Scheffler, Johann

Scheffler, Johann (Angelus Silesius), a Catholic mystic of Germany of great speculative power and poetic fervor, was born at Breslau in 1624, of Polish Protestant parents, and received his early schooling at the Elisabethanum of that city. In 1643 he went to Strasburg to study medicine, but soon afterwards retired to Holland, where he spent several years, partly at Leyden. Here he became interested in the writings of Jacob Bohme, which exerted a decided influence on his subsequent life. His religious studies did not, however, interrupt his professional preparation, and in 1647 he went to the University of Padua, where he graduated July 9, 1648. Returning to Silesia, he served three years as family physician to a duke. Here it soon became evident that he could not content himself with the stiff Lutheranism of the day, and he soon became suspected by the local clergy. The court preacher, Freitag, forbade the publication of his poems because of their mystical tone. He found a patron, however, in Franckenberg, a Silesian nobleman, who was also attracted by Bohme. A poem which lie published in memory of Franckenberg in 1652 seems to have brought him into trouble. Soon afterwards he left the service of the duke, and on June 12, 1653, entered the Catholic Church at Breslau, at the age of twenty-nine. His conversion raised no little outcry against him. His motives were assailed. This led him to publish at Olmütz, in 1653, his Fundamental Reasons for Quitting Lutheranism, in which he gave fifty-five reasons for regarding Lutheran doctrine as erroneous and eighty-three for accepting Catholicism. "In the whole matter," said he, "I have acted simply as an honest, conscientious Christian." After his conversion he remained in Breslau, occupied with religious meditation and writing. In 1657 appeared simultaneously his two chief works, Der cherubinische Wandersmann and Geistliche Hirtenlieder. In 1661 he was consecrated to the priesthood, and thenceforth acted as an almost bigoted champion of Romanism. In 1664 he was made the intimate counsellor of the bishop of Breslau. For seven or eight years he was now engaged in embittered controversies with the Protestant Church. Among his assailants were Chemnitz of Jena and Alberti of Leipsic. Abuse, caricature, and violence characterized both sides of the controversy. Many of these later writings he collected and published under the title Ecclesiologia. (Neisse and Glatz, 1677, fol.). His controversial activity seems to have rapidly consumed his strength, as he died at the early age of fifty-three. Of permanent results of his attacks upon Protestantism there is no trace. His writings soon fell into neglect, and it is only in quite recent times that they have met with full appreciation. They bear the stamp of deep conviction, and give evidence of wide acquaintance with the writings of the fathers and the mystics (see Grupp, Die römische Kirche [Dresden, 1840], and, on the Catholic side, Wittmann, Angelus Silesius [Augsburg, 1842]). But it is more as a poet than as a polemic that Scheffler holds a place in literature. His work Der cherubinische Wandersmann consists of a collection of 1675 brief utterances, mostly in Alexandrine verses of two to four lines each, unconnected and without systematic sequence. The title explains itself from the fact that the book aims at pointing out the way whereby man, estranged from God by sin and buried in the love of the world, is to find his way back to communion with God. The undertone of these brief verses is of a strongly mystical character, and is entirely free from confessional distinctions. That we can return to God only by profound contemplation of God; and that the more we gaze upon God with open face and submit ourselves to him in perfect resignation and patience, so much the more are we essentially united to God and made possessors of all that is God's — such is the thought that constantly recurs under a thousand images, and spreads a fragrance over every page. The Christian element in this thought is found in the fact that Scheffler presents the incarnation and redemption as the effective means of our return to God; but he also insists, mystic-like, that the process of incarnation must in some degree repeat itself in us, so that we also may become sons of God like Christ. That some of Scheffler's utterances have a leaning towards pantheism (e.g., "I am as great as God, and he is as small as I;" "When I love God more than myself, then I give to him as much as he gives to me") is not to be denied. But this may be explained partly from the intensely aphoristic form of expression at which the author aims, and partly from actual inconsistency of thought. In his second edition he earnestly repudiates all pantheism, and asserts that he never intends to imply the cessation of the creatural character of man, but only that our regenerated nature may become so filled with grace as that God shall be, to us, all and in all. Besides, he constantly emphasizes the distinctness of the world from God and the moral freedom of man. With all their defects, these aphorisms are unquestionably among the richest fruits in the whole literature of Christian mysticism. They were highly esteemed by Arnold of Giessen, and by Leibnitz. In recent times the Wandersmann has received the warmest praises from Friedrich Schlegel, and has been reissued in whole (Sulzbach, 1829) or in extracts (F. Horn, Varnhagen von Euse, W. Müller, and others). But the poetic fame of Scheffler rests still more upon his volume of hymns, Seelenlust (1657-68; latest ed. Stuttgart, 1846), many of which have found a permanent place in the whole Protestant German Church. The latest of Scheffler's poetic works consists of a very realistic presentation of the Last Things (Schweidnitz, 1675), but it adds nothing to his fame. As to personal character, Scheffler is not without great inconsistencies. It is hard to believe that the profound sweetness of the poet and the fanatical zealotry of the controversialist could dwell in the same heart. Evidently the two natures of the man dwelt side by side, neither entirely mastering the other. The sources for the life of Scheffler are given in A. Kahlert's Angelus Silesius (Breslau, 1853). See Herzog, Real-Ecyklop. 13, 478-485;

Gervinus, Lit. Gesch.; Westminster Rev. Oct. 1853; Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines, 2, 204. (J.P.L.)

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