THE Master's chief friend we already know. But as time went on, many who were taught by him, formed with him a little company, who spake often one to another, and comforted themselves together, and edified one another. The friend of whom we know the most, was a banker of Strasburg, who was a little more than thirty years old, when Nicholas paid his first visit to Dr. Tauler.
He belonged to one of the chief families of the city. He had been twice married, but had no children. He was much beloved in his native city, for he was a kind, tender-hearted, cheerful man, fearing God, and acting uprightly towards all men. He was by nature fond of retirement and quiet, and he had been grieved and troubled by the divisions, and heresies, and ungodliness, of professing Christians. His conscience, too, left him no peace, for he blamed himself more than others for the sad state of the Church, and he lived in constant fear of displeasing God. He therefore betook himself to fasting and penances, and thought to put to death all his natural feelings.
He was not yet forty years old when he agreed with Gertrude, his wife, that they should both devote themselves to God, and give up all worldly employments and pleasures.
But soon Rulman Merswin, for this was his name, became so weak and ill from his constant penances, that Dr. Tauler, for whom he had the greatest respect, persuaded him to chastise himself no longer, but to leave it to God to give him all the chastening he needed.
Rulman promised to abstain from his penances for a certain time. But as soon as the time was up, he began a fresh course of scourging, starving, and torture. He said he wished to kill nature, and so be at peace.
It was natural that as his body grew weak, his mind grew weak also, and he began to see visions, and dream dreams, which were no proof of spiritual enlightenment, but quite the contrary. For four years this strange sad endeavour to tame the flesh, brought sorrow and despair to his soul. Then there came a change, for again does Nicholas, the mysterious |friend of God,| appear on the scene, his name still kept a profound secret, but known to us as the |layman| through whom Dr. Tauler had been led to Christ. From this time Rulman Merswin retired altogether from the world. This must have been about the year 1347. That Dr. Tauler is mentioned at that time as giving him counsel and instruction, may serve also to explain that Rulman now gave himself up entirely to the service of God. But his thoughts as to the service of God, appear to have been derived more from the teaching of |the friend of God,| than from that of Dr. Tauler, who was strangely free from much of the error and superstition which still clung to his beloved Nicholas. To Nicholas, Rulman submitted himself with a submission so complete, that it justifies the name given to this strange man by one of his historians -- |The invisible Pope of an invisible Church.| Rulman Merswin dared not openly to have any communications with |the friend of God from the Oberland;| it was but rumoured that he had a |secret friend,| whose name was never mentioned, with whom he took counsel about all things great and small. And his other friend was the Master.
Dr. Tauler had also two faithful friends, who, like himself, never openly left the Church of Rome. One was a monk, called Thomas of Strasburg who had studied theology at Paris, and had become General prior of his order.
The other had been a Dominican, but had afterwards joined the Carthusian monks, and in the year of the Master's conversion, he had been chosen prior of a Carthusian convent, which had just been built by three of the citizens of Strasburg in the neighbourhood of the city. His name was Ludolf of Saxony.
Both of these |friends of God| wrote books, in which, mixed up with much error, the truths are found which they had in common with the Master. Amongst these writings, were a letter which they and Dr. Tauler jointly wrote, and sent round to all the clergy. It was to counsel them to take no heed to the Pope's interdict, but to visit the sick and dying without any regard to the curse which lay upon them -- to comfort them by directing them to the |death and sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ, who had offered up Himself as a perfect sacrifice for them, and for the sin of the whole world, and had perfectly satisfied God; who had opened Heaven, and who now intercedes in the presence of God for us. And Heaven, which was opened by Him, cannot be shut by the Pope against any poor sinner.| They said further, that the clergy should have more respect to the Word of Christ and His apostles, than to the Pope's ban, |which proceeded only from envy and worldly ambition.|
They explained further in another letter, that as all the powers that be, are ordained of God, it is impossible that any one to whom He has committed authority, should rightly use it to hinder the preaching of His Word. For the Word proceeds from God, and to forbid the preaching of it would be the same thing as God condemning His own work. Nor could it be proved by Holy Scripture, they said, that a man is to be regarded as a heretic, because he refuses to kiss the Pope's foot, or because in despite of the Pope, he owns as his emperor, a prince duly elected by the lawful electors.