5.2.2. Thomas Muntzer and the German Peasants’ War

5.2.2. Thomas Müntzer and the German Peasants’ War

Another personality of the Radical Reformation was Thomas Müntzer, a paranoid who saw devilish conspiracies and apocalyptic signs everywhere. When he heard about the fame of the Ninety-Five Theses, Müntzer saw the phenomenon as a divine intervention. Accordingly, he left the monastery in Frohse and began to wander looking for inspiration and answers. In 1520 he arrived at Zwickau and exchanged opinions with Nikolaus Storch. And, while the threat of the authorities banished the Zwickau prophets toward Wittenberg, Müntzer took the road to Prague, where he remained for a couple of months.449

Influenced by Storch, Müntzer adopted Anabaptism, developed an anti-intellectualist philosophy450 and claimed that his personal theology was based on divine revelations. He militated for the formation of a pure church after the model of the early Christian Church,451 but he was rejected both by the magisterial Reformists and Catholics. Constantly banished, between 1521 and 1523 he led a wandering life, until he became a parson in the village of Allsted, where he married a former nun.452 Besides contesting the sacrament of

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5.2.1. The Zwickau Prophets

5.2. THE APOCALYPSES OF THE RADICAL-ANABAPTIST REFORMATION

5.2.1. The Zwickau Prophets

One of the weirdest apocalyptic manifestations of the German Radical Reformation was the triad of the weaver prophets in the city of Zwickau. The leader, Nikolaus Storch, was an illiterate weaver who turned into a prophet of the latter days after he had divine revelations.442 Little is known about his two lieutenants, Thomas Drechsel and Markus Stübner; the latter seems to have pretended that he had the gift of mind reading. The three were not clerics, but laymen influenced by the ideas of the Brethren of the Free Spirit.443 They preached equality between men, the community of goods and rejected infant baptism. According to them, faith is a necessary requirement for baptism, and infants are not capable of having faith – this doctrine taking the generic name of “Anabaptism.”

The three enjoyed a tremendous success among the common people of Zwickau. But, in order to avoid being convicted by the local clergy, in December 1521 they ran to Wittenberg. While Luther was being at Wartburg, the Zwickau prophets arrived in Wittenberg around Christmas and began to preach. Andreas Karlstadt, the spiritual leader of the city in Luther’s absence, was taken by surprise by the new doctrine. He agreed with some of the views of the newcomers, but he refused to entirely accept Anabaptism because he felt that it was a theological trap. Instead, Melanchthon and his colleague Nikolaus von Amsdorf were utterly impressed. After ardent discussions carried out on the 27th of December, the scriptural arguments regarding the illegitimacy of infant baptism left a profound impression on Luther’s friend, at the time a young and inexperienced teacher of theology.

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5.1. The papal demonization and the development of historicism

5. THE APOCALYPSES OF THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION

5.1. THE PAPAL DEMONIZATION AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF HISTORICISM

In 1510 the German monk Martin Luther suffered a shock after he traveled to Rome and saw the stage of ecclesiastical corruption: Sixtus IV was the first pope who imposed a license on brothels, a special tax on the priests who had a concubine and established the selling of indulgences417 to be applied to the dead as well; the latter was a religious-financial scheme that assured unlimited income to the budget of the institution. In turn, Pope Alexander IV fathered seven children and simultaneously fostered two mistresses. After he returned to Wittenberg at the end of 1517, disgusted and resentful, Luther conceived a list entitled Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum and nailed it on the door of All Saints’ Church. The list of 95 theses was a summary of his grievances, through which he mainly requested a reopening of the debates regarding the selling of indulgences, the concepts of Purgatory, individual Judgment, Mariology (the devotion to the Virgin Mary), the worship of the saints, most of the sacraments and the authority of the Papacy. Luther’s disagreement was the spark that ignited the conflagration. The Ninety-Five Theses (as the document remained known in history) enjoyed a powerful support from laity and some clerics, marking the eruption of a widespread

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4.2.1. The anti-clerical messianisms

4.2.1. The anti-clerical messianisms

While the Papacy was busy demonizing Islam and the kings struggled to raise armies and money to confront the forces of evil near Jerusalem, a new type of apocalyptic manifestations erupted among the masses. This type of apocalypticism was a novelty because it did not target groups outside Christendom, but the church itself, the institution meant to represent God. The growing number of heresies, the growing interest in magic, astrology and the occult,

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4.2. The anti-papal apocalypticism and the foreshadowing of the Reformation

4.2. THE ANTI-PAPAL APOCALYPTICISM AND THE FORESHADOWING OF THE REFORMATION

The medieval apocalypticism was fueled, on the one hand, by the Islamic menace, which threatened the body of Christianity, and, on the other hand, by the church decadence, which threatened its soul. The corruption of the institution of God appears in the eyes of the observers as an eloquent symptom of the universal disorder. From the sin of simony, the intemperance of the clergy for wealth to the perversion of the scriptures according to earthly interests – the moral filth present within the institution of God was believed to attract dreadful divine punishments. In the 7th century Beatus of Liébana said that “he [Nero] is Antichrist himself, who now rules subtly in the church through false priests, but then he will devastate the church openly.”263 Likewise, Rodulphus Glaber, the chronicler of the year 1000, noticed the loose morals of the clergy and associated them with the apostasy:

For, indeed, every time the piety of the bishops is missing and the abbots lack the rigor in applying the rules, immediately the discipline fails in monasteries and, after their example, the entire people is alienated from God. It is not then the entire mankind turned back, by its own will, to the ancient chaos and thrown into the abyss of perdition?264

In 1170 the nun Hildegard of Bingen, surnamed the “Sibyl of the Rhine,” had gloomy epiphanies regarding the evolution of the church.

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