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   Chapter 28 No.28

Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family By Elizabeth Rundle Charles Characters: 20316

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Elsè's Story.

All our little world is in such a tumult of thankfulness and joy at present, that I think I am the only sober person left in it.

The dear mother hovers around her two lost ones with quiet murmurs of content, like a dove around her nest, and is as absorbed as if she were marrying her first daughter, or were a bride herself, instead of being the established and honoured grandmother that she is. Chriemhild and I might find it difficult not to be envious, if we had not our own private consolations at home.

Eva and Fritz are certainly far more reasonable, and instead of regarding the whole world as centering in them, like our dear mother, appear to consider themselves made to serve the whole world, which is more Christian-like, but must also have its limits. I cannot but feel it a great blessing for them that they have Chriemhild and Ulrich, and more especially Gottfried and me, to look after their temporal affairs.

For instance, house linen. Eva, of course, has not a piece; and as to her bridal attire, I believe she would be content to be married in a nun's robe, or in the peasant's dress she escaped from Nimptschen in. However, I have stores which, as Gretchen is not likely to require them just yet, will, no doubt, answer the purpose. Gretchen is not more than eight, but I always think it well to be beforehand; and my maidens had already a stock of linen enough to stock several chests for her, which, under the circumstances, seems quite a special providence.

Gottfried insists upon choosing her wedding dress. And my mother believes her own ancestral jewelled head-dress with the pearls (which once in our poverty we nearly sold to a merchant at Eisenach) has been especially preserved for Eva.

It is well that Atlantis, who is to be married on the same day, is the meekest and most unselfish of brides, and that her marriage outfit is already all but arranged.

Chriemhild and Ulrich have persuaded the old knight to rebuild the parsonage; and she writes what a delight it is to watch it rising among the cottages in the village, and think of the fountain of blessing that house will be to all.

Our grandmother insists on working with her dear, feeble hands, on Eva's wedding stores, and has ransacked her scanty remnants of former splendour, and brought out many a quaint old jewel from the ancient Sch?nberg treasures.

Christopher is secretly preparing them a library of all Dr. Luther's and Dr. Melancthon's books, beautifully bound, and I do not know how many learned works besides.

And the melancholy has all passed from Fritz's face, or only remains as the depth of a river to bring out the sparkle of its ripples.

The strain seems gone from Eva's heart and his. They both seem for the first time all they were meant to be.

Just now, however, another event is almost equally filling our grandmother's heart.

A few days since, Christopher brought in two foreigners to introduce to us. When she saw them, her work dropped from her hands, and half rising to meet them, she said some words in a language strange to all of us.

The countenances of the strangers brightened as she spoke, and they replied in the same language.

After a few minutes' conversation, our grandmother turned to us, and said,-

"They are Bohemians,-they are Hussites. They know my husband's name. The truth he died for is still living in my country."

The rush of old associations was too much for her. Her lips quivered, the tears fell slowly over her cheeks, and she could not say another word.

The strangers consented to remain under my father's roof for the night, and told us the errand which brought them to Wittemberg.

From generation to generation, since John Huss was martyred, they said, the truth he taught had been preserved in Bohemia, always at the risk, and often at the cost of life. Sometimes it had perplexed them much that nowhere in the world beside could they hear of those who believed the same truth. Could it be possible that the truth of God was banished to the mountain fastnesses? Like Elijah of old, they felt disposed to cry in their wilderness, "I, only I, am left."

"But they could not have been right to think thus," said my mother, who never liked the old religion to be too much reproached. "God has always had his own who have loved him, in the darkest days. From how many convent cells have pious hearts looked up to him. It requires great teaching of the Holy Spirit and many battles to make a Luther; but, I think, it requires only to touch the hem of Christ's garment to make a Christian.

"Yes," said Gottfried, opening our beloved commentary on the Galatians, "what Dr. Luther said is true indeed, 'Some there were in the olden time whom God called by the text of the gospel and by baptism. These walked in simplicity and humbleness of heart, thinking the monks and friars, and such only as were annointed by the bishops, to be religious and holy, and themselves to be profane and secular, and not worthy to be compared to them. Wherefore, they, feeling in themselves no good works to set against the wrath and judgment of God, did fly to the death and passion of Christ, and were saved in this simplicity.'"

"No doubt it was so," said the Bohemian deputies. "But all this was hidden from the eye of man. Twice our fathers sent secret messengers through the length and breadth of Christendom to see if they could find any that did understand, that did seek after God, and everywhere they found carelessness, superstition, darkness, but no response."

"Ah," said my mother, "that is a search only the eye of God can make. Yet, doubtless, the days were dark."

"They came back without having met with any response," continued the strangers, "and again our fathers had to toil and suffer on alone. And now the sounds of life have reached us in our mountain solitudes from all parts of the world; and we have come to Wittemberg to hear the voice which awoke them first, and to claim brotherhood with the evangelical Christians here. Dr. Luther has welcomed us, and we return to our mountains to tell our people that the morning has dawned on the world at last."

The evening passed in happy intercourse, and before we separated, Christopher brought his lute, and we all sang together the hymn of John Huss, which Dr. Luther has published among his own:-

"Jesus Christus nostra salus,"

and afterwards Luther's own glorious hymn in German, "Nun freut euch lieben Christen gemein:"

Dear Christian people, all rejoice;

Each soul with joy upspringing:

Pour forth one song with heart and voice,

With love and gladness singing.

Give thanks to God, our Lord above-

Thanks for his miracles of love:

Dearly he hath redeemed us!

The devil's captive bound I lay,

Lay in death's chains forlorn;

My sins distressed me night and day-

The sin within me born;

I could not do the thing I would,

In all my life was nothing good,

Sin had possessed me wholly.

My good works could no comfort shed,

Worthless must they be rated;

My free will to all good was dead,

And God's just judgments hated.

Me of all hope my sins bereft:

Nothing but death to me was left,

And death was hell's dark portal.

Then God saw with deep pity moved

My grief that knew no measure;

Pitying he saw, and freely loved,-

To save me was his pleasure.

The Father's heart to me was stirred,

He saved me with no sovereign word,

His very best it cost him.

He spoke to his beloved Son

With infinite compassion,

"Go hence, my heart's most precious crown.

Be to the lost salvation;

Death, his relentless tyrant slay,

And bear him from his sins away,

With thee to live forever."

Willing the Son took that behest,

Born of a maiden mother,

To his own earth he came a guest,

And made himself my brother.

All secretly he went his way,

Veiled in my mortal flesh he lay,

And thus the foe he vanquished.

He said to me, "Cling close to me,

Thy sorrows now are ending!

Freely I gave myself for thee,

Thy life with mine defending;

For I am thine, and thou art mine,

And where I am there thou shalt shine,

The foe shall never reach us.

True, he will shed my heart's life blood,

And torture me to death:

All this I suffer for thy good,

This hold with earnest faith.

Death dieth through my life divine;

I sinless bear those sins of thine,

And so shalt thou be rescued.

I rise again to heaven from hence,

High to my Father soaring,

Thy Master there to be, and thence,

My spirit on thee pouring;

In every grief to comfort thee,

And teach thee more and more of me,

Into all truth still guiding.

What I have done and taught on earth,

Do thou, and teach, none dreading;

That so God's kingdom may go forth,

And His high praise be spreading;

And guard thee from the words of men,

Lest the great joy be lost again;

Thus my last charge I leave thee."

Afterwards, at our mother's especial desire, Eva and Fritz sang a Latin resurrection hymn from the olden time.[11]

The renewal of the world

Countless new joys bringeth forth:

Christ arising, all things rise-

Rise with him from earth.

All the creatures feel their Lord-

Feel his festal light outpoured.

Fire springs up with motion free,

Breezes wake up soft and warm;

Water flows abundantly,

Earth remaineth firm.

All things light now skyward soar,

Solid things are rooted more;

All things are made new.

Ocean waves, grown tranquil, lie

Smiling 'neath the heavens serene;

All the air breathes light and fresh;

Our valley groweth green.

Verdure clothes the arid plain,

Frozen waters gush again

At the touch of spring.

For the frost of death is melted

The prince of this world lieth low;

And his empire strong among us,

All is broken now.

Grasping Him in whom alone

He could nothing claim or own,

His domain he lost.

Paradise is now regained,

Life has vanquished death;

And the joys he long had lost,

Man recovereth.

The cherubim at God's own word

Turn asi

de the flaming sword;

The long-lost blessing is restored.

The closed way opened free.[12]

The next morning the strangers left us; but all the day our grandmother sat silent and tranquil, with her hands clasped, in an inactivity very unusual with her. In the evening, when we had assembled again-as we all do now every day in the old house-she said quietly, "Children, sing to me the 'Nunc Dimittis.' God has fulfilled every desire of my heart; and, if he willed it, I should like now to depart in peace to my dead. For I know they live unto him."

Afterwards, we fell into conversation about the past. It was the eve of the wedding-day of Eva and Fritz, and Atlantis and Conrad. And we, a family united in one faith, naturally spoke together of the various ways in which God had led us to the one end.

The old days rose up before me, when the ideal of holiness had towered above my life, grim and stony, like the fortress of the Wartburg (in which my patroness had lived), above the streets of Eisenach, and when even Christ the Lord seemed to me, as Dr. Luther says, "a law-maker giving more strait and heavy commands than Moses himself"-an irrevocable, unapproachable Judge, enthroned far up in the cold spaces of the sky; and heaven, like a convent, with very high walls, peopled by nuns rigid as Aunt Agnes. And then the change which came over all my heart when I learned, through Dr. Luther's teaching, that God is love-is our Father; that Christ is the Saviour, who gave himself for our sins, and loved us better than life; that heaven is our Father's house; that holiness is simply loving God-who is so good, and who has so loved us, and, loving one another, that the service we have to render is simply to give thanks and to do good;-when, as Dr. Luther said, that word "our" was written deeply in my heart-that for our sins He died-for mine,-that for all, for us, for me, He gave himself.

And then Fritz told us how he had toiled and tormented himself to reconcile God to him, until he found, through Dr. Luther's teaching, that our sins have been borne away by the Lamb of God-the sacrifice not of man's gift, but of God's; "that in that one person, Jesus Christ, we had forgiveness of sins and eternal life;" that God is to us as the father to the prodigal son-entreating us to be reconciled to Him. And he told us also, how he had longed for a priest, who could know infallibly all his heart, and secure him from the deceitfulness and imperfectness of his own confessions, and assure him that, knowing all his sin to its depths, with all its aggravations, he yet pronounced him absolved. And at last he had found that Priest, penetrating to the depths of his heart, tracing every act to its motive, every motive to its source, and yet pronouncing him absolved, freely, fully, at once-imposing no penance, but simply desiring a life of thanksgiving in return. "And this Priest," he added, "is with me always; I make my confession to him every evening, or oftener, if I need it; and as often as I confess, He absolves, and bids me be of good courage-go in peace, and sin no more. But He is not on earth. He dwells in the holy of holies, which never more is empty, like the solitary sanctuary of the old temple on all days in the year but one. He ever liveth to make intercession for us!"

Then we spoke together of the two great facts Dr. Luther had unveiled to us from the Holy Scriptures, that there is one sacrifice of atonement, the spotless Lamb of God, who gave himself once for our sins; and that there is but one priestly Mediator, the Son of Man and Son of God; that, in consequence of this, all Christians are a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices; and the feeblest has his offering, which, through Jesus Christ, God delights to accept, having first accepted the sinner himself in the Beloved.

Our mother spoke to us, in a few words, of the dreadful thoughts she had of God-picturing him rather as the lightning than the light; of the curse which she feared was lowering like a thunder-cloud over her life, until Dr. Luther began to show her that the curse has been borne for us by Him who was made a curse for us, and removed for ever from all who trust in him. "And then," she said, "the Holy Supper taught me the rest. He bore for us the cross; he spreads for us the feast. We have, indeed, the cross to bear, but never more the curse; the cross from man, temptation from the devil, but from God nothing but blessing."

But Eva said she could not remember the time when she did not think God good and kind beyond all. There were many other things in religion which perplexed her; but this had always seemed clear, that God so loved the world, he gave his Son. And she had always hoped that all the rest would be clear one day in the light of that love. The joy which Dr. Luther's writings had brought her was, she thought, like seeing the stains cleared away from some beautiful painting, whose beauty she had known but not fully seen-or like having a misunderstanding explained about a dear friend. She had always wondered about the hard penances to appease One who loved so much, and the many mediators to approach Him; and it had been an inexpressible delight to find that these were all a mistake, and that access to God was indeed open-that the love and the sin,-life and death,-had met on the cross, and the sin had been blotted out, and death swallowed up of life.

In such discourse we passed the eve of the wedding day.

And now the day has vanished like a bright vision; our little gentle loving Atlantis has gone with her husband to their distant home, the bridal crowns are laid aside, and Eva and Fritz in their sober every-day dress, but with the crown of unfading joy in their hearts, have gone together to their lowly work in the forest, to make one more of those hallowed pastor's homes which are springing up now in the villages of our land.

But Gretchen's linen-chest is likely to be long before it can be stored again. We have just received tidings of the escape of Eva's friends, the nine nuns of Nimptschen, from the convent, at last! They wrote to Dr. Luther, who interested himself much in seeking asylums for them. And now Master Leonard Koppe of Torgan has brought them safely to Wittemberg concealed in his beer waggon. They say one of the nuns in their haste left her slipper behind. They are all to be received into various homes, and Gottfried and I are to have the care of Catherine von Bora, the most determined and courageous, it is said, of all, from whose cell they effected their escape.

I have been busy preparing the guest-chamber for her, strewing lavender on the linen, and trying to make it home-like for the young maiden who is banished for Christ's sake from her old home.

I think it must bring blessings to any home to have such guests.

June, 1523.

Our guest, the noble maiden Catherine von Bora, has arrived. Grave and reserved she seems to be, although Eva spoke of her as very cheerful, and light as well as firm of heart. I feel a little afraid of her. Her carriage has a kind of majesty about it which makes me offer her more deference than sympathy. Her eyes are dark and flashing, and her forehead is high and calm.

This is not so remarkable in me, I having been always easily appalled by dignified persons; but even Dr. Luther, it seems to me, is somewhat awed by this young maiden. He thinks her rather haughty and reserved. I am not sure whether it is pride or a certain maidenly dignity.

I am afraid I have too much of the homely burgher Cotta nature to be quite at ease with her.

Our grandmother would doubtless have understood her better than either our gentle mother or I, but the dear feeble form seems to have been gradually failing since that meeting with the emissaries of the Bohemian Church. Since the wedding she has not once left her bed. She seems to live more than ever in the past, and calls people by the names she knew them in her early days, speaking of our grandfather as "Franz," and calling our mother "Greta" instead of "the mother." In the past she seems to live, and in that glorious present, veiled from her view by so thin a veil. Towards heaven the heart, whose earthly vision is closing, is as open as ever. I sit beside her and read the Bible and Dr. Luther's books, and Gretchen says to her some of the new German hymns, Dr. Luther's, and his translation of John Huss's hymns. To-day she made me read again and again this passage,-"Christian faith is not, as some say, an empty husk in the heart until love shall quicken it; but if it be true faith, it is a sure trust and confidence in the heart whereby Christ is apprehended, so that Christ is the object of faith; yea, rather even, in faith Christ himself is present. Faith therefore justifieth because it apprehendeth and possesseth this treasure, Christ present. Wherefore Christ apprehended by faith, and dwelling in the heart, is the true Christian righteousness."

It is strange to sit in the old house, now so quiet, with our dear blind father downstairs, and only Thekla at home of all the sisters, and the light in that brave, strong heart of our grandmother growing slowly dim; or to hear the ringing sweet childish voice of Gretchen repeating the hymns of this glorious new time to the failing heart of the olden time.

Last night, while I watched beside that sick bed, I thought much of Dr. Luther alone in the Augustinian monastery, patiently abiding in the dwelling his teaching has emptied, sending forth thence workers and teachers throughout the world; and as I pondered what he has been to us, to Fritz and Eva in their lowly hallowed home, to our mother, to our grandmother, to the Bohemian people, to little Gretchen singing her hymns to me, to the nine rescued nuns, to Aunt Agnes in the convent, and Christopher at his busy printing-press, to young and old, religious and secular; I wonder what the new time will bring to that brave, tender, warm heart which has set so many hearts which were in bondage free, and made life rich to so many who were poor, yet has left his own life so solitary still.

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