IN the year 1377 the fallen state of the Church seems to have weighed more heavily than ever before on the mind of Nicholas. Eight years before he had written, |If Christendom remains as it is, in a very few years the wisest will not know which way to turn, unless God should bestow upon them supernatural light.|
In the year 1376 the Pope, Gregory XI, who, like his predecessors, had held his court at Avignon, returned to Rome. The following year, Nicholas, and his friend the former lawyer, determined to go to headquarters, and represent to the Pope the sin and apostasy of the Church.
But the journey was long and expensive, and the corn and wine which the five friends had to sell, fetched a very low price in the midst of the plentiful harvests of the Swiss valleys. It would cost them no less than sixty crowns to go to Rome and back.
But John, the converted Jew, came to their help. He knew that his brother Moses, and his sister Susanna, were almost persuaded to be Christians. To them he sent for money, which they readily gave him. But it was now winter, and Nicholas, who was more than sixty years old, was ill, and little able to bear the journey. They therefore deferred their mission till Easter, which was that year at the end of March.
When they arrived in Rome, Nicholas inquired for a former friend, a Roman gentleman, of whom he had not heard for many years. He found that his friend was still alive, and glad to see him. He welcomed the whole party, that is to say, Nicholas, his friend, and servants, and found room also for the horses and the carriages.
|I wonder,| he said to Nicholas, |that in your old days you have taken such a long journey to come to court. You must needs have some very weighty matter on hand.|
Nicholas replied, |It is as you say. We are come to see the Holy Father on a very solemn errand.|
The Roman said |I am well able to introduce you to him, for I am very intimate with him, and he often asks me to dinner.|
Three days later the Pope granted them an interview. The ex-lawyer spoke to him in Latin, Nicholas in Italian.
They said, |Holy Father, the great and grievous sins of Christendom have risen to such a pitch, in all classes of men, that God is greatly displeased. You must consider what is to be done in such evil case.| |I can do nothing,| replied the Pope shortly.
Then Nicholas told him that his own sins were great and grievous, and that God had made known to him how evil was the life he led, and, he added, |Know of a truth, that if you do not turn from your evil ways, and judge yourself before God, He will judge you, and you will die before the year is out.|
The Pope was much enraged at this unwonted address, but Nicholas replied calmly, |We are quite willing to be put to death, if the tokens which I am prepared to give you, are not sufficient to prove that we are sent by God.|
|What tokens, I should like to know?| demanded the Pope angrily.
Nicholas told him that which the Lord had made known to him. And the Pope sat for a while speechless.
Then he rose from his seat, and embraced them, and spoke kindly to them, and said, |Could you but give such tokens to the Emperor, it were well for Christendom.|
He now wished to detain them at Rome, and to lodge them in a princely manner, that they might be always at hand to counsel him.
But they said, |Holy Father, permit us to go home. We will always be obedient to your request, should you send for us again, however often. But we desire no earthly goods, only the honour of God, and the eternal salvation of Christian men.|
On further conversation the Pope found that their house on the mountain was not yet finished, and he offered them a large sum of money, to complete the building which they refused, but they accepted a written order addressed to the clergy in the neighbourhood, commending them to their good offices. This they probably thought would save them from hindrance and opposition on the part of the clergy.
They returned on horseback, for their friend, the Roman citizen, provided them with good hacks, instead of the cumbrous carts and the unwieldy horses with which they had arrived.
But the Pope, who, like Herod, had listened gladly, like Herod also, continued to live in sin, and he died just within the year, April 8, 1378.
The letter which he had given them had the desired effect of gaining them the good will of the clergy and council of Lucerne. But to go down to Egypt for help, or to accept help from Egypt, leads always to the same discovery that the Egyptians are men and not God, and their horses flesh and not spirit. We find that during the remainder of the year 1377 they were, as Nicholas describes it, |in sore straits, and knew not what would be the end of it.| He said events might happen which would oblige them, all five, to leave their secret home, and go forth to the |five ends of Christendom,| but that they must wait the call of the Lord, and abide His time.
|From the glory and the gladness,
From His secret place;
From the rapture of His presence,
From the radiance of His face;
Christ, the Son of God, hath sent me
Through the midnight lands;
Mine the mighty ordination
Of the pierced hands.
Mine the message grand and glorious,
Strange unsealed surprise;
That the goal is God's beloved,
Christ in Paradise.
Hear me, weary men and women,
Sinners dead in sin,
I am come from heaven to tell you
Of the love within;
Not alone of God's great pathway
Leading up to heaven;
Not alone how you may enter,
Stainless and forgiven;
Not alone of rest and gladness,
Tears and sighing fled;
Not alone of life eternal
Breathed into the dead.
But I tell you I have seen Him,
God's beloved Son;
From His lips have learnt the mystery,
He and His are one;
There, as knit into the body.
Every joint and limb,
We, His ransomed, His beloved,
We are one with Him;
All in marvellous completeness,
Added to the Lord,
There to be His crown of glory,
His supreme reward.
Wondrous prize of our high calling!
Speed we on to this,
Past the cities of the angels,
Farther into bliss;
On into the depths eternal
Of the love and song,
Where, in God the Father's glory,
Christ has waited long,
There to find that none beside Him
God's delight can be;
NOT BESIDE HIM, NAY, BUT IN HIM,
O BELOVED, ARE WE.|