Hendrix has provided us with an excellent and welcome contribution to the Classics of Western Spirituality Series. His challenge was to select representative statements of spirituality between 1517 and 1560. This was a time when culture, religion, and spirituality were still one; a time before the modern age and its reductionist approach to the spiritual life; a time before the hardened divisions of Protestant and Catholic. His selections are worth reading both as a reflection of early spiritual enthusiasms for the reform of the Medieval church as well as a reminder of the challenges facing any reform movement in the church.
He divides his offering into nine parts: Personal Voices, Interpreting Scripture, Preaching, Admonishing and Consoling, Living the Faith, Singing, Praying, Reconstructing Sacraments, and Worshiping. These are the outline of the spiritual life of these late medieval Christians seeking reform of their church. He reminds us that by the time of the Reformation spiritualitas had two meanings: a mode of being and a way of acting. As a mode of being it was the opposite of corporality in much writing. Legal tracts, for example, reflected a division of life into the spiritual realm and the temporal realm. This latter, legal, application of spiritualitas easily gave way to talking about the spiritual in reference to the clergy and to temporal, referring to the laity. The second interpretation narrowed the meaning of the spiritual realm to refer to those who lead the contemplative (spiritual) life. Such a life was one more closely aligned with the life of the mind, the mystical life, and devotional life. The "active" life, in this sense, was one that took one away from being spiritual. This division between active and contemplative suggested at times that a deep spiritual life would be one with little involvement in temporal affairs or the active life. To the Reformers this was a false division as the selections so well demonstrate. Faith, and thus a life of the Spirit, and action, service of one's neighbor, were one.
We see this continued attempt to refine and sustain the biblical meaning of faith, spirituality, contemplation, and action in the various readings. These readings show men and women struggling with bringing a new idea, born among the university and the educated classes, into the streets in a culture in which the church they were attempting to reform many times used the military to reject such reforms. How does one live in the light of the newly awakened love of God and faith of humans? How does one live the gospel in today's culture, not the medieval one? How does one allow God's will be done? Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Miles Coverdale, Martin Bucher, Elizabeth Cruciger, Catharina Schutz Zell, Argula von Grumbach and many others try to answer these and other practical questions arising from seeing their faith anew. What they deal with are not theoretical issues but real ones that need answering in the light of everyone beginning to think differently about their faith. They describe how the various rituals and interpretation of rituals must change; how the suffering and the dying must be encouraged to see what is truly happening to them; how spirituality must include an active love of one's neighbor; how to love one's spouse; how to govern one's town; how to respond to God's love with one's whole being. Are these not the eternal challenges to a spiritual life? To see how they are responded to in the early years of the reformation is a gift to us all and a stimulus to the present attempts to follow in their example.