MoboReader > Literature > Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family

   Chapter 12 No.12

Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family By Elizabeth Rundle Charles Characters: 41395

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Elsè's Story.

Wittemberg, June, 1512.

Our Eva seems happy at the convent. She has taken the vows, and is now finally Sister Ave. She has also sent us some eye-water for the father. But in spite of all we can do his sight seems failing.

In some way or other I think my father's loss of sight has brought blessing to the family.

Our grandmother, who is very feeble now, and seldom leaves her chair by the stove, has become much more tolerant of his schemes since there is no chance of their being carried out, and listens with remarkable patience to his statements of the wonders he would have achieved had his sight only been continued a few years.

Nor does the father himself seem as much dejected as one would have expected.

When I was comforting him to-day by saying how much less anxious our mother looks, he replied,-

"Yes, my child, the pr?ter pluperfect subjunctive is a more comfortable tense to live in than the future subjunctive, for any length of time."

I looked perplexed, and he explained, "It is easier, when once one has made up one's mind to it, to say, 'Had I had this I might have done that,' than, 'If I can have this I shall do that,'-at least it is easier to the anxious and excitable feminine mind."

"But to you, father?"

"To me it is a consolation at last to be appreciated. Even your grandmother understands at length how great the results would have been if I could only have had eye-sight to perfect that last invention for using steam to draw water."

Our grandmother must certainly have put great restraint on her usually frank expression of opinion, if she has led our father to believe she had any confidence in that last scheme; for, I must confess, that of all our father's inventions and discoveries, the whole family consider this idea about the steam the wildest and most impracticable of all. The secret of perpetual motion might, no doubt, be discovered, and a clock be constructed which would never need winding up,-I see no great difficulty in that. It might be quite possible to transmute lead into gold, or iron into silver, if one could find exactly the right proportions. My father has explained all that to me quite clearly. The elixir which would prolong life indefinitely seems to me a little more difficult; but this notion of pumping up water by means of the steam which issues from boiling water and disperses in an instant, we all agree in thinking quite visionary, and out of the question; so that it is, perhaps, as well our poor father should not have thrown away any more expense or time on it. Besides, we had already had two or three explosions from his experiments; and some of the neighbours were beginning to say very unpleasant things about the black art, and witchcraft; so that on the whole, no doubt, it is all for the best.

I would not, however, for the world, have hinted this to him; therefore I only replied, evasively,-

"Our grandmother has indeed been much gentler and more placid lately."

"It is not only that," he rejoined; "she has an intelligence far superior to that of most women,-she comprehends. And then," he continued, "I am not without hopes that that young nobleman, Ulrich von Gersdorf, who comes here so frequently and asks about Eva, may one day carry out my schemes. He and Chriemhild begin to enter into the idea quite intelligently. Besides, there is Master Reichenbach, the rich merchant to whom your Aunt Cotta introduced us; he has money enough to carry things out in the best style. He certainly does not promise much, but he is an intelligent listener, and that is a great step. Gottfried Reichenbach is an enlightened man for a merchant, although he is, perhaps, rather slow in comprehension, and a little over-cautious."

"He is not over-cautious in his alms, father," I said; "at least Dr. Martin Luther says so."

"Perhaps not," he said. "On the whole, certainly, the citizens of Wittemberg are very superior to those of Eisenach, who were incredulous and dull to the last degree. It will be a great thing if Reichenbach and Von Gersdorf take up this invention. Reichenbach can introduce it at once among the patrician families of the great cities with whom he is connected, and Von Gersdorf would promote it among his kindred knights. It would not, indeed, be such an advantage to our family as if Pollux and Christopher, or our poor Fritz, had carried it out. But never mind, Elsè, my child, we were children of Adam before we were Cottas. We must think not only of the family, but of the world."

Master Reichenbach, indeed, may take a genuine interest in my father's plans, but I have suspicions of Ulrich von Gersdorf. He seems to me far more interested in Chriemhild's embroidery than in our father's steam-pump; and although he continues to talk of Eva as if he thought her an angel, he certainly sometimes looks at Chriemhild as if he thought her a creature as interesting.

I do not like such transitions; and, besides, his conversation is so very different, in my opinion, from Master Reichenbach's. Ulrich von Gersdorf has no experience of life beyond a boar-hunt, a combat with some rival knights, or a foray on some defenceless merchants. His life has been passed in the castle of an uncle of his in the Thuringian forest; yet I cannot wonder that Chriemhild listens, with a glow of interest on her face, as she sits with her eyes bent on her embroidery, to his stories of ambushes and daring surprises. But to me this life seems rude and lawless. Ulrich's uncle was unmarried; and they had no ladies in the castle except a widowed aunt of Ulrich's, who seems to be as proud as Lucifer, and especially to pride herself on being able to wear pearls and velvet, which no burgher's wife may appear in.

Ulrich's mother died early. I fancy she was gentler and of a truer nobleness. He says the only book they have in the castle is an old illuminated Missal which belonged to her. He has another aunt, Beatrice, who is in the convent at Nimptschen with our Eva. They sent her there to prevent her marrying the son of a family with whom they had a hereditary feud. I begin to feel, as Fritz used to say, that the life of these petty nobles is not nearly so noble as that of the burghers. They seem to know nothing of the world beyond the little district they rule by terror. They have no honest way of maintaining themselves, but live by the hard toil of their poor oppressed peasants, and by the plunder of their enemies.

Herr Reichenbach, on the other hand, is connected with the patrician families in the great city of Nürnberg; and although he does not talk much, he has histories to tell of painters and poets, and great events in the broad field of the world. Ah, I wish he had known Fritz! He likes to hear me talk of him.

And then, moreover, Herr Reichenbach has much to tell me about Brother Martin Luther, who is at the head of the Eremite or Augustine Convent here, and seems to me to be the great man of Wittemberg; at least people appear to like him or dislike him more than any one else here.

October 19, 1512.

This has been a great day at Wittemberg. Friar Martin Luther has been created Doctor of Divinity. Master Reichenbach procured us excellent places, and we saw the degree conferred on him by Dr. Andrew Bodenstein of Carlstadt.

The great bell of the city churches, which only sounds on great occasions, pealed as if for a Church festival; all the university authorities marched in procession through the streets; and after taking the vow, Friar Martin was solemnly invested with the doctor's robes, hat, and ring-a massive gold ring presented to him by the Elector.

But the part which impressed me most was the oath, which Dr. Luther pronounced most solemnly, so that the words, in his fine clear voice, rang through the silence. He repeated it after Dr. Bodenstein, who is commonly called Carlstadt. The words in Latin, Herr Reichenbach says, were these (he wrote them for me to send to Eva),-

"Juro me veritatem evangelicam viriliter defensurum;" which Herr Reichenbach translated, "I swear vigorously to defend evangelical truth."

This oath is only required at one other university beside Wittemberg-that of Tübingen. Dr. Luther swore it as if he were a knight of olden times, vowing to risk life and limb in some sacred cause. To me, who not could understand the words, his manner was more that of a warrior swearing on his sword, than of a doctor of divinity.

And Master Reichenbach says, "What he has promised he will do!"

Chriemhild laughs at Master Reichenbach, because he has entered his name on the list of university students, in order to attend Dr. Luther's lectures.

"With his grave old face, and his grey hair," she says, "to sit among those noisy student boys!"

But I can see nothing laughable in it. I think it is a sign of something noble, for a man in the prime of life to be content to learn as a little child. And besides, whatever Chriemhild may say, if Herr Reichenbach is a little bald, and has a few grey hairs, it is not on account of age. Grown men, who think and feel, in these stormy times, cannot be expected to have smooth faces and full curly locks, like Ulrich von Gersdorf.

I am sure if I were a man twice as old as he is, there is nothing I should like better than to attend Dr. Luther's lectures. I have heard him preach once in the City Church, and it was quite different from any other sermon I ever heard. He spoke of God and Christ, and heaven and hell, with as much conviction and simplicity as if he had been pleading some cause of human wrong, or relating some great events which happened on earth yesterday, instead of reciting it like a piece of Latin grammar, as so many of the monks do.

I began almost to feel as if I might at last find a religion that would do for me. Even Christopher was attentive. He said Dr. Luther called everything by such plain names, one could not help understanding.

We have seen him once at our house. He was so respectful to our grandmother, and so patient with my father, and he spoke so kindly of Fritz.

Fritz has written to us, and has recommended us to take Dr. Martin Luther for our family confessor. He says he can never repay the good Dr. Luther has done to him. And certainly he writes more brightly and hopefully than he ever has since he left us, although he has, alas! finally taken those dreadful, irrevocable vows.

March, 1513.

Dr. Luther has consented to be our confessor; and thank God I do believe at last I have found the religion which may make me, even me, love God. Dr. Luther says I have entirely misunderstood God and the Lord Jesus Christ. He seemed to understand all I have been longing for and perplexing myself about all my life, with a glance. When I began to falter out my confessions and difficulties to him, he seemed to see them all spread before him, and explained them all to me. He says I have been thinking of God as a severe judge, an exactor, a harsh creditor, when he is a rich Giver, a forgiving Saviour, yea, the very fountain of inexpressible love.

"God's love," he said, "gives in such a way that it flows from a Father's heart, the well-spring of all good. The heart of the giver makes the gift dear and precious; as among ourselves we say of even a trifling gift, 'It comes from a hand we love,' and look not so much at the gift as at the heart."

"If we will only consider him in his works, we shall learn that God is nothing else but pure, unutterable love, greater and more than any one can think. The shameful thing is, that the world does not regard this, nor thank him for it, although every day it sees before it such countless benefits from him; and it deserves for its ingratitude that the sun should not shine another moment longer, nor the grass grow; yet He ceases not, without a moment's interval, to love us, and to do us good. Language must fail me to speak of his spiritual gifts. Here he pours forth for us, not sun and moon, nor heaven and earth, but his own heart, his beloved Son, so that He suffered His blood to be shed, and the most shameful death to be inflicted on Him, for us wretched, wicked, thankless creatures. How, then, can we say anything but that God is an abyss of endless, unfathomable love?"

"The whole Bible," he says, "is full of this,-that we should not doubt, but be absolutely certain, that God is merciful, gracious, patient, faithful, and true; who not only will keep his promises, but already has kept and done abundantly beyond what he promised, since he has given his own Son for our sins on the cross, that all who believe on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

"Whoever believes and embraces this," he added, "that God has given his only Son to die for us poor sinners, to him it is no longer any doubt, but the most certain truth, that God reconciles us to himself, and is favourable and heartily gracious to us."

"Since the gospel shows us Christ the Son of God, who, according to the will of the Father, has offered himself up for us, and has satisfied for sin, the heart can no more doubt God's goodness and grace,-is no more affrighted, nor flies from God, but sets all its hope in his goodness and mercy."

"The apostles are always exhorting us," he says, "to continue in the love of God,-that is, that each one should entirely conclude in his heart that he is loved by God; and they set before our eyes a certain proof of it, in that God has not spared his Son, but given him for the world, that through His death the world might again have life.

"It is God's honour and glory to give liberally. His nature is all pure love; so that if any one would describe or picture God, he must describe One who is pure love, the divine nature being nothing else than a furnace and glow of such love that it fills heaven and earth.

"Love is an image of God, and not a dead image, nor one painted on paper, but the living essence of the divine nature, which burns full of all goodness.

"He is not harsh, as we are to those who have injured us. We withdraw our hand and close our purse, but he is kind to the unthankful and the evil.

"He sees thee in thy poverty and wretchedness, and knows thou hast nothing to pay. Therefore he freely forgives, and gives thee all."

"It is not to be borne," he said, "that Christian people should say, We cannot know whether God is favourable to us or not. On the contrary, we should learn to say, I know that I believe in Christ, and therefore that God is my gracious Father."

"What is the reason that God gives?" he said, one day. "What moves him to it? Nothing but unutterable love, because he delights to give and to bless. What does he give? Not empires merely, not a world full of silver and gold, not heaven and earth only, but his Son, who is as great as himself,-that is, eternal and incomprehensible; a gift as infinite as the Giver, the very spring and fountain of all grace; yea, the possession and property of all the riches and treasures of God."

Dr. Luther said also, that the best name by which we can think of God is Father. "It is a loving, sweet, deep, heart-touching name; for the name of father is in its nature full of inborn sweetness and comfort. Therefore, also, we must confess ourselves children of God; for by this name we deeply touch our God, since there is not a sweeter sound to the father, than the voice of the child."

All this is wonderful to me. I scarcely dare to open my hand, and take this belief home to my heart.

Is it then, indeed, thus we must think of God? Is he, indeed, as Dr. Luther says, ready to listen to our feeblest cry, ready to forgive us, and to help us?

And if he is indeed like this, and cares what we think of him, how I must have grieved him all these years!

Not a moment longer! I will not distrust Thee a moment longer. See, heavenly Father, I have come back!

Can it, indeed, be possible that God is pleased when we trust him,-pleased when we pray, simply because he loves us?

Can it indeed be true, as Dr. Luther says, that love is our greatest virtue; and that we please God best by being kind to each other, just because that is what is most like him?

I am sure it is true. It is so good, it must be true.

Then it is possible for me, even for me, to love God. How is it possible for me not to love him? And it is possible for me, even for me, to be religious, if to be religious is to love God, and to do whatever we can to make those around us happy.

But if this is indeed religion, it is happiness, it is freedom,-it is life!

Why, then, are so many of the religious people I know of a sad countenance, as if they were bond-servants toiling for a hard master?

I must ask Dr. Luther.

April, 1513.

I have asked Dr. Luther, and he says it is because the devil makes a great deal of the religion we see; that he pretends to be Christ, and comes and terrifies people, and scourges them with the remembrance of their sins, and tells them they must not dare to lift up their eyes to heaven, because God is so holy, and they are so sinful. But it is all because he knows that if they would lift their eyes to heaven, their terrors would vanish, and they would see Christ there, not as the Judge, and the hard, exacting Creditor, but as the pitiful, loving Saviour.

I find it a great comfort to believe in this way in the devil. Has he not been trying to teach me his religion all my life? And now I have found him out! He has been telling me lies, not about myself (Dr. Luther says he cannot paint us more sinful than we are), but lies about God. It helps me almost as much to hear Dr. Luther speak about the devil as about God-"the malignant, sad spirit," he says, "who loves to make every one sad."

With God's help, I will never believe him again. But Dr. Luther said I shall, often; that he will come again and malign God, and assail my peace in so many ways, that it will be long before I learn to know him.

I shuddered when he told me this; but then he reassured me, by telling me a beautiful story, which, he said, was from the Bible. It was about a Good Shepherd and silly, wandering sheep, and a wolf who sought to devour them. "All the care of the Shepherd," he said, "is in the tenderest way to attract the sheep to keep close to him; and when they wander, he goes and seeks them, takes them on his shoulder, and carries them safe home. All our wisdom," he says, "is to keep always near this Good Shepherd, who is Christ, and to listen to his voice."

I know the Lord Jesus Christ is called the Good Shepherd. I have seen the picture of him carrying the lamb on his shoulder. But until Dr. Luther explained it to me, I thought it meant that he was the Lord and Owner of all the world, who are his flock. But I never thought that he cared for me as his sheep, sought me, called me, watched me, even me, day by day.

Other people, no doubt, have understood all this before. And yet, if so, why do not the monks preach of it? Why should Aunt Agnes serve Him in the convent by penances and self-tormentings, instead of serving Him in the world by being kind and helping all around? Why should our dear, gentle mother, have such sad, self-reproachful thoughts, and feel as if she and our family were under a curse?

Dr. Luther said that Christ was "made a curse for us;" that he, the unspotted and undefiled Lamb of God, bore the curse for us on the cross; and that we, believing in him, are not under the curse, but under the blessing-that we are blessed.

This, then, is what the crucifix and the Agnus Dei mean.

Doubtless many around me have understood all this long ago. I am sure, at least, that our Eva understood it.

But what inexpressible joy for me, as I sit at my embroidery in the garden, to look up through the apple-blossoms and the fluttering leaves, and to see God's love there;-to listen to the thrush that has built his nest among them, and feel God's love, who cares for the birds, in every note that swells his little throat;-to look beyond to the bright blue depths of the sky, and feel they are a canopy of blessing-the roof of the house of my Father; that if clouds pass over, it is the unchangeable light they veil; that, even when the day itself passes, I shall see that the night itself only unveils new worlds of light; and to know that if I could unwrap fold after fold of God's universe, I should only unfold more and more blessing, and see deeper and deeper into the love which is at the heart of all!

And then what joy again to turn to my embroidery, and, as my fingers busily ply the needle, to think-

"This is to help my father and mother; this, even this, i

s a little work of love. And as I sit and stitch, God is pleased with me, and with what I am doing. He gives me this to do, as much as he gives the priests to pray, and Dr. Luther to preach. I am serving Him, and he is near me in my little corner of the world, and is pleased with me-even with me!"

Oh, Fritz and Eva! if you had both known this, need you have left us to go and serve God so far away?

Have I indeed, like St. Christopher, found my bank of the river, where I can serve my Saviour by helping all the pilgrims I can?

Better, better than St. Christopher; for do I not know the voice that calls to me-

"Elsè! Elsè! do this for me?"

And now I do not feel at all afraid to grow old, which is a great relief, as I am already six-and-twenty, and the children think me nearly as old as our mother. For what is growing old, if Dr. Martin Luther is indeed right (and I am sure he is), but growing daily nearer God, and His holy, happy home! Dr. Luther says our Saviour called heaven his Father's house.

Not that I wish to leave this world. While God wills we should stay here, and is with us, is it not home-like enough for us?

May, 1513.

This morning I was busy making a favourite pudding of the father's, when I heard Herr Reichenbach's voice at the door. He went into the dwelling room, and soon afterwards Chriemhild, Atlantis, and Thekla, invaded the kitchen.

"Herr Reichenbach wishes to have a consultation," said Chriemhild, "and we are sent away."

I felt anxious for a moment. It seemed like the old Eisenach days; but since we have been at Wittemberg we have never gone into debt; so that, after thinking a little, I was reassured. The children were full of speculations what it would be about. Chriemhild thought it was some affair of state, because she had seen him in close confabulation with Ulrich von Gersdorf as he came up the street, and they had probably been discussing some question about the privileges of the nobles and burghers.

Atlantis believed it had something to do with Dr. Martin Luther, because Herr Reichenbach had presented the mother with a new pamphlet of the Doctor's on entering the room.

Thekla was sure it was at last the opportunity to make use of one of the father's discoveries,-whether the perpetual clock, or the transmutation of metals, or the steam-pump, she could not tell; but she was persuaded that it was something which was to make our fortunes at last, because Herr Reichenbach looked so very much in earnest, and was so very respectful to our father.

They had not much time to discuss their various theories when we heard Herr Reichenbach's step pass hurriedly through the passage, and the door closed hastily after him.

"Do you call that a consultation?" said Chriemhild, scornfully; "he has not been here ten minutes."

The next instant our mother appeared, looking very pale, and with her voice trembling as she said,-

"Elsè, my child, we want you."

"You are to know first, Elsè," said the children. "Well, it is only fair; you are a dear good eldest sister, and will be sure to tell us."

I scarcely knew why, but my fingers did not seem as much under control as usual, and it was some moments before I could put the finishing stroke to my pudding, wash my hands, pull down the white sleeves to my wrists, and join them in the dwelling room, so that my mother reappeared with an impatience very unusual for her, and led me in herself.

"Elsè, darling, come here," said my father. And when he felt my hands in his, he added, "Herr Reichenbach left a message for thee. Other parents often decide these matters for their children, but thy mother and I wish to leave the matter to thee.-Couldst thou be his wife?"

The question took me by surprise, and I could only say,-

"Can it be possible he thinks of me?"

"I see nothing impossible in that, my Elsè," said my father; "but at all events Herr Reichenbach has placed that beyond a doubt. The question now is whether our Elsè can think of him."

I could not say anything.

"Think well before you reject him," said my father; "he is a good and generous man, he desires no portion with thee; he says thou wouldst be a portion for a king; and I must say he is very intelligent and well-informed, and can appreciate scientific inventions as few men in these days can."

"I do not wish him to be dismissed," I faltered.

But my tender-hearted mother said, laying my head on her shoulder,-

"Yet think well, darling, before you accept him. We are not poor now, and we need no stranger's wealth to make us happy. Heaven forbid that our child should sacrifice herself for us. Herr Reichenbach, is, no doubt, a good and wise man, but I know well a young maiden's fancy. He is little, I know-not tall and stalwart, like our Fritz and Christopher; and he is a little bald, and he is not very young, and rather grave and silent, and young girls-"

"But, mother," I said, "I am not a young girl, I am six-and-twenty; and I do not think Herr Reichenbach old, and I never noticed that he was bald, and I am sure to me he is not silent."

"That will do, Elsè," said the grandmother, laughing from her corner by the stove. "Son and daughter, let these two settle it together. They will arrange matters better than we shall for them."

And in the evening Herr Reichenbach came again, and everything was arranged.

"And that is what the consultation was about!" said the children, not without some disappointment. "It seems such an ordinary thing," said Atlantis, "we are so used to seeing Herr Reichenbach. He comes almost every day."

"I do not see that that is any objection," said Chriemhild; "but it seems hardly like being married, only just to cross the street. His house is just opposite."

"But it is a great deal prettier than ours," said Thekla. "I like Herr Reichenbach; no one ever took such an interest in my drawings as he does. He tells me where they are wrong, and shows me how to make them right, as if he really felt it of some consequence; which it is, you know, Elsè, because one day I mean to embroider and help the family, like you. And no one was ever so kind to Nix as he is. He took the dog on his knee the other day, and drew out a splinter which had lamed him, which Nix would not let any one else do but me. Nix is very fond of Herr Reichenbach, and so am I. He is much wiser, I think, than Ulrich, who teases Nix, and pretends never to know my cats from my cows; and I do not see that he is much older; besides, I could not bear our Elsè to live a step further off."

And Thekla climbed up on my lap and kissed me, while Nix stood on his hind legs and barked, evidently thinking it was a great occasion. So that two of the family at least have given their consent.

But none of the family know yet what Herr Reichenbach said to me when we stood for a few minutes by the window, before he left this evening. He said-

"Elsè, it is God who gives me this joy. Ever since the evening when you all arrived at Wittemberg, and I saw you tenderly helping the aged and directing the young ones, and never flurried in all the bustle, but always at leisure to thank any one for any little kindness, or to help any one out of any little difficulty, I thought you were the light of this home, and I prayed God one day to make you the light of mine."

Ah! that shows how love veils people's faults; but he did not know Fritz, and not much of Eva. They were the true sunshine of our home. However, at all events, with God's help, I will do my very best to make Herr Reichenbach's home bright.

But the best of all is, I am not afraid to accept this blessing. I believe it is God, out of his inexpressible love, as Dr. Luther says, who has given it me, and I am not afraid He will think me too happy.

Before I had Dr. Luther for my confessor, I should never have known if it was to be a blessing or a curse; but now I am not afraid. A chain seems to have dropped from my heart, and a veil from my eyes, and I can call God Father, and take everything fearlessly from him.

And I know Gottfried feels the same. Since I never had a vocation for the higher religious life, it is an especial mercy for me to have found a religion which enables a very poor every-day maiden in the world to love God and to seek his blessing.

June.

Our mother has been full of little tender apologies to me this week, for having called Gottfried (Herr Reichenbach says I am to call him so) old, and bald, and little, and grave.

"You know, darling, I only meant I did not want you to accept him for our sakes. And after all, as you say, he is scarcely bald; and they say all men who think much lose their hair early; and I am sure it is no advantage to be always talking; and every one cannot be as tall as our Fritz and Christopher."

"And after all, dear mother," said the grandmother, "Elsè did not choose Herr Reichenbach for your sakes; but are you quite sure he did not choose Elsè for her father's sake? He was always so interested in the steam-pump!"

My mother and I are much cheered by seeing the quiet influence Herr Reichenbach seems to have over Christopher, whose companions and late hours have often caused us anxiety lately. Christopher is not distrustful of him, because he is no priest, and no great favourer of monks and convents; and he is not so much afraid about Christopher as we timid, anxious women were beginning to be. He thinks there is good metal in him; and he says the best ore cannot look like gold until it is fused. It is so difficult for us women, who have to watch from our quiet homes afar, to distinguish the glow of the smelting furnace from the glare of a conflagration.

Wittemberg, September, 1513.

This morning, Herr Reichenbach, Christopher, and Ulrich von Gersdorf (who is studying here for a time) came in full of excitement, from a discussion they had been hearing between Dr. Luther and some of the doctors and professors of Erfurt.

I do not know that I quite clearly understand what it was about; but they seemed to think it of great importance.

Our house has become rather a gathering place of late; partly, I think, on account of my father's blindness, which always insures that there will be some one at home.

It seems that Dr. Luther attacks the old methods of teaching in the universities, which makes the older professors look on him as a dangerous innovator, while the young delight in him as a hero fighting their battles. And yet the authorities Dr. Luther wishes to re-instate are older than those he attacks. He demands that nothing shall be received as the standard of theological truth except the Holy Scriptures. I cannot understand why there should be so much conflict about this, because I thought all we believed was founded on the Holy Scriptures. I suppose it is not; but if not, on whose authority? I must ask Gottfried this one day when we are alone.

The discussion to-day was between Dr. Andrew Bodenstein, Archdeacon of Wittemberg, Dr. Luther, and Dr. Jodocus of Eisenach, called Trutvetter, his old teacher. Dr. Carlstadt himself, they said, seemed quite convinced; and Dr. Jodocus is silenced and is going back to Erfurt.

The enthusiasm of the students is great. The great point of Dr. Luther's attack seems to be Aristotle, who was a heathen Greek. I cannot think why these Church doctors should be so eager to defend him; but Herr Reichenbach says all the teaching of the schools and all the doctrine of indulgences are in some way founded on this Aristotle, and that Dr. Luther wants to clear away everything which stands as a screen between the students and the Bible.

Ulrich von Gersdorf said that our doctor debates like his uncle, Franz von Sickingen, fights. He stands like a rock on some point he feels firm on; and then, when his opponents are weary of trying to move him, he rushes suddenly down on them, and sweeps them away like a torrent.

"But his great secret seems to be," remarked Christopher, "that he believes every word he says. He speaks, like other men work, as if every stroke were to tell."

And Gottfried said, quietly, "He is fighting the battle of God with the scribes and Pharisees of our days; and whether he triumph or perish, the battle will be won. It is a battle, not merely against falsehood, but for truth, to keep a position he has won."

"When I hear him," said Ulrich, "I wish my student days over, and long to be in the old castle in the Thuringian Forest, to give everything good there a new impulse. He makes me feel the way to fight the world's great battles is for each to conquer the enemies of God in his own heart and home. He speaks of Aristotle and Augustine; but he makes me think of the sloth and tyranny in the castle, and the misery and oppression in the peasant's hut, which are to me what Aristotle and the schoolmen are to him."

"And I," said Christopher, "when he speaks, think of our printing press, until my daily toil there seems the highest work I could do; and to be a printer, and wing such words as his through the world, the noblest thing on earth."

"But his lectures fight the good fight even more than his disputations," remarked Gottfried. "In these debates he clears the world of the foe; but in his explanations of the Psalms and the Romans, he carries the battle within, and clears the heart of the lies which kept it back from God. In his attacks on Aristotle, he leads you to the Bible as the one source of truth; in his discourses on justification by faith he leads you to God as the one source of holiness and joy."

"They say poor Dr. Jodocus is quite ill with vexation at his defeat," said Christopher; "and that there are many bitter things said against Dr. Luther at Erfurt."

"What does that matter," rejoined Ulrich, "since Wittemberg is becoming every month more thronged with students from all parts of Germany, and the Augustinian cloister is already full of young monks, sent hither from various convents, to study under Dr. Luther? The youth and vigour of the nation are with us. Let the dead bury their dead."

"Ah, children," murmured the grandmother, looking up from her knitting, "that is a funeral procession that lasts long. The young always speak of the old as if they had been born old. Do you think our hearts never throbbed high with hope, and that we never fought with dragons? Yet the old serpent is not killed yet. Nor will he be dead when we are dead, and you are old, and your grandchildren take their place in the old fight, and think they are fighting the first battle the world has seen, and vanquishing the last enemy."

"Perhaps not," said Gottfried; "but the last enemy will be overcome at last, and who knows how soon?"

Wittemberg, October, 1513.

It is a strong bond of union between Herr Reichenbach and me, our reverence and love for Dr. Luther.

He is lecturing now on the Romans and the Psalms, and as I sit at my spinning-wheel, or sew, Gottfried often reads to me notes from these lectures, or tells me what they have been about. This is a comfort to me also, because he has many thoughts and doubts which, were it not for his friendship with Dr. Luther, would make me tremble for him. They are so new and strange to me; and as it is I never venture to speak of them to my mother.

He thinks there is great need of reformations and changes in the Church. He even thinks Christopher not far from right in his dislike of many of the priests and monks, who, he says, lead lives which are a disgrace to Christendom.

But his chief detestation is the sale of indulgences, now preached in many of the towns of Saxony by Dr. Tetzel. He says it is a shameless traffic in lies, and that most men of intelligence and standing in the great cities think so. And he tells me that a very good man, a professor of theology-Dr. John Wesel,-preached openly against them about fifty years ago at the University of Erfurt, and afterwards at Worms and Mainz; and that John of Goch and other holy men were most earnest in denouncing them.

And when I asked if the Pope did not sanction them, he said that to understand what the Pope is one needs to go to Rome. He went there in his youth, not on pilgrimage, but on mercantile business, and he told me that the wickedness he saw there, especially in the family of the reigning Pope, the Borgia, for many years made him hate the very name of religion. Indeed, he said it was principally through Dr. Luther that he had begun again to feel there could be a religion, which, instead of being a cloak for sin, should be an incentive to holiness.

He says also that I have been quite mistaken about "Reineke Fuchs;" that it is no vulgar jest-book, mocking at really sacred things, but a bitter, earnest satire against the hypocrisy which practices all kinds of sin in the name of sacred things.

He doubts even if the Calixtines and Hussites are as bad as they have been represented to be. It alarms me sometimes to hear him say these things. His world is so much larger than mine, it is difficult for my thoughts to follow him into it. If the world is so bad, and there is so much hypocrisy in the holiest places, perhaps I have been hard on poor Christopher after all.

But if Fritz has found it so, how unhappy it must make him!

Can really religious people like Fritz and Eva do nothing better for the world, but leave it to grow more and more corrupt and unbelieving, while they sit apart to weave their robes of sanctity in convents. It does seem time for something to be done. I wonder who will do it?

I thought it might be the Pope; but Gottfried shakes his head, and says, "No good thing can begin at Rome."

"Or the prelates?" I asked one day.

"They are too intent," he said, "on making their courts as magnificent as those of the princes, to be able to interfere with the abuses by which their revenues are maintained."

"Or the princes?"

"The friendship of the prelates is too important to them, for them to interfere in spiritual matters."

"Or the emperor?"

"The emperor," he said, "has enough to do to hold his own against the princes, the prelates, and the pope."

"Or the knights?"

"The knights are at war with the all world," he replied; "to say nothing of their ceaseless private feuds with each other. With the peasants rising on one side in wild insurrection, the great nobles contending against their privileges on the other, and the great burgher families throwing their barbarous splendour into the shade as much as the city palaces do their bare robber castles, the knights and petty nobles have little but bitter words to spare for the abuses of the clergy. Besides, most of them have relations whom they hope to provide for with some good abbey."

"Then the peasants!" I suggested. "Did not the gospel first take root among peasants?"

"Inspired peasants and fishermen!" he replied, thoughtfully. "Peasants who had walked up and down the land three years in the presence of the Master. But who is to teach our peasants now? They cannot read!"

"Then it must be the burghers," I said.

"Each may be prejudiced in favour of his order," he replied, with a smile; "but I do think if better days dawn, it will be through the cities. There the new learning takes root; there the rich have society and cultivation, and the poor have teachers; and men's minds are brightened by contact and debate, and there is leisure to think and freedom to speak. If a reformation of abuses were to begin, I think the burghers would promote it most of all."

"But who is to begin it?" I asked. "Has no one ever tried?"

"Many have tried," he replied sadly; "and many have perished in trying. While they were assailing one abuse, others were increasing. Or while they endeavoured to heal some open wound, some one arose and declared that it was impossible to separate the disease from the whole frame, and that they were attempting the life of our Holy Mother the Church."

"Who, then, will venture to begin?" I said. "Can it be Dr. Luther? He is bold enough to venture anything; and since he has done so much good to Fritz, and to you, and to me, why not to the whole Church?"

"Dr. Luther is faithful enough, and bold enough for anything his conscience calls him to," said Gottfried, "but he is occupied with saving men's souls, not with reforming ecclesiastical abuses."

"But if the ecclesiastical abuses came to interfere with the salvation of men's souls," I suggested, "what would Dr. Luther do then?"

"We should see, Elsè," said Gottfried. "If the wolves attacked one of Dr. Luther's sheep, I do not think he would care with what weapon he rescued it, or at what risk."

* * *

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

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares