Friends of God
The Friends of God (German: Gottesfreunde; or gotesvriunde) was a medieval lay mystical group within the Catholic Church (though it nearly became a separate sect) and a center of German mysticism. It was founded between 1339 and 1343 in Basel, Switzerland, and was also fairly important in Strasbourg and Cologne. Some late-nineteenth century writers made large claims for the movement, seeing it both as influential in fourteenth-century mysticism, and as a precursor of the Protestant Reformation. Modern studies of the movement, however, have emphasised the derivative and often second-rate character of its mystical literature, and its limited impact on medieval literature in Germany.
The movement grew out of the preaching and teaching of Meister Eckhart, and especially his Dominican spiritual heirs the preacher John Tauler and the writer Henry Suso. The movement achieved a nascent institutional form through the activities of a wealthy layman, Rulman Merswin, who sponsored a religious house at Strasbourg. However, the movement did not long survive Merswin's death in 1382, thus lasting for only two generations.
The name "Friends of God" may have been influenced by various sources. Various biblical passages use the term (e.g. Judges 8.22, James 2.23, Exodus 33.11, Psalm 138.17, Wisdom 7.27, Lk 12.4, John 15.15). The concept of friendship with God had also been applied by various medieval authors, and particularly among Eckhart and his followers.
Rulman Merswin had had a successful business career, but at some point experienced a religious conversion. Between 1347 and 1352 he adopted the life of an urban hermit, a Friend of God in retreat from the world. In 1364 Merswin purchased a derelict monastery on what had originally been an island on the river Ill passing through Strasbourg, a house known as the grünenwörth ('Green Isle'). He restored the building, converting them into the first institutional centre of the Friends of God.
- Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism, (2005), p408.
- Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism, (2005), p415f.
- Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism, (2005), p417.
- Walsh, Reginald (1913). Herbermann, Charles George, ed. The Catholic Encyclopedia: An International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline, and History of the Catholic Church. Universal Knowledge Foundation. pp. 306–307. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
- Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism, (2005), p407-431
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