The Flower Inn

copyright holder unknown2For men who work day and night, driven by the passion of their dreams, there is no time for the entertainments enjoyed by others.  For those employed in the behemoth projects underway at Froben’s presses, there are no pastimes such as the game of Loggats, in which a ball or some cheese-shaped object is thrown toward a group of quilles or skittles to knock them over.

figuresgamblingnatavern1670David Teniers

How ironic that the peasants, after their days of hard labor, have strength and time to play such games, but we men of supposed learning fall into the chairs before our suppers, almost too weary to eat.  And our minds, turned to stew by the exertions that have occupied them, have not capacity for chess or Karnöffel, such as the old men play in the corners of the inn.

16th century type--Moyen Canon RomainAlthough Froben’s hospitality knows no bounds, and he would feed us every meal, a few of us stroll each evening to the Flower Inn.  We seek to get away from the noise of the presses that, at any time, can be heard beyond and behind and beneath every wall, every thought.  We need to breathe something other than the scents of paper and ink and metal, though we bring those scents with us, seeped as they are into our clothes and hair.

We drop into our chairs, our eyes dry and weary, and I am so grateful to the stout alewife who sets the repast before us that I could kiss her workworn hand.

Pellicanus by Asper--Kunsthaus ZürichAn evening here reminds me of those pleasant evenings spent at the Hog’s Snout with Zell, Fabri, Hubmaier, and the young monk, Michael.  My friend, Conradus Pellicanus, reminds me of Michael, the coarse wool of his monk’s habit contrasting with our finer academic robes, just as Michael’s did. Conrad is a Franciscan, but not only does he labor beside us on the editing and annotating, but he frequently eats with us at the inn, saying that he has missed the evening meal at the monastery.  I think he is a monk in heart, more than in rules and rituals, and for that I respect him all the more.

Bruno Amerbach, the oldest brother, is always here, though retiring Basilius is content to return to zum Kaiserstuh and eat with the servants.  Bruno reminds me of Matthew Zell, ready always to laugh, to twinkle his eyes at the women, to talk to every man who passes the table, whether peasant or burgher.  And having grown up in Basel, the son of a prominent printer, Bruno knows everyone.

And so, as if to reflect those days at the Hog’s Snout, I am joined by a quiet studious monk and a gregarious fellow.  And then, just as he was wont to do at the Hog’s Snout, Fabri arrives, always late, in a swirl of robes.

tongue2But there, the similarity ends.  For at the Hog’s Snout, we poor scholars dined on tripe or tongue, if we were lucky.  And there, to stretch her poor rations out to feed more starving students, the cook adulterated her flour with sawdust.

But here!  The Flower Inn offers accommodations for the traveler and even some local boarders. Bruno often says he may move here to get away from the presses at zum Kaiserstuh.  To this, Conrad raises his eyebrows, as if to say the innkeeper’s daughters should steer clear.  Bruno’s reputation from his Paris university days has followed him home.

Cheesemarket, BaselSo, since they serve travelers of note and local respectable citizens, the victuals at the Flower Inn are several grades higher than what held my body and soul together at the Hog’s Snout.  Tonight, we had a cheese tart filled with cheese that was not too rotten, eggs, and butter.  We had morels baked in wine and saffron.  And we had goose, stuffed with onions, quinces, pears and bacon, and roasted on a spit.  And wine!  A thing not even allowed to us as university students.

By the Muses!  And the best thing, Gentle Reader, is that we all had money to pay without having to pool our Pfennigs, or borrow, or fail to eat our fill because we had not been able to afford all the food we needed.  I thought of how Fabri had been so poor as a young urchin that he had swept the ale house just for the crumbs.  You should see him now.  Filling out around the middle just like a bishop!

Ah Basel.


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Published in: on October 7, 2012 at 6:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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Bruchsal–Part 2

Capito’s pensive mood illustrated by images of St. Jerome.

Today began like any other.  I awoke in bed, dreading to arise, meditating on the lack of progress I have made in my life of scholarship.

Yes, I have taken my Hebrew studies forward, even in the absence of a teacher, but I’ve still not finished the requirements for my doctorate, and I’m in my thirty-seventh year.

Will I live the rest of my life in this backwater of Bruchsal, preaching to these Benedictine canons, who display little interest in reforming their education, their morals, or the Church?  I have no bishop to direct me, for he who hired me has gone to the grave, and his position remains to be filled by a landed noble, who is still training for the priesthood.  Hardly one who can direct me spiritually or professionally.

I debate my options.  I could, perhaps, make a pilgrimage to Rome.  That has launched the church careers of some, but I have no contact to introduce me to anyone of influence.

I could return to the university, but I know all too well the life of a struggling scholar who, without a doctorate, barely makes enough by lecturing to buy food.

When I think of the University of Freiburg, I naturally remember the good friends there, and their pleasant company at the Hog’s Snout.  But, in truth, they are scattered.  Only Zell remains at Freiburg.  The young monk, Michael, has returned to his abbey of St. Peter’s, and Hubmaier, who did get his doctorate, teaches at the University of Ingolstadt.  Fabri, with his pair of doctorates in civil and canon law, has escaped an unhappy situation at Lindau and now serves in the cathedral at Basel.

I am left behind.  A failure.

I try to encourage myself by remembering St. Jerome.  That illustrious scholar lived a meager existence in the wilderness but produced a great output of important work. His correction of the Latin New Testament gave us the Vulgate, the Bible we have used for a thousand years.  His translation of the Hebrew gave us an Old Testament based on the original language rather than Greek.  He also wrote commentaries, theological treatises, and history.  His letters show us a man tortured by temptation and his own volatile temper.

I think of the many paintings and woodcuts of Jerome, often accompanied by his faithful lion, from whose paw, legend says, he removed a thorn.  But I have no loyal lion for company, and I am not producing any valuable work, so the parallel to St. Jerome ends rather quickly.  Nor am I given to extreme penances, and, God forgive me, I am much more troubled by my situation than my sins.

Thoughts of Jerome depress me further, for an important undertaking is now underway in Basel.

The great Erasmus has been working on a definitive edition of Jerome for years.  The Basil printer, Johannes Amerbach, dreamed of producing a beautiful edition of Jerome as the ultimate achievement of his printshop.

Sadly, Amerbach died, but his sons and his partner, Johann Froben, continue the work, and Erasmus has now joined his dream to theirs, so that there is much activity in Basel.  Erasmus visited Basel last summer and met Froben, and now the work proceeds apace, with various scholars assisting on the Hebrew and Greek.

What I would give to be there, too.  Even as a mouse hiding among the stacks of folios.

At last, I sigh, my daily round of discouraging thoughts completed, and drag myself upright to begin the tedious business of legal and administrative correspondence for this poor ungoverned bishopric.

But then, the sound of hoofbeats. . .


The marvelous painting of St. Jerome at Study is by Jason Sorley.  View his gallery here.

Last Week’s Post

Bruchsal–Part 1


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Bruchsal–Part 1

December 1512

Like most choices, my decision to leave the university and move to Bruchsal to work for the Bishop has not resulted in a perfect situation, though it is nice to eat with the sons of nobility and to wear robes equal to the ones Zasius provides Fabri.

But my position entails far more than I expected.  The Bishop sends me on frequent errands, (hence, the lateness of this post), and the duties are beyond the scope of my abilities.  The Bishop believes that, since I studied briefly under Zasius, I should be able to answer legal questions.  Nothing could be farther from the truth, and I am frequently dispatching a courier on a fast horse to appeal to Fabri for advice.  And, too, I hate litigation and conflicts, and so, do not enter into argumentation with the passion it requires.

Then, there are the endless chapter meetings in which the daily business of the foundation is discussed.  I care not what arrangements should be made for the upcoming feast or at what hour this or that should occur.  But my position requires me to attend.  So there I sit, as stuck as a pig on a spit, but at least the pig has a purpose.

The people who attend our services are woefully ignorant and superstitious, particularly with regard to ghosts, demons, witches, and saints.  This results from several sources.  The clergy are poorly trained and often superstitious themselves, and they encourage the superstitions of the people in order to keep the common herd content and keep everything in stat quo.  While the people are not to blame that they were raised with superstitions, they cling to them tenaciously, for is it not much easier to simply follow a superstitious formula than to undergo a transformation of heart?

So, you may have surmised from all this, Gentle Reader, that I find myself at odds with several of the clergy.  They accuse me of stirring up the populace, for some find my lessons refreshing and authentic, but some cling to their old thinking, and so the congregation is divided.  How I shocked them last Sunday when I answered that, no, the sight of an icon does not protect one from sudden death for the rest of the day.  Does not experience itself teach this?

Hubmaier writes that discussion among the people is always to be desired, as it opens minds.  But truly, I feel that I am having little positive effect.

I am besieged by a mass of trivial duties, and one would surmise that I am too busy to think.  But I do think.  In my solitude, I find myself revisiting troubling questions that go all the way back to my childhood and my father’s affinity for John Wycliffe.

Is Christ really Present in the Eucharist?  I don’t know.  And yet, in my position, I declare my belief in that doctrine every time I say Mass.

I have no one with whom to share these concerns—dangerous as they are.  Oh how I miss Hubmaier and Zell and the lively discussions we had over our ale at the Hog’s Snout.  How I miss Fabri’s unwavering logic.  And the innocent wisdom of the young monk Michael.

Bruchsal is an intellectual desert, and there are few here who can have—or who wish to have—an intelligent discussion about humanistic studies, languages, poetry, ethics, or anything else.  Again, preserve the status quo.  So, when I have a free moment, I seem to gravitate to solitary places where I spend the time brooding.

The one bright spot in the last several months was the recent visit of Conradus Pellicanus.  Although a Franciscan, Conradus leads all Germany in the study of Hebrew, though when he began to study, he had no grammar and no teacher.  But he taught himself the letters, and then Reuchlin lent him the grammar of Moses Kimhi, for Reuchlin is convinced that if one wishes to find the truth in Hebrew, one must follow the grammatical and exegetical tradition of the medieval rabbis.

In 1501, Conradus published the first Hebrew grammar in any European language, which was most helpful to Reuchlin when he later began to publish his works.  (Reuchlin’s Augenspiegel has been suppressed, Conradus told me, thanks to the efforts of that idiot, Pfefferkorn.  Let them try to take my copy.)

Conradus is a model of how a man can educate himself in any subject if he only be willing to study and make the effort to do all that he can.  He tells me that in Basel, there is a converted Jew from Spain living with the Amerbachs and teaching Hebrew.  I have asked the Bishop for permission to make the trip to Basel to meet this Jew.

Many are studying the New Testament in Greek, but few can read the Old Testament in its original language or understand the tradition from which it came.  This is due to a dearth of study material and to the suspicion and hatred of anything Jewish.  A great tragedy.

Jewish scholars wearing pointed hats are suckled by their wetnurse, the Devil’s pig. Earliest extant anti-Semetic broadside. 1475

But I, Capito, find Hebrew fascinating, both for its own knowledge and for the light that it throws on the Bible.  If I could pursue Hebrew studies, my time here in Bruchsal might not seem so devoid of purpose.  So, I go to Basel to meet this Jew.  And we shall see what will be.

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Jon Sayles, Heinrich Isaac, and a Hound

All parts of all music performed by Jon Sayles.

You see jugglers.  You see sword swallowers.  You see a man with a tiger in a cage.  You see a man with a Turk in a cage.  Relic sellers rattle their wooden saints’ medallions or their bones.  A mime follows you, imitating your movements for a few seconds.

Entertainers and vendors work the crowd of people making their way to the dedication of a new church.  Or celebrating a saint’s day.  Or just coming to a market fair.

You see a group of coarse players enacting the story of Pope Joan, who pretended to be a man and was elected pope until she bore a child and came to ruin.  A Meistersanger fills the air with a lyric poem set to music.  His song tells of Neidhart, who found a violet and rushed to tell the Duchess, but while he was gone, a peasant picked the violet, sending Neidhart into a rage.

You have brought your food from home, dried meat, bread, and a crock of pumpkin compote.  But you cannot resist the food vendors.  The sausages sizzling in skillets.  The whole hog rotating on a spit turned by a dog-powered treadwheel.  The very salty radishes.  The gingerbread cookies shaped like St. Anthony’s pig.  The beer flowing in rivers from casks and kegs.

There is music.  Hurdy-gurdies.  Pipes and tabors.  Portive organs.  Bagpipes.  A fidel.  But what are the tunes?  (Take a deep breath, relax, and listen, Gentle Reader.  Time travel takes only a few seconds.)

Perhaps you hear Die Katzenpfote (Cat’s Feet  1:37).

Or Ich Weiss Nit (I Know Nothing  2:16).

Or, my own favorite, Shaerffertanz.  (Shepherd’s Dance  1:37).

These wonderful songs, and many more, are available for free, thanks to the talent, generosity, and love of music of Jon Sayles.  Today, Capito speaks with this musician, blessed by Euterpe.

Capito:  Thank you, Master Sayles, for agreeing to speak with me.  And thank you for the wonderful gift of this music.  How did you become interested in classical guitar?

My mother was a music major, and my father, a naturally gifted jazz pianist.  He brought me a ukelele when I was about seven.  I learned to play it and a Roy Rogers plastic guitar at that time.  There have been numerous music teachers whom I owe huge thanks, and I have dedicated my site to them.

Capito:  And what prompted you to devote so much time and effort to early music?

At the University of Hartford, I was fortunate to work with Joe Iadone, a world-class lutenist, who introduced me to early music.  I taught music until 1983 and then switched to software development.  Now I take my two weeks of IBM vacation in December to record new tunes for the website.

Capito:  Your site has an interesting collection across several centuries and countries.  You have brought these songs out of rare academia and given them to the world.  And what a great job you do in performing them.  Let’s listen to a few more tunes composed by Heinrich Isaac.

Maudit Soy  (1:21)

And here’s the hound.  Der Hund  (the Dog 2:29)

Isaac is a very popular composer.  He was a singer for Duke Sigismund (a Habsburg) in Innsbruck in 1484.  The next year, he went to Florence, where he was employed as a singer at the church Santa Maria del Fiore.  He composed several important pieces in Florence, under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici.  Isaac performed in Rome for the coronation of Pope Alexander VI.  In 1496, he moved to Vienna.  He was court composer for the Emperor Maximilian I and remains in his employ, though not in Innsbruck.  One of Isaac’s most famous works is the poignant Insbruck ich muss dich lassen (Oh Innsbruck, I must leave you.)

Here’s what I, Capito, know.  It is one thing to be a scholar of history, learning dates, wars, movements, religion.  Even knowing details of food, clothing, and farm implements.  But only when the music of a people comes alive for you, do you feel their soul.


Capito thanks Susan Iadone for her help with this post.

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Published in: on September 9, 2011 at 6:55 am  Comments (2)  
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The Frankfurt Book Fair Part 1

Vergil printed by Aldus in 1501 (Rylands copy)

The Fates smile on Capito Zasius is sending Fabri to the Frankfurt Fair to make acquisitions for his library.  And Capito accompanies him!  How I have longed to see this most wondrous event, held each year from Assumption (August 15) to the Nativity of the Virgin (September 8). 

Here writers and scholars from many lands gather to meet one another and to arrange deals with printers and publishers.  The printer, Aldus Manutius from Venice, will present his wares.  That alone is worth the journey.

But in addition to books, there will be goods from every point of the compass.  Cloth from England and the Low Countries, spices from the East, wine from the South.  There will be fish, horses, hops, and glass.  Iron, silver, tin, and copper.  There will be linen, fine cloths, veilings, tapestry.  There will be gold and silver wares, oils and sausages.  Dentists, medicine purveyors, and a seller of spectacles. 

There will be Meistersingers and musicians, beggars, pickpockets, prostitutes, mountebanks, conjurers, and fortune tellers.  Once there was an ostrich on display and once, the animal known as an elephant.  To commemorate that event, a life-sized painting of the elephant remains on a house in the garden where it was displayed, and the house is known as Zum Elefanten.  Oh the glorious chaos!

But first, we must get there.  Tonight, we arrive at an inn.  It is no worse than most inns in a German land.  In fact, those that are better would be the exception.

Upon arrival, we initiate the ritual necessary to secure a bed.  We stand out in the yard for an interminable time and yell.  God forbid that the innkeeper should greet us, for we Germans consider it demeaning to trawl for paying guests.  After you announce yourself until your throat is cramping, some head thrusts forward from a tiny window and you inquire about lodging.  If they have none, they say so.  But if they do, they don’t answer your question, but simply withdraw, to meander out a little later, feigning indifference.

Fabri asks about a stable for the horses and is answered with a vague wave.  We attend to the animals ourselves, and with extra care, for they belong to Zasius.  There are no servants for this, as travelers report that there are in other lands.

We then enter the common room, which is indeed common, as all guests are here, in their boots, with their baggage and road dust.  There must be eighty or ninety people, for many are traveling to Frankfurt.  There are some who clearly can afford nicer accommodations, but on the road, one takes what is available. Several are decidedly ill, but these are housed with the rest of us.  Men, women, children, rich and poor, sick or well, all share the same fetid air, for Germans consider it the height of hospitality to warm their guests to a lather.  There is not a man present whose clothes are not dark with sweat, but when Fabri dares open the window a little, a terrible clamor of indignation is heard.

The wine is of the most inferior sort, and I ask if there is any better.  I am ignored.  Then Fabri asks and is given a murderous look and informed that “many nobles and lords stay in this inn and none complain about the wine.  If you don’t like it, seek another.”  Indeed, we Germans are rude and consider only our own nobility to require courtesy.

At last, the food.  A meat broth with bread, followed by a piece of meat so frequently warmed over that it is dried to leather.  There is also some salted fish, but I don’t get any. 

The inferior wine flows, and soon the overcrowded, exhausted travelers are arguing, yelling, pushing, scuffling.  Fabri and I stay close to the wall as it trembles from the brouhaha.  Sleeping is impossible, and all guests in a German inn are expected to retire at the same time, so we wait, miserable, until the others drink enough to fall onto the hard beds which are our accommodations.  

Bed bugs & head lice

“How often do you think they wash these linens?” I ask Fabri.

“Oh,” he says, “at least twice a year.”

Nevertheless, I close my eyes, content.  Tomorrow, the Fair! 

The dolphin & anchor mark of the Venetian printer, Aldus Manutius

Details of a stay at a German inn as reported by Erasmus.

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Faces in the Crowd

If you observe a button, endeavor to depress it.

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Ich Weiss Nit composed by Ludwig Senfl (c.1490-1555). Recorded by Jon Sayles.  We offer him the gratitude of Briareus to Zeus for making this music freely available at his most marvelous site

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Published in: on June 9, 2011 at 9:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Gotefrit in the Liederhandschrift--14th century

Capito has been hard at work on a bibliography page for this blog, a process every bit as tedious as proofing type at the printers.

What better way to rest one’s brain than to spend a rainy weekend with Gottfried von Strassburg’s account of the love miseries of Tristan and Isolt? 

Do not be put off, Best Reader, by the seemingly endless repetition.  Our modern world, as fast as a runaway horse, has no patience or skill at reposeful reading.  But stick with it, and you will find that no one in any century has so perfectly captured the confusion and tangled emotions called by that simple name of love. 

Though the characters had existed for centuries, Gottfried lifted them from legend and gave them depth and humanity.  No wonder his version has survived three hundred years.  Here is an interesting translation by Professor Lee Stavenhagen.  

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Published in: on May 14, 2011 at 7:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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City Air Makes Men Free

The peasant carpenters continue to work in the adjoining room.  Huge Clovis with his Niederdeutsch dialect, mousey Ergot, and sharp Fedor with the ruined face, a scar, a mass of too-white flesh, covering the entirety of the left side.  Last night, as they leaned on the other side of the wall against which my cot is abutted, Clovis said softly, “Today I become a free man.  My son will not be a serf.”

A cheese so strong that I could smell it through the cracks in the wall must have been unwrapped, as Clovis continued.  “My family and village were tenants of a certain noble for as long as memory holds.  We always paid our rents and gave our lord everything he required.

“But with each generation, the nobles grow more foolish.  They waste their fortunes on clothing and the new spices.  They quarrel among themselves and ruin the land by attacking one another’s villages.  My house was burned three times in four years, the crops destroyed every time.  Once they burned the barn with my ox in it.  As the nobles grow poorer, they take more from us.  They change the laws and take away our ancient rights to hunt, to fish, to gather firewood on the common lands.  They make us work more and more days.”

Fedor amazed me when he said, “It’s this new Roman law.  Our ancient rights came from the old German law.  It made a difference among serfs, tenants, freers.  The Romans had only slaves.  Their law had only slaves.  Now we are all slaves.”

I shifted on my cot.  We scholars believed that the rewriting of the law codes along Roman lines was an admirable return to simplicity and justice.

“When my lord invoked the new law,” Clovis said, “I had to work two days a week for him, and I had to work extra boon days during the busy harvests.  That was bad enough.  But the mistress!  Ach, she galled me!  I had to gather snails for her, stand guard to shoo the wild hogs away from her garden, keep the frogs quiet in the pond on cloudy afternoons while she slept.  My days spent in such foolishness, I worked my own crops by the light of the moon.  Dark nights, my son carried a torch before the plow.”

Ergot seemed to be eating apples, for I heard the bite, though at this time of year, they would be wintered over, shriveled and moldy.  “How’d you get away?” he squeaked.

“My lord took his men to war.  So, we fled in the night.  Many days I spent between the shafts of the handcart, saying to my wife and son:  Faster.  Faster.”

Ergot must also have been eating the apple cores, for he spat the seeds.  “Pist.  Did they look for you?”

“I know not.  Perhaps in the nearer cities, but I avoided those.  I made for Freiburg, over a hundred miles away.  Once I was within the city walls, the lord had a year and a day to reclaim me.  But there’s been no rumor of his appearing.  True is the saying: City air makes men free.” 

Now I smelled dried fish as Fedor said, “May it please the saints.  For I shall never go back.”

I assumed Ergot referred to the scar when he said, “Did a noble do that?”

“I spoke too directly to my lord.”

“What’d you say?”

“I said nothing.  But I gave him the Spanish finger.”

Ergot’s squeal was piercing.  “Why?”

“Because he had claimed the right of first night with my wife.  I did not think he should claim also my daughter.”

Clovis spoke now.  “So he called for the tongs.  Odd how it healed back so raised and smooth.  The tongs usually leave a hole.”

“It’s the burning,” said Fedor.  “You can never predict how a burn will grow back.”

The other two men murmured agreement.  Then Fedor said, “He took this little finger because I ate a few berries when he ordered me to pick them.” 

“It’s good you fled,” said Clovis.  “Before he got the rest of you.”  After a pause, he added, “How long since you fled?”

“All Soul’s Day.” 

“Six months,” Clovis said.  “Half the required time.”

But Fedor just said, “Ergot!  Are you eating only apples?  You’ll beshit yourself.”

Tonight, at the Hog’s Snout, I asked Fabri, with his jurist degrees, if this common saying about city air were truly law.  He nodded over his tankard.  “It is.  It’s been in effect since a treaty of 1424 between the lords and the towns.  The margraves have the right to claim within a year any of their subjects who flee their jurisdictions to the freedom of the cities.”

“But does this not creat a great influx of poor?”

Fabri attacked the dumpling the alehouse mistress set before him.  “It does.  And the more that come, the more difficult it is for the lord to find the individual.  A runaway serf blends easily into the common herd.  But the city needs the labor and especially the additional men for any military musters.” 

I nodded, but I wondered which side these poor would take in a general peasant uprising.  Would they stand with the city that had offered them freedom?  Or would they be the enemy within the walls?


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In Praise of Letters

Boniface Amerbach by Hobein

Capito has derived great joy in recent days from two sources.  One is the collected letters of the Amerbach family of Basel.  I worked some with the father, drank a little with the sons, and relied on Bruno to bring me books from the Frankfurt fair.  You shall have to give the site your email and a password, but that is a pittance for the excellent scholarship which stands behind these translations.

The other study to which I wish to direct you, Gentle Reader, is an article on the painter, Hans Holbein.  The author discusses Holbein’s relationship to the English Court.  I always felt pity for Holbein’s wife, left behind.  But one values a thing according to one’s perception.  Visit this delightful site often to live among the peaks of art.

The Artist's Family by Hans Holbein the Younger

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Published in: on March 4, 2011 at 12:04 pm  Comments (1)  
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Ordination Angst

Hus at the Stake

Tonight, my doubts crawl like roaches out of the cracks of my theology and fly about the room with whispering wings before the snap of a hard-shelled landing on the wall.  In two days, I shall finally be ordained a priest.  I am honored that the University’s protegé, Johann Eck, will officiate.

But I cannot sleep and sit for hours by the window.  A mist falls.  The street is empty.  The lamps that burn before the shops make weak circles that hardly dent the night. 

In his cot, my friend Zell sleeps untroubled.  At repose, his face is not nearly as handsome as it seems when he is awake, animated, amused.  His nose is long and as straight as if drawn with a ruler.  His chin is reticent, his eyelids so thick that his eyes appear half closed much of the time.  He is a lean, angular man with bony cheeks and forehead.  Asleep, he appears halfway to a skeleton. 

But awake, he is always in good humour, playful as a pudel, shining with love for life and people.  When he speaks at the cathedral, the crowds are large.  He is thirty-two years old, a man whose enthusiasm and sympathy married to eager, virile movements are an irresistible bait to women.  Matthew is often over his head before he even realizes he’s reached the water.  Now he sleeps, his arms thrown wide as if to embrace the world.  He questions neither his sins nor his redemption.

I take the candle and walk to the door of our room.  Across from us, the students keep a dog and several cats.  They let the excrement accumulate, and the stench reaches me.  Our Midas landlady charges extra for the dog.  She turns even dog turds to gold.

Perhaps I am troubled by my dead father’s voice, who begged me with his final breath not to become a priest.  He believed the clergy parasites, keeping concubines, fathering bastard children who never have legal rights, and fleecing the people for money at every turn. 

My father was only a winemaker, but he thought much.  He had a copy of the writings of Jan Hus, the Bohemian heretic, hidden in a sling under a chair.  He agreed with Hus that Christ was the Head of His church, not the Pope, a belief that calls into question the authority of Rome and makes every pronouncement of the Curia suspect.

I turn away from the stench, retreating to the window again.  I always saw a life of service to Christ’s people to be a marvelous thing.  “If you want to serve the people,” my father growled, “then become a doctor.”  He sacrificed much for my medical studies.  Yet, I never believed myself gifted as a doctor, and I followed the maxim of Hippocrates when I deserted medicine, that being the only way to be certain that I did no harm. 

But though I may have absorbed my father’s doubting inclination, his doubts are not mine.  That some priests are lazy or corrupt is no reason to shun the priesthood, for I shall not be lazy or corrupt.  No, my doubts are deeper and strike at the very heart of faith.  I cannot believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  And yet, I shall be ordained a priest to celebrate the Eucharist.  I shall teach the  people this doctrine, and I shall, by my very lifting of the elements, testify to my faith in such.  And so, I shall be a fraud.

In desperation, I can only clutch at Ockham’s Nominalism.  There is reason, and there is revelation.  Two truths.  I accept by faith what reason rejects.  And yet, I hear Hubmaier’s voice at our last card game.  Two truths or three hundred.  Or none at all. 

I see two staggering figures leaning on one another, two students trying to find their house after hours of debauchery.  One lists to the side until he steps into the Bächle, the rivulets that flow in Freiberg’s streets to water cattle, contain fires, and carry away refuse.  The students make no noise, as if aware of the gravity of their situation.  May God have mercy upon us all.


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Published in: on February 28, 2011 at 7:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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