Vol. 6, Chapter IV. The German Mystics

27. Sources and Literature

General Works. — *Franz Pfeiffer: Deutsche Mystiker, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1857, 2d ed of vol. I., Goettingen, 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 For a long time the chief English authority, offensive by the dialogue style it pursues, and now superseded.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. Bluethezeit 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 fuer Lit. und Kirchengesch., II. 416-652. Gives excerpts from his Latin writings. — F. Jostes: M. Eckehart und seine Juenger, ungedruckte Texte zur Gesch. der deutschen Mystik, Freiburg, 1895. — *H. Buettner: M. Eckehart’s Schriften und Predigten aus dem Mittelhochdeutschen uebersetzt, Leipzig, 1903. Gives 18 German sermons and writings. — G. Landauer: Eckhart’s mystische Schriften in unsere Sprache uebertragen, 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 fuer Lit. und K. Gesch. des M. A., V. 349-364, 1889. — Stoeckl: 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. Jahrbuecher, Heft 3, 1904. — See a trans. of Eckart’s sermon on Joh_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, Muenster, 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. Goerres. — 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. Kaercher: H. Suso aus d. Predigerorden, in Freiburger Dioecesenarchiv, 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, Beitraege zu den Theol. Wissenschaften, V., Jena, 1854. — His Bannerbuechlein 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 ausgewaehlte 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 hoechsten 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 Brueder des Gemainsamen Lebens im Lichtenhofe zu Hildesheim, eine Grundlage der Gesch. d. deutschen Bruederhaeuser und ein Beitrag zur Vorgesch. der Reformation, Fuerstenwalde, 1905. — The art. 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. Liebesthaetigkeit 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); Nuermberg, 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. a 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. 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. As Loofs has well said, German mysticism emphasized above all dogmas and all external works the necessity of the new birth. 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.

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 Mat_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. 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. 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. 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.

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 them 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” (Son_3:11), 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. 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. 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.

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.

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.

The following is a resumé of a sermon on Joh_6:44, “No man can come unto me except the Father draw him.” 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,“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. 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.

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. 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.

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. 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.”

As for the soul, it can be as little comprehended in a definition as God Himself. The soul’s kernel, or its ultimate essence, is the little spark, Fünkelein, a light which never goes out which is uncreated and uncreatable. 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 so it must first die to itself, that is, completely submit itself to God. 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. 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. 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.

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. 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. 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. 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, 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.

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.”

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. 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.

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.” 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. 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.” 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.” 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.