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§ 36. The German Theology.

The evangelical teachings of the little book, known as The German Theology, led Ullmann to place its author in the list of the Reformers before the Reformation.526526    The best German ed., Stuttgart, 1858. The text is taken from Pfeiffer’s ed., Strassburg, 1851, 3d ed. unchanged; Gütersloh, 1875, containing Luther’s Preface of 1518 and the Preface of Joh. Arndt, 1632. Pfeiffer used the MS. dated 1497, the oldest in existence. The best Engl. trans., by Susannah Winkworth, from Pfeiffer’s text, London, 1854, Andover, 1856. The Andover ed. contains an Introd. by Miss Winkworth, a Letter from Chevalier Bunsen and Prefaces by Canon Kingsley and Prof. Calvin E. Stowe. The author was one of the Friends of God, and no writing issuing from that circle has had a more honorable and useful career. Together with the Imitation of Christ, it has been the most profitable of the writings of the German mystics. Its fame is derived from Luther’s high praise as much as from its own excellent contents. The Reformer issued two editions of it, 1516, with a partial text, and 1518, in the second edition giving it the name which remains with it to this day, Ein Deutsch Theologia — A German treatise of Theology.527527    Luther’s full title in the edition. of 1518 is Ein Deutsch Theologia, das ist ein edles Büchlein vom rechten Verstande was Adam und Christus sei und wie Adam in uns sterben und Christus in uns erstehen soll. A German theology, that is, a right noble little book about the right comprehension of what Adam and Christ are, and how Adam is to die in us and Christ is to arise. Cohrs in Herzog, XIX. 626, mentions 28 editions as having appeared in High German previous to 1742. Luther’s Prefaces are given in the Weimar ed. of his Works, pp. 153, 376-378. Luther designated as its author a Frankfurt priest, a Teutonic knight, but for a time it was ascribed to Tauler. The Preface of the oldest MS., dated 1497, and found in 1850, made this view impossible, for Tauler is himself quoted in ch. XIII. Here the author is called a Frankfurt priest and a true Friend of God.

Luther announced his high obligation to the teachings of the manual of the way of salvation when he said that next to the Bible and St. Augustine, no book had come into his hands from which he had learnt more of what God and man and all things are and would wish to learn more. The author, he affirmed, was a pure Israelite who did not take the foam from the surface, but drew from the bed of the Jordan. Here, he continued, the teachings of the Scriptures are set forth as plain as day which have been lying under the desk of the universities, nay, have almost been left to rot in dust and muck. With his usual patriotism, he declared that in the book he had found Christ in the German tongue as he and the other German theologians had never found him in Greek, Latin or Hebrew.

The German Theology sets forth man’s sinful and helpless condition, Christ’s perfection and mediatorial work and calls upon men to have access to God through him as the door. In all its fifty-four chapters no reference is made to Mary or to the justifying nature of good works or the merit of sacramental observances.528528    Dr. Calvin E. Stowe said "the book sets forth the essential principle of the Gospel in its naked simplicity," Winkworth’s ed., p. v. It abounds as no other writing of the German mystics did in quotations from the New Testament. In its pages the wayfaring man may find the path of salvation marked out without mystification.

The book, starting out with the words of St. Paul, "when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away," declares that that which is imperfect has only a relative existence and that, whenever the Perfect becomes known by the creature, then "the I, the Self and the like must all be given up and done away." Christ shows us the way by having taken on him human nature. In chs. XV.-LIV., it shows that all men are dead in Adam, and that to come to the perfect life, the old man must die and the new man be born. He must become possessed with God and depossessed of the devil. Obedience is the prime requisite of the new manhood. Sin is disobedience, and the more "of Self and Me, the more of sin and wickedness and the more the Self, the I, the Me, the Mine, that is, self-seeking and selfishness, abate in a man, the more doth God’s I, that is, God Himself, increase." By obedience we become free. The life of Christ is the perfect model, and we follow him by hearkening unto his words to forsake all. This is nothing else than saying that we must be in union with the divine will and be ready either to do or to suffer. Such a man, a man who is a partaker of the divine nature, will in sincerity love all men and things, do them good and take pleasure in their welfare. Knowledge and light profit nothing without love. Love maketh a man one with God. The last word is that no man can come unto the Father but by Christ.

In 1621 the Catholic Church placed the Theologia Germanica on the Index. If all the volumes listed in that catalogue of forbidden books were like this one, making the way of salvation plain, its pages would be illuminated with ineffable light.529529    Stöckl and other Catholics, though not all, are bitter against the Theologia and charge it with pantheism. Bunsen ranked it next to the Bible. Winkworth’s ed., p. liv.


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