Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
When Wolf went back to Erasmus the latter assured his friend that he had met no maiden in Ratisbon who, to rare gifts, united the dignity which he had hitherto admired only in the ladies whom he had met at the court of the Elector of Saxony. His sparkling eyes flashed more brightly as he spoke, and, like a blushing girl, he confessed to his friend that Jungfrau Blomberg's promise to sing one of his own compositions to him made him a happy man.
Barbara's conduct had made the repressed fire of love blaze up anew in Wolf.
Now, for the first time, the woman he loved fully and entirely fulfilled the ideal which he had formed of the "queen" of his heart.
Was it the sad separation from him, the taking leave of her father, or her new love, which was bestowed on a man whom he also esteemed, that impressed upon her nature the stamp of a nobility which beseemed her as well as it suited her aristocratic beauty?
Never had it appeared to him so utterly impossible that he could yield her to another without resistance. Perhaps the man chosen by such a jewel was more worthy than he, but no one's love could surpass his in strength and fervour. She had tested it, and he need no longer call himself an insignificant suitor; for, if he gained possession of the living which Don Luis had ready for him, if he obtained a high position in Valladolid--But his friend gave him no time to pursue such thoughts further, for, while Barbara shortly after midnight stole down the stairs like a criminal, and Quijada conducted her to her imperial lover, Erasmus began to press him with demands which he was obliged to reject.
The Wittenberg master of arts, ever since his first meeting with his friend, had been on the point of asking the question how he, who had obtained in the school of poets an insight into the pure word of God, could prevail upon himself to continue to wear the chains of Rome and remain a Catholic.
Wolf had expected this query, and, while he filled his companion's goblet with the good Wurzburg wine which Ursula provided, he begged him not to bring religion into their conversation.
The young Wittenberg theologian, however, had come for the express purpose of discussing it with his friend.
Religion, he asserted in the fervid manner characteristic of him, was in these times the axis around which turned the inner life of the world and every individual. He himself had resolved to live for the object for whose sake it was worth while to die. He knew the great perils which would be associated with it for one of his warlike temperament, but he had become, by the divine summons, an evangelical theologian, a combatant for the liberation of the slaves sighing under the tyranny of Rome. A serious conversation with a friend who was a German and resisted yielding to a movement of the spirit which was kindling the inmost depths of the German nature, thoughts, and feelings, and was destined to heal the woes of the German nation and preserve it from the basest abuse, would be to him inconceivable.
Wolf interrupted this avowal with the assurance that he must nevertheless decline a religious discussion with him, for the weapons they would use were too different. Erasmus, as a theologian, was deeply versed in the Protestant faith, while he professed Catholicism merely as a consequence of his birth and with a layman's understanding and knowledge. Yet he would not shun the conflict if his hands were not bound by the most sacred of oaths. Then he turned to the past, and while he himself, as it were, lived through for the second time the most affecting moment in his existence, he transported his friend to his dead mother's sick-bed.
In vivid language he described how the devout widow and nun implored her son to resist like a rock in the sea the assault of the new heretical ideas, that the thousands of prayers which she had uttered for him, for his soul, and his father's, might not be vain.
Then Wolf confessed that just at that time, as a pupil in the school of poets, he had come under the influence of the scholar Naevius, whose evangelical views Erasmus knew, and related how difficult it had been for him to take the oath which, nevertheless, now that he had once sworn it, he would keep, even though life and his own intelligence would not have taught him to prefer the old faith to every new doctrine, whether it emanated from Luther, from Calvin, or from Zwingli.
For a short time Erasmus found no answer to this statement, and Wolf's old nurse, who herself clung to the Protestants from complete conviction, and had listened attentively to his words, urged her young co-religionist, by all sorts of signs, to respect his friend's decision.
The confession of his schoolmate had not been entirely without effect upon the young theologian. The name of "mother" also filled him with reverence.
True, his birth had cost his own mother her life, but he had long possessed a distinct idea of her nature and being, and had given her precisely the same position which, in the early days of his school life, the Virgin Mary had occupied.
To induce another to break a vow made to his mother would have been sinful. But a brief reflection changed his mind.
Were there not circumstances in which the Bible itself commanded a man to leave father and mother? Had not Jesus Christ made the surrender of every old relation and the following after him the duty of those who were to become his disciples? What was the meaning of the words the Saviour had uttered to his august mother, "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" except it was commanded to turn even from the mother when religion was at stake?
Many another passage of Scripture had strengthened the courage of the young Bible student when at last, with a look of intelligence, he pledged Wolf, and remarking, "How could I venture the attempt to lead you to break so sacred an oath?" instantly brought forward every plea that a son who, in religious matters, followed a different path from his mother could allege in his justification.
A short time before, in Brussels, Wolf had seen a superior of the new Society of Jesus, whose members were now appearing everywhere as defenders of the violently assailed papacy, seek to win back to Catholicism the son of evangelical parents with the very same arguments. He told his friend this, and also expressed the belief that the Jesuit, too, had spoken in good faith.
Erasmus shrugged his shoulders, saying "Doubtless there are many mansions in our Father's house, but who will blame us if we left the dilapidated old one, where our liberty was restricted and our consciences were burdened, and preferred the new one, in which man is subject to no other mortal, but only to the plain words of the Bible and to the judge in his own breast? If we prefer this mansion, which stands open to every one whose heart the old one oppresses, to the ruinous one of former days----"
"Yet," interrupted Wolf, "you must say to yourselves that you leave behind in the old one much which the new one lacks, no matter with how many good things you may equip it. The history of our religion and its development does not belong to your new home--only to the old one."
"We stand upon it as every newer thing rests on the older," replied Erasmus eagerly. "What we cast aside and refuse to take into the new home with us is not the holy faith, but merely its deformity, abasement, and falsification."
"Call it so," replied Wolf calmly. "I have heard others name and interpret differently what you probably have in mind while using these harsh epithets. But is it not the old house, and that alone, in which the martyrs shed their blood for Christianity? Where did it fulfil its lofty task of saturating the heart of mankind with love, softening the customs of rude pagans, clearing away forests, transforming barren wastes into cultivated fields, planting the cross on chapels and churches, summoning men with the consecrated voice of the bell to the sermon which proclaims love and peace? Where did it open the doors of the school which prepares the intellect to satisfy its true destiny, and first qualifies man to become the image of God? By the old mansion this country, covered with marshes, moors; and impenetrable forests, was rendered what it now is; from it proceeded that fostering of science and the arts of which as yet I have seen little in your circles."
"Give us time," cried the theologian, "and perhaps in our home their flowering will attain an unsurpassed richness of development. With what loose bonds the humanists are still united to you!"
"And the finest intellect of all, the great scholar whose name you bear, though he deemed many things in our old home deserving of improvement, remained with us until his death. Jesus Christ is one, and so his Church must also remain. The only question is, What the Saviour still is to you Protestants, what he is to you, my friend?"
"Before how many saints, and many another whom your Church desires to honour, do you bow the knee?" Erasmus fervidly answered; "but we do so only to the august Trinity. And do you wish to know what Jesus Christ, the Son, is to me? All, and more than all, is the answer; I live and breathe in my Saviour Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and throughout eternity."
The young theologian raised his sparkling eyes heavenward as he spoke, and continued: "Our doctrine is founded on him, his word, his love alone; and who among the enthusiastic heralds of Christianity in ancient times grasped faith in him with warmer sincerity than the very Martin Luther whom you would have led to the stake had not the Emperor Charles's plighted word been dearer to him than the approval of Rome? Oh, my friend, our young faith can also show its martyrs. Think of the Bohemian John Huss and the true Christians who, in the Netherlands and Spain, were burned at the stake and bled upon the scaffold because they read the Bible, the Word of God and their Saviour, and would rather die than deny it. If it should come to the worst, thousands here would also be ready to ascend the funeral pyre, and I at their head. If war is declared now, the Emperor Charles will gain the victory; and if he does not wish to withdraw in earnest from Romish influences, who can tell what will then await us Protestants? But I am not anxious about what may come. We German citizens, who are accustomed to guide our own destinies and maintain the system of government we arranged for ourselves, who built by our own strength our solid, comfortable, gable-roofed houses and noble, towering cathedrals, will also independently maintain the life of our minds and our souls. Rome, with her legions of priests, claimed the right not only to interfere in our civil life, but also to intrude into our houses, our married lives, and our nurseries. What could she not decide for the individual by virtue of the power she arrogates to bind and to loose, to forgive sins, and to open or to close the door of heaven for the dying? What she has done with the Church's gifts of grace we know.
"There is a deep, beautiful meaning underlying this idea. But it has degenerated into a base traffic in indulgences. We have sincere natures. For a long time we believed that salvation is gained by works--gifts to the Church, fasts, scourgings, seclusion from the world, self-confinement in a cell--and our wealth went to Rome. Rarely do we look vainly in the most beautiful sites on mountain or by river for a monastery! But at last the sound sense of Germany rebelled, and when Luther saw in Rome poor sufferers from gout and cripples ascending the stairs of the Lateran on their knees, a voice within cried out to him the great 'sola fide' on which our faith is founded. On it alone, on devotion to Jesus Christ, depends our salvation."
"Then," asked Wolf, "you boldly deny any saving power to good works?"
"Yes," was the firm reply, "so far as they do not proceed from faith."
"As if the Church did not impose the same demand!" replied Wolf in a more animated tone. "True, base wrong has been done in regard to the sale of indulgences, but at the Council of Trent opposition will be made to it. No estimable priest holds the belief that money can atone for a sin or win the mercy of Heaven. With us also sincere repentance or devout faith must accompany the gift, the fasting, and whatever else the believer imposes upon himself here below. Man is so constituted that the only things which make a deep impression are those that the body also feels. The teacher's blow has a greater effect than his words, a gift produces more willingness than an entreaty, and the tendency toward asceticism and penance is genuinely Christian, and belongs to many a people of a different faith. Your Erasmus said that his heart was Catholic, but his stomach desired to be Protestant. You have an easier task than we."
"On the contrary," the young theologian burst forth. "It is mere child's play for you to obtain forgiveness by acts which really do not cut deeply into the flesh; but if one of us errs, how hard must be the conflict in his own breast ere he attains the conviction that his guilt is expiated by deep repentance and better deeds!"
"I can answer for that," here interposed old Ursel, who from her arm-chair had listened to the conversation between the two with intense interest.
"Good heavens! One went forth from the confessional as pure as a white dove after absolution had been received and the penance performed; but now that I belong to the Protestants, it is hard to reach a perfect understanding with the dear Saviour and one's self."
"And ought that to redound to the discredit of my faith?" asked Wolf. "So far as I have learned to know men, the majority, at least, will not hasten to attain our Ursel's complete understanding with one's self. I should even fear that there are many among you who no longer feel a desire to heed little sins and their forgiveness----"
Here Ursel again interrupted him with an exclamation of dissent, accompanied by a gesture of denial from her thin old hand; but Wolf glanced at the clock which the precentor had received as a testimonial of affection from the members of the cathedral choir, which he had led for years.
It was already half past one, and for the sake of Ursel, who was still obliged to take care of herself, he urged departure, adding gaily that he had not the ability to "defend himself against two." Erasmus, too, was surprised to find it so late, and, after shaking hands with the old woman and promising to visit her soon again, seized his cap. Wolf accompanied him.
The May night was sultry, and the air in the low room had been hot and oppressive.
He would gladly have dropped the useless discussion, but Erasmus's heart was set upon winning his schoolmate to the doctrine which he believed with his whole soul. He toiled with the utmost zeal, but during their nocturnal walk also he failed to convince his opponent. Both were true to their religion. Erasmus saw in his faith the return to the pure teachings of Christ and the liberation of the human soul from ancient fetters; Wolf, who had had them pointed out to him at school by a Protestant teacher, by no means denied the abuses that had crept into his, but he clung with warm love to Holy Church, which offered his soul an abundance of what it needed.
His art certainly also owed to her its best development--from the inexhaustible spring of faith which is formed from thousands of rivulets and tributaries in the holy domain of the Catholic Church, and in it alone, the most sublime of all material flowed to the musician, and not to him only, but to the artist, the architect, and the sculptor. The fullest stream--he was well aware of it--came from ancient pagan times, but from whatever sources the spring was fed, the Church had understood how to assimilate, preserve, and sanctify it.
Erasmus listened silently while Wolf eagerly made these statements; but when the latter closed with the declaration that the evangelical faith would never attain the same power of elevating hearts, he interrupted the knight with the exclamation, "We shall have to wait for that!"
Luther, he went on, had given the most powerful encouragement to music, and the German Protestant composers even now were not so very far behind the Netherland ones. The Catholic Church could no longer claim the great Albrecht Durer, and, if art ceased to create images of the saints, with which the childish minds of the common people practised idolatry, so much the better. The Infinite and Eternal was no subject for the artist. The humanization of God only belittled his infinite and illimitable nature. Earthly life offered art material enough. Man himself would be the worthiest model for imitation, and perhaps no earlier epoch had created handsomer likenesses of men and women than would now be produced by evangelical artists.
To their own surprise, during this conversation they had reached the Hiltner house, and Erasmus invited his friend to come to his room and over a glass of wine answer him, as he had had the last word. But Wolf had already drunk at his own home more of the fiery Wurzburg from the precentor's cellar than usual. Besides, much as he still had to say in reply to Erasmus, the sensible young man deemed it advisable to avoid the syndic's house for the present. The confessor's suspicion had been aroused, and De Soto was a Dominican, who certainly did not stand far from the Holy Inquisition.
Therefore while Erasmus, with burning head and great excitement, was still urging his friend to come in, Wolf unexpectedly bade him a hasty and resolute farewell.