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In Johann Scheffler we have the singular example of a man who forsook the Lutheran Church to become a Romanist, but whose hymns have been adopted and sung by the very Church he sought to oppose and confound.

Scheffler was a contemporary of Gerhardt and Neander. He was born in Breslau, Silesia, in 1624. His father, Stanislaus Scheffler, was a Polish nobleman who had been compelled to leave his native land because of his Lutheran convictions. Young Scheffler became a medical student at Strassburg, Leyden, and Padua, returning to Oels, Silesia, in 1649 to become the private physician to Duke Sylvius Nimrod of Württemberg-Oels.

During his sojourn in foreign lands he had come in contact with the writings of various mystics and he began to lean strongly toward their teachings. At Oels he began to flaunt his separatist views by absenting himself from public worship and the Lord’s Supper. When the Lutheran authorities refused to permit the publication of some poems he had written, because of their strong mystical tendencies, Scheffler resigned his office and betook himself to Breslau, where he joined himself to a group of Jesuits. Here he pursued the study of the medieval mystics of the Roman Catholic Church, and in 1653 was confirmed as a member of that communion. At this time he took the name of Angelus Silesius, probably after a Spanish mystic named John ab Angelis.


In 1661 he was ordained a priest of the Roman Church. He became a prolific writer and took special delight in directing bitter polemics against the Church of his childhood. Of these writings, it has been well said: “He certainly became more Roman than the Romans; and in his more than fifty controversial tractates, shows little of the sweetness and repose for which some have thought he left the Lutheran Church.”

Scheffler, however, was a poet of the first rank. His poems, always tinged by the spirit of mysticism, sometimes attain to sublime heights, and again they descend to a coarse realism, particularly when he describes the terrors of judgment and hell.

His hymns, on the other hand, are almost uniformly of a high order. They are marked by a fervent love for Christ the heavenly Bridegroom, although the imagery, largely based on the Song of Solomon, is sometimes overdrawn, almost approaching the sensual. Few of his hymns reveal his Catholic tendencies, and therefore they were gladly received by the Protestants. Indeed, they came into more general use among the Lutherans than among the Catholics. They were greatly admired by Count von Zinzendorf, who included no less than 79 of them in his Moravian collection.

The mysticism of Scheffler often brought him dangerously near the border-line of pantheism. Vaughn, in his “Hours with the Mystics,” compares Scheffler with Emerson, and declares that both resemble the Persian Sufis. Something of Scheffler’s pantheistic ideas may be seen in the following lines:


God in my nature is involved,

As I in the divine;

I help to make His being up,

As much as He does mine.

And again in this:

I am as rich as God; no grain of dust

That is not mine, too: share with me He must.

Duffield, commenting on these astonishing lines, observes, “We need not wonder that this high-flown self-assumption carried him to the door of a Jesuit convent. It is in the very key of much that passes with Romanist theology for heavenly rapture and delight in God.”

The pantheistic views of Scheffler may be discerned even in his dying prayer: “Jesus and Christ, God and man, bridegroom and brother, peace and joy, sweetness and delight, refuge and redemption, heaven and earth, eternity and time, love and all, receive my soul.”

However, we must agree with Albert Knapp in his judgment of Scheffler’s beautiful hymns, that “whencesoever they may come, they are an unfading ornament of the Church of Jesus Christ.” The gem among them is “Thee will I love, my Strength, my Tower.” Others that have come into general use are “Earth has nothing sweet or fair,” “Thy soul, O Jesus, hallow me,” “Come, follow me, the Saviour spake,” “Jesus, Saviour, come to me,” “Thou holiest Love, whom most I love,” and “Loving Shepherd, kind and true.”

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