of the Heresies
During the Middle Ages and the period of the Reformation, doctrines of chiliastic socialism often fomented broad popular movements in Western Europe. Such a situation did not obtain in antiquity, when these ideas were expressed by individual thinkers or within narrow groups. As a result of this evolution, the socialist doctrines, in turn, acquired new and extremely important traits, which they have preserved to this day.
The survey below provides a very general and schematic overview of the development of socialist ideas in this epoch. In order to compensate somewhat for the abstract character of the presentation and to help make more concrete the atmosphere in which these ideas arose, we introduce (in the Appendix following the General Survey) three biographies of eminent representatives of the chiliastic socialism of the period. In the subsequent section, an attempt is made to delineate the ideological framework within which the doctrines of chiliastic socialism developed.
1. General Survey
Beginning with the Middle Ages and the Reformation, doctrines of chiliastic socialism in Western Europe appeared under religious guise. As varied as they were, all these doctrines had in common a characteristic trait--the rejection of numerous aspects of the teachings of the Catholic Church and a fierce hatred for the Church itself. As a result , they developed largely within the framework of the heretical movements. Below we shall review several characteristic Medieval heresies.
The movement of the Cathars (Greek for "the pure") spread in Western and Central Europe in the eleventh century. It seems to have originated in the East, arriving from Bulgaria, the home of Bogomil heresy in the preceding century. The ultimate origins of both, however, are more ancient.
Among the Cathars there were many different groups. Pope Innocent III counted as many as forty Cathar sects. In addition, there existed other sects that had many doctrinal points in common with the Cathars; among the best known were the Albigenses. They are all usually categorized as gnostic or Manichean heresies. In order to avoid unnecessary complexity, we shall describe the beliefs and notions common to all groups, without specifying the relative importance that a particular view might have in a given sect. (For a more detailed account, see 9 [Vol. I], 10, and 11.)
The basic contention in all branches of the movement was the belief in the irreconcilable contradiction between the physical world, seen as the source of evil, and the spiritual world, seen as the essence of good. The so-called dualistic Cathars believed this to be caused by the existence of two Gods--one good, the other evil. It was the God of evil who had created the physical world--the earth with everything that grows upon it, the sky, the sun and the stars, and human bodies as well. The good God, on the other hand, was seen as the creator of the spiritual world, in which there is another, spiritual sky, other stars and another sun. Other Cathars, called monarchian Cathars, believed in one beneficent God, the creator of the universe, but assumed that the physical world was the creation of his eldest, fallen son--Satan or Lucifer. All the Cathars held that the mutual hostility of the realms of matter and spirit allowed for no intermingling. They therefore denied the bodily incarnation of Christ (asserting that his body was a spiritual one, which had only the appearance of physicality) and the resurrection of the flesh. They saw a reflection of their dualism in the division of the Holy Scriptures into Old and New Testaments. They identified the God of the Old Testament, the creator of the physical world, with the evil God or with Lucifer. They professed the New Testament as the teaching of the good God.
The Cathars did not believe that God had created the world from nothing; they held that matter was eternal and that the world would have no end. So far as people were concerned, they considered their bodies to be the creation of the evil force. Their souls, though, did
not have a single source. The souls of the majority of men, just like their bodies, were begotten by evil--such people had no hope for salvation and were doomed to perish when the entire material world returned to a state of primeval chaos. But the souls of some men had been created by the good God; these were the angels led into temptation by Lucifer and thus imprisoned in earthly bodies. As a result of changing into a series of bodies (Cathars believed in the transmigration of souls), they were destined to end up in their sect so as to receive liberation from the prison of matter. The ultimate goal and the ideal of all mankind was in principle universal suicide. This was conceived either as in the most direct sense (we shall encounter the practical realization of this .view later) or through ceasing to bear children. These views determined the attitude toward both sin and salvation. The Cathars denied the existence of freedom of will. The doomed children of evil could not avoid their fate. But those who were initiated into the highest rank of the sect could no longer sin. The stringent rules to which members had to subject themselves were justified by the danger of being defiled by sinful matter. Nonobservance of these rules merely indicated that the initiation had been invalid, since either the initiates or those who had initiated them did not possess angelic souls. Before initiation, no restrictions of any kind were placed on behavior: the only real sin was the fall of the angels in heaven; everything else was considered to be an inevitable consequence. After initiation, neither repentance for sins committed nor their expiation was considered necessary.
The Cathars' attitude toward life followed consistently from their view that evil permeated the physical world. Propagation of the species was considered Satan's work. Cathars believed that a pregnant woman was under the influence of demons and that every child born was accompanied by a demon. Hence the prohibition against eating meat and against anything that came from sexual union. The same tendency led to a complete avoidance of social involvement. Secular power was considered to be the creation of the evil God and hence not to be submitted to, nor were they to become involved in legal proceedings, the taking of oaths, or the carrying of arms. Anyone using force was considered a murderer, be he soldier or judge. It follows that participation in many areas of life was completely closed to the Cathars. Moreover, many considered that any contact whatever with people outside the sect was a sin, with the exception of attempts to proselytize. (12: p. 654)
All Cathars were united in their hatred of the Catholic Church. They regarded it not as the Church of Jesus Christ but as the church of sinners, the Whore of Babylon. The Pope was held to be the source of all error and priests considered sophists and pharisees. In the opinion of the Cathars, the fall of the Church had taken place in the time of Constantine the Great and Pope Sylvester, when the Church had violated the commandments of Christ by encroaching upon secular power. They denied the sacraments, particularly the baptism of children (since they were too young to believe), but matrimony and Communion as well. Some branches of the movement systematically plundered and defiled churches. In 1225, Cathars burned down a Catholic Chruch in Brescia; in 1235, they killed the Bishop of Mantua. A certain Eon de l'Étoile, head ofa Manichean sect (1143-1148), proclaimed himself the son of God and the Lord of everything on earth. In this capacity, he called upon his followers to plunder churches.
The Cathars hated the cross in particular, considering it to be a symbol of the evil God. As early as about 1000 A.D., a certain Leutard, preaching near Châlons, called for the smashing of crosses and religious images. In the twelfth century, Pierre de Bruys made bonfires of broken crosses, until finally he himself was burned by an angry mob. The Cathars considered churches to be heaps of stones and divine services mere pagan rites. They rejected religious images, denied the intercession of the saints and the efficacy of prayer for the departed. A book by the Dominican inquisitor Rainier Sacconi, himself a heretic for seventeen years, states that the Cathars were not forbidden to plunder churches.
Although the Cathars rejected the Catholic hierarchy and the sacraments, they had a hierarchy and sacraments of their own. The basic division of the sect was into two groups--the "perfect" (perfecti) and the "faithful" (credenti). The former were few in number (Rainier counted only four thousand in all), but they constituted the select group of the sect leaders. The clergy was drawn from the perfecti, and only they were privy to all the doctrines of the sect; many extreme views that were radically opposed to Christianity were unknown to the ordinary faithful. Only the perfecti were obliged to observe the many prohibitions. In particular, they were not allowed to deny their faith under any circumstances. In case of persecution, they were to accept a martyr's death. The faithful, on the other hand, were allowed to go to regular church for form's sake and, when persecuted, to disavow the faith.
In compensation for the rigors imposed on the perfecti, their position was far higher than that occupied by Catholic priests. In certain respects, the perfecti were as gods themselves, and the faithful worshiped them accordingly. The faithful were obliged to support the perfecti. One of the important rites of the sect was that of "submission," in which the faithful performed a threefold prostration before the perfecti. The perfecti had to renounce marriage, and they literally did not have the right to touch a woman. They could not possess any property and were obliged to devote their whole lives to service of the sect. They were forbidden to keep a permanent dwelling of any kind and were required to spend their lives in constant travel or to stay in special secret sanctuaries. The consecration of the perfecti, the "consolation" (consolamentum), was the central sacrament of the sect. This rite cannot be compared to anything in the Catholic Church. It combined baptism (or confirmation), ordination, confession, absolution and sometimes supreme unction as well. Only those who received it could count on being freed from the captivity of the body and having their souls returned to their celestial abode.
The majority of the Cathars had no hope of fulfilling the strict commandments that were obligatory for the perfecti and intended, rather, to receive "consolation" on their deathbed. This was called "the good end." The prayer to grant "the good end" under the care of "the good people" (the perfecti) was recited together with the Lord's Prayer.
Sometimes, having received "consolation," a sick person recovered. He was then usually advised to commit suicide (called "endura"). In many cases, "endura" was in fact a condition for receiving "consolation." Not infrequently, the aged or the very young who had received "consolation" were subjected to "endura"--i.e., in effect, murdered. There were various forms of "endura." Most frequently it was by starvation (especially for children, whom the mothers simply stopped suckling); bleeding, hot baths followed by sudden chilling, drinking of liquid mixed with ground glass and strangulation were also used. I. Dollinger, who studied the extant archives of the Inquisition in Toulouse and Carcassonne, writes: "Whoever examines the records of the above-mentioned courts attentively will have no doubt that far more people perished from the 'endura' (some voluntarily, some forcibly) than as a result of the Inquisition's verdicts." (10: p. 226)
These basic notions were the source of the socialist doctrines disseminated
among the Cathars. They rejected property as belonging to the material world. The perfecti were forbidden to have any personal belongings, but as a group they controlled the holdings of the sect, which often were considerable. Cathars enjoyed influence in various segments of society, including the highest strata. Thus it is said that Count Raymond VI of Toulouse always kept in his retinue Cathars disguised in ordinary attire, so they could bless him in case of impending death. For the most part, however, the preaching of the Cathars apparently was directed to the urban lower classes, as indicated in particular by the names of various sects: populicani (i.e., populists, although certain historians see this name as a corruption of "Paulicians"), piphlers (derived from "plebs"), texerants (weavers), etc. In their sermons, the Cathars preached that a true Christian life was possible only on the condition that property was held in common. (12: p. 656) In 1023, a group of Cathars were put on trial in Monteforte, charged with promulgating celibacy and communality of property and with attacking the accepted religious traditions.
It seems that the appeal for communality of property was rather widespread among the Cathars, since it is mentioned in certain Catholic works directed against them. In one of these, for instance, Cathars are accused of demagogically proclaiming this principle while not adhering to it themselves: "You do not have everything in common. Some have more, others less." (13: p. 176)
Celibacy among the perfecti and the general condemnation of marriage are common to all Cathars. But in a number of cases, only marriage is considered sinful--not promiscuity outside marriage. It should be recalled that "Thou shalt not commit adultery" was considered to be a commandment of the God of evil. By the same token, these prohibitions had as their aim not so much mortification of the flesh as destruction of the family. In the writings of contemporaries, the Cathars are constantly accused of "free" or "holy" love, and of having wives in common.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, between 1130 and 1150, accused the Cathars of preaching against marriage while cohabiting with women who had abandoned their families. (10: p. 16) Rainier supports this contention. (9: pp. 72-73) The same accusation against a Manichean sect that was making inroads into Brittany around 1145 can be found in the Chronicle of Hugo d'Amiens, Archbishop of Rouen. A book
against heresies by Alain de Lille, which was published in the twelfth century, ascribed the following view to the Cathars: "Marital bonds are contrary to the laws of nature, since these laws demand that everything be held in common." (13: p. 176) The Cathar heresy swept over Europe with extraordinary swiftness. In 1012, a sect of Cathars is recorded in Mainz, in 1018 and again in 1028 in Aquitaine, in 1022 in Orleans, in 1025 in Arras, in 1028 in Monteforte (near Turin), in 1030 in Burgundy, in 1051 in Goslar, etc. Around 1190, Bonacursus, who had previously been a bishop with the Cathars, wrote of the situation in Italy: "Are not all townships, cities and castles overrun with these pseudo-prophets?" (12: p. 651) And in 1166, the Bishop of Milan asserted that there were more heretics than faithful in his diocese. One work from the thirteenth century enumerates seventy-two Cathar bishops. Rainier Sacconi speaks of sixteen Churches of Cathars. They were all closely associated and apparently headed up by a Cathar Pope, who was located in Bulgaria. Councils were called, which were attended by representatives from numerous countries. For example, in 1167, a council was openly held in St. Felix near Toulouse; it was summoned by the heretical Pope Nicetas and was attended by a host of heretics, including some from Bulgaria and Constantinople.
The heresy was particularly successful in the south of France, in Languedoc and Provence. Missions for conversion of the heretics were repeatedly sent there, one of which included St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who reported that churches were deserted and that no one took communion or was baptized. The missionaries and the local Catholic clergy were assaulted and subjected to threats and insults.
The nobles of southern France supported the sect actively, seeing an opportunity to acquire church lands. For more than fifty years Languedoc was under the control of the Cathars and seemed lost to Rome forever. A papal legate, Pierre de Castelnau, was killed by heretics. The Pope announced several crusades against the Cathars. The first of these failed because of support given to the heretics by the local nobility. It was only in the thirteenth century, after more than thirty years of the guerres albigeoises, that the heresy was suppressed. However, the influence of these sects continued to be felt for several centuries.
Brethren of the Free Spirit and the Apostolic Brethren.
In the creation of the doctrines of these sects a special role was played by two thinkers
whose ideas were destined to exert a continuous influence on the heretical movements of the Middle Ages and the Reformation: Joachim of Flore and Amalric of Bena. They both lived in the twelfth century and died soon after 1200. Joachim was a monk and an abbot. His doctrine, as he claimed, was based partly on the study of the Holy Scriptures and partly on revelation. It is based on the view that the history of mankind involves the progressively greater comprehension of God. Joachim divided history into three epochs: the Kingdom of the Father, from Adam to Christ; the Kingdom of the Son, from Christ until 1260; and the Kingdom of the Spirit, which was to begin in 1260. The first was an age of slavish submission; the second, an age of filial obedience; while the third was to be an age of freedom. For in the words of the Apostle: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." In this last epoch, God's people would abide in peace, freed from labor and suffering. This would be an age of the humble and the poor; people would not know the words "thine" and "mine." Monasteries would embrace the whole of mankind, and the Eternal Gospel would be read and understood in its mystical dimension. An era of perfection would be attained within the framework of earthly life and human history--and by the hand of mortal human beings. This epoch was to be preceded by terrible wars, and the Antichrist would appear. Joachim saw proof of this in the decay of the Church in his time. The Last Judgment would begin with the Church, and the Antichrist would become Pope. The elect of God, reverting to apostolic poverty, would make up the host of Christ in this struggle. They would defeat the Antichrist and unite the whole of mankind in Christianity.
A characteristic feature of Joachim's doctrine is the view of history as a predetermined process whose course can be foreseen and calculated. He calculates, for example, that the first epoch in his scheme lasted forty-two generations, the second would last fifty. ...
During his life, Joachim was a faithful son of the Church; he founded a monastery and wrote against the Cathars. But a collection of excerpts from his works was later condemned as heretical, probably because of his influence on the heretical sects.
Amalric taught theology in Paris. He did not expound his system in full, only its more inoffensive propositions. Nevertheless, a complaint Was lodged against him in Rome and the Pope condemned his systeln and, in 1204, dismissed him from his chair. Amalric died soon thereafter.
Amalric was ideologically linked to Joachim of Flore. He also saw history as a series of stages in divine revelation. In the beginning, there was Moses' law, then Christ's which superseded it. Now the time of the third revelation had come. This was embodied in Amalric and his followers, as previously revelation had been embodied in Christ. They had now become as Christ. Three basic theses of this new Christianity have been preserved. First of all: "God is all." Second: "Everything is One, for everything that is is God." And third: "Whoever observes the law of love is above sin." These theses were interpreted in such a way that those who followed the teachings of Amalric could attain identity with God through ecstasy. In them, the Holy Spirit became flesh, just as in Christ. Man in this state is incapable of sin, for his deeds coincide with the will of God. He rises above the law.
Thus the followers of Amalric perceived the Kingdom of the Spirit more in terms of a spiritual state of the members of the sect than in terms of a world to be actively transformed. The second interpretation was not entirely foreign to them, however.
In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, a sect with views very similar to those of Amalric spread over France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Its members called themselves the Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit or simply the "Free Spirits."
The key doctrine of this sect was belief in the possibility of "transfiguration into God." Since the soul of each man consists of divine substance, any man in principle can achieve a state of "Godliness." To attain this end he must pass through many years of novitiate in the sect, renounce all property, family, will, and live by begging. Only then does he attain the state of Godliness and become one of the "Free Spirits." Numerous descriptions of the sect's world view have been preserved. There are accounts by Free Spirits or by Free Spirits who later repented, as well as those in the archives of the Inquisition. (See 14: p. 56; 15: p. 136; 16: pp. 110,119; 17: p. 160; etc.) All sources agree on one point--that Godliness is not a temporary state but a continuous one. Johann Hartmann from a town near Erfurt characterized this ecstasy as "a complete disappearance of the painful sting of conscience." (15: p. 136) In other words, the Free Spirit was liberated from all moral constraints. He was higher than Christ, who was a mortal man who attained Godliness only on the cross. The Free Spirit was the complete equal of God, "without distinctions." Hence his will is the will of God, and to him the notion of sin becomes meaningless.
This sinlessness and freedom from moral restrictions was characterized in a number of ways. The Free Spirit is the king and sovereign of all that is. Everything belongs to him, and he may dispose of it at will. And whoever interferes with this may be killed by him, even if it is the emperor himself. Nothing performed by the flesh of such a man can either decrease or increase his divinity. Therefore, he may give it complete freedom. "Let the whole state perish rather than he abstain from the demands of his nature," says Hartmann. (15: p. 141) Intimacy with any woman, even with a sister or his mother, cannot stain him and will only increase her holiness. Numerous sources dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries report on rituals of the sects, which included indiscriminate sexual union. In Italy, such "masses" were called barilotto. In Germany, there were reports of special sanctuaries called "paradises" for this purpose.
The contemporary scholar H. Grundmann (18) points out in this regard that in the late Middle Ages there was no need to belong to a sect in order to adhere to any sort of free views in sexual matters. The basis of the "orgiastic mass" was strictly ideological. The Free Spirit, who had attained "Godliness," broke completely with his former life. What had been blasphemy for him in the past (and remained so for "rude" folk) now became a sign of the end of one historical epoch and the beginning of another--the new Eon. In this way he was able to comprehend and to express his new birth and the break with the old Eon.
It is clear that the Free Spirits had no use for the path of salvation proposed by the Catholic Church--penance, confession, absolution of sins, communion. Moreover, they saw the Church as a hostile organization, since it had usurped the right to examine and to decide, which they considered solely their own prerogative. A bitterly anti-ecclesiastical sentiment pervades the views of the Free Spirits and finds expression in their frequent worship of Lucifer.
In the center of the sect's ideology stood not God but man made divine, freed from the notion of his own sinfulness and made the center of the universe. As a result, Adam played a central role in their teaching, not Adam the sinner depicted in the Old Testament, but Adam the perfect man. Many of the Free Spirits referred to themselves as the "New Adams," and Konrad Kanler even called himself Antichrist ("but not in the bad sense"). It seems possible to argue that here, within the confines of this relatively small sect, we encounter the first prototype
of the humanist ideology which would later attain worldwide significance. The uprising against the Pope in Umbria, in the 1320s, serves as a vivid example of the influence the sect had on social life. The teachings of the Free Spirits were widespread among the nobility of this region and became the ideology of the anti-papal party. In the struggle against the Pope and the urban communes, the doctrine justified the application of all means and the rejection of mercy of any kind. The entire populations of captured towns were slaughtered, including women and children. The head of the uprising, Count Montefeltro, and his followers prided themselves on plundering churches and violating nuns. Their supreme deity was Satan. (17: p. 130)
But the most far-reaching influence that the sect had was among the poor, especially among the Beghards and the Beguines--unions of celibate men and women who engaged in crafts or begging. The external, exoteric circle of participants in the sect was made up from these social elements, while the Free Spirits, those who had attained "Godliness," formed a narrow, esoteric circle. The division into two categories recalls the Cathars with their chosen circle of the perfecti.
The broad masses that formed the exoteric circle of the sect were poorly informed about the radical nature of the doctrine, as numerous surviving records of the proceedings of the Inquisition make clear. The ordinary followers felt that the divinity of the Free Spirits justified their right to be spiritual guides. For this group, the most significant aspects of the doctrine were those that proclaimed the idea of communality in its most extreme form and rejected the fundamental institutions of society: private property, the family, the church and the state. It is here that we can see the sect's socialist aspects. The assertion that "all property ought to be held in common" is cited frequently as one of the elements of the doctrine (e.g., 15: p. 53). Appeals for sexual freedom were often directed against marriage--indeed, sexual union in marriage was considered sinful. Such views were expressed, for example, by the "Homines Intelligentia" group, which was active in Brussels in 1410-1411. (9: II: p. 528) The equality proclaimed between Free Spirits and Christ had the aim of destroying hierarchy, not only on earth but in heaven as well. All of these ideas were common mainly among the mendicant Beghards, whom their "divine" leaders called to a complete liberation from this world. For instance, Aegidius Cantoris of Brussels taught: "I am the liberator of mankind. Through
me you will know Christ, as through Christ you know the Father." (9: II: p. 527) The Brethren of the Free Spirit exerted an influence on a sect that emerged in Italy in the second half of the thirteenth century. The members of this Italian movement called each other" Apostolic
Brethren." This sect taught that the coming of the Antichrist foretold by Joachim was drawing near. The Catholic Church had fallen away from Christ's commandments and had become the Whore of Babylon, the beast of seven heads and ten horns of the Apocalypse. Its fall dated from the time of Emperor Constantine and Pope Sylvester, who had been possessed by the Devil. The times of trouble were coming, which would end in victory for anew, spiritual Church--that of the Apostolic Brethren, a community of saints. The world would be governed by a saint, a Pope elevated by God and not elected by cardinals (all the cardinals would have been killed by then, in any case). And the sect was already thought to be headed by a God-appointed leader. Implicit obedience was due him. Everything was permitted in defense of the faith, any violence against enemies, while, at the same time, the persecution inflicted by the Catholic Church on the Apostolic Brethren was considered to be the gravest of crimes. The sect preached communality of property and of wives.
The doctrine was spread among the people by itinerant "apostles." The letters of the leader of the sect, Dolcino, were disseminated by way of proclamations. Finally in 1404, an attempt was made to put the teaching into practice. Gathering some five thousand members of the sect, Dolcino fortified himself and his army in a mountainous area of northern Italy, from where he sallied forth to plunder the surrounding villages and destroy the churches and monasteries. War went on for three years, until Dolcino's camp was taken and he was executed.
This episode is described at greater length in the biography of Dolcino in the Appendix.
The burning of Jan Hus in 1415 gave the impetus to the anti-Catholic Hussite movement in Bohemia. The more radical faction of the Hussites was concentrated in a well-protected town near Prague. They called the place Tabor. Preachers from heretical sects gravitated there from allover Europe: Joachimites (followers of Joachim of Flore), Waldensians, Beghards. Chiliastic and socialist theories were prevalent
among the Taborites, and there were numerous attempts to bring theory into practice. We shall give a brief outline of the views of the Taborites based on the writings of their contemporaries (the future Pope Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, Pržíbram, Vavřinec, Laurence of Březin). The end of the world--the consumatio saeculi--was to occur in 1420. The term, however, covers only the end of the old world and of the "dominion of evil." All the "wicked" would be removed forthwith. "The day of vengeance and the year of retribution" were drawing near. "The lofty and powerful must be bent down like tree branches and cut off and burned in furnaces like straw, leaving neither root nor branch, they must be thrashed like sheaves of grain, their blood drained to the last drop, they are to be exterminated with scorpions, serpents and wild beasts, and put to death everywhere." (19: p. 78)
Christ's law of mercy was to be abolished, since "its interpretation and written tenets contradict in much the opinion cited above." (20: p. 235) On the contrary, one was to act "resolutely and with zeal and with just retribution." Furthermore: "It is necessary for each of the faithful to wash his hands in the blood of the enemies of Christ." (20: p. 231) Moreover: "Anyone who protests against the shedding of the blood of Christ's enemies shall be cursed and punished just as these enemies are. All peasants who refuse to join the Taborites shall be destroyed together with their property." (19: p. 81)
God's Kingdom on earth will be established, but not for all--only for the "elect." "Evil" will not be eliminated from the world but will be subjected to the control of those who are "good." All the faithful were to congregate in five cities; those who remained outside would not be spared the Last Judgment. From these cities the faithful were to rule the world, and those cities and towns opposing them were to be "destroyed and burnt like Sodom." (20: p. 236) In particular: "In this year of retribution, Prague must be destroyed and burnt by the faithful like Babylon." (19: p. 82)
The period was to culminate in the coming of Christ. Then the chosen of God would "reign with the Lord visibly and physically for a thousand years." (19: p. 94) When Christ had descended to earth with his angels, pious souls who had died for Christ were to be resurrected in order to judge the sinners with Him. Wives would conceive without knowing a man and give birth without pain. No one would sow or reap. "The fruit of the earth shall no longer be consumed." (19: pp. 85)
The call went out from the preachers "to do no work, to pull down trees and destroy houses, churches and monasteries." (19: p. 85) "All human institutions and human laws must be abolished, for none of them were created by the Heavenly Father." (19: p. 110) It was taught that the Church was "heretical and unrighteous and that all its wealth must be taken away and given to laymen." And: "The houses of priests and all church property must be demolished, and the churches, altars and monasteries destroyed." (19: p. 83) "Church bells were taken down and broken to pieces and then sold away to foreign lands. Church objects, candlesticks, gold and silver were smashed." (19: p. 84) "Everywhere altars were smashed, the sacraments cast out, God's temples defiled and turned into stalls and stables." (19: p. 127) "The sacrament was trodden underfoot. ...The Blood of Christ was poured out, chalices stolen and sold." (19: p. 139) One of the Taborite preachers stated that he "would sooner pray to the Devil than bend his knee before the Holy Eucharist." (19: p. 153) "A great multitude of priests were killed, burned and slaughtered, and the greatest joy for them was to seize somebody and murder him." (19: p. 84) The favorite song of thc Taborites was: "Come on, monks, let's see you dance for us!" (18: p. 84) It was said that when the Kingdom of the Righteous came there would be "no need for anyone to teach another. There would be no need for books or scriptures, and all worldly wisdom will perish." (19: p. 159) In monasteries the Taborites invariably destroyed the libraries. "All belongings must be taken away from God's enemies and burned or otherwise destroyed." (19: p. 81)
"This winter and summer the preachers and elder headmen have been persistently duping the peasants to pour money into their barrels." (19: p. 101) In this manner all money in the community was socialized. Supervisors of the barrels were appointed to oversee the strict delivery of money and to distribute the communal fund. "In the town of Tabor there is nothing which is mine or thine, but all possess everything in common and no one is to have anything apart, and whoever does is a sinner." (19: pp. 99-100) One point of the Taborite program stated: "No one shall possess anything, but everything must be communal." (19: p. 106) The preachers taught: "Everything will be common, including wives: there will be free sons and daughters of God and there will be no marriage as union of two--husband and wife." (19: p. 113)
Among the Taborites, a Beghard from Belgium founded a sect of Adamites who established themselves on a small island in the Lužnice
river. He pronounced himself Adam and the Son of God, called upon to resurrect the dead and to carry out what was foreordained in the Apocalypse. The Adamites considered themselves to be the incarnation of the omnipresent God. They expected the world soon to be flooded with blood as high as a horse's bridle. On this earth they saw themselves as God's scythe sent to take vengeance and to destroy all that is vile in the world. Forgiveness was a sin. They killed and they burned towns and villages at night, citing the phrase from the Bible: "At midnight there was a cry made." In the town of Prčic they "killed people, young and old, and burned the town." (19: p. 464) At their gatherings they wore no clothing, believing that only in this way would they become pure. They had no marriage; every man could choose women at will. It was enough to say about a woman "She inflames my spirit" for Adam to give his blessing: "Go and give fruit and multiply and populate the earth." According to certain sources, their sexual relations were completely indiscriminate. "The sky they call a roof and say there is no God on earth as there are no devils in hell." (19: p. 478) On orders from Jan Žižka, Adamites were exterminated by more moderate Taborites. For a long time, the stories about the Adamites (as well as many reports about the Taborites) were thought to be the inventions of their enemies. Such a view was first posited by the French Huguenot Isaac de Beausobre, a representative of the Age of Enlightenment, and in its most extreme form it finds expression in the works of the Czech Marxist historian J. Macek. The question of the Adamites has recently been subjected to thorough critical review by the Marxist historians E. Werner and M. Erbstösser. (15, 16, 17) They demonstrate the existence of an earlier "Adamite" tradition, a cult of Adam, within the Brethren of the Free Spirit. If we take into account certain unavoidable distortions due to the hermetic nature of the teaching, information about the Bohemian "Adamites" is in full accord with the picture of the European movement of "Free Spirits" which we have drawn in the preceding section.
For example, Macek considers the passage "All shall be in common, wives as well" (from the Old Chronicle) to be "the height of filthy slander." (19: p. 113) In his opinion, this passage is contradicted by another in Pržíbram, who asserts that in Tabor intimacy between husband and wife was prohibited: "If husband and wife were seen together or their meeting became known, they were beaten to death; others
were thrown into the river." However, these two passages actually are in full accord with the tradition of the Free Spirits, who preached unlimited sexual liberty and the sinfulness of marriage at one and the same time. This was also the position of the "Homines Intelligentia" group in Brussels at about the same period. We note in this connection that Engels had pointed out: "It is a curious fact that in every large revolutionary movement the question of 'free love' comes to the foreground." (3: XVI: p. 160) The emperor and the Pope appealed for a crusade against the Taborites. But the latter not only crushed the crusaders but carried war over into neighboring countries. These raids, which received the name "The Splendid Campaigns" in the Hussite tradition, were undertaken on a yearly basis between 1427 and 1434. Some countries were devastated and looted; in others--for example, Silesia--garrisons were established. A song of the time runs: "Meissen and Saxony are destroyed, Silesia and Lauschwitz lie in ruins, Bavaria has becn turned into a desert, Austria is devastated, Moravia stripped, Bohemia turned upside down."
Detachments of Taborites went as far as the Baltic Sea, the walls of Vienna, Leipzig and Berlin; Nuremberg paid tribute. Czechia was ravaged. In the Old Collegiate Chronicle it is said: "In these campaigns the majority of soldiers were foreigners who felt no love for the Kingdom." And: "Fires, robberies, murders and acts of violence are on their conscience." (21: p. 161) The whole of Central Europe was subjected to terrible devastation. The Pope was forced to make concessions. At the Basel Council of 1433, an agreement with the Hussites was reached, as a result of which they returned to the Catholic Church. But the more radical, Taborite, faction of Hussites did not recognize the agreement and was annihilated in the battle at Lipany, in 1434.
During the wars of 1419-1434, the impact of the Hussites went beyond the devastation of neighboring countries. They also carried their chiliastic and socialist ideas abroad. Their manifestoes were read in Barcelona, Paris, Cambridge. In 1423 and 1430, there were disturbances by Hussite adherents in Flanders. In Germany and Austria, Hussite influence was still felt a century later, during the period of the Reformation. Inside Bohemia itself, the defeated Taborites gave rise to the sect of "Bohcmian Brethren" or "Unitas Fratrum," who combined the previous intolerant attitude toward the Catholic Church
and secular authority with a complete renunciation of violence--even for self-defense. We shall have occasion to speak of this sect, which is still in existence, later in this work. Anabaptists.
The Reformation called forth a new upsurge of socialist movements. Even in pre-Reformation times, Germany was full of chiliastic sentiment. Wandering preachers exposed the sins of the world and foretold the forthcoming vengeance. Astrological predictions of calamity were common--famine, rebellion, "when the rivers will flow with blood." There was a saying: "Who does not die in 1523, is not drowned in 1524, is not killed in 1525, shall say that a miracle has happened to him."
The invention of printing enormously magnified the effect of these ideas. Any peasant or artisan could be exposed to leaflets showing a peasant army marching toward the future revolution, with a frightened Pope, princes and prelates fleeing before it.
This sentiment was given especially strong expression in the Anabaptist movement, which spread to Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Czechia, Denmark and Holland and which, in the following century, spilled over into England. The sect's name, as so often happened, was given to it by its enemies. It seems that the term was coined by Zwingli. The movement as such had existed long before, its members calling each other "Brother." The designation Anabaptist ("the rebaptized") is to be explained by the fact that the sect refused to recognize the baptism of children and often performed a second baptism of adults. In later times, members of this sect came to call themselves Baptists.
Basically, the doctrine of the Anabaptists (see 22, 23, 24, 25, 26) derived from the notion, already familiar to us, of the falling away of the Catholic Church, in Emperor Constantine's time, from the true teachings of Christ. These sectarians considered themselves direct successors of the Christianity of Apostolic times. They denied the entire tradition of the Catholic Church--that is, every aspect of its doctrine and organization not specifically identified in the Gospels. They refused to recognize the supreme authority of the Pope, believed that salvation of the soul was possible outside the Church and professed a universal priesthood. Of the Scriptures, they recognized only the Gospels as sacred and only the words spoken by Christ himself, at that. The Sermon on the Mount had particular significance for them, and they believed that its commandments should be observed to the letter. According
to their doctrine, the meaning of the Gospels is revealed through inspiration to anyone worthy of it, now just as in Apostolic times. Anabaptists believed murder to be a cardinal sin under any circumstances and rejected oaths of any kind. For this reason, they refused to participate in many aspects of life. In general, the opposition of "true Christians" to the "world of false Christians" played a large role in their teachings. This led at critical periods to militant appeals for "extermination of the impious."
In organization the Anabaptists largely resembled the Cathars. The movement was guided entirely by a society of "Apostles" who, having renounced marriage and property, led the life of pilgrims. They wandered in pairs, the older Apostle devoting himself to matters of faith and the sect's organization, with the younger Apostle helping him with practical matters. The Apostles elected bishops from among their own ranks, the latter guiding the activity of the sect in various regions. Councils of bishops, "synods" or capituli, were convened to discuss questions of principle. For example, in his invitation to the synod at Waldshut in 1524, Balthazar Humbayer wrote: "The ancient custom of Apostolic times is such that, in circumstances hard for the faith, those to whom God's word is entrusted gather to take a Christian decision." (24: p. 376)
Often bishops from the whole of Europe came together. For instance, the capituli in Basel between 1521 and 1523 were attended by Brethren from Switzerland, Flanders (Beltin), Saxony (Heinrich von Eppendorf), Franconia (Stumpf), Frankfurt-am-Main (the Knight Hartmut von Kronberg), Holland (Rode), England (Richard Crock, Thomas Lipset), and other places. (24: p. 378 f.) At the Augsburg synod of 1526, more than sixty "elder Brethren" were present.
The social views of the Anabaptists were not uniform throughout. The Chronicle by Sebastian Franck (sixteenth century) says about them: "Some believe themselves to be holy and pure; they have everything in common. ... Others practice communality only to the extent that they do not permit need to arise among themselves. ... Among them a sect appeared which wished to make wives, as well as belongings, communal." (25: p. 306)
There is much data on Anabaptists to be found in the book by Bullinger, also written in the sixteenth century. In describing the sect of "Free Brethren" that appeared in the vicinity of Zürich, he writes: "The Free Brethren, whom many Anabaptists called 'crude Brethren,'
were quite widespread in the early days of the movement. They understood Christian freedom in a carnal sense. For they wished to be free of all laws, presuming that Christ had liberated them. Therefore, they regarded themselves as free of tithe, of the corvée and of serfdom. Some of them, desperate libertines, seduced silly women into believing that they could not become spiritual without breaking wedlock. Others believed that if all things must be in common, then also wives. Still others said that after the new baptism they had been born anew and could not sin: only flesh sins. These false teachings were the source of shame and obscenity. And yet they dared to teach that such was the will of the Father." (40: p. 129) Elsewhere Bullinger reports: "And they say in earnest that no one should have property and that all wealth and patrimony should be in common, as it is impossible to be Christian and wealthy at the same time. ...They set forth as a new monastic order rules regarding clothing as to the fabric, shape and style, length and size. ...They set forth rules as to eating, drinking, sleeping, leisure, standing and walking about." (25: p. 284)
In the early 1520s, the Anabaptists renounced the conspiratorial character of their activities and entered into an open struggle with the "world" and the Catholic Church. In 1524, a large-scale secret conference was held in Nuremberg and attended by Denck, one of the most influential Anabaptist writers, by the "Picard" Hetzer, by Hut of the old Waldensian Brethren, and by other Brethren. Many were seized, but Denck fled to Switzerland. Here a new assembly of Brethren from various countries took place. It was decided to begin to practice the second baptism openly. This decision was put into effect in Zurich and St. Gall. This was apparently symbolic of the shift to outright struggle--precisely the course taken by the Czech Brethren in the village of Lota, in 1457, when they decided to demonstrate openly their split with Catholicism.
In St. Gall in 1525, a uniform of coarse gray fabric and a broad gray hat were introduced as obligatory for all members of the community. All forms of participation in public life and entertainment were forbidden. Anabaptists were called "monks without hoods." The leaders of the Anabaptist community in Zurich preached that "all property must be held in common and together." These events were accompanied by strange happenings. Members of some of the groups went naked at their gatherings and, to be like children, crept around on the ground, playing. Others burned the Bible, and with shouts of "Here!
Here!" beat themselves on the breast to show the place where the life-giving spirit dwells. One of them, on orders from his father, killed his brother in imitation of Christ's sacrifice. (23: p. 701) The Anabaptists did not succeed in taking control of the Reformation movement in Switzerland (thanks in large part to Zwingli's opposition to them). Exiled Swiss Anabaptists fled to Bohemia and joined the Bohemian Brethren there. Large combined communities were founded on collectivist principles.
Communal property was introduced. Everything earned by the Brethren was handed over to the common treasury, which was supervised by a special "distributor ." The "good police" controlled the whole of the life of the community--clothing, lodging, upbringing of children, marriage and work.
The type of men's and women's clothing, the hour for going to bed, the time for work and rest were all strictly prescribed. The life of the Brethren took place before the eyes of others. It was forbidden to cook anything for oneself; meals had to be taken in common. The unmarried slept in common bedrooms, men and women separately. Children (from the age of two) were separated from their parents and brought up in common "children's houses." Marriages were arranged by the elders. They also assigned to everyone his or her occupation. Members of the community refused to have any contact with the state; they did not serve in the army, never went to court. They did, however, retain a passively hostile attitude while rejecting violence of any kind. (See 27, 39.)
In Germany, Anabaptism began to take on an increasingly revolutionary character. In Thuringia, near the Bohemian border, the city of Zwick au became the center of the movement. The so-called Zwickau Prophets, headed by the Anabaptist Apostle Klaus Storch, believed that the elect of the Lord could communicate with Him directly, as the Apostles of old could, and denied that the Church was capable of giving salvation. Their teaching considered science and the arts unnecessary for man, for everything essential to his salvation was already given to him by God.
In imitation of Christ, Storch surrounded himself with twelve Apostles and seventy disciples. The "Prophets" predicted an invasion by the Turks, the reign of the Antichrist, destruction of the impious and finally the arrival of the thousand-year Kingdom of God, when there would be one baptism and one faith.
An exposition of Storch's teachings has been preserved in a work
by Wagner published in the late sixteenth century in Erfurt. It is titled "How Niklaus Storch Instigated Sedition in Thuringia and the Neighboring Regions" and was written on the basis of eyewitness accounts. It cites the following points of his doctrine: 1. That no matrimonial union, whether secret or open, should be observed. ...
3. That on the contrary, each may take wives whenever his flesh demands it and his passion rises, and may live with them in intimacy at his will.
4. That everything ought to be held in common, for God has sent all men equally naked into the world. And likewise, He has given them equally everything that is on the earth: the birds of the air and the fish of the water.
5. Therefore it ought to be that all authorities, secular and clerical, be deprived of their offices once and for all or killed by the sword, for they alone live as they will and suck the blood and sweat of the poor, glutting themselves and drinking day and night.
"Hence everyone must rise up, the sooner the better, arm himself and attack the priests in their cozy nests, massacre and exterminate them. For once the sheep are deprived of a leader, it will go easy with the sheep. Next it will be necessary to attack also those who fleece others, to seize their houses, plunder their property, and raze their castles to the ground." (28: p. 53)
This first surge of the Anabaptist movement coincided with the 1525 Peasant War in Germany. The socialist teachings of the time are most vividly mirrored in the activity of Thomas Müntzer. His biography is presented at greater length in the Appendix; we shall therefore limit ourselves to a brief comment on his doctrine here. Müntzer taught that the only Lord and King of the earth is Christ. He assigned to princes a function very like that of hangmen and even this prerogative was to be exercised only on direct orders from the elect of the Lord. If the princes refused to obey, they were to be executed. The authority of Christ was seen as truly embodied in the society of the elect, a narrow union sharply separated from the rest of the population. Müntzer did indeed attempt to organize such a union.
He seized power in the town of Mühlhausen, where rebellious inhabitants had driven out the municipal council. In the city and the surrounding area, monasteries were laid waste, sacred images destroyed, monks and priests killed. Müntzer taught that all property
was to be held in common. An identical demand was part of the program of his union. A chronicle written at the time relates that a practical attempt at implementing these principles was undertaken at Mühlhausen. However, an army gathered by the local princes soon approached the town. Müntzer and his followers were overwhelmingly defeated; he was executed. (See the more detailed account in 28 and in 39: pp. 199-253.) The Anabaptists' participation in the Peasant War called forth the particular ire of the authorities. A violent and extremely cruel wave of persecution of Anabaptists swept across south and central Germany. This temporarily weakened militant and socialist sentiments, but around 1530 they surfaced again. In his Chronicle, Sebastian Franck reports that about 1530 (in Switzerland), Brethren who believed in the possibility of self-defense and war under certain circumstances began to gain the upper hand in the organization. "Such Brethren were in the majority."
At the Anabaptist synods, the influence of the more moderate "Apostle" Denck waned, while a former associate of Müntzer's, Hut, who preached complete communality of worldly goods, came to the forefront. He proclaimed: "The saints must be joyful and must take up double-edged swords in order to wreak vengeance in the nations." (23: p. 703) Hut created a new union whose goal was "slaughter of all overlords and powers that be." He also proposed "establishing the rule of Hans Hut on earth" and making Mühlhausen the capital. A majority of the members of the union knew nothing of his radical plans. Only a narrow circle of members, called the "knowers," was initiated into these secrets.
In 1535, counselors to Emperor Charles V submitted a report stating that "Anabaptists, who call themselves true Christians, wish to divide all property. ..." (24: p. 395) The increasingly explosive situation found expression in some preposterous incidents which were, however, destined to be outstripped by later events. For example, the furrier Augustin Bader proclaimed himself king of the New Israel and made himself a crown and kingly garments. He was tried in Stuttgart. (23: p.703)
In 1534-1535, this rise of Anabaptist militancy led to an outbreak of violence which can be seen as an attempt to bring about an Anabaptist revolution in northern Europe. The main events were played out in northern Germany; Anabaptists had gravitated there earlier, having
been driven out of southern and central Germany. The town of Münster became the center of these events. Taking advantage of the struggle going on between Catholics and Lutherans, the Anabaptists gained control in the municipal council and then completely subjugated the town. All who refused to accept a second baptism were expelled after being stripped of their possessions. Thereafter all property in the city was appropriated for the common lot, everyone being obliged to deliver his possessions under the supervision of special deacons. Next polygamy was introduced, and women of a certain age were forbidden to stay unmarried.
Anabaptist Apostles fanned out from Münster across Germany, Denmark and Holland, preaching the second baptism and calling the faithful to come to the aid of the city. Revolt gripped a number of towns, and Anabaptists gathered by land and by sea to support Münster. Terrified by developments Bishop Waldeck, whose diocese included Münster, called up an army together with the neighboring princes and surrounded the town. The siege lasted for over a year. Within the town in the meantime, one of the Anabaptists, J an Bokelson, also called Johann of Leyden, was proclaimed the king of Münster and of the whole world. He surrounded himself with a luxurious court and a multitude of wives, and he personally beheaded recalcitrants in the town square. At the same time, uprisings of Anabaptists broke out all over northern Germany and in Holland, where they even succeeded in seizing the Amsterdam town hall for a short time.
The authorities finally began to regain control. In 1535, Münster was taken by assault and Bokelson and other Anabaptist leaders were executed. A more detailed description of this episode is given in the Appendix.
Sects in the English Revolution of 1648.
After the fall of Münster, a schism again appeared between the more peaceable and the more belligerent tendencies of the Anabaptist movement. In 1536, a synod took place in the vicinity of the town of Buchholz in Westphalia. Batenburg, a leader of the militant faction, supported the views of the Münster Anabaptists on armed struggle, on the approaching Kingdom of God, and so on. The followers of Ubbo Phillips took the opposite position. This latter group gained the upper hand, although its adherents did not condemn their opponents in principle, saying only that even if Batenburg was right, the time of the "Kingdom of the Elect" had not yet arrived, and that it was therefore not yet time to attempt
to wrest power from the godless. This episode marks the beginning of decreased political involvement of Anabaptists on the Continent. Its more extreme representatives, the Familists, emigrated (via Holland) to England. It is worth noting that some Englishmen had attended the Buchholz synod. One of them, Henry by name, took an active part in organizing the synod and paid traveling expenses for the delegates. (30: pp. 76-77) At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Anabaptists who had migrated to England began to merge with the movement of the Lollards, which had existed there for a long time. The English revolution of 1648 coincided with a flurry of activity by all these sects. The example of Münster and Johann Bokelson gripped the popular imagination once again. A book originating in Quaker circles stated the following, for example: "No Friend has reason to be ashamed of his Anabaptist origins. Even in Münster they rebelled merely against the cruelty of the German tyrants, who literally like devils oppressed the souls and the bodies of the common folk. They were defeated and therefore declared mutineers. Their uprising was violent because their oppressors were still more violent." (33: p. 25) Among the apologists for the Münster rebellion was Lilburne, a highly popular leader of the radical wing in the Puritan army (see his pamphlet "The Basic Laws of Liberty").
In another pamphlet of the day (entitled "Heresiography"), the following Anabaptist doctrine is cited: "A Christian may not with a safe conscience possess anything proper to himself but whatsoever he hath he must make common." (31: p. 99)
In the middle of the seventeenth century, the sect of Ranters appeared in England; its doctrine is strikingly akin to that of the Brethren of the Free Spirit. The Ranters believed that all which exists was divine and that the division between Good and Evil was a man-made concept. In mystical terms this was perceived as an identity: "The Devil is God, Hell is Heaven, Sin Holiness, Damnation Salvation." (32: p. 77)
This led to a denial of morals and to ostentatious amorality. Thus Clarkson says of the period when he was a Ranter: "The very motion of my heart was to all manner of theft, cheat, wrong or injury that privately could be acted, though in tongue I professed the contrary, not considering I brake the law in all points (murder excepted) and the ground of this my judgment was, God made all things good, so nothing evil but as man judged it." (32: p. 78)
In the social field, the Ranters rejected property and marriage.
In the pamphlet "The Ranters' Last Sermon," we find the teaching "that it was quite contrary to the end of Creation to Appropriate anything to any Man or Woman; but that there ought to be a Community of all things. ...They say that for one man to be tied to one woman, or one woman to be tied to one man, is a fruit of the curse; but they say we are freed from the curse; therefore it is our liberty to make use of whom we please." (32: p. 90) In his pamphlet "A Wonder," Edward Hide ascribes to the Ranters the following view: "That all the women in the world are but one man's wife in unity and all the men in the world are but one woman's husband in unity; so that one man may lie with all the women in the world in unity, and one woman may lie with all men in the world, for they are all her husband in unity." (32: p. 90)
Ranters were accused of performing rituals which involved a parody of Communion and indiscriminate sexual union, similar to the barilotto and the "paradise" of the Brethren of the Free Spirit.
An act of Parliament was directed against the Ranters. It condemned those who preached "that such men and women are most perfect or like to God or Eternity which do commit the greatest sins with least remorse or sense." (32: p. 103)
In the 1650s, the majority of Ranters joined the Quakers, so that it became difficult to draw a distinct line between the two currents. Religious upheavals of the day were exacerbated by the indignation aroused by Cromwell's foreign policy--the conclusion of peace in the Netherlands, which frustrated the hope of spreading the reign of the "saints" throughout Europe.
James Nayler, a Quaker preacher, acquired a considerable following even within Cromwell's retinue. It was rumored that he was a second Christ. People wrote to him, saying: "Henceforeward your name is not James but Jesus." When a visit by him was announced in Bristol, such excitement was aroused that contemporaries considered it likely that Bristol would become a "New Jerusalem," a second Münster. When Nayler rode into town on horseback, thousands followed him. But he was met by Cromwell's soldiers, seasoned by their service in the Civil War, and they dispersed the crowd, seized Nayler and took him to jail. His case was debated in Parliament for several months. It seems to have had political implications: it is possible that an uprising of Anabaptists was feared. Nayler's execution seemed imminent, but there were disturbances and an outpouring of pleas for mercy. Cromwell
spoke in favor of mitigating the sentence. Nayler was publicly Rogged and branded. A crowd of adherents surrounded the scaffold, kissing his feet, hands and hair. (33: pp. 264-274, 34: pp. 256-263) Interestingly, the name Ranters reappears 150 years later, in the 1820s, when the term was applied to a certain group of Methodists. From their midst came the first organizers of the English trade union movement, men who had acquired the skills of popular orators in the sect. (31: p. 167)
The movement whose members became known as Diggers had sharply defined socialist characteristics. Externally, it expressed itself (beginning in 1649) in the seizure of communal land by small groups of people for joint tillage. This attempt at organizing communes, however, was a mere gesture, which led to no practical consequences, and it was the Diggers' literary activity that proved to have lasting significance.
Gerrard Winstanley was the most important figure among them. In several pamphlets he proclaimed his basic idea--the illegitimacy of private ownership of land. He reported that he had had a vision, "a voice and a revelation," and was preaching what had been revealed to him: "And so long as we or any other maintain this civil property, we consent still to hold the creation down under that bondage it groans under, and so we should hinder the work of restoration and sin against light that is given unto us, and so through the fear of the Resh (man) lose our peace. And that this civil property is the curse is manifest thus: those that buy and sell land, and are landlords, have got it either by oppression or murder or theft; and all landlords live in the breach of the seventh and eighth commandments, "Thou shalt not steal nor kill. "("The True Levellers' Standard Advanced: or, The State of Community opened, and Presented to the Sons of Men.") (35: p. 85)
Winstanley viewed trade and money in equally negative terms: "For buying and selling is the great cheat that robs and steals the earth one from another. ...We hope," he says, "that people shall live freely in the enjoyment of the earth, without bringing the mark of the Beast in their hands or in their promise; and that they shall buy wine and milk without money or without price, as Isaiah speaks." (" A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England.") (35: p. 101)
The socialist demands of Winstanley were confined to the denial of private property, trade and money. He was explicitly opposed to
more extreme views: "Likewise they report that we diggers hold women to be common, and live in that bestialness. For my part I declare against it. I own this to be a truth, that the earth ought to be a common treasury to all; but as for women, Let every man have his own wife, and every woman her own husband; and I know none of the diggers that act in such an unrational excess of female community. If any should, I profess to have nothing to do with such people, but leave them to their own master, who will pay them with torment of mind and diseases in their bodies." ("A New-year's Gift for the Parliament and Army.") (35: p. 177) Winstanley constantly declared himself an enemy of violence as well, persuading his readers that the Diggers would seek their ends only by peaceable means. But the emotional thrust of his message sometimes carried him beyond the point, and he raised his voice against any kind of private property: "the cursed thing, called private property, which is the cause of all wars, bloodshed, theft and enslaving wars, that hold the people under misery." (32: p. 108) He says to his opponents: "But now the time of deliverance is come, and thou proud Esau and stout-hearted covetousness, thou must come down and be lord of the creation no longer. For now the King of righteousness is rising to rule in and over the earth. Therefore, if thou wilt find mercy, Let Israel go free; break in pieces quickly the bond of particular property." ("The True Levellers' Standard Advanced ...") (35: p. 93) The Diggers comprise only a single group in a wider movement during the period of the English revolution. Supporters of the general movement were called Levellers. One of them, the London merchant William Walwyn, asked "that throughout the country there be no fences, nor hedges, nor moats." A contemporary pamphlet ascribes to Walwyn the following views: "It would never be well until all things were common; and it being replied, will that be ever? answered, we must endeavor it; it being said, that this would destroy all Government, answered, that then there would be no thieves, no covetous persons, no deceiving and abusing of one anothe,r, and so no need of Government." (32: pp. 185-186) The author informs us that Walwyn never disproved these assertions. "A few diligent spirits may turn the world upside down if they observe the seasons and shall with life and courage engage accordingly," Walwyn proposes. (32: p. 185)
The Moderate, a newspaper espousing the views of the Levellers, wrote on the occasion of the execution of certain robbers: "Many an
honest man tries to prove that it is only private property which governs the lives of people of such condition and forces them to violate the law in order to sustain life. Further, they explain with much conviction that property is the prime cause of all clashes between parties." (36: p.62) A pamphlet of the day says: "Let us establish in regard to those who are called Levellers the following: They wish that no one call anything whatsoever his own, and, in their words, the power of man over land is tyranny, and, in their opinion, private property is the work of the devil." (33: pp. 168-169)
Unlike Winstanley, who preached renunciation of violence, the extreme Leveller groups agitated for terror. One of their pamphlets is entitled "Removal Is Not Murder." Their effort to foment rebellion was, however, easily crushed by Cromwell's troops.
In almost all Leveller groups, socialist aspirations were combined with some form of atheism. Even Winstanley, who referred to voices and revelation and was fond of quoting the prophets, wrote of Christianity: "This divine teaching that you call 'spiritual and celestial' is in truth the thief who comes and plunders the vineyards of human peace. ...Those who preach this divine teaching are the murderers of many poor souls." Overton published a book entitled: "Man is wholly mortal, or a treatise wherein 'tis proved both theologically and philosophically that as whole man sinned, so whole man dies contrary to that common disinclination of soul and body." (31: p. 94) His followers formed the sect of the "Sleeping Souls." They believed that the soul falls into the sleep of death along with the body.
The period of the English revolution represents the last great surge in the fortunes of the sectarian movement. In later years, the characteristic figure of the prophet-cum-apostle* disappears from the historical scene. The sects themselves also vanish, after having so persistently preserved all their typical traits for more than six hundred years.
The socialist currents of this period reflect the characteristics of a time of transition. On the one hand, they retain clear traces of their sectarian origin. This is exemplified by Winstanley's references to visions, revelation and voices and his attempts to derive his views from
* The last representative of this type may be seen in Wilhelm Weitling, who had such a great influence on Marx, In Weitling's career we encounter the characteristically endless journeys allover Europe (and to America) to preach his doctrine, and the phenomenon of a Christian vocabulary employed to propound socialism and violence, including a project for arming forty thousand brigands.
the Scriptures. Direct ties with the sectarian movement on the Continent can also be demonstrated. Some of the routes by which Anabaptism came to England have been mentioned above. These direct contacts were maintained throughout the period preceding the revolution. For example, it was at this time that a bishop of the Bohemian Brethren, Jan Komensky (Comenius), settled in England. He was expelled from England in 1642, but his influence lingered for a long time afterward. The works of Komensky were translated into English by the influential Leveller pamphleteer Samuel Hartlib. On the other hand, many works produced by the Levellers exhibit a purely rationalist spirit and show no trace of any religious consideration. Certain of these writings belong to the new literary genre of socialist utopias. Such was Hartlib's "Kingdom of Macaria," which presents a picture of life wholly subordinated to the state. The most important of Winstanley's works, "The Law of Freedom," is also written in this style. For this reason it will be more properly discussed in the next chapter.
Dolcino and the Apostolic Brethren.
The sect of Apostolic Brethren was founded by a young peasant from near Parma, Gerard Segarelli. Contemporaries portray him as combining the features of a crafty peasant and a simpleton, but judging by his success, he possessed other qualities as well. In any case he was in 1248 refused admittance to the Franciscan order because of his "simplicity." He thereupon entered a neighboring church and remained for a long time contemplating pictures of the Apostles. From then on, he stopped shaving and let his hair grow long, so as to resemble the Apostles in the depictions of the time, and dressed accordingly. He sold his house, went out into the town square and threw the money from the sale on the ground, saying, "Take it, whoever wants to." He left the town and began to live on alms, gathering around him a small band of followers, who dressed and lived as he did.
The times were favorable for the birth of new sects. The year 1260 was approaching, the time Joachim of Flore had predicted would bring world cataclysms and the appearance of the Antichrist. Furthermore, in 1259, a terrible plague had befallen Italy, strengthening the belief in Joachim's prophecy. Crowds of penitents led by monks and priests moved half-naked along the roads, scourging themselves and leaving a bloody trail behind. Singing hymns, the penitents would enter a town and a ceremony of purging would begin. Everyone was to repent, to make peace with his
enemies and to give back anything gained by unjust means. Amnesty for all exiles would generally be announced. (38: pp. 288-289) Segarelli's sect emerged from this troubled period with added strength and influence. It was supported by many rich and powerful men. Segarelli even submitted a request to the Pope to recognize his order, in the manner of the Franciscans. The Curia refused, but in an extremely benevolent tone. At this point, Segarelli sent his Apostles to remote corners of Italy and into France. It seems that the teaching of the Apostolic Brethren at the time differed little from that of numerous other religious groups. The Pope was forced to tolerate most of these sects, and Segarelli himself came under the protection of the Bishop of Parma, in whose palace he resided for twelve years, playing the role, as his opponents asserted, of parasite, almost of a jester.
Little by little, the sect's relations with the Curia began to sour. The sect insisted on exposing corruption among priests and enumerating the ways in which they had strayed from Apostolic ideals. Meanwhile the Curia pointed to the heretical trends of the sect. This seems to have coincided with an increased influence of the views of the Brethren of the Free Spirit upon the Apostolic Brethren. The importance the sect attained can be judged by the fact that it was condemned in England by the Chichester Synod in 1286, and again in Würzburg, in 1289. (38: p. 310) The Inquisition finally took up the matter. In 1294, Segarelli was arrested; after six years of imprisonment, he was condemned and burned at the stake in 1300.
But by this time, the sect was headed by a leader of an entirely different type. His name was Dolcino. He was the illegitimate son of a priest and was studying for the priesthood when he was caught stealing money from his teacher and forced to flee. He was admitted to a Franciscan monastery as a novice, and it was here that he apparently became acquainted with the teachings of the Apostolic Brethren. He left the monastery and met Margaret, a novice in the St. Catherine convent in Trento. Entering the convent as a workman, Dolcino persuaded her to run away with him. The two became wandering preachers of the Apostolic Brethren. A contemporary says that Dolcino taught that "in love everything must be common--property and wives." Mosheim writes: "They called one another brothers and sisters, in the manner of the first Christians. They lived in poverty and could have neither houses nor provisions for tomorrow or anything that could serve as a convenience. When they experienced hunger, they asked for food of the first person they met and ate whatever was offered. Well-off people who joined them were obliged to give their property over to be used by the sect. ...Brothers who went into the world to preach penitence were allowed to take with them a sister, as the Apostles did. But not as a wife, only as an assistant. They called their female companions 'sisters in Christ' and denied that they lived with them in marital or impure intimacy, even though they slept together in one bed." (Quoted in 37)
Krone, who wrote a history of the Apostolic Brethren using contemporary
sources, denies the accusations of sacrilegious violations of the cross and of sexual excesses, but he believes that Dolcino's preaching did include an appeal for communality of property and of wives. (37: p. 224) A description of the ceremony for admission to the rank of Apostle has been preserved. As a token of his renunciation of his previous life, the initiate would throw off his clothes and take an oath that he would always live in evangelic poverty. He was forbidden to touch money and was to live exclusively on alms--bread from heaven. Any work, any subordination to others, was likewise forbidden. Like the first Apostles, he was to pay heed only to God.
The new Apostle was then sent out into the world to spread the sect's teachings, which by this time had become vehemently hostile to the Church. The falling away of the Church from the commandments of Christ and of the first Apostles had rendered invalid what had been prophesied for it. The Roman Church, with its Pope and cardinals, its abbots and monks, was no longer the Church of God but had become the Whore of Babylon. The power that Christ had given to the Church had now passed over to the Apostolic Brethren. The validity of Church rituals was denied. A consecrated church was no better for communion with God than a stable or a pigsty. Oaths taken in church or sworn on the Gospel need not be binding. A man might hide his beliefs or renounce them, if in his heart he remained faithful to them.
It is not surprising that such tenets provoked a fierce persecution on the part of the Inquisition. During his wanderings, Dolcino fell into the hands of the Inquisition on more than one occasion, but he always denied his ties with the sect and was released. He finally fled from Italy and took refuge in Dalmatia. There he wrote letters which his followers disseminated in Italy. Three of these letters have come down to us in detailed citations. (37: p. 32 f., 38: p. 342 f.)
The letters can be summarized as follows: Dolcino and his followers are called to proclaim the coming of the final days and to urge repentance. In this they are opposed by the host of the Antichrist--the Pope, the bishops, Dominicans and Franciscans, all of them servants of Satan. But the day of vengeance is at hand. The Pope and the prelates will be killed. No monk, nun or priest will survive except those who join the Brethren. The Church will be deprived of all its riches. The whole land will be converted to the new faith by the Apostolic Brethren, upon whom the Lord will lavish his grace. God Himself will give to the world a new and holy Pope in place of Boniface VIII, who will surely be killed. In his third letter, Dolcino states that he himself will be this new Pope.
Victory in the wars with the Antichrist Pope, Dolcino foretells, will be won thanks to the interference of a foreign monarch. He pins his hope on Frederick, the King of Aragon and Sicily, who at the time was engaging in a fierce conflict with the Pope. (He had just strung up all the monks in Sicily who were suspected of supporting the papacy.)
Dolcino derived all this from his interpretation of the Biblical prophets
and of the Apocalypse, where, he claimed, the past and the future were revealed. He applied to his time, for instance, texts such as these: "What hast thou here? and whom hast thou here, that thou hast hewed thee out a sepulchre here? ...
"Behold, the Lord will carry thee away with a mighty captivity, and will surely cover thee.
"He will surely violently turn and toss thee like a ball into a large country." (Isaiah 22: 16, 17, 18)
"For thy violence against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever." (Obadiah 1: 10)
"And I will punish Bel in Babylon, and I will bring forth out of his mouth that which he hath swallowed up: and the nations shall not flow together any more unto him: yea, the well of Babylon shall fall." (Jeremiah 51: 44)
From these prophecies Dolcino also extracted the dates for their fulfillment: in 1304, Frederick of Aragon would kill the Pope and the cardinals, and the common priests would be exterminated in 1305. This prediction was based on the text: "But now the Lord hath spoken, saying, Within three years, as the years of an hireling, and the glory of Moab shall be contemned, with all that great multitude; and the remnant shall be very small and feeble." (Isaiah 16: 14)
In 1303 or early 1304, Dolcino and his followers entered Italy. Fresh adherents came flocking to him from all sides--rich and poor, noble opponents of the Pope, villagers and townfolk. Apart from Italy, they came from France and Austria as well. Several thousand gathered in his camp. Contemporaries called Dolcino "the father of a new people," and it was rumored that he worked miracles. The members of the sect decided to establish a new settlement; they sold their property and gathered around Dolcino.
A camp was established in a mountain valley. Provisions were obtained from the neighboring villages, more and more by means of force. Soon the nearby regions were in panic. The citizens of one town wrote: "The godless heretics, the Gazars [Cathars?], have seized the upper reaches of the valley of the river, fortified themselves there and are godlessly plundering the neighboring regions, devastating the land with fire and sword, committing all kinds of impieties." (38: p. 364) The forces of the citizens were far from sufficient for defense against Dolcino's army of some five thousand men, a large force for that time. Soon the area was plundered and burned for dozens of miles around.
The townfolk raised an army and collected funds to hire soldiers for protection against Dolcino's troops. When planning their campaign, they brought in a local priest whose nose, ears and hands had been cut off: Dolcino had punished him in this way on suspicion of treason. Finally, the army was ready, but Dolcino's forces defeated it overwhelmingly. They fell upon the neighboring towns, plundering them and carrying away the inhabitants. The prisoners were exchanged later for provisions, but tortured
if no one agreed to ransom them (according to one contemporary, even children were treated in this fashion). (38: p. 374) At last, the Pope called for a campaign against the heretics. But this, too, ended in failure. The river on the banks of which the Pope's army was annihilated flowed red with blood. Other campaigns followed and the war went on for three years. Dolcino armed women, who fought side by side with men. He nurtured the faith of his supporters by ever new prophecies that victory was at hand. In camp he was revered as a saint and as the Pope, and the custom of kissing his slipper was introduced.
Contemporary accounts tell of the ferocity with which Dolcino's men persecuted priests and monks. His soldiers viewed themselves as the "avenging angels" mentioned in the Apocalypse. They believed that they had been called to exterminate the priesthood in its entirety. Churches were defiled, sacred vessels and vestments stolen, sacred images smashed, priests' houses set on fire, bell towers pulled down and bells destroyed. An eyewitness reported: "Nowhere could you see a Madonna whose hands had not been broken off or a picture not besoiled." (38: p. 374)
After a prolonged struggle, in which Dolcino repeatedly eluded his pursuers, he was finally surrounded. Famine set in in his camp. Dante hints at this episode in the Inferno (Canto 28, 55-60). Among the "sowers of discord" Dante meets Mohammed, who, wishing to perpetuate dissent on earth, passes this advice to Dolcino: "Tell Fra Dolcino, then, you who perhaps will see the sun before long, if he would not soon follow me here, so to arm himself with victuals that stress of snow may not bring victory to the Novarese, which otherwise would not be easy to attain."*
In 1307, Dolcino's camp was overrun and a majority of the defenders massacred. Dolcino was subjected to horrible torture. Margaret was burned before his eyes, but he was paraded around town, scourged with a red-hot iron at every crossroad and finally burned.
Müntzer was born in 1488 or 1489 of fairly well-to-do parents and received a theological education. He led a restless life, changing work several times a year; he was at various times teacher, preacher and chaplain. Finally in 1520, he was appointed preacher in Zwickau, where he met the "Zwickau Prophets." The sermons of Storch had a lifelong impact on him. The notion of the possibility of direct communication with God, which was held to be far more important than the letter of the Scriptures; the condemnation of priests and monks, of the rich and the noble; the belief in the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth and in the imminent reign of the elect--these subjects formed the basis of Müntzer's world outlook, In his sermons he supported Storch and attacked the monks and other preachers. Disorders began in the town, and the authorities banished the "Prophets" and Müntzer.
Müntzer then transferred his activities to Prague. We note that he
* Translation by Charles S. Singleton
gravitated to the traditional seats of the chiliastic movement--first to Zwickau and then to the homeland of the Taborites. A sermon delivered by Müntzer in Prague has been preserved. In it he asserts that after the death of the disciples of the Apostles, the Church, which had been pure, became a lecherous whore. The priests teach the external forms of the Scriptures, which they steal from the Bible "like thieves and murderers." (28: p. 59) He then proceeds to the core of his teaching--his concept of the Church of the Chosen. "Never will it happen, and for this glory to God, that priestlings and apes should represent God's Church, but the Chosen of God shall preach His word. ...To preach this doctrine I am ready to sacrifice my life. ...God has wrought miracles for His Chosen, especially in this country. For here a new Church will arise, and this people will be the mirror of the whole world. Therefore, I appeal to everyone to protect the word of God. ...If you fail to do this, God will give the Turks the force to annihilate you even in this year." (28: p. 61) Müntzer's teaching did not meet with success in Prague, however, and he again took up a vagrant and hungry life. At last, in 1523, he was appointed preacher in the small town of Allstedt, and here he entered upon the first memorable phase of his career.
Müntzer rapidly gained influence in the town. He introduced the German language in the religious service (one of the first to do so in Germany) and he preached not only from the Gospel but from the Old Testament. Crowds of people flocked to his sermons, from Allstedt and from the neighboring towns and villages. The municipal official Zeiss wrote in a report: "Some of the local nobles have forbidden their subjects to attend the sermons here but the folk do not comply. They are thrown into jail and, when released, run hither again." Müntzer grew ever bolder, calling the lords who had forbidden their people to attend his sermons "big geese." He wrote to Zeiss: "The power of the princes will come to an end and soon it will pass to the common folk." (28: p. 66) His attitude is characterized by the phrase: "Whoever wants to become a building block in the new Church ought to risk his neck or the builders will throw him away." (28: p. 67)
Soon matters were out of hand. Instigated by Müntzer, a mob burned down a chapel at Müllerbach (near Allstedt) which housed a miracle-working image of the Virgin. When one of the participants in the riot was arrested, armed crowds of people appeared on the streets. More supporters arrived from the neighboring towns. Zeiss, who represented the Duke of Saxony, reported to the duke that Müntzer's preaching was at fault. He suggested that Müntzer be summoned to court and banished if found guilty. "Otherwise, his preaching, so popular with the simple folk, will cause us much toil and trouble."
At this point, Luther, who had been disturbed by the actions and preaching of Müntzer for some time, spoke out against him. He reproached Müntzer for using the success of the Reformation to attack it. He concluded by challenging Müntzer to a debate in Wittenberg. Müntzer agreed to
take part in the dispute only if the witnesses would be "Turks, Romans and Pagans." At the same time, he printed two works in the neighboring town of Eilenburg, where he had his own print shop: "Protestation of Thomas Müntzer" and "Exposure of the Contrived Faith." These tracts bitterly attacked numerous aspects of Luther's teaching, as well as that of "scholars and erudites" who concoct false faith. Strangely, we still hear nothing about measures on the part of the authorities against Müntzer, despite writings in which, for example, he characterized the Kurfürst of Saxony as "a bearded fellow with less brains in his head than I've got in my behind." He also calls upon the inhabitants of the neighboring town of Sangerhausen to rise up against the authorities. In spite of such actions, Kürfurst Frederick of Saxony and his brother Johann themselves decided to listen to the renowned preacher on a trip through Allstedt.
Müntzer took this to be a sign of readiness on the part of the princes to become a tool in his hands and in their presence delivered a sermon in which he expounded his views openly. He attacked Luther, whom he called "Brother Swine" and "Brother Sluggard," and attempted to win the princes to his cause. He told them that they were called upon to annihilate the foes of the true faith, the faith of the Chosen who are guided by God. "Dearest and beloved rulers, know your destiny from the mouth of God, and do not let the boastful priests cheat you by imaginary patience and kindness. For the stone that has been cast down from the mountain not by hands has grown big. Poor peasants and laymen see it far better than you. ..." The day of the last reckoning approaches, and "Oh, how gloriously will the Lord smash the old pots with an iron rod." (28: p. 158) In this terrible hour one can learn the true way and foresee the future by one means only: through dreams and revelation. "This is in the true spirit of the Apostles, the Patriarchs, and the Prophets--to wait for visions and to trust in them." (28: p. 156) Müntzer cites example after example from the Bible. The chief difficulty, however, is to distinguish whether a vision is from God or from the Devil. For this, the princes ought to have faith in the new Daniel, the Chosen man. "Therefore, a new Daniel must rise and set forth revelation and must march at the head." (28: p. 159)
Müntzer urges relentless extermination of the enemies of the new teaching. "For the godless have no right to live except when the Chosen give their permission. ...If you want to be true rulers, drive out the enemy of Christ, for you are the instrument to achieve this end. ...Let the wicked who divert us from God live no longer." (28: p. 160) "It was not in vain that God commanded through Moses: 'You are the holy people and must not pity the godless. Smash their altars, smash to pieces their idols and burn them, lest I be wrathful with you." (28: p. 161)
At this point, Müntzer's sermon begins to shade into threats. Just as food and drink provide the means of living, he asserts, so, too, "is the sword needed for extermination of the godless. But for this to be done true, it must be done by our dear fathers, the princes, who profess Christ
with us. But if they will not do it, their sword shall be taken away from them." (28: p. 161) "If they fail to believe in God's words, they ought to be removed, as Paul saith: 'Expel the depraved from amongst you.' And if they behave in contrary fashion, kill them without mercy. ...Not only godless rulers, but priests and monks must be killed who call our Holy Gospel a heresy and claim to be the best Christians themselves." (28: p. 162) It is a perplexing episode. How could an insignificant preacher undertake to lecture and threaten the most important princes of the empire? Some consider this proof of Müntzer's short-sightedness; for others it testifies to the princes' forbearance. Could there not be a more substantial explanation? Müntzer was a force to be reckoned with at the time. We learn this from other sources--from his letters and from the testimony presented before his execution. At the time of the sermon to the princes, he had organized a union "for the protection of the Gospel" and ''as a warning to the godless" in Allstedt. He had some experience at such activities. While still a young man, Müntzer had founded a secret union directed against the Primate of Germany, Archbishop Ernst. But his new union was far larger in scope. At one gathering three hundred new members were inducted; at another, five hundred. Furthermore, Müntzer advised the citizens of neighboring towns to establish similar unions; reports were received that this plan was meeting with success. His contacts were very extensive, reaching even into Switzerland. Luther accused Müntzer of "sending to all countries messengers who fear light." In his letters, Müntzer emphasized the purely defensive nature of the union "against the oppressors of the Gospel." But after being captured, he testified that he caused the disturbances with the aim that "all Christians should become equal and the princes and lords reluctant to serve the Gospel be driven out or put to death." (28: p. 82) The motto of the Allstedt union was: Omnia sunt communia (Everything is common). Everyone was to share with others ''as much as he could." And if a prince or a count refused to do so, "he was to be beheaded or hanged." (28: p. 82) Müntzer's union can be seen as the realization of his doctrine of the supremacy of the Chosen, as he calls the members of his union.
The situation in Allstedt grew ever more explosive. The neighboring knight von Witzleben forbade his subjects to attend Müntzer's sermons and dispersed a crowd of them, who nevertheless set out for Allstedt. Some of them fled to Allstedt and an order was sent for the fugitives to be returned to their lord. In a vehement sermon, Müntzer called Witzleben an "archbrigand" and referred to his enemies as "arch-Judases," saying that the princes were "acting not only against the faith but against natural law," and that they "must be killed like dogs." Crowds of local citizens and new arrivals filled the streets of Allstedt. The authorities lost all control over the town and could only appeal to Duke Johann of Saxony, who summoned Müntzer to Weimar for questioning.
The interrogation took place in the presence of the duke and his
counselors. Müntzer denied having assailed the authorities and described his union as legal and purely defensive. Numerous witnesses, however, spoke against him. As a result, he was ordered to close his print shop, and the citizens of Allstedt were forbidden to form unions. A contemporary source describes how Müntzer, pale and trembling after the inquest, came out and, in reply to a question by Zeiss, answered: "It seems that I'll have to look for another state." But upon returning to Allstedt, Müntzer took heart, refused to close the print shop and started writing protests. Kürfurst Frederick of Saxony intervened at this point and summoned Müntzer to Weimar for the second time. At first Müntzer surrounded himself with armed guards, apparently thinking to put up resistance, but in the night he climbed over the town wall and slipped away, leaving behind a letter in which he said that he was going to a village but would be back soon. After his flight, Müntzer wrote his compatriots another letter, calling for them to stand firm and be brave; he promised that he would be together with them soon "to wash hands in the blood of tyrants."
Müntzer went next to Mühlhausen, a town in central Germany. The choice was not accidental. For a year this place had been in a state of paralysis, without authority and on the verge of rebellion. A contemporary account of what was called the "Mühlhausen Disturbances" is extant. (28: pp. 85-115) It describes the events prior to Müntzer's arrival and his activities there. The disorders began with assaults on monasteries and churches. All the monasteries were robbed and religious objects in the churches smashed. The movement was headed by a fugitive monk, Heinrich Pfeiffer, who urged in his sermons rejection of the authority of the municipal council. On July 3, 1523, the alarm was sounded. A crowd surrounded the town hall and shots were fired. The council was compelled to make concessions, which were set forth in fifty-three points. In particular, complete freedom of preaching was announced. The insurgents were headed by a "council of eight," which retained its power on a par with the municipal council even after the agreement. Dual authority ruled in the town--people jailed by the municipal council were not infrequently released by the eight. The signing of the fifty-three points did not, however, pacify the town; in fact, it further aggravated the situation. Many priests' houses were robbed; leaflets were circulated telling that if the priests did not get out of town their houses would be burned. Priests who ventured into the streets were killed.
Such was the situation in Mühlhausen when Müntzer appeared there on August 24, 1524. He joined with Pfeiffer and their activity together soon began to bear fruit. Within a month, the town was in an uproar. This time the insurgents' demands mirrored Müntzer's ideas--no authority to be obeyed, all taxes and levies to be abolished, priests to be exiled. The burgomaster and some councillors fled the town and appealed for support from the peasants of the neighboring villages. At this time fires swept the villages, in all likelihood set by supporters of Müntzer and Pfeiffer. But the peasants stood firm on the side of the council. Promises of support
also came in from towns round about. The insurgents were forced to yield. The authority of the council was restored and Pfeiffer and Müntzer were banished from Mühlhausen. Müntzer set off for Nuremberg, where he printed two of his works. One of these, "An Interpretation of the First Chapter of St. Luke," had been written toward the end of his stay in Allstedt and revised in Mühlhausen. The other, "Discourse for Defense," was written in reply to Luther. Shortly before, Luther had written his "Letter to the Princes of Saxony Against a Rebellious Spirit," in which he drew their attention to the dangerously aggressive character of Müntzer's teaching. "It begins to seem to me that they wish to destroy all authority so as to become the lords of the world. ...They say that they are led by the Spirit. ..but this is an ill spirit, one which is manifested in the destruction of churches and monasteries." (28: p. 204) "Christ and his Apostles never destroyed a single temple nor smashed a single holy image." Let them preach, argues Luther, "but those are not good Christians who pass from words to fists." (28: p. 209)
In his reply, Müntzer brought down a veritable cascade of abuse on Luther. He called him a basilisk, a dragon, a viper, an archpagan, an archdevil, a bashful Whore of Babylon and finally, in a fit of cannibalistic frenzy, he predicted that the devil would boil Luther in his own juice and devour him. "I would like to smell your frying carcass." (28: p. 200)
But Müntzer's Nuremberg works are especially interesting in that they demonstrate his social ideas in their most mature form. His "Discourse for Defense" begins with a dedication "To the Serenest, First-born Prince, the Mighty Lord Jesus Christ, the Gracious King of Kings, the Mighty Duke of All the Faithful." (28: p. 187) Here Müntzer expresses one of his basic conceptions--that power on this earth can belong only to God. The message ends with the following words: "The people will be free, and God will be the sole Lord over them." (28: p. 201) Princes had usurped power belonging to God. "Why do you call them serene princes? This title belongs not to them but to Christ." And: "Why do you call them highborn? I thought you were a Christian, but you are a Pagan!" (28: p. 197) Müntzer had forgotten that only a few months before, he had looked to the princes for aid. Now he says: "Princes are not lords, but servants of the sword. They must not do what they deem well but rather implement the truth." (28: p. 192) The role assigned to the princes was no more than that of executioner. It was not for nothing that Paul said .that princes were not for the good but for the wicked. However, in Müntzer's view, they fail to fulfill even this function. "Those who ought to set an example for Christians, to which end they bear the name of princes, prove to the highest degree by all their deeds their unfaith." (28: p. 183) "Their hearts are vain and, therefore, all these mighty and arrogant godless ones must be thrown down from their throne. ...God gave the princes and lords to men in His wrath and in His bitterness He will destroy them." (28: p. 171)
Müntzer also does not recall that shortly before, he saw in poverty
and suffering a cross sent from above. Now the call to oppose the oppressors becomes one of the chief themes in his teaching: "The very stuff of usury, theft and robbery are our lords made of. Fish in the water, birds in the air, the fruits of the earth--they want to take everything. And beyond that they order that God's word be preached to the poor thus: 'God has commanded you not to steal' ...and if a poor man takes the smallest thing, then he is hanged and Doctor Liar says, 'Amen.' The lords are themselves guilty of making the poor their foe. They do not wish to remove the cause of the indignation. How can the matter be set right? Since I speak so, perhaps I, too, rebel--well, so be it." (28: p. 192) By all their misdeeds the princes have deprived themselves of the right to the sword. "At the solicitation of the Chosen, God will no longer tolerate suffering." (28: p. 171) In actuality, the power of God on earth is pictured as the power of the Chosen, who are conceived of as a narrow, closed union. "It would be a wondrous Church in which the Chosen would be separated from the godless." (28: p. 182) The Chosen receive God's behests directly, by which means they execute his will on earth. (In various periods of his life, Müntzer asserted that he himself communicated directly with God.) From Nuremberg, Müntzer set off for Switzerland and the border lands of Germany, where the Peasant War was already raging. While his role of agitator seems to have met with success, he did not stay long in the area. Seidman, the author of one of the most complete biographies of Müntzer, suggests that since disturbances had already broken out, Müntzer feared that he would be unable to gain an important enough place for himself. In February 1525, Müntzer returned to Mühlhausen.
By this time, the peasant rebellion was already spreading from the south into central Germany, toward the town of Mühlhausen. Authority had begun to slip from the hands of the municipal council. The "eight" demanded the keys to the city gates and the council had to comply. Anyone who disagreed with Müntzer and Pfeiffer's party was under constant threats of being banished. Monasteries and churches were robbed, sacred objects destroyed and monks and nuns assaulted. Finally, all Catholic clergy were driven from the town.
The sermons of Müntzer and Pfeiffer revolved around the ideas outlined earlier: princes and lords have no right to their power, authority must pass to the society of the Chosen, men have been created equal by nature and so must be equal in life, all who do not comply must be put to the sword. They preached that the rich cannot attain salvation; whoever loves beautiful chambers, rich ornaments and, above all, money cannot receive the Holy Spirit.
Finally, after the council refused to admit Müntzer and Pfeiffer into their number, it was decided at a huge gathering that the council be dismissed. A new, "eternal" council was elected.
The "History of Thomas Müntzer," a contemporary account long attributed to Melanchthon, describes the situation as follows:
This was the beginning of the new Kingdom of Christ. First of all, they drove out all monks, took over the monasteries and all their property. There was a monastery of Johannites with large holdings: it was taken over by Thomas.According to the same document, Müntzer's teaching included the destruction of authority and the communality of property: "According to the requirements of Christian love, no one ought to be superior to another, all must be free and there must be communality of all property." (28: p. 38)
And in order to take part in all proceedings, he came to the council and announced that all resolutions must be taken in accordance with God's revelation and on the basis of the Bible. And so whatever he liked was deemed just and a special commandment of God.
He also taught that all property must be common, as it is written in the Acts of the Apostles. ...With this he so affected the folk that no one wanted to work, but when anyone needed food or clothing he went to a rich man and demanded it of him in Christ's name, for Christ had commanded that all should share with the needy. And what was not given freely was taken by force. Many acted thus, including those who lived with Thomas in the Johannite monastery. Thomas instigated this brigandage and multiplied it every day and threatened all the princes. (28: p. 42)
Luther wrote that Müntzer had become a king and sovereign ruling in Mühlhausen.
Arms were produced in the town, the citizens given military training, and mercenaries (lansquenets) were hired. By this time, the peasant rebellion had enveloped all the neighboring areas. Large groups of Mühlhausen citizens and inhabitants of nearby villages assaulted castles round about. These they robbed, burned or destroyed. Müntzer ordered that "all castles and houses of nobility be destroyed and razed to the ground." (20: p. 519) Special arson units were organized. Booty was carried off to the town by the cartload.
Müntzer sent out messengers and issued detailed instructions on the torture of "villains" apprehended and the destruction of monasteries and castles. He called on other towns to join the uprising.
Here is what he wrote to the citizens of Allstedt:
Dear Brethren, will you sleep even now? The time is ripe. All German, French and Italian lands have risen. ...Be there only three of you, but if you put your hope in the name of God--fear not a hundred thousand. ...Forward, forward, forward! It is high time. Let not kind words of these Esaus arouse you to mercy. Look not upon the sufferings of the godless! They will entreat you touchingly, begging you like children. Let not mercy seize your soul, as God commanded to Moses; He has revealed to us the same. ...Forward, forward, while the iron is hot. Let your swords be ever warm with blood! (28: pp. 74-75)
Though not "all German, French and Italian lands" had risen, the whole of central Germany-Thuringia, Saxony and Hessen--was in rebellion.
Toward the beginning of May 1525, the princes began to gather in force. A major part here was played by Luther's communication "On Disorderly and Murderous Peasant Gangs." By mid-May, two armies began to assemble in the environs of Frankenhausen. They were of approximately equal size--about eight thousand men each.
Müntzer rode out at the head of his army, surrounded by three hundred bodyguards and holding aloft a naked sword, which symbolized the goal of the rebels--annihilation of the godless. Some nobles had joined his camp. Müntzer wrote to others, threatening them and urging them to ally themselves with him. He wrote to Count Ernst Mansfeld: "So that you know that we have the power to command, I speak: The eternal, living God hath commanded that you be thrown off the throne and hath given to us the might to accomplish this. It is about you and those like you that God saith, 'Your nest must be torn down and trodden underfoot.' " The letter ends with the words: "I am marching after. Müntzer with Gideon's sword." (28: p. 78)
Nevertheless, panic began to spread through Müntzer's army. There were attempts at negotiating with the enemy, and executions of those suspected of treason took place. Müntzer sought to encourage his followers: "Sooner will the nature of the earth or of heaven be changed than God desert us." (28: p. 45) He promised that he would catch bullets in his sleeves. But when the first shots were fired, the rebel army broke and ran. Thousands of them were slaughtered on the field of battle.
In his hour of defeat, "Müntzer with Gideon's sword" lost all presence of mind. (For details, see 22: p. 225. He is the first of a long list of revolutionary leaders to act in this fashion.) Müntzer ran for the city, found an empty house and got into bed, feigning illness. A looting soldier came upon a packet of letters addressed to Müntzer that the latter had dropped in his haste, and Müntzer was seized. At the inquest, when asked about a certain execution of four men, Müntzer replied: "It was not I who executed them, my dear brothers, but God's truth."
Müntzer was subjected to torture, and when he cried out, the interrogator told him that those who had perished because of him had suffered worse. Müntzer burst out laughing and replied: "They wished for no different themselves." He was sent to the castle of the very Count Mansfeld to whom he had written: "I am marching after." Müntzer confessed everything and betrayed the names of his comrades in the secret union. Before his execution, he wrote a letter to the citizens of Mühlhausen, appealing to them not to rebel against authority, according to Christ's commandment. "I wish to say in my farewell address, so as to unburden my soul, that you should avoid riot, lest innocent blood be shed in vain. ...Help my wife if you can, and especially avoid bloodshed, of which I warn you sincerely." (28: pp. 83-84)
Müntzer took communion and died as a son of the Catholic Church. His head was put on a stake for show.
Contemporaries considered Müntzer to be the central figure in the Peasant War. Luther and Melanchthon believed him to be its most dangerous leader. Sebastian Franck referred to the war as the "Müntzer Uprising," and Duke Georg of Saxony wrote that with Müntzer's execution the war could be considered finished. (20: p. 257) This appreciation of Müntzer's role, however, could hardly have been meant to describe his activities as organizer; rather, the commentators most likely had in mind his function as the originator of an ideology of hatred and destruction. Luther must have been thinking along these lines when he wrote to Hans Rügel: "Whoever has seen Müntzer can say that he has seen the devil in the flesh, at his most ferocious." (28: p. 222)
Johann of Leyden and the "New Jerusalem" in Münster.
In 1534-1535, the persecuted Anabaptists in Switzerland and southern and central Germany fled north, to northern Germany, Holland, Sweden and Denmark. The center of their activity became the town of Münster, where they established themselves at the time of the struggle between the Catholics and the Lutherans. They gained a strong position in the town by allying themselves with the Lutherans.
But when the Lutherans won, they found they had to reckon with the "Prophets," as the leaders of the Anabaptists described themselves. The latter had even succeeded in winning over the head of the Lutheran party.
At this time, a new and striking figure appeared among the Anabaptists--Jan Matthijs, a Dutch baker from Haarlem. In his preaching, the chiliastic and militant tendencies in Anabaptism were resurrected with their previous force. Matthijs called for armed rebellion and the universal extermination of the godless. "Apostles" sent by him went in pairs to all lands and provinces. They told about the miracles wrought by this new prophet and predicted the annihilation of all tyrants and godless people in the world. In Germany and in Holland, people underwent the second baptism and founded new communities. In Münster, fourteen hundred persons were baptized in eight days. In keeping with the growing success of the Anabaptists there, adherents from other countries, especially from Holland, streamed into Münster. The Dutch arrivals were headed by the Münster citizen Knipperdolling.
One of Matthijs's Apostles to arrive in Münster was Jan Bokelson (Beukels), who, under the name Johann of Leyden, was to become a central figure in later developments. Beginning as a tailor's apprentice, Bokelson married a rich widow but soon lost her fortune. He had traveled much, having been to England, Flanders and Portugal, had read fairly extensively and knew the Holy Scriptures as well as Müntzer's writings. In Münster he took up with Knipperdolling and soon married his daughter, thereby bringing the Anabaptist community under the influence of Matthijs. By this time, leadership of the Anabaptist movement in Münster had passed
over from the local citizens entirely into the hands of the Dutch Prophets, preacher-conspirators who had been uprooted from their homeland. Clashes between Anabaptists and Lutherans occurred in Münster, and Anabaptists raided monasteries and churches. Matthijs's Apostles proclaimed that the thousand-year kingdom was at hand for those who had accepted the second baptism: a happy life with community of property, without authority, laws or marital bonds. As for those who opposed the new kingdom, they could expect annihilation and death at the hand of the Chosen. The Chosen were prohibited to greet the faithless or to have anything whatever to do with them.
The municipal council banished some Anabaptist preachers from the town and arrested one who had violated the ban imposed on their sermons. This was early in 1534. Crowds of Anabaptists ran through the city, shouting: "Repent or God will punish you! Father, Father, annihilate the godless." On the ninth of February, armed mobs appeared in the town; they blocked off streets and occupied part of the city. The Lutherans also took up arms, occupied another part of town and began to push the Anabaptists back. Their forces proved to be greater and they surrounded the Anabaptists and brought up cannon. Victory was in the hands of the Lutherans, but the burgomaster Tilbeck, who sympathized with the Anabaptists, negotiated an agreement on religious peace: "So that everyone be free in his faith and every man come back to his own house and live in peace." (23: p. 701) This was the beginning of Anabaptist rule in the town. Anabaptists flocked to Münster from all sides. In an account that originated in Anabaptist circles, we read: "The faces of Christians again blossomed forth. Everyone in the marketplace, even seven-year-old children, began prophesying. The women made extraordinary jumps. But the godless said that they were demented, that they were drunk on sweet wine." (23: pp. 707-708)
On February 21, a new election was held for the municipal council, in which the Anabaptists won a majority. They took over the municipal administration and appointed their adherents Knipperdolling and Kibbenbrock as burgomasters.
The Anabaptists made a display of their power almost immediately in a terrible outburst of violence that took place on February 24, three days after the election. Monasteries and churches were destroyed, religious objects smashed and saints' relics thrown into the streets. Not only religion but everything connected with the old culture evoked their ire. Statues in the market square were smashed to pieces. A precious collection of old Italian manuscripts which had been collected by Rudolf von Langen was solemnly burned in the square. Paintings of the Westphalian school, famous at the time, were destroyed so thoroughly that at present this school of painting is known only by reputation. Even musical instruments were smashed.
Three days later, on February 27, the Anabaptists proceeded to one of the major points of their program--the expulsion of the godless, that
is, of those citizens who refused to accept the teachings of the "prophets." Matthijs insisted that all the godless be put to death. The more wary Knipperdolling objected: "All peoples will then unite against us to revenge the blood of those killed." Finally, a decision was taken to drive out of town anyone who refused to accept second baptism. A meeting of armed Anabaptists was called. The Prophet sat in a trance while prayers were being said. At last, Matthijs rose and called for the expulsion of the faithless: "Down with Esau's offspring! The inheritance belongs to the children of Jacob." A shout of "Down with the godless!" rolled through the streets. Armed Anabaptists broke into houses and drove out everyone who was unwilling to accept second baptism. Winter was drawing to a close; it was a stormy day and wet snow was falling. An eyewitness account describes crowds of expelled citizens walking through the knee-deep snow. They had not been allowed even to take warm clothing with them, women carrying children in their arms, old men leaning on staffs. At the city gate they were robbed once more. The next action was the socialization of all property. A chronicle of the time reads: "They decided unanimously that all property must be held in common and that everyone must hand in his silver, gold and money. In the end all did so." (29: p. 201) It is known that this measure was accomplished with some difficulty and only in the course of two months. Matthijs appointed seven deacons to watch over the socialized property.
To suppress discontent aroused by these measures, the Anabaptists began to resort to terror on an ever wider scale. One day Matthijs gathered all the men in the town square and ordered everyone who had taken baptism on the last day (mass baptism had gone on for three days) to step forward. There were three hundred; they were ordered to put down their arms. Matthijs spoke: "The Lord is wrathful and calls for sacrifice." The accused men prostrated themselves before the Prophet, in the manner of the Anabaptists, and begged for mercy. But they were locked in a deserted church, from which their appeals for mercy could be heard for hours. Finally, Jan Bokelson appeared and announced: "My dear brethren, the Lord has taken pity upon you!" And all were released.
But things did not always end so benignly. For example, a report was received that the blacksmith Hubert Ruscher had spoken against the actions of the Anabaptists. He was brought to a meeting; Matthijs demanded his death. Some of those present interceded for the man and asked that he be pardoned. But Bokelson shouted: "To me the power of the Lord is given so that by my hand everyone who opposes the commands of the Lord be struck down." And he struck Ruscher with a halberd. The wounded man was led away to jail. Disputation as to his fate continued. Finally, the man was again brought to the town square, where Matthijs killed him with a shot in the back.
Streams of incendiary Anabaptist literature flowed from Münster, calling the brethren to come together in the "New Jerusalem." For: "Bed and shelter are ready for all Christians. If there will be too many people, we
shall use the houses and the property of the faithless. ...Here you will have everything in abundance. The poorest among us, who earlier were scorned as paupers, now wear rich clothing like the highest and the noblest. The poor have become, by God's grace, as rich as burgomasters." (29: p. 147) It was reported that at Easter the world would be struck by a terrible plague and that, outside Münster, only every tenth person would be spared. "Let no one think either of husband or of wife or of child, if they are faithless. Do not take them with you; they are useless to God's community. ...If anyone remains behind, I am innocent of his blood." Thus ends a leaflet signed "Emmanuel." (29: p. 148) The book Restitution or Revival of the True Christian Teaching was sent far and wide. It asserts that truth had been only partly open to Erasmus, Zwingli and Luther, but that it shone forth in Matthijs and Johann of Leyden. Much importance is attached to the Old Testament. The Kingdom of Christ on earth is conceived of in a purely physical fashion. It includes communality of property and polygamy. The book ends with the words: "In our time, Christians are allowed to turn the sword against godless authorities." The Booklet Concerning Vengeance was another popular work. It is nothing less than a call to murder and revenge. Only after vengeance had been carried out would the new earth and the new heaven appear to God's people. "Remember what they have done unto us; all this must be visited upon them in a like manner. Heed this and do not consider a sin what is no sin." (29: p. 149) Apostles were sent from Münster to propagandize insurrection and to drum up support for the new Jerusalem. They were particularly successful in Holland. Erasmus Schet wrote to Erasmus of Rotterdam: "Hardly is there a town or a city where the ashes of rebellion are not smoldering. The communism that they preach attracts masses from all sides." (29: p. 153) In many towns the rebaptized were counted in the hundreds, among them many influential people. In Cologne it was reported that seven hundred had been newly baptized and in Essen, two hundred. Turbulence grew apace. One day five naked men, with swords in hand, ran through Amsterdam foretelling the imminent end of the world. Large crowds of armed Anabaptists were moving toward Münster. Sixteen hundred gathered in Vollenhove. Thirty ships with armed Anabaptists aboard left Amsterdam and landed near Genemuiden. This was followed by twenty-one more ships with three thousand men, women and children. The Dutch authorities were able to disperse these crowds only with great difficulty. In the town of Warenburg, an Anabaptist community began accumulating weapons, and the burgomaster became so frightened that he would appear only accompanied by a hundred guards. In Münster the Prophet Johann Dusentschur compiled a list of towns which were soon to be controlled by the "Children of God." First on the list was Soest. A delegation of Prophets set out for this city. They entered the town openly and solemnly, preaching insurrection. The authorities managed to oust them with great difficulty.
It is not surprising that this movement alarmed Bishop Franz von
Waldeck, in whose domain Münster was situated, as well as the rulers of the neighboring areas. Slowly an army was raised and Münster besieged. The town was well fortified and had large stores of provisions. The siege was a hard one, lasting fourteen months. One of the first victims of the war turned out to be the Anabaptist leader Matthijs. During a common meal, he exclaimed: "Let Thy will be done and not mine!" Then he bade the others farewell, kissing them. It appears that he had had a vision that he was to challenge the unfaithful to a fight in the manner of Samson. The next day he actually went outside the city wall with a small group of volunteers and was hacked to pieces by the lansquenets. His comrade in arms Bokelson (Johann of Leyden) thereupon delivered a sermon: "God will give you another Prophet who will be more powerful. God desired the death of Matthijs, lest you should believe in him more than in God." Within several days, Bokelson became that new Prophet, the heir to Matthijs. (29: p. 207) Once the Lord closed Johann's lips for three days. Upon recovering his speech, he proclaimed that he had had a revelation about a new order for the town. The power of the council was to be abolished, and twelve elders were to govern under the leadership of the Prophet. The names of the elders were announced; they turned out to be the most influential Dutch Prophets, and they were installed without any election.
Next came what was perhaps the most radical innovation--establishment of polygamy. Ideas of this sort are encountered earlier in Anabaptist preachings. They were supported by reference to the customs of the patriarchs of the Old Testament. The new law was facilitated by the fact that after banishment of the godless, there were two or three times as many women in Münster as men. The introduction of polygamy was accompanied by a regulation in accordance with which all women whose age did not prevent it were obligated to have a husband. The sharing out of women began. Eyewitnesses tell of violence and suicides. The atmosphere in which the law was implemented is intimated by another law, which forbade men to break into houses in groups to choose wives. One can only imagine what life was like in the new families. The authorities also interfered by staging frequent public punishment of recalcitrant wives.
The socialization of property and polygamy evoked considerable opposition in the town. The disaffected seized the chief Prophets and demanded abolition of these regulations. But they were surrounded by Anabaptists still loyal to Bokelson--mostly Dutchmen and Frisians--and compelled to surrender. They were tied to trees and shot. "Whoever fires the first shot does a service to God," Bokelson cried.
The defeat of the opposition within coincided with a major military victory--a large force assaulting the town had been beaten back. The army of the attackers was badly organized, and apparently there were Anabaptists in its ranks, for the time set for the assault had become known in Münster. The losses of the besieging army were such that a daring sally could have destroyed it entirely.
These events strengthened Johann's position considerably. The Prophet Dusentschur reported that he had had a vision that Johann would become king of the world and take the throne and the scepter of his father David until the coming of the Lord Himself. Bokelson confirmed that he had had the same vision. The election of the king culminated in the singing of psalms. Bokelson surrounded himself with a splendid court, created court posts of various kinds and a detachment of bodyguards. He took new wives constantly, among whom the first was "the most lovely of all women," Divara--Matthijs's widow. Two crowns encrusted with precious stones--one royal, the other imperial--were made for Bokelson. His emblem was the globe with two swords crossed, a symbol of his power over the world.
The king appeared with a fanfare and accompanied by a mounted guard. A Hofmeister marched in front, carrying a white staff; splendidly dressed pages followed, one bearing a sword, the other the Old Testament. Next came the court, dressed in silk. Everyone they met had to kneel. At the same time, Johann had a vision from which he learned that no one should possess more than one coat, two pairs of stockings, three shirts and so on. Everyone outside the royal court was bound by this revelation.
One day 4,200 citizens were called to a royal banquet. The king and queen played host, and everyone sang the hymn "Glory to God in the Highest." Suddenly Johann noticed among the guests someone who seemed alien to him: "He was not in nuptial dress." Deciding that this must be Judas, the king cut off his head on the spot. Thereupon the banquet resumed.
Theatrical performances were staged for the townspeople; some of these parodied the holy service, others took a social turn--for instance, the dialogue of the rich man with Lazarus.
Streets and all important buildings in the town were renamed. Babies were given newly invented names.
Meanwhile executions took place almost daily: for example, on the third of June, 1535, fifty-two persons were executed; on the fifth of June, three; eighteen persons on both the sixth and the seventh, etc. Obstinate wives were executed, as well as a woman who had spoken against the new order. One woman who refused to become the king's wife, in spite of his several proposals, had her head chopped off in the town square by the king's own hand, while his assembled wives sang "Glory to God in the Highest."
The entire episode has the appearance of mass pathology, a madness to which the Prophets themselves eventually fell victim, when with blind fanaticism they joined their destinies to a doomed cause. But was it really? The Münster episode demonstrates a multitude of traits typical of all revolutions but where, confined to a single town and compressed into a single year, tragedy turns into a grotesque farce. The Swiftian device of attributing the vices of the world to tiny Lilliputians was here employed by history. In actual fact, the most eccentric of actions prove to have been entirely consistent with the inner logic of the movement. Extreme fanaticism stirred the Anabaptist mob and spread to larger and larger masses
of people. Behind the absurd posturings of J an Bokelson we can often discern a sly and calculating mind, examples of which we shall encounter later. Apparently, both he and the other Prophets had a very concrete goal in mind--"universal" rebellion and the establishment of themselves in power, if not over the "entire world," then at least over a large part of Europe. Although these hopes were not realized, they should not be dismissed as having been entirely groundless. Unrest was rampant in the whole of northwestern Germany and in Holland. It was widely thought at the time that if Johann would succeed in breaking through the siege, he would foster a change in the course of history comparable to the great migration of peoples. Anabaptist emissaries were active as far away as Zürich and Bern; in Münster they enticed lansquenets to their side with large salaries. The besieging force was once seized by panic over the rumor that the Anabaptists had taken Lübeck. This turned out to be untrue, but it is symptomatic of the prevailing sentiment. There was, apparently, a plan to raise rebellion in four places simultaneously; it was partially implemented. In Frisia, Anabaptists seized and fortified a monastery, where they held out against a prolonged siege. Victory cost the imperial army nine hundred men killed. A squadron of Anabaptist ships approached Deventer intent on taking the town, but it was intercepted by the Duke of Heldern's fleet. Outside Groningen, an Anabaptist force of some one thousand men gathered, intending to break through to Münster. It, too, was scattered by the duke's men.
But the Anabaptists were strongest in Holland, the homeland of Matthijs and Jan Bokelson. In 1535, several large detachments of Anabaptists assembled there. They even succeeded in seizing the Amsterdam town hall for a time, although the authorities soon had the situation in hand. One of the reasons for the movement's failure was that its plans became known to the enemy. One of Johann's Apostles fell into the hands of the bishop and promised to disclose the Anabaptists' battle plans in exchange for his life. He returned to Münster, pretending to have escaped, then set out again on an Apostolic mission and informed the bishop of everything.
We can conclude that Bokelson's aspirations were far from illusory. He had amassed an army and was ready to break the siege, should the Dutch come to his aid. He was constructing a mobile barricade made of carriages. At night he ran around the town barefoot, wearing nothing but a shirt and shouting: "Rejoice, Israel, salvation is at hand." At one point he summoned the entire army to the square in order to move out of the town. He then appeared, wearing his crown and royal garments, and declared that the day had not yet come and that he had simply wanted to check the readiness of his forces. A feast was prepared for the populace-- there were some two thousand men and eight thousand women altogether. After the meal Johann suddenly announced that he was stepping down. But the Prophet Dusentschur proclaimed that God called upon his brother Johann of Leyden to remain king and to punish the iniquitous. Bokelson was reelected.
There were apparently real frictions behind this masquerade. On
another occasion, for instance, Knipperdolling started to leap and dance about strangely; he even stood on his head. But in the midst of these antics he suddenly cried out: "Johann is king of the flesh, but I shall be king of the spirit." Bokelson ordered him locked in the tower, as a result of which Knipperdolling soon thought better of things and the two were reconciled. Another political move in a similarly fantastic guise was the "election" of dukes. A secret vote was taken in the twelve districts into which the town had been divided. The names of candidates were put into a hat and drawn out by specially appointed young boys. The dukes elected in this manner all turned out to be Prophets close to Bokelson. Each received a dukedom of the empire, that is, one of the town districts, together with control of the town gate located in the corresponding district. This last point was the real meaning of the whole enterprise, for the lansquenets, whom Johann could no longer trust, were thereby removed from strategic positions in defense of the town. These political maneuvers were supplemented by the sight of the royal guards engaging in daily military exercises on the main square.
In the end, however, the large stockpile of provisions ran out and famine set in. The horses were eaten, and this destroyed any hope of breaking the siege. The deacons confiscated all stores, and under threat of death it was forbidden to bake bread at home. All houses were searched and no one had the right to lock his door. The citizens began to eat grass and rootS. The king pronounced that this was "no worse than bread." At this moment, he called together the dukes, the court and all his wives to a luxurious feast in the palace. An eyewitness who later escaped from the town reported: "They behaved as though they were planning to rule for the rest of their lives." (29: p. 237)
Fanaticism served as a lightning rod. The king commanded that "all that is high shall be destroyed." And the citizens began to destroy belfries and the tops of towers. Repression was practiced ever more widely. New conspiracies were revealed constantly. One of those accused was hacked into twelve parts, and a Dutchman ate his heart and liver.
The town was doomed. More and more of the defenders fled, despite the fact that trial, torture and possible execution awaited them in the besiegers' camp. Finally, on July 25, 1535, Münster was taken. The reign of the Anabaptists, who had come to power February 21, 1534, had lasted for a year and a half. Many of them were massacred by the lansquenets during the final assault; others were tried and many executed. Münster was no longer an evangelic city; it had returned to the realm of the Catholic bishop.
Jan Bokelson hid in the most impregnable tower but later gave himself up. Under torture, he renounced his faith and acknowledged that he "deserved death ten times over." He promised that if his life was spared he would bring all Anabaptists to obedience. But to no avail. In the square where once he had sat on a throne, he was tortured with hot irons, and then his heart was pierced with a red-hot dagger.
2. Chiliastic Socialism and the Ideology of the Heretical Movements
Above we have tried not to yield to the temptation to select from the sources on the history of the heretical movements of the Middle Ages and Reformation only those passages in which socialist ideas are expounded--the communality of property, the destruction of the family, etc. On the contrary, we tried to give a full review, though a necessarily schematic one, of the major aspects of the heretical doctrines. It will now be our task to determine the link between these two phenomena--i.e., to ascertain the role that the ideas of chiliastic socialism played in the overall ideology of the heretical movements.
To do this, it is first necessary to determine whether it is possible to speak of a single, unified world view in these movements, whether there are sufficient features common to the chaotic mass of heresies which appeared over the course of some seven centuries. In other words, we are dealing with the question of the interrelationship among different heretical doctrines. Beginning with the second half of the last century, this question became the object of much research which not only showed the existence of close ties between various heretical gro,ups but also greatly extended the history of heresies into the past. It became clear that there is a direct continuity between the teachings of the medieval sects and the heresies of the first centuries of Christianity.
In most general terms, it is possible to divide the heresies of the Middle Ages into three groups: (1) "Manichean" heresies--the Cathars, Albigenses, Petrobrusians (from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries). (2) "Pantheistic" heresies: Amalricians, Ortliebarians, Brethren and Sisters of the Free Spirit, Adamites, the Apostolic Brethren and the related groups of Beghards and Beguines (from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries). (3) Heresies which, long before the Reformation, developed ideas that were close to Protestantism--Waldensians, Anabaptists, Moravian Brethren (from the twelfth to the seventeenth centuries).
The majority of these doctrines have the same source--the gnostic and Manichean heresies which, as early as the second century A.D., spread through the Roman Empire and even beyond its borders, for example, into Persia.
The heresies of the "Manichean" group entered Western Europe primarily from the East. Very similar doctrines (dualism, belief in the connection of the Old Testament with the evil God, the division into narrow esoteric and broad exoteric circles) can be found in the gnostic sects of the second century, for example among the Marcionites, but these views achieved their full expression in Manicheanism.
The Paulicians, who appeared in the Eastern Roman Empire in the fourth and fifth centuries, served as a link between the early gnostic heresies and the medieval sects. They professed pure dualism, considering original sin to be a heroic deed: a refusal to obey the evil God. This led to a rejection of moral law and the denial of the difference between good and evil. This in turn was manifested in the various excesses of the sectarians, as described by their contemporaries. (One of the Paulician leaders was called Baan the Dirty, for instance, and there are accounts of brigandage.) In the ninth century, Paulicians occupied an area of Asia Minor, from which they carried out raids on neighboring towns, looting and selling captives into slavery to the Saracens. In 867, Ephesus was captured and sacked; the temple of St. John WaS turned into a stable. Defeated in the tenth century by the armies of the Byzantine emperor, the Paulicians were resettled wholesale in Bulgaria. Here they came into contact with the Bogomils, who derived from the Messalian sect (mentioned as early as the fourth century). Bogomil teaching was close to the views of the monarchic Cathars; it held that the physical world was created by God's apostate eldest son, Satanael. Paulicians and Bogomils alike rejected the baptism of children, hated and destroyed churches, sacred images and crosses.
From the Eastern Roman Empire, the Paulician and Bogomil doctrines penetrated into Western Europe. (See 10 and 12 for a more detailed account.)
The doctrines of the "pantheistic" trend can also be traced to the gnostic heresies. Epiphanes, a Christian writer of the fourth century, describes sects which are strikingly similar to the medieval Adamites. (He himself belonged at one time to such a group.) One hundred years later, Hyppolitus reports an analogous teaching among the sect of Simonians. In both cases, black masses were practiced, accompanied by an ostentatious disregard for moral norms, all of which was meant to reveal the superhuman character of "the possessor of gnosis." (16: p.77)
There is ample evidence of numerous links among the doctrines
of the different sects. We have already mentioned, for example, that the notion of the "divinity" of the Free Spirits was a development of the exclusive position of the perfecti among the Cathars. Some historians believe that the Free Spirits actually originated among the Cathars. In this connection we also note J. Van Mierlo's argument that the terms beginus and begine derive from "Albigensis." (15: p. 24. The Beghards and Beguines were the main source from which followers of the "Free Spirits" were drawn.) It has furthermore been established that the Free Spirits influenced the Waldenses, specifically in the organization of the latter into a narrow circle of leaders or Apostles (who, according to the doctrine of the sect, received their authority from the angels, regularly visited paradise and contemplated God). The closeness of the two sects is illustrated by the example of Nicholas of Basel, who is variously assigned, by scholars thoroughly versed in the material, to either the Free Spirits or the Waldenses.
The Petrobrusian sect is another link between the Cathars and the Waldenses. Döllinger and Runciman consider them to be part of the Cathar movement, while other historians refer to them as predecessors of the Waldenses. Finally, there are numerous indications that Waldenses and Anabaptists are two names given at different periods to people in the same movement. Ludwig Keller devoted a number of works to elucidating the connections between the Waldenses and the Anabaptists. He brings forward numerous arguments to prove that they are in fact the same. (See 24 and 26.)
The impression of diversity created by the great variety of names cannot be taken as proof of the sects' distinctness. Their names were, for the most part, coined by their enemies after an influential preacher at a given time (Petrobrusians from Peter of Bruys; Heinrichians from Heinrich of Toulouse; Waldensians from Valdes; Ortliebarians from Ortlieb, etc., just as the term Lutheran later derived from Luther). The members of the sects called one another "Brethren," "God's people," "friends of God." The last term was used, for instance, by Waldenses and Anabaptists in Germany as late as the sixteenth century--Gottesfreunde, which also happens to be an exact translation of the Word "Bogomil."
A striking feature that characterizes almost all the groups in the heretical movement is the rejection of baptism of the young and the related introduction of a second baptism for adults. The Justinian Code
(sixth century) already contains clauses against heretics who preach a second baptism. Second baptism is mentioned repeatedly in the proceedings of the Inquisition and in the writings denouncing the Cathars and the Waldenses. The practice gives the Anabaptists their name and survives today among the Baptists. The sectarians themselves insisted on the continuity of the heretical movement. In the first place, they asserted their ancient origins--from the disciples of the Apostles or from the Christians who refused obedience to Pope Sylvester and did not accept the bequest of Emperor Constantine. In the annals of the Toulouse Inquisition for 1311, there is the testimony of a Waldensian weaver who presented such a version of the sect's origin, quite traditional already at that time. (24: pp. 18-19) According to the Waldensian tradition, Valdes was not the founder of their church. For example, they called Peter of Bruys, who lived in the first half of the twelfth century, "one of ours." (Valdes preached in the second half of the century.) This point of view is typical not only for the Waldenses; for instance, the Anabaptist list of martyrs (which was also accepted by the Mennonites as early as the seventeenth century) begins with descriptions of the persecution of Waldenses which took place centuries before the Reformation. (24: p. 364)
Finally, the heretics' enemies, those who assailed their doctrines, as well as the representatives of the Inquisitors, all emphasized the unity of the heretical movement. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (twelfth century), who was well versed in the contemporary heresies, declared that the teaching of the Cathars contained nothing new but merely repeated ancient errors. In the work of a Roman Inquisitor known as the "pseudo-Raynier" (1250), we read the following: "Among the sects there is none more dangerous to the Church than the Leonites. And for three reasons: First, it is the most ancient of sects. Some say that it goes back to the time of Pope Sylvester, others to the Apostles. Further, there is no country where they are not met with." (24: p. 5) Bullinger, who wrote about the Anabaptists in 1560, says: "Many basic and grave errors of theirs they share with the ancient sects of Novatians, Cathars, with Auxentius and Pelagius." (25: p. 270) Cardinal Hosius (1504-1570), who fought the heretics of his day, wrote: "Still more harmful is the sect of Anabaptists, of which kind were the Waldensian Brethren also, who still recently practiced the second baptism. It is not yesterday nor the day before yesterday that this heresy grew up; it has existed since Augustine's time." (25: p. 267) In the Substantial
and Concise History of the Münster Rebellion (1589), the Anabaptists are referred to by several names, including Cathars and Apostolic Brethren. (25: p. 247) In his Chronicle (1531), Sebastian Franck speaks of the connection among the Bohemian Brethren, the Waldenses and the Anabaptists: "Picards, who originate with V aIdes, form a special Christian folk or sect in Bohemia. ...They are divided into two or three groups--the largest, a smaller one and the smallest. These resemble Anabaptists in everything. ...They number about eighty thousand." (26: p. 57) Similar evidence could be cited at length. The notion of a unity among organized heretical movements is also tempting in that it makes more comprehensible the miracle of the Reformation, when within a few years organizations, leaders and writers crop up all across Europe. Links between the leaders of the Reformation (in its early phase) and the heretical movements are quite probable. This was asserted by opponents of the Reformation. For instance, during a disputation at the Reichstag in Worms, the papal nuncio reproached Luther: "Most of your doctrines are the already discarded heresies of the Beghards, Waldensians, Lyons Paupers, Wyclifites and Hussites." (25: pp. 122-123) Neither did the leaders of the Reformation deny these ties. For example, in the epistle "To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation" (1520) Luther writes: "It is high time for us to take up seriously and frankly the cause of the Bohemians so that we can unite with them and they with us." (25: p. 126) And Zwingli writes to Luther in 1527: "Many people, even earlier, understood the essence of evangelic religion as clearly as you do. But of all Israel no one dared to enter the battle, for they feared this mighty Goliath." (26: p. 9) It is thought likely that Zwingli belonged to the community of Brethren in Zürich, breaking with them around 1524. Luther apparently also had contacts in these circles. The first impetus to his subsequent rupture with the Catholic Church was given him when he was still an unknown young monk. Johann Staupitz, the general vicar of the Augustinian Order, took notice of him in one of his tours of inspection. Staupitz was highly esteemed among the Brethren. In a work of the day, for example, it is even said that he might be destined "to lead the New Israel out of Egyptian captivity," i.e., to save the societies of the Brethren from persecution. Staupitz's influence on Luther was exceptional at the time. Luther later said that it was he who "first lit the light of the Gospel" in his heart and raised his "dander against the Pope." Luther wrote to Staupitz: "You leave me
too often. Because of you, I was like a deserted child pining for its mother. I beseech you, bless the Lord's creation in me also, a sinful man." (25: p. 133) It was only beginning with 1522 that certain differences between the two came to light, culminating, in 1524-1525, in a final break. A striking picture emerges of a movement that lasted for fifteen centuries despite persecution by the dominant Church and by secular authorities.* A precisely fixed set of religious ideas affecting the general attitude toward life was preserved virtually unchanged, often down to the smallest detail. Throughout this period, the tradition of secret ordination of bishops was unbroken; general questions of import to the movement were decided at "synods," and wandering Apostles took the decrees to distant societies. On admittance to the sect, the initiates were given new names known only to their closed group. Secret signs were used (for instance, when shaking hands) so the brethren could recognize one another. Houses were also marked by secret signs so that traveling members could find accommodations with their kind. Among the sectarians it was said that you could travel from England to Rome, staying only at houses of fellow sectarians along the way. There were close ties among the national branches of the movement. Synods were attended by representatives from allover Western arId Central Europe; literature was sent from country to country. There was mutual financial assistance during times of calamity; people would stream in from other countries to help their brethren.
Thus there are grounds for attempting to establish a common ideological underpinning for the entire movement in order to determine the place of the ideas of chiliastic socialism in these doctrines.
One of the fundamental traits observed throughout the history of the sects was their hostility toward secular authority--the "world"--and especially toward the Catholic Church. This could be active or passive, and could find expression in calls to "exterminate the godless," to kill the Pope or annihilate the Whore of Babylon (the Church), or in prohibitions of any kind of intercourse with the outside world.
This was the issue that led to the break between the leaders of the Reformation, Luther and Zwingli, and the "Brethren." The Anabaptist
* Our aim is to determine the fundamental principles that relate the doctrines of the various sects. We must, therefore, leave to one side the interesting question of precisely how the resemblance came into being: where it was a matter of direct succession, where of literary influence and in what cases it was engendered by similarity of historical circumstance.
"Chronicles" for 1525 read: "The Church, long suppressed, has begun to raise its head.. ..As though they had used thunderbolts, Luther, Zwingli and their followers have destroyed everything, but they did not create anything better. ...They let in a little light, but they did not go on to the end but joined the secular powers. ... And therefore, although there had been a good beginning by God's will, the light of the truth was again extinguished in them." (29: p. 364) The heretical movement, thoroughly hostile to the surrounding world, flares up from time to time with an all-consuming blaze of hatred. Such outbreaks are separated by intervals of a little more than a century: the movement fostered by Dolcino around 1300, the Hussite movement that started after Hus was burned at the stake in 1415, the aggressive form that Anabaptism assumed in the 1520s, and the English revolution of 1640-1660. In these periods we also observe socialist ideas in their starkest forms. At other times these tendencies are muffled, and we encounter sects that reject violence and teachings that contain no socialist ambitions whatsoever. (The Waldensian doctrine is an extreme example.) It is interesting, however, that the two extremes of the heretical movement were closely interwoven; they cannot be clearly distinguished. At times, in fact, a sect switched from one extreme to the other overnight. Thus we learn that the Cathars, whose doctrine forbade any violence, in 1174 attempted a coup in Florence. Merely touching a weapon, even for self-defense, was considered a sin, yet at the same time there were groups among the Cathars who permitted plunder and expropriation of churches. Historians explain events foreshadowing the Albigensian wars in terms of this sort of abrupt reversal, as more peaceful groups come under the influence of more aggressive ones: the Cathars, who had been forbidden even to kill an animal, suddenly erupted in a militant spirit that swept them into a war lasting more than thirty years. At certain periods, the Waldenses, considered the most peaceful group, burned the houses of priests who preached against their doctrine. They also killed individuals who left the ranks, or they placed prices on their heads. A similar abrupt shift can be seen in the Apostolic Brethren. Among the teachings ascribed to them is a prohibition against violence; killing a man Was considered a mortal sin. This principle was soon transformed so that persecution of the sect was the capital sin, while any kind of action against the foes of the true faith was permitted. And a call for
the destruction of the godless was raised as well. (9: II: p. 397) The same abrupt shift occurred with the Anabaptists in Switzerland and in southern Germany at the beginning of the Reformation. Apparently it was possible for a sect to exist in two states, "militant" and "peaceful," and the transition from one state to the other could happen suddenly, and for all practical purposes instantaneously. The heretical world view, in its hatred for the Church and the way of life it engendered, can be understood ultimately as an antithesis to the ideology of medieval Catholicism. The Middle Ages represent a stupendous effort on the part of Western European humanity to build its life on the basis of lofty spiritual values, to comprehend life as a way toward achieving the ideals of Christianity. It was a question of reforming human society and the world, with the aim of their transfiguration into a higher state. The religious principle that underlay this world view was the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ, an event that illuminated the physical world by means of a union of the divine and the material. In this way, the course of human action was indicated. Actual direction was in the hands of the Catholic Church and rested upon the doctrine of the Church as a mystical union of the faithful, embracing the living and the dead. Prayers for the dead were based on this teaching, as were appeals for the intercession of the saints, since all this was seen as various forms of communication between members of one Church.
The goals Western man had set for himself were not achieved. Undoubtedly, in this case as with any phenomenon of such scope, the basic cause of failure was internal, a result of free choice, of that which in relation to the Catholic Church may be called its sin. Much has been said on this subject, and we shall only mention the frequently encountered point of view according to which the fateful decision for the Church had been in choosing the means for achieving the goal. The forces of the world became such means-power, wealth, coercive authority. But it must not be forgotten that this choice was made in an atmosphere of unceasing struggle against forces hostile to Catholicism. Furthermore, these forces were external, and served as a substantial though not a main cause of the failure that had overtaken the Catholic Church. Among such forces, not the least were the heretical movements. Their activities belong to that border area where it is so difficult to distinguish between the free seeking after spiritual truth and a conspiracy having as its aim the forcible diversion
of mankind from its chosen path. We have seen instances of the way that abstract mystical teachings could be interpreted, even a single generation later, as a basis for the destruction of churches and crucifixes, as a license for the killing of monks and priests. The common people, in turn, responded to heretical teaching with outbreaks of violence against the heretics. These were at first condemned by the Church, but gradually mutual bitterness, fear of the heretics' growing influence and, above all, the temptation of worldly power led to campaigns against the heretics and the institution of the Inquisition. The course that medieval society had set for itself became more and more twisted and the ideals it held became ever more blurred. There is no doubt that the Middle Ages provided no less reason than other periods of history for dissatisfaction with life and for protest against its darker aspects. But even though criticism of society and of the Church played a great role in the heretics' message, it seems impossible to regard the heresies as mere reactions to injustice and the imperfection of life. In any case, the heresies that we have discussed did not call for the reform of the Church or an improvement in worldly life. The Anabaptists, for example, did not ally themselves either with the Protestant Reformation or the Catholic Counter-Reformation (th'e latter was quite effective). Instead, the doctrine of these sects called for the complete destruction of the Catholic Church, for the destruction of society as it was known, and, until this end could be accomplished, for withdrawal from the world.
It was against the fundamental ideas of the Middle Ages, which we have outlined above, that all the heresies were cast. Their teachings amounted to a downright denial of the propositions enumerated above, occasionally presented in mystical form. The Cathar doctrine of the creation of the material world by a wicked God or a fallen spirit was designed to destroy the belief that the incarnation of Christ had blessed the flesh and the world. The effect was to create a gap between material and spiritual life and to tear the members of the sect away from participation in life as it was guided by the Church. In a more symbolic form, this juxtaposition of God and world was expressed in hatred for material representations of Christ and God the Father. It is interesting that one of the most ancient of the known heresies of Western Europe is connected with this. Claudius, Bishop of Turin (814-839), ordered crucifixes and sacred images to be removed from churches. (9: II: p. 50) Agobard, the Bishop of Lyons, who died in A.D. 842,
also called for the destruction of sacred objects. (9: II: pp. 43-46) Undoubtedly, the iconoclast movement which spread throughout the Byzantine Empire in the eighth century was of the same origin. We mention only in passing that a leading role in this movement was played by Paulicians, the immediate predecessors of the Cathars. The same tendency to sever the ties between God and the world, between spirit and matter, led to the denial of resurrection of the flesh typical of the Cathars. The Waldensian hostility to graveyards and their tradition of burying their dead in wastelands or courtyards are also relevant. The Cathar doctrine that good acts do not lead to salvation and, as a source of pride, are positively harmful was directed against individual participation in life. The prohibitions against carrying arms, taking oaths and going to court, which were common among Cathars and Waldenses, had a similar function. Cathars of some groups were forbidden all contact with laymen, except for attempts to convert them.
The ideas of the Free Spirits and the Adamites were even more radical--denial of property, family, state and all moral norms. The "divine" leaders of the sect clearly pretended to a much higher position in life than did the Catholic clergy. At the same time, their ideology denied all hierarchy, not only on earth, but in heaven as well. The polemical declarations that they were equal to God in all things, that they could perform miracles and that Christ had achieved a state of "godliness" only on the cross are to be taken in precisely this sense.
The denial of baptism for young children, common to almost all the sects, was based on their rejection in principle of the Church as a mystic union. In its place they set their own sect, admission into which was accompanied by baptism permitted solely to adults who consciously accepted its principles. Thus, in contrast to the Catholic Church, the sect was a conscious union of like-minded people.
All these individual theses can be reduced to one aim: overcoming the conjunction of God and the world, God and Man, which had been accomplished through Christ's incarnation (the fundamental principle of Christianity, at least in its traditional interpretation). There were two ways to achieve this: denial of the world or denial of God. The first path was taken by the Manicheans and the gnostic sects, whose teachings conceded the world to the domain of an evil God and recognized as the sole goal of life the liberation from matter (for those capable of it). The pantheistic sects, on the contrary, not only did not renounce the world, but proclaimed the ideal of the dominion
over it (again, for a chosen few, while others, the "rude" folk, were included in the category of the world). In their teachings it is possible to find the prototype of the idea of "subjugating nature" which became so popular in subsequent periods. The dominion over the world was considered possible not through the carrying out of God's will--but by denying God and by transformation of the "Free Spirits" themselves into gods. The social manifestation of this ideology can be seen in the extreme trends of the Taborite movement. Finally, the Anabaptists apparently tried to find a synthesis of these tendencies. In their "militant" phase, they preached the dominion of the elect over the world; moreover, the ideas of dominion completely overshadowed the Christian features of their world view (for example, Müntzer wrote that his teachings were equally comprehensible to Christians, Jews, Turks and heathens). In their "peaceful" phase, as can be seen in the example of the Moravian Brethren, withdrawal from the world was predominant: a condemnation of the world and a breaking of all ties with it. The ideas of chiliastic socialism constituted an organic part of this outlook. The demands to abolish private property, family, state and all hierarchies in the society of the time aimed to exclude the participants of the movement from the surrounding life. This had the effect of placing them in a hostile, antagonistic relationship with the "world." In spite of the fact that these demands did not occupy a quantitatively large place in the overall ideology of the heretical sects, they were so characteristic of it that they could serve to a great extent as an inherent distinguishing feature of the whole movement. Thus Döllinger, whom we have already cited, characterizes the attitude of the sects toward life as follows: "Each heretical doctrine that appeared in the Middle Ages bore, in open or concealed form, a revolutionary character; in other words, had it come to power, it would have been obliged to destroy the existing state structure and implement a political and social revolution. The gnostic sects, Cathars and Albigenses, who provoked the severe and implacable medieval laws against heresies by their activities, and with whom a bloody struggle was carried on, Were socialist and communist. They attacked marriage, the family and property. Had they been victorious, the result would have been a traumatic social dislocation and a relapse into barbarism. It is obvious to anyone familiar with the period that the Waldenses with their doctrinal denial of oaths and criminal law could also not have found a place for themselves in the European society of the day." (41: pp. 50-51)
In the period when socialist ideas were developing within the framework of the ideology of the heretical movements, they acquired a series of new features which cannot be found in antiquity. In this epoch, socialism turned from a theoretical, scholastic doctrine into a rallying point and a motivating force behind broad popular movements. Antiquity knew harsh national catastrophes that culminated in the ruination of states. The most impoverished groups of the population did on occasion seize power, kill the rich or oust them from towns; property was taken and divided: in Kerkira in 427 B.C., in Samos in 412 and in Syracuse in 317. In Sparta, King Nabis, in 206 B.C., divided among his followers not only the property but also the wives of the rich. However, the popular movements of antiquity did not know the slogans of communality of property, communality of wives, and they were not directed against religion. All these traits emerge in the Middle Ages.
Socialist doctrines themselves change, acquiring an intolerant, embittered and destructive character.
The idea of dividing mankind into the "doomed" and the "elect" makes its appearance, followed by calls to destroy the "godless" or the "enemies of Christ," i.e., the opponents of the movement.
Socialist ideology is imbued with the notion of a coming fundamental break, of the end and destruction of the old world and the beginning of a new order. This concept is interwoven with the idea of "imprisonment" and "liberation," which, beginning with the Cathars, is understood as imprisonment of the soul in matter and as liberation in the other world. Later, the Amalricians and the Free Spirits saw the idea as spiritual liberation through the achievement of "godliness" in this world. And finally, the Taborites and the Anabaptists conceived of it as material liberation from the power of the "evil ones" and as the establishment of the dominion of the "elect."
Furthermore, socialist ideas in this epoch merge with the concept of universal history derived principally from Joachim of Flore. The realization of the socialist ideal is connected not with the decision of a wise ruler, as in Plato's conception, but is understood as the result of a predetermined process encompassing all history and independent of the will of individuals.
A new organizational structure is evolved as well; socialist ideas develop within it and attempts are made to implement them. This is a sect with the standard "concentric" structure--a narrow circle of
leaders who are initiated into all aspects of the doctrine and a wide circle of sympathizers who are acquainted only with some of its aspects. The latter group tends to be linked with the sect by ties of an emotional character which are difficult to describe precisely. The leading role in the development of socialism passes to a new type of individual. The hermetic thinker and philosopher is replaced by the fervent and tireless publicist and organizer, an expert in the theory and practice of destruction. This strange and contradictory figure will reappear in subsequent historical epochs. He is a man of seemingly inexhaustible energy when successful, but a pitiful and terrified nonentity the moment his luck turns against him.
In closing this chapter, we turn our attention to an interesting and apparently essential matter--something the reader has undoubtedly noted: the profound dependence of socialist ideology (in the forms it attained in the Middle Ages) on Christianity. In almost all socialist movements, the idea of equality was founded on the equality of all people before God. It was standard practice to refer to the community of Apostles in Jerusalem as a model founded on the principles of communality. It is to Christianity that socialism owes its concept of a historic goal, the idea of the sinfulness of the world, its coming end and the Last Judgment. Such a close link can hardly be explained by the desire to be in accord with accepted authority or (as Engels has argued) by the fact that the language of religion was the only available idiom in which to express general historical conceptions. The fact that socialism borrowed some of its fundamental ideas from Christianity shows that this was a matter not of mere transference but of a deeper interaction. The existence of certain related elements in Christianity and socialism is indicated, for example, by the phenomenon of the monastery, which seems to realize socialist principles within Christianity (e.g., the abolition of private property and of marriage). It would be extremely important to discern the aspects shared by Christianity and socialism, to trace how the Christian concepts are redirected within socialism and ultimately turn into a denial of the fundamental principles of Christianity (for example, when God's judgment over the world is reinterpreted as the judgment of the "elect" over their enemies, or when the resurrection of the dead is translated into "deification" in the sect of Free Spirits). Such an analysis would undoubtedly explain a great deal about socialist ideology.