life of Christ is represented as the highest study it is possible for a mortal to take up. He who has his spirit has found the hidden manna. What can the world confer without Jesus? To be without him is the direst hell; to be with him, the sweetest paradise.
Here are counsels to read the Scriptures, statements about the uses of adversity and advice for submission to authority, warnings against temptations, reflections upon death, the judgment and paradise. Here are meditations on Christ’s oblation on the cross and the advantages of the communion, and also admonitions to flee the vanities and emptiness of the world and to love God, for he that loveth, knoweth God. Christ is more than all the wisdom of the schools. He lifts up the mind in a moment of time to perceive more reasons for eternal truth than a student might learn over books in ten years. He teaches without confusion of words, without the clashing of opinions, without the pride of reputation,—sine fastu honoris,—the contention of arguments. The concluding words are: "My eyes are unto Thee. My God, in Thee do I put my trust, O Thou Father of mercies. Accompany thy servant with Thy grace and direct him by the path of peace to the land of unending light—patriam perpetuae claritatis."
The plaintive minor key, the gently persuasive tone of the work are adapted to attract serious souls seeking the inner chamber of religious peace and purity of thought, but especially those who are under the shadow of pain and sorrow. The praise of Christ is so unstinted, and the dependence upon him so unaffected, that one cannot help but feel, in reading this book, that he is partaking of the essence of the Gospel. The work, however, presents only one side of the Christian life. It commends humility, submission, gentleness and the passive virtues. It does not emphasize the manly virtues of courage and loyalty to the truth, nor elaborate upon Christian activities to be done to our fellow-men. To fall in completely with the spirit of Thomas à Kempis, and to abide there, would mean to follow the best cloistral ideal of the Middle Ages, or rather of the fourteenth century. Its counsels and reflections were meant primarily for those who had made the convent their home, not for the busy traffickers in the marts of the world, and in association with men of all classes. It leans to quietism, and is calculated to promote personal piety for those who dwell much alone rather than to fit men for engaging in the public battles which fall to men’s usual lot. Its admonitions are adapted to help men to bear with patience rather than to rectify the evils in the world, to be silent rather than to speak to the throng, to live well in seclusion rather than set an example of manly and womanly endeavor in the shop, on the street and in the family. The charge has been made, and not without some ground, that the Imitation of Christ sets forth a selfish type of religion.518 Its soft words are fitted to quiet the soul and bring it to meek contentment rather than to stir up the combatant virtues of courage and of assistance to others. Its message corresponds to the soft glow of the summer evening, and not to the fresh hours filled with the rays of the morning sun. This plaintive note runs through Thomas’ hymns, as may be seen from a verse taken from "The Misery of this Life" :—
Most wonderful would it be
If one did not feel and lament
That in this world to live
Is toil, affliction, pain.519
Over the pages of the book is written the word Christ. It is for this reason that Protestants cherish it as well as Catholics. The references to mediaeval errors of doctrine or practice are so rare that it requires diligent search to find them. Such as they are, they are usually erased from English editions, so that the English reader misses them entirely. Thomas introduces the merit of good works, transubstantiation, IV. 2, the doctrine of purgatory, IV. 9, and the worship of saints, I. 13, II. 9, II. 6, 59. But these statements, however, are like the flecks on the marbles of the Parthenon.
The author, Thomas à Kempis, 1380–1471, was born in Kempen, a town 40 miles northwest of Cologne, and died at Zwolle, in the Netherlands. His paternal name was Hemerken or Hämmerlein, Little Hammer. He was a follower of Groote. In 1395, he was sent to the school of Deventer, under the charge of Florentius Radewyn and the Brothers of the Common Life. He became skilful as a copyist, and was thus enabled to support himself. Later he was admitted to the Augustinian convent of Mt. St. Agnes, near Zwolle, received priest’s orders, 1413, and was made sub-prior, 1429. His brother John, a man of rectitude of life, had been there before him, and was prior. Thomas’ life seems to have been a quiet one, devoted to meditation, composition and copying. He copied the Bible no less than four times, one of the copies being preserved at Darmstadt. His works abound in quotations of the New Testament. Under an old picture, which is represented as his portrait, are the words, "In all things I sought quiet, and found it not save in retirement and in books."520 They fit well the author of the famous Imitation of Christ, as the world thinks of him. He reached the high age of fourscore years and ten. A monument was dedicated to his memory in the presence of the archbishop of Utrecht in St. Michael’s Church Zwolle, Nov. 11, 1897. The writings of à Kempis, which are all of a devotional character, include tracts and meditations, letters, sermons, a Life of St. Lydewigis, a steadfast Christian woman who endured a great fight of afflictions, and the biographies of Groote, Florentius and nine of their companions. Works similar to the are his prolonged meditation upon the Incarnation, and a meditation on the Life and Blessings of the Saviour,521 both of which overflow with admiration for Christ.
In these writings the traces of mediaeval theology, though they are found, are not obtrusive. The writer followed his mediaeval predecessors in the worship of Mary, of whom he says, she is to be invoked by all Christians, especially by monastics.522 He prays to her as the "most merciful," the "most glorious" mother of God, and calls her the queen of heaven, the efficient mediatrix of the whole world, the joy and delight of all the saints, yea, the golden couch for all the saints. She is the chamber of God, the gate of heaven, the paradise of delights, the well of graces, the glory of the angels, the joy of men, the model of manners, the brightness of virtues, the lamp of life, the hope of the needy, the salvation of the weak, the mother of the orphaned. To her all should flee as sons to a mother’s bosom.523
From these tender praises of Mary it is pleasant to turn away to the code of twenty-three precepts which the Dutch mystic laid down under the title, A Small Alphabet for a Monk in the School of God.524 Here are some of them. Love to be unknown and to be reputed as nothing. Love solitude and silence, and thou wilt find great quiet and a good conscience. Where the crowd is, there is usually confusion and distraction of heart. Choose poverty and simplicity. Humble thyself in all things and under all things, and thou wilt merit kindness from all. Let Christ be thy life, thy reading, thy meditation, thy conversation, thy desire, thy gain, thy hope and thy reward. Zaccheus, brother, descend from the height of thy secular wisdom. Come and learn in God’s school the way of humility, long-suffering and patience, and Christ teaching thee, thou shalt come at last safely to the glory of eternal beatitude.
NOTE. – The Authorship of the Imitation of Christ. This question has been one of the most hotly contested questions in the history of pure literature. National sentiments have entered into the discussion, France and Italy contending for the honor of authorship with the Lowlands. The work is now quite generally ascribed to Thomas à Kempis, but among those who dissent from this opinion are scholars of rank.
Among the more recent treatments of the subject not given in the Literature, § 27, are V. Becker: L’auteur de l’Imitat. et les documents néerlandais, Hague, 1882. Also Les derniers travaux sur l’auteur de l’Imitat., Brussels, 1889.—Denifle: Krit. Bemerk. zur Gersen-Kempis Frage, Zeitung für kath. Theol., 1882 sq.—A. O. Spitzes: Th. à K. als schrijver der navolging, Utrecht, 1880. Also Nouvelle défense en réponse du Denifle, Utrecht, 1884.—L. Santini: I diritti di Tommaso da Kemp., 2 vols., Rome, 1879–1881.—F. X. Funk: Gerson und Gersen and Der Verfasser der Nachfolge Christi in his Abhandlungen, Paderborn, 1899, II. 373–444.—P. E. Puyol: Descript. bibliogr. des MSS. et des princip. edd. du livre de imitat., Paris, 1898. Also Paléographie, classement, généalogie du livre de imitat., Paris, 1898. Also L’auteur du livre de imitat., 2 vols., Paris, 1899.—Schulze’s art. in Herzog.—G. Kentenich: Die Handschriften der Imitat. und die Autorschaft des Thomas, in Brieger’s Zeitschrift, 1902, 18 sqq., 1903, 594 sqq.
Pohl gives a list of no less than 35 persons to whom with more or less confidence the authorship has been ascribed. The list includes the names of John Gerson, chancellor of the University of Paris; John Gersen, the reputed abbot of Vercelli, Italy, who lived about 1230; Walter Hylton, St. Bernard, Bonaventura, David of Augsburg, Tauler, Suso and even Innocent III. The only claimants worthy of consideration are Gerson, Gersen, and Thomas à Kempis, although Montmorency is inclined to advance the claim of Walter Hylton. The uncertainty arises from the facts (1) that a number of the MSS. and printed editions of the fifteenth century have no note of authorship; (2) the rest are divided between these, Gerson, Gersen, à Kempis, Hylton, and St. Bernard; (3) the MSS. copies show important divergencies. The matter has been made more difficult by the forgery of names and dates in MSS. since the controversy began, these forgeries being almost entirely in the interest of a French or Italian authorship. A reason for the absence of the author’s name in so many MSS. is found in the desire of à Kempis, if he indeed be the author, to remain incognito, in accordance with his own motto, ama nesciri, "love to be unknown."
Of the Latin editions belonging to the fifteenth century, Pohl gives 28 as accredited to Gerson, 12 to Thomas, 2 to St. Bernard, and 6 as anonymous. Or, to follow Funk, p. 426, 40 editions of that century were ascribed to Gerson, 11 to à Kempis, 2 to Bernard, 1 to Gersen, and 2 are anonymous. Spitzen gives 16 as ascribed to à Kempis. Most of the editions ascribing the work to Gerson were printed in France, the remaining editions being printed in Italy or Spain. The editions of the sixteenth century show a change, 37 Latin editions ascribing the authorship to à Kempis, and 25 to Gerson. As for the MSS. dated before 1460, and whose dates may be said to be reasonably above suspicion, all were written in Germany and the Lowlands. The oldest, included in a codex preserved since 1826 in the royal library of Brussels, probably belongs before 1420. The codex contains 9 other writings of à Kempis besides the Imitation, and contains the note, Finitus et completus MCCCCXLI per manus fratris Th. Kempensis in Monte S. Agnetis prope Zwollis (finished and completed, 1441, by the hands of brother Thomas à Kempis of Mount St. Agnes, near Zwolle). See Pohl, II. 461 sqq. So this is an autographic copy. The text of the Imitation, however, is written on older paper than the other documents, and has corrections which are found in a Dutch translation of the first book, dating from 1420. For these reasons, Funk, p. 424, and others, puts the MS. back to 1416–1420.
The literary controversy over the authorship began in 1604, when Dom Pedro Manriquez, in a work on the Lord’s Supper issued at Milan, and on the alleged basis of a quotation by Bonaventura, declared the Imitation to be older than that Schoolman. In 1606, Bellarmin, in his Descript. eccles., was more precise, and stated it was already in existence in 1260. About the same time, the Jesuit, Rossignoli, found in a convent at Arona, near Milan, a MS. without date, but bearing the name of an abbot, John Gersen, as its author; the house had belonged to the Benedictines once. In 1614 the Benedictine, Constantius Cajetan, secretary of Paul V., issued his Gersen restitutus at Rome, and later his Apparatus ad Gersenem restitutum, in which he defended the Italian’s claim. This individual was said to have been a Benedectine abbot of Vercelli, in Piedmont, in the first half of the thirteenth century. On the other hand, the Augustinian, Rosweyde, in his vindiciae Kempenses, Antwerp, 1617, so cogently defended the claims of à Kempis that Bellarmin withdrew his statement. In the nineteenth century the claims of Gersen were again urged by a Piedmontese nobleman, Gregory, in his Istoria della Vercellese letteratura, Turin, 1819, and subsequent publications, and by Wolfsgruber of Vienna in a scholarly work, 1880. But Hirsche and Funk are, no doubt, right in pronouncing the name Gersen a mistake for Gerson, and Funk, after careful criticism, declares the Italian abbot a fictitious personage. The most recent Engl. writer on the subject, Montmorency, p. xiii. says, "there is no evidence that there was ever an abbot of Vercelli by the name of Gersen."
The claims of John Gerson are of a substantial character, and France was not slow in coming to the chancellor’s defence. An examination of old MSS., made in Paris, had an uncertain issue, so that, in 1640, Richelieu’s splendid edition of the Imitation was sent forth without an author’s name. The French parliament, however, in 1652, ordered the book printed under the name of à Kempis. The matter was not settled and, at three gatherings, 1671, 1674, 1687, instituted by Mabillon, a fresh examination of MSS. was made, with the result that the case went against à Kempis. Later, Du Pin, after a comparison of Gerson’s writings with the Imitation, concluded that it was impossible to decide with certainty between these two writers and Gersen. (See his 2d ed. of Gerson’s Works, 1728, I. lix-lxxxiv) but in a special work. Amsterdam, 1706, he had decided in favor of the Dutchman. French editions of the Imitation continued to be issued under the name of Gerson, as, for example, those of Erhard-Mezler, 1724, and Vollardt, 1758. On the other hand, the Augustinian, Amort, defended the à Kempis authorship in his Informatio de statu controversiae, Augsburg, 1728, and especially in his Scutum Kempense, Cologne, 1728. After the unfavorable statement of Schwab, Life of Gerson, 1858, pp. 782–786, declaring that the Imitation is in an altogether different style from Gerson’s works, the theory of the Gerson authorship seemed to be finally abandoned. The first collected edition of Gerson’s Works, 1483, knows nothing about the Imitation. Nor did Gerson’s brother, prior of Lyons, mention it in the list he gave of the chancellor’s works, 1423. The author of the Imitation was, by his own statements, a monk, IV. 5, 11; III., 56. Gerson would have been obliged to change his usual habit of presentation to have written in the monastic tone.
After the question of authorship seemed to be pretty well settled in favor of à Kempis, another stage in the controversy was opened by the publications of Puyol in 1898, 1899. Puyol gives a description of 548 manuscripts, and makes a sharp distinction between those of Italian origin and other manuscripts. He also annotates the variations in 57, with the conclusion that the Italian text is the more simple, and consequently the older and original text. He himself based his edition on the text of Arona. Puyol is followed by Kentenich, and has been answered by Pohl and others.
Walter Hylton’s reputed authorship of the Imitation is based upon three books of that work, having gone under the name De musica ecclesiastica in MSS. in England and the persistent English tradition that Hylton was the author. Montmorency, pp. xiv, 138–170, while he pronounces the Hylton theory of authorship untenable, confesses his inability to explain it.
The arguments in favor of the à Kempis authorship, briefly stated, are as follows:—
1. External testimony. John Busch, in his Chronicon Windesemense, written 1464, seven years before à Kempis’ death, expressly states that à Kempis wrote the Imitation. To this testimony are to be added the testimonies of Caspar of Pforzheim, who made a German translation of the work, 1448; Hermann Rheyd, who met Thomas, 1454, and John Wessel, who was attracted to Windesheim by the book’s fame. For other testimonies, see Hirsche and Funk, pp. 432–436.
2. Manuscripts and editions. The number of extant MSS. is about 500. See Kentenich, p. 294. Funk, p. 420, gives 13 MSS. dated before 1500, ascribing the Imitation to à Kempis. The autograph copy, contained in the Brussels codex of 1441, has already been mentioned. It must be said, however, the conclusion reached by Hirsche, Pohl, Funk, Schulze and others that this text is autographic has been denied by Puyol and Kentenich, on the basis of its divergences from other copies, which they claim the author could not have made. A second autograph, in Louvaine (see Schulze, p. 730), seems to be nearly as old, 1420, and has the note scriptus manibus et characteribus Thomae qui est autor horum devotorum libellorum, "written by the hand of Thomas," etc. (Pohl, VI. 456 sq.). A third MS., stating that Thomas is the author, and preserved in Brussels, is dated 1425.—As for the printed editions of the fifteenth century, at least 13 present Thomas as the author, from the edition of Augsburg, 1472, to the editions of Paris, 1493, 1500.
3. Style and contents. These agree closely with à Kempis’ other writings, and the flow of thought is altogether similar to that of his Meditation on Christ’s Incarnation. Spitzen seems to have made it at least very probable that the author was acquainted with the writings of Ruysbroeck, John of Schoenhoven, and other mystics and monks of the Lowlands. Funk has brought out references to ecclesiastical customs which fit the book into the time between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Hirsche laid stress on Germanisms in the style.
Among recent German scholars, Denifle sets aside à Kempis’ claims and ascribes the work to some unknown canon regular of the Lowlands. Karl Müller, in a brief note, Kirchengesch., II. 122, and Loof’s Dogmengesch., 4th ed., p. 633, pronounce the à Kempis authorship more than doubtful. On the other hand, Schwab, Hirsche, Schulze and Funk agree that the claims of Thomas are almost beyond dispute. It is almost impossible to give a reason why the Imitation should have been ascribed to the Dutch mystic, if he were not indeed its author. The explanation given by Kentenich, p. 603, seems to be utterly insufficient.
§ 36. The German Theology.
The evangelical teachings of the little book, known as The German Theology, led Ullmann to place its author in the list of the Reformers before the Reformation.525 The author was one of the Friends of God, and no writing issuing from that circle has had a more honorable and useful career. Together with the Imitation of Christ, it has been the most profitable of the writings of the German mystics. Its fame is derived from Luther’s high praise as much as from its own excellent contents. The Reformer issued two editions of it, 1516, with a partial text, and 1518, in the second edition giving it the name which remains with it to this day, Ein Deutsch Theologia — A German treatise of Theology.526 Luther designated as its author a Frankfurt priest, a Teutonic knight, but for a time it was ascribed to Tauler. The Preface of the oldest MS., dated 1497, and found in 1850, made this view impossible, for Tauler is himself quoted in ch. XIII. Here the author is called a Frankfurt priest and a true Friend of God.
Luther announced his high obligation to the teachings of the manual of the way of salvation when he said that next to the Bible and St. Augustine, no book had come into his hands from which he had learnt more of what God and man and all things are and would wish to learn more. The author, he affirmed, was a pure Israelite who did not take the foam from the surface, but drew from the bed of the Jordan. Here, he continued, the teachings of the Scriptures are set forth as plain as day which have been lying under the desk of the universities, nay, have almost been left to rot in dust and muck. With his usual patriotism, he declared that in the book he had found Christ in the German tongue as he and the other German theologians had never found him in Greek, Latin or Hebrew.
The German Theology sets forth man’s sinful and helpless condition, Christ’s perfection and mediatorial work and calls upon men to have access to God through him as the door. In all its fifty-four chapters no reference is made to Mary or to the justifying nature of good works or the merit of sacramental observances.527 It abounds as no other writing of the German mystics did in quotations from the New Testament. In its pages the wayfaring man may find the path of salvation marked out without mystification.
The book, starting out with the words of St. Paul, "when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away," declares that that which is imperfect has only a relative existence and that, whenever the Perfect becomes known by the creature, then "the I, the Self and the like must all be given up and done away." Christ shows us the way by having taken on him human nature. In chs. XV.-LIV., it shows that all men are dead in Adam, and that to come to the perfect life, the old man must die and the new man be born. He must become possessed with God and depossessed of the devil. Obedience is the prime requisite of the new manhood. Sin is disobedience, and the more "of Self and Me, the more of sin and wickedness and the more the Self, the I, the Me, the Mine, that is, self-seeking and selfishness, abate in a man, the more doth God’s I, that is, God Himself, increase." By obedience we become free. The life of Christ is the perfect model, and we follow him by hearkening unto his words to forsake all. This is nothing else than saying that we must be in union with the divine will and be ready either to do or to suffer. Such a man, a man who is a partaker of the divine nature, will in sincerity love all men and things, do them good and take pleasure in their welfare. Knowledge and light profit nothing without love. Love maketh a man one with God. The last word is that no man can come unto the Father but by Christ.
In 1621 the Catholic Church placed the Theologia Germanica on the Index. If all the volumes listed in that catalogue of forbidden books were like this one, making the way of salvation plain, its pages would be illuminated with ineffable light.528
§ 37. English Mystics.
England, in the fourteenth century, produced devotional writings which have been classed in the literature of mysticism. They are wanting in the transcendental flights of the German mystics, and are, for the most part, marked by a decided practical tendency.
The Ancren Riwle was written for three sisters who lived as anchoresses at Tarrant Kaines, Dorsetshire.529 It was the custom in their day in England for women living a recluse life to build a room against the wall of some church or a small structure in a churchyard and in such a way that it had windows, but no doors of egress. This little book of religious counsels was written at the request of the sisters, and is usually ascribed to Simon of Ghent, bishop of Salisbury, d. 1315. The author gives two general directions, namely, to keep the heart "smooth and without any scar of evil," and to practise bodily discipline, which "serveth the first end, and of which Paul said that it profiteth little." The first is the lady, the second the handmaid. If asked to what order they belonged, the sisters were instructed to say to the Order of St. James, for James said, "Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep one’s self unspotted from the world." It is interesting to note that they are bidden to have warm clothes for bed and back, and to wash "as often as they please." They were forbidden to lash themselves with a leathern thong, or one loaded with lead except at the advice of their confessor. Richard Rolle, d. 1349, the author of a number of devotional treatises, and also translations or paraphrases of the Psalms, Job, the Canticles and Jeremiah, suddenly left Oxford, where he was pursuing his studies, discontented with the scholastic method in vogue at the university, and finally settled down as a hermit at Hampole, near Doncaster. Here he attained a high fame for piety and as a worker of miracles. He wrote in Latin and English, his chief works being the Latin treatises, The Emendation of Life and The Fervor of Love. They were translated in 1434, 1435, by Rich Misyn. His works are extant in many manuscript copies. Rolle exalted the contemplative life, indulged in much dreamy religious speculation, but also denounced the vice and worldliness of his time. In the last state of the contemplative life he represents man as "seeing into heaven with his ghostly eye."530
Juliana of Norwich, who died 1443, as it is said, at the age of 100, was also an anchoress, having her cell in the churchyard of St. Julian’s church, Norwich. She received 16 revelations, the first in 1373, when she was 30 years old. At that time, she saw "God in a point." She laid stress upon love, and presented the joyful aspect of religion. God revealed Himself to her in three properties, life, light and love. Her account of her revelations is pronounced by Inge "a fragrant little book."531
The Ladder of Perfection, written by Walter Hylton, an Augustinian canon of Thurgarton, Nottinghamshire, who died 1396,532 depicts the different stages of spiritual attainment from the simple knowledge of the facts of religion, which is likened to the water of Cana which must be turned into wine, to the last stages of contemplation and divine union. There is no great excellency, Hylton says, "in watching and fasting till thy head aches, nor in running to Rome or Jerusalem with bare feet, nor in building churches and hospitals." But it is a sign of excellency if a man can love a sinner, while hating the sin. Those who are not content with merely saving their souls, but go on to the higher degrees of contemplation, are overcome by "a good darkness," a state in which the soul is free and not distracted by anything earthly. The light then arises little by little. Flashes come through the chinks in the walls of Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is not reached by a bound. There must be transformation, and the power that transforms is the love of God shed abroad in the soul. Love proceeds from knowledge, and the more God is known, the more is He loved. Hylton’s wide reputation is proved by the ascription of Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation to him and its identification in manuscripts with his De musica ecclesiastica.533
These writings, if we except Rolle, betray much of that sobriety of temper which characterizes the English religious thought. They contain no flights of hazy mystification and no rapturous outbursts of passionate feeling. They emphasize features common to all the mystics of the later Middle Ages, the gradual transformation through the power of love into the image of God, and ascent through inward contemplation to full fellowship with Him. They show that the principles of the imitation of Christ were understood on the English side of the channel as well as by the mystics of the Lowlands, and that true godliness is to be reached in another way than by the mere practice of sacramental rites.
These English pietists are to be regarded, however, as isolated figures who, so far as we know, had no influence in preparing the soil for the seed of the Reformation that was to come, as had the Pietists who lived along the Rhine.534
* Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997. This material has been carefully compared, corrected¸ and emended (according to the 1910 edition of Charles Scribner's Sons) by The Electronic Bible Society, Dallas, TX, 1998.
427 See Inge, Engl. Mystics, p. 37. This author, in his Christian Mysticism, p. 5, gives the definition that mysticism is "the attempt to realize in the thought and feeling the immanence of the temporal in the eternal and of the eternal in the temporal." His statements in another place, The Inner Way, pp. xx-xxii, are more simple and illuminating. The mystical theology is that knowledge of God and of divine things which is derived not from observation or from argument but from conscious experience. The difficulty of giving a precise definition of mysticism is seen in the definitions Inge cites, Christian Mysticism, Appendix A. Comp. Deutsch, p. 632 sq
428 It is quite in keeping with this contrast that Pfleiderer, in his Religionsphilosophie, excludes the German mystics from a place in the history of German philosophy on the ground that their thinking was not distinctly systematic. He, however, gives a brief statement to Eckart, but excludes Jacob Boehme.
429 Dogmengesch., p. 631.
430 Nicoll, Garden of Nuts, p. 31, says, "We study the mystics to learn from them. It need not be disguised that there are great difficulties in the way. The mystics are the most individual of writers," etc.
431 See Preger, I. 8, and Ullmann, Reformatoren, II. 203. Harnack goes far when he denies all originality to the German mystics. Of Eckart he says, Dogmengesch. III. 378, "I give no extracts from his writings because I do not wish to seem to countenance the error that the German mystics expressed anything we cannot read in Origen, Plotinus, the Areopagite, Augustine, Erigena, Bernard and Thomas Aquinas, or that they represented a stage of religious progress." The message they announced was certainly a fresh one to their generation, even if all they said bad been said before. They spoke from the living sources of their own spiritual experience. They were not imitators. Harnack, however, goes on to give credit to the German mystics for fulfilling a mission when he says they are of invaluable worth for the history of doctrine and the church history of Germany. In the same connection he denies the distinction between mysticism and scholastic theology." Mysticism," he asserts, "cannot exist in the Protestant Church, and the Protestant who is a mystic and does not become a Roman Catholic is a dilettante." This condemnation is based upon the untenable premise that mysticism is essentially conventual, excluding sane intellectual criticism and a practical out-of-doors Christianity.
432 Eckart’s name is written in almost every conceivable way in the documents. See Büttner, p. xxii, as Eckardus, Eccardus, Egghardus; Deutsch and Delacroix, Eckart; Pfeiffer, Preger, Inge and Langenberg, Eckhart; Denifle and Büttner, Eckehart. His writings give us scarcely a single clew to his fortunes. Quiétif-Echard was the first to lift the veil from portions of his career. See Preger, I. 325.
433 Deutsch, Herzog, V. 149, says that parts of Eckart’s sermons might serve as models of German style to-day.
434 Flacius Illyricus includes the second Mechthild in his Catal. veritatis. For the lives of these women and the editions of their works, see Preger, I. 71-132, and the artt. of Deutsch and Zöckler in Herzog. Some of the elder Mechthild’s predictions and descriptions seem to have been used by Dante. See Preger, p. 103 sq. Mechthild v. Magdeburg: D. fliessende Licht der Gottheit, Berlin, 1907.
435 Die sieben Vorregeln der Tugend andder Spiegel der Tugend, both given by Pfeiffer, together with other tracts, the genuineness of some of which is doubted. See Preger, I. 268-283, and Lempp in Herzog, IV. 503 sq.
436 Denifle, Archiv, etc., II. 240, 529.
437 Till the investigations of Denifle, his place of birth was usually given as Strassburg. See Denifle, p. 355.
438 Ego magister Ekardus, doctor sac. theol., protestor ante omnia, quod omnem errorem in fide et omnem deformitatem in moribus semper in quantum mihi possibile fuit, sum detestatus, etc. Preger, I. 475-478. Preger, I. 471 sqq., gives the Latin text of Eckart’s statement of Jan. 24, 1327, before the archiepiscopal court, his public statement of innocence in the Dominican church and the document containing the court’s refusal to allow his appeal to Rome.
439 The 26 articles, as Denifle has shown, were based upon Eckart’s Latin writings. John’s bull is given by Preger, I. 479-482, and by Denifle, Archiv, II. 636-640. Preger, I. 365 sqq., Delacroix, p. 238 and Deutsch, V. 145, insist that Eckart made no specific recantation. The pope’s reference must have been to the statement Eckart made in the Dominican church, which contained the words, "I will amend and revoke in general and in detail, as often as may be found opportune, whatever is discovered to have a less wholesome sense, intellectum minus sane.
440 Büttner, p. 14; Pfeiffer, p. 192, etc.
441 Pfeiffer, 216.
442 p. 384.
443 Denifle lays down the proposition that Eckart is above all a Schoolman, and that whatever there is of good in him is drawn from Thomas Aquinas. These conclusions are based upon Eckart’s Latin writings. Deutsch, V. 15, says that the form of Eckart’s thought in the Latin writings is scholastic, but the heart is mystical. Delacroix, p. 277 sqq., denies that Eckart was a scholastic and followed Thomas. Wetzer-Welte, IV. 11, deplores as Eckart’s defect that he departed from "the solid theology of Scholasticism" and took up Neo-Platonic vagaries. If Eckart had been a servile follower of Thomas, it is hard to understand how he should have laid himself open in 28 propositions to condemnation for heresy.
444 Harnack and, in a modified way, Delacroix and Loofs, regard Eckart’s theology as a reproduction of Erigena, Dionysius and Plotinus. Delacroix, p. 240, says, sur tous les points essentiels, il est d’accord avec Plotin et Proclus. But, in another place, p. 260, he says Eckart took from Neo-Platonism certain leading conceptions and "elaborated, transformed and transmuted them." Loofs, p. 630, somewhat ambiguously says, Die ganze Eckehartsche Mystik ist verständlich als eine Erfassung der thomistischen und augustinischen Tradition unter dem Gesichtswinkel des Areopagiten.
445 Pfeiffer, pp. 254, 540.
446 Pfeiffer, p. 268. The following page is an instance of Eckart’s abstruseness in definition. He says God’s einveltigin Natur ist von Formen formelos, von Werdenen werdelos, von Wesenen weselos und ist von Sachen sachelos. Pfeiffer, p. 497.
447 Pfeiffer, pp. 282, 311, 579.
448 In dem Vater sind Bilde allerCreaturen, Pfeiffer, pp. 269, 285, etc.
449 Die Seele in ihrem Grunde ist so unsprechlich als Gott unsprechlich ist. Pfeiffer, p. 89.
450 pp. 39, 113, 193, 286, etc. Pfleiderer, p. 6, calls this the soul’s spirit,—der Geist der Seele,—and Deutsch, p. 152, der innerst Seelengrund.
451 pp. 113, 152, 286 487, 530.
452 Die Edelkeit der Seele, Von der Würdgkeit der Seele, Von dem Adel der Seele. Pfeiffer, pp. 382-448.
453 p. 540.
454 pp. 158, 207, 285, 345.
455 pp. 44, 478-488.
456 Pfeiffer, p. 139.
457 Hier ist Gottes Grund mein Grund und mein Grund Gottes Grund. Hier lebe ich aus meinem Eigenen, wie Gott aus seinem Eigenen lebt. Büttner, p. 100
458 Lautere, alles Erschaffenen ledige Abgeschiedenheit. For the sermon, see Büttner, p 9 sqq.
459 Pfeiffer, II. 484.
460 Pfeiffer, pp. 27, 32, 479 sq., 547 sq.
461 Pfeiffer, II. 546, 564, 633, Niht endienent unserin were dar zuo dass uns Got iht gebe oder tuo.
462 Es geht ein Geist evangelischer Freiheit durch Eckart’s Sittenlehre welcher zugleich ein Geist der Freudigkeit ist, Preger, I. 452. See the sermon on Mary, Pfeiffer, pp. 47-53. Also pp. 18-21, 607.
463 Das Auge das da inne ich Gott sehe, das ist selbe Auge da inne mich Gott sieht. Mein Auge und Gottes Auge, das ist ein Auge, und ein Erkennen und ein Gesicht und ein Minnen, Pfeiffer, p. 312.
464 This is well expressed by Lasson in Ueberweg, I. 471. Inge says, p. 150, Eckart’s transparent honesty and his great power of thought, combined with deep devoutness and purity of soul, make him one of the most interesting figures in the history of Christian philosophy.
465 Pfeiffer, II. 155, 390.
466 p. 7. Preger concludes his treatment of Eckart by saying, I. 458, that it was he who really laid the foundations of Christian philosophy. Er erst hat die christliche Philosophie eigentlich begründet.
467 Preger, III. 131. The oldest Strassburg MS. entitles Tauler erluhtete begnodete Lerer. See Schmidt, p. 159. Preger, III. 93, gives the names of a number of persons by the name of Taweler, or Tawler, living in Strassburg.
468 Christina wrote a book entitled Von der Gnaden Ueberlast, giving an account of the tense life led by the sisters in her convent. She declared that the Holy Spirit played on Tauler’s heart as upon a lute, and that it had been revealed to her in a vision that his fervid tongue would set the earth on fire. See Strauch’s art. in Herzog, V. 129 sq. Also Preger, II. 247-251, 277 sqq.
469 Specklin, the Strassburg chronicler, says Tauler spoke "in clear tones, with real fervor. His aim was to bring men to feel the nothingness of the world. He condemned clerics as well as laymen."
470 A translation of the book is given by Miss Winkworth, pp. 1-73. It calls Tattler’s monitor der grosse Gottesfreund im Oberlande. See § 32.
471 One of the sermons, bringing out the influence of the Spirit, based on John 16:7-11, is quoted at length by Archdeacon Hare in his Mission of the Comforter. See also Miss Winkworth, pp. 350 358.
472 Inner Way, pp. 81, 113, 128, 130.
473 Miss Winkworth, pp. 353, 475, etc.
474 Inner Way, p. 200. Miss Winkworth, pp. 345, 360 sqq.
475 Preger, III. 132; Miss Winkworth, p. 348.
476 Preger, III. 131; Miss Winkworth, p. 355.
477 Köstlin, Life of M. Luther, I. 117 sq., 126. Melanchthon, in the Preface to the Franf. ed. of Tauler said: "Among the moderns, Tauler is easily the first. I hear, however, that there are some who dare to deny the Christian teaching of this, highly esteemed man." Beza was of a different mind, and called Tauler a visionary. See Schmidt, p. 160. Preger, III. 194, goes so far as to say that Tauler clearly taught the evangelical doctrine of justification.
478 The Inner Way, p. 57 sqq. 77 sqq.
479 Bihlmeyer, p. 65, decides for 1295 as the probable date of Suso’s birth. Other writers put it forward to 1300.
480 It contains 53 chapters. Diepenbrock’s ed., pp. 137-306; Bihlmeyer’s ed., pp. 1-195. Diepenbrock’s edition has the advantage for the modern reader of being transmuted into modern German.
481 A translation of these definitions is given by Inge, in Light,Life and Love, pp. 66-82..
482 Suso made a revision of his work in Latin under the title Horologium eternoe sapientiae, a copy of which Tauler seems to have had in his possession. Preger, II. 324
483 Bihlmeyer’s ed., p. 13.
484 Autobiog., ch. XIV, Bihlmeyer’s, ed., p. 38
485 Von der ewigen Weisheit, Bihlmeyer’s ed., p. 296 sq.
486 Preger, III. 370; Strauch, p. 205.
487 See Rulman Merswin’s condemnation of the Beguines and Beghards in the Nine Rocks, chs. XIII., XIV.
488 As printed by Preger, III. 417 sq.
489 See the last chapter of R. Merswin’s Nine Rocks.
490 The two leading writings are Das Buch ron den zwei Mannen, an account of the first five years immediately succeeding the author’s conversion, and given in Schmidt’s Nic. von Basel, pp. 205-277, and Das Buch von den fünf Mannen, in which the Oberlander gives an account of his own life and the lives of his friends. For the full list of the writings, see Preger, III. 270 sqq., and Strauch, p. 209 sqq.
491 See Preger, III. 349 sqq. C. Schmidt gives the test, as does also Diepenbrock, H Suso, pp. 505-572
492 l Strauch, p. 208, and others regard Merswin’s works as in large part compilations from Tauler and other writers. Strauch pronounces their contents garrulous—geschwätzig. The Nine Rocks used to be printed with Suso’s works. Merswin’s authorship was established by Schmidt.
493 Rulman hat den Gottesfreund einfach erfunden. Strauch, p. 217.
494 Preger and Schmidt are the chief spokesmen for the historic personality of the man from the Oberland. Rieder has recently relieved Rulman from the stain of forgery, and placed the responsibility upon Nicolas of Löwen, who entered das grüne Wört in 1366. The palaeographic consideration is emphasized, that is, the resemblance between Nicolas’ handwriting and the script of the reputed Oberlander.
495 The extent to which Eckart influenced the mystics of the Lowlands is a matter of dispute. The clergy strove to keep his works from circulation. Langenberg, p. 181, quotes Gerherd Zerbold von Zütphen’s, d. 1398, tract, De libris Teutonicalibus which takes the position that, while wholesome books might be read in the vulgar tongue, Eckart’s works and sermons were exceedingly pernicious, and not to be read by the laity. Langenberg, pp. 184-204, gives descriptions and excerpts from four MSS. of Eckart’s writings in Low German, copied in the convent of Nazareth, near Bredevoorde, and now preserved in the royal library of Berlin, but they do not give Eckart as the author.
496 Engelhardt, pp. 265-297, gives a full statement of the controversy. For Gerson’s letters to Bartholomew and Schoenhofen and Schoenhofen’s letter, see Du Pin, Works of Gerson, pp. 29-82. Maeterlinck, p. 4, refers to the difficulty certain passages in Ruysbroeck’s writings offer to the interpreter.
497 I have followed the German text given by Lambert, pp. 3-160. Selections, well translated into English, are given in Light, Life and Love.
498 See Lambert, pp. 62, 63, etc.
499 Quoted by Galle, pp. 184-224.
500 See Grube, Gerh. Groot, p. 9; Langenberg, p. ix; Pastor, I. 150. The Latin titles of the brotherhood were fratres vitae communis, fratres modernae devotionis, fratres bonae voluntatis, with reference to Luke 11:14, and fratres collationari with reference to their habit of preaching. Groote’s name is spelled Geert de Groote, Gherd de Groet (Langenberg, p. 3), Gerhard Groot (Grube), etc.
501 The title, hammer of the heretics,—malleus hereticorum,—was applied to him for his defence of the orthodox teaching. For the application of this expression, see Hansen, Gesch. des Hexenwahns, p. 361. On Groote’s fame as a preacher, see Grube, p. 14 sqq., 23. Thomas à Kempis vouches for Groote’s popularity as a preacher. See Kettlewell, I. 130-134. Among his published sermons is one against the concubinage of the clergy—de focaristis. For a list of his printed discourses, see Herzog, VII., 692 sqq., and Langenberg, p. 35 sqq.
502 See Grube, p. 88, and Schulze, p. 492 sqq., who gives a succinct history of 18 German houses and 20 houses in the Lowlands. The last to be established was at Cambray, 1505.
503 Writing of Radewyn, Thomas à Kempis, Vita Florentii, ch. XIV., says that work was most profitable to spiritual advancement, and adapted to hold in check the lusts of the flesh. One brother who was found after his death to be in possession of some money, was denied prayer at his burial.
504 Uhlhorn, p. 373, gives the case of such an objector, a certain man by the name of Ketel of Deventer. Also Langenberg, p. x.
505 See Schmid, Gesch. d. Erziehung vom Anfang his auf unsere Zeit, Stuttgart, 1892, II. 164-167; Hirsche in Herzog, II 759; Pastor’s high tribute, I. 152; and Langenberg, p. ix.
506 Kettlewell, I. 111.
507 Thos. à Kempis, Vita Gerard. XVIII. 11; Kettlewell I. 166. A life of a cleric he declared to be the people’s Gospel—vita clerici evangelium populi.
508 See Langenberg, p. 51.
509 See Ullman, II. 82, 115 sq. Schulze, p. 190, is not so clear on this point. Kettlewell, II. 440 says that the Brothers were "the chief agents in pioneering the way for the Reformation."
510 See Langenberg. The poem he gives on the dance, 68 sqq., begins—
Hyr na volget eyn lere schone
Teghen dantzen unde van den meybome.
Here follows a nice teaching against dancing and the May tree. One reason given against dancing was that the dancers stretched out their arms, and so showed disrespect to Christ, who stretched out his arms on the cross. One of the documents is a letter in which a monk warns his niece, who had gone astray, against displays of dress and bold gestures, intended to attract the attention of young men, especially on the Cathedral Square. With the letter he sent his niece a book of devotional literature.
511 Van der Hardt, Conc. Const., III. 107-121, gives Grabon’s charges, the judgments of D’Ailly and Gerson and the text of Grabon’s retraction.
512 De Wette, Luther’s Letters, Nos. 1448, 1449, vol. IV., pp. 358 sqq.
513 Art. The Worldly Wisdom of Thos. à Kempis, in Dublin Review, 1908, pp. 262-287.
514 System. Theol., I. 79. For Gladstone’s judgment, see Morley, II. 186. Butler, p. 191, gives a list of 33 English translations from 1502-1900. De Quincey said: "The book came forward in answer to the sighing of Christian Europe for light from heaven. Excepting the Bible in Protestant lands, no book known to man has had the same distinction. It is the most marvellous biblical fact on record." Quoted by Kettlewell, I.
515 Backer, in his Essai bibliogr., enumerates 545 Latin editions, and about 900 editions in French. There are more than 50 editions belonging to the fifteenth century. See Funk, p. 426. The Bullingen collection, donated to the city library of Cologne, 1838, contained at the time of the gift 400 different edd. Montmorenci, p. xxii sq., gives the dates of 29 edd., 1471-1503, with places of issue.
516 Corneille produced a poetical translation in French, 1651. A polyglot edition appeared at Sulzbach, 1837, comprising the Latin text and translations in Italian, French, German, Greek and English.
517 Hirsche discovered the rhythm and made it known, 1874.
518 This is Milman’s judgment. Hist. of Lat. Christ., Bk. XIV., 3, Milman said, "The book’s sole, single, exclusive object is the purification, the elevation of the individual soul, of the man absolutely isolated from his kind, of the man dwelling alone in the heritage of his thoughts."
519 Mirum est, si non lugeat
Experimento qui probat
Quod vivere in soeculo
Labor, dolor, afflictio.
Blume and Dreves: Analecta hymnica, XLVIII. 503. Thomas à Kempis’ hymns are given Blume and Dreves, XLVIII. 475-514.
520 In omnibus requiem quaesivi et non inveni nisi in een huechsken met een buexken. Franciscus Tolensis is the first to ascribe the portrait to à Kempis. Kettlewell’s statements about à Kempis’ active religious services are imaginary, I. 31, 322, etc. See Lindsay’s statement, Enc. Brit., XIV. 32.
521 Pohl’s ed., II. 1-59; V. 1-363.
522 De disciplina claustralium, Pohl’s ed., II. 313. For prayers to Mary III. 355-368 and sermons on Mary, VI. 218-238.
523 Pohl, III. 357; VI. 219, 235 sq.
524 III. 317-322.
525 The best German ed., Stuttgart, 1858. The text is taken from Pfeiffer’s ed., Strassburg, 1851, 3d ed. unchanged; Gütersloh, 1875, containing Luther’s Preface of 1518 and the Preface of Joh. Arndt, 1632. Pfeiffer used the MS. dated 1497, the oldest in existence. The best Engl. trans., by Susannah Winkworth, from Pfeiffer’s text, London, 1854, Andover, 1856. The Andover ed. contains an Introd. by Miss Winkworth, a Letter from Chevalier Bunsen and Prefaces by Canon Kingsley and Prof. Calvin E. Stowe.
526 Luther’s full title in the edition. of 1518 is Ein Deutsch Theologia, das ist ein edles Büchlein vom rechten Verstande was Adam und Christus sei und wie Adam in uns sterben und Christus in uns erstehen soll. A German theology, that is, a right noble little book about the right comprehension of what Adam and Christ are, and how Adam is to die in us and Christ is to arise. Cohrs in Herzog, XIX. 626, mentions 28 editions as having appeared in High German previous to 1742. Luther’s Prefaces are given in the Weimar ed. of his Works, pp. 153, 376-378.
527 Dr. Calvin E. Stowe said "the book sets forth the essential principle of the Gospel in its naked simplicity," Winkworth’s ed., p. v.
528 Stöckl and other Catholics, though not all, are bitter against the Theologia and charge it with pantheism. Bunsen ranked it next to the Bible. Winkworth’s ed., p. liv.
529 The Ancren Riwle, ed. by J. Morton, Camden series, London, 1853. See W. R. Inge, Studies in Engl. Mystics, London. 1906. p. 38 sqq.
530 C. Horstman, Richard Rolle of Hampole, 2 vols. The Early Engl. Text Soc. publ. the Engl. versions of Misyn, 1896. G. G. Perry edited his liturgy in the vol. giving the York Breviary, Surtees Soc. The poem, Pricke of Conscience, was issued by H. B. Bramley, Oxford, 1884. See Stephen, Dict. Natl. Biog. XLIX. 164-165.
531 The Revelations of Divine Love has been ed. by R. F. S. Cressy, London, 1670, reprinted 1843; by H. Collins, London, 1817, and by Grace Warrack. 3d ed. Lond., 1909. See Inge and Dict. of Natl. Biog.
532 Written in English, the Ladder was translated by the Carmelite friar, Thomas Fyslawe, into Latin. Hylton’s death is also put in 1433.
533 The Ladder of Perfection was printed 1494, 1506, and has been recently ed. by R. E. Guy, London, 1869, and J. B. Dalgairns, London, 1870. See Inge, pp. 81-124; Montmorency, Thomas à Kempis, etc., pp. 138-174; and Dict. of Natl. Biog., XXVI. 435 sqq.
534 Montmorency, p. 69, makes a remark for which, so far as I know, there is no corroborative testimony in the writings of the English Reformers, that "in this English mystical movement—of which a vast unprinted literature survives—is to be found the origin of Lollardism and of the Reformation in England."