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Teaching a Mystical Theology – The German Theology [Theologia Deutsch] (14th Century, published in 1516 and 1518)

The following passages were taken from The German Theology [Theologia Deutsch], an anonymous fourteenth-century tract written in vernacular German. The author may have been a priest of the Teutonic Order (Order of the German House of St. Mary in Jerusalem) living in Frankfurt am Main. His text calls for highly spiritualized, mystical piety of a kind that continued through Meister Eckhart and Johann Tauler to Martin Luther and beyond. Luther, who published this text in two annotated editions in 1516 and 1518, remarked that, after the Bible and The Confessions of St. Augustine, this book had taught him the most about God, Christ, man, and the world. This work of Catholic piety became a staple text for Anabaptists in the sixteenth century and Lutheran Pietists in later times. Its broad appeal derives from its teaching of a spiritualizing Christianity that is structured as a process but sees helplessness and passive obedience as the proper attitude toward God’s bestowal of righteousness. John Calvin called the book “the Devil’s poison,” and Pope Paul V placed in on the Roman Index of Forbidden Books. More than 190 editions of The German Theology have been published in German, English, Dutch, Latin, Swedish, Danish, Russian, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese.

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Chapter 11

How the righteous person at this present time is put in hell and cannot be consoled there, and how he is taken out of hell and put in heaven and cannot be distressed there.

Christ’s soul had to go to hell before it came to heaven, so the human soul must do the same. This, of course, comes about when a person knows and looks at himself and finds himself so wicked and unworthy of all the good and consolation that can befall him from God and created things, seeing it as nothing but an eternal damnation and perdition, and feeling himself unworthy even of that. Indeed he thinks himself unworthy of all the suffering that may befall him at this present time, and considers it right and proper that all created things are against him and cause him suffering and pain, none of which he is worthy of. Furthermore, he thinks it right that he should be damned eternally and even be a footstool for all the devils in hell, and is unworthy of all this. He is neither willing nor able to desire any consolation or salvation either from God or from created things, but is glad to be left without consolation or salvation. Nor does he bewail his condemnation and suffering, since it is right and proper and is not against God, but it is actually God’s will, which he loves and is content with. He is only sorry for his fault and wickedness, for that is wrong and opposed to God, and for this he grieves and feels ill. This is true contrition for sin. Whoever comes into hell at this present time will come after this time into heaven and in this time will gain a foretaste of it that surpasses all pleasures and joy that ever arose or can arise in time from temporal things. As long as a person is in hell in this way, no one can console him, neither God nor created things, as it is written: “In hell there is no salvation.” Someone said about this: “Perishing, dying, I live without consolation, condemned outwardly and inwardly. Let no one pray for my salvation.

Now God does not leave the person in this hell, but takes him to himself so that the person is aware of nothing but the eternal good and realizes that all is more than well with the eternal good and is his delight, peace and joy, calm and plenty. Because the person is concerned about and desires nothing else but the eternal good and nothing for himself, then the peace, joy, delight and pleasure and everything of the eternal good all become that person’s, and so the person is in heaven. This hell and this heaven are two good, sure ways for the person in this life, and he is happy who properly experiences them, for this hell passes away, but heaven remains.

The individual should also note, when he is in this hell, that nothing can console him and that he is unable to believe that he will ever be saved or consoled. But when he is in heaven, nothing can distress or upset him, nor does he believe that he can be distressed or upset, despite the fact that he can be consoled and saved after the experience of hell and distressed and upset after that of heaven.

Furthermore, this hell and this heaven come to a person in such a way that he does not know where they come from, and the person can do nothing of himself, by action or avoidance, to make it come. The person can neither give nor take any of this for himself, nor can he create or destroy it except as it is written: “The spirit blows where it will, and you hear its voice” (John 3:8), that is, in the present, “but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going.” When the person is in one of these two states it is good for him, and he can be as safe in hell as in heaven. As long as the person is in this present time, he can very often slip from one to the other, indeed equally often by day or night, and all without doing anything himself. But when a person is in neither of these, he is preoccupied with created things and wobbles about and does not know where he really is. Yet he should never forget these two things in his heart.

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