Brethren of the Free Spirit: Kissing cousins with Word of Faith?

The Theologia Germanica was an anonymous theological treatise written around 1350. It has become associated with Martin Luther, who said of it, “Next to the Bible and St. Augustine, no other book has come to my attention from which I have learned –and desired to learn–more concerning God, Christ, man, and what all things are.”

Chapter 27 is an interesting polemic against a popular medieval heresy propagated by the antinomian Brethren of the Free Spirit. It is notable how similar this aberration sounds to the present-day “Word of Faith” heresy, whose purveyors are the constant foil of Luther’s devoted disciple, Chris Rosebrough.

 

One hears people assert that man can and should become free from suffering during his earthly life in all respects as Christ was after His Resurrection.

They try to prove and establish this by citing Christ: “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee, there you will see Me.” This statement by Christ is also quoted: “A spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.

These utterances are then interpreted as follows: “As you have seen Me and followed Me as I was in a mortal body and life, so you should also see Me as I go ahead of you and you follow Me into Galilee; that is to say, you will follow Me into a state where pain has gone and serenity reigns; you will taste it, live in it, remain in it before you have gone through and suffered death of the body. As you see Me appear in a body of flesh and bones, yet beyond suffering, in a similar manner you will also, before your bodily death, become free from suffering and soar beyond pain in your mortal humanity.I would like to counter these assertions. First, Christ did not mean that man can and should attain that stage unless it were preceded by all the suffering that He, Christ, went through and endured.

Now, Christ did not attain this stage before He had passed through and suffered the death of His body and the experiences that came with it. Thus no man can or should attain that perfect peace and spiritual serenity while mortal and subject to suffering.

For if this state is the noblest and best and if it were possible and spiritually commendable to attain it within our earthly life, then, as pointed out, it would also have occurred in the life of Christ.

For Christ’s life was and is the noblest, the best, most pleasing to God, the loveliest of all lives that were lived and ever will be lived.

Yet, since this serene freedom from earthly woe was not permitted and intended to occur in Christ, it will never appear in any human being, for this would mean that a human life would in fact be the best and the noblest.

You are of course free to fancy such a thing and you can, of course, talk about it. But fancy and words do not that freedom make.