Vol. 6, Chapter IV (Cont’d) – John Tauler of Strassburg

30.  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.” 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. 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. He was a practical every-day preacher 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. 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, Mat_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. 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. As for good works, if done apart from Christ, they are of no avail. Tauler often quoted the words of Isa_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. 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. 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. 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.” 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. 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. 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. Said Tauler, 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. 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, and works on The Eternal Wisdom — Buechlein von der ewigen Weisheit — and the Truth — Buechlein 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. 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, 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,” 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 toedtet 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. 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.” 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, 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 Joh_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. A letter written by a Friend to another Friend 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. 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. 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 Strassburg, 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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,” 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.”