Hermann Stehr’s magnum opus (print run between the wars of over 150,000) depicts a farmer, Andreas Sintlinger, who struggles to come to terms with his Catholic faith on the birth of his blind daughter, and also struggles with the influence of the itinerant preacher/activist Franz Faber (whose early life is portrayed in Steers’ earlier novel Three Nights). At the same time, and partly triggered by Sintlinger’s own actions, a local group of Anabaptists reinvigorate their faith to the consternation of the local church authorities.
When a man is born, at the same moment two bells begin to toll. One bell tolls below, one above; one as it were on earth, one, as the people say, in heaven. This doubled tolling does not stop as long as we live. And according to whether the man listens more to the bell above or that below, he is good or bad, big or small, and it goes uphill or downhill with him. Some men, however, commit such a noise in the middle of their life with their business affairs or with their passions, yes, some even merely with their thoughts, that the sound of the two bells cannot reach them. Such men are stuck in the midst of the most extreme hardship which can befall a man here on earth.
And love? God, yes, love! Does it not exist according to its nature in the boundless willingness to make the state of the other your own? And is that in all eternity not a futile, useless beginning? An oak is never capable of transforming into a beech tree, one drop of water never into another. How can one person exchange their inner guise for that of their neighbour? We men must eternally remain alone, alone like hills and mountains which only concur in the depths of their roots of stone where they are not yet hills and mountains.
If men knew the mysterious manner by which their lives must obey from within the laws of the universe, just like a tree, a river, or an animal, and that they were interwoven in exactly the same way with the existence of other men, then they would not look on it anymore so reluctantly that the true, decisive events are not those external, noisy incidents of earthly fate, those victories and defeats which fall to mind with jubilation and tears, but movements of our inner being, noiseless as the flight of light and shadow, and inexorable like affinity and gravity; that a fate is decided long ago when it manifests itself, just as blossom and rot can manifest themselves first as a result of ripeness and decay, and as no echo can arise without a preceding sound. But, since men hold the forms of their sensual perceptions to be the essence of experienced facts, from there stirs every pain, every disappointment, every despair on earth. For when the bells of external fate ring, most men do not know anymore that they tolled them, or when.
When a bird sits on the tip of the outermost branch, it experiences only the movements of that branch. When it moves deeper within the tree on the branch, it embraces the movements of a hundred branches, and yet sways only a little. But when it chooses its place in the inner crown, hard by the trunk, it experiences the movements of the entire tree, and is itself no longer shaken.
Even more like this bird is how it happens with a man who sinks right to the depths of his soul. For there he experiences all life, the entire universe, all of God with all His mysteries, because this foundation of ours is also God’s foundation.
But for everyone who knows this, from them every sorrow is taken, and the transience vanishes before the immortal.
Rejoice! Here is the peace, the happiness, the light, the beauty which nobody can take from you anymore.
That I give to you in parting. Deliberate on it in your hearts when I am gone, and act on it accordingly with vigilance and fidelity. Farewell!”