Taufertum und Kabbalah. Augustin Bader und die Grenzen der Radikalen Reformation.
In his Habilitationsschrift in church history at Gottingen University, Anselm Schubert has produced an interesting study that meets all the standards of professional history writing. It sheds light on a dark corner of early modern religious and cultural history - the bizarre, puzzling and somewhat repugnant world of apocalyptic conceptions that preoccupied the Augsburg weaver Augustin Bader in the early years of the Reformation, and ultimately led to his execution. This study is comparable to the much acclaimed book of Carlo Ginzburg (in its fifth edition in 2005) about the miller from Friuli who conceived of the world around 1600 as a cheese infested by worms, and fell into the hands of the Inquisition as a result of this cosmological extravagance. Another parallel that comes to mind is Guy de Ladurie's work, which has revived our memory of the Cathars of Montaillou. Like Bader's, these are histories of an underworld that can be rediscovered only after laborious research and intricate argumentation has unearthed it from judicial archives.
The book is organized into two parts. First comes a biography of Bader (pp. 33-202), which will certainly remain the most reliable account of this odd individual for the foreseeable future. Next (pp. 203-306) there is an analysis of the apocalyptic conceptions that this layman developed in response to his day-by-day experiences. In the beginning of the book the state of the previous scholarship on Bader and Anabaptism is sketched, with its peculiarities and insufficiencies. The book concludes with an impressive summary of its accomplishment in discovering a symbolic world marked by a combination of elements of Anabaptism with the Jewish (and Christian) Cabbala.
Schubert shows bow deeply Bader was immersed in the mystical and apocalyptic world of Hans Hut, an Anabaptist apostle influenced by Thomas Muntzer. Bader was elected to lead the Anabaptist congregation of Augsburg (probably the most important Anabaptist congregation at that time) after many Anabaptist leaders were executed or driven away in the aftermath of the "martyrs' synod" of September 1527. Shortly afterward Bader had to step aside from his leadership due to controversies in the Augsburg congregation. When the date that Hut had set for the second coming of Christ passed at Pentecost 1528, Bader abandoned Anabaptism completely. Instead, he joined a small group of followers in wanderings between Augsburg, Esslingen, Strasbourg and the Ulm vicinity, expecting an imminent apocalypse. Stimulated by experts in the Jewish Cabbala, he moved his expectations of the coming of the Messiah to Easter 1530. On the basis of a vision by his companion Call Vischer, he advanced himself as the messianic king whose rule should then be inherited by his newly born son. He gave a visual expression to Hans Hut's teaching of the three stages of the knowledge of God with the use of special costumes that he designed on the model of the traditional costumes of the estates of the Imperial Cities. These symbolic garments, aimed at a visible proclamation of Bader's message, introduced an egalitarian dynamic aimed at a millenarian reversal of the traditional hierarchy of estates. In the eyes of contemporaries, that amounted to a threat to the established order of estates. Particularly threatening was the fact that the proclamation of this egalitarian society was connected with Bader's preparation to assume messianic rule. He commissioned a goldsmith to produce the insignias of royal status: a golden crown, a scepter and a gilded sword, as well as a chain of office and other ornaments. This claim to authority by Bader, which was not, in fact, aimed at an actual usurpation, was connected by the authorities of Nearer Austria and the Swabian League with the intrigues directed toward the restoration of Duke Ulrich of Wurttemberg. It was construed as a political threat and prosecuted in an explosive trial.
Bader's turn to messianic ideology, not satisfactorily explained by previous scholarship, is clarified by Schubert in extensive and subtle research. He traces it back to the encounter in the vicinity of Strasbourg between Bader and a former Catholic priest, Oswald Leber, who instructed him in the basic conceptions and calculations of the end of the world of the Jewish Cabbala and its reception by the Christian humanist Hebraist Johannes Reuchlin. Leber maintained connections with Jewish scholars, particularly those of the important Jewish congregation in Worms. In this way Schubert has enriched Anabaptist scholarship with a component from religious history, presenting Bader as a "creative recipient" of ideas about the Cabbalah. Bader's ideas have generally been presented as the product of a more or less deranged mind; Schubert, in contrast, points to a productive combination of Anabaptist and Jewish beliefs. This combination, thoroughly discussed by Schubert, turns out to be not a foreign body in Bader's original apocalyptic thought but rather a confirmation of Hut's leading ideas in a changed situation. Schubert does not neglect to underscore the historical irony that the humanist Reuchlin, one of the most important jurists of the Swabian League, was the godfather of this reception of Jewish messianic teaching.
Schubert's biography of Bader takes its place in Anabaptist historiography beside the two excellent biographies that Klaus Deppermann devoted to Melchior Hoffman and Gottfried Seeba[beta] to Hans Hut, although Bader is a lesser figure than Hoffman and Hut in Anabaptism and the early Reformation, and it is not possible to derive such wide-ranging consequences from the study of his life for the renewal of Anabaptist scholarship as Schubert seems to claim. Although Schubert has presented us with a careful, empathetic and stimulating study of Bader and his following, shedding light on the interpretation of the Anabaptists and the radical factions on their margin, his analysis of the present state of the scholarship in this field is somewhat problematic. He outlines a rigid confrontation between theological and social history approaches, and offers his solution to this unproductive state of affairs. He launches a particularly sharp attack on the social history approach, saying that it reduces the unmistakable religious intention of the Anabaptists to a mere social function. That is simply not the case in the examples he cites. He misunderstands that here there is no attempt to contrast a social history reality, a "social history substratum" (27), or "the day-to-day world of social history" over against the "elite religion of theological history" (28). Rather the attempt is to find a way to illustrate the historical reality, the day-to-day world, as well as the theological ideas that arise in it and get their meaning from this reality and are not fully understandable outside it. This approach attempts the same thing that Schubert himself presents as his proposal to overcome the current impasse--that is, to bring the historical setting of the world into the analysis of religious ideas, and so in this way to come to a more adequate understanding of the religious or theological ideas of the Anabaptists. The revisionist social history of Anabaptism has refused to let itself be pushed into the false confrontation described by Schubert, and has already widened its perspective into the cultural history approach that Schubert demonstrates in this book. He makes a theoretical and methodological approach that is already being accepted and very welcome, and his book, both in its approach and its substance, has greatly enriched Anabaptist scholarship.
(trans. by James M. Stayer)
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|Publication:||Mennonite Quarterly Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2010|
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