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Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross


The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller


My Man Jeeves

P. G. Wodehouse


Esoteric Buddhism

A. P. Sinnett


milton and jokob boehme a study of german mysticism in seventeenth-century england

by margaret lewis bailey, ph.d

Excerpt:

But the other, two great factors, the mystical and humanistic contributions to the reformation, were in England of minor importance. England had had no Meister Eckhart, no Tauler, no Thomas a Kempis, no Theologia Germanica with their sincere and heartfelt teachings preparing the hearts of the people for a radical change in their religious life. They had had no Luther, a leader of the people whose personality had been steeped in the devout and popular elements of German mysticism. Of themselves the English people were not ready for a change from dependence on external authority to absolute autonomy. For in spite of the religious and devotional fervor of the English mystics from Richard Rolle of Hampole and his followers to Julian of Norwich, the English reformation had been merely political, and when the time came for a sweeping change in the inner religious life, not the English but the German mystics were generally read in England.

English humanistic culture had a similar fate. Erasmus had taught there, it is true; but his influence hardly extended beyond the nobility. Thomas More had expounded in his Utopia (1516) an ideal of a state in which ecclesiastical hierarchy was unknown. But he finished his career as a powerful opponent of the reformation, and without founding any school of humanism. Henry VIII's church had merely substituted upon the old established beliefs and ceremonies, a royal for a papal head—the result of a royal act, not of a development in which the people had any real share. The bishops retained their old power in a system subjected to the growing dangers of multiplication of benefices and lack of interest on the part of a hireling clergy. The new Anglican church was naturally separate, yet related to a reformed church on the continent, and reformed, yet retaining a hierarchical system. An opposition to its outer form might come as a further development of the political forces that had helped to produce it; upon its relation to the reformed churches of other lands must depend its inner development.

In Germany the reformation was likewise incomplete; It was not carried to its promised and logical conclusion until in certain phases of Pietism it finally approached more nearly to the ideal for which Luther and Zwingli had striven.1 The subjectivity represented by mysticism meant freedom of the individual; the benevolent fraternity of humanism meant a free church of voluntary membership. Whereas in principle the reformers announced the sovereignty and priesthood of the individual, in practice they submerged personal faith under an authority almost as rigid and unspiritual as in the system they were seeking to overthrow. Luther's ideal of "every man his own judge " was supplanted by his scholastic notion of the absolute depravity of man resultant from his fall; his thought of the universal priesthood of man could not hold out against his inherited feeling of the necessity of a state church to root out heresy. The ideal of a church on the New Testament model was lowered to the standard familiar through custom and tradition. As the Lutheran creed and dogma developed, freedom was more and more lost sight of, until speedily a church of fixed forms and beliefs had grown up. The letter-bound Lutheran orthodoxy represented a victory of one of the essential elements of religion over the other, the victory of the traditional over the mystical element, the submission of the ever-changing, personal, inspirational force to the permanent, unchanging, conservative force that binds the ages together. For a state church, by its very nature, is bound to look with disfavor upon all purely personal religion. It is bound to disregard the fact that just as long as the two elements—mysticism and tradition—are harmoniously combined, as long as organized religion on the one hand resists a strong tendency to settle into a sacred form or system, as long as divinely illuminated souls on the other hand do not exalt their own experience and ignore the gains of the race in the light of master-revelations of the past, just so long will religion remain ideal and powerful. This lack of bal1 Weingarten: Die Revolutionskirchen Englands, p. 442.

ance between the two elements has caused the church throughout the ages to denounce the mystics, whom they have branded with varying names as time went on, as Simonites, Gnostics, New Prophets, Anabaptists, Paracelsians, Boehmenists, Rosicrucians, Pietists, Separatists, Quakers, Enthusiasts, heretics, fanatics!

The German reformation had not been entirely confined, as we have seen, to the work of the creed-makers. The lack of incentive toward the development of a truly devout spiritual freedom under the strict Lutheran dogma, the glaring inconsistencies of the great reformers, and the consequent need of a deeper reformation was keenly felt by the thinkers of the time who were likewise thoroughly imbued with the leavening power of a belief in the Divine Presence.1 These men were a result of that acute and intense religious feeling—not necessarily confined to Christianity—which puts emphasis upon immediate relationship to God, upon direct and intimate consciousness of divine inner light. Under the leadership of such men the growth of this mystical side of religion made great progress. It bore rapid fruit in the development of new religious forms or communities along with and also within the Lutheran church. But the German church of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the political plaything of princes, could offer no place for the development of an institution fitted to this group of thinkers and their ideas, centered about freedom. Naturally sects must arise; also they must be persecuted and driven out as were the various Anabaptist groups. Divisions must arise within the church itself. In 1571, for instance, one hundred and eleven preachers were driven out of Saxony by Electoral Prince August. Later the Lutherans even united with the Catholics to drive the Cal1 Ritschl: Geschichte des Pietismus, I, p. 80.

vinists from the same territory. By the year 1600 the conscience of the counter-reformation had caused Austria and Bohemia to drive out thousands of their most industrious and law-abiding citizens.

In Holland these fugitives found a home. During the struggle with the Spanish Inquisition, the Dutch leaders in 1576 had united in a pledge of religious toleration. This struggle for freedom seemed to bring prosperity to the Netherlands; her trade and industry developed amazingly. Unconditioned freedom of trade and commerce kept pace with the freedom of faith, of science, and of the press,—a freedom which made of this one nation a refuge for the persecuted of all lands. In such a home the great religious movement, yet untouched in its depths by the German reformation, took form under the influence of German mystics, Baptists, and humanists expelled from Germany, and found its way to England, carrying the beginnings of the advanced liberal ideas of to-day. A great many Dutch weavers, who were permitted by Elizabeth to settle in England, " helped to make England Protestant, and thus laid a lasting basis for her wealth; but at the same time they did even more than this; for in helping to make her Protestant they also helped to make her free."1


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