UNFORTUNATELY, there was going on at this time a fanatical movement, which the Roman Catholics were fain to turn to account against the Reformation, but which in truth furnished no ground of reproach against it; for the attitude of the Reformation towards the fanatics was chiefly one of resistance and suppression. When after a long winter the springtide comes again, it is not only the good seed which grows up, but weeds too appear in abundance. It could not happen otherwise in this new springtide of the church, which is called the Reformation. The mightiest power of the Middle Ages — the Papacy — was assailed. In place of the opinions which it had professed and imposed on the world for centuries, the reformers presented evangelical doctrine. It was easy to understand that not all who rejected the views of the Roman pontiffs would accept those of the reformers, but that many would invent or adopt others.
There was a diversity of doctrines, and sometimes, even within the limits of a single party, all manner of opinions. This was the case with the socalled Spirituals, who have been erroneously named Anabaptists, for opposition to infant baptism, so far from being their distinctive doctrine, was hardly their badge. They held in general the power for good of the natural will (free-will). Haetzer denied the divinity of Christ, and led a bad life. Many of them said, ‘Christ took nothing of human nature from his mother, for the Adamic nature is accursed.’ There were some who looked upon the observance of Sunday as an antichristian practice. These fanatics fancied themselves alone to be the children of God, and like the Israelites of old believed that they were called to exterminate the wicked. One of this sect, Melchior Hoffmann, after being in turn in king’s courts and in ignominious imprisonment, went into Alsace, supposing that at Strasburg the new Jerusalem was to come down from heaven, and that from this town would go forth the messengers charged to gather together God’s elect. Almost all of them expected that the end of the world was very near at hand, and some even fixed the day and the hour.
These fanatics, in consequence of the persecution to which they were subjected in South Germany, Switzerland, and in Holland, turned their steps towards the regions bordering on the Rhine, where more freedom was to be enjoyed, and where the Reformation was not yet thoroughly organized. Munster, in Wesphalia, was a strong town, fortified with a citadel, and the seat of a bishop, with a cathedral, and a numerous body of clergy. Near the town stood a church dedicated to St. Maurice; here a false reformer preached a false reformation. This preacher was one Bernard, Rottmann, a fiery man, eloquent and daring, who had to some extent apprehended the reformed doctrine, but whose heart remained unaffected by it. As he used to deliver fine discourses, the townspeople flocked to heat him; and at length requested .that he should be called into Munster.
Some influential men among the Roman Catholics, acquainted with the man, and anxious to avoid any disturbance, offered him money to go away. Rottmann accepted the money and took his departure, thus giving the measure of his faith and zeal. He then visited several towns and universities in Germany, but made no stay anywhere, and in the course of a few months returned to Munster. Some of the citizens and the populace, who were very fond of listening to his declamation, joyfully welcomed him; but the bishop and the clergy were opposed to his preaching in the churches. His partisans now set up a pulpit for him in the market-place, and his hearers increased in number daily. Two pastors from Hesse, taking Rottmann for a minister of good standing, joined him, and drew up a statement of the errors of Rome in thirty-one articles, and submitted it to the council. The priests were then assembled at the town-hall, and the council laid the document before them. ‘This is indeed our doctrine,’ they said, ‘but we are not prepared to defend it.’ They were consequently deprived. The bishop, who had quitted Munster, resolved to cut off the supply of food to the town — a measure not exactly within a pastor’s function, whose call is to feed his flock. The townsmen, provoked, arrested most of the canons and the priests and imprisoned them; and it was arranged in 1533; that evangelical doctrine should be preached in the six churches of the town, and that the old abuses should be no longer allowed except in the cathedral. f494 Among the most respected inhabitants of Munster was the syndic Wiggers, whose wife, continually followed by a host of admirers, was a person of doubtful character. She had a great admiration for Rottmann, and, clever woman as she was, knew how to captivate him. Her husband died shortly afterwards, and the rumor was spread that she had poisoned him. f495 This is, however, uncertain. Whatever the fact may be, Rottmann married her, and thus showed again, that although he was a preacher of the Gospel, he did not practice it. Honorable men now withdrew from his society. This circumstance, with others, drove him to take an extreme course.
In 1533, a very large number of enthusiasts from the Netherlands arrived at Munster. One of these, Stapreda, from Meurs, became Rottmann’s colleague, and preached vigorously their particular doctrines. f496 Rottmann, abandoned by his old friends, threw himself into the arms of these new ones, and strongly advocated their views. Great alarm was excited in Hesse. Hermann Busch, of Marburg, came to Munster to oppose the fanatics, and in consequence of a dispute between him and Rottmann the adherents of the latter received orders to leave the town.
They concealed themselves for a time and then reappeared. The pastor Fabritius, sent to Munster by the landgrave of Hesse, who was growing more and more alarmed, earnestly exhorted the senate and the people to be steadfast in sound doctrine. But one of the visionaries, pretending to be led by divine inspiration, went about the town towards the end of December 1533, exclaiming: ‘Repent ye and be baptized, or the wrath of God will destroy you.’ Ignorant men were filled with terror and hastened to obey.
At the beginning of 1534, the strength of the party was augmented by the arrival of some famous recruits. On January 13 two men made their entrance into Munster, strangely appareled, with an air of enthusiasm in their countenances and in their actions, and honored by the visionaries as their leaders. These were a prophet and a apostle; the former, John Matthisson, a baker from Haarlem, the latter, John Bockhold, a tailor from Leyden. Bockhold had made his journeyman’s tour, had run over Germany, and also, it was said, had visited Lisbon. On returning to his native land, he had taken a shop at Leyden, near the gate which leads to the Hague. The working men who rallied round the prophet had in general very little relish for work. This youthful tailor, for example, felt it very irksome to sit all day with his legs crossed, threading needles and sewing pieces of stuff and buttons. General tradition represents Bockhold as a tailor, but it is stated by some writers that he was a cloth-merchant. His father held some office in the magistracy at the Hague; but his mother, a native of Westphalia, belonged to the servant class. However this may be, he gave up his shop, and took, in conjunction with his wife, a public-house for the sale of beer and other drinks; and here he led a gay and even a dissolute life. The new tavern-keeper had not read much, but he had a certain amount of education and a good address. He was keen, crafty, ambitious, daring, eloquent, and full of animation. There were at this time in most of the towns in the Netherlands, and particularly at Leyden, poetical societies; and John Bockhold was ambitious to shine as an orator.
He made speeches which were remarkable for fluency and copiousness of diction. He even composed comedies and acted in them. He took part in the conversations, and caught the spirit of opposition to the church which prevailed in these assemblies. He made acquaintance with some of the enthusiasts; was fascinated by the notion of a new kingdom in which they were to be leading men; and thought that he should be able to find there better than elsewhere a great part to play himself. Matthisson, as we have stated, chose Bockhold for one of his apostles.
At the time of the arrival of these two men, there was living at Munster a notable townsman named Bernard Knipperdolling. This man having been in Sweden had associated with some of the enthusiasts of that country. He was now eager to receive into his house two persons already so famous.
The latter set to work without delay. Their wish was to make Munster the capital of the sect, and with a view to this they made use of all means calculated to gain over men’s minds. By their figure, their unusual attire, their fervor, their eloquence, and their enthusiasm, they produced a powerful impression. These men were bold, but also shrewd, and sought to propitiate everybody. Bockhold succeeded even in gaining access to the evangelical ministers. He spoke to them at first in the pure language of the Gospel; then he asked one or another, what he thought of this or that point on which the visionaries had peculiar views. If their answers were not such as he required, or if passages of Scripture were noted in support of their opinions, he would smile, and sometimes shrug his shoulders. It was not long before his friends and he openly proclaimed the new kingdom of which they were the forerunners. But the evangelical ministers implored the people to remain faithful to pure doctrine and to maintain it against the fanatics. f500 Women were the first to believe in that earthly and heavenly kingdom which was thus proclaimed, and which was flattering at the same time to their senses and their understanding. First some nuns, then some women of the middle class, and afterwards men embraced the doctrines published by Bockhold. Rottmann, who by his wrongdoing had forfeited the good opinion of the evangelicals, now threw himself into the arms of the new party, which received him most favorably; and he began to preach with his utmost eloquence the fantastic kingdom of the visionaries. The crowd that flocked to listen to his sermons was immense, and to hear, people said, was to be converted. The report became current that he possessed a secret charm, of such sovereign power that all persons on whom he chose to practice it were immediately enchanted and bound to the sect. It was the charm of novelty, of pride and of error. Women, who joined the party, sharply rebuked the burgomaster because he was friendly to Fabritius, the pious evangelical minister from Hesse, who declined to become a convert to the new kingdom. Working men wanted to be reputed masters. A blacksmith’s boy began to preach the new Gospel; and when the council ordered him to be imprisoned, all his comrades assembled and compelled the magistrate to release him.
A collision between the two parties seemed inevitable. On February (1534), the enthusiasts, believing themselves strong enough, took up arms and suddenly seized the great square; the evangelicals remaining masters of the walls and the gates of the city. The latter were the stronger party, and many talked of making an attack with artillery upon the fanatical multitude and of expelling the intruders from the town. While the most prudent men were engaged in deliberation, the illumines had the strangest visions. ‘I see,’ said one, ‘a man with a golden crown; in one hand he holds a sword, in the other a rod.’ Many declared that ‘the town was filled with ruddybrown flames, and that the horseman of the Apocalypse, mounted on a white horse, was advancing, conquering and to conquer.’ The good pastor Fabritius, whom they had scandalously insulted, pleaded on behalf of them. He entreated that the mad ones should be leniently dealt with. In other quarters it was expected that there would be a vigorous resistance and great slaughter. Men of conciliatory disposition would fain avoid shedding the blood of their fellow-citizens; and some were afraid that the bishop, who was near with his troops, would take advantage of the conflict to get possession of the town. Two proposals were made to the visionaries; liberty secured to both sides in matters of religion, but submission to the magistrates in civil matters. This was a victory for the enthusiasts; they were triumphant, and ‘their countenances,’ says one of themselves, ‘became of a magnificent color.’ f502 This was, indeed, the beginning of their kingdom. They now summoned their adepts to Munster from all quarters, and these came in crowds, especially from Holland. The period for the election of the Council having arrived (February 20, 1534), not one of the former magistrates was reelected.
Some working men, who pretended to be illuminated by the Spirit, superseded them and distributed all offices among their own friends.
Knipperdolling was named burgomaster. A few days later (February 27) there was held at the town-hall a great meeting of the Christians, as they called themselves. The prophet Matthisson remained for some time motionless, and seemed to be asleep. Suddenly he rose and exclaimed: ‘Drive away the children of Esau (the Evangelicals); the inheritance belongs to the children of Jacob.’ The streets were at the time almost impassable in consequence of a storm of wind with rain and snow; but the enthusiasts dashed into the midst of it, impetuously rushing about, and crying out with all their might, ‘Wicked ones, begone!’ They forcibly entered people’s houses, and expelled from them all who would not join their party. All the magistrates, the nobles, and the canons who were still in the town, were compelled to leave it; the poor likewise. The unfortunate city presented at this time the most mournful spectacle. Mothers, in terror, would snatch up their children half-naked in their arms and go away pale and trembling from their abodes, carrying with them nothing but some beverage to refresh the poor little ones on the way. Young lads with a scared look, holding in their hands a bit of bread which their schoolmasters had given them to comfort them or to allay their hunger, went side by side with their parents, with bare feet, through the snow; and old men, leaning on their staffs, quitted the town at a slow space. But on reaching the gates, the wanderers were searched; from the mothers the fanatics took away the beverage intended for their young children, from the lads the bread which they were carrying to their mouths, and from the old men the last small coins which they had taken up at the moment of their departure, and then they drove them all out of the town. They went forth at haphazard, not knowing whither they were to go, having nothing to eat or to drink, and deprived of the pitiful savings of a long and laborious life. The prophet Matthisson had at first intended that all those who did not accept the new kingdom should be put to death. But they did them the favor of only banishing them, pillaged, however, and almost naked, taking from them their coats if they happened to be good, and then drove them away, crying out, ‘Wicked! Pagans!’
The new community was now organized; and Matthisson ere long exercised over it supreme authority. Prophets who gave themselves out for inspired did not wait for the millennial kingdom, or for the resurrection of the dead, or for the advent of the Savior. They were quite equal, they thought, to their task. They despised knowledge. They prohibited all intercourse with the pagans, that is to say, the evangelicals. Those who received the new baptism indispensable for admission into their imaginary kingdom, and they alone, were saints. Marriages previously solemnized were annulled; laws were abolished on the ground that they were opposed to liberty. All distinctions of rank were suppressed; community of goods was established; and all the property of those who were banished was thrown into a common fund At the same time, seeing that their first duty was to break with a corrupt world, that irreconcilable enemy of the saints, orders were given to destroy all those evil things of which the men of the world made use. Images, organs, painted windows, clocks, seats adorned with sculptures, musical instruments, and other things of a similar kind, were removed into the market-place, and there solemnly broken to pieces.
The masterpieces of the painters of the Westphalian school were not spared. Books and manuscripts, even the rarest, were some of them burnt and others thrown upon dunghills. This was all done, they declared, by divine inspiration. People were at the same time ordered to deliver up all gold, silver jewels, ornaments, and other precious things. Property was superseded by communism; and anyone who failed to bring these superfluities to the public office was put to death. The leading fanatics divided among themselves the fine houses of the canons, the patricians, and the senators, and settled in them in plenty and comfort. A large number of adventurers in quest of fortune, and of fanatics who coveted the good things of the world more than they acknowledged, arrived at Munster from Holland and the neighboring countries. They looked upon it as a fine opportunity, and were eager to have a share of the spoil, and ready enough to lay hands on a large portion of it. To each handicraft some special duty; was assigned. The tailors, for example, were charged to see that no new form of dress was introduced into the community. These people made it a matter of as much moment to avoid the fashion as other people did to follow it.
Meanwhile, the main business was the defense of the town. Young lads even were in training for this task, and not without good reason; for in the month of May, 1531, the bishop of Munster invested the episcopal city.
He, however, made no progress; for the town, admirably fortified, was situated on a plain, and there was no rising ground in its neighborhood on which the besiegers could establish themselves. Some of the soldiers who were taken prisoners in the sorties were beheaded by order of the prophets; and their heads were set up on the walls, to show their comrades what fate awaited them. f507 The prophet Matthisson, who had at least the virtue of courage, was killed in all attack made by the besieged. Bockhold took his place. He was not so brave, but was more ambitious than his predecessor, and applied himself to the organizing of this strange community. The magistrates were nominated by Rottmann the preacher and Bockhold the prophet. Their decrees were executed by Knipperdolling. This man had authority to put to death, without form of trial, anyone who was detected in violating the new laws. For this purpose he was always accompanied by four satellites, each carrying a drawn sword; and thus attended he paraded the streets, at a slow pace, and with a penetrating glance which spread terror all around.