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§ 28. Luther and Mysticism. The Theologia Germanica.


In 1516 Luther read the sermons of Tauler, the mystic revival preacher of Strassburg (who died in 1361), and discovered the remarkable book called "German Theology," which he ascribed to Tauler, but which is of a little later date from a priest and custos of the Deutsch-Herrn Haus of Frankfort, and a member of the association called "Friends of God." It resembles the famous work of Thomas a Kempis in exhibiting Christian piety as an humble imitation of the life of Christ on earth, but goes beyond it, almost to the very verge of pantheism, by teaching in the strongest terms the annihilation of self-will and the absorption of the soul in God. Without being polemical, it represents by its intense inwardness a striking contrast to the then prevailing practice of religion as a mechanical and monotonous round of outward acts and observances.

Luther published a part of this book from an imperfect manuscript, December, 1516, and from a complete copy, in 1518, with a brief preface of his own.169169    Both prefaces are printed in the Weimar ed. of his works I. 153 and 378 sq. The book itself has gone through many editions; the best is by Franz Pfeiffer, Theologia deutsch, Stuttgart. 1851, third ed. 1855. There is a English translation by Susanna Winkworth, Theologia Germanica, with additions by Canon Kingsley and Chevalier Bunsen, (London, 1854, new ed. 1874; reprinted at Andover, 1846). Several characteristic mystic terms, as Entwerdung, Gelassenheit, Vergottung, are hardly translatable. He praises it as rich and overprecious in divine wisdom, though poor and unadorned in words and human wisdom. He places it next to the Bible and St. Augustin in its teaching about God, Christ, man, and all things, and says in conclusion that "the German divines are doubtless the best divines."

There are various types of mysticism, orthodox and heretical, speculative and practical.170170    Ed. von Hartmann, the pessimist says (Die Philos. des Unbewussten, Berlin, 1869, p. 276): "Die Mystik ist eine Schlingpflanze, die an jedem Stabe emporwuchert und sich mit den extremsten Gegensätzen gleichgut abzufinden weiss." Luther came in contact with the practical and catholic type through Staupitz and the writings of St. Augustin, St. Bernard, and Tauler. It deepened and spiritualized his piety and left permanent traces on his theology. The Lutheran church, like the Catholic, always had room for mystic tendencies. But mysticism alone could not satisfy him, especially after the Reformation began in earnest. It was too passive and sentimental and shrunk from conflict. It was a theology of feeling rather than of action. Luther was a born fighter, and waxed stronger and stronger in battle. His theology is biblical, with such mystic elements as the Bible itself contains.171171    See Hermann Hering, Die Mystik Luthers im Zusammenhange seiner Theologieund in ihrem Verh. zur älteren Mystik. Leipzig, 1879. He distinguishes three periods in Luther’s relation to mysticism: (1) Romanisch-mystische Periode; (2) Germanisch-mystische Periode; (3) Conflict with the false mysticism of Münzer, Carlstadt, the Zwickau Prophets, and Schwenkfeldt.



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