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Three Friends Of God by Frances Bevan


WE cannot find out what effect this epistle had upon the clergy to whom it was sent. But the Master and His friends practised that which they had preached, and visited and comforted the sick and dying. And after a while it was reported at Rome, that whereas formerly men and women had died in despair, knowing that the Pope's ban was upon them, there were now many who passed away peacefully and joyfully, in spite of it, without confession or absolution.

The secret of this was found in the letters of the three friends, a copy of which was sent to the Pope. These letters were declared by the Pope to be heretical, and he specially noted the passages mentioned above, and also the fact that the persons who ought to have died in despair, were by means of these heresies comforted and made glad.

The Pope therefore commanded the Bishop of Strasburg to seize and burn all the writings of the three friends. No man, priest or layman, should read them under penalty of a special curse and excommunication. The Bishop complied at once with the Pope's decree. The books and letters were seized and burnt. The three friends were banished from the city.

The Master was deeply grieved. He had now been preaching six years since his conversion. The people of Strasburg had learnt to value the blessed tidings, and so to love and trust the dear Master, that they consulted him about all their affairs, great and small, and he had always been ready to listen, and sympathise, and advise, and comfort them. In this time of pestilence and famine, and deprived of their former teachers by the interdict, they hung upon the words of their faithful preacher, and he had seen many of them pass from death to life, and from this sad world to Paradise.

It was therefore no small trial by which the Master's faith was tested. |The tower with all its bells| had fallen upon him at last. But the Lord stood by him and strengthened him, and though it was the Pope himself he was now to resist, he stood firm, and chose disgrace and exile, for the sake of Him who is, he said, |our beloved Bishop.| |Our Bishop is He who shed for us His own precious Blood -- who obtained an eternal redemption for us by the Blood which He shed, and has for us entered in to the Holy Place, the temple not made with hands. Shall we not stand ever ready to shed our blood for Him?| Therefore the Master became an outcast, upon whom the ban of the Church had fallen. |It is a less thing,| he said, |that the world should be crucified to us, than that we should be crucified to the world. I may say the world has become to me but dung and dross, but that I should become dung and dross to the world, is another matter.| For Christ, it was sweet to him.

The Master and Thomas took up their abode in the Carthusian convent, of which Ludolf was the prior, and there they wrote afresh as they had written before, and added more thereto.

Just at this time, in 1348, the |Parson Emperor,| Charles IV, came to Strasburg to receive the homage of the city as Emperor of Rome. Bishop Berthold had persuaded the chief citizens of Strasburg to acknowledge the Emperor for the sake of peace. Therefore, though they despised him in their hearts, they received him with imperial honours. The Bishop having himself done homage, received in return the imperial fee. The interdict was to be removed, by command of the Pope.

In the bull relating to this agreement, the Pope declared the Emperor Lewis a heretic, and required of all the towns who had acknowledged him, that they should declare their repentance for so great a sin.

The Pope's legate, the Bishop of Bamberg arrived at Strasburg with the bull, and called together the citizens in the open space before the Cathedral. Upon the steps of the Cathedral he stood up, and read the bull to all assembled. He then asked the town council and the citizens in general, whether they desired to be released from the interdict, and to receive the Pope's absolution.

The chief magistrate, Peter Schwarber, answered for all, |Yes.|

The absolution was pronounced. Then the Bishop of Strasburg turned to Peter Schwarber and said, |Sir, you once compelled me to do homage to the Emperor Lewis, the heretic, and now that he is dead, you yourself call him a heretic.|

The magistrate replied, |My gracious Lord Bishop, I never considered the Emperor Lewis a heretic.|

|But you have just said you did,| insisted Bishop Berthold.

Peter Schwarber answered, |The Bishop of Bamberg asked us if we wished to receive absolution. It was to that question I said Yes.' Had he asked whether I assented to all the articles of the bull, I should have given him a very different answer.|

However, in spite of the absolution, the interdict remained in force for some years.

Whilst the Emperor Charles was at Strasburg, in this month of December 1348, he heard much said about Dr. Tauler, his friends, and his strange notions. He therefore sent for the whole party, that he might hear what they had to say in their own defence.

Dr. Tauler read to the Emperor a full confession of his faith. He kept back nothing, for he did not fear the displeasure of the Emperor, any more than he had feared the curse of the Pope. He explained to the Emperor for what reasons he had been banished, and set before him the truths he had taught, and which he and his two friends were resolved still to teach as they had opportunity.

The chronicle reports that the words of the Master had such an effect upon the Emperor, that he said he was also of their mind, and that he would not permit anything to be done to harm or hinder them.

The Bishops, however, who were present, declared that this teaching was heretical, and they commanded the three friends to |desist from acting so insolently in defiance of the Church and the interdict.| They also commanded them to make a public declaration that their writings were heretical -- to retract all that they had written, and to write nothing more of the sort.

The chronicle proceeds to say that, instead of retracting anything they had said, they persisted the more in their heresies, and wrote more books than before.

The Emperor, however much he may have been of their mind, joined with the Bishops, for the sake of peace, he said, in forbidding the three faithful witnesses to write or preach.

And shortly after, the Master left the convent and went to live at Cologne, having |spread much good teaching through Alsace,| as says the chronicle.

Deeply was he mourned by the people, who loved him and revered him, and his name remained a household word in his beloved Strasburg.

Cologne was also a city dear to his heart, and there he was free to preach and teach. It was in the church of the convent of S. Gertrude that he chiefly preached, where the nuns greatly needed his exhortations. They had for a long while back given themselves up to idleness and pleasure, so that even the old nuns were remarkable for their costly dresses, and their love for worldly amusements. The younger ones naturally followed their example. And yet young and old had been in the habit of regarding themselves as holier than their neighbours, because they lived within the four walls of their convent. Many a wholesome word did they hear from the Master, and it is to be hoped that some of them, at least, were awakened and saved.

The Beghards, too, of Cologne, were a grief to Dr. Tauler. They had been led away by the mild philosophy of those times, and though they had been persecuted, and many of them burnt, from time to time, their errors continued to spread in and around Cologne. Romish Bishops had not discovered that the Bible is a better preventive and cure in these cases than fire and torture.

The Master grieved over their delusions, but he resorted to preaching rather than persecution. They had fallen into an ancient error which had been revived and taught from time to time, by various bewildered persons. They believed that the whole material universe is God, and that God therefore is but a name to apply to all that we can know by our senses or our minds.

By some mysterious confusion of thought, they mixed up this idea with Christian doctrines, and regarded themselves as Christians. But the natural consequence of such a belief, was of necessity, indulgence in sin, without fear or shame. For if a man is but a part of that which is God, all he does is the act of God, and there is none either to condemn sin, or to be condemned. It might not after all be as endless a study as we might suppose, to discover all the ways by which Satan misleads the soul. For we find that under countless names, the same unworthy thoughts of God, and the same flattering excuses for sin, appear and reappear from the days of Adam till now.

The thought which has never entered the mind of man, except by the miraculous power of the Holy Ghost, is the thought of redemption by the precious blood of the Son of God.

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