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Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family By Elizabeth Rundle Charles Characters: 19805

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Eva's Story.

I have read the whole of the New Testament through to Sister Beatrice and Aunt Agnes. Strangely different auditors they were in powers of mind and in experience of life; yet both met, like so many in His days on earth, at the feet of Jesus.

"He would not have despised me, even me," Sister Beatrice would say. "Poor, fond creature, half-witted or half-crazed they call me; but He would have welcomed me."

"Does He not welcome you?" I said.

"You think so? Yes, I think-I am sure he does. My poor broken bits and remnants of sense and love, He will not despise them. He will take me as I am."

One day when I had been reading to them the chapter in St. Luke with the parables of the lost money, the lost sheep, and the prodigal, Aunt Agnes, resting her cheek on her thin hand, and fixing her large dark eyes on me, listened with intense expectation to the end; and then she said,-

"Is that all, my child? Begin the next chapter."

I began about the rich man and the unjust steward; but before I had read many words,-

"That will do," she said in a disappointed tone.

"It is another subject. Then not one of the Pharisees came after all! If I had been there among the hard, proud Pharisees-as I might have been when he began, wondering, no doubt, that he could so forget himself as to eat with publicans and sinners-if I had been there, and had heard him speak thus, Eva, I must have fallen at his feet and said, 'Lord, I am a Pharisee no more-I am the lost sheep, not one of the ninety and nine-the wandering child, not the elder brother. Place me low, low among the publicans and sinners-lower than any; but only say thou camest also to seek me, even me.' And, child, he would not have sent me away! But, Eva," she added, after a pause, wiping away the tears which ran slowly over her withered cheeks, "is it not said anywhere that one Pharisee came to him."

I looked, and could find it nowhere stated positively that one Pharisee had abandoned his pride, and self-righteousness, and treasures of good works, for Jesus. It seemed all on the side of the publicans. Aunt Agnes was at times distressed.

"And yet," she said, "I have come. I am no longer among those who think themselves righteous, and despise others. But I must come in behind all. It is I, not the woman who was a sinner, who am the miracle of his grace; for since no sin so keeps men from him as spiritual pride, there can be no sin so degrading in the sight of the pure and humble angels, or of the Lord. But look again, Eva! Is there not one instance of such as I being saved?"

I found the history of Nicodemus, and we traced it through the Gospel from the secret visit to the popular teacher at night, to the open confession of the rejected Saviour before his enemies.

Aunt Agnes thought this might be the example she sought, but she wished to be quite sure.

"Nicodemus came in humility, to learn," she said. "We never read that he despised others, or thought he could make himself a saint."

At length we came to the Acts of the Apostles, and there, indeed, we found the history of one, "of the straitest sect a Pharisee," who verily thought himself doing God service by persecuting the despised Nazarenes to death. And from that time Aunt Agnes sought out and cherished every fragment of St. Paul's history, and every sentence of his sermons and writings. She had found the example she sought of the "Pharisee who was saved"-in him who obtained mercy, "that in him first God might show forth the riches of his long-suffering to those who thereafter, through his word, should believe."

She determined to learn Latin, that she might read these divine words for herself. It was affecting to see her sitting among the novices whom I taught, carefully spelling out the words, and repeating the declensions and conjugations. I had no such patient pupil; for although many were eager at first, not a few relaxed after a few weeks' toil, not finding the results very apparent, and said it would never sound so natural and true as when Sister Ave translated it for them in German.

I wish some learned man would translate the Bible into German. Why does not some one think of it? There is one German translation from the Latin, the prioress says, made about thirty or forty years ago; but it is very large and costly, and not in language that attracts simple people. I wish the Pope would spend some of the money from the indulgences on a new translation of the New Testament. I think it would please God much more than building St. Peter's.

Perhaps, however, if people had the German New Testament they would not buy the indulgences; for in all the Gospels and Epistles I cannot find one word about buying pardons; and, what is more strange, not a word about adoring the Blessed Virgin, or about nunneries or monasteries. I cannot see that the holy apostles founded one such community, or recommended any one to do so.

Indeed there is so much in the New Testament, and in what I have read of the Old, about not worshipping any one but God, that I have quite given up saying any prayers to the Blessed mother, for many reasons.

In the first place, I am much more sure that our Lord can hear us always than his mother, because he so often says so. And I am much more sure he can help, because I know all power is given to him in heaven and in earth.

And in the next place, if I were quite sure that the Blessed Virgin and the saints could hear me always, and could help or would intercede, I am sure also that no one among them-not the Holy Mother herself-is half so compassionate and full of love, or could understand us so well, as He who died for us. In the Gospels, he was always more accessible than the disciples. St. Peter might be impatient in the impetuosity of his zeal. Loving indignation might overbalance the forbearance of St. John the beloved, and he might wish for fire from heaven on those who refused to receive his Master. All the holy apostles rebuked the poor mothers who brought their children, and would have sent away the woman of Canaan; but he tenderly took the little ones into his arms from the arms of the mothers the disciples had rebuked. His patience was never wearied; He never misunderstood or discouraged any one. Therefore I pray to Him and our Father in heaven alone, and through Him alone. Because if he is more pitiful to sinners than all the saints, which of all the saints can be beloved of God as he is, the well-beloved Son? He seems everything, in every circumstance, we can ever want. Higher mediation we cannot find, tenderer love we cannot crave.

And very sure I am that the meek Mother of the Lord, the disciple whom Jesus loved, the apostle who determined to know nothing among his converts save Jesus Christ, and him crucified, will not regret any homage transferred from them to Him.

Nay, rather, if the blessed Virgin, and the holy apostles have heard how, through all these years, such grievous and unjust things have been said of their Lord; how his love has been misunderstood, and he has been represented as hard to be entreated,-He who entreats sinners to come and be forgiven;-has not this been enough to shadow their happiness, even in heaven?

A nun has lately been transferred to our convent, who came originally from Bohemia, where all her relatives had been slain for adhering to the party of John Huss, the heretic. She is much older than I am, and she says she remembers well the name of my family, and that my great-uncle, Aunt Agnes' father, died a heretic! She cannot tell what the heresy was, but she believes it was something about the blessed sacrament and the authority of the Pope. She had heard that otherwise he was a charitable and holy man.

Was my father, then, a Hussite?

I have found the end of the sentence he gave me as his dying legacy:-"God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." And instead of being in a book not fit for Christian children to read, as the priest who took it from me said, it is in the Holy Scriptures!

Can it be possible that the world has come round again to the state it was in when the rulers and priests put the Saviour to death, and St. Paul persecuted the disciples as heretics?

Nimptschen, 1520.

A wonderful book of Dr. Luther's appeared among us a few weeks since, on the Babylonish Captivity; and although it was taken from us by the authorities, as dangerous reading for nuns, this was not before many among us had become acquainted with its contents. And it has created a great ferment in the convent. Some say they are words of impious blasphemy; some say they are words of living truth. He speaks of the forgiveness of sins being free; of the Pope and many of the priests being the enemies of the truth of God; and of the life and calling of a monk or nun as in no way holier than that of any humble believing secular man or woman,-a nun no holier than a wife or a household servant!

This many of the older nuns think plain blasphemy. Aunt Agnes says it is true, and more than true; for, from what I tell her, there can be no doubt that Aunt Cotta has been a lowlier and holier woman all her life than she can ever hope to be.

And as to the Bible precepts, they certainly seem far more adapted to people living in homes than to those secluded in convents. Often when I am teaching the young novices the precepts in the Epistles, they say,-

"But sister Ave, find some precepts for us. These sayings are for children, and wives, and mothers, and brothers, and sisters; not for those who have neither home nor kindred on earth."

Then if I try to speak of loving God and the blessed Saviour, some of them say,-

"But we cannot bathe his feet with tears, or anoint them with ointment, or bring him food, or stand by his cross, as

the good women did of old. Shut up here, away from every one, how can we show him that we love him?"

And I can only say, "Dear sisters, you are here now; therefore surely God will find some way for you to serve him here."

But my heart aches for them, and I doubt no longer, I feel sure God can never have meant these young, joyous hearts to be cramped and imprisoned thus.

Sometimes I talk about it with Aunt Agnes; and we consider whether, if these vows are indeed irrevocable, and these children must never see their homes again, the convent could not one day be removed to some city where sick and suffering men and women toil and die; so that we might, at least, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit and minister to the sick and sorrowful. That would be life once more, instead of this monotonous routine, which is not so much death as mechanism-an inanimate existence which has never been life.

October, 1520.

Sister Beatrice is very ill. Aunt Agnes has requested as an especial favour to be allowed to share the attending on her with me. Never was gentler nurse or more grateful patient.

It goes to my heart to see Aunt Agnes meekly learning from me how to render the little services required at the sick-bed. She smiles, and says her feeble blundering fingers had grown into mere machines for turning over the leaves of prayer-books, just as her heart was hardening into a machine for repeating prayers. Nine of the young nuns, Aunt Agnes, Sister Beatrice, and I, have been drawn very closely together of late. Among the noblest of these is Catherine von Bora, a young nun, about twenty years of age. There is such truth in her full dark eyes, which look so kindly and frankly into mine, and such character in the firmly-closed mouth. She declines learning Latin, and has not much taste for learned books; but she has much clear practical good sense, and she, with many others, delights greatly in Dr. Luther's writings. They say they are not books; they are a living voice. Every fragment of information I can give them about the doctor is eagerly received, and many rumours reach us of his influence in the world. When he was near Nimptschen, two years ago, at the great Leipsic disputation, we heard that the students were enthusiastic about him, and that the common people seemed to drink in his words almost as they did our Lord's when he spoke upon earth; and what is more, that the lives of some men and women at the court have been entirely changed since they heard him. We were told he had been the means of wonderful conversions; but what was strange in these conversions was, that those so changed did not abandon their position in life, but only their sins, remaining where they were when God called them, and distinguished from others, not by veil or cowl, but by the light of holy works.

On the other hand, many, especially among the older nuns, have received quite contrary impressions, and regard Dr. Luther as a heretic, worse than any who ever rent the Church. These look very suspiciously on us, and subject us to many annoyances, hindering our conversing and reading together as much as possible.

We do, indeed, many of us wonder that Dr. Luther should use such fierce and harsh words against the Pope's servants. Yet St. Paul even "could have wished that those were cut off" that troubled his flock; and the very lips of divine love launched woes against hypocrites and false shepherds severer than any that the Baptist or Elijah ever uttered in their denunciations from the wilderness. It seems to me that the hearts which are tenderest towards the wandering sheep will ever be severest against the seducing shepherds who lead them astray. Only we need always to remember that these very false shepherds themselves are, after all, but wretched lost sheep, driven hither and thither by the great robber of the fold!


Just now the hearts of the little band among us who owe so much to Dr. Luther are lifted up night and day in prayer to God for him. He is soon to be on his way to the Imperial Diet at Worms. He has the Emperor's safe-conduct, but it is said this did not save John Huss from the flames. In our prayers we are much aided by his own Commentary on the Book of Psalms, which I have just received from Uncle Cotta'a printing-press.

This is now Sister Beatrice's great treasure, as I sit by her bed-side and read it to her.

He says that "the mere frigid use of the Psalms in the canonical hours, though little understood, brought some sweetness of the breath of life to humble hearts of old, like the faint fragrance in the air not far from a bed of roses."

He says, "All other books give us the words and deeds of the saints, but this gives us their inmost souls." He calls the Psalter "the little Bible." "There," he says, "you may look into the hearts of the saints as into Paradise, or into the opened heavens, and see the fair flowers or the shining stars, as it were, of their affections springing or beaming up to God, in response to his benefits and blessings."

March, 1521.

News had reached me to-day from Wittemberg which makes me feel indeed that the days when people deem they do God service by persecuting those who love him, are too truly come back. Thekla writes me that they have thrown Fritz into the convent prison at Mainz, for spreading Dr. Luther's doctrine among the monks. A few lines sent through a friendly monk have told them of this. She sent them on to me.

"My beloved ones," he writes, "I am in the prison where, forty years ago, John of Wesel died for the truth. I am ready to die if God wills it so. His truth is worth dying for, and his love will strengthen me. But if I can I will escape, for the truth is worth living for. If, however, you do not hear of me again, know that the truth I died for is Christ's, and that the love which sustained me is Christ himself. And likewise that to the last I pray for you all, and for Eva; and tell her that the thought of her has helped me often to believe in goodness and truth, and that I look assuredly to meet her and all of you again.-Friedrich Sch?nberg Cotta."

In prison and in peril of life! Death itself cannot, I know, more completely separate Fritz and me than we are separated already. Indeed, of the death even of one of us, I have often thought as bringing us a step nearer, rending one veil between us. Yet, now that it seems so possible,-that perhaps it has already come,-I feel there was a kind of indefinable sweetness in being only on the same earth together, in treading the same pilgrim way. At least we could help each other by prayer; and now, if he is indeed treading the streets of the heavenly city, so high above, the world does seem darker.

But, alas! he may not be in the heavenly city, but in some cold earthly dungeon, suffering I know not what!

I have read the words over and over, until I have almost lost their meaning. He has no morbid desire to die. He will escape if he can, and he is daring enough to accomplish much. And yet, if the danger were not great, he would not alarm Aunt Cotta with even the possibility of death. He always considered others so tenderly.

He says I have helped him, him who taught and helped me, a poor ignorant child, so much! Yet I suppose it may be so. It teaches us so much to teach others. And we always understood each other so perfectly with so few words. I feel as if blindness had fallen on me, when I think of him now. My heart gropes about in the dark and cannot find him.

But then I look up, my Saviour, to thee. "To thee the night and the day are both alike." I dare not think he is suffering; it breaks my heart. I cannot rejoice as I would in thinking he may be in heaven. I know not what to ask, but thou art with him as with me. Keep him close under the shadow of thy wing. There we are safe, and there we are together. And oh, comfort Aunt Cotta! She must need it sorely.

Fritz, then, like our little company at Nimptschen, loves the words of Dr. Luther. When I think of this I rejoice almost more than I weep for him. These truths believed in our hearts seem to unite us more than prison or death can divide. When I think of this I can sing once more St. Bernard's hymn:-


Hail! thou Head, so bruised and wounded,

With the crown of thorns surrounded,

Smitten with the mocking reed,

Wounds which may not cease to bleed

Trickling faint and slow.

Hail! from whose most blessed brow

None can wipe the blood-drops now;

All the bloom of life has fled,

Mortal paleness there instead

Thou before whose presence dread

Angels trembling bow.

All thy vigor and thy life

Fading in this bitter strife;

Death his stamp on thee has set,

Hollow and emaciate,

Faint and drooping there.

Thou this agony and scorn

Hast for me a sinner borne!

Me, unworthy, all for me!

With those wounds of love on thee,

Glorious Face, appear!

Yet in this thine agony,

Faithful Shepherd, think of me

From whose lips of love divine

Sweetest draughts of life are mine;

Purest honey flows;

All unworthy of thy thought,

Guilty, yet reject me not;

Unto me thy head incline,-

Let that dying head of thine

In mine arms repose.

Let me true communion know

With thee in thy sacred woe,

Counting all beside but dross,

Dying with thee on thy cross;-

'Neath it will I die!

Thanks to thee with every breath

Jesus, for thy bitter death;

Grant thy guilty one this prayer:

When my dying hour is near,

Gracious God, be nigh!

When my dying hour must be,

Be not absent then from me;

In that dreadful hour, I pray,

Jesus come without delay;

See, and set me free.

When thou biddest me depart,

Whom I cleave to with my heart.

Lover of my soul, be near,

With thy saving cross appear,-

Show thyself to me!

* * *

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