Farewell, Bruchsal

Abject apologies, Gentle Reader, for my long silence.  I have been busy packing my books and belongings into barrels for their journey on the Rhine.  But let me continue my story from where I left it in my last post.

There was the sound of hooves on the cobblestones outside, and my name was shouted by a youthful voice.  Looking from my upper window, I observed three horsemen dismounting.  I recognized the two younger Amerbach sons.  But the third man I failed to recognize,  because I was not expecting an old friend with two new ones.  But by the Muses!  It was Fabri.

I hurried down, still without my robe and my blouse untied, though it was midmorning.  They were glad to see me.  Even Fabri’s reserved manner was lightened by a smile and some flickering amusement in his eyes.  Bonifacius was excitedly twisting his horse’s mane.  “We have great news!” he said.

But his older brother, Basilius, punched his arm, scowling.  “That’s Fabri’s business!  Do you work for the Bishop now?”

Though Bonifacius was sobered, he looked expectantly at Fabri, who said simply, “I’m parched.”

I showed them the hospitality of my late prince-bishop’s wine cellar, and they talked of the news from Basel.  Erasmus had been there a few months earlier, but now was gone.

“I wonder if I shall ever get to meet him,” I said.  “His writings are light in my darkness here.”

There was a pause, as if the very globe of the world held its breath.  Then Fabri slowly removed a document from his satchel and handed it to me.  The red seal bore the imprint of a bishop’s crook.  I carefully peeled it away rather than breaking it.

Bishop Christoph von Utenheim of Basel was offering me a position as cathedral preacher.  I would also be offered a position at the University of Basel as soon as I completed the requirements for my doctorate.  I read the letter three times.  I could scarce take it in.

“This Bishop von Utenheim is a great advocate for good letters,” Fabri said.  “He longs to bring scholars of the new learning to Basel, and I think his efforts of last winter to make Erasmus feel welcome and honoured are one reason Erasmus plans to return to Basel and have his next works printed there.  The Bishop is also a sincere advocate of ecclesiastical reform, having been asked by the abbot of Cluny to reform the monastery of St. Alban at Basel.”

“Not that the monks wish to be reformed,” Bonifacius laughed, and Basilius frowned at him.

I reread the letter.  It was difficult for me to swallow.  “This is your doing,” I said finally to Fabri.  “You are my savior.”

“No,” Fabri said.  “Your friend, Pellicanus, suggested you for the post.  I only stood as witness to your talents when the Bishop asked me.  And the Amerbachs have added their voices to the hue and cry for Capito.”

Now Basilius Amerbach spoke.  Unlike his brothers, he was so soft-spoken that I had to listen carefully.  “You know, Master Capito, that our father went to God with his most ambitious project still unfinished.”

The monumental Complete Works of Jerome, which the elder Amerbach had discussed with me when I first visited his home.  He had predicted then that it would run to ten volumes, and that he would not live to see it completed.

“Our grief is further deepened,” Basilius said, “by the death of Johannes Cono, my father’s trusted advisor in Greek.  The Jew, Adrianus, has left us as well.”

He sighed.  “Let us speak the honest, simple truth, as one German to another.  Of course, we are thrilled that Erasmus has decided to combine his efforts on Jerome with those of our own.  His name alone will help to make it a successful financial venture, and not just a labor of love, as were so many of my father’s projects, for you know, he always wanted to produce works of great beauty and spared no expense on types and illustrations.

“But Erasmus has huge plans for Jerome.  Plans that. . .” again Basilius hesitated, “plans that are beyond the abilities of one man even with the assistants that he often calls upon.  Erasmus, himself, declares he is woefully deficient in Hebrew studies.”

At last the younger Bonifacius could contain himself no longer.  “Erasmus wants the Jerome to have introductions, antidotes, commentaries, word studies.  He sees it as nine volumes with 4000 scholia.”

I nodded.  Scholia, marginal commentary on history or etymology, would be extensive in a work that dated to the fifth century, contained several languages, and was based on multiple manuscripts.

Again Basilius spoke, “Even more important, Erasmus will also be working on his New Testament, which Froben will print this winter.  You know, we have a great fondness for our father’s friend and assistant, Johann Froben.  He is an excellent printer, but he is not an educated man.”

“Erasmus calls him stupid,” Bonifacius said, for which he received yet another glare from his brother.

“That had more to do with the problems of his household and his trusting nature,” Basilius said.  “We need your help, Capito. Please accept the Bishop’s offer and move to Basel.  Put your shoulder to the wheel beside ours to assist Erasmus with his great projects, which will benefit all men who love piety and good letters.”

I sighed to release the pressure of my feelings.  “I get to preach Christ truly, help a reform-minded Bishop, teach at the University, and work at a printer’s with some of the greatest scholars in the German lands.”  Once again, I choked back tears of gratitude.  “You honor me far too much, my friends, who want to put a pack saddle on an ox.  But this ox promises to do his best.”


Rhine riverboat from German Waterways in 1632, Detlef Zander.  

Froben edition of Jerome located in the Gdansk Library of the Polish Academy of Science.

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Trouble in Persia~~The Battle is Joined

Personal letter to scholar Wolfgang Capito, from his cousin and friend, Diether von Michelstadt, Knight of the Holy Order of Saint John, from the garrison on Rhodes.

My dearest friend, you will certainly recall my previous comment on Sultan Selim of the Ottoman Turks, the most dangerous enemy to our fortified outpost.  The threatened clash between himself and Ismāil, Shāh of Persia, has now transpired.

Shah Ismail–Turkish miniature

Selim and Ismāil hate one another passionately, particularly because Selim is a devout Sunni, who sees the Persian Shi’ites as heretics and blasphemers.  To aggravate the situation further, Ismāil supported Selim’s brother Ahmed against him in their bloody struggle for power, and allowed Persian raids into Turkish lands.

Selim led a substantial army eastward to the upper reaches of the river Euphrates. Clouds of feudal cavalry were stiffened by the disciplined Janissaries and Selim’s impressive artillery.  Ismāil’s forces were not as large, and consisted mainly of lancers and bowmen on horseback.  It is said the Persians eschew firearms as unmanly and trust in divine providence rather than armor.

They do wear helmets, though the Shãh and his special qizilbash warriors wear distinctive red caps. Outnumbered three to one, Ismāil burned and devastated his own territories to slow the Turkish advance, but Selim’s careful planning for a good supply train kept the Turks fed and well armed.

The battle was joined at a place called Chaldiran, where Selim deployed his Janissaries behind a deep trench, with their flanks protected by carts and wagons chained together, and defended by artillery roped together wheel-to-wheel.  This is the same tactic used by the Hussite heretics against the emperor’s army decades ago.

Great Cannon (of Turks) Dürer–1518

Persian cavalry attacked the flanks, in an attempt to avoid the Janissary corps, but the Turkish guns blew them to pieces.  By my word, these Persians are the enemies of Christendom, but I cannot help but feel sorrow for such brave men smashed beyond recognition by the stone shot of those formidable guns.

Map of Tabriz–16th century

Ismāil himself was wounded in the battle and his troops routed.  Some reports state that he was drunk on wine during the battle, a thing strictly forbidden to good Muslims.  His capital city of Tabriz, famous for its rich carpets and bazaar, was captured by Selim’s forces, but held only briefly.  Selim’s troops refused to advance any further beyond what they considered safe limits, so the Turkish Sultan had to fall back on the freshly conquered lands west of Lake Van.  Leaders of the Kurdish Muslims and Armenian Christians abandoned their loyalty to the Persians, and switched their support to Selim after his victory.  This leaves the Turks in possession of much of ancient Mesopotamia.

16th century Greek Merchant

All of this news is reported to us by a good friend of our Order, the Greek merchant Apostolis.  This worthy trader specializes in Smyrna figs and other fruit commodities, and travels extensively in the lands loyal to Muhammad’s followers.  At the time of the recent conflict, he had arrived at Tabriz, and spoke to Turkish soldiers during their brief time in that city.  After their withdrawal, the Persians returned, lamenting what they predict will be many decades of warfare between these giant empires.

For the immediate future, my own prospects may involve travel back to Europe.  Our Grand Master sees a temporary period of respite in our watchfulness.  It has been many years since I have been to our homeland, so he might send me to visit Germany, Switzerland and the north to recruit more dedicated knights, collect contributions of money and supplies, and amass more and better weapons.  If I am sent on such a tour, it would give me great joy to see your face again after these many years.

I close with a prayer for your health and wellbeing.  May your studies keep you close to the grace of God, who sets all things right.  Please remember your faithful friend and cousin, who holds you in high esteem.


The Fortress of Rhodes, Feast of St. Matthew, 1514

Battle of Chaldiran–note Persian helmets

Diether von Michelstadt created by Leopold Glueckert, O.Carm.,Ph.D

Previous letters from Diether:  Letter from a Knight on RhodesFrom Christian child to Turkish JanissarySunnis and Shi’ites~~The Gathering Storm

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Sunnis and Shi’ites~~The Gathering Storm

To Wolfgang Capito, currently in Bruchsal, from Diether von Michelstadt, Knight of Saint John of Jerusalem, who now serves the garrison on the blessed Isle of Rhodes.  My dearest cousin, greetings in the Lord and sincere prayers for your wellbeing, good health, and growth in virtue.

In my previous communications, I spoke of Selim the Grim, the new Sultan of the Ottoman Turks, and his threat to the security of our island fortress.  I related how Selim’s struggle with his brothers and cousins for the throne ended in his favor and their deaths.  Now he has entered into a dangerous game of chess with his arch-enemy Ismāil, Shāh of Persia.

This Shāh Ismāil is a force to be reckoned with.  After his father was killed in battle, Ismāil went into hiding for several years, then returned, vowing to make Shi’ite Islam the official religion of his empire.  His followers are slavishly loyal to him, many believing that he is a relative of Mohammed.

Shi’ite Muslims have serious quarrels with the majority branch, known as the Sunni.  Shia Muslims insist that only direct relatives of Muhammad should be in the most important positions of leadership.  They revere the twelve imams, ancient religious leaders, most of whom were poisoned, but one who they believe did not die but was hidden by God.  This last imam will return one day as the savior of mankind to bring peace and justice to the world.

Selim, of the Sunni sect, wishes not only to stop the spread of Shi’ism into his Ottoman domains but to conquer and rule them and unite Islam.  According to our Venetian contacts, he now exchanges belligerent letters with Shāh Ismāil.

Venetian galley

When he first came to power, Ismāil sent a secret Persian delegation to Venice, hoping to receive military and naval support from that Serene Republic against the Ottoman Turks.  Since Persia does not have a seacoast on the Mediterranean, the Mamluk Sultans of Egypt allowed Ismāil’s envoys to cross Syria.

So Selim has a quarrel with Shāh Ismāil’s foolish efforts to build an alliance with the Venetians and is equally incensed at the Egyptians’ aid to Ismāil.  It appears that a great battle is brewing.

Shi’ites place great value in personal martyrdom and heroic sacrifice for their religion.  For that reason, a Shi’ite warrior may be a fanatical foe on the battlefield, and hence very dangerous.  Sunni warriors are also brave, but more careful about selling their lives.  The Ottoman Janissaries, in particular, are brave, but very intelligent in calculating how to make best use of their weapons and skills in battle.  A collision of the three giant Islamic empires could bode evil days for one or two of them.

Discord within the ranks of the Muslim princes helps our prospects for survival here in the east of the Mediterranean, but if any one of the three gains a clear superiority over the others, it will not go well for us…a united Islamic military force could represent our worst nightmare.  The rise of one over the others could change the world.

Likewise, the need for a common cause among our Christian princes has never been more urgent.   It is my fervent hope that there be no strife among them, and, most especially, no quarrel over religious truths which could weaken our common efforts to defend Christendom against the infidel.

In closing, I pray for your continued success at your studies, and your happiness in your work.  Your devoted Diether continues to remember your kindness with much gratitude.

From your own Diether,

The Fortress of Rhodes, on the Ides of August, 1514


Diether von Michelstadt created by Leopold Glueckert, O.Carm.,Ph.D

Previous letters from Diether:  Letter from a Knight on Rhodes; From Christian child to Turkish Janissary

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Joss Fritz Returns

In my last post, Gentle Reader, I told you what I knew of the planned peasant uprising of 1502, under the leadership of Joss Fritz.  Such a revolt, called a Bundschuh, is named for a poor man’s rough, rawhide footwear, sometimes bound to the leg as far as the calf by long, crossed leather thongs.  Bund means binding or gathering into a bundle.  So Bund can symbolize union.

After the 1502 Bundschuh was betrayed to the authorities before it could occur, Fritz went underground.  In ten years, there was no word of him.  It is now rumored that he was serving as a mercenary for the Swiss.  In this capacity, he could be always raising support among the Swiss for his next attempt at revolution for the German peasants.

Then, about two years ago, Fritz quietly settled in the village of Lehen, two miles west of Freiburg.  He was given the village position of field watch.  The peasants in this area, though serving various ecclesiastical and secular lords within overlapping  jurisdictions, are writhing under the harsh thumbs of overlords like Gabriel von Bollscheil, who told his serfs that they must do as he says or be cut to pieces.

For two years, Fritz carefully laid his plans and organized peasants in the many surrounding villages.  It is said that a priest of Lehen joined with Fritz in promoting the Bundschuh as a just and godly undertaking to restore the world to the order that God intended.

However, unlike the planned  Bundschuh of 1502, this revolt was not against only one Bishop but against many secular authorities as well.  So the participants swore only an oath of secrecy, without religious litanies.

Peasant armed with flail

And the password ran: God greet you, fellow.  How fares the world?

With the answer: In all the world, the common man can find no comfort.

It is said that the flag of 1502 had been preserved and was to be completed.  It bore a Bundschuh on one side, and, on the other, a peasant kneeling before Mary, John the Baptist and Christ crucified, as if to say that it was for the common man that He had come.  Beneath was the plea:  Lord, stand by Thy Divine Justice.

Peasants with hands raised in same sign as Fritz statue. Notice flag.

At the beginning of September, in the night, Fritz met with the conspirators in a secluded field outside Lehen, where they planned their organization and attack.  As many as possible were to attend the Biengen church ale on October 9.  There, the Bundschuh flag would be flown high.

They would besiege the small country towns, marching southwards to join the Swiss, with whose support they could attack the fortified towns of Freiburg and Breisach.  Then they would control the whole right bank of the Upper Rhine and sweep all southwest Germany.

But Fabri tells me that the authorities were alerted in the summer that another Bundschuh was in the offing.  It seems a painter named Theodosion promptly reported to them that he had been contacted about completing the rebel flag.  However, though Freiburg put its watch on alert, it had no names to arrest.

Only in this month of October did a conspirator named Michael Hanser reveal the entire plan to the margrave of Baden, who immediately informed the Freiburg authorities.  A full-scale effort of scouts and armed posses was launched to round up the rebels. Fritz and two of his lieutenants, Jakob Huser and Kilian Meiger, headed for Zurich to seek assistance from the Swiss.  On the way, they were captured.

But Fritz escaped.


Capito recognizes a most excellent source: Freiburg and the Breisgau, Town-Country Relations in the Age of Reformation and Peasants’ War by Tom Scott.

Two woodcuts from “Images of the Peasant, 1514-1525” by R.W. Scribner in The German Peasant War of 1525 published by Frank Cass & Company. 

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Published in: on December 22, 2011 at 9:15 am  Leave a Comment  
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Bundschuh.  A common word that strikes fear into every noble heart.  Like the word Fire! in a crowded city.  Almost as terrifying as Plague.

Bundschuh.  It is only a laced peasant shoe.  Symbol of the common man since “Duke Bundschuh,” Count Eckhart of Scheyern, carried two red-laced boots to call the common man on a crusade to Jerusalem in the eleventh century.

But now, it stands for the common man united in revolt against his overlords, be they secular nobility or ecclesiastical “Cloister Lords.”  It symbolizes havoc, anarchy, famine, for without the peasants, how should we have food?

Peasants surrounding a knight

As I travel to Basel to meet with the Jew about Hebrew lessons, the entire land is ablaze with talk of Joss Fritz and a Bundschuh he planned to launch at a Church Ale near Freiburg in this very month.

I have learned much about this Joss Fritz since I moved to Bruchsal, for his first attempt to rally the common man to revolt occurred among the peasants belonging to the Bishop of Speyer, who, as the Reader remembers, called me to his service earlier this year.  It was in 1502 that revolt was attempted, under the previous Bishop, but the memory is still green among those who lived through it.  This was told me by a young man whose father had taken part:

“We lived in the village of Untergrombach, which is south of Bruchsal.  I was twelve years old, but I remember it well.

“The bishop kept encroaching on the rights of his tenants to graze their animals and to cut firewood.  His tax collectors were known for their lack of mercy.  The Bishop was constantly feuding with the Swabian League, who retaliated by ravaging his peasants.  Then he put a limit on the number of beasts a man could hold.”

“But,” someone else said, “Bishop Ludwig was known for his Christian charity, which was one reason that he was always in debt.”

“Be that as it may,” the boy said, “it was little comfort to the people who had to provide boon-services and pay tithes and tolls and taxes from which all clergy are exempt.”  He dropped his voice and leaned forward.  “So there rose up a bondsman of the Bishop named Joss Fritz.  And he called the people to a new world.  A world based on Divine Justice.

“They held secret meetings in the countryside.  I went with my father the night he swore allegiance to the Rebellion.  He said I could be proud that he had a part in cleansing the church and freeing the common man from bondage.  I wanted to join too, but he said I was too young, though there were others there no older than me.

“All who joined fell on their knees and recited the Lord’s Prayer five times and five Ave Marias.  Then they recited the password which ran: God greet you, fellow.  How fares the world?  And then the reply: We cannot rid ourselves of this plague of priests.

“Fritz was a great orator.  He had a complete plan, and he could make you see it.  All the Church’s power would be abolished, and it would return to apostolic poverty.  Hunting and fishing, pasture and forest, would be under the governance of the villages, not the nobles or the Church.  There would be no more tithes, rents, taxes, or tolls.”

“But how,” I asked, “could all that possibly be accomplished?”

“They would take the Bishop’s castle at Obergrombach, and that would be their stronghold.  Then they planned to take Bruchsal, where it was said that half the citizenry would support them.  They especially hoped for an alliance and aid from the Swiss, once the Bundschuh was begun and they could demonstrate how many were in their number.

“Fritz had forty agents who worked throughout the south.  He said they could raise an army of 20,000 and keep it ever ready for engagement.  He believed he could take Pforzheim and from there the whole of the upper Rhine.”

“What happened,” I asked, though I thought I knew.

“They were betrayed.  Someone confessed to his priest, who, though bound to secrecy, coughed it up to the authorities.”

(Although I also heard that one of the mercenaries Fritz hired informed the Bishop.  I guess he thought the Bishop would pay him better than Fritz.)

The boy licked his lips.  “The authorities began to seek out the conspirators and interrogate them under torture.  Ten were executed, many were banished.  Some were fined.

“But Joss Fritz escaped.”

And now, eleven years later, he appears again.

Statue of Fritz at Untergrombach


For more on the plight of the peasants and the ideas fermenting revolt, see Capito’s posts:  The Dead Hand; In the Land of the Blind; City Air Makes Men Free; Everything Comes Down to Purgatory

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Published in: on November 14, 2011 at 8:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sixteenth Century Society and Conference


Gentle Reader, If you think Basel is a center of the study of humanities–where Erasmus works at Froben’s press, and one can study Hebrew at the home of the Amerbachs or see Holbein painting around town–if you think Basel is a city of delight and learning, you will love Fort Worth, Texas.

Fort Worth

At least, during the last weekend in October of this year, when that city hosts the annual conference of the Sixteenth Century Society.  Here, scholars of great renown will gather to discuss topics as diverse as educating children; crime and punishment; Islam and the Turks; book collecting; death; my old colleague, Martin Bucer; and puffer fish.  By the muses!  It will be as exciting as the Frankfort book fair.  See the complete program.

Capito will be there.

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Published in: on September 22, 2011 at 7:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Capito Moves Away

(Illustrations from Illustrissimi Wirtembergici Ducali Novi Collegii Quod Tubingae qua situm qua studia qua exercitia Accurata Delineato digitized for the the Wolfenbüttel Digital Library by the Herzog August Bibliothek.)

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May 1512

I can’t sleep.  Two litanies of thoughts, like two acts of the same play, go through my head simultaneously.  One is comprised of scenes from my life here at the university since I returned in 1509; the other, the conversation we had at the Hog Snout tonight.

“I don’t think you should do it,” Zell said.  “The money is not everything.  We can get by.  I’ll soon be lecturing more.”

“How quickly life changes,” Michael said.  “I thought your plans were firm to stay here at the university until you secure your Doctorate.  Hubmaier is already gone,” he said sadly, “and now you’re leaving as well?”

“Stop it,” I said.  “You’re breaking my heart.”

“Why don’t you just become a Benedictine?” Michael asked.  “If you are going to be preaching in their church?”

“The canons don’t just preach,” Fabri said.  “They are advisors to the Bishop.  They handle the administration of the funds of the church and run the benevolent programs.  Doubtless, the Bishop of Speier wishes to surround himself with trustworthy men of scholarship.  That’s why he’s called our Capito to be canon and preacher to the Benedictine canonry.”

“The Bishop says,” I glanced at the letter I received earlier, “that I would perform errands and undertake missions for him.”

“This can be your first step to ecclesiastical politics,” Fabri said.  “You will meet important people, and they will recognize your talents.  It’s no small opportunity,” he added, “since we sons of blacksmiths have to make our own success—for we begin life with no title, no land, and no income.”

“What of your studies?” Zell said.  “Will you ever get your Doctorate?”

“I can continue to study,” I said.  The canonry is populated by the sons of poor nobility from the ‘castles of misery.’  They are not so devout as to want a sermon every hour.  I’ll have time to study.  I can still get my Doctorate from this university if I pass my trials.

Zell shook his head.  “You’re just trying to avoid this investigation.”

I shifted on the bench.  It was true that the victims of Eck’s graffitti campaign would not let the matter die, and they had howled to such an extent that the university prolonged the investigation.  I could be further implicated and punished, which would look bad on my record.  If I left, the matter would be dropped.

“Eck!” Zell said, as if it were distasteful in his mouth.  “First he lures Hubmaier to Ingolstadt.  Now you are leaving because of him.  He’s like a giant boulder dropped in a pond, and the ripples just go on and on.

“I need the money,” I said.  “It’s not that I want luxuries.  But I’m exhausted with keeping the wolf from the latchstring.  I want to repay my debts.  To buy books.  To eat regularly.”

“So you’ve decided then,” Zell said.  “You’re going to move to Bruchsal and work for the Bishop?”

“I think so.  I can still visit.  Bruchsal is not so far, just up the Rhine to the north.  I can come visit easily.  I can catch a boat.”

Michael lay his hand on mine.  “I shall miss you.”

Zell laid his hand atop ours.  “So shall I.  Especially as my roommate.  The snoring and farting.”

Fabri added his hand.  “We shall all leave someday.  Nothing lasts forever.”

Then the young monk lay his other hand on the very top.  “This is for Hub,” he said.  “We’re brothers all.  For all time.”

“For all time,” I said, my throat tight.

And the others repeated, “For all time.”

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The Weird Woman

We were drunken.  I admit it.  Not falling down or even singing.  But we were drunk enough to make an unwise choice.

We were celebrating, but sad.  Hubmaier was leaving, moving to the University of Ingolstadt to finish his degree under Eck.  And I had been named professor of theology extraordinarius, a position that entitled me to a half salary of 25 florins a year.

So we dined at the Quill Tavern, an establishment as superior to the Hog Snout as Pegasus is to a nag.  There we feasted on doves and bacon, white bread, and fruits.  And we had a bottle of dark red French wine.  We all partook except the young monk Michael, who scrupulously obeyed the university’s ban on alcohol.  The rest of us were not so scrupulous.

Then Fabri, who had won a case in court and been paid well by the benefactor, ordered some Feldliner (new) wine.  Then, the proprietor of the tavern, seeing Fabri’s good robe and our looseness with money, brought us a couple pints of mead.

We walked Michael to his house and left him there.  Then someone–I know not which one–said, “Let’s go to the tanners’ quarter.”

The tanners lived downstream from the main city in an inferior suburb call the Neuberg.  But it was not the tanners that we wished to visit, but a house of cards and other vice located between the almshouse and the lazaret, where those with contagious diseases were imprisoned.

No one answered, but as one man, we turned in that direction.  We took a back way through a copse, that we not be met on the main thoroughfare by university acquaintances.  In the midst of this wood, she suddenly blocked our way.  We had one lamp, which Zell raised.

She wore a black cloak and hood with a red sash.  Not a crone, she had smooth skin and eyes jet black.  Alluring she might have been, had she not raised her shoulders and curled her back with a hiss like a cat.

What are these?  Four pretty boys, slipping stealthily without noise?”

We stopped.  After a moment, Fabri said, “Begone!”

You begone, smithy’s son.  The Black Hoffman leaves for NONE!”  She cackled the last word and pointed at Fabri so suddenly that we all jumped back.

Without a word, each man wondered how she knew that Fabri’s father was a smith.

After a moment, Zell said, “We only wish to pass.”

From the future to the past, you shall see your fate at last.”

“Our fate?” Hubmaier said.  “You want to tell our fortunes then?”

“We have no wish to traffic in the black arts,” I said.

The Hoffman blesses with her sight, those who sneak about at night.”

“Let’s just go back,” Zell said.

She turned toward him and walked closely round him, sniffing the air. When she moved, the faint tinkling of bells or charms could be heard beneath her cloak.

YOU will cross the river first; then tow HIM for his great thirst.”  Whirling round, she pointed her finger at me.  I was to be the one with the great thirst.

Then she walked over to Hubmaier and, to his credit, he stood his ground when a lesser man might have cringed, for she stroked the budge trim of his robe and her voice became tender, mournful.  “Like a hare, they run you down. . .

And YOU!” she suddenly whirled and pointed at Fabri with a hiss, “You will be the hound!”

“Four pretty boys, two love,” she pointed at Zell and I.

“Two hate,” she pointed at Fabri and Hub.

“The Hoffman leaves you to your FATE.”  And with that, she simply stepped into the darkness and was gone.

We stood in silence for a long time.  My heart was racing until I could scarce draw breath and shivers ran like mice up my arms and neck.  Then someone–I know not which one–turned back toward town.

We have discussed this endlessly but find no answers to the riddles.  What will Zell cross before me and then aid me to cross?  Will Hubmaier be hounded by Fabri?  Why?

Fabri says she was a crazy gypsy, and that it means nothing.  Hubmaier fears he has been cursed by a witch.  And I know not what great thirst may await me.

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Published in: on July 1, 2011 at 7:21 am  Comments (2)  
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Capito Incarcerated

November 1510

Matthew Zell waited until our dinner of pigeon pie and bread was served by the mistress of the Hog Snout.  Then he looked at me as sternly as his good nature allows.  “I told you Eck would get you into trouble.  He’s too arrogant and contentious.”

Before I could speak, Hubmaier rushed to Eck’s defense.  “He has a right to be arrogant.  He’s brilliant.  A genius.” 

“And he would be the first to tell you that,” Zell said, as we all plunged our spoons into the pie.

Johann Eck--Gustav Konig

“But consider,” I said.  “Who else entered a university at the age of eleven?  Acquired a Master’s degree by fourteen?  Received a Papal dispensation that he might be ordained before the required age?”

Zell snorted.  “As if the Church couldn’t wait for him to grow up.   But he is still of peasant stock, just like the rest of us.  Tutoring to pay the rent, just like the rest of us.”

“Which makes his accomplishments all the more astounding,” Hubmaier said.  “At sixteen, he lectured on Aristotle while studying theology, law, mathematics, geography–”

“And Greek and Hebrew on the pot,” Zell added.  “I admit that he has a prodigious memory.  But even Capito reasons faster.  And have you ever heard Eck utter one original idea?  No.  He wins debates by drowning his opponents in a flood of massive quotations–not all relevant to the subject–until they are beaten through exhaustion and confusion.  Does he study because he wants to learn or only because he wants to collect more quotable ammunition?  Or perhaps he studies all the time because he has no friends.”

“That’s not true,” Hubmaier said.  “We’re his friends.”

“You’re his votaries,” Zell said.  He turned to me.  “And now look where that has landed you.”

Just then Eck walked into the room.  He raised a hand in my direction, but did not come over.  Perhaps he was ashamed to be seen with me.

“What a hulking boar hog,” Zell said.  “He’s like a walking square.  If you saw him without that robe, you would assume he was a butcher.”  Zell tore at the hard bread.  “And tomorrow you will be under house arrest because of him.”

I shrugged as if I didn’t care.  “Only for three days,” I said. 

Johann Eck--Gustav Konig

Of course, in truth I was humiliated.  Disciplined by the Senate for writing graffiti mocking another faculty member.  “They started it,” I said, referring to the anti-Eck faction.

“No, he started it,” Zell said, “by being so arrogant and pretentious.  His huge appetite for glory begged for ridicule, and they provided it.   And,” he added another sting, “their cartoons were better than yours.”

“Maybe,” I said, “but my poems were better.”  I chewed the bread without pleasure.  It was well known the mistress extended her flour with sawdust.    

“Well, Eck is leaving,” Hubmaier said, “now that he has his Doctorate.  “At the  University of Ingolstadt, they will appreciate him.  And by the Muses, I wish I were going with him!”

“Perhaps he’ll send for you,” Zell said, “if he finds himself lacking for worshipers.”

I knew that Zell’s tirade against Eck was due to his friendship for me and his concern that this blot on my reputation would affect my future career.  So I replied only one thing more.  “Eck will do great things.”

“Certainly he will,” Hubmaier said.

But as I think about the many debates that rage in the church over doctrine, over. . .everything, I see how many arguments originate, not from the quest for truth, but from  pride.  And I resolve, Dear Reader, to amend my ways.  Perhaps Eck will be recorded by history as a great debater.  But I shall strive from this day forward that, if Capito is remembered at all, it will be as a man of peace.

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Published in: on June 3, 2011 at 7:08 am  Leave a Comment  

Johannes Pfefferkorn is an Ass

By Jove!  What a stir an idiot can make in this world.  Doubtless, Gentle Reader, you have heard of the ruckus this stubborn fool, Johannes Pffefferkorn, has instigated, but if not, I shall present the facts so that you can render a judgment.  

Pfefferkorn (peppercorn) was born a Jew but now inflicts misfortune on his people.  He was convicted of burglary in Cologne and imprisoned in 1504.  The next year, he converted to Christianity.  Some say this was to be set free, but my sources say that he was already free.

Pfefferkorn became assistant to Jacob van Hoogstraaten, the prior of the Dominicans, those most zealous Inquisitors.  Van Hoogstraaten must have rejoiced to land a prize fish, for now he had a Jew to testify to the crimes of the Jews. 

The Dominicans published Pfefferkorn’s slanderous pamphlets, in which he attempted to prove that Jewish religious writings were hostile to Christianity.  Immediately all true Hebrew scholars recognized Pfefferkorn as all pepper and no meat; that is, that he had little understanding of Hebrew writings and could not discuss them with any intelligence.

Jewish moneylenders

Pfefferkorn demanded that the Jews cease lending money at interest, work for their living and attend Christian sermons.  He demanded that the Talmud and all Jewish writings be destroyed.  With each succeeding pamphlet, he grew more venomous, until he advocated taking Jewish children from their parents and expelling all Jews from Christian lands. 


The Dominicans convinced Kunigunde, sister of Emperor Maximillian, to plead for Pfefferkorn.  She went before the Emperor and begged him on her knees to order the Jews to deliver their books to Pfefferkorn for destruction.  (Some suggested a Dominican ruse, for as the authorized instruments of the Inquisition, the Dominicans can also rule books acceptable and return them to the Jews, for a price.)

The Jews appealed to the Emperor.  They asked for a commission to investigate Pfefferkorn’s claims.  The Emperor then asked for opinions from several universities and individuals, including the Hebrew scholar, Johann Reuchlin.  Though two universities ruled against the Jewish books, Reuchlin stood in favor of the Jews and gave a scholarly and brilliant answer.

Reuchlin divided Jewish literature into six classes, exclusive of the Bible.  (1) poetry, fable and satire; (2) commentaries; (3) sermons, songs and prayers; (4) philosophy and science; (5) the Talmud, and (6) Kabbala.

“In the first class,” said Reuchlin, “are to be found books which deny or criticize the Christian religion.”  But he knew of only two, a pamphlet by Lipman and the life of Jesus.  The Rabbis prohibit Jews to possess or read these books under threat of severe penalties. 

Reuchlin said that the second class contained nothing harmful to Christianity, but was of great value in interpreting the Scriptures.  Christian scholars cannot fully understand the Bible because of their ignorance of Hebrew, for the best understanding of Scripture comes from knowledge of the original language.  Reuchlin compared the scholar who says that he does not need a Hebrew commentary, because he has many Christian ones, to a person wearing a light garment in cold weather.

The Jews, Reuchlin observed, have received from emperors and popes the privilege of unmolested worship and, so, should keep the third class, and the fourth class is equal to books in Latin, Greek, or German.

“But of the Talmud,” Reuchlin said, “I must own that it is to me a sealed book, and it is evident that those who pass judgment upon it have as little knowledge of it as I.  They have no idea of its nature or history.  Nevertheless, they talk as if they understood it clearly.  I can only compare such people to those who criticise algebra while they are totally ignorant of the rudiments of arithmetic.”

Reuchlin praised the Kabbala, reporting that Pope Sixtus VI studied it and found so much in support of Christianity that he translated Kabbalistic books into Latin.

Alluding to Pfefferkorn, though not by name, Reuchlin said, “What use is advice given by people who abandon Judaism through jealousy, animosity, fear of persecution. . .Such individuals bear the name of Christians, but in heart they are not Christians.  I know of some whose faith in both religions, Christianity and Judaism, is weak, and who, if their schemes were brought to naught, would become disciples of Mohammedanism.

“The Jews have been citizens of German lands for three centuries and should be protected by the law.  It would be ridiculous to adjudge them heretics, for they were not born Christians, but have been Jews from a time antecedent to the birth of Christianity.”

Reuchlin argued so powerfully that the emperor suspended his edict and returned the Jews’ books.  However, it is said the Pfefferkorn rages like a rabid dog against the Jews and against Reuchlin, sharpening his pens to needles and dipping them in poison, as he prepares yet another pamphlet.  So I doubt that this ends the matter.

Simon of Trent ritual sacrifice--1493

I, Capito, wish we would deal more kindly with the Jews.  For is that not what we are enjoined by our Christ to do?  Even if they should make themselves our enemies–though I very much doubt that Jews sacrifice Christian babies in their rites or even poison wells–are we not to love our enemies?

As a scholar, I am appalled at the destruction of any book, particularly an ancient one in the original language, and especially one which contains the history and root of our Christian faith.  Which makes me think that I shall study Hebrew.

If Pepperpill leaves me any books.

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