It is the name given to a medieval spiritual treatise, written in German, by an anonymous author who is simply known as the “Frankfurter,” because of a tradition that attributes it to a priest of the Teutonic Order who lived at Sachsenhausen in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. It must have originated about 1350 within an informal group called “Friends of God” which owed its inspiration to Meister Eckhart. Martin Luther published it for the first time as a contribution to the rising protest against what German nationalists called “arrogance and intolerance of the Italians.” He paid tribute to the book saying that “next to the Bible and Saint Augustine no other book has come to my attention from which I have learned more concerning God, Christ, man, and what all things are.” But there is little in the book that points in a distinctively Protestant direction, but because of its association with Luther, in 1612 it was placed on the Index. However, it is now generally recognized as perfectly orthodox. It was also much admired by the German Pietists.
The treatise counsels radical poverty of spirit and renunciation of self as the way of union in and with God and can be called a theology of Christian living. Christian living is following in the way that Christ walked and the author of the treatise does not disguise the difficulty in doing this. The life of a Christian is at once the “bitterest and the noblest of lives.” It is the bitterest because it goes against nature and the self; but to those with inward sight, it is the best and the noblest because “when the Good is known it cannot but be longed for and loved so greatly that all other love fades away.” That followers of Christ are not exempt from distress and anguish should not surprise us, when we recall that Christ’s soul had to descend into hell before it could ascend to heaven.
So the godlike person’s first characteristic is renunciation. The ideal is “for a man to renounce himself in all things and live as wholly and purely in true obedience as Christ did.” No one can achieve this to perfection, but everyone must try. This must be learned at the start. We do not attain to godliness by clinging to such elements of the world but by denying ourselves and taking up His cross and following Him. Second comes resignation. This includes submission to what we receive at the hands of His creatures. We are not to resist evil, for in fighting against affliction we are fighting against God. Peace comes only to an inward person who bears up joyfully and patiently His cross. Thirdly, when we pray we must never ask for anything that is to our advantage. God helps us achieve what is truly best for us but that is not the same as helping us achieve our desires. Fourthly, we are to take up the life of Christ not with any thought of reward, but because God loves and esteems it so greatly. For the virtuous man, “virtue is its own reward and he is content therewith and would take no riches in exchange for it.” Fifthly, in the truly godlike, love includes all creatures whose welfare will be to them as their own. Even to those who afflict the godlike and wish them harm, they will show kindness “as though God in human nature were say, “I am pure and simple Goodness, and therefore I cannot will, or desire, or rejoice in, or do or give anything but goodness. If I am to reward thee for thy evil and wickedness, I must do it with goodness for I am and have nothing else.” Finally, in the obedient or godlike person, there is no willing, no fixing of goal and choosing of means. “When a man in whom truth works and has and ought to have a will towards anything… it must be that the truth may be seen and manifested. Just as the sun shines because it cannot do otherwise, for it is its nature, so is it with the godly man and woman. “In them is no willing, nor working, nor desiring but has for its end goodness as goodness, for the sake of goodness.”
(Professor of Church History at Oriens Theological College, Shillong)