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1. On the History of Piety.
What was germinating in the twelfth century, the century of the Crusades — namely, the piety of which Bernard was the subject and delineator, which derives its power from humility before God and from love to the sorely suffering Redeemer — opened into blossom in the holy beggar of Assisi, and “its fragrance filled the world.” In Francis mediæval piety attained its clearest and most forcible expression. In him it uttered itself most simply, and therefore most powerfully and most impressively, because its chord — “humility, love and obedience” — was here struck with the greatest purity, while the quality of tone which Francis lent to it was the most melting.157157Müller, Die Anfänge des Minoritenordens und der Bussbruderschaften, 1885 Sabatier, Leben des h. Franz v. Assisi, German by M. L., 1895 R. Mariano, Francesco d’Assisi e alcuni dei suoi più recenti biografi. Napoli, 1896. Mariano brings a sharp, and in many respects well-deserved, criticism to hear on the work of Sabatier, which is captivatingly written and instructive, but, after the style of Renan, mingles confusedly past and present, religion and poetry. Mariano has made a substantial contribution to the estimation of St. Francis, by correcting the partly rhetorical, partly material, exaggerations of Sabatier. An excellent lecture, taking a survey of all the principal points, has been published recently by Hegler “Franciskus von Assisi und die Gründung des Franciskanerordens” (Zeitschr. f. Theol. u. K. 6 Bd. p. 395 ff.
Humility — that is entire poverty. The reverence for that which is beneath us, which Bernard and his followers proclaimed, admits of no other robe than that of perfect poverty and humility. Long ago no doubt, nay, on from the beginning, Greek monks had striven after this ideal; but in their hands it became a torch, which consumed, along with the body, the imagination also, the powers of perception, and the wealth of the inner life. It was to be the means of emancipation from the body; but often enough it made a wilderness of the spirit. Here, on the other hand, it is the imitation of the poor life of Jesus, and while it thus acquired a personal ideal, it also developed out of itself, in the inexhaustibly fresh imagination of 86St. Francis, a wealth of intuitions from which all provinces of the outer and inner life derived profit. A spirited investigator has shown us what effects were produced by St. Francis in the field of art.158158Thode, Franciskus v. Assisi und die Anfänge der Kunst der Renaissance 1885. But in all spheres of human life, even including that of strict science, the new impulse took effect — the godly fear which gives honour to God alone, the living view of Christ, which brought the personal into the foreground, the holy simplicity which shed its light into the heart and over the world. In the sunny soul of the sacred singer of Assisi, the troubadour of God (“joculator domini”) and of poverty, the world mirrored itself, not as merely the struggle for existence, or the realm of the devil, but as the paradise of God with our brothers and sisters, the sun, the moon and the stars, the wind and the water, the flowers and the living creatures. In poverty, which is nothing else but sister of the humility by which the soul becomes like the eye, which sees everything save only itself, a new organ was obtained for contemplating God and the world. But poverty is not only imitation of the poor life of Jesus, it is also, nay pre-eminently, imitation of the apostolic life, the life without care, of “the pilgrim preacher and herald of love.” The oldest rule of St. Francis presented this ideal with the utmost clearness, and created the joyous, devout Franciscan “family.”159159See Müller, l.c. pp. 19. ff., 185 ff.
With the spirit of which poverty and humility are the evidence, love must unite itself. Going forth in pairs, the new Apostles must serve in lowly love; there is no work for which they must hold themselves too feeble; “for the love of Jesus Christ” they must “expose themselves to enemies, both visible and invisible”; according to the Sermon on the Mount, they must willingly suffer wrong; above all, wherever they come, in house and hall, they must render to men the loving service of preaching repentance, must deliver the message: “fear ye and honour, praise and bless, thank and adore, the Lord God omnipotent in trinity and unity . . .be of penitent heart, bring forth fruits meet for repentance, for know ye that we shall soon die. Give and it shall be given you, forgive and ye shall be forgiven, 87and if ye forgive not, the Lord will not forgive you your trespasses. Blessed are they who die in penitence, for they shall be in the Kingdom of Heaven,” etc.160160The Rule of 1209. See Müller, p. 187. But the power of this love had its source in the example of Christ and of His devoted disciple, St. Francis, who reproduced ever more deeply in his experience the life and suffering of his Master. More and more his feelings became merged in one alone — in love. This feeling, which in him was so strong that it often overpowered him, so that he was forced to retire to lonely churches and forests to give it full vent, was love to Christ; but it wedded itself ever more closely to unlimited devotion to his neighbour, to concern for his spiritual and bodily well-being, to warm compassion and self-abasement in the service of his brethren. So out of humility and love he made of his life a poem — he, the greatest poet who then lived; for, after fiery conflicts, the sensuous element in his ardent nature appeared — not destroyed, but subdued and glorified, nay, transformed into the purest organ of the soul’s life.161161See the beautiful characterisation in Thode, l.c. p. 59 ff.
A great work of home missions was not contemplated by St. Francis, but begun; he was not the first to undertake it, but he was the first through whom the whole Church derived benefit from it: Christendom has certainly the right faith; but it is not what it ought to be. It is subject to priests and sacraments; but now the individual must be dealt with. He must be laid hold of, and guided to repentance. The gospel must be brought home to every man: the world must be again shaken, and rescued from its old ways, by a mighty call to repentance: he who has tasted the sweetness of the love of Christ will turn with gladness to repentance and poverty. Yet it is not for the monks and priests alone that there must be concern, but for individual Christians, for the laity; they, likewise, must be won for a penitent and holy life. The “Brothers of Penitence,” of whom St. Francis formed visions, and whom he brought into existence, were, in spite of their continuing in family life, really ascetics, who were required to maintain strict separation from the world and from civic life, and, above all, to take no part in 88military service. The great saint had not yet made terms with the world; the later Tertiaries were as little his creation as the later Franciscans.162162See Müller, pp. 117-144. An excellent description of the aim of St. Francis in Werner (Duns Scotus, p. 2): “The original designs of the order founded by St. Francis were the restoring of the original Christian Apostolate, with its poverty and renunciation of the world, that through the force of this restoration there might be restored to the Church itself the apostolic spirit; the awakening in Christian souls everywhere of a striving after holiness and perfection; the keeping the example of a direct following of Christ before the eyes of the world as a continuous living spectacle; the comforting of all the suffering and wretched with the consolation of Christian mercy; and, by self-sacrificing devotion, the becoming all things to those spiritually abandoned and physically destitute.”
From the monks to the secular priests, from the secular priests to the laity — this was the course by which Christianity was to be delivered from secularity; it is at the same time the history of the awakening of religious individualism in the West. And in the measure in which religion became, extensively and intensively, more world-renouncing, it acquired (paradoxical, it may seem, but intelligible enough) a higher social and political importance, penetrated more deeply into the life of the people, and developed itself out of the aristocratic form (in which, as Roman, it had come to the barbarian nations) into a form that was popularly social.163163Cf. Thode, l.c. p. 521 f.: “The beggar of Assisi is the representative of the third estate, the great lower mass of the people, in their combined upward striving towards a position self-sustained and independent; but at the same time also the representative of each individual out of this mass, as he becomes conscious of himself, and of his rights in relation to God and to the world. With him, and in him, mediæval humanity experiences the full power of the emotional force that dwells in each individual, and this inner experience brings with it a first knowledge of one’s own being which emancipates itself from dogmatic general conceptions.” The further the monachising proceeded, the more did the virtuosi in religion see themselves compelled to engage in practical tasks. When the new factor of apostolic life was introduced into the ideal of poverty and ascetic self-denial, the ideal acquired an enormous immanent power for propagandism, a power such as monachism had never before possessed, and which does not belong — either formerly or now — to its distinctive nature. Where “apostolic life” becomes the watchword, there monachism is at once seen to apply itself to positive work among the people. In the eleventh 89and twelfth centuries what engaged attention was the great political problem of releasing Church from State; the question was, how to break down the great forces, the power of the Princes, the power of purely secular national bishops, in short, the title to exist of all unpliant political factors. At the close of the twelfth, and in the thirteenth centuries, there followed immediately upon this undertaking the positive evangelising of; and giving ecclesiastical character to, all relationships, to the whole of civilisation and the individual life, this being done under the dominating idea of the apostolical. Monachism, as apostolic life, entered upon this new work as formerly in the days of Clugny it entered upon the work of freeing Church from State. And how powerfully did religious individualism assert itself in Francis, when he ventured to place before himself and his disciples the example of the Apostles, and did not hesitate to say to the brothers that they could, and should, be what the Apostles once were, and that to them everything that Christ had said to the Apostles applied!
He was not the first who awakened this “apostolic life.” We know of powerful phenomena in the twelfth century in which the new impulse had already found expression.164164See the history of sects in the twelfth century, especially the Waldensian, cf. Müller, Die Waldenser und ihre einzelnen Gruppen bis zum Anfang des 14. Jahrhunderts (1886), and the older fundamental work of Dieckhoff. The ground-thought of the Waldensian movement is unquestionably “to imitate the apostles, and therefore to observe literally the instructions which the Lord gave to his wandering disciples in the missionary address, Matth. to. The undertaking, therefore, displays everywhere the same features as, thirty years later, the similar attempt of Francis in its initial stages: distribution of all property among the poor and renunciation of all further possessions, according to Matth. 19, 21, 29; then, the apostolic preaching, in constant itineracy, and the particulars as to apostolic garb and methods of travelling. They go two and two, without shoes, only sandals of wood on their feet, in simple woollen garments, without money. They move from place to place, seek shelter and support among those to whom they preach the gospel — for the workman is worthy of his hire — and despise all settled life and private householding, in imitation of the Son of man, who had not where to lay His head.” The Waldensians seem to have exercised an influence on St. Francis; but as to how, and by what means, nothing is known. On this account it will always be possible to believe in an entire independence, in a resemblance merely in fact; but this is not probable, especially as relations have been ascertained between St. Francis and Southern France. But these older movements, tenaciously as they survived (and to some 90extent survived as Catholic, in spite of being condemned), came too early; the clergy were not yet strong and matured enough to tolerate them, and, besides, there was lacking to them the element of unconditional submission to the Church, or more exactly, to the secular clergy, and of renunciation on principle of criticism of the Church.165165The “Poor” were already excommunicated by Lucius III. (1184). On their spread in Northern Italy, where they had precursors in the Order of the Humiliates, but were only brought into existence by Waldes, on the relation of the Lyonnese Poor to those of Lombardy, and on the breach between the latter and Waldes, see Muller, 1.c. pp. 11-65. The view that the efficacy of the Sacraments depends on the worthiness of the celebrator — a revolutionary principle under then existing conditions — appeared again among the Poor of Lombardy before 1211 Of itself the view was fitted to sever entirely the connection with the ancient Church, and was perhaps one of the causes of the ultimate breach between the Lyonnese and Lombard poor. The former were not so sharply opposed to the Roman Church as the latter. They did not regard it as Antichrist, but included it rather in the great community of the baptised, and recognised its administration of the Sacraments. But they made it a grave reproach against the Roman Church that its hierarchy exercised apostolic powers without adopting the apostolic life of poverty and homelessness (see the demand of the Didache regarding the qualities of apostles and prophets). They did not contest the full authority of the duly ordained bishops, who derived their dignity from the apostles; but they looked upon it as a deadly sin that they refused to live as did the apostles. A certain wavering in their attitude towards the Roman Church was the result. The judicial and legislative authority of the hierarchy was certainly disputed, or at least held as needing restriction. But as the “Brothers” did not organise into communities the “Friends” (the “believers”) won over by them, but rather left them in the old relationships, the position of the reigning Church towards the Brothers and their adherents was much more definite and decided than was their position towards it. The French kinsmen of the Waldensians were not a new evangelical community, based on the idea of the universal priesthood, but “the sect itself is nothing but a hierarchy, which, founded on the thought of the apostolic life and the demand for a special ethical perfection, places itself alongside the Roman hierarchy, that, in an organisation which partakes at least of the fundamental forms of the latter, it may carry on preaching, dispense sacramental penance, and in its own innermost seclusion celebrate the Eucharist. So little is there the idea of the universal priesthood that the laity do not belong at all to the sect, membership being conferred rather only by consecration to one of the three hierarchical grades.” (See Müller, p. 93 ff. and cf., as a parallel, the way in which the Irvingites now carry on their propaganda, and relate themselves to the communitas baptizatorum). Nor was the old traditional Church doctrine assailed by the Waldensians. They diverged only in respect of certain doctrines which bore upon practice, and which, besides, had not yet been formulated. Thus they rejected purgatory, and disapproved therefore of the Church practice that was connected with the idea of it (i.e., of all institutions that were meant to extend their influence into the world beyond). The rejection of oaths, of service in war, of civil jurisdiction, of all shedding of blood, seemed to them, as to so many mediæval sects, simply to follow from the Sermon on the Mount. On the other hand, the branch in Lombardy (which carried on a propaganda in Germany) took up a much more radical attitude towards the Roman Church (see Müller, p. 100 ff.) Although in what was cardinal it adhered to the standpoint of the French group of the stock (close communion, but only of men and women living apostolically; administration of the sacrament of penance; instruction of the “Friends” by preaching), it nevertheless saw in the Roman Church only apostasy, which at a subsequent time it traced to the benefactions of Constantine (cf. the Spirituales). This Church appeared to them accordingly as the synagogue of evil-doers and as the whore, its priests and monks as Scribes and Pharisees, its members as the lost. And so all regulations, orders, sacraments, and acts of this Church were to be rejected. Everything without exception, above all, the Pope and the mass, then also all legal regulations for worship fell under the adverse judgment. We can therefore gather testimonies here to the full for the “evangelical” character of these Lombards, who rejected all ecclesiastical differences of rank within the Christian community, all pomp, riches, lights, incense, holy water, processions, pilgrimages, vestments, ceremonies, etc., and in place of these required support of the poor, who would have nothing to do with the worship of Mary and the saints, who disbelieved as much in miracles of saints as in relics, who — at least originally — rejected the entire sacramental system of the Church, and both limited the number of sacraments and only recognised their validity on condition that the priest was free from mortal sin. But from the beginning onwards this attitude towards the reigning Church was really in many respects only “academic,” for the great mass of the “Friends,” i.e., of adherents, by no means actually so judged the Roman Church, but remained within the sacramental bonds. Further, the extremely defective vindication of this radical opposition on the part of the Brethren themselves shows that it was more the result of the breach forced upon them from without, or, say, of the doctrine of poverty, than the product of a religious criticism dealing with what was essential. Finally, this view is confirmed by the circumstance that from the beginning the Brethren left themselves, as can be proved, a convenient alternative, by means of which they might be able to recognise the celebration of the sacraments by one guilty of mortal sin (they said that in that case the worthy Christian receives directly from the lord in the dispensation of sacramental grace). Moreover, in the time following they approached always more closely to the Church and its sacramental celebration, partly on practical grounds (to avoid detection), partly because confidence in their own “apostolic” powers always became feebler, and the Catholic orders were viewed with longing and with greater trust. The whole movement, therefore, was at bottom not dogmatic. It was on the one hand — if we would draw the conclusions without hesitation — too radical to play a part in the history of dogma (Christianity is the apostolic life), on the other hand too conservative, as it set aside absolutely nothing that was Catholic with good conscience and clear insight. It is a phenomenon in the history of Catholic piety, though it may be worth considering in connection with the history of dogma that the whole hierarchico-sacramental apparatus of the Church was called in question. Had the movement come a generation later, the Church would no doubt have found means for incorporating it into itself, as it did the Franciscan. Such an attempt was even made with the “Catholic Poor” of the converted Durandus of Huesca, formerly a French Waldensian (acknowledged by Innocent III. a year before St. Francis stood before him), and of the converted Lombard, Bernhard Primus, also one of the “Poor”; but there was no more success in leading the whole movement back to the channel of the Church by means of such approved Poor ones (Müller, p. 16 ff.) Only in the Mendicant Orders did the powerful counter-movement become organised and permanent (cf. Miller’s excellent directions for finding the connection between the approvals of the Societies of Durandus, Dominic, and Francis (Waldenser, p. 65 ff.); also the same author’s Anfänge des Minoritenordens (pp. 43, 69 f.), and the perhaps anti-Waldensian passage on the Rule of 1209 (p. 187): “Nulla penitus mulier ab aliquo fratre recipiatur ad obedientiam”). The Mendicant Orders naturally, particularly that of Dominic, set themselves in opposition, not only to the unsanctioned “Poor,” but to sectarianism as a whole. On this latter there is no reason to enter in the history of dogma, for however high its importance may have to be estimated in connection with Church politics and social life, and however clearly it indicates that piety felt itself straightened within the tyrannical structure of the Roman Church and among its priests and ceremonies, it is equally certain that the mediæval sects continued entirely without influence as regards the development of dogma. It cannot even be said that they prepared the way for the Reformation; for the loosening which, to some extent, they brought about, was no prior condition of that movement. In the controversies rather which prevailed between the Roman Church and the dualistic (or pantheistic) sects, the Reformation placed itself entirely on the side of the former. What prepared the way for the Reformation in the domain of theology (keeping out of view the development of the ideas of the State and of natural rights) was always only the revived Augustinianism and the subjectivity of mysticism allied with it. As long, therefore, as it is regarded as expedient that the history of dogma should not be treated as history of culture, or as universal history, attention must be withdrawn from such phenomena as the Cathari, Albigenses, etc.91
For this is the third element in the piety of St. Francis — childlike confidence in the Church and unconditional obedience to the secular clergy. “Let all the Brethren,” so it runs in the Rule of 1209, “be Catholics, live and speak as Catholics . . . 92and let us regard the clergy and all religious persons as masters in those things which relate to the salvation of the soul, and do not deflect from our religion, let us reverence in the Lord both their rank (ordinem) and their office and their administration.” (See the Rule of 1221, c. 19).166166But in the year 1210, and later, Francis would not be induced to connect himself with an already existing Order, or to conform to the older Monachism, and in this obstinacy towards the Pope and the cardinals he showed that he knew the greatness of his cause. That a nature like St Francis felt oppressed by nothing external, if only free scope was given him for his ideal,167167This was not done indeed, and it led to sore distress on Francis’ part; yet Sabatier seems to me to have exaggerated this strain in relationship (see Mariano, and especially Hegler); the Cardinal to whom the movement was chiefly due also did the most to make it political. The relation of St. Francis to the Curia and to the Church politicians, or rather the relation of these to him, still needs a thorough investigation. Excellent discussions in Hegler, l.c. 436 ff. that he could maintain his inner freedom and 93pure cheerfulness of soul, even under quite other burdens than the Church then imposed, that he must have emptied himself of his very essence if he had undertaken to “abolish” anything, are things that are manifest. For him, obedience to all existing ordinances was as much a need as humility, and never assuredly did the shadow of a sceptical reflection as to whether the hierarchy was as it should be, or as to whether it should exist at all, fall upon the soul of this pure fool. But how could it fail to come about that the ideal of poverty and the ideal of obedience should come into conflict? We cannot here unfold the history of St. Francis and of the Minorite Order. It is well known against what mistrust he had to contend on the part of the secular clergy (even the curia), especially in France (but even on the part of the older Orders), and how the conditions reproduced themselves here which we have observed at the establishment of monachism in the end of the fourth, and beginning of the fifth, centuries, as well as in connection with the Cluniacensian reform in the West. It is well known also that “poverty” was the great theme in the history of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; that there was as much stubborn and passionate controversy over it as in the fourth and fifth centuries over the natures of Christ, and that in this controversy as artful and clever formula made their appearance as at Chalcedon and Constantinople. For thousands, the controversy about poverty was a controversy about the gospel itself. By this conflict the formulæ of the old dogmatic were little or in no way touched; but they, so to speak, sank into the ground. The question about the nature of the gospel was narrowed down to a practical question about life-conduct. Even when we keep out of view the pedantic mode of treatment, the way of stating the question appears to us strangely inadequate. Yet “poverty,” certainly, was only the final expression for the whole sum of the virtues involved in imitating Christ. What the watchword “poverty” denoted was an immense step of advance from dead faith, and from a barren service of ceremonies and works to spiritual freedom in religion, 94and to an earnest personal Christianity. The new Order soon broke up into different sections. In the one principal section, the last to submit, it certainly wrought invaluable results in the first generations of its existence. Its preaching kindled an earnest Christian life, indeed in many regions it was the first thing that produced an individual Christianity at all among the laity — so was it in Germany. Yet as everything was brought by it into closest connection with the confessional, the sacraments and the Pope, as all greater freedom was repressed as sectarianism, or crushed out — just by the Mendicant Orders — only an inferior kind of existence was allowed to this individual piety of the laity. For what the Minorites were obliged to sacrifice to the hierarchy — it was nothing less than the chief part of their original ideal, only the shadow remaining — they, so to speak, indemnified their conscience by the unparalleled energy with which they served the Church in its plans for ruling the world, and won for it the interest and allegiance of the laity. Here, at this final stage, therefore, the enemy the Church had in her own midst was once more vanquished; the enormous force of world-forsaking Christianity, which threatened the political supremacy of the Church, became visibly her servant; the “exempted” Order became, along with the Order of Preachers, her surest support.
But in other sections the obedience was not powerful enough to control that force.168168Of course many personal elements entered also, such as we can study in the most interesting of the earlier Franciscans, Elias of Cortona. “Poverty” turned itself against the rich and worldly Church, and when there was to be threatening and forced silence, it threw off restraint. It called upon the Church to serve; it united itself with the old apocalyptic ideas, that had already been long exercising their power in secret; it adopted the critical attitude of the “Lombard Poor”; it joined hands readily with the new social, and even the new territorial, ideas, the conceptions that were taking shape of the inherent rights of nations and individuals, of States and Princes.169169See the writings of Joh. de Oliva and Ubertino de Casale (both were under the influence of the writings of Joachim of Fiore). The view of history friendly to the State as against the Secularised Church appears already in the middle of the thirteenth century (and even among the Dominicans): see Voelter in the Ztschr. f. K.-Gesch. IV., H. 3. On the “Spirituales,” and the “Fraticelli” (the latter are not to be identified with the former), as well as on the conflicts in the time of John XXII. and Louis of Bavaria, see Ehrle in the Archiv. f. Litt.-u. K.-Gesch. des Mittelalters, Vol. I. and II., Müller, Kampf Ludwig’s des Bayern 1879 f., the same author in the Ztschr. f. K.-Gesch. VI., part 1, Gudenatz, Michael von Cesena, 1876. While 95 it declared the Church to be Babylon, and hierarchy Anti-Christ, it was not fastidious about its partnership. It left the dogmatic of the Church unassailed; but against the Church itself it declared war, an undertaking so full of contradiction that it was only possible in the Middle Ages, the period of contradictions and illusions; for did not this Church possess in its system of dogma the surest and most definite title for its existence? Only in one branch (the Fraticelli) did the contradiction become so radical that the fences dividing from the heretical sects (Apostolic Brethren, Beghards) became frail.
From these last-mentioned sections nothing permanent developed itself.170170At a later time Hussism incorporated and wrought over a great part of the Fianciscan and Joachimic-Franciscan elements (see Müller, Bericht uber den gegenwärtigen Stand der Forschung auf dem Gebiet der vorreformatorischen Zeit, in den Vorträgen der theol. Conferenz zu Giessen 1887 S. 44), and as it spread widely, even beyond Bohemia, among the lower orders it prepared the way for the great Baptist movement and the social revolutions of the sixteenth century. Yet creations of a lasting kind appeared here as little as permanent influences on the Church generally. But from the point of view of Church history and the history of culture, the study of the powerful movement, essentially one throughout, which began with Joachimism and culminated with the Hussites and Baptists, is of the deepest interest. Like the “Illuminism” (Aufklärung) in the eighteenth century, and the Romantic ideas in the nineteenth, Joachimism spread over Europe in the thirteenth century, not as a new system of dogma, but as a new mode of viewing history and the highest problems, comforting to the seriously disposed, because it flattered them; cf., e.g., the Chronicle of Salimbene (Michael, Salimbene und seine Chronik., Innsbruck 1889). Strange that this movement should have begun in the hills of Calabria, the most out-of-the-way district of Southern Europe! It is still too little studied, while it certainly belongs to a period more open to our inspection than any in which prophetism played a part. Where prophets appear and are welcomed, fabrications are the immediate sequel. But the history of Joachimism is the typical history of all prophetism. Of the way in which it succeeds in adjusting itself in the world, Salimbene also furnishes some beautiful examples.. The importance for universal history of the vast movement of the Mendicant Orders is not to be seen at all in new doctrines or institutions, though these were not entirely wanting, but lies rather in the religious awakening that was produced by them during a period of 150 or — if a time of slackened 96effort on the part of the Orders is overlooked — of 300 years. “The individual began to reflect on the saving truths of the Christian religion, to enter himself into a personal relation to them.” That is the highest significance of the Mendicant Order movement. In this sense the Orders were a prior stage of the Reformation. But when religion passed into the circles of the laity, and independent religious life was awakened there, it was a natural result that redoubled vigilance should be exercised lest the old dogma should be injured. So long as dogma is in the hands of priests and theologians, it can maintain a certain freedom; this is here natural to it, indeed. But as soon as the laity become thoughtfully interested in ecclesiastical Christianity, dogma becomes extraordinarily sensitive. Those who are entrusted with the care of the religio publica must—as the Mendicant Orders did — guard it with jealousy, if the result of the general interest is not to be a general running wild of religious speculation. The criterion of what is firmly fixed ecclesiastically must everywhere be applied without hesitation, especially if the Church practice of the present is to be corrected. On the other hand, the ecclesiastically pious laymen themselves demand that the dogma shall continue as a rocher de bronze, and they feel every movement or alteration of it to be an injury to their personal Christianity. This was the situation that was always becoming more firmly established in the three centuries before the Reformation. The larger the number grew of those who sought to become really familiar with religion, the larger became also the number of sectaries of all kinds; but the more inviolable also did dogma appear to the ecclesiastically faithful, and the greater were the efforts of the hierarchy to put down all “heresy.” Besides, dogma had come from the beginning, and indeed chiefly, to the mediæval nations, as a series of legal ordinances. This character it must retain, all the more if the spiritual life had a more vigorous and manifold development; otherwise the unity of the Church was lost. There must at least be an imperative demand for fides implicita, i.e., for respectful obedience. Thus the awakening, which in Germany seems to have gone on continually increasing from the middle of the thirteenth century, contributed to maintain 97the unalterable character of dogma. Ideally dogma had always been immutable; but now to the reality of this unchangeable thing there attached itself a profoundly practical interest.
The history of piety in the centuries immediately preceding the Reformation consists of a series of sermons on repentance and of revivals, of reforms with a view to a deepening of spiritual life that was to extend through the whole of Christendom. Only in its leading points have we to take a survey of it. What comes first under our notice here is the alliance of the Mendicant Orders with Mysticism.
By Mysticism, as has been explained above, there is to be understood nothing but theological piety (contemplation), having a reflex aim, modelled on Augustine and the Areopagite, and fertilised (though not thoroughly) by Bernardine devotion to Christ. That this theology should have been found congenial to the temper of the Mendicant Monks, as soon as they at all took to do with theology, is easily understood. Bonaventura, Albertus, and Thomas Aquinas were the greatest Mystics, not although, but because, they were theologians and Mendicant Monks.171171Herrmann remarks very correctly (Verkehr des Christen mit Gott I. Aufl., p. 100): “The (present day) lovers of Mysticism present on a diminished scale the same spectacle as the great Schoolmen; they seek repose from the work of their faith in Mystic piety.”. The same is true of David of Augsburg and Theodoric of Freiburg. Widely-extended investigations have been instituted with the view of classifying the Mystics, and it has been thought possible to distinguish between a Scholastic, a Romanic, and a German, a Catholic, an Evangelical, and a Pantheistic Mysticism. But at bottom the distinctions are without importance. Mysticism is always the same; above all there are no national or confessional distinctions in it. The differences never have to do with its essence, but only either with the degree, the way and the energy with which it is applied, or with its being predominantly directed upon the intellect or upon the will. Even as regards this last point it is only a question of difference of degree, and, at the same time, this last-mentioned distinction shows again very plainly the complete alliance of 98Mysticism with objective theology; for it is from this alliance that distinction springs. Mysticism is Catholic piety in general, so far as this piety is not merely ecclesiastical obedience, that is, fides implicita Just for that reason Mysticism is not one form among others of pre-reformation piety — perhaps the latent evangelical — but is the Catholic expression of individual piety in general. The Reformation element that is ascribed to it lies here simply in this, that Mysticism, i.e., Catholic piety, when developed in a particular direction, is led to the discernment of the inherent responsibility of the soul, of which no authority can again deprive it; and that it is thereby, at the same time, brought face to face with the question of the certitudo salutis (assurance of salvation), a question which can never again pass out of its view till it is solved in the act of faith. But where that question is determined, Mysticism points beyond itself; for the entire scheme of thought in which it moves always admits only of a perpetually increasing approach to the Deity, and never allows the constant feeling of a sure possession to arise. That, as a Christian, one must always be growing, was rightly discerned by the Catholic piety; but it never arrived at a clear and peaceful vision of the truth, that this growth can, and must, have its sure and inalienable basis in firm confidence in the God of grace, that is, in salvation. As for Catholic Christianity to-day, the Evangelical faith, described as “trust-faith” (“Fiduzglaube”), is a stumbling-block and foolishness, so also before the tribunal of Mediæval Mysticism it was a thing of which there was no understanding. For these Mystics, who framed and saw through so many sacred paradoxes, there was one paradox that remained hidden, namely, that in the spiritual life one can only become what he already is in faith. Only where they arrived at the discernment of this can they be described as precursors of the Reformation.
If Mysticism is withdrawn from the Catholic Church and set down as “Protestant,” then Catholicism is emptied of its character, and evangelical faith becomes deteriorated. Is there then to be no living and individual Catholic piety? But where should we have to seek it, if not in Mysticism? In the three centuries before the Reformation, where can we find even a single 99manifestation of truly religious life that had not its source in “Mysticism”? Or is Mysticism to be denied to Catholicism, because the latter requires, above everything else, devotion to the Church and the Sacraments, and because the history of Mysticism is the history of continual conflicts between it and sacramental and authoritative ecclesiasticism? But when did it become permissible to regard such conflicts as showing that one of the two factors is illegitimate? Is there not a conflict also between the unquestionably Catholic ideal of asceticism, and the equally unquestionable Catholic ideal of world supremacy? Are the great Mystics not the great Saints of the Church? Or shall it be held, against all that appears, that this Church cannot produce and tolerate independent piety within its own lines? Now, no Evangelical Christian, certainly, would ever think of confounding his delight in the warm spiritual life which Catholic Christianity exhibits in the centuries before the Reformation172172Herrmann (Verkehr des Christen mit Gott 3 Aufl., p. 21) justly emphasises the following also: “We must confess to ourselves that if we Evangelicals think we have another kind of religion, we are in any case still far from having reached the thoroughness of culture which Catholicism possesses in that Mysticism . . .it is a wonderfully perfect expression of a particular kind of religion. The speculations of Catholic Mysticism are of ancient date. Apart from Neoplatonism, it has little peculiar to it in this respect. But in the capacity to make personal life the subject of observation and delineation, it represents a height of attainment which Protestantism has not yet reached.” with full approval of it, if — one must, unfortunately, add it — he had made clear to himself what evangelical faith is. The inability to fight one’s way to such faith produces the craving for Mysticism which is then, as one is of course a Protestant, claimed for Protestantism. The fondness, it is true, for “German” Mysticism has received a severe check from records that have shown that if one is enthusiastic about Master Eckhart, etc., and derives edification from him, one must be still more enthusiastic about St. Thomas, or about the Areopagite and Augustine. But still more powerful checks will be needed if a view of history is to be got quit of, which seems the proper one to all fragmentary natures that deal in a dilettante way with religion, theology and philosophy — a Mystic that does not become a Catholic is a dilettante. For one, what is of value in the 100Mystics is their “individualism,” as if everything were already implied under this form; for another, it is their feeling, no matter what the “feeling” is for; for a third, it is the pantheistic metaphysic, which, without much trouble, can be abstracted from Mysticism; for a fourth, it is their ascetic views and their resolution of Christology into the Ecce Homo, or into the endless series of men travailing in birth with the Christ; for a fifth, it is the light of “illuminism” (Aufklärung) which broke forth from Mysticism. What historian, with clear vision, will be able to pass by these fruits of Mysticism without sympathy, or with amused indifference? What Christian will not draw with heart-felt delight from the spring of fresh intuitions which flows forth here? Who, as an investigator of history, will not readily acknowledge that an Evangelical Reformation was as impossible about the year 1200 as it was prepared for about the year 1500? But if Protestantism is not at some time yet, so far as it means anything at all, to become entirely Mystical, it will never be possible to make Mysticism Protestant without flying in the face of history and Catholicism.173173The right conception of Mysticism as Catholic piety has been taught — in opposition to Ullmann’s “Reformers before the Reformation” — by Ritschl (Rechtfert. und Versöhn. vol. I., Geschichte des Pietismus, vols. I.-III. Theologie und Metaphysik) who has also given hints for further investigation (connection of the Mystics with the Anabaptists, Hussites, etc.). He has been followed by a large number of more recent investigators. Besides the works named above, p. 25, among which those of Denifle are epoch-making, as having shown that Master Eckhart is, in his Latin writings, entirely dependent on Thomas, and even in other respects owes his best to him (Archiv f. Litt.-und K.-Gesch. des Mittelalters II., pp. 417-640; preparatory work had already been done here by Bach in his monograph on Eckhart), see Lasson, Meister Eckhart, 1866, also the more recent works on Tauler and the Friends of God (Denifle), Pfeiffer’s edition of the German Mystics (2 vols., 1845-57), Suso’s Works, edited by Denifle (1877), still further, Ritschl in the Zeitschr. f. K.-Gesch. IV., p. 337 ff., Strauch, Marg. Ebner und Heinrich v. Nördlingen, 1882. On the earliest German Mystics see Preger, Vorarbeiten z. einer Gesch. der deutschen Mystik (Ztschr, f. die hist. Theol. 1869, and several essays in the Abhandl. der hist. Klasse d. bayer. Akad. d. Wissensch., which, along with his comprehensive history of Mysticism, are rich sources of material). On Ruysbroek cf. Engelhardt, Rich. v. St. Victor und R. 1838; on Thomas à Kempis “de imitatione Christi” the literature is voluminous, cf. Hirsche, Prolegomena z. einer neuen Ausg. 2 vols. 1873-83, the same author on the Brothers of the Common Life in the R.-E 2. In general: Denifle, Das geistliche Leben. Blumenlese aus den deutschen Mystikern und Gottesfreunden. 3. Aufl. 1880, A very full delineation of Mysticism is also given in Thomasius-Seeberg, D.-Gesch. 2 Aufl. II. 1 pp. 261 ff., cf. also Seeberg, Ein Kampf um jenseitiges Leben. Lebensbild eines mittelalterlichen Frommen., 1889. I give no extracts from the writings of the German Mediæval Mystics, because I should like to avoid even seeming to countenance the error that they expressed anything one cannot read in Origen, Plotinus, the Areopagite, Augustine, Erigena, Bernard and Thomas, or that they represented religious progress, while in respect of intrinsic Christian worth, their tractates really stand for the most part lower than the writings of Augustine and Bernard. The importance of those works rests in this, that they were written in German, and that they were intended for the laity. They are therefore of inestimable value within the history of the German church and dogma. But in general history we may, and must, content ourselves with a characterisation. Whether, perhaps, they represent a considerable advance in the history of epistemology and metaphysic, is a question I do not trust myself to answer, nor does it fall to he considered here. As to the idea of regeneration, which is strongly emphasised in many Mystic writings, we must take in connection with it the silence on forgiveness of sins, that we may see how even this idea stood under the ban of intellectualism. The “clarification.” which the Mysticism of the fourteenth century underwent in the fifteenth certainly related very specially to that aggressive intellectualism, so that the piety which expresses itself, for example, in the famous book de imitatione Christi (Thomas à Kempis) may he described as essentially Bernardine without Neoplatonic admixture, but yet only as Bernardine. A new, powerful element of joy in God, who forgives sin, and bestows faith, is sought for in vain.101
In the three pre-Reformation centuries, the individual Catholic piety, which we call Mysticism, had in it only the difference represented by varieties. It was rooted in the Neoplatonic-Augustinian view of the first and last things, as this has been described above, Vol. V. p. 106 f.: God and the soul, the soul and its God , the one and the many, God and the creature. The soul that has departed from God must return to Him by purification, illumination, and essential unification; it must be “unformed,” “formed,” and “transfigured” (“entbildet,” “bildet,” “überbildet”). With their more definite and richer vision of the inwardly experienced, Mediæval Saints spoke of the retirement of the soul within itself, of the contemplation of the outer world as a work of God, of the poverty and humility to which the soul must dispose itself, of conversion and return to God, and the school of suffering. But they also described the whole process in the most exact way. It begins with longing; there follows the renunciation of the creaturely, but also of al self-righteousness and all self-conceit. That is the purification of the soul for true Christian poverty. What the Church offers in the shape of means — the Sacraments — must be used; but all things must be taken up into the inner life. It is as signs of the 102love of God that they must be contemplated. And as formerly in Neoplatonism (cf. also Origen, and again the Areopagite) everything sensible on which the lustre of a sacred tradition rested, was highly esteemed as a sign of the eternal, and, therefore, as a means of spiritual exaltation, so by this piety also, sacred signs were not discarded, but were multiplied and increased. As the more recent investigations have shown us,174174See the works of Gothein, Kolde, Kawerau, Haupt, and above all v. Bezold (Gesch. der deutschen Reformation) on the inner state of Catholicism at the close of the fifteenth century. Succinct accounts in Lenz, Martin Luther, 1883 (introduction) and Karl Müller, Bericht uber den gegenwärtigen Stand, etc., 1887. in the centuries before the Reformation a growing value was attached, not only to the Sacraments, but to crosses, amulets, relics, holy places, helpers of the needy, saints, etc. As long as what the soul seeks is not the rock of assurance, but means for inciting to piety, it will create for itself a thousand holy things. It is, therefore, an extremely superficial view that regards the most inward Mysticism and the service of idols as contradictory. The opposite view, rather, is correct; such piety seeks for holy signs, and clings to them. It can at the same time hold redemption by Christ as the supreme, all-embracing proof of the love of God;175175There are several Mystics of the fourteenth century who, in many passages of their devotional writings, find their sole ground of comfort, as definitely as St. Bernard, in the sufferings of Christ. but the sovereignty of Christ has not dawned upon it, because it really regards the supreme proof of love as the means by which the possibility of individual salvation is given, that is, the impulse towards imitation is strengthened. Just as little does the inward purification conflict with the sacramental, as mediated by the sacrament of penance. The Mystics rather, with dwindling exceptions, always directed attention, not to contrition merely, but to the whole confessional, and to perfect repentance, that is, to the sacrament of penance. After purification, there follows illumination. Here the Bernardine direction now comes in: there must be a being formed in Christ, and after Christ’s image. In one’s own experience, Christ’s life of poverty and His suffering humanity must be reproduced, with a view to attaining to his Deity. It is well known how, in this direction, the tenderest training of the 103soul is combined with a distressingly sensuous presentation of the sufferings of the “man” Jesus. The following of Christ that is prompted by compassion, the imitation of Him that has its spring in love — these are required to a degree that can be reached only by long practice, and by the most anxious straining of every thought. Not unfrequently, this imitation then becomes changed into the idea that one must become a Christ one’s self, must travail anew in birth with Christ. There were nuns, indeed, who fancied that they bore Christ in their womb. The highly-trained imagination, and theory, had equal parts in the production of this idea. The former — inasmuch as it actually experienced what it passionately contemplated; the latter — inasmuch as in the Neoplatonic-Augustinian tradition there was contained that idea of God and the spiritual creature, according to which the appearance of the Logos in Christ was only a special case in a long series; with Him the indwelling of God in man took its beginning; and, besides this, all love of God is something so sovereign that it does not admit of the intermingling of a third in the relation to which it gives life. But, on the other hand, this view of Christ as the first in a series stood in agreement again with the view of His death as an extraordinary event that is the basis of reconciliation with God; for, as this piety sacrifices no outward visible sign, so it surrenders also no part of the sacred history; only, it allows no weight to it at the highest stage. Yet, at countless times in the case of the most distinguished Mystics, as already in the case of St. Bernard, it is just at the highest stages of religious feeling that confidence in Christ asserts itself; for, as they derived everything from divine grace — especially where the theology of St. Thomas exercised its influence — so this grace is discerned in the Christ who is our righteousness. Further, there was added here the trinitarian speculation, as it was developed from the thought of love. Thus the piety shown by Richard of St. Victor in the earlier period, by Bonaventura and others in the later, was able to attach itself most intimately to this intractable dogma of the Trinity, and also to the other dogma of the Incarnation. The infinite love must be contemplated in the Mystery of the Trinity, and the highest point of the spirit’s enlightenment is reached 104when in prayer, in knowledge, and in vision, man becomes absorbed in the great mystery of the union of deity and humanity, and contemplates the indifference of opposites (indifferentia oppositorum), seeing how the Creator and the creature, the lofty and the lowly, the being and the not-being coalesce in one. From all these speculations, in which the old formulas are placed in the light of omnipotent love, in which the boldest and most complex theology is finally led back to the All-One, and converted into feeling, there resulted an intense deepening of inner life. This inner life was again discovered, and there was given to it the place of central command. But it found much richer expression still than in the days of Neoplatonism; for, in those centuries before the Reformation, in conjunction with the most frightful self-torturing, nay in the midst of them (think of St. Elizabeth), and in conjunction with whimsical or insane ideas, the elevating power of suffering, and the purifying influence of pain, were proved by experience and preached. What an ennobling of feeling, and what a deepening of the life of the soul issued from this — a Renaissance before and alongside of the Renaissance — cannot be described. One must read the writings in poetry and prose, for example the verses of Jacopone,176176See Schlüter u. Storck, Ausgewählte Gedichte Jacopone’s, 1864. Thode, l.c. pp. 398 ff. or the treatises and sermons of the German Mystics, to see how even the language here underwent a regeneration. A lyric poetry that awakens a response in us exists only from the thirteenth century, and what force the Latin and German tongues are capable of developing in describing the inner life we have been taught by the Mendicant Monks. From the discernment that lowliness and poverty, scorn and contempt, shame and misery, suffering and death, are aids to the saint’s progress, from the contemplation of the Man Jesus, from compassion, and pain, and humility, there sprang for Western Christianity, in the age of the Mendicant Monks, that inner elevation and that enrichment of feeling and of moral sensibility which was the condition for all that was to grow up in the time that followed. One speaks of the Renaissance and the Reformation, and comprehends in these words, taken together, 105the basis of our present-day culture; but both have a strong common root in the elevation of religious and æsthetic feeling in the period of the Mendicant Monks.
But the Catholic character of this elevation shows itself most plainly in this, that with repentance, faith, and love to Christ, the process is not concluded: man must become entirely nothing; he must pass out of himself, in order, finally, to be merged into the Godhead. There is meant by this, certainly, the highest spiritual freedom also (see, e.g, the “Deutsche Theologie”); but as the freedom is enfolded in the metaphysical thought that God is all and the individual nothing, freedom can only be conceived of as absorption into the deity. He alone can experience this union with God who has followed the way of the Church, and has been an imitator of Christ. But how can the command be given to adhere to the historical, when all the powers of the imagination have been let loose, and it has been declared the organ for coalescing with the Godhead. The Church Mystics made earnest attempts to check the pantheistic, “extravagant,” wild-growing piety; but they themselves frequently were at least incautious with their final directions, nay, to these the ardent application was wanting, so long as they had still respect to something that lay outside of God and the soul (even the Trinity here was felt to be something disturbing; the God with whom the soul has to do at this supreme height of exaltation is the solitary One). Thomas himself, “the normal dogmatic theologian,” gave the strongest impulse to this restoration of the most extravagant Mysticism. He was followed by Eckhart and others.177177Although, shortly before his death, Eckhart had retracted everything unecclesiastical in his writings, two years after his death a process was instituted against him, i.e., twenty-eight of his propositions were condemned, partly as heretical, and partly as open to suspicion (Bull of John XXII., 1329). On this condemnation, and on the relation of Suso to Eckhart, see Denifle in the Archiv. f. L.-u. K.-G. des Mittelalters II. and Seeberg, Ein Kampf um jenseitiges Leben. 1889, p. 137 ff. Even Suso could not quite escape the reproach of polluting the land with heretical filth. It was always the Ultra’s, who, by making an appeal to them, brought discredit upon the “Church” Mystics. According to Thomas, the soul can already here on earth so receive God into itself that it enjoys in the fullest sense the vision (visio) of His essence. It itself already dwells in 106heaven. The earthly, that still clings to it, is, as it were, as unsubstantial as the earthly in the consecrated elements. But if the soul is capable, through rapture (per raptum), of such a flight from its nothingness to God, if God can enter into its innermost depth, then — here is the necessary inversion of view — the soul itself includes, in its innermost being, a deeply hidden divine element. Pantheism is transformed into self-deification. The divine is at bottom the capacity of the soul to abstract and emancipate itself from all that is phenomenal; it is the pure feeling of spiritual freedom and exaltedness above all that is and can be thought. In this feeling, which arises as an act of grace, and is only guarded by this co-efficient in its mood from the pride of self-assertion, the soul has the sense of being one with the divine Being, who, in the Catholic view, is Himself best described by negative definitions. In these negative definitions the Mediæval Mystics went much further than Augustine and the Areopagite.178178Cf. especially Eckhart and Suso. We must go back to Valentinus and Basilides, to the Βύθος (abyss), to the Σιγή (silence) and the Οὐκ ὢν θεός (the God that is not), to find the fitting parallels to the “Abysmal Substance” (“Abgründlichen Substanz”), the “Waste Deity” (“Wüsten Gottheit”), the “Silent Silence” (“Stillen Stillheit”). In this hot forcing-house of thought, religion was not really matured, but the Mediæval man had his sense of self-importance awakened. In the Thomist Mysticism, which, of course, always insists on principle that the essential distinction between God and man must be recognised, both the whole process and the supreme attainment are intellectually conditioned. Knowledge is the means of reaching spiritual freedom, and the highest state attained is nothing but the natural result of the absolute knowledge given in vision. Here Thomas and his disciples adhere strictly to Augustine, who also admitted no progress in religious life without advancing knowledge, and for whom the highest fellowship with God had also no other content than that of the visio dei, i.e., of essential knowledge. The contemplation that rises to intuition suffers thereby no qualitative change; for intuition is simply that form of knowledge in which every medium has fallen away, in which the subject, having become wholly intellect, 107apprehends the purely spiritual object, and so, also, as there is no longer any hindering restriction, coalesces with it. Yet in this conception of the contemplated end there was presupposed the Anselmic conviction, that all objects of faith here below can be made rational, so that the whole ascent to the Supreme end can take place through the intellect. Where this conviction, however, became uncertain, then, if the final end of union to God was to be held as attainable in this world, it could no longer be contemplated as enjoyment of God and eternal life through the intellect. But this latter idea was unsatisfactory also for this reason, that the Thomists had to admit that the end thus described could always be reached only per raptum, i.e., intermittently and seldom. Hence we see how, after the appearance of Duns Scotus, and after the development of Nominalism, the end is otherwise described. The confidence in the rationality of the objects of faith threatens to disappear, on the other hand the religious impulse towards constant supreme fellowship with God grows stronger — therefore the enjoyment of God and eternal life came to be placed in the will, which, in general, indeed, had increased attention directed to it in Nominalist science.179179To this distinction between the Thomist and the Quietist (Nominalist) Mysticism Ritschl was the first to point, see Gesch. des Pietismus I., p. 467 ff., and Zeitschr. f. K.-Gesch. IV., p. 337 ff.; also already in the first vol. of Rechtfertig. u. Versöhn.-Lehre. Salvation consists in union of will with God, in the rest which the creaturely will finds in the will of God, that is, in surrender and repose. That this way of viewing things likewise found an eccentric expression was unavoidable from the monastic character of all Catholic piety. Yet a very marked advance was certainly made here, which directly prepared the way for the Reformation; for, first, piety was now delivered from intermixture with those speculative monstrosities, which really served only to stupefy simple devout feeling (of course the speculative philosophers will always prefer Thomas to Duns); second, a way was indicated by which the soul might attain to the feeling of constant fellowship with God. This “Nominalist” Mysticism tended more and more to supplant the Thornist in the 15th century.180180About 1500 it seems to have gained the ascendency; cf. the attitude of Staupitz and Thomas Münzer. Even the “German Theology,” of which Luther was so fond, is quietistic. One must give up his own will to the will of God. 108The Nominalists themselves, certainly, failed to see clearly where the divine will is to be sought for, and what it is, and just on that account much wild growth still developed itself even here. But only within Nominalist piety could the question about assurance of salvation (certitudo salutis) arise, because there was no longer a building upon the intellect, because the pointing to bare authority was bound, in the course of time, to be felt unsatisfactory, and because the problem was correctly stated, as being the question, namely, about the power that is capable of breaking self-will and leading the will to God.181181In the section on the history of theology the characteristics and significance of Nominalism will receive a still further illustration. Meanwhile, however, let it be noted here, that by its “positiveness,” based on mere authority, Nominalism purchased its truer insight into the nature of religion at a heavy cost. Here Anselm and Thomas undoubtedly hold a higher position; but these men were hindered by their intellectualism from doing justice to the Christian religion as a historic magnitude and force. What I have set forth in these pages (p. 97 ff.) has been keenly assailed by Lasson and Raffaele Mariano. Plainly enough they put before me the alternative of irreligious criticism or blind faith (Köhlerglauben), when on their side they claim for the Thomist Mysticism that it is the only form of religion in which faith and thought, history and religious independence, are reconciled. It must be the endeavour of each of us to find something in his own way. What we have ultimately to do with here is the great problem as to what history and the person of Christ are in religion, and then there is the other problem also as to whether religion is contemplation or something more serious. That the end to which our striving is directed is the same — the seeking, finding, and keeping hold of God — may be confidently granted on both sides. But my opponents have an easier position than I have: they can prove — and I recognise this proof — that the piety that culminates in Mysticism and the old ecclesiastical dogma hang together, and they can at the same time let the question rest as to what reality of fact answers to the dogma. That is to say, the dogma renders them the best services, just when they are at liberty to contemplate it as a mobile and elastic magnitude, which hovers between the poles of an inferior actuality and that “highest,” which can never have been actual as earthly: out of the darkness there is a pressing forward to the light; luminous clouds show the path! But I seek in the dogma itself of the Christian Church for something concrete, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the Lord. The tradition which the dogma represents is treated with more respect when it is criticised and sifted, than when one takes it as it is, in order ultimately to bid it a secret farewell, i.e., to substitute for it something quite different — namely the idea.
This revival of piety from the thirteenth century to the fifteenth would not be perfectly described were not a fact, at the same time, strongly emphasised, which, on first view, seems very paradoxical, 109namely, the revival of a life of practical activity in the service of one’s neighbour. We should think that where Catholic piety, i.e., Mysticism, flourished, monastic contemplation and asceticism would repress everything else.182182On the relation of Metaphysic to Asceticism, or, say, of Mysticism to Asceticism, see the dissertation of Bender in the Archiv. f. Gesch. der Philos. vol. 6, pp. 1 ff., 208 ff., 301 ff. In point of fact, there was a weighty problem for that piety here. Yet the way in which it was solved shows again most distinctly that in the Mendicant Order movement we have to do with a reformation of the Church. This movement strengthened, theoretically, the old Catholic position, that the contemplative life is higher than the practical. But as it presents itself in St. Francis as a movement born of love, so also from the first, as “imitation of the poor life of Jesus,” and as “Apostolic life,” it recognised in loving activity the highest sphere for its exercise. In this way the old Monasticism was superseded, which rendered services of love only to the hierarchy, the princes and the papal policy, but otherwise retired within itself, and felt service to a poor brother to be a work of supererogation. It was the Mendicant Orders and their theologians who first gave a conspicuous place again to the command, “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” They praised the contemplative life; they still continued always to maintain the distinction between it and the practical; but they drew this distinction in such a way that one living in contemplation (that is, the monk) was, nevertheless, required to serve his neighbour with all his powers, while the Christian occupied with the affairs of life, was never justified in leaving out of account concern for his brother. Thus there came to exist between the contemplative and active lives a wide neutral province, so to speak, which belonged to both, to the former as well as to the latter — the province of self-denying love. The love of God on the part of monk and layman could prove its existence only in the love of one’s neighbour. Hence it is to be understood how enthusiastic Mystics used expressions that sound like an exaltation of the active life above the contemplative; what they had in their mind was unfeigned brotherly love, mercy, gentleness, the spirit that returns good for evil, and active 110ministration to need. Neither their “intellectualism” nor their “quietism” hindered them in their powerful preaching of mercy, but rather strengthened them in it; for they would no longer recognise any monachism, or any service of God, that disregarded the service of one’s neighbour. The obligation to make one’s self every man’s servant in love was first plainly asserted again by Francis, and after him it was repeatedly enforced as the highest attainment of Christian life by Thomas and Bonaventura, by Eckhart, Suso, Tauler, Thomas à Kempis, and all the hundred active witnesses to Christian piety in the centuries before the Reformation.183183With Eckhart the direction originated to let even ecstacy go, though it should be as great as that of Paul, if one can help a poor man even with a sop. The simple relation of man to man, sanctified by the Christian command of love and by the peace of God, issued forth from all the traditional corporations and castes of the Middle Ages, and set itself to break them up. Here, also, the advent of a new age, in which, certainly, only a few blossoms developed into fruit, was brought about by the history of piety. But this piety, although it always continued to call more loudly for reform in the affairs of the Church, still remained under the ban of the idea that God gives grace in the measure in which a man progresses in love. How this state of things was to be remedied, no one had any inkling.
In what precedes it has already been indicated several times that, while maintaining the line of distinction, the Mendicant Orders brought about inwardly (to some extent even outwardly) a mutual approximation of monks and laity. The activity of the former among the people on the one hand, and the awakening of a strong religious life among the laity on the other, brought them together. But it was in general the characteristic of the period under review, that the laity always came more to the front, and in the fifteenth century they took their place in their free religious associations alongside the monks in theirs, though, no doubt, as a rule, there was dependence on the monastic unions. The period from 1046 to 1200 was the period of the monachising of the priests; that from 1200 to 1500 brought the monachising of the laity (notice, also, the participation of women in the Mystic and charitable movements); but the latter process 111was not carried out without a deeply penetrating alteration of Monachism, and it is to be observed that the charitable element was here determinative. When, in spite of earnest reforms, the Mendicant Orders were now, nevertheless, unable (from the end of the fourteenth century) fully to recover the position and confidence they had once enjoyed, the free Christian associations came quite into the foreground. But they secured, if I see aright, a large measure of influence only on German soil. What they did for the German was done for the Romanic peoples, naturally more mobile, but less susceptible of abiding impressions, by the great Preachers of Repentance, of whom there was no lack among them at any period, from the time of Francis to that of Savonarola, and who, along with their preaching of repentance, knew also how to stir national and political feeling. But it was only the Anglo-Saxons and the Czechs, hitherto kept in subjection and poverty by other nations, who understood, at this period, how to derive from the Franciscan doctrine of poverty a politico-national and an ecclesiastical programme, and among whom a great movement took place, in which the rise to independent piety united itself with a national rise and emancipation. In both countries the result, certainly, did not correspond with the first steps. In England, the movement ran its course comparatively quickly, and in Bohemia deeper religious motives were unable to hold their ground alongside the national and political aims imperiously asserting themselves, and at first, at least, were overborne by motives of an ecclesiastical, a social revolutionary, and an anti-hierarchical character, though afterwards the religious element wrought its way to the front again.
Any one, therefore, wishing to describe the stages in the history of piety during this period, must begin, by way of introduction, with a view of the Lyonnese, Lombard and Catholic “Poor.” Then follows the establishment of the Mendicant Orders, who, by developing the principle of poverty, the apostolic life and repentance, as well as by preaching love (caritas) raise monachism to its highest point, and free it from its restrictions, but at the same time impart to it a most powerful influence upon the lay world. The Church succeeds in taking this movement into its service, in creating by means of it an 112interest in Church institutions among the aspiring lay Christianity, and in placing a check upon heresy. The Mendicant Orders made themselves masters of all the forces of the Church; above all, they developed more deeply the individual Mystic piety, by grasping more firmly its old fundamental elements, poverty and obedience, adding to these love, and gave it a powerful force of attraction, which united itself to the aspiring individualism and trained it. By urgent preaching of repentance, which pointed to future judgment, even the widest circles were stirred, and the new movement settled down, in part, into monk-like associations (the third Order). But the principle of “poverty” embraced not only an ascetically religious, but also a social and anti-hierarchical, nay, even a political ideal, for the neutral state could be regarded as the power that had to deprive the Church of her property, or, in the event of her being recalcitrant, to execute judgment upon her. The new movement united itself therefore with the apocalyptic ideas, which, in spite of Augustine, had never died out in the West, and which had received a new development from Joachim and his following.184184See Wadstein, Die eschatologische Ideengruppe in den Hauptmomenten ihrer christlich-mittelalterlichen Gesammtentwickelung, 1896. The details of these ideas scarcely belong to the history of theology, not to speak of the history of dogma; but as was the case with the ideas about the devil, they exercised a very strong influence. Partly within the Order, and partly beyond it, an apocalyptic socio-political excitement grew up, asserting itself in a hundred different ways. Its relative justification over against the rich worldly hierarchy was furnished by the wide hold which it everywhere secured for itself: it made its appearance in all lands, and it continued to exist, always again gathering new strength, till far on in the period of the Reformation. In the second half of the thirteenth century the Mendicant Orders reached, at least in the Romanic lands, their highest point of influence. From that time they began to decline: after the close of the century the movement as a whole was broken up and distributed among the efforts of individual men. The great struggle about poverty in the age of John XXII. had, so far as it was religious, only a limited importance. In Germany, on the other hand, there began, from the end of the 113thirteenth century, the “German” Mystic movement, i.e., the introduction of the impassioned individual piety of the monastic theologians into the circles of the laity. For a century and more, the work of bringing about an inward conversion of the laity in Germany was carried on, and it was quite specially by Mendicant monks, chiefly Dominican, that this service was rendered. (David of Augsburg, Theodoric of Freiburg, Master Eckhart, Tauler, Merswin, the “Friends of God,” Suso, Henry of Nördlingen, Margaret Ebner, Ruysbroek, etc.)
While in the Romanic lands the Mendicant Orders grew weaker, and in Germany the religious life, still through their influence partly, slowly advanced, the world-ruling Church pursued a course of complete self-abandonment at Avignon, and seemed to have the deliberate wish to subject the ecclesiastical fidelity of the already imperilled piety to the severest test. Nay, how firmly the papacy and the Church as an institution still held together souls and the world is shown by the confusions and complaints which, when the great schism ensued, became still more numerous. Under the impression produced by frightful elemental calamities, the apocalyptic, anti-hierarchical ideas became the real danger, especially as even Mendicant monks were regarded as enemies of the papacy. But only in England did a great movement at that time result. The law of God, poverty, the Augustinian theology — these were the dominant ideas under which Wyclif undertook his Catholic reform and preached to the reigning Church judgment and repentance — a second Francis, of more understanding but less resolute, more cautious but less free. Beyond England at first no similar movement was anywhere to be traced; but it was everywhere apparent that the world had entered upon a religious age, in which the multiplicity of aspirations testified that the dissolution of what existed at the time was felt to be the signal for a new construction — the ridicule and frivolity of some Italian poets and novelists of an inferior order have no claim whatever to be considered. In its greatest representatives, the Renaissance, especially the German, which was much more important in the realm of thought than the Italian, felt that it had outgrown neither the Catholic Church nor the Christian religion. 114What was really breaking up was mediæval society, mediæval institutions, the mediæval world.185185See Lamprecht, Zum Verständniss der wirthschaftlichen und Socialen Wandlungen in Deutschland vom 14. zum 16. Jahrh., in the Ztschr. f. Social-und Wirthschaftgesch. I., 2. 3, pp. 191-263. The significance of the state of the towns is specially to be observed (see the works by Schmoller). So far as the Church was interwoven with this last, nay, constituted the chief part of it, and in this form had hitherto been held as holy — a state of things on which the Mendicant Orders had been able to work no change — the crisis was already prepared. But there was no proclaiming of separation from the Church; there was a seeking for means for politically reforming it (this almost alone was the question at the Reform Councils), and monachism also took itself seriously to task.186186Höffer, Die Romanische Welt und ihr Verhältniss zu den Reformideen des Mittelalters, 1878. Maurenbrecher, Gesch. d. Kathol. Reformation I., 1880. Kolde. Die deutsche Augustiner-Congregation, 1879. Dittrich, Beiträge z. Gesch. der Kathol. Reform im 1. Drittel des 16. Jahrh. I. u. II. (Görres-gesellsch.-Jahrbuch V. 1884, p. 319 ff., VII. 1886, p. 1 ff.). From the end of the fourteenth century till the time of the Reformation there was a continuous succession of efficient reforms in the older Orders and in the younger, of course on the basis already laid. If the signs do not mislead, the Mendicant Orders in particular rose higher again in the course of the fifteenth century and gained an always increasing influence on popular circles, in the Romanic lands through the occasional appearing of preachers of repentance, in Germany through earnest, steady work. But it is certainly unmistakable that all this did not yet give satisfaction and rest. The proof of this lies — apart from other sectarian agitations — in the fact that the Wyclifite movement, which in literary form had crept in among the Czechs, who were already deeply infected with apocalyptic excitement and Franciscan fanaticism, could strike its roots so deeply in Bohemia under Huss, and could occasion so terrible a revolution, a revolution that shook the half of Germany. From the confused intermingling of “religious, social, national, Joachim-apocalyptic, chiliastic, specifically Wyclifite and Waldensian tendencies, thoughts, hopes and dreams,” individuals gathered out what appealed to them. All shades were represented, from the wild 115warriors of God, who inflicted judgment with fire and sword on the Church and on all despisers of divine law, to the quiet brothers, who really judged the Church as hardly, and clung to as utopian hopes regarding the adjustment of human relationships, but who were willing to wait in patience and quietness. In the fifteenth century the currents of all foregoing attempts at reform flowed together; they could converge into one channel; for all of them sprang originally from one source — the doctrine of poverty, wedded to apocalyptic and to certain Augustinian thoughts, that is, Catholicism. “Silent and soft is poverty’s step,” Jacopone had once sung in his wonderful hymn. That was truly no prophecy of the future.
Even after the papacy, by an unparalleled diplomacy, had released itself from the oppressive requirements of the Reform Councils, when the nations were defrauded of the sure prospect of a reform of the Church, when the Popes, with their great undertaking of securing a sovereign state, descended to the lowest depths of degradation and spoke of reform with scorn, piety as a rule did not lose faith in the Church, but only in her representation at the time, and in her corrupt order. It is a mistake to conclude from the contempt for priests and for lazy monks to the existence of an evangelical spirit. There can express itself in such contempt the purest and most obedient Catholic piety. This piety displayed in the second half of the fifteenth century a strength of vigorous impulse, in some measure even a power, greater than ever before. And it remained immovably the old piety. It attracted the laity more powerfully; it became richer in good works and in the spirit of love; it united clergy and laity in common religious undertakings; it wrought for the deepening and strengthening of the inner life. But just on these grounds it attached higher value to outward signs, sought for them, increased their number, and gave itself up to them. One may detect in this something of unrest, of dissatisfaction; but we must not forget that this is just what belongs to Catholic piety. This piety seeks, not for a basis of rock, but for means of help, and even where it is most inward, and seems to have bidden farewell to everything external, 116 it must confess that, openly or secretly, it still uses the narcotics and stimulants.
An enormous revolution, ever again retarded, was preparing in the fifteenth century. But this revolution threatened institutions, political and ecclesiastical; threatened the Church, not its gospel, the new dogma-like doctrines, not the old dogma. That a reformation of piety in the sense of faith was preparing, is suggested by nothing whatever that is historically apprehensible; for the most radical opponents, and the most faithful supporters, of the dominant Church, were at one in this, that the forces for a reform of the ecclesiastical life were bound up in Augustine and Francis. The Church doctrines that became the subject of controversy were really no Church doctrines as yet;187187The doctrines of indulgence, of the hierarchy, of free will, etc. Certainly there was opposition also to some old traditional doctrines (eternal damnation, purgatory, etc.), but it was not thorough-going. and then again — even the most radical Church programme had its strong roots, and its justifying title, in elements of the vulgar Church doctrine. Thus dogma remained substantially unassailed. How could anyone imagine, in the age of Nominalism, that the salvation by reform must come from doctrine, so long as the authority of the dogmatic tradition remained untouched? And yet, certainly, it would be a very childish view that would regard the Reformation as something absolutely new, because no direct preparatory stages of it can be pointed out. Individualism, the force of personal life, the irresistible demands for a reconstruction of civil life and social order, the needs of a piety always growing more restless, the distrust of the hierarchy, the rising consciousness of personal responsibility and craving for personal certainty, the conviction that Christ is in His Church, and yet that He is not in ecclesiasticism — all these things could not have reached the ends contemplated by them without a Reformation, which, to outward view, appeared less radical than the programme of the devastating and burning Hussites, but in reality left that programme far behind it. And the piety, i.e., the ecclesiastical faith itself, had, among the manifold elements it included, the new element implanted within it, in the shape of words of Christ and doctrines 117of Paul, in the life displayed by every Christian who, through trust in the grace of God in Christ, had found inward deliverance from the law of grace-dispensations and merit, and from the law of the letter.
Under a theology that had degenerated into a tangled brake, from the hundreds of new religious-ecclesiastical institutions, societies, and brotherhoods, from the countless forms in which the sacred was embodied and sought after, from the sermons and the devotional literature of all kinds, there was to be heard one call, distinct and ever more distinct — the call to vigorous religious life, to practical Christianity, to the religion that is really religion. “ Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation” — this prayer of Augustine was the hidden force of the unrest among the nations, especially the Germanic, in the fifteenth century. Dogmatically expressed: there was a seeking for a sure doctrine of salvation; but one knew not himself what he sought for. The uncertain and hesitating questions got only uncertain and hesitating answers. Even at the present day we cannot escape the charm that clings just to such questions and answers; for they let us see into the living movement of the heart; but he for whom religion has become so serious a matter that he seeks, not for charms, but for nourishment, will not be inclined to exchange Luther’s Smaller Catechism and his hymns for all the wealth, beauty, and freshness of the German devotional literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.188188What is here said applies also to Gothic architecture. It is certainly the greatest, most perfect, and most harmonious product of architectural art since the time of the Greek temple; indeed, it is the only style that is all-pervasive, and that embraces all in unity, as the Greek temple style does. In itself it proves that the mediæval period at its highest point of attainment possessed a harmonious culture which of its kind was perfect. But just on that account the Gothic is the style of mediæval Catholic Christianity, the style of Mysticism and Scholasticism. It awakens exactly the feelings, emotions, and sensations of awe which the Catholic piety, of which it is born, seeks to produce; just on that account also it is of Romanic origin, and the history of its spread is simply a parallel to the history of the spread of Romanic piety. Perhaps the deepest thing that can be said about the Gothic, about its ineffable charm and its æsthetic impressiveness — though at the same time it suggests the inevitable reaction of Protestant piety against it — has been put into words by Goethe in his Wahlverwandschaften (Hempel’s edition, XV., pp. 143, 137, 173): “ . . .She sat down in one of the seats (in a Gothic chapel), and it seemed to her, as she looked up and around, as if she was, and yet was not, as if she realised her identity and yet realised it not, as if all this that was before her was to vanish from her and she from herself, and only when the sun passed from the hitherto very brightly illumined (stained glass) window did she awake.” “From all figures there looks forth only the purest existence; all must be pronounced, if not noble, at least good. Cheerful collectedness, ready recognition of something above us to be reverenced, quiet self-devotion in love and expectant waiting, are expressed in all faces, in all attitudes. The aged man with the bald head, the boy with the curly locks, the sprightly youth, the grave-minded man, the glorified saint, the hovering angel, all seem to know the bliss of an innocent satisfaction, of a devout expectancy. The commonest thing that happens has a touch of heavenly life about it, and an act of divine service seems perfectly adapted to every nature. For such a religion most men look as for a vanished golden age, a lost paradise.” But on the other hand: “As for myself, this mutual approximation and intermingling of the sacred and the sensuous is certainly not to my liking; I am not pleased when people set apart and consecrate and adorn certain special places, that thereby alone they may foster and maintain the feeling of piety. No surroundings, not even the commonest, should disturb the feeling in us of the divine, which can accompany us everywhere, and make every place a consecrated temple. I would like to see an important religious service held in the saloon, where people usually take food, gather for social intercourse, and enjoy themselves with games and dancing. The highest, the most excellent thing, in man is formless, and we must guard against giving it shape in anything save noble deeds.”
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