Christian Prophecies as a Reflex to Competing Concepts of Order (ca. 1500-1800). Renate Dürr / Fabian Fechner / Susanne Kofler, SFB 923 “Bedrohte Ordnungen”, Graduiertenkolleg 1662 “Religiöses Wissen im vormodernen Europa (800-1800)”, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, 09.04.2015–10.04.2015.
Reviewed by Gudrun Bamberger
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (July, 2015)
Christian Prophecies as a Reflex to Competing Concepts of Order (ca. 1500-1800)
The aim of the Conference was to examine concrete cases of early modern prophecies from a broad range of cultural, political, social, and religious backgrounds. Prophecy – as the central term – has been defined as a divine revelation to an individual that is linked with concrete instructions. It is intensely discussed among contemporaries and it is addressed to a certain parish, the church as a whole, Christendom, or mankind. Variations in definitions of this highly contested term reveal diverging concepts of social and political order.
In their introductory remarks the co-organizers SUSANNE KOFLER and FABIAN FECHNER (Tübingen) set the tone for the continuation of the conference by analyzing an initial case study. In their description of Hans Keil, who was banned in 1648 from the duchy of Wuerttemberg for being a false prophet, they marked three preliminary possible origins of prophecy, god, the devil, or a third influence (disease or worldly persons), and considered the social conditions and effects of each case. Furthermore, they provided a set of questions: Which concepts of order does the prophecy refer to? Which institutions or authorities examined the prophets? Which arguments were raised in debates about specific prophecy cases?
The first section was chaired by RENATE DÜRR (Tübingen), who highlighted the field of changing interpretations and adaptations of prophecies according to new contexts, contexts that changed dramatically in a matter of decades. In the first contribution, “A New Revelation for a New Church: The Apocalypsis Nova and the Power of Prophecy”, EDUARDO FERNÁNDEZ GUERRERO (Madrid) presented a case that can be seen as paradigmatic for the ambiguous attitudes towards reformist prophecies in Early Modern Europe. The text, written in a Joachimite tradition and in a post Savonarolian Florence context, documents a dialogue held in Heaven between the Archangel Gabriel and the author, the Franciscan friar Amadeo Mendez da Silva. The “Apocalypsis Nova”, dealing with the arrival of an Angelic pope rather than predicting a world’s ending, fostered its use in various contexts. Guerrero thus showed that the “Apocalypsis Nova” was adopted to discuss religious doctrine as well as to promote propagandistic efforts, but mainly resulted in struggles for the Holy See. To name but a few contexts: The Council of Pisa used the text as an authoritative source to support key aspects of their own agenda, and later on it is a clear influence in the messianic ideals of the Spanish Crown. Additionally, the author of the prophetic text became a major concern. Guerrero explained, furthermore, that the rich documentary evidence of its circulation portrays both elitist readings of society and readings associated with popular religiosity that promote different methods of appropriating prophecies.
REBECCA CARNEVALI (London) continued the section with the paper “Pseudo-Joachimite and anti-Turkish prophecies in late 16th century Italy: the ‘Discorso della future et sperata vittoria contra it Turco’ by Giovan Battista Nazari (1570)”. She portrayed the particular circumstances determining production of the pamphlet, which was first published in 1570 in Venice and its second edition in Modena the same year. The text predates the battle of Lepanto and therefore differs from other prophecies published around 1570 in that is a rare case of a prophecy “ante eventum”. The case, which also arose in a pseudo-Joachimite tradition, shows the exploitation of common imagery in its combination of various authorities and sources. Carnevali pointed out how a single prophetic pamphlet functioned in contemporary tensions, mainly in the political disorder during the war of Cyprus, and how the context of printing affected the reputation of the pamphlet. The Gadaldini printing house, which released the second edition, was accused in Inquisition trials of contributing “dangerous” texts, leaving the pamphlet in an ambiguous state. Furthermore, Carnevali highlighted the mixture of apocalyptic motifs, allegorical iconography, and popular imagery that were included using woodcuts. Thus, Carnevali examined the way in which context influenced the practice of printing not only in the choice of topic but also in the material production.
The second section “Insider views of Prophetic Movements”, chaired by CHRISTOPH AUFFARTH (Bremen), started with “Cessationism and the Struggle for Authority in the Huguenot Diaspora”. In this presentation, LIONEL LABORIE (London) gave insight into a prophetic movement that can be seen as a literal movement. In the aftermath of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, a century of religious tolerance ended. While a majority of the Protestants converted to Catholicism, some Huguenot groupings developed an oral prophetic culture inspired by the works of Pierre Jurieu and Claude Brousson that climaxed in strategies of resistance and the claim for renewed religious tolerance. This development provided two diametrically opposed beliefs: French Calvinists shared the Cessationist view that prophecy ended in biblical times, and the French Camisard rebels claimed that the period of divine silence had come to an end. Prophets claimed by the movement challenged the social order not only by means of their broad influence but also through sermons by women and children who acted as lay substitutes for exiled ministers. Theses challenges necessitated a definition of prophecy. At the same time, the prophets questioned ecclesiastical authority by emphasizing revelation and religious experience over doctrine, which led to a response from both secular and religious authorities. In the discussion, primary interest lay in questions about reactions from Rome and further missions and in theological impacts, e.g. the role of the vision of the soul, or what kind of relation those groupings had to the Holy Scripture.
FABIAN FECHNER (Tübingen) completed the section with his paper “Dynamics and ‘Memoria’ in the Peruvian Prophecy of the Dominican Francisco de la Cruz (1570)”, in which he explored how contemporaries imagined the inner dynamics of an apocalyptic prophecy. He presented the case of Francisco de la Cruz, who developed the idea of an apocalyptic church in Peru based on the visions of María Pizarro. Her visions foresaw that the Holy See and the Spanish throne were to be transferred to Lima because the Old World faced destruction by the Turks. This case did not only produce suspicious parties who accused the visionary of being possessed by the devil but led also to public exorcisms. De la Cruz, who believed in those visions, had to face a heresy trial that lasted six years. Fechner analyzed early publications dealing with the prophecy case as well as files documenting De la Cruz’s trial. In a second step, he pointed out how De la Cruz was perceived over time. Instances of his case being seen as an exemplum can be observed in theological, historical, moralistic, hagiographic, medical and epistemological treatises. Using these sources, Fechner showed an early modern awareness of a global Christian community and how contemporaries imagined the inner dynamics of an apocalyptic prophecy. One of the most stunning questions in the discussion was whether one single person or a whole movement needed to be punished.
The final section was chaired by FELICITAS SCHMIEDER (Hagen) and opened by GÖRGE HASSELHOFF’s (Dortmund) paper “The minister as prophet: Zwingli and Bullinger create a job description”. Referring to the biography of Zwingli, Hasselhoff focused on Zwingli’s text “The Shepherd”, in which there is not only a description that equates “Pfarrer” (pastor) with prophet, but also a definition of the ideal shepherd. However, Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli’s successor, is even more concrete on that matter in his first speech entitled “De prophetae officio, et quomodo digne administrari possit, oratio”. In this speech, he describes the duties of a shepherd, which he maintains are strongly linked to exegesis. He concludes by lauding Zwingli as the ideal prophet. Again the discussion led to questions of reception, which in this case is rather far-reaching within Europe because of the speech’s translation into Latin and Bullinger’s dedication of a third work to Henry VIII. Another question was how Bullinger inserted himself into the tradition of reading the Bible using all four senses.
SUSANNE KOFLER’s (Tübingen) paper “Figuration of a Prophet – Conflicts about Revelation in Lutheranism during the Confessional Period” continued the discussion. Providing quotations from two major opponents to Lutheranism, Kofler pointed out how 17th century Lutheran clerics dealt with and contributed to stabilization but also caused the overthrow of confessional connoted truths. These truths included knowledge about God, humanity, and the earthly world and were challenged in the debate about the legitimation and authorization of prophecies. Moreover, experts appointed with examining prophecies held biases about their own expertise and that of their colleagues. Some regarded clerics as the only true experts due to their office while others denied that there were any experts even among clerics other than those capable of interpreting the Scripture through God’s intervention. At the same time, visions were scrutinized too. On the one hand, there was a conflict about the status of visions, i.e. are visions caused by God, the devil, or medical reasons, and on the other hand, a debate arose as to whether there was a need for visions in general. The discussion concentrated on the state of different forms of revelation, for example biblical books vs. visions.
The last contribution was MATTHIAS GLOЁL’s (Talca / Chile) paper “Manuel Bocarro Francês and his ‘Anacephaleoses da Monarquia Luzitana’: Portuguese messianism in the 17th century”, which focused on the state of prophecy on the one hand and the reaction to the political reading of the Anacephaleoses on the other. Bocarro, who claimed to have gained his knowledge from the stars, refers to a new leader for the Portuguese and therefore predicted the arrival of a new Portuguese reign. When the text was published in 1624, however, the Spanish branch of the Habsburg dynasty ruled Portugal. The text linking itself to the Sebastianist tradition seemed to name the duke of Braganca, who belonged to the most powerful noble house, as the future ruler. Therefore, Bocarro faced trouble with the Castilian authorities for suggesting an alternative to the Habsburgs. Yet, there are parts of the text that might indicate that the author recognized the reign of King Philip IV of Habsburg. In a later edition, Bocarro finally reacted to the changes and tried to argue that what had happened was what he actually meant. Gloёl argued that Bocarro’s text might be seen independently from the traditions of Sebastianism and the Portuguese ‘literatura autonomista’.
Overall, in many discussions the main focus lay on the genre of prophecies and the spreading of prophetic texts and their motifs. With these questions it became clear that numerous discussed prophecies were published without the concrete person of a prophet. The supra-regional analysis of prophetic texts and movements helped to overcome national research traditions concerning messianism, Sebastianism and inquisition studies. Instead, the social function of prophecies, e.g. in combination with astrology, pictorial sources, the provisional status of each worldly order and exegesis, could be highlighted. Most astonishing was the fact that several prophetic movements, especially in the Huguenot diaspora, adapted the inner logics of orthodox “missions”. All in all, the conference dealt with the latest questions in the historiography of prophecies, linking methods of art history with reflections about communication, media and group identity. A fixed point was the main concern for early modern recipients: How immediate is the medium of the prophet?
Susanne Kofler / Fabian Fechner (Tübingen), Introduction
Section 1: Revival and Transnational Entanglement of Prophetic Themes
Chair: Renate Dürr (Tübingen)
Eduardo Fernández Guerrero (Madrid), A New Revelation for a New Church: The Apocalypsis Nova and the Power of Prophecy
Rebecca Carnevali (London), Pseudo-Joachimite and anti-Turkish prophecies in late 16th century Italy: the “Discorso della futura et sperata vittoria contra il Turco” by Giovan Battista Nazari (1570) and its two illustrated editions
Section 2: Insider Views of Prophetic Movements
Chair: Christoph Auffarth (Bremen)
Lionel Laborie (London), Cessationism and the Struggle for Authority in the Huguenot Diaspora
Fabian Fechner (Tübingen), Dynamics and “Memoria” in the Peruvian Prophecy of the Dominican Francisco de la Cruz (1570)
Section 3: The Prophetic Profile: Generating Evidence through Experts
Chair: Felicitas Schmieder (Hagen)
Görge Hasselhoff (Dortmund), The minister as prophet: Zwingli and Bullinger create a job description
Susanne Kofler (Tübingen), Figuration of a Prophet – Conflicts about Revelation in Lutheranism during the Confessional Period
Matthias Gloël (Talca / Chile), Manuel Bacorro Francês and his “Anacephaleoses da Monarquia Luzitana”: Portuguese messianism in the 17th century
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