MoboReader > Literature > Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family

   Chapter 8 No.8

Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family By Elizabeth Rundle Charles Characters: 43821

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Fritz's Story.

Erfurt, Augustinian Convent, April 1.

I suppose conflict of mind working on a constitution weakened by the plague, brought on the illness from which I am just recovering. It is good to feel strength returning as I do. There is a kind of natural irresistible delight in life, however little we have to live for, especially to one so little prepared to die as I am. As I write, the rooks are cawing in the church-yard elms, disputing and chattering like a set of busy prosaic burghers. But retired from all this noisy public life, two thrushes have built their nest in a thorn just under the window of my cell. And early in the morning they wake me with song. He flies hither and thither as busy as a bee, with food for his mate, as she broods secure among the thick leaves, and then he perches on a twig, and sings as if he had nothing to do but to be happy. All is pleasure to him, no doubt-the work as well as the singing. Happy the creatures for whom it is God's will that they should live according to their nature, and not contrary to it.

Probably in the recovering from illness, when the body is still weak, yet thrilling with reviving strength, the heart is especially tender, and yearns more towards home and former life than it will when strength returns and brings duties. Or, perhaps, this illness recalls the last,-and the loving faces and soft hushed voices that were around me then.

Yet I have nothing to complain of. My aged confessor has scarcely left my bed-side. From the first he brought his bed into my cell, and watched over me like a father.

And his words minister to my heart as much as his hands to my bodily wants.

If my spirit would only take the comfort he offers, as easily as I receive food and medicine from his hands!

He does not attempt to combat my difficulties one by one. He says-

"I am little of a physician. I cannot lay my hand on the seat of disease. But there is One who can." And to Him I know the simple-hearted old man prays for me.

Often he recurs to the declaration in the creed, "I believe in the forgiveness of sins." "It is the command of God," he said to me one day, "that we should believe in the forgiveness of sins; not of David's or Peter's sins, but of ours, our own, the very sins that distress our consciences." He also quoted a sermon of St. Bernard's on the annunciation.

"The testimony of the Holy Ghost given in thy heart is this, 'Thy sins are forgiven thee.'"

Yes, forgiven to all penitents! But who can assure me I am a true penitent?

These words, he told me, comforted Brother Martin, and he wonders they do not comfort me. I suppose Brother Martin had "the testimony of the Holy Ghost in his heart;" but who shall give that to me? to me who resisted the vocation of the Holy Ghost so long; who in my deepest heart obey it so imperfectly still!

Brother Martin was faithful, honest, thorough, single-hearted,-all that God accepts; all that I am not!

The affection and compassion of my aged confessor often, however, comfort me, even when his words have little power. They make me feel a dim hope now and then that the Lord he serves may have something of the same pity in his heart.

Erfurt, April 15.

The Vicar-General, Staupitz, has visited our convent. I have confessed to him. He was very gentle with me, and to my surprise proscribed me scarcely any penance, although I endeavored to unveil all to him.

Once he murmured, as if to himself, looking at me with a penetrating compassion, "Yes, there is no drawing back. But I wish I had known this before." And then he added to me, "Brother, we must not confuse suffering with sin. It is sin to turn back. It may be anguish to look back and see what we have renounced, but it is not necessarily sin, if we resolutely press forward still. And if sin mingles with the regret, remember we have to do not with a painted, but a real Saviour; and he died not for painted, but for real sins. Sin is never overcome by looking at it, but by looking away from it to Him who bore our sins, yours and mine, on the cross. The heart is never won back to God by thinking we ought to love him, but by learning what he is, all worthy of our love. True repentance begins with the love of God. The Holy Spirit teaches us to know, and, therefore, to love God. Fear not, but read the Scriptures, and pray. He will employ thee in his service yet, and in his favour is life, and in his service is freedom."

This confession gave me great comfort for the time. I felt myself understood, and yet not despaired of. And that evening, after repeating the Hours, I ventured in my own words to pray to God, and found it solemn and sweet.

But since then my old fear has recurred. Did I indeed confess completely even to the Vicar-General? If I had, would not his verdict have been different? Does not the very mildness of his judgment prove that I have once more deceived myself-made a false confession, and, therefore, failed of the absolution! But it is a relief to have his positive command as my superior to study the Holy Scriptures, instead of the scholastic theologians, to whose writings my preceptor had lately been exclusively directing my studies.

April 25.

I have this day, to my surprise, received a command, issuing from the Vicar-General, to prepare to set off on a mission to Rome.

The monk under whose direction I am to journey I do not yet know.

The thought of the new scenes we shall pass through, and the wonderful new world we shall enter on,-new and old,-fills me with an almost childish delight. Since I heard it, my heart and conscience seem to have become strangely lightened, which proves, I fear, how little real earnestness there is in me.

Another thing, however, has comforted me greatly. In the course of my confession I spoke to the Vicar-General about my family, and he has procured for my father an appointment as superintendent of the Latin printing press, at the Elector's new University of Wittemberg.

I trust now that the heavy pressure of pecuniary care which has weighed so long on my mother and Elsè will be relieved. It would have been sweeter to me to have earned this relief for them by my own exertions. But we must not choose the shape or the time in which divine messengers shall appear.

The Vicar-General has, moreover, presented me with a little volume of sermons by a pious Dominican friar, named Tauler. These are wonderfully deep and heart-searching. I find it difficult to reconcile the sublime and enrapt devotion to God which inspires them, with the minute rules of our order, the details of scholastic casuistry, and the precise directions as to the measure of worship and honour, Dulia, Hyperdulia, and Latria to be paid to the various orders of heavenly beings, which make prayer often seem as perplexing to me as the ceremonial of the imperial court would to a peasant of the Thuringian forest.

This Dominican speaks as if we might soar above all these lower things, and lose ourselves in the One Ineffable Source, Ground, Beginning, and End of all Being; the One who is all.

Dearer to me, however, than this, is an old manuscript in our convent library, containing the confessions of the patron of our order himself, the great father Augustine.

Straight from his heart it penetrates into mine, as if spoken to me to-day. Passionate, fervent, struggling, wandering, trembling, adoring heart, I feel its pulses through every line!

And was this the experience of one who is now a saint on the most glorious heights of heaven?

Then the mother! Patient, lowly, noble, saintly Monica; mother, and more than martyr. She rises before me in the likeness of a beloved form I may remember, without sin, even here, even now. St. Monica speaks to me with my mother's voice; and in the narrative of her prayers I seem to gain a deeper insight into what my mother's have been for me.

St. Augustine was happy, to breathe the last words of comfort to herself as he did, to be with her dwelling in one house to the last. This can scarcely be given to me. "That sweet habit of living together" is broken for ever between us; broken by my deliberate act. "For the glory of God!" may God accept it; if not, may he forgive!

That old manuscript is worn with reading. It has lain in the convent library for certainly more than a hundred years. Generation after generation of those who now lie sleeping in the field of God below our windows have turned over those pages. Heart after heart has doubtless come, as I came, to consult the oracle of that deep heart of old times, so nearly shipwrecked, so gloriously saved.

As I read the old thumbed volume, a company of spirits seems to breathe in fellowship around me, and I think how many, strengthened by these words, are perhaps, even now, like him who penned them, amongst the spirits of the just made perfect.

In the convent library, the dead seem to live again around me. In the cemetery are the relics of the corruptible body. Among these worn volumes I feel the breath of the living spirits of generations passed away.

I must say, however, there is more opportunity for solitary communion with the departed in that library than I could wish. The books are not so much read, certainly, in these days, as the Vicar-General would desire, although the Augustinian has the reputation of being among the more learned orders.

I often question what brought many of these easy comfortable monks here. But many of the faces give no reply to my search. No history seems written on them. The wrinkles seem mere ruts of the wheels of Time, not furrows sown with the seeds of thought,-happy at least if they are not as fissures rent by the convulsions of inward fires.

I suppose many of the brethren became monks just as other men become tailors or shoemakers, and with no further spiritual aim, because their parents planned it so. But I may wrong even the meanest in saying so. The shallowest human heart has depths somewhere, let them be crusted over by ice ever so thick, or veiled by flowers ever so fair.

And I-I and this unknown brother are actually about to journey to Italy, the glorious land of sunshine, and vines, and olives, and ancient cities-the land of Rome, imperial, saintly Rome, where countless martyrs sleep, where St. Augustine and Monica sojourned, where St. Paul and St. Peter preached and suffered,-where the vicar of Christ lives and reigns?

May 1.

The brother with whom I am to make the pilgrimage to Rome, arrived last night. To my inexpressible delight it is none other than Brother Martin-Martin Luther! Professor of Theology in the Elector's new University of Wittemberg. He is much changed again since I saw him last, toiling through the streets of Erfurt with the sack on his shoulder. The hollow, worn look, has disappeared from his face, and the fire has come back to his eyes. Their expression varies, indeed, often from the sparkle of merriment to a grave earnestness, when all their light seems withdrawn inward; but underneath there is that kind of repose I have noticed in the countenance of my aged confessor.

Brother Martin's face has, indeed, a history written on it, and a history, I deem, not yet finished.

Heidelberg, May 25.

I wondered at the lightness of heart with which I set out on our journey from Erfurt.

The Vicar-General himself accompanied us hither. We travelled partly on horseback, and partly in wheeled carriages.

The conversation turned much on the prospects of the new university, and the importance of finding good professors of the ancient languages for it. Brother Martin himself proposed to make use of his sojourn at Rome, to improve himself in Greek and Hebrew, by studying under the learned Greeks and rabbis there. They counsel me also to do the same.

The business which calls us to Rome is an appeal to the Holy Father, concerning a dispute between some convents of our Order and the Vicar-General.

But they say business is slowly conducted at Rome, and will leave us much time for other occupations besides those which are most on our hearts, namely, paying homage at the tombs of the holy apostles and martyrs.

They speak most respectfully and cordially of the Elector Frederick, who must indeed be a very devout prince. Not many years since, he accomplished a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and took with him the painter Lucas Cranach, to make drawings of the various holy places.

About ten years since, he built a church dedicated to St. Ursula, on the site of the small chapel erected in 1353, over the Holy Thorn from the Crown of Thorns, presented to a former elector by the king of France.

This church is already, they say, through the Elector Frederick's diligence, richer in relics than any church in Europe, except that of Assisi, the birth-place of St. Francis. And the collection is still continually being increased.

They showed me a book printed at Wittemberg a year or two since, entitled "A Description of the Venerable Relics," adorned with one hundred and nineteen woodcuts.

The town itself seems to be still poor and mean compared with Eisenach and Erfurt; and the students, of whom there are now nearly five hundred, are at times very turbulent. There is much beer-drinking among them. In 1507, three years since, the Bishop of Brandenburg laid the whole city under interdict for some insult offered by the students to his suite, and now they are forbidden to wear guns, swords, or knives.

Brother Martin, however, is full of hope as to the good to be done among them. He himself received the degree of Biblicus (Bible teacher) on the 9th of March last year; and every day he lectures between twelve and one o'clock.

Last summer, for the first time, he was persuaded by the Vicar-General to preach publicly. I heard some conversation between them in reference to this, which afterwards Brother Martin explained to me.

Dr. Staupitz and Brother Martin were sitting last summer in the convent garden at Wittemberg together, under the shade of a pear tree, whilst the Vicar-General endeavoured to prevail on him to preach. He was exceedingly unwilling to make the attempt. "It is no little matter," said he to Dr. Staupitz, "to appear before the people in the place of God." "I had fifteen arguments," he continued in relating it to me, "wherewith I purposed to resist my vocation; but they availed nothing." At the last I said, "Dr. Staupitz, you will be the death of me, for I cannot live under it three months." "Very well," replied Dr. Staupitz, "still go on. Our Lord God hath many great things to accomplish, and he has need of wise men in heaven as well as in earth."

Brother Martin could not further resist, and after making a trial before the brethren in the refectory, at last, with a trembling heart, he mounted the pulpit of the little chapel of the Augustinian cloister.

"When a preacher for the first time enters the pulpit," he concluded, "no one would believe how fearful he is; he sees so many heads before him. When I go into the pulpit, I do not look on any one. I think them only to be so many blocks before me, and I speak out the words of my God."

And yet Dr. Staupitz says his words are like thunder-peals. Yet! do I say? Is it not because? He feels himself nothing; he feels his message everything; he feels God present. What more could be needed to make a man of his power a great preacher?

With such discourse the journey seemed accomplished quickly indeed. And yet, almost the happiest hours to me were those when we were all silent, and the new scenes passed rapidly before me. It was a great rest to live for a time on what I saw, and cease from thought, and remembrance, and inward questionings altogether. For have I not been commanded this journey by my superiors, so that in accordance with my vow of obedience, my one duty at present is to travel; and therefore what pleasure it chances to bring I must not refuse.

We spent some hours in Nüremberg. The quaint rich carvings of many of the houses were beautiful. There also we saw Albrecht Dürer's paintings, and heard Hans Sachs, the shoemaker and poet, sing his godly German hymns. And as we crossed the Bavarian plains, the friendliness of the simple peasantry made up to us for the sameness of the country.

Near Heidelberg again I fancied myself once more in the Thuringian forest, especially as we rested in the convent of Erbach in the Odenwald. Again the familiar forests and green valleys with their streams were around me. I fear Elsè and the others will miss the beauty of the forest-covered hills around Eisenach, when they remove to Wittemberg, which is situated on a barren, monotonous flat. About this time they will be moving!

Brother Martin has held many disputations on theological and philosophical questions in the University of Heidelberg; but I, being only a novice, have been free to wander whither I would.

This evening it was delightful to stand in the woods of the Elector Palatine's castle, and from among the oaks and delicate birches rustling about me, to look down on the hills of the Odenwald folding over each other. Far up among them I traced the narrow, quiet Neckar, issuing from the silent depths of the forest; while on the other side, below the city, it wound on through the plain to the Rhine, gleaming here and there with the gold of sunset or the cold grey light of the evening. Beyond, far off, I could see the masts of ships on the Rhine.

I scarcely know why, the river made me think of life, of mine and Brother Martin's. Already he has left the shadow of the forests. Who can say what people his life will bless, what sea it will reach, and through what perils? Of this I feel sure, it will matter much to many what its course shall be. For me it is otherwise. My life, as far as earth is concerned, seems closed,-ended; and it can matter little to any, henceforth, through what regions it passes, if only it reaches the ocean at last, and ends, as they say, in the bosom of God. If only we could be sure that God guides the course of our lives as he does that of rivers! And yet, do they not say that some rivers lose themselves in sandwastes, and others trickle meanly to the sea through lands they have desolated into untenantable marshes?

Black Forest, May 14, 1510.

Brother Martin and I are now fairly on our pilgrimage alone, walking all day, begging our provisions and our lodgings, which he sometimes repays by performing a mass in the parish church, or by a promise of reciting certain prayers or celebrating masses on the behalf of our benefactors, at Rome.

These are, indeed, precious days. My whole frame seems braced and revived by the early rising, the constant movement in the pure air, the pressing forward to a definite point.

But more, infinitely more than this, my heart seems reviving. I begin to have a hope and see a light which, until now, I scarcely deemed possible.

To encourage me in my perplexities and conflicts, Brother Martin unfolded to me what his own had been. To the storm of doubt, and fear, and anguish in that great heart of his my troubles seem like a passing spring shower. Yet to me they were tempests which laid my heart waste. And God, Brother Martin believes, does not measure his pity by what our sorrows are in themselves, but what they are to us. Are we not all children, little children, in his sight?

"I did not learn my divinity at once," he said, "but was constrained by my temptations to search deeper and deeper; for no man without trials and temptations can attain a true understanding of the Holy Scriptures. St. Paul had a devil that beat him with fists, and with temptations drove him diligently to study the Holy Scriptures. Temptations hunted me into the Bible, wherein I sedulously read; and thereby, God be praised, at length attained a true understanding of it."

He then related to me what some of these temptations were;-the bitter disappointment it was to him to find that the cowl, and even the vows and the priestly consecration, made no change in his heart; that Satan was as near him in the cloister as outside, and he no stronger to cope with him. He told me of his endeavours to keep every minute rule of the order, and how the slightest deviation weighed on his conscience. It seems to have been like trying to restrain a fire by a fence of willows, or to guide a mountain torrent in artificial windings through a flower-garden, to bind his fervent nature by these vexatious rules.

He was continually becoming absorbed in some thought or study, and forgetting all the rules, and then painfully he would turn back and retrace his steps; sometimes spending weeks in absorbing study, and then remembering he had neglected his canonical hours, and depriving himself of sleep for nights to make up the missing prayers.

He fasted, disciplined himself, humbled himself to perform the meanest offices for the meanest brother; forcibly kept sleep from his eyes wearied with study, and his mind worn out with conflict, until every now and then Nature avenged herself by laying him unconscious on the floor of his cell, or disabling him by a fit of illness.

But all in vain; his temptations seemed to grow stronger, his strength less. Love to God he could not feel at all; but in his secret soul the bitterest questioning of God, who seemed to torment him at once by the law and the gospel. He thought of Christ as the severest judge, because the most righteous; and the very phrase, "the righteousness of God," was torture to him.

Not that this state of distress was continual with him. At times he gloried in his obedience, and felt that he earned rewards from God by performing the sacrifice of the mass, not only for himself, but for others. At times, also, in his circuits, after his consecration, to say mass in the villages around Erfurt

, he would feel his spirits lightened by the variety of the scenes he witnessed, and would be greatly amused at the ridiculous mistakes of the village choirs; for instance, their chanting the "Kyrie" to the music of the "Gloria."

Then, at other times, his limbs would totter with terror when he offered the holy sacrifice, at the thought that he, the sacrificing priest, yet the poor, sinful Brother Martin, actually stood before God "without a Mediator."

At his first mass he had difficulty in restraining himself from flying from the altar-so great was his awe and the sense of his unworthiness. Had he done so, he would have been excommunicated.

Again, there were days when he performed the services with some satisfaction, and would conclude with saying, "O Lord Jesus, I come to thee and entreat thee to be pleased with whatsoever I do and suffer in my order; and I pray thee that these burdens and this straitness of my rule and religion may be a full satisfaction for all my sins."

Yet then again, the dread would come that perhaps he had inadvertently omitted some word in the service, such as "enim" or "?ternum," or neglected some prescribed genuflexion, or even a signing of the cross; and that thus, instead of offering to God an acceptable sacrifice in the mass, he had committed a grievous sin.

From such terrors of conscience he fled for refuge to some of his twenty-one patron saints, or oftener to Mary, seeking to touch her womanly heart, that she might appease her Son. He hoped that by invoking three saints daily, and by letting his body waste away with fastings and watchings, he should satisfy the law, and shield his conscience against the goad of the driver. But it all availed him nothing. The further he went on in this way, the more he was terrified.

And then he related to me how the light broke upon his heart; slowly, intermittently, indeed; yet it has dawned on him. His day may often be dark and tempestuous; but it is day, and not night.

Dr. Staupitz was the first who brought him any comfort. The Vicar-General received his confession not long after he entered the cloister, and from that time won his confidence, and took the warmest interest in him. Brother Martin frequently wrote to him; and once he used the words, in reference to some neglect of the rules which troubled his conscience, "Oh, my sins, my sins!" Dr. Staupitz replied, "You would be without sin, and yet you have no proper sins. Christ forgives true sins, such as parricide, blasphemy, contempt of God, adultery, and sins like these. These are sins indeed. You must have a register in which stand veritable sins, if Christ is to help you. You would be a painted sinner, and have a painted Christ as a Saviour. You must make up your mind that Christ is a real Saviour, and you a real sinner."

These words brought some light to Brother Martin, but the darkness came back again and again; and tenderly did Dr. Staupitz sympathize with him and rouse him-Dr. Staupitz, and that dear aged confessor, who ministered also so lovingly to me. Brother Martin's great terror was the thought of the righteousness of God, by which he had been taught to understand his inflexible severity in executing judgment on sinners.

Dr. Staupitz and the confessor explained to him that the righteousness of God is not against the sinner who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, but for him-not against us to condemn, but for us to justify.

He began to study the Bible with a new zest. He had had the greatest longing to understand rightly the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, but was always stopped by the word "righteousness" in the first chapter and seventeenth verse, where Paul says the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel. "I felt very angry," he said, "at the term, 'righteousness of God;' for, after the manner of all the teachers, I was taught to understand it in a philosophic sense, of that righteousness by which God is just and punisheth the guilty. Though I had lived without reproach, I felt myself to be a great sinner before God, and was of a very quick conscience, and had not confidence in a reconciliation with God to be produced by any work or satisfaction or merit of my own. For this cause I had in me no love of a righteous and angry God, but secretly hated him, and thought within myself, Is it not enough that God has condemned us to everlasting death by Adam's sin, and that we must suffer so much trouble and misery in this life? Over and above the terror and threatening of the law, must he needs increase by the gospel our misery and anguish, and, by the preaching of the same, thunder against us his justice and fierce wrath? My confused conscience ofttimes did cast me into fits of anger, and I sought day and night to make out the meaning of Paul; and at last I came to apprehend it thus: Through the gospel is revealed the righteousness which availeth with God-a righteousness by which God, in his mercy and compassion, justifieth us; as is it written, 'The just shall live by faith.' Straightway I felt as if I were born anew; it was as if I had found the door of Paradise thrown wide open. Now I saw the Scriptures altogether in a new light-ran through their whole contents as far as my memory would serve, and compared them-and found that this righteousness was the more surely that by which he makes us righteous, because everything agreed thereunto so well. The expression, 'the righteousness of God,' which I so much hated before, became now dear and precious-my darling and most comforting word. That passage of Paul was to me the true door of Paradise."

Brother Martin also told me of the peace the words, "I believe in the forgiveness of sins," brought to him, as the aged confessor had previously narrated to me; for, he said, the devil often plucked him back, and, taking the very form of Christ, sought to terrify him again with his sins.

As I listened to him, the conviction came on me that he had indeed drunk of the well-spring of everlasting life, and it seemed almost within my own reach; but I said-

"Brother Martin, your sins were mere transgressions of human rules, but mine are different." And I told him how I had resisted my vocation. He replied-

"The devil gives heaven to people before they sin; but after they sin, brings their consciences into despair. Christ deals quite in the contrary way, for he gives heaven after sins committed, and makes troubled consciences joyful."

Then we fell into a long silence, and from time to time, as I looked at the calm which reigned on his rugged and massive brow, and felt the deep light in his dark eyes, the conviction gathered strength-

"This solid rock on which that tempest-tossed spirit rests is Truth!"

His lips moved now and then, as if in prayer, and his eyes were lifted up from time to time to heaven, as if his thoughts found a home there.

After this silence, he spoke again and said-

"The gospel speaks nothing of our works or of the works of the law, but of the inestimable mercy and love of God towards most wretched and miserable sinners. Our most merciful Father, seeing us overwhelmed and oppressed with the curse of the law, and so to be holden under the same, that we could never be delivered from it by our own power, sent his only Son into the world, and laid upon him the sins of all men, saying, 'Be thou Peter, that denier; Paul, that persecutor, blasphemer, and cruel oppressor; David, that adulterer; that sinner that did eat the apple in Paradise; that thief that hanged upon the cross; and briefly, be thou the person that hath committed the sins of all men, and pay and satisfy for them.' For God trifleth not with us, but speaketh earnestly and of great love, that Christ is the Lamb of God who beareth the sins of us all. He is just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus."

I could answer nothing to this, but walked along pondering these words. Neither did he say any more at that time.

The sun was sinking low, and the long shadows of the pine trunks were thrown athwart our green forest-path, so that we were glad to find a charcoal-burner's hut, and to take shelter for the night beside his fires.

But that night I could not sleep; and when all were sleeping around me, I rose and went out into the forest.

Brother Martin is not a man to parade his inmost conflicts before the eyes of others, to call forth their sympathy or their idle wonder. He has suffered too deeply and too recently for that. It is not lightly that he has unlocked the dungeons and torture-chambers of his past life for me. It is as a fellow-sufferer and a fellow-soldier, to show me how I also may escape and overcome.

It is surely because he is to be a hero and a leader of men that God has caused him to tread these bitter ways alone.

A new meaning dawns on old words for me. There is nothing new in what he says, but it seems new to me, as if God had spoken it first to-day; and all things seem made new in its light.

God, then, is more earnest for me to be saved than I am to be saved!

"He so loved the world, that he gave his Son."

He loved not saints, not penitents, not the religious, not those who love him; but "the world," secular men, profane men, hardened rebels, hopeless wanderers and sinners!

He gave not a mere promise, not an angel to teach us, not a world to ransom us, but his Son-his Only-begotten!

So much did God love the world, sinners, me! I believe this; I must believe it; I believe in him who says it. How can I then do otherwise than rejoice?

Two glorious visions rise before me and begin to fill the world and all my heart with joy.

I see the Holiest, the Perfect, the Son made the victim, the lamb, the curse, willingly yielding himself up to death on the cross for me.

I see the Father-inflexible in justice yet delighting in mercy-accepting him, the spotless Lamb whom he had given; raising him from the dead; setting him on his right hand. Just, beyond all my terrified conscience could picture him, he justifies me the sinner.

Hating sin as love must abhor selfishness, and life death, and purity corruption, he loves me-the selfish, the corrupt, the dead in sins. He gives his Son, the Only-begotten, for me; he accepts his Son, the spotless Lamb, for me; he forgives me; he acquits me; he will make me pure.

The thought overpowered me. I knelt among the pines and spoke to Him who hears when we have no words, for words failed me altogether then.

Munich, May 18.

All the next day and the next that joy lasted. Every twig, and bird, and dew-drop spoke in parables to me; sang to me the parable of the son who had returned from the far country, and as he went towards his father's house prepared his confession; but never finished the journey, for the father met him when he was yet a great way off; and never finished the confession, for the father stopped his self-reproaches with embraces.

And on the father's heart what child could say, "Make me as one of thy hired servants?"

I saw His love shining in every dew-drop on the grassy forest glades; I heard it in the song of every bird; I felt it in every pulse.

I do not know that we spoke much during those days, Brother Martin and I.

I have known something of love; but I have never felt a love that so fills, overwhelms, satisfies, as this love of God. And when first it is "thou and I" between God and the soul, for a time, at least, the heart has little room for other fellowship.

But then came doubts and questionings. Whence came they! Brother Martin said from Satan.

"The devil is a wretched, unhappy spirit," said he, "and he loves to make us wretched."

One thing that began to trouble me was, whether I had the right kind of faith. Old definitions of faith recurred to me, by which faith is said to be nothing unless it is informed with charity and developed into good works, so that when it saith we are justified by faith, the part is taken for the whole-and it means by faith, also hope, charity, all the graces, and all good works.

But Brother Martin declared it meaneth simply believing. He said,-

"Faith is an almighty thing, for it giveth glory to God, which is the highest service that can be given to him. Now, to give glory to God, is to believe in him; to count him true, wise, righteous, merciful, almighty. The chiefest thing God requireth of man is, that he giveth unto him his glory and divinity; that is to say, that he taketh him not for an idol, but for God; who regardeth him, heareth him, showeth mercy unto him, and helpeth him. For faith saith thus, 'I believe thee, O God, when thou speakest.'"

But our great wisdom, he says, is to look away from all these questionings,-from our sins, our works, ourselves, to Christ, who is our righteousness, our Saviour, our all.

Then at times other things perplex me. If faith is so simple, and salvation so free, why all those orders, rules, pilgrimages, penances?

And to these perplexities we can neither of us find any answer. But we must be obedient to the Church. What we cannot understand we must receive and obey. This is a monk's duty, at least.

Then at times another temptation comes on me. "If thou hadst known of this before," a voice says deep in my heart, "thou couldst have served God joyfully in thy home, instead of painfully in the cloister; couldst have helped thy parents and Elsè, and spoken with Eva on these things, which her devout and simple heart has doubtless received already." But, alas! I know too well what tempter ventures to suggest that name to me, and I say, "Whatever might have been, malicious spirit, now I am a religious, a devoted man, to whom it is perdition to draw back!"

Yet, in a sense, I seem less separated from my beloved ones during these past days.

There is a brotherhood, there is a family, more permanent than the home at Eisenach, or even the Order of St. Augustine, in which we may be united still. There is a home in which, perhaps, we may yet be one household again.

And meantime, God may have some little useful work for me to do here, which in his presence may make life pass as quickly as this my pilgrimage to Rome in Brother Martin's company.

Benedictine Monastery in Lombardy.

God has given us during these last days to see, as I verily believe, some glimpses into Eden. The mountains with snowy summits, like the white steps of His throne; the rivers which flow from them and enrich the land; the crystal seas, like glass mingled with fire, when the reflected snow-peaks burn in the lakes at dawn or sunset; and then this Lombard plain, watered with rivers which make its harvests gleam like gold; this garner of God, where the elms or chestnuts grow among the golden maize, and the vines festoon the trees, so that all the land seems garlanded for a perpetual holy day. We came through the Tyrol by Füssen, and then struck across by the mountains and the lakes to Milan.

Now we are entertained like princes in this rich Benedictine abbey. Its annual income is 36,000 florins. "Of eating and feasting," as brother Martin says, "there is no lack;" for 12,000 florins are consumed on guests, and as large a sum on building. The residue goeth to the convent and the brethren.

They have received us poor German monks with much honour, as a deputation from the great Augustinian Order to the Pope.

The manners of these southern people are very gentle and courteous; but they are lighter in their treatment of sacred things than we could wish.

The splendour of the furniture and dress amazes us; it is difficult to reconcile it with the vows of poverty and renunciation of the world. But I suppose they regard the vow of poverty as binding not on the community, but only on the individual monk. It must, however, at the best, be hard to live a severe and ascetic life amidst such luxuries. Many, no doubt, do not try.

The tables are supplied with the most costly and delicate viands; the walls are tapestried; the dresses are of fine silk; the floors are inlaid with rich marbles.

Poor, poor splendours, as substitutes for the humblest home!

Bologna, June.

We did not remain long in the Benedictine monastery, for this reason: Brother Martin, I could see, had been much perplexed by their luxurious living; but as a guest, had, I suppose, scarcely felt at liberty to remonstrate, until Friday came, when, to our amazement, the table was covered with meats and fruits, and all kinds of viands, as on any other day, regardless not only of the rules of the Order, but of the common laws of the whole Church.

He would touch none of these dainties; but not content with this silent protest, he boldly said before the whole company, "The Church and the Pope forbid such things!"

We had then an opportunity of seeing into what the smoothness of these Italian manners can change when ruffled.

The whole brotherhood burst into a storm of indignation. Their dark eyes flashed, their white teeth gleamed with scornful and angry laughter, and their voices rose in a tempest of vehement words, many of which were unintelligible to us.

"Intruders," "barbarians," "coarse and ignorant Germans," and other biting epithets, however, we could too well understand.

Brother Martin stood like a rock amidst the torrent, and threatened to make their luxury and disorder known at Rome.

When the assembly broke up, we noticed the brethren gather apart in small groups, and cast scowling glances at us when we chanced to pass near.

That evening the porter of the monastery came to us privately, and warned us that this convent was no longer a safe resting-place for us.

Whether this was a friendly warning, or merely a device of the brethren to get rid of troublesome guests, I know not; but we had no wish to linger, and before the next day dawned we crept in the darkness out of a side gate into a boat, which we found on the river which flows beneath the walls, and escaped.

It was delightful to-day winding along the side of a hill, near Bologna, for miles, under the flickering shade of trellises covered with vines. But Brother Martin, I thought, looked ill and weary.

Bologna.

Thank God, Brother Martin is reviving again. He has been on the very borders of the grave.

Whether it was the scorching heat through which we have been travelling, or the malaria, which affected us with catarrh one night when we slept with our windows open, or whether the angry monks in the Benedictine Abbey mixed some poison with our food, I know not; but we had scarcely reached this place when he became seriously ill.

As I watched beside him I learned something of the anguish he passed through at our convent at Erfurt. The remembrance of his sins and the terrors of God's judgment rushed on his mind, weakened by suffering. At times he recognized that it was the hand of the evil one which was keeping him down. "The devil," he would say, "is the accuser of the brethren, not Christ. Thou, Lord Jesus, art my forgiving Saviour!" And then he would rise above the floods. Again his mind would bewilder itself with the unfathomable-the origin of evil, the relation of our free will to God's almighty will.

Then I ventured to recall to him the words of Dr. Staupitz he had repeated to me: "Behold the wounds of Jesus Christ, and then thou shall see the counsel of God clearly shining forth. We cannot comprehend God out of Jesus Christ. In Christ you will find what God is, and what he requires. You will find him nowhere else, whether in heaven or on earth."

It was strange to find myself, untried recruit that I am, thus attempting to give refreshment to such a veteran and victor as Brother Martin; but when the strongest are brought into single combats such as these, which must be single, a feeble hand may bring a draught of cold water to revive the hero between the pauses of the fight.

The victory, however, can only be won by the combatant himself; and at length Brother Martin fought his way through once more, and as so often happens, just when the fight seemed hottest. It was with an old weapon he overcame-"The just shall live by faith."

Once more the words which have helped him so often, which so frequently he has repeated on this journey, came with power to his mind. Again he looked to the crucified Saviour; again he believed in him triumphant and ready to forgive on the throne of grace; and again his spirit was in the light.

His strength also soon began to return; and in a few days we are to be in Rome.

Rome.

The pilgrimage is over. The holy city is at length reached.

Across burning plains, under trellised vine-walks on the hill-sides, over wild, craggy mountains, through valleys green with chestnuts, and olives, and thickets of myrtle, and fragrant with lavender and cistus, we walked, until at last the sacred towers and domes burst on our sight, across a reach of the Campagna-the city where St. Paul and St. Peter were martyred-the metropolis of the kingdom of God.

The moment we came in sight of the city Brother Martin prostrated himself on the earth, and, lifting up his hands to heaven, exclaimed-

"Hail, sacred Rome! thrice sacred for the blood of the martyrs here shed."

And now we are within the sacred walls, lodged in the Augustinian monastery, near to the northern gate, through which we entered, called by the Romans the "Porta del Popolo."

Already Brother Martin has celebrated a mass in the convent church.

And to-morrow we may kneel where apostles and martyrs stood!

We may perhaps even see the holy father himself!

Are we indeed nearer heaven here?

It seems to me as I felt God nearer that night in the Black Forest.

There is so much tumult, and movement, and pomp around us in the great city.

When, however, I feel it more familiar and home-like, perhaps it will seem more heaven-like.

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares