The Theologia and the ‘New Man’

—This is also to be observed. When mention is made of the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ Man, the matter is to be understood in the manner following. The Old Man is Adam: disobedience, selfness, egotism and the like. But the New Man is Christ and obedience. When we speak of dying, perishing and such things, you must understand this: it is necessary that the Old Man be brought to nothing. And when and where this comes to pass in the divine light, there the New Man is born again. And when it is said that Man must ‘die in himself’ it is as much as saying it is necessary that his self or his egotism should die. Saint Paul says, ‘Put off the Old Man with his works and put on the New Man who is made and formed according to God!’


A letter to Grimes (or, factually, a letter to Grame)

Grimes was truly called ‘Grame’ – Abraham Grame, in fact. He was born at Childerditch near Billericay in Essex in June 1604, the son of Arthur Grame. For further information on him see the work by O. Kalu – ‘Bishops and Puritans in Early Jacobean England: A Perspective on Methodology’ in Church History Vol. 45, No. 45 (Dec 1976) where ‘Grame of Childerditch’ appears to be listed under prosecutions.

Grimes was clearly an ally of Stephen Dennison in the capital. In the novel, Matthew writes the following letter, seemingly almost implying himself to be Joseph Smith, a Familist of Bishopsgate (Street). The letter is loosely based on National Archives, Kew, ref. SP/6/139.


For the letter go to:



Often I was curious as to the contents of the chest but whenever he caught my eyes falling upon it, he glared, almost menacingly, his eyes not speaking to me in the manner one might have expected a father’s to his daughter. So I learned not to within his presence.


He was not like others, he did not fall ill and need to be cared for. Simply, he worked himself to the bone, just as she had done before him, and dropped one day, tending to sheep up on the fell with Eve. He went from perfect health to perfect death in one. I did not even notice his absence at first but when he had not returned by nightfall and the long, Northern night of winter lingered until dawn, then I had known it was time to search for him for light snows were already falling; flurrying in the air, far from moist, biting at Flesh like flies. It would have been foolish of me to have set off any earlier before the dawn. The first thirty minutes or so of fell beneath my feet I knew well enough without any requirement for light. Light or darkness; it did not matter much to me for there was enough familiarity in it for security! But beyond that, one might easily slip and fall: even the breaking of an ankle up there can be fatal. And worse things still can happen there too. Therefore I was constrained in my departure. As it happened, it would have made absolutely no material difference anyway.


For I found him perfectly dead, of course, but also looking perfectly at ease, laying on the hillside, his flock well away from him but guarded by the bitch, a light dusting upon both of them as the shivers set in even on the latter. She barked upon seeing me but she did not move, held her ground absolutely unflinchingly, and it was clear that she had made no attempt to return home. That had been the moment, no doubt, when back at Grindleton, a ratchet had clicked from one position to another in the mill movement – always there, always measured, always counted down – struck its moment, that final second seemingly just fractionally longer than any previous and yet still so utterly unavoidable. I could see that he had shattered the ice in an adjacent trough but the surface had frozen over again for the night had been its usual, unforgiving self up there. I now realise that I never really knew him until I read his book. They had been living a life that was quite exceptional and I had breathed it every day as my natural air. Some seed must have found its way to my heart in childhood through my parents. And, without them, it has now started to breathe anew within me.

Theologia Germanica: what it is and how it was translated

1-86 Sebastian Châteillon, alias Joannes Theophilus: Theologia Germanica, translated from the Latin of Joannes Theophilus: 17th cent. ff. 87 b-90 Eckard: Banquet of spiritual poverty: 17th cent.:

Sloane MS 2538 : 17th century


  • Title:
    Owners of Manuscripts: Guide, Family of.includes:ff. 1-86 Sebastian Châteillon, alias Joannes Theophilus: Theologia Germanica, translated from the Latin of Joannes Theophilus: 17th cent. ff. 87 b-90 Eckard: Banquet of spiritual poverty: 17th cent.:
  • Collection Area: Western Manuscripts
  • Reference: Sloane MS 2538
  • Creation Date: 17th century
  • Extent and Access:
    Extent: 1 item
  • Contents and Scope:
    Owners of Manuscripts: Guide, Family of.includes:

    • ff. 1-86 Sebastian Châteillon, alias Joannes Theophilus: Theologia Germanica, translated from the Latin of Joannes Theophilus: 17th cent.
    • ff. 87 b-90 Eckard: Banquet of spiritual poverty: 17th cent.: Imperf.
    • f. 91 Johann Tauler, Dominican Preacher: Communication of, with a poor beggar: 17th cent.
  • History:
    Custodial History:
    Guide family: Formerly owned MSS.

The Theologia Germanica – what is it? Basically it is an anonymous mystic text probably written in the mid to late 1300s (although the earliest extant copy is 100 years later) somewhere in the area surrounding Frankfurt. It may well have had its roots in the Friends of God movement originally from Basel, Switzerland but also very closely tied to the emergence of the German Spiritual movement, familiar still through the work of Thomas A Kempis.


Why was it considered so important? It was discovered and named by Martin Luther in 1516 and that fact in itself hugely raised its status. The Germanica name (or Theologia Deutsch) is Luther’s wording. Initially he wanted it right at the heart of the Reformed Church. And, of course, he called it what he did because, unlike most ecclesiastical texts of the period which were in Latin, it was in German.

But, of course, it was obvious enough to many that whilst German functioned well enough as a lingua franca in Central Europe, beyond it, it would be precious little use as a medium. The first translation into Latin was undertaken by Ludwig Haetzer, a real early radical of the religion. Haetzer had initially been in close contact with Hans Denck before the latter expulsion from Strasbourg. This is the point at which some might say that the Theologia got hi-jacked: Denck (essentially a Spiritist but seen as Anabaptist) replaced the Luther introduction. Meanwhile Luther’s main concerns switched from the radical to consolidation, leaving no further room for the Theologia. Under accusations of antinomianism by Catholic adversaries, Protestants developed a ‘third use of the law’ whereby Law was still binding. There were some objectors such as Johannes Agricola who rejected any place for Law.

And the Haetzer translation clearly influenced the later Castellion Latin translation (left). Sebastien Castellion was a French proponent of freedom of thought and translator of some important mystical and heterodox texts whose fortunes went through the most remarkable ups and downs. Denck’s ‘Hauptreden’ (‘Certain grave sayings’) survived the change of translator for inclusion. And it is this Castellion translation which seems to have found its way into England at some point during the first half of the 1600s.


By 1638 Giles Creech had clearly been directly involved with the Mount or ‘Of the Mountains’ …or whatever name you care it to go by. But he also openly admitted that he had done the full round of underground conventicles including the Valley, the oddly-named Essentualists and the eponymous Antinomians. There is no sign of the Castalians, the Caps or the Scattered Flock – unless they also carried the Essentualist name? At that point Creech decided that he might be best served ditching the Familists and sneaking on them to the ecclesiastic establishment at Lambeth Palace. He would not have known it at the time but he was not the first to do so. The records show us that Lambeth already had an informant. Creech knew her too and trotted out her name – Jane Farthing (or Farthing Jane) – dutifully enough. She had actually led them to the Cloth Fair perfumiers Callow (Callon – took me a while to link those two names) and Cox who had actually both been picked up on the streets of London in separate places.


He was young, still an apprentice (that lasted seven years in those days and often started at age 14), and his memory was either excellent or it was some sort of ploy. For the scribes could hardly keep up with him. There were two of them and they are sometimes inconsistent in their records. Creech was also fully aware of the underground’s connections with the nominally mainstream ministry who had fallen for the same ideas.


That was what Sir John Lamb was actually more interested in. He was convinced that Thomas Hodges ran some kind of conventicle called ‘The Hodgekin’ – for which there is absolutely no evidence. He would later ditch his younger beliefs in favour of a very cosy CoE career. He was not spotless though for he possessed both the Theologia Germanica and Fitch’s Rule of Perfection and he had the admiration of Robert Towne. But Lamb’s central concern was not even Hodges but John Everard who had also been operating a private conventicle for two nobles. The scribes missed something altogether and Lamb himself had to intervene to record the most important of findings: that the underground had got hold of Theologica (sic) Germanica via the barber-gone-bookseller, Edward Fisher, and that it had been translated by either Brierley or Tennant, a minister from ‘Grendleton’…