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Born in 1585 at Rauten in Silesia, the youth and early manhood of Johann Heermann fell in the comparatively quiet times that preceded the great war, when people still had leisure for tranquil intellectual enjoyments. Even at school the talent displayed in young Heermann's Latin orations, and the grace of his manner, attracted the notice of some of the great noble families of Silesia; and from one he received the means of travel, from another, on his return, the living of Köben. Here he had six peaceful years, "the Sabbath of his life;" happy in his work, his 195 marriage, his friendship with the family of Von Kottwitz, and his literary labours, which were already rendering him distinguished as a writer of Latin poems and epigrams. But in 1617 his troubles began: first came the death of his wife; then the failure of his own health, which henceforward caused him great suffering throughout his life; and then the war.
No part of Germany suffered more in the war than Silesia. It was the constant battle-field of the contending parties, and its peculiar position entailed on it a fearful amount of religious persecution. The Hussite tendencies among its people, who were partly of Slavonic race, opened the way for the Reformation, which was very soon embraced by many of the great noble families, as well as generally by the towns. But Silesia belonged to the House of Austria, and hence its central government and higher ecclesiastics remained attached to Rome. For some time it was happy in princes and bishops who respected the toleration secured by the Peace of Passau; but in 1609 a king succeeded who was the bitter foe of all Protestants, and was warmly supported by Bishop Charles of Breslau, a brother of the Emperor. Hence whenever in the course of the war a district fell into the hands of the Imperialists, the pastors were immediately turned out of their churches, mass was celebrated, and the people were forced by the greatest oppression to accept Jesuit priests. When the Swedes came, the Jesuits would be dispossessed and the Evangelical pastors restored, to be again banished at the next reverse of fortune. Finally, after the war was over and Silesia was left in the hands of Austria, the Evangelical religion was almost entirely suppressed, 196 only three towns being permitted to erect outside their walls one small wooden building for the performance of evangelical worship. It was during the years 1623 to 1638--fifteen long years!--that the sufferings of Silesia were at their height. More than once it was devastated by regiments of wild Poles and Cossacks under General Dohna, who was commissioned to re-introduce the Romanist religion. He boasted that he performed greater miracles than St. Peter; for St. Peter converted thousands by a sermon, but he converted thousands without a sermon. His method of proselytism was to quarter his soldiers on the principal Evangelical inhabitants of the place, and allow them to exercise what licence they pleased, until the father of the household produced a certificate from the priest of having been to confession; then they would be removed to some other house, where the same process was repeated. So great was the terror inspired by these troops, that in some places the residents came out to meet them with protestations of their readiness to embrace Romanism; in others the population emigrated en masse at their approach. During this period Köben was plundered four times, on each of which occasions Heermann lost all his moveable possessions; he was frequently in danger of his life; was several times obliged to flee, and once had to remain a fugitive in concealment for seventeen weeks. But it was in the midst of all these troubles that he published, in 1630, his "Devoti Musica Cordis," a volume of original hymns which at once made a profound impression, and which was soon followed by two more. These hymns were the first in which the correct and elegant versification of 197 Opitz was applied to religious subjects, but they possessed far higher merits than this; they are distinguished by great depth and tenderness of feeling, by an intense love of the Saviour, and earnest but not self-conscious humility, while in form they are sweet and musical, though the thought sometimes is too much expanded. A remarkably large number have made for themselves a permanent place in the hymnology of the German Church, and several of the most beautiful among them are becoming known in England through translations, especially those on the Passion. We give here two that touchingly refer to the sorrows of his country and church:--
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