Sebastian Franck: an Apostle of Inward Religion
Sebastian Franck is one of the most interesting figures in the group of German Reformers, a man of heroic spirit and a path-breaking genius, though for many reasons his influence upon his epoch was in no degree comparable with that of many of his great contemporaries. No person, however great a genius he may be, can get wholly free from the intellectual climate and the social ideals of his period, but occasionally a man appears who has the skill and vision to hit upon nascent aspirations and tendencies which are big with futurity, and who thereby seems to be far ahead of his age and not explicable by any lineage or pedigree. Sebastian Franck was a man of this sort. He was extraordinarily unfettered by medieval inheritance, and he would be able to adjust himself with perfect ease to the spirit and ideas of the modern world if he could be dropped forward into it.

He is especially interesting and important as an exponent and interpreter of a religion based on inward authority because he unites, in an unusual manner, the intellectual ideals of the Humanist with the experience and attitude of the Mystic. In him we have a Christian thinker who is able to detach himself from the theological formulations of his own and of earlier times, and who could draw, with breadth of mind and depth of insight, from the wells of the great original thinkers of all ages, and who, besides, in his own deep and serious soul could feel the inner flow of central realities. He was no doubt {47} too much detached to be a successful Reformer of the historical Church, and he was too little interested in external organisations to be the leader of a new sect; but he was, what he aspired to be, a sincere and unselfish contributor to the spread of the Kingdom of God, and a significant apostle of the invisible Church.[1]

Sebastian Franck was born in 1499 at Donauwuerth in Schwabia. He began his higher education in the University of Ingolstadt, which he entered March 26, 1515. He went from Ingolstadt to Heidelberg, where he continued his studies in the Dominican College which was incorporated with the University. Here he was associated in the friendly fellowship of student life with two of his later opponents, Martin Frecht and Martin Bucer, and here he came under the influence of Humanism which in the scholarly circles in Heidelberg was beginning to take a place along with the current Scholasticism of the period. While a student in Heidelberg he first heard Martin Luther speak on the insufficiency of works and on faith as the way of salvation, and though he must have felt the power of this great personality and the freshness of the message, he was not yet ripe for a radical change of front.[2] He seems to have felt through these student years that a new age was in process of birth, but though he was following the great events he remained to the end of his University period an adherent of the ancient Church and was ordained a priest about the year 1524; but very soon after he went over to the party of Reform, and was settled as a reforming preacher in the little church at Gustenfelden near Nuremberg. During this period he came into close and intimate relation with the powerful humanistic spirit of that important city. Hans Sachs was already a person of fame and influence in Nuremberg, and here he became acquainted with the writings of the most famous humanists of the day -- Erasmus, Hutten, Reuchlin, Pirkheimer, {48} Althamer and others. In 1528 he married Ottilie Behaim, a woman of rare gifts, whose brothers were pupils of Albrecht Duerer, and who were themselves in sympathy with the freer tendencies of the time as expressed by the Anabaptists. Franck, however, though sympathizing with the aspirations of the Anabaptists for a new age, did not feel confidence in their views or their methods. His first literary work was a translation into German of Althamer's Diallage, which contained an attack from the Lutheran point of view upon the various Enthusiasts of the period, especially the Anabaptists. In his original preface to this work Franck, though still in most respects a Lutheran, already reveals unmistakable signs of variation from the Wittenberg type, and he is plainly moving in the direction of a religion of the spiritual and mystical type freed from the limitations of sect and party. Even in this formative stage he insists that the Spirit, and not commentaries, is the true guide for the interpretation of Scripture; he already contrasts Spirit and letter, outer man and inner man, and he here lays down the radical principle, which he himself soon put into practice, that a minister of the Gospel should resign his charge as soon as he discovers that his preaching is not bearing spiritual fruit in the transformation of the lives of his congregation.[3]

Sometime before 1530 Franck had come into intimate connection with Denck, Buenderlin, Schwenckfeld, and other contemporary leaders of the "Spiritual" movement, and their influence upon him was profound and lasting, because their message fitted the aspirations which, though not yet well defined, were surging subconsciously in him.[4] There are throughout his writings very clear marks of Schwenckfeld's influence upon him, but Buenderlin especially spoke to his condition and helped him discover the road which his feet were seeking. In an important letter which Franck wrote to Johann Campanus in 1531, he calls Buenderlin a scholar, a {49} wonderfully reverent man, dead to the world, powerful in the Scriptures, and mightily gifted with an enlightened reason; and this letter shows that he himself has been moving rapidly in the direction in which Buenderlin and Denck were travelling, though neither now nor at any time was Franck a mere copier of other men's ideas.[5] "We must unlearn," he writes, "all that we have learned from our youth up from the papists, and we must change everything we have got from the Pope or from Luther and Zwingli." He predicts that the external Church will never be set up again, "for the inward enlightenment by the Spirit of God is sufficient."

In his Tuerkenchronik, or "Chronicle and Description of Turkey," published in 1530, he had already declared his dissatisfaction with ceremonies and outward forms of any sort, his refusal to be identified with any existing, empirical Church, his solemn dedication to the invisible Church, and his determination to be an apostle of the Spirit. "There already are in our times," he writes, "three distinct Faiths, which have a large following, the Lutheran, Zwinglian and Anabaptist; and a fourth is well on the way to birth, which will dispense with external preaching, ceremonies, sacraments, bann and office as unnecessary, and which seeks solely to gather among all peoples an invisible, spiritual Church in the unity of the Spirit and of faith, to be governed wholly by the eternal, invisible Word of God, without external means, as the apostolic Church was governed before its apostasy, which occurred after the death of the apostles."[6]

The year that dates his autobiographical letter to Campanus saw the publication in Strasbourg of Franck's best-known literary work: Chronica, Zeitbuch und Geschichtsbibel ("A Universal Chronicle of the World's History from the Earliest Times to the Present").[7] It has {50} often been pointed out that much of the material of this great Chronicle is taken over from earlier Chroniclers, especially from the Nuremberger Schedel, and it is furthermore true that Franck's Book of the Ages contains large tracts of unhistorical narrative, set forth after the manner of Chroniclers without much critical insight, but the book, nevertheless, has a unique value. It abounds in Franck's peculiar irony and paradox, and it unfolds his conception of the spiritual history of the race, under the tuition of the Divine Word. At the beginning are patriarchs living in the dawn of the world under the guidance of inward vision, and at the end are saints and heretics, whom Franck finds among all races, bravely following the same inward Light, now after the ages grown clearer and more luminous, and sufficient for those who will patiently and faithfully heed it, while the real "heretics" for him are "heretics of the letter." "We ought to act carefully before God" -- this is Franck's constant testimony -- "hold to God alone and look upon Him as the cause of all things, and we ought always in all matters to notice what God says in us, to pay attention to the witness of our hearts, and never to think, or act, against our conscience. For everything does not hang upon the bare letter of Scripture; everything hangs, rather, on the spirit of Scripture and on a spiritual understanding of the inner meaning of what God has said. If we weigh every matter carefully we shall find its true meaning in the depth of our spiritual understanding and by the mind of Christ. Otherwise, the dead letter of Scripture would make us all heretics and fools, for everything can be bedecked and defended with texts, therefore let nobody confound himself and confuse himself with Scripture, but let every one weigh and test Scripture to see how it fits his own heart. If it is against his conscience and the Word within his own soul, then be sure he has not reached the right meaning, according to the mind of the Spirit, for the Scriptures must give witness to the Spirit, never against it."[8]


The Chronica naturally aroused a storm of opposition against this bold advocate of the inner Way. Even Erasmus, who had been canonized in Franck's list of heretics, joined in the outcry against the chronicler of the world's spiritual development. His book was confiscated, he was temporarily imprisoned, and for the years immediately following he was never secure in any city where he endeavoured to pursue his labours. He supported himself and his family, now by the humble occupation of a soap-boiler, now by working in a printing-house, sometimes in Strasbourg, sometimes in Esslingen, and sometimes in Ulm, only asking that he "might not be forced to bury the talent which God had given him, but might be allowed to use it for the good of the people of God."

In 1534 his Weltbuch appeared from a press in Tuebingen, and the same year he published his famous Paradoxa, which contains the most clear and consistent exposition of his mystical and spiritual religion. Other significant books from his pen are his translation of Erasmus' Moriae Encomion ("Praise of Folly"), with very important additions; Von der Eitelkeit aller menschlichen Kunst und Weisheit ("The Vanity of Arts and Sciences"), following the treatise by Agrippa von Nettesheim; Von dem Baum des Wissens Gutes und Boeses ("Of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil");[9] the Germaniae Chronicon ("Chronicle of Germany"), 1538; Die guldin Arch ("Golden Arch"), 1538; and Das verbuetschiert mit 7 Siegeln verschlossene Buch ("The Seven-sealed Book"), 1539.

The closing years of his life were passed in Basle, where he peacefully worked at his books and at type-setting, while the theologians fired their paper guns against him, and here in Basle he "went forth with God" on his last journey to find a safe and quiet "city with foundations," probably about the end of the year 1542. Three years before his {52} death he had written in his "Seven-sealed Book" of the soul's journey toward God in these words: "The longer one travels toward the city he seeks the nearer and nearer he comes to the goal of his journey; exactly so is it with the soul that is seeking God. If he will travel away from himself and away from the world and seek only God as the precious pearl of his soul, he will come steadily nearer to God, until he becomes one spirit with God the Spirit; but let him not be afraid of mountains and valleys on the way, and let him not give up because he is tired and weary, for he who seeks finds."[10] "The Sealed Book" contains an "apology" by Franck which is one of the most touching and one of the most noble documents from any opponent of the course which the German Reformation was taking. "I want my writings accepted," he declares, "only in so far as they fit the spirit of Scripture, the teaching of the prophets, and only so far as the anointing of the Word of God, Christ the inward Life and Light of men, gives witness to them. . . . Nobody is the master of my faith, and I desire to be the master of the faith of no one. I love any man whom I can help, and I call him brother whether he be Jew or Samaritan. . . . I cannot belong to any separate sect, but I believe in a holy, Christlike Church, a fellowship of saints, and I hold as my brother, my neighbour, my flesh and blood, all men who belong to Christ among all sects, faiths, and peoples scattered throughout the whole world -- only I allow nobody to have dominion over the one place which I am pledged to the Lord to keep as pure virgin, namely my heart and my conscience. If you try to bind my conscience, to rule over my faith, or to be master of my heart, then I must leave you. Except that, everything I am or have is thine, whoever thou art or whatever thou mayest believe."[11]

It was Franck's primary idea -- the principle to which he was dedicated and for which he was content to suffer, {53} in the faith that men in future times would come to see as he did[12] -- that man's soul possesses a native capacity to hear the inward Word of God. He often calls Plato and Plotinus and "Hermes Trismegistus" his teachers, who "had spoken to him more clearly than Moses did"[13] and, like these Greek teachers of the nature of the soul's furnishings, he insisted that we come "not in entire forgetfulness and not in utter nakedness," but that there is a divine element, an innermost essence in us, in the very structure of the soul, which is the starting-point of all spiritual progress, the mark of man's dignity, the real source of all religious experience, and the eternal basis of the soul's salvation and joy. He names this inward endowment by many names. It is the Word of God ("Wort Gottes"), the Power of God ("Kraft Gottes"), Spirit ("Geist"), Mind of Christ ("Sinn Christi"), Divine Activity ("goettliche Wirkung"), Divine Origin ("goettlicher Ursprung"), the inward Light ("das innere Licht"), the true Light ("das wahre Licht"), the Lamp of the soul ("das innere Ampellicht"). "The inward Light," Franck says in the Paradoxa, "is nothing else than the Word of God, God Himself, by whom all things were made and by whom all men are enlightened." It is, in Franck's thought, not a capricious, subjective impulse or vision, and it is not to be discovered in sudden ecstatic experiences; nor, on the other hand, is the divine Word, for Franck, something purely objective and transcendent. It is rather a common ground and essence for God and man. It is God in His self-revealing activity; God in His self-giving grace; God as the immanent ground of all that is permanently real, and at the same time this divine endowment forms the fundamental nature of man's soul -- "Gottes Wort ist in der menschlichen Natur angelegt"[14] -- and is the original substance of our being. Consciousness of God and consciousness of self have one fundamental source in this deep where God and man are unsundered. "No man can see or know himself unless he sees and knows, by the Light and Life that is {54} in him. God the eternally true Light and Life; wherefore nobody can ever know God outside of himself, outside that region where he knows himself in the ground of himself. . . . Man must seek, find, and know God through an interrelation -- he must find God in himself and himself in God."[15] This deep ground of inner reality is in every person, so far as he is a person; it shines forth as a steady illumination in the soul, and, while everything else is transitory, this Word is eternal and has been the moral and spiritual guide of all peoples in all ages.

Franck thus differs in a vital point from Schwenckfeld. The latter starts with man as utterly lost and devoid of any inherent goodness. By a sudden, supernatural event, at a temporal moment, divine forces break into the soul from without and supply it with a revitalizing energy. Man -- lost, fallen, sin-blasted and utterly helpless -- is by a divine and heavenly creative movement made a new Adam. For Franck, the soul has never lost the divine Image, the pearl of supreme price, the original element which is God Himself in the soul. We are all, in the deepest centre of our being, like Adam, possessed of a substantial essence, not of earth, not of time and space, not of the shadow but of the eternal, spiritual, and heavenly type. It may become overlaid with the rubbish of earth, it may long lie buried in the field of the human heart, it may remain concealed, like the grain of radium in a mass of dark pitchblende, and be forgotten, but we have only to return home within ourselves to find the God who has never been sundered from us and who could not leave us without leaving Himself. We do not need to cross the sea to find Him, we do not need to climb the heavens to reach Him -- the Word is nigh thee, the Image is in thy heart, turn home and thou shalt find Him.[16]

The bottomless and abysmal nature of the human soul comes first into clear revelation in the Person of Christ, who is, Franck declares, truly and essentially both God and Man. In Christ the invisible, eternal, {55} self-existent God has clothed Himself with flesh and become Man, has made Himself visible and vocal to our spiritual eyes and ears, and in Christ God has given us an adequate goal and norm of life, a perfect pattern ("Muster") to walk by and to live by. Here we can see both the character of God and the measure of His expectation for us. But we must not stop with the Christ after the flesh, the Christ without. He first becomes our life and salvation when He is born within us and is revealed in our hearts, and has become the Life of our lives. We must eat His body, drink His blood until our nature is one with His nature and our spirit one in will and purpose with His spirit.[17]

Franck belongs in many respects among the mystics, but with peculiar variations of his own from the prevailing historical type of mysticism. He is without question saturated with the spirit of the great mystics; he approves their inner way to God and he has learned from them to view this world of time and space as shadow and not as reality. No mystic, further, could say harsher things than he does of "Reason."[18] Human reason -- or more properly "reasoning" -- has for him, as for them, a very limited area for its demesne. It is a good guide in the realm of earthly affairs. It can deal wisely with matters that affect our bodily comfort and our social welfare, but it is "barren" in the sphere of eternal issues. It has no eye for realities beyond the world of three dimensions. It goes blind as soon as it tries to speculate about God. He looks for no final results in spiritual matters from intellectual dialectics, whether they be of the old scholastic type, or of the new type of speculations, formulations and subtleties of the Protestant theologians.

Franck always comes back to experience as his basis of religion, as his way to truth and to divine things. "Many," he says, "know and teach only what they have picked up and gathered in, without having experienced it {56} in the deeps of themselves."[19] "He who wishes to know what is in the Temple must not stand outside, merely hearing people read and talk about God. That is all a dead thing. He must go inside and have the experience for himself ("selbst erfahren"). Then first everything springs into life."[20] But "experience" with him does not mean enthusiastic visions and raptures. He puts as little value on ecstasies and emotional vapourings as he does on dialectic. Ecstasies lead men as often on false trails as on right tracks. They supply no criterion of certitude; they furnish no concrete ideas or ideals to live by; but still further, they do not bring all the deep-lying powers of the soul into play as any true source of religion must do. He is striving to find a foundation-principle for the spiritual life which shall not be capricious or sporadic, and which shall not be confined to one aspect of the inner self, but which shall burn on as a steady illumination in the soul and be the basis of all moral activity and all spiritual development. He finds this principle, as we have seen, in the Word of God, which is a divine reality, an eternal and self-existent activity, opening upward into all the resources of God, and at the same time forming the fundamental nature and ground-structure of the soul. A person may live -- many persons do -- in the outer region of the self, using the natural instincts with which he is supplied, pursuing the goals of life which appeal to common sense and steering the earthly course by custom and by reason, but it is always possible to have a wider range of experience, to live in deeper currents, and to draw upon a profounder source of insight. This deeper experience -- which is the basis of Franck's mysticism and, for him, the very heart of any genuine religion -- consists of a personal discovery of this eternal Word of God within and an irradiation of the whole being through the co-operation of the will with it. The will is king in man,[21] and can open or shut the gate which leads to life. It can make its world good or it {57} can make it evil; just as out of one and the same flower the bee gets honey and the spider poison.[22] It can swing over its allegiance to God the Spirit of truth, or to the god of the world who is anti-Christ.

This experience of the Word of God which is thus brought about by the will of man -- by an innermost personal choice -- affects, Franck insists, all the faculties of the inner life. Reason now becomes illumined with a Light which it never had until the gate into its deeper region was opened. Now, through co-operation with the Spirit of God, reason becomes capable of higher processes, and can deal with divine things because it has actual data to work upon. The emotions, too, are no longer blind and instinctive, they no longer carry the will whither it would not. They are now the overflow of an inner experience which is too rich and full for expression,[23] which transcends the intellectual apprehension of it, but they are spiritualized and controlled from within. The moral life is especially heightened, and this is for Franck one of the main evidences that a divine source has been tapped. The discovery of the Word of God creates and constructs an autonomous "kingdom of the conscience" ("Reich des Gewissens"), gives us "a thousand-fold witness of God," and becomes to us the tree of life and the tree of knowledge.[24]

In his little book on "the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" -- a book which was destined to have a far-reaching influence -- he declares that the Garden-of-Eden story is a mighty parable of the human soul. All that is told in the Genesis account is told of what goes on in the mysterious realm within us. It is told as though it were an external happening, it is in reality an internal affair. The Paradise and the Fall, the Voice of God and the tempting voice of the serpent, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, are all in our own hearts as they were in the heart of Adam. Heaven and Hell are there. The one stands fully revealed in the triumphant Adam, who is Christ; the other is {58} exhibited in its awfulness in the disobedient Adam of the Fall.

As fast as the life comes under the sway of the "kingdom of conscience" and a solid moral character is formed, the inner guidance of the Word of God becomes more certain and more reliable. Only the good person has a sure and unerring perception of the truth, just as only the scientist sees the laws of the world, and as only the musician perceives the harmony of sounds. Not only must all spiritual experience be subject to the moral test, it must further be tested by the Light of God in other men and in history, and by the spirit of Scripture, which is the noblest permanent fruit of the Eternal Word. Every person must prove the authority of his religion. He must have his heart conquered and his mind taken captive and his will directed by his truth so that he would be ready to face a thousand deaths for it,[25] and he must, through his truth and insight, come into spiritual unity and co-operation with all who form the invisible Church.

The invisible Church forms the central loyalty of Franck's fervent soul. "The true Church," he writes, "is not a separate mass of people, not a particular sect to be pointed out with the finger, not confined to one time or one place; it is rather a spiritual and invisible body of all the members of Christ, born of God, of one mind, spirit, and faith, but not gathered in any one external city or place. It is a Fellowship, seen with the spiritual eye and by the inner man. It is the assembly and communion of all truly God-fearing, good-hearted, new-born persons in all the world, bound together by the Holy Spirit in the peace of God and the bonds of love -- a Communion outside of which there is no salvation, no Christ, no God, no comprehension of Scripture, no Holy Spirit, and no Gospel. I belong to this Fellowship. I believe in the Communion of saints, and I am in this Church, let me be where I may; and therefore I no {59} longer look for Christ in lo heres or lo theres."[26] This Church, which the Spirit is building through the ages and in all lands, is, once more, like the experience of the individual Christian, entirely an inward affair. "Love is the one mark and badge of Fellowship in it."[27] No outward forms of any sort seem to him necessary for membership in this true Church. "External gifts and offices make no Christian, and just as little does the standing of the person, or locality, or time, or dress, or food, or anything external. The kingdom of God is neither prince nor peasant, food nor drink, hat nor coat, here nor there, yesterday nor to-morrow, baptism nor circumcision, nor anything whatever that is external, but peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, unalloyed love out of a pure heart and good conscience, and an unfeigned faith."[28]

In his Apology he says that he has withdrawn "from all theological disputations, from all sectarian statements of creed, from baptism and all ceremonies," and "I stand now," he adds, "only for what is fundamental and essential for salvation" -- that is, vital participation in the Life of God revealed in the soul.[29] "I am looking," he writes in the opening of the Paradoxa, "for no new and separate Church, no new commission, no new baptism, no new dispensation. The Church has already been founded on Christ the Rock, and since the outward keys and sacraments have been misused and have gone by, He now administers the sacraments inwardly in spirit and in truth. He baptizes His own, even in the midst of Babylon, and feeds them with His own body, and will do so unto the end of the world."[30]

In a letter to Campanus he says, "I am fully convinced [by a study of the early Church Fathers] that, after the death of the apostles, the external Church of Christ, with its gifts and sacraments, vanished from the earth and withdrew into heaven, and is now hidden in spirit and in truth, and for these past fourteen hundred years {60} there has existed no true external Church and no efficacious sacraments."[31]

His valuation of Scripture fits perfectly into this religion of the inward life and the invisible Church. The true and essential Word of God is the divine revelation in the soul of man. It is the prius of all Scripture and it is the key to the spiritual meaning of all Scripture. To substitute Scripture for the self-revealing Spirit is to put the dead letter in the place of the living Word, the outer Ark in place of the inner sanctuary, the sheath in place of the sword, the horn-pane Lantern in place of the Light.[32] This letter killed Christ in Judea; it is killing Him now. It has split the Church into fragments and sects and is splitting it now.[33] It always makes a "Babel" instead of a Church. It kept the Pharisees from seeing Moses face to face; it keeps men now from seeing the Lord face to face.[34] Franck insists that, from its inherent nature, a written Scripture cannot be the final authority in religion: (a) It is outward, external, while the seat of religion is in the soul of man. (b) It is transitory and shifting, for language is always in process of change, and written words have different meanings to different ages and in different countries, while for a permanent religion there must be a living, eternal Word that fits all ages, lands, and conditions. (c) Scripture is full of mystery, contradiction, and paradox which only "The key of David" -- the inner experience of the heart -- can unlock. Scripture is the Manger, but, unless the Holy Spirit comes as the day star in the heart, the Wise man will not find the Christ.[35] (d) Scripture at best brings only knowledge. It lacks the power to deliver from the sin which it describes. It cannot create the faith, the desire, the love, the will purpose which are necessary to win that which the Scriptures portray. No book -- no amount of "ink, paper, and letters" -- can make a man good, since religion is not knowledge, but a way of living, a {61} transformed life, and that involves an inward life-process, a resident creative power. "In Pentecost all books are transcended."[36]

As Franck pushes back through "the ink, paper, and letters of Scripture" to the Spirit and Truth which these great writings reveal, when they are read and apprehended in the light of an inward spiritual experience, so, too, he is always seeking, through the historical Christ, to find the Eternal Christ -- the ever-living, ever-present, personal Self-Revelation of God. He says, in his "Seven-Sealed Book," "I esteem Christ the Word of God above all else, for without Him there is no salvation, and without Him no one can enjoy God."[37] "Christ," he says in the Paradoxa, "has been called the Image, the Character, the Expression of God, yes, the Glory and Effulgence of His Splendour, the very Impression of His Substance, so that in Him God Himself is seen and heard and known. For it is God Himself whom we see and hear and perceive in Christ. In Him God becomes visible and His nature is revealed. Everything that God is, or knows, or wills, or possesses, or can do, is incarnated in Christ and put before our eyes. Everything that can be said of God can as truly be said of Christ."[38]

But this Christ, who is the very Nature and Character of God made visible and vocal, is, as we have seen, not limited to the historical Person who lived in Galilee and Judea. He is an eternal Logos, a living Word, coming to expression, in some degree, in all times and lands, revealing His Light through the dim lantern of many human lives -- a Christ reborn in many souls, raised again in many victorious lives, and endlessly spreading His Kingdom through the ever-widening membership of the invisible Church.[39] Without this eternal revelation of Himself in a spiritual Fellowship of many members, God would not be God, as a Vine would not be a Vine without branches; and contrariwise there could be no spiritual humanity without the inward immanent {62} presence of this Self-Revealing God in Christ.[40] As in Palestine, so everywhere, Christ -- not only Christ after the flesh, but after the Spirit -- is a crucified Christ. Only those can open the Sealed Book -- can penetrate the divine Revelation -- who bear the mark of the Cross on their forehead, who have eaten the flesh and drunk the blood of the suffering and crucified Christ, who have discovered that the Word of God is eternally a Word of the Cross.[41] God is nearest to us when He seems farthest away. He was nearest to Christ when He was crying: "My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" So, too, now he who is nearest to the cross is nearest to God, and where the flesh is being crucified and the end of all outward things is reached, there God is found.[42]

Sin means, for Franck as for all mystics of his type, the free choice of something for one's private and particular self in place of life-aims that fulfil the good of the whole and realize the universal Will of God. To live for the flesh instead of for the spirit, to pursue the aims of a narrow private self where they conflict with the spirit of universal love, to turn from the Word of God in the soul to follow the idle voices of the moment -- that is the very essence of sin. It is not inherited, it is self-chosen, and yet there is something in our disposition which sets itself in array against the divine revelation within us. The Adam-story is a genuine life-picture. It is a chapter out of the book of the ages, the life of humanity. We do not sin and fall because he did; we sin and fall because we are human and finite, as he was, and choose the darkness instead of the Light, prefer Satan to God, pursue the way of death instead of the way of Life, as he did.[43]

This will be sufficient to show the essential character of the religion of this lonely man and to present the main tendencies of his bold and independent thought. He had no desire to be the head of a party; he was too remote {63} from the currents of evangelical Christianity to impress the common people whom he loved, and he was too radical a thinker to lead even the scholars who had become liberated from tradition by their humanistic studies and by historical insight. He was a kind of sixteenth-century Heraclitus, seeing the flow and flux of all things temporal, finding paradox and contradiction everywhere, discovering life to be a clash of opposites, with its "way up" and its "way down," on the surface a pessimist, but at the heart of himself an optimist; and finally, beneath all the folly of history and all the sin and stupidity of human life, seeing with the eye of his spirit One Eternal Logos who steers all things toward purpose, who suffers as a Lamb slain for the flock, who reveals His Truth and Life in the sanctuary of the soul, and who through the ages is building an invisible Church, a divine Kingdom of many members, in whom He lives as the Life of their lives.

[1] Troeltsch calls him a "literarischer Prophet der alleinigen Erloesungskraft des Geistes und des inneren Wortes," Die Soziallehren, p.886.

[2] See article by M. Cunitz in Nouvelle Revue de Theologie, vol. v. p.361.

[3] See Alfred Hegler's Geist und Schrift bei Sebastian Franck (Freiburg), 1892, pp.28-48.

[4] See next chapter for an account of Caspar Schwenckfeld.

[5] This Letter to Campanus, written originally in Latin, is extant in a Dutch translation, "Eyn Brieff van Sebastiaen Franck van Weirdt, geschreven over etlicken jaren in Latijn, tho synen vriendt Johan Campaen." See Hegler, op. cit. pp.50-53.

[6] Chronica und Beschreibung der Tuerkey (Nurnberg, 1530), K.3 b.

[7] My copy is the first edition, printed in Strasbourg by Balthasser Beck, 1531.

[8] Chronica, p.452 b.

[9] These three books were included in a volume entitled Die vier kronbuechlein (1534).

[10] Das verbuetschterte Buch, p.5.

[11] Pp.5-8 of the Apologia to Das verbuetschierte Buch.

[12] See Apologia, p.2.

[13] Ibid. p.3.

[14] Hegler, op. cit. p.98.

[15] Die guldin Arch, Preface 3b-4a.

[16] Paradoxa, sec.101.

[17] Paradoxa, sec.99 and 138.

[18] Franck translated both Erasmus' Praise of Folly and Agrippa's Vanity of Arts and Sciences.

[19] Moriae Encomion, p.149.

[20] Paradoxa, Vorrede, sec.13.

[21] Moriae Enc. p.97b.

[22] Paradoxa, sec.29.

[23] Moriae Enc. p.93a.

[24] Paradoxa, sec.63.

[25] Moriae Enc. p.110. For the testing of the Word, see Hegler, op. cit. pp.117-119.

[26] Paradoxa, Vorrede, sec.8.

[27] Paradoxa, sec.9.

[28] Ibid. sec.45.

[29] Das verbuetschierte Buch, Apology, p.11.

[30] Paradoxa, Vorrede, sec.8.

[31] This Letter is preserved in J. G. Schellhorn's Amoenitates literariae (1729), xi. pp.59-61.

[32] Paradoxa, Vorrede, sec.4.

[33] Ibid. sec.6.

[34] Ibid. sec.2.

[35] See Das verbuetschierte Buch, passim.

[36] Quoted from Hegler, op. cit. p.104.

[37] Das verbuetschierte Buch, p.3.

[38] Paradoxa, sec.101.

[39] Ibid. sec.101.

[40] Paradoxa, sec.8.

[41] Das verbuetschierte Buch, pp.6-9, and Paradoxa, sec.41.

[42] Paradoxa, sec.41 and 42.

[43] Moriae Enc. p.111. Paradoxa, passim, especially sec.28-32. See also Hegler op. cit. pp.127-136.

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