Friends of God

Friends of God In the 14th century a spirit of mysticism pervaded nearly all Western Germany, from the Low Countries to the very borders of Italy. It brought under its intfluence all ranks and classes, and led ultimately to the formation of an extensive but unorganized brotherhood, the so-called Friends of God. Among their chief seats were the cities of Strasburg, Cologne, Basel, Constance, Nuremberg, and Nordlingen. Their distinguishing doctrines were self-renunciation, the complete giving up of self to the will of God the continuous activity of the Spirit of God in all believers, the possibility of intimate union between God and man, the worthlessness of all religion based upon fear or the hope of reward, and the essential equality of the laity and clergy, though, for the sake of order and discipline, the organization of the Cburch was held to be necessary. They often appealed to the declaration of Christ (Joh 15:15), "Henceforth I

call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you;" and from this probably arose their name, which was not intended to designate an exclusive party or sect, but simply to denote a cenrtain stage of spiritual life, the stage of disinterested love to God. From this association went forth monks and ecclesiastics who cherished a lively interest in the spiritual guidance of the laity, preached in the German langurage (the vernaculsar of the people), and labored not only to educate the people to perform their duties as required by the Church laws, and to all manner of good works, but also "to lead them forward to a deeper experience of Christianity, to a truly divine life according to their own understanding of it." From their snumber also went forth "those priests who, scorning to be troubled by the common scruples during the time of the papal interdict, and amid the ravages of the Black Death, bestowed the consolations of religion on the forsaken people" (Neander, Church History, volume 5). Many of their leaders were in close connection with convents, especially those of Eugenthal and Maria Medingen, near Nuremberg; and it is said that Agnes, the widow of king Andrew of Hungary, and various knights and burghers, were in close connection with this association. But foremost among their leaders was the Dominican monk Tauler (q.v.), of Strasburg, who spent his life in preaching and teaching with wonderful success in the country extending from his native city to Cologne, and whose influence is to this day active among his countrymen by means of his admirable sermons, which are still widely read. Much of his religious fervor and light be himself attributed to the instruction of his friend, Nicholas of Basel (q.v.), a laymen, whom Schmidt, in his work below cited, mentions as the greatest of the leaders of the Friends of God. He has often been called a Waldensian, but Schmidt denies this, and says that the only sympathy which any of the Friends of God had with the WaIdensians was anti-sacerdotalism. On the strength of documents which Schmidt has lately discovered, the Friends of God are said to havem been "mystics to the height of mysticism: each believer was in direct union with God, with the Trinity, not the Holy Ghost alone." He says also, "they were faithful to the whole mediaeval imaginative creeds: transubstantiation, worship of the Virgin and saints, and Purgatory. Their union with the Deity was not that of pantheism, or of passionate love; it was rather through the fantasy. They had wonders, visions, special revelations, prophecies. Their peculiar heresy was the denial of all special prerogatime to the clergy except the celebration of the sacraments; the lawman had equal sanctity equal coenmunion with the Deity, saw visions, uttered prophecies... . Neither were they Bible Christians; they honored and loved the Bible, but sought and obtained revelation beyond it. They rejected one clause of the Lord's prayer. Temptations were marks of God's favor not to be deprecated. But, though suffering was a sign of divine love, it was not self-inflicted suffering. They disclaimed asceticism self- maceration, self-torture. All things to the beloved were of God; all therefore indifferent" (Milman, Latin Christianity, 8:399). The Friends of God are frequently charged with pantheism, but Neander undertakes to defend them against this charge, admitting, however, that those of them who knew not how to "guard against the danger of falling into the unfathomable abyss of God unrevealed, instead of holding fast to the God revealed in Christ, plunged into the gulf of pantheistic self-deification." And that this gave rise to "the wild, fanatic, pantheistic mysticism, which was for getting beyond Christ, beyond all positive revelation, all humnization of the divine, as we see it exemplified particularly among a portion of the so-called Beghards (q.v.) ... and the so-called Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit (q.v.). Among those of the Friends of God who by unwise speculation, and by an intoxication of -self-forgetting love discarding all calm reflection, "were unconsciously betrayed into effusions and expressions upon which that wild, fanatical pantheism afterwards seized and fastened itself," is reckoned Master Eckhart (q.v.), from whose writings and sermons twenty-six propositions connected with a pantheistic mode of thinking, or verging upon such a mode of thinking, had been drawn, were formally condemned. But he promptly retracted all those propositions which were found to be heretical or scandalous, "and in general submitted himself to be corrected by the pope and the Church." These "pantheistic and quietistic views" were earnestly opposed by Ruysbroek (q.v.) and by Tauler. The former especially secured himself against the danger of pantheism by the prominence he gives to the will, "which he describes as the main-spring on which all development of the higher life depends." Another of the leaders of the Friends of God was the Dominican monk Heinrich Suso (q.v.), of Suabia, who, like Tauler, gave "prominence to the mediation of Christ as necessary to the attaining to true communion with God, and was thus distinguished from those pantheistic mystics who, notwithstanding mediation, were for sinking directly into the depths of the divine essence." Many of the leaders of the Friends of God were put to death by order of the Inquisition on the charge of being Beghards. Among these were Nicholas of Basel and two of his associates, Martin of Reichenau, and a Benedictine and follower of Martin. Milman (Latin Christianity, page 408) says that the influence of the doctrines taught by the Friends of God, especially of Tauler and his followers, were "seen in the earnest demand for reformation by the councils; the sullen estrangement, notwithstanding the reunion to the sacerdotal yoke, during the Hussite wars; the disdainful neutrality when reformation by the councils seemed hopeless;" and that it is especially "seen in the remarkable book German Theology, attributed by Luther to Tauler himself, be it doubtless of a later period." — Neander, Church History, 5:380; Herzog, Real- Encyklopadie, 10:159; Schmidt, Gottesfreunde im xiv Jahrhundert (Jena, 1855); Pfeiffer, Deutsche Mystiker des 14 and 15 Jahrh.; Milman, Latin Christianity, 8:309; Kurtz, Church Hist. 1:484; Bennet, in Methodist Quart. Rev. January 1869, page 45 sq.; Theologia Germanica, edit. by Dr. Pfeiffer and transl. by Susanna Winkworth. (J.H.W.)

 
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