Theologia Germanica

Theologia Germanica (the German title is Büchlein von der deutschen Theologie) is the title of the famous theological work, by an unknown author, which was discovered by Luther and published for the first time by him in 1516. The title implies merely that it is a German theological work, and is not to be understood as asserting the spirit of exclusiveness to which Poiret objected, in any degree.

The contents of the book are entirely in harmony with the writings of Tauler, Suso, and other mystics connected with the Friends of God of the 14th century. Its object is to teach self-renunciation, the laying-aside of our own and the accomplishing of the Divine will. It declares that only our self- will separates man from God, the perfect one; it was self-will that changed angels into devils, and it is this alone which feeds the flames of hell. Haughty and opinionated minds, it asserts, aim at perfection in other ways than that of humility and obedience. In this their conduct resembles that of the devil, and they can accordingly end only in ruin. Communion with God is to be had only when the soul passes through repentance and is purified from sin and selfishness, thus attaining to enlightenment. Love and the practice of virtue are also requisite to true enlightenment, as is, in addition, a cheerful endurance of trials and temptations. Thus enlightened, a soul attains to union with God and enters into unending perfection.

The book has been attributed to various authors, e.g. Eblendus, Tauler, etc., but without authority. Luther's preface declares that it was written by a priest and custos in the "Deutschherrn" house at Frankfort-onthe-Main. A manuscript copy, discovered by Dr. Reuss of Wtirzburg, calls it simply Der Frankfurter. Hamberger, in Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v., thinks that the priest Heinrich of Rodelheim has been shown beyond controversy to be its author. The question of authorship is a difficult one, because the writer, who was associated with the Friends of God, intentionally followed the custom of those mystics in writing anonymously.

The fact that Luther first gave publicity to the work caused it to be regarded in time as the special property of Protestants. The Romish Church at first paid no attention to it, though it gave occasion to the Bavarian bishop Pirstinger to write a Tewtsche Theologey from his point of view. In March, 1621, however, the German Theology was placed on the Index. A recent Romish theologian, Gunther, has charged it with pantheistic tendencies; but this is evidently malicious, since it strains the language of a book which does not pretend to a strictly scientific character further than the case will warrant. Luther's edition of 1516 was incomplete; but the second edition comprehended the whole work, and was accompanied with a preface from his pen. Numerous editions followed in rapid succession, Luther himself adding five to those already mentioned. The most desirable edition is perhaps that of Johann Arndt, who supplements Luther's preface with an excellent one by himself (1631). The manuscript discovered by Dr. Reuss was edited by Dr. Pfeiffer, of Vienna (2nd ed. 1855). This version is more complete than Luther's, particularly in the first third and near the end of the work. Repeated translations have been made into Low-German, Flemish, English, Latin, and French; the best known English version being that of Miss Susanna Winkworth, with preface by Rev. C. Kingsley, and introduction by Prof. Stowe (Andover, 1856).Lisco, Heilslehre des Theologia Germanica, etc. (Stuttgart, 1857), and Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v.

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