Samuel Edward Herrick.

Some heretics of yesterday online

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New York: 11 East Seventeenth Street


Copyright, 1884,

All rights reserved.

The Riverside Press, Cambridge:
Electrotyped and Printed by II. Houghton & Go,









LEST some reader should be disappointed in the
contents of the present volume, let me briefly say by
way of preface that no new facts are brought to light
in the following pages ; they are old stories simply re-
told not for students but for the young men and
women of the Congregation to which it is my privilege
to minister, and whom I am trying to train, from Sun-
day to Sunday, in the Christian graces of Faith, Hope,
and Charity, and in that Kingdom which is " right-
eousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost."

The several chapters were prepared from week to
week and delivered as a course of Sunday Evening
Lectures during the last winter, with no thought of
publication until the last one had been given. Indeed
such a purpose, arising at an earlier day, would have
suggested a preparation so protracted and thorough as
to preclude the possibility of producing them at inter-
vals so brief. Nor would they now be committed to
the types but for the strenuous entreaty of my people.

The Luther celebrations of last autumn turned the
minds of men anew, throughout the Christian world,


to that great revolt against traditionalism and author-
ity which we call the Reformation. To show that the
revolt neither began nor ended with Luther if in-
deed it can be said to be finished yet ; to follow it in
its gradual development in principle and trace it in its
geographical and national expansion ; at the same time
to exhibit it concretely in the lives of its leaders, and
so to bring the reader into a personal sympathy with
them and awaken an interest in personal investigation ;
is the object which I have endeavored to accomplish.
And yet, I should not be content, if I could feel that
only this were attained. The great Protestants of the
past have gained comparatively little for the world, if
they have not established for all succeeding ages the
indefectible right to question even their authority, and
the perpetual privilege of intellectual readjustment.
In other words, a traditional Protestantism has no
more right to a claim of infallibility than a traditional

Every age that the world has seen so far has been
prefatory ; it is hardly probable that the present age
is final. The five centuries from the birth of Tauler
to the death of Wesley (1290-1791) are unified by a
visible progress of religious thought and of spiritual
life. There is no good reason for supposing that the
lines along which that progress has developed have yet
found their termini. It may be said of these " Here-
tics of Yesterday," as the author of the Epistle to the
Hebrews says of the worthies of the Ancient Jewish
Church: "These all having obtained a good report


through faith, received not the promise ; God having
provided some better thing for us, that they without
us should not be made perfect." Nor shall we be per-
fected without the work and attainment, the broader
light and clearer knowledge, of the coming years.






III. Hcs 45





VIII. KNOX . . . 181






A. D. 1290-1361.

CURIOUS it is to observe how these Common-sense Philosophers, men
who brag chiefly of their irrefragable logic, and keep watch and ward, as
if this were their special trade, against 'Mysticism,' and 'Visionary The-
ories,' are themselves obliged to base their whole system on Mysticism, and
a Theory ; on Faith, in short, and that of a very comprehensive kind ; the
Faith, namely, either that man's Senses are themselves Divine, or that
they afford not only an honest, but a literal representation of the workings
of some Divinity. So true is it that for these men also, all knowledge of
the visible rests on belief of the invisible and derives its first meaning and
certainty therefrom. CARLYLE, Essay on Novalis.


A. D. 1290-1361.

MAN'S religion, like himself, combines the seen and
temporal with the unseen and eternal. The soul, or
spirit, or unseen reality of religion, is something en-
tirely distinct from the visible form in which it is
embodied. The two may exist apart, but the normal
condition is that of combination in balance and har-
mony and mutual helpfulness. Religion may exist
only as a corpse ; and it may exist also only as a dis-
embodied spirit. There may be only the visible ap-
pearance, the phenomena of churches and dogmas and
sacraments and sermons, without any interior and
spiritual reality. There have been, as we know, not
only individuals, but whole communities and long ages,
in which this has been the case, when religion has
been like the fair shell of a nut in which the kernel
has completely decayed. And, on the other hand,
there may be religion which takes on little or no vis-
ible manifestation, no church, no human ministry, no
formulated creed, no sacraments, nothing save the spir-
itual intercourse between man and his God. But as
in the human constitution body and soul are intended


to exert a mutual influence, each working healthfully
and helpfully upon the other, the body giving ut-
terance and expression to the soul and carrying out
its purposes and desires, and the soul animating the
body and informing it with grace and beauty, so
also is the intent in all religion. All form is to the
end of spiritual life and vigor, and spiritual life is
in order to outward influence and fruitfulness. But
neither in man nor in his religion are the twain often
found in perfect balance. The one or the other is
likely to preponderate, and in both cases the flesh
tends to get the upper hand of the spirit, and to
tyrannize over it. Then comes the necessity for a
protest and a' reaction to restore the normal relation;
and in this fact lies the whole meaning of Protestant-
ism, in whatever age it appears and whatever the tem-
porary form it takes. Matthew Arnold, in his recent
lecture on Emerson, said that " Mr. Emerson's great
work lay in this, that he was the friend and aider of
those who would live in the spirit," which is but an-
other way of saying that Mr. Emerson was a mystic.
For mysticism is not an ism, but an effort. It has
not to do so much with doctrine as with life. It is not
a revolt from theory or from prevalent belief, but
from materialism in practice and conduct. Hence it
is not peculiar to any one age or church or country,
but is found in all times and under all ecclesiastical
and theological systems, and under the religions of
paganism as well as under that of Christianity. Per-
haps it is impossible to construct a formula for mys-
ticism that shall be brief, concise, and adequate, and so
answer the demands of a definition, as it certainly is
impossible to find one. The more, because the thing
itself has always been a reaction from formula. It is


one of those spiritual things which may be spiritually
discerned, wherever it appears, but which transcend
the limitations of words. You may chase it through the
dictionary, but you will not capture it there ; the net-
work of words is as incapable of holding it as are the
meshes of a seine to retain a wave of the sea. I sus-
pect that the first mystic of whom we have any record
was Enoch, and that the four words which give us his
whole biography come nearer to a true definition than
any attempt that has since been made by theologians
or philosophers, "Enoch walked with God" That
such solitary prominence should have been given to the
name of one man among a multitude of others in that
far-off age beyond the flood indicates that he was dis-
tinguished from his fellows in some such way as Prince
Gautama was in India, as Confucius was in China, as
Socrates was in Greece, and as in after times Tauler
and his companions were in Germany, F^nelon in
France, and the Wesleys in England. There is dis-
cernible in them all the same craving to get above
the low and unspiritual level of their respective times,
to break away from the formalism and perfunctoriness
of the average religious life, to find a union with God
which shall be as real as the common relationships of
daily life.

It was in that darkest time that is just before day
that the German mystics arose. It was not yet the
dawn of the Reformation. These men were preparers
of the way ; voices crying in the wilderness, as John
the Baptist heralded the coming of Christ. Tauler
was the forerunner of Luther, though he did his work
solely with reference to the call of present duty, all
unconscious and unsuspicious of the bright future to
which that work was leading up the German people.


But very little is known of his earlier days, save that
he was born the son of a wealthy family in the city of
Strasburg, in the year 1290. At the age of eighteen,
he betook himself to a religious life. That expression
now does not mean that a man leaves the work-bench
or the counter, or any honest and respectable calling.
We live in the happy day in which religion is under-
stood to possess and sanctify any useful calling, in
which it is as holy and as God-approved a work to
make shoes or seU calico as it is to translate the Scrip-
tures or go on a mission to the heathen. But not so
then. To enter upon a religious life meant to join
some order of monks, to renounce, at least outwardly,
the employments and enjoyments of the world and
live in the convent. Shortly after his renunciation of
the world he proceeded to Paris, which was at that
time the great centre of Christian learning, and where
able professors we^e expounding to thousands of stu-
dents the philosophy of Aristotle and the speculations
of the Schoolmen. It was the characteristic doctrine
of scholasticism that Christianity was a mere objec-
tive phenomenon, to be looked at and studied simply
as a movement of history. That it was also an in-
ward life was well-nigh forgotten. God and Christ
were banished from human sympathies ; men studied
and speculated upon the divine nature as one might
peer at the sun through a telescope from the snow-
covered summit of a mountain, where its life-giving
warmth is unfelt. Eeligious thought was purely spec-
ulative and religious life as purely in externals, and
in neither of these could Tauler find much satisfac-
tion. It was life, not logic, that he longed for. He
turned over the huge volumes with an eager mind and
a yearning heart, but found not what he sought. It


was like looking through window-panes upon which
the dust of years had settled and over which genera-
tions of spiders had spun their webs, while he longed
for open vision. In after years when he had become
the preacher of a living gospel, this student-life at
Paris seemed, when he remembered it, to fill him with
disgust. "Those great masters at Paris," he says,
" do read vast books and turn over the leaves with
great diligence, which is a very good thing ; but spir-
itually enlightened men read the true living book,
wherein all things live ; they turn over the pages of
the heavens and the earth and read therein the mighty
and admirable wonders of God." But dry and frigid
and unsatisfactory to him as all this logic-chopping of
the schools was, it probably was not without an in-
direct benefit. It made him feel still more keenly
a hunger for spiritual realities. It prepared him to
welcome the light still more eagerly when the light
should come. And come it did. On returning from
Paris to Strasburg to take up his work as a preaching
friar, not well knowing as yet what he had to preach,
he fell in with a distinguished brother of his own or-
der, who was teaching the people in their own lan-
guage, with great enthusiasm. He was mighty in the
doctrines of the Schoolmen, but along with his meta-
physics he gave the hungry people much of the Scrip-
ture story, in a popular and pictorial form, turning it
into parables and allegories, teaching them withal the
evil of sin, and the necessity of being at one with God.
This Master Eckart produced a great impression upon
Tauler, and seems to have firmly settled him in the
truth that was then dawning upon the world, that
"outward rites and observances are not necessary to
the essence of piety." This truth Tauler took up and


carried forward and supplemented. He taught likewise
that outward rites and observances are not necessary
to the essence of piety, but he added also this, that true
piety is in the application of religious principles to
life. He showed that piety had its positive as
well as its negative aspect ; what it is, as well as what
is not. One can spin," he says, another can make
shoes; and all these are gifts of the Holy Ghost. I
I you, if I were not a priest, I would esteem it a
reat gift that I was able to make shoes, and would
try to make them so well as to be a pattern to all "
The measure with which we shall be measured is the
faculty of love in the soul, -the will of a man; by
this shall all his life and works be measured."

Truth has ever its counterfeit, even as substance its
shadow; and the mysticism which was spring-mo- U p
m the minds of thoughtful people was accompanied
by its grotesque imitations and burlesques. There
were not wanting men who were ready, then as now
to urn the truth of God into a lie, and make His grace
a cloak for licentiousness. Even in our own day there
are men who, whether from constitutional inability or
from willful perversion, make no distinction betvveen
iaitn and presumption, between inward freedom of
the spirit and lawlessness, between an easy conscience
and holiness. So this resurrection of true faith was
accompanied by the upspringing of the Brethren and
bisters of the Free Spirit, as they called themselves
Tauler himself felt the hindrance which they imposed
upon the truth, and, though charitable and gracious in
is disposition, handled them without gloves whenever
the opportunity offered. "These Free Spirits" he
says, "strive after a false freedom, and, on pretext of
following the inward light, f oUow only the inclinations
ot their own nature."


It would not be possible for me to give, within the
compass of a brief lecture, any adequate and discrim-
inating review of the character and results of the
mysticism of the fourteenth century. I must content
myself with quoting from Mr. Vaughan a single sen-
tence : " The memorable step of progress (made by
Tauler and his companions) is briefly indicated by
saying that they substituted the idea of the immanence
of God in the world for the idea of the emanation
of the world from God." 1 And it is easy to see how
this new thought an old thought now, and one that
has grown very precious to the Christian world
would, in its first freshness and impressiveness, be
likely to be perverted and parodied and made the pre-
text both for theoretical error and vicious practice.
" All things are in God and all things are God," said
Master Eckart. " All creatures in themselves are
naught : all creatures are a speaking or utterance of
God." " Simple people conceive that we are to see
God as if He stood on that side and we on this. It
is not so ; God and I are one in the act of my per-
ceiving Him." It is easy to see how such statements
as these could be misconstrued and perverted ; how
they might be interpreted as a deification of the crea-
ture, and the exaltation of self-will might be construed
as an expression of the will of God ; how all distinc-
tion between good and evil, virtue and vice, might be
swept away, and all external conduct become a matter
of indifference. Nay, let these utterances be hard-
ened into intellectual dogma, and they are the most
dangerous of falsehoods. If God is thus unqualifiedly
in all created things, and all things are filled with
Him, then my will, whatever it be, is but the putting
1 Vauglian's Hours with the Mystics, book vi., ch. 6.


forth of His will, and my act is the act of God Him-
self. But the loftier the truth, the baser the parody
of which it is susceptible. The devil, says St. Au^us-
tine, is but the ape of God.

The little that we know about Tauler's personal his-
tory after he returned to Strasburg and began to ex-
ercise his vocation as a preaching friar may be gath-
ered about three events, and, meagre as it is, will be
quite sufficient to show us what manner of man he
was. These events are,

1. His defiance of the papal ban.

2. His conversion*

3. The advent of the plague usually known as the
Black Death.

1. "According to mediaeval notions, Christendom
was one, one church and one political state. The
whole ecclesiastical power centred in the Pope, who
was the world-priest. And the whole civil power cen-
tred in the Emperor, who was the world-king." 1 The
Pope was chosen by the college of cardinals. The
Emperor was similarly chosen by a number of prince
called Electors, though, after Ms choice by electors,
the Emperor had to be approved and acknowledged
by the Pope. Sometimes there was a contested elec-
tion in either case, two popes claiming the papal
tiara, two emperors claiming the imperial crown. In
the year 1314 this state of things occurred in the
empire ; Frederick of Austria and Louis of Bavaria
both claimed the election, and both were crowned, and
for eight weary years there was a contest between them
for the undivided power. The people were divided in
their sentiments. The Pope could recognize but one
of the claimants, and Frederick was his favorite. The
1 Dr. T. M. Lindsay, Reformation, p. 178.


burghers of Strasburg declared for Louis, and thought
that the Pope had no right to interfere in civil affairs.
He had his own throne at Rome ; let him attend to
his business and rule the church. And so the Pope
said, " Strasburg shall be put under the ban, and all
cities, towns, and individuals who acknowledge Louis
for their emperor." We must not forget what this
meant. It closed the doors of all the churches. It
forbade the preaching of the gospel to those who were
under the interdict, though if the Pope were right
and the people wrong, one would think that they
needed preaching all the more. It refused the sacra-
ments to Christian people ; it compelled the wicked
and lawless to go unadmonished. It reduced society,
as far as possible, to the condition of paganism. The
sick could receive no comfort, and the dying no assur-
ance of absolution. And poor as the aid and comfort
of the church were in thosB da} r s to the weary and the
heavy-laden, they were yet far better than none. The
priests and the monks took their departure to other
towns and provinces which sided with the Pope, in
order to avoid excommunication. In a word, the mul-
titudes of the poor and the ignorant were made to suf-
fer for the offenses of their superiors ; and if the ban
were deserved at all, it was made to press the heaviest
where it was least deserved and most feared. 1 Through

1 " That awful doom which canons tell
Shuts paradise and opens hell ;
Anathema of power so dread,
It blends the living with the dead,
Bids each good angel soar away,
And every ill one claim his prey ;
Expels thee from the church's care,
And deafens Heaven against thy prayer ;
Arms every hand against thy life,


all this long and fearf ul contest, in which the Pope's
curse hung like a thunder-cloud over Alsatia, Tauler
shrank not for a moment from his customary labors.
The heavens were clear over his head. In the fear of
God and the love of man all lower fear vanished away.
The church door of his convent was not to be nailed
up. Day after day he went about encouraging fche
fearful, consoling the sorrowing, telling men every-
where of the love of God, endeavoring in every way
to vary and multiply his labors so as far as possible to
fill the places deserted by his brethren. He was the
good shepherd of his own flock and of all the shep-
herdless flocks that he could reach by his voice or his
pen. God's gentleness made him great in that fearful
time, very great. If we knew nothing else about
him than this, this alone .would glorify him as a star
of the first magnitude in that dark night of the Middle
Ages. Strong and tender* brave and Christly man,
John Tauler ! There is no sainthood since apostolic
days that can outrival thine ! He addressed a letter
to his brother-priests about this time, urging them to

Bans all who aid thee in the strife,
Nay, each whose succor cold and scant
With meanest alms relieves thy want ;
Haunts thee while living, and, when dead,
Dwells on thy yet devoted head ;
Rends Honor's scutcheon from thy hearse,
Stills o'er thy bier the holy verse,
And spurns thy corpse from hallowed ground,
Flung like vile carrion to the hound ;
Such is the dire and desperate doom
For sacrilege decreed by Rome." Lord of the Isles.
Sir Walter's picture, so far from being overdrawn, is tamer
than the facts would warrant, through the exigencies of rhyme
and metre. For a description less bizarre, but really more ade-
quate, see Wordsworth's Ecclesiastical Sonnets, part I., xxxvi.


comfort the people, and keep on preaching and adminis-
tering the sacraments. " For," he says, " ye are bound
to visit and console the sick, remembering the bitter
pain and death of Christ, who hath made satisfaction,
not for your sins only, but also for those of the whole
world ; who doth represent us all before God, so that
if one falleth innocently under the ban, no pope can
shut him out of heaven. Ye should, therefore, give
absolution to such as wish therefor, giving heed rather
to the bidding of Christ and his apostles than to the
ban, which is issued only out of malice and avarice."
"Those who hold the true Christian faith, and sin
only against the person of the Pope, are no heretics.
Those rather are real heretics who obstinately refuse
to repent and forsake their sins : for let a man have
been what he may, if he will so do, he cannot be cast
out of the true church. Through Christ, the truly
penitent thief, murderer, traitor, adulterer, all may
have forgiveness. Such as God beholdeth under an
unrighteous ban, He will turn for them the curse into
a blessing." Luther himself uttered no braver words
than these, two hundred years later, at Worms or

2. His greatness appears in another way, though
perhaps quite as significantly, in the crisis of his life,
which is commonly called his conversion, which oc-
curred in 1340, when Tauler was fifty years of age.
His humility and childlikeness of spirit were as con-
spicuous in this as was his bravery in his treatment of
the ban. He had been preaching now for many years,
and his fame had gone far and wide. He was known
and loved as a good and holy man. There appeared
one day in his audience a stranger, 1 who heard the
1 Nicholas of Basle.


sermon through, and then desired to make confession
and receive absolution. This he did several times.
At length the layman requested, to the doctor's sur-
prise, that he would preach a sermon setting forth
the highest spiritual attainment and how it may be
reached. The sermon was preached, and it is still
extant, setting forth, in four and twenty articles, the
highest spiritual attainment. But the godly layman
was not satisfied. He plainly told the preacher that,
while preaching to others, he had not yet discovered
the sinfulness of his own heart, that he had never yet
made a complete surrender of his own will to God,
and that he had come thirty leagues, not so much to
hear him preach as to warn him against deceiving
himself. A flush of indignation for a moment spread

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Online LibrarySamuel Edward HerrickSome heretics of yesterday → online text (page 1 of 23)