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Johann Scheffler (Angelus Silesius)
A far greater poet than Spee, and one who curiously combines the characteristics of all the various tendencies of thought just mentioned, is Angelus Silesius. Like Spee he employs pastoral titles and imagery to express the love of the soul for her heavenly Bridegroom, and he delights in the beauty of the natural world; like Logau, he gives us a book full of aphorisms; and, like Johann Frank, he is imbued with a certain profound and ardent mysticism. His real name was Johann Scheffler, and he was born at Breslau in 1624 of Lutheran parents, and educated at the university of his native place for the profession of medicine. From very early years he showed a strong predilection for metaphysical and theological researches, and was greatly attracted by the writings of Jacob Böhme. When he grew up he visited the universities of Holland, then famous as medical schools, and sought the acquaintance of men who were remarkable for piety, especially the members of a certain society which had been formed in Amsterdam by the disciples of Böhme. On his return to Silesia he was made private physician to the Duke of Wurtemberg-Ols, and here again was brought into contact with the same kind of thought, for his most intimate friend at Ols was Abraham von Frankenberg, a personal disciple of Böhme, who had written a life of his master. Frankenberg introduced him to the works of many other mystics, especially those of Tauler, Ruysbroeck, and Schwenkfeld, and at his death 247 bequeathed to Scheffler a large library of such works, including many important manuscripts. The tone of piety thus nourished in Scheffler found no congenial air in his native church at Ols. To him the all-important thing was union with Christ, the life of God in the soul; to the Lutheran clergy of Ols this sounded unmeaning, or even a little heretical; what they cared for were certain definitions of dogma and external rules of conduct. They began to attack Scheffler; he replied, and they succeeded only too well in driving him out of the Lutheran and into the Roman Catholic Church. He was received into the latter in 1653, when he was twenty-eight years old; and from this time devoted himself to its service with all the zeal of a proselyte. He was now made private physician to the Emperor Ferdinand III.; but ere long he renounced his profession entirely, took orders, and returned to Breslau, where he died in the Jesuit convent in 1677. By his exertions the Roman Catholics of Breslau obtained permission to celebrate the festival of Corpus Christi by a public procession through the streets, which had been prohibited since the Reformation. The first time that the practice was resumed was in 1662, on which occasion Scheffler (who had now adopted the name of Angelus) bore the monstrance containing the consecrated Host.
Throughout these years Angelus was constantly engaged in fierce controversy with the church he had left, especially with his old enemy Herr Freitag, the court preacher at Ols; but it is not by his polemical writings that he is remembered. They do not display any extraordinary ability, and they are marked by a bitterness and vehemence which is in strange contrast 248 with the tone of his poems. So strong is this contrast that, coupled with the absence of any peculiarly Romanist doctrine (except in nine hymns addressed to the Virgin and the saints, which are appended to one of the later editions), it has led to the assumption that his hymns were written before his conversion; at any rate they were quickly adopted into the hymn-books of the Evangelical Church, and are always counted among the precious treasures of its devotional poetry. The principal work in which they appeared was published first in 1657, and afterwards went through many editions. Its title and preface show the influence of the taste of the times; it is called, "Sacred joys of the Soul, or the Enamoured Psyche," and was followed by another collection entitled "The Mourning Psyche."3131"Heilige Seelenlust oder die verliebte Psyche," and "Die betrübte Psyche." In the preface the "Enamoured Psyche" is admonished to forsake all earthly affections and love the Redeemer alone; for in Christ is the kindest grace, the most graceful loveliness, the loveliest attractiveness, the most attractive beauty; He is the charming Daphnis, the careful Corydon, the faithful Damon, the crown of all virtuous shepherds and shepberdesses; with Him are the beneficent Galathea (kindness), the noble Sophia (wisdom), the fair Callisto (beauty), &c. Some of the hymns of Angelus bear traces of the same style, and have a strong likeness to the one of Spee's already quoted. But a large proportion of them are in quite a different tone, earnest, grave and noble, with a peculiar intensity both of feeling and expression. Such are his well-known hymns: 249 "O Love, who formedst me to wear;" "Thee will I love, my Strength, my Tower;" "O holiest Love, whom most I love," and many others, which breathe a profound love to God in Christ, as the Source and Manifestation of an inexpressible Beauty and Love, with an ardent longing for entire self-surrender to Him. The two following little poems are chosen from those less commonly quoted.
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