Light, Life, and Love

W.R. Inge
Light, Life, and Love
by W. R.

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Title: Light, Life, and Love
Author: W. R. Inge
Release Date: November, 2003 [Etext #4664] [Yes, we are more than
one year ahead of schedule] [This file was first posted on February 25,
Edition: 10
Language: English
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Selections from the German Mystics of the Middle Ages

W. R. Inge
LONDON Second Edition




TO most English readers the "Imitation of Christ" is the representative
of mediaeval German mysticism. In reality, however, this beautiful
little treatise belongs to a period when that movement had nearly spent
itself. Thomas a Kempis, as Dr. Bigg has said,[1] was only a
semi-mystic. He tones down the most characteristic doctrines of
Eckhart, who is the great original thinker of the German mystical
school, and seems in some ways to revert to an earlier type of

devotional literature. The "Imitation" may perhaps be described as an
idealised picture of monastic piety, drawn at a time when the life of the
cloister no longer filled a place of unchallenged usefulness in the social
order of Europe. To find German mysticism at its strongest we must go
back a full hundred years, and to understand its growth we must retrace
our steps as far as the great awakening of the thirteenth century--the
age of chivalry in religion--the age of St. Louis, of Francis and
Dominic, of Bonaventura and Thomas Aquinas. It was a vast revival,
bearing fruit in a new ardour of pity and charity, as well as in a healthy
freedom of thought. The Church, in recognising the new charitable
orders of Francis and Dominic, and the Christianised Aristotelianism of
the schoolmen, retained the loyalty and profited by the zeal of the more
sober reformers, but was unable to prevent the diffusion of an
independent critical spirit, in part provoked and justified by real abuses.
Discontent was aroused, not only by the worldiness of the hierarchy,
whose greed and luxurious living were felt to be scandalous, but by the
widespread economic distress which prevailed over Western Europe at
this period. The crusades periodically swept off a large proportion of
the able-bodied men, of whom the majority never returned to their
homes, and this helped to swell the number of indigent women, who,
having no male protectors, were obliged to beg their bread. The better
class of these female mendicants soon formed themselves into
uncloistered charitable Orders, who were not forbidden to marry, and
who devoted themselves chiefly to the care of the sick. These Beguines
and the corresponding male associations of Beghards became very
numerous in Germany. Their religious views were of a definite type.
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