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5Our Lady at Altötting : A Late Reformation Dispute
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Our Lady at Altötting :
A Late Reformation Dispute

Protestant reaction to Martin Eisengrein's Our Lady at Altötting was immediate; the swiftness with which the debate commenced still astonishes after more than four centuries. Eisengrein had published the manuscript early in 1571, less than a year following Canisius's soon-to-be notorious exorcism, and the book was displayed at the Frankfurt book fair during Lent. When the Protestant response came, it appeared on the far western fringes of the empire at Strasbourg. Having received his copy of Eisengrein's book soon after its Frankfurt unveiling, the theologian Johann Marbach rushed to complete a four-hundred-page response, On Miracles and Wondrous Signs , in time for it to be sold at the fall book fair in the same year.[1] This fury of activity came at a time when he was president of the Lutheran church at Strasbourg and was expected to fulfill a variety of administrative and pastoral functions. His polemic dissected almost line-for-line Eisengrein's claims for the Altötting pilgrimage, revealing the urgent fears that Catholic miracles raised among Protestant theologians. It is doubtful that he ever thought his attack on Eisengrein's pilgrimage book would discourage Bavaria's counterreformers from using miracles to publicize the power of their church. His aims were more indirect: by engaging in a debate with his rivals, he hoped to convince his Protestant readers of the false, even satanic deceptions that the Jesuits and members of the resurgent Catholic priesthood were perpetrating.

Disputes like these plagued almost every major theologian who wrote during the late Reformation, as polemical activity rose to


address the increasingly divided and confused religious situation. During the early Reformation Protestant propagandists, faced by a generally disunited, often confused Catholic opposition, had often targeted a distant Roman Antichrist in their printed campaign.[2] By the second half of the century, the Protestant opposition moved to attack the more locally resurgent Catholicism of Jesuit missionaries and openly Catholic states like Bavaria. But now it was Protestantism that was badly disunited as within the empire various brands of Lutheranism and the newly imported Calvinism competed for primacy not only against the Catholics, but among themselves as well. In this complex and heightened confessional atmosphere, any doctrinal pronouncement, whether voiced by Lutheran, Calvinist, or Catholic, was more likely than ever before to stir comment and engender attack.

The Reformation itself had created a market for the debate that poured from German presses during the second half of the century. Printers and booksellers rushed to serve this audience, with the semiannual book fairs in the city of Frankfurt becoming the primary venues for circulation. By 1564, the Augsburg printer Georg Willer had begun to produce catalogues of the books displayed at the fair, a development that allowed theologians and booksellers throughout the empire to track the course of current religious controversies.[3] The presentation of theological ideas at Frankfurt had become highly politicized; town councils and state governments now supervised and sometimes commissioned the works that their local church officials sent off to be displayed at the fairs. As cities and territories jockeyed to gain advantage, to maintain allies, and to criticize enemies, books became an important weapon in imperial politics.[4]

But the disputes that raged between theologians—disputes that can often be traced in the Frankfurt book fair catalogues—were also


highly personal attacks. Polemicists contented themselves not only with discussing theological issues; they also denigrated their opponents' looks, demeanor, and intelligence. Seething controversies could be maintained for decades, and disputants enlisted their closest associates to enter the fray in their defense. Converts were numerous among the ranks of first-generation counter-reformers and Calvinists, and in many disputes both sides were linked by an intricate web of personal affiliations, participants having studied at the same university or lived and worked for a time in the same city. With the consequent opportunity to monitor enemies' activities and writings over time, polemicists' attacks often included an entire catalogue of the opposition's abuses and "heretical" deviations.

The increasing tendency for theologians on both sides to articulate extreme positions can be seen in the persisting debate over the cult of the saints and pilgrimage. Among the early Protestant leaders, Luther and Bucer were among the two most outspoken. They had attacked saints' shrines for a number of reasons: for promoting a misplaced faith in works, detracting attention away from the parish, wasting time and money, and allowing the faithful to use vows to bargain with saintly patrons. In pondering the mass pilgrimages of the late Middle Ages, both Luther and Bucer had adopted even more extreme positions. Recognizing that the appeal of these places rested firmly on miracles, they denounced the wonders the clergy promoted at shrines like Regensburg and Altötting as "works of the devil." There was in fact little novelty in the charge, since late medieval bishops and ecclesiastical officials had also denounced devotions they judged undesirable and "superstitious" as products of Satan. The prestige and popularity of the early reformers, however, certainly gave the attack more weight.

While the critique of the reformers was for a time successful in discouraging devotion to the saints, it did not completely destroy it. And in the late sixteenth century, as a new class of counter-reforming bishops, theologians, and preachers labored to renew shrines and pilgrimage, Protestant attacks became more persistent, relying increasingly on the idea of diabolic inspiration. In Reformation literature, a topos was developing that characterized pilgrimage shrines as havens of the devil, where Satan worked false miracles to delude and deceive simple people. A corollary motif


involved the warning that the clergy who promoted such places were in fact magicians, witches, and sorcerers.[5]

In Strasbourg, Johann Marbach sincerely believed and repeated these charges in his denunciation of Eisengrein's pilgrimage book. Addressing his work to "pious Christians" in Augsburg and Bavaria, Marbach appealed to his readers to remain free of the false religion that "Jesuits and Mammelukes" were promoting in the region. (This reference to the Mamelukes, a politically powerful Egyptian military class occupying the sultanate from 1250 to 1517, occurred frequently throughout the work, only one of many derisory terms Marbach used in describing the activities of the Jesuits.)[6] He commences his attack on Our Lady at Altötting by summarizing Eisengrein's principal arguments in defense of the shrine, including its venerable age and survival through the centuries, the numerous pilgrims, among them princes and nobles, that had revered the site, and the miracles that the Virgin had performed there. By applying the Protestant razor of the Scriptures, Marbach summarily dismisses these claims: because the religion practiced at Altötting is unbiblical, Our Lady's cult must be false and superstitious.[7] Thereafter, Marbach undertakes to expose the human and satanic deviations of the Roman Church, cataloguing a host of miracles that the "papists," "the devil's accomplices," have promoted throughout history. Sometimes the Catholics have produced their wonders fraudulently—here he recalls the by-now famous case of the weeping Grimmental Madonna, a statue that each day was made to cry by pouring oil through holes drilled in its head.[8] In addition, Marbach attacks as lies and deceits the traditional miracles attributed to such venerable figures as Saints Benedict, Dominic, and Francis. Like Luther and Bucer he locates the source of all these deceptions in the devil; however, he is unwilling to call the Roman clergy merely confused, deluded by Satan into accepting the divine inspiration of these events. Rather, the Catholic clergy are drawn as active accomplices in perpetrating false miracles. Eisengrein's contemporary account of the Virgin's miracles at Altötting thus


emerges in Marbach's polemic as a resurgence of a dangerous "long and mostly forgotten" diabolic idolatry.[9]

The fact that this resurgence of false faith came just when the Lutheran gospel was proclaimed is utterly vexing to Marbach. In twenty-two chapters—more than three-quarters of his account—he devotes himself to a detailed examination of the Ingolstadt theologian's claims for the shrine, with particular attention to the account of Canisius's exorcism.[10] After faithfully recounting the story of Anna von Bernhausen's possession and exorcism as told by Eisengrein, he undertakes to prove the diabolic origins of Canisius's prodigy, emphasizing in particular the multiple apparitions of the Virgin to the young woman. In so doing Marbach transforms the priest Canisius into a demonic sorcerer who conjures up evil spirits not only to possess Anna, but also to assume the form of the Virgin and tell the young woman of Altötting's curative power. He then turns to the Old Testament, comparing Canisius's "false Mary" to the witch of Endor's conjuration of Samuel before Saul:

The Papists, especially Eisengrein who published the miracles at Altötting, should recognize that this story sounds exactly like the false appearance described in 1 Samuel 29. This Mary of whom he [Eisengrein] speaks was not the holy Virgin Mary, Christ our Lord's Mother. Rather she was a false Mary whom the Jesuits conjured up with the form and the appearance of the Holy Virgin Mary. [This they performed] through their sorcery and the company that they keep with the devil. Just like the devil's whore and soothsayer conjured up through her swearing and magic not Samuel, but the devil himself brought up from hell in the form of Samuel.[11]

Thus Marbach transforms the biblical witch of Endor story, in which no hint of diabolism appears, into a case of black magic. The witch had been a practitioner of necromancy, the conjuring of the spirits of the dead, an art that was enjoying a certain degree of popularity among European elites even as Marbach wrote.[12] The theologian's association of this skill with witchcraft, however, reflects the persistent efforts of Protestants to hinder intercourse with the dead by


labeling any such effort as satanic conjuration. Whereas for Martin Eisengrein and Peter Canisius, the exorcism in Our Lady's chapel had provided an opportunity to evoke the reality of certain spirits—those of demons and saints—while at the same time denying the presence and potency of the poor souls, Marbach judged all traffic with the spirit world a form of demon worship. As proof he called attention to such incantations and repetitious prayers as the rosary and the Laurentian litany. The Virgin of Altötting must be a demon, he reasoned, for only a demon could inspire the idolatrous outpourings of those who gathered in the tiny chapel.[13]

To inoculate his readers against these idolatries, Marbach sets forth a purified Lutheran theology of miracles. First, he dismisses the doctrine of mediating agents used by Eisengrein to explain the power of holy places, the saints, and consecrated objects and rites.[14] Denying that God has ever worked through the bones or possessions of the saints, he attributes all miracles in the Christian tradition directly to God, his angels, the apostles, and the prophets. These last two classes of wonder-workers, moreover, were mortal, not celestial, and while God granted them the power to perform fantastic feats to confirm his message while living, they were never able to perform miracles from their graves. Thus, all the reports of saintly miracles recorded after the deaths of the apostles, Marbach concludes, are "false" and demonic.[15]

Although he admits that contemporary miracles do occur, Marbach defines them as distinctly different from those recorded in the Bible or the history of the apostolic Church. To the apostles was given the power to heal or to raise the dead so that the Gospel message might be confirmed and proven to the first Christian converts. In the contemporary world, however, God performs miracles of grace and salvation to reveal his plan and confirm his divine majesty. The greatest of these wonders, Marbach intones, is the Lutheran Reformation itself. God sent Luther as a prophet to proclaim his truth, and despite the opposition of the Antichristian


papacy, the evangel has been preserved, proclaimed, and established in the world. In addition he cites as contemporary miracles the establishment of the true message of faith in Europe, the translation of the Bible into German and other languages, and its distribution to the people.[16]

For those inclined to believe in the direct physical intercession of God in the world, recorded daily in tales of earthquakes, strange births, and other horrors, Marbach's recourse to the "miracles of faith" probably seemed a curious way to affirm Protestant truth. Thus, even as he labored to discourage the appeal of Catholic miracles, his opus helped produce the opposite result in Bavaria and at the Frankfurt fair, granting Eisengrein's pilgrimage book greater attention than it might otherwise have had. Book merchants rushed to purchase the Ingolstadt theologian's tome; during 1571, two editions had to be printed to meet demand.[17]

Marbach's polemic also elicited a response from Bavaria's Catholic reformers, and it bore the stamp of the Wittelsbachs. Within the ducal household, the Catholic convert and court preacher Dr. Johann Jakob Rabus (1545-after 1585) received a copy of Marbach's On Miracles and Wondrous Signs shortly after its appearance at the Frankfurt book fair in the fall of 1571. Like Marbach himself, Rabus rushed to issue a rebuttal. By November 30 of the same year, he had completed and sent to press his Christian Refutation of "On Miracles and Wondrous Signs."[18]

This Catholic reformer already bore battle scars from several previous combative engagements with Protestants, each of which he appears to have relished. He had, for example, recently opposed Johann Marbach's plan to secularize Catholic Church property in Strasbourg.[19] His interest in preserving the city's Catholic establishment was partly personal, for he had been born in Strasbourg and maintained connections with some of its burghers. Rabus was also the son of one of Germany's more eminent late Reformation theolo-


gians; he had been educated in the very heart of the Lutheran movement at Wittenberg before receiving a doctorate in theology from Tübingen. In 1565, dissatisfied with Lutheranism, he had traveled to Augsburg to receive theological instruction from the Jesuits. Fearing that he had been sent as a spy, the Society cautiously accepted the young man as a student, requiring numerous affirmations of his sincerity before finally allowing him to convert.[20] The Wittelsbach duke Albrecht V awarded him generous funds to finance his studies at the Jesuit colleges of Rome, Trent, Cologne, Louvain, Mainz, and Dillingen, and ultimately made him court preacher.

Doubts about Rabus's sincerity apparently persisted, because the preacher continued to make grand gestures of displaying his Catholicity. In Bavaria, for example, he avidly collected Protestant books, smuggled in by traveling merchants, and used them to flesh out his sermons denouncing the heresies of the Reformation.[21] In 1570, he went so far as to turn on his father as a means of proclaiming his support for the Roman cause: when a letter to the elder Rabus explaining his conversion was returned unopened, the new court preacher had it printed to publicize his decision and embarrass his eminent Protestant father. At the same time, he addressed a pamphlet to his father's Ulm parishioners encouraging them to renounce Protestantism and return to the true Church.[22]

Such disloyalty created bitter feelings in Protestant theological circles. At Strasbourg, Johann Marbach denounced Rabus as a sensualist who had managed to find satisfaction only by surrendering himself to the pleasures of "lascivious" papism.[23] In a poem published anonymously, "Night Raven," one of Marbach's associates, Johann Fischart, compared the counter-reformer to a bird of prey


feeding upon poor, unsuspecting Christian souls. The 3,700-plus-line poem was particularly caustic in including detailed descriptions of Rabus's exterior ugliness, which Fischart used to confirm his internal corruption. Attacking his "sunken ears baked like cobblestones" and his "chewed-up, poisoned mouth that stinks like a plow horse," "Night Raven" was exceptional in its virulence, even at a time when bitter personal attacks were common.[24] And Rabus remembered the insult: in his counterattack in the dispute over Catholic miracles, he credited Marbach with writing the poem.[25]

But it was more than personal rivalry with Marbach that inspired the court preacher to publish his defense of Martin Eisengrein's pilgrimage book. His father, Ludwig Rabus, had led a Lutheran program to "purify" the saints of their miracles and install them as paragons of a new faith-centered piety. Beginning in 1552, the elder Rabus had issued an eight-volume martyrology intended for use by ministers in composing sermons and for the devotional edification of the elite. In this work the saints, mostly comprising early Church martyrs and confessors, are praised for the strength of their faith rather than for their miracles. In 1571, even as the younger Rabus was writing his defense of the saints and their miracles, his father's martyrology was being reprinted.[26] Rabus's treatise was consequently a denunciation of his father's efforts to cleanse the cult of the saints of one of its traditional appeals.

In the style of much sixteenth-century polemical literature, Johann Rabus draws parallels between biblical incidents of idolatry and contemporary events to discredit Marbach's On Miracles and Wondrous Signs , which becomes a "sacrifice to Baal ... and the whore of Babylon."[27] Though argumentative in tone, Rabus's response does set forth a reasoned defense of Catholic miracles as something other than diabolic sorcery. Like Nass and Eisengrein he agrees that throughout history, from Old Testament times until the present, God has worked spectacular feats by the hands of a host of


prophets, apostles, and saints.[28] But, he admits, the devil too possesses the power to work miracles. His supernatural theology thus includes "true godly wonders" worked by holy men and "false devilish ones" performed by Satan and evil human beings.

Like Marbach, then, Rabus saw human society as poised between the opposing forces of good and evil. Both the Protestant and the Catholic writer, moreover, took pains to provide readers with a means of testing the spirits to discern whether an event was of divine or demonic origin. Marbach looked to Scripture for his test, for only in a church that followed the Bible's dictates could true, divine miracles occur. Rabus devised a more complicated, and more flexible, four-step method for determining the nature of supernatural intervention. First, he writes, divine miracles always serve to display God's majesty and omnipotence. Second, godly miracles produce lasting results, while the devil's are fleeting. Third, the form, matter, and agents through which the wonder occurs differ according to its origins: the devil works his miracles "through sorcerers, practitioners of black magic, witches, evil spirits, godless, crazed people, and heretics," while God works through the Catholic Church to produce prodigies in the martyrs and the saints. And fourth, godly miracles serve a useful purpose, while devilish ones have no practical end.[29]

Having outlined these rules, Rabus is free to prove that the miracles that have occurred within the Catholic Church are godly. Like Eisengrein, he recounts a number of miracles worked in the early and medieval Church to demonstrate both the antiquity and continuity of God's intervention. But he also decries the complete lack of godly miracles in the Lutheran tradition: after more than fifty years, Rabus charges, the reformers had failed to produce any dramatic affirmations such as appeared with such abundance in the Catholic tradition.[30] Moreover, despite frequent attempts by the Lutherans to exorcise evil spirits, their results had not proved lasting. This was hardly surprising, he reasons, since they stand outside the true Church and its apostolic succession; they are thus both deluded by Satan and lacking the raw materials to combat him. As a consequence of their failed exorcisms, they perceive the devil's


power to be greater than it really is. To demonstrate his point, Rabus includes stories of Lutheran exorcisms, two of which involve Luther himself. In one case, a possessed girl was brought from Meissen to Wittenberg for Luther to exorcise. Try as he might, Luther was unable to release the woman from her torturer. Finally, the devil slammed the doors and windows of the room in which the event was occurring. Petrified by fear, Luther tried to leave the room, but without success; he was freed only when someone standing outside seized an axe and chopped through the door.[31] Another story comically satirizes the theologian Bugenhagen's exorcism of a butter-robbing devil from his wife's kitchen. Enraged, the pastor sat on top of the butter dish, adjuring the "butter devil" and his "magical whore" to flee. The message of these incidents, Rabus explains, is clear. Even Luther was unable to bend the devil to his will; and to provide themselves the illusion of being victorious over the devil, Luther's followers trivialize exorcism by fighting imaginary "butter devils."[32]

With the circulation of Rabus's Christian Refutation at the Frankfurt book fair early in 1572 the battle lines were clearly drawn, with Satan at the center of the controversy. Both sides feared the devil immensely, interpreting any threat to their missionary and pastoral efforts as a case of demonic intervention. Before their laity, however, Catholic reformers like Canisius, Eisengrein, and Rabus emphasized that he could be controlled by means of Catholicism's outward rituals, its consecrated objects, and its priestly caste. In their eyes, miracles proved the divine authority of their mission. For orthodox Lutherans like Marbach, in contrast, the most effective mechanisms against Satan were an internal faith, a pious life, and the Scriptures. These men argued that Catholic miracles were often cases of diabolic magic, usually attributing this sorcery to the Jesuits or some other counter-reforming religious order.

The debate over Eisengrein's pilgrimage book persisted for more than four years, yet little new entered into the dispute. To stress


to their own flock the dire portent that the resurgence of Catholic miracles represented, Strasbourg's Protestant leaders staged a mock disputation in 1574 that debated and disproved the claims of Rabus's counterpolemic, which Marbach's associate Johann Pappus transcribed and published. And in Bavaria, Rabus, as soon as he received his copy, wrote yet another reply, which he had printed in Strasbourg and in two Munich editions. Like the other entries in this battle of volley and countervolley, Rabus sent his response off to be displayed at the fall 1574 Frankfurt book fair.[33]

The opinions expressed by Lutherans and Catholics in this debate on divine and diabolic intervention were far more than academic theological positions. The evidence suggests that fear of the devil was significantly greater in Lutheran territories during the second half of the sixteenth century than it was in Catholic Germany. A wave of apocalypticism had accompanied the Reformation from its earliest appearance. For Luther, God had abandoned contemporary society to the devil, who was being allowed to confuse and delude mankind before the renewal of gospel preaching and the final Judgment Day. Such apocalyptic fears fueled the propagandistic needs of the early reformers and contributed an urgency to the Protestant call to cleanse Germany of its magical idolatries.[34] Nor was apocalypticism limited to theological elites; the demands of peasants and the urban poor voiced in the Peasants' War of 1525 and the Revolution of the Münster Prophets in 1535 also relied on apocalyptic expectations. A flood of cheap broadsides and prophetic pamphlets thus multiplied theories about the Antichrist's identity and provided reckonings for the imminent date of the Last Judgment. For Lutherans, more than for Catholics or Calvinists, the rising influence of Satan and the coming apocalypse provided a means of explaining their own movement's failures and gave a sense of stability and order.[35]


Satan was feared in Lutheran Germany not just as an ominous abstraction but because of the enormous intimacy he could enjoy with the interior person. During the 1550s, a new genre of "devil books" (Teufelbücher ) had begun to appear in Lutheran Germany. Intended for the layperson, these books placed the blame for human vices on demons, transmogrifying human frailties and shortcomings into specific kinds of possession. By 1570, these pamphlets had captured a 10 percent share of the Protestant book market. Presses in Lutheran Germany churned out books on the "marriage devil," the "drunkenness devil," and the "magician's devil," with instructions on how to exorcise the demon that inspired the particular vice or problem.[36] Although intended for personal edification and sanctification, works in this genre blamed Satan for all human frailty. Readers of devil books were consequently taught to fear the devil's activity even in their most intimate thoughts.[37]

Devil-book production was one of the great successes of the sixteenth-century press, with some Protestant printers even establishing their fortunes in this burgeoning market. In 1563, for example, one Sigmund Feyerabend arrived in Frankfurt and began pirating editions of devil books from other printers. By 1568 he had established himself as a highly successful merchant in the field, selling 1,200 copies of his varied stock at the Frankfurt book fair. The following year he became an innovator when he published his Theater of the Demons , a work that gathered together twenty separate


devil books within a single edition.[38] By 1574 Feyerabend's preeminence was assured when he sold 3,411 copies of his various demonic publications to one book dealer alone.[39]

Books of this sort taught simply that human failings were demonically produced, but other works, like Jodok Hocker's The Devil Himself , published in 1568, focused more directly on providing a complete portrait of Satan in all his guises. Like Marbach, Hocker charged that the devil possessed the power not only to inhabit human bodies but also to use myriad arts of cunning and black magic to deceive and damn mankind. He also, like so many late sixteenth-century Lutherans, judged the thaumaturgy and saintly intercession of the traditional Church as satanic sorcery.[40]

Works like these were the product of a society in which the devil was offered up ever more frequently as an explanation for human misery and misfortune. But it was not just in the press that German Lutherans displayed their pervasive fears of demons; in the decades following 1550, exorcisms rose dramatically in Lutheran Germany, especially in the territories of the North. In that region, indeed, a particular kind of demonomania would sometimes grip a village with a pack of evil spirits possessing groups of 40 or even 150 people. The cause of this tremendous fear, Erik Midelfort suggests, lay in the decades-long pastoral condemnation of sin as demonically produced, coupled with the insistent Lutheran call to faith and the perfect life.[41]

In contrast to Canisius's elaborate spectacle in the Altötting shrine, Lutheran doctrine posed faith as the primary medium of exorcism, and the exorcistic ritual was simpler, relying on prayer, hymns, and Scripture. Certainly in both regions exorcisms were used propagandistically: they were intended to convince people not only of the omnipresence of the devil, but also of their particular confession's ability to combat Satan. In Lutheran Germany, how-


ever, exorcism also fulfilled important pious functions, in that it was used explicitly to call the faithful to live an ever more perfect life. Possessions might recur, and whole congregations were vulnerable; pastors, therefore, continually redoubled their efforts to combat Satan by warning their flocks to flee sin.[42]

Given the contrasting styles and purposes of Lutheran and Catholic exorcisms, Johann Rabus's charge that Lutherans granted Satan too much power because of their inability to combat him assumes greater meaning. In the Catholic regions of South Germany exorcisms remained an extraordinary testimony to the physical and spiritual defenses of the Roman Church. Cases like Canisius's exorcism of Anna von Bernhausen in the Altötting shrine were thus freely publicized as dramatic tours de force emblematic of Catholic truth. In 1582, for example, Georg Scherer trotted out a battery of Catholic armaments in his successful exorcism of a young woman in the cathedral of Vienna, expelling a legion of 12,652 demons.[43]

Such dramatic testimonies of Roman truth remained few. Yet when they occurred, the Catholic exorcist relied on a variety of external devices—the cross, the saintly image, the demonic adjuration, penance, the Eucharist, blessed prayers, and the charismatic mediation of his own priestly station—to accomplish the demon's expulsion. Preachers like Canisius might use their exorcisms as vehicles to exhort their audiences to lead more perfect lives, but when they faced the possessing spirits, they applied a host of external medications. Their remedies, clearly, were well suited to an enduring religious culture in which tangible objects and conjurative formulae—not internalized beliefs or perfect lives—were needed to channel supernatural power to protect against evil spirits.[44]

It may have been obvious to contemporaries that Lutherans suffered more demonic attacks than their Catholic or Calvinist counterparts. Yet despite this wave of unprecedented devilish activity, Lutheran officials continued to urge only faith and piety as antidotes. The sheer number of cases of Lutheran possession likely


prompted many to question, as Rabus did, the effectiveness of faith alone against a mounting demonic onslaught. Could faith, the Scriptures, and hymns be sufficient to war against demons? In fact, the unchanged survival of amulets, potions, and even prayers addressed to the devil is well documented in Lutheran Germany even after decades of Reformation teaching, suggesting that many continued to use physical objects and the force of conjurations to combat Satan's influence.[45]

In his attack on Canisius's exorcism, Marbach, too, sensed this affinity between the counter-reformers' methods and enduring religious perceptions. Although he had addressed his original polemic to Augsburgers and Bavarians, the mock disputation at Strasbourg and his continued monitoring of the Bavarian reformers show that he was quite concerned with the possibility of a Catholic resurgence in his own city. In the 1570s, in fact, the fate of Strasbourg's Lutheran Reformation was still in doubt. Unlike in Nuremberg or Augsburg, where Lutherans had enjoyed a definitive triumph early in the Reformation, in Strasbourg various kinds of Protestants, humanists, and spiritualists had all competed to gain advantage. The town council eventually sided with the Lutherans, but Catholic and, later, Calvinist minorities remained active in the city. As president of the Lutheran church, Marbach had gradually established control over the city's religious life, but his grip remained tenuous. For him and his orthodox Lutheran pastors, the election of a counter-reforming Catholic bishop to head the Strasbourg diocese in 1569 was a crucial turning point. Soon the Jesuits were at work in the city, and the Protestant clergy feared a fullfledged Catholic resurgence.[46]

Most Strasbourgeois remained Lutheran, but Marbach and his ministers sensed that Catholic exorcisms and miracles both represented a particularly dangerous threat to the primacy of their religion. Catholic polemicists often attacked the Reformation at its most vulnerable point, charging that the reformers had failed to produce any stunning miracles of confirmation. Their Protestant opponents responded that true miracles were those, like the Reformation, that confirmed, increased, and multiplied faith. Among


their own laity, however, there existed an unquenchable appetite for signs of God's direct intervention in the world. Even some members of the Protestant leadership shared this desire and publicized miracle stories to prove the Reformation's divine authority. In the decades after 1520 and into the seventeenth century, for example, Protestant propagandists promoted Luther as something like a medieval saint, with stories of his miracles and prophecies. And cults of Luther images, which perhaps wept or were preserved inviolate from fire and attack, survived in Lutheranism until the late 1700s.[47]

Beyond the bounds of this often officially sanctioned and promoted Luther cult, elaborate stories about God's unmediated intervention in the world continued to circulate in Protestant Germany. The late medieval world—in which sixteenth-century Protestants remained firmly embedded-had not only known the miracles of the saints and the diabolic magic of Satan; in its cosmology, natural events were also signs that revealed the Almighty's providence. Comets, earthquakes, floods, visions seen in the clouds, deformed births, and bizarre creatures belonged to a tertiary category of miracles, which Jacques Le Goff has termed the "marvelous" and which German scholars often label as "prodigies."[48]

Accounts of strange, sometimes horrifying events had circulated orally for centuries among the people, been retold in the sermons of medieval preachers, and been recorded in collections of exempla.[49] Beginning in the late fifteenth century, however, the press began to record and extend the circulation of prodigies, satisfying the popular appetite for news of sensational, even "miraculous" events. Hundreds of illustrated prodigies produced in a modest single-leaf format have survived, revealing a tradition of miracle storytelling that ran counter to the aims of Protestant reformers. While oral modes of communicating these tales certainly remained dominant


in sixteenth-century Germany, the printed broadside allows us to see how the laity interpreted the inexplicable events occurring around them.

Unlike the theological polemics that issued from the empire's great printing houses, the illustrated prodigy had humble origins. At Augsburg, for example, more than fifty small printers conducted a busy trade in broadsides during the period 1550-1750, three-quarters of these shops being located in one of the city's poorer suburbs. Often the purveyors and producers of these works clustered around a city's gates, where they could sell their wares not only to the poor artisans who lived in the suburbs but also to traveling peddlers and merchants. Cheaply produced in editions ranging from several hundred to about 2,500, these broadsides were sold for a modest price—about four to six pfennigs—that remained constant into the early seventeenth century.[50] Sometimes the sheets were distributed by merchants who sold other kinds of dry goods. At Leipzig in 1588, for example, the inventory of the shopkeeper Cornelius Caimax included everything from bonnets, belts, and daggers to the illustrated broadside.[51]

Printed prodigies, in short, were a product of market forces, with printers competing to produce accounts that would most excite curiosity and generate sales. Their output thus followed formulae, and illustrations were sometimes modeled after those in more expensive chronicles.[52] Whole accounts published in other cities could also be plagiarized. But despite their formulaic nature, the vast profusion of these works indicates that many people in both Protestant and Catholic territories were eager to learn about contemporary cases of divine intervention. More than four-fifths of the prodigies that survive from the late sixteenth century tell of apparitions, comets, meteors, and related incidents of abnormal births, the appearance of strange new species of animals, and the discovery of freakish flora and fauna. The remaining one-fifth tell of floods, storms, and other natural disasters, with a small number reporting


a variety of strange incidents, such as inexplicable murders and cases of women who survived without eating.[53]

Whether published in Lutheran, Calvinist, or Catholic regions, prodigy accounts were remarkably similar. The following cases are typical of those in circulation around the time that Johann Marbach and Strasbourg's Lutheran pastors were denouncing Catholic miracles. In 1570, a printer in Protestant Augsburg told of a "miraculous" shower of grain that had occurred in several places in Bavaria and Austria (fig. 7).[54] A four-footed hare discovered in the Calvinist Palatinate provided the subject of a Heidelberg printer's account in 1583 (fig. 8).[55] And in Catholic Cologne, a 1578 prodigy relayed the story of the strange birth of a Dutch boy with multiple cyclopean heads and the legs and feet of a centaur (fig. 9).[56] The message of these three cases was essentially the same: the "miraculous" shower of grain, the four-footed hare, and the cyclopean Dutch boy were all, their promoters proclaimed, "wondrous signs" sent by God as both a warning and a testimony to his mercy. They were intended to call people to repent and to live pious lives. The apocalypticism that was often so cogent in Lutheran theological pamphlets and books is notably absent from these prodigy accounts. While printers sometimes included the vague eschatological observation that the celestial apparition or strange plant or animal being described was a sign "of the last times," the explicit prophetic reckonings and astrological forecasting typical of late Lutheran theology rarely appear.[57] Perhaps more important, however, is the relatively small explanatory role that Satan plays in these accounts; in only a very few cases is some contemporary event attributed specifically to the devil.[58]


The prodigy, then, reflected an enduring religious mentality that was resistant to Protestant reformers' efforts to blame contemporary woes and horrors on Satan. For the purveyors and readers of this literature, the earth was like a vast book in which God, not the devil, was continuously working strange and horrific marvels to call the faithful to repentance and the pious life. These were not the miracles of faith and grace that Johann Marbach and his Lutheran pastors recommended as the true wonders of the contemporary world. Rather, they were cases where God intervened directly in the natural order to produce visible testimony to his anger and mercy. And if four-footed hares or malformed human births were such potent signs of God's power, surely the miracles that Eisengrein and other Catholics were promoting would exert even greater pull: more than a mere pronouncement of divine authority, Catholic thaumaturgic and exorcistic miracles actually helped people. No wonder the Lutheran leadership at Strasbourg attacked the resurgence of Catholic miracles so vigorously.

To inoculate the laity against the allures of this Catholic renascence, Protestant propagandists throughout Germany produced their own "anti-prodigies," tales by which they endeavored to convince their audience of the deceits and trickery of the Roman Church. Such stories, indeed, were characteristic of both Reformation and Counter-Reformation propaganda. One thinks immediately of Luther's Table Talk , which was filled with tales fulfilling the didactic, apologetic needs of the Reformation. On the Catholic side, the Jesuits in France gathered some particularly remarkable, farfetched stories about Protestant crimes of ritual murder and bizarre sacrilege.[59] In Germany, stories set into circulation through sermons, modest broadsides, and pamphlets proved an important means of discrediting competing confessions.[60] Although Marbach's and Rabus's printed polemics had likewise placed Catholic and Protestant deceits and trickery before their readers, their tales were pointedly intended to summarize and validate doctrinal positions. When the goal, however, was to appeal to the laity en masse, stories often assumed a more autonomous role.


Unlike other kinds of theological argument to which Protestant and Catholic theologians and preachers had recourse—the appeal to Scripture, to an abstract tradition, or to logically fashioned principles like the sola fide —stories provided a unique propagandistic opportunity, for they described concrete events. By retelling these tales, preachers, pamphleteers, and producers of the popular Reformation broadsides hoped to immunize both literate and illiterate lay people against the appeals of the Catholic resurgence. The allegations of crimes like ritual murder and diabolic sorcery that Catholics and Protestants flung at one another were certainly not beyond the bounds of sixteenth-century credibility. For more than two centuries, after all, German society had been conditioned by equally fantastic tales of ritual sacrifice and host desecration to hate the Jews. The sexual crimes attributed to the Beguines and the Brethren of the Free Spirit had been colossal but, for many, completely credible. And even as monstrous tales about the crimes of Protestants and Catholics circulated, much of Northern Europe was being taught to fear the onslaught of witches, which one inquisitor warned numbered in "the thousands everywhere" and were "multiplying upon the earth even as worms in a garden."[61]

The legends that Protestant propagandists promoted about the reforming orders of the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church, and its miracles repeated many of the same accusations that had long been associated with Jews, witches, and heretics. Indeed, a kind of "black legend" concerning the Roman Church was steadily intensifying in the late sixteenth century. In a series of pamphlets published during the early 1560s, for example, the Lutheran preacher Hieronymus Rauscher dissected the lives of the saints, transforming them into lies promoted by the devil and the "papists" to "damn simple people and lead them to the abyss of hell." Widely circulated in numerous editions, Rauscher's pamphlet polemics had a profound influence on the later stories told by Protestant writers and preachers about the Catholic Church.[62]


Rauscher had concentrated his venom largely on discrediting the historical exempla and saintly legends communicated in the late Middle Ages by such works as Jacopo da Voragine's Golden Legend . Those who followed him demonized more completely and viciously the contemporary missionary activities of the Catholic Church. In a pamphlet published in 1566, a Lutheran minister explained that the Jesuits were able to work their numerous conversions by smearing magical salves on their pulpits to attract the young and simple. This writer advocated that Jesuits be burned at the stake, rather than merely being expelled from Protestant territories; that, he said, was the only way to end their black magic.[63] In 1576, a pastor in Württemberg fabricated the story of an imaginary Jesuit named Georg Ziegler who allied himself with a witch to conjure up demons. After capturing one of these spirits in a jar, the Jesuit used it to perform his dark works. One day his demon escaped. Flying across the Protestant territories along the Neckar and Main rivers and across Alsace, the spirit had wreaked havoc with the climate and destroyed crops—which, the writer said, explained a bout of very bad weather that afflicted these regions in 1576.[64]

Allegations of diabolic sorcery worked in the Roman Church abounded throughout Protestant Germany in the late sixteenth century. Around 1600, the diarist Enoch Widmann at Regensburg related a legend that he said was then being retold to explain his city's "Fair Mary" pilgrimage. Whether or not the tale was actually being retold can never be determined; but the Protestant clergy would likely have drawn upon it and used it in their efforts to demonize the Roman Church. In Widmann's relating of the Protestant tale, the pilgrimage to the town's shrines becomes a case of priestly black magic. As we have seen, an early Reformation account had attributed the shrine's popularity to Jewish magic; now, however, Regensburg's Protestants focused the charge on the cathedral preacher Balthasar Hubmayer who, after pronouncing in-


cantations over a human heart, had allegedly enclosed the talisman inside the chapel altar to lure pilgrims to the site.[65]

Such sorceries, Protestant pastors and propagandists warned repeatedly, were not only a historical legacy; they were still occurring in the present. Sometimes, though, their tales triumphantly celebrated the exposure and defeat of some new case of Roman deception. An illustrated broadside published in 1569 told how a Jesuit had costumed himself as a demon to frighten a Protestant girl into relinquishing her religion (fig. 10). "Through the Almighty's intervention," the text stated, a male servant had discovered the deceit and run the Jesuit through with a sword, thus preserving the young girl from the "monkish" devil.[66] Another anonymous broadside printed in the same year mocked a Jesuit's attempt at Vienna to set himself up as a false Messiah; when his efforts to raise a dead man had failed, he had been permanently exiled from the city.[67]

There was almost no crime so hideous or bizarre that it could not be attributed to the counter-reformers. The Jesuits were a favorite target; although on the outside they appeared to be the very model of a well-ordered piety, their private lives were conducted, it was claimed, in luxury and sensuality. In 1570, for example, a broadside circulated recounting the story of a pregnant male Jesuit in Vienna. Apparently, he had carried a picture of a woman under his clothes, whereupon his seething, unrequited lust had produced this magical progeny. To celebrate the miraculous birth, the Jesuits had set up the man's childbed in a public location to which people could make pilgrimages and direct their worship. The account concluded by condemning clerical celibacy for producing both impious devotions and magical progeny.[68]

The charge that the Jesuits could and did sire demonic progeny was common in the late sixteenth century, partly, no doubt, thanks to the widespread contemporary fascination with strange and hor-


rific births. And in this vein, no one ever quite matched the efforts of Johann Fischart of Strasbourg. A close associate of Johann Marbach, Fischart in the 1570s presented in single-page illustrated poems a simpler, more immediate condemnation of Catholic sorcery—in the form of a "history" of the Jesuit order—than was to be found in the Strasbourg church president's voluminous polemics. Adopting the pen name Jesuwalt Pickart, he told how Lucifer had grown sick as a result of the Reformation's message. The pope, saddened by his colleague's illness, smeared Satan's buttocks with a magical salve, causing him to give birth to a child through defecation. The pope christened the child "Anti-Christus," but Lucifer, familiar with the German language, made the Holy Father change the name to Jesuwider (literally, Anti-Jesus). It was this child who had founded the hateful Society of Jesus and sent his recruits into the empire to work their diabolic miracles. In other poems, Fischart continued to demonize the Jesuits and other counter-reformers working in contemporary Germany, through use of equally grotesque physical and scatological imagery.[69]

The poet's characterization of the Society of Jesus as the devil's "shit" drew upon imagery that was well established in Reformationera propaganda. Themes involving the diabolic defecation of monks and the Antichrist had enjoyed a perverse popularity among readers of illustrated broadsides during the early Reformation;[70] but the imagery gained its broadest currency thanks to Luther's own polemical efforts. In 1545, the year before his death, the reformer had published a pamphlet entitled The Papacy at Rome, Founded by the Devil , with evocative illustrations by Lucas Cranach the Elder. In one image, the devil is shown squatting to relieve himself of his "devil's shit"—the pope and the Roman curia—while around him these "offspring" are being suckled and reared by demons (fig. 11). The nine additional illustrations in the pamphlet explore the relationship between bodily excrement, Satan, demons, and the Roman Church, with, for example, worshipers defecating in the papal tiara


and German peasants baring their bottoms to fart defiantly at the pope.[71]

Luther took great pride in this work, referring to it as his "testament," and as one of his last publications it was widely distributed.[72] But while this was one of his most extreme attacks on the papacy, it also represented a highly personal statement about his own struggle for salvation. A longtime sufferer from hemorrhoids and urine retention, the reformer may actually have had his salvific breakthrough while in the monastery privy—a fact that the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, in 1958, stressed in attempting to explain Luther's psychic distresses, noting that the realization of the sola fide was connected to a physical catharsis and cleansing.[73]

Although Reformation historians have persistently attacked Erikson's attempts to psychoanalyze the dead Luther, in the years since his work first appeared they have also shed their reticence concerning Reformation-era scatology. Luther's "cloaca crisis" now appears less a sign of his emotional instability than an experience consonant with both the popular culture and the learned traditions of the late Middle Ages. In popular superstition, the privy was a placed haunted by maleficent spirits, and the devil was believed to stink like human feces. Medieval monastic literature, too, warned of the dangers that lurked in the water closet.[74] The fact that Luther's breakthrough and his triumph over Satan occurred in the monastery privy, then, must be placed in the context of a society in which defecation was both a sign of human humiliation and a precarious function exposing men and women to the dangers of evil spirits.

The Protestant reformers' uses of scatological imagery thus had


numerous meanings. Although throughout sixteenth-century Europe there was in general little reserve about bodily functions, and scatological language was freely used, Germany was apparently characterized by a strongly negative focus on excrement at this time.[75] German cesspool cleaners, for example, were considered members of a "dishonorable profession" (unehrliche Gewerbe ), a designation that marked them as a marginal caste.[76] When seeking to redress libels and slanders, members of the German nobility often sent "defamatory letters" that included illustrations showing their enemies' seals or coats of arms being plunged into steaming dung.[77] The tendency to associate opposing opinions and enemies with feces was strong in every layer of German society. In the numerous medieval and early modern depictions of the "Jewish sow" (Judensau ), a popular anti-Jewish denigration, German artists sometimes showed the animal eating feces.[78] But scatological images also served satirical and comic purposes. In the carnival plays that survive from fifteenth-century Nuremberg, references to defecation appeared only slightly less frequently than those to sex. In fact, sexual and scatological metaphors were often blended, forged into new kinds of images that, like Luther's and Fischart's, depicted reproductivity and regeneration as arising from the degenerative act of defecation.[79]

This imagery evokes what Mikhail Bakhtin once termed "the material bodily lower stratum."[80] By referring to feces, defecation, and urination, one could humiliate an enemy by inverting his thoughts, deeds, and actions and associating them with the most primal functions. In his now-classic study of Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel , Bakhtin argues that the provenance of this language lay in a "popular culture" that rejoiced in carnival and other ritualized


forms of play which reversed normal patterns and conventions.[81] Rabelais's satire, according to Bakhtin, appealed to a simultaneously moral and comic sense that was fast disappearing in the sixteenth-century West. He derided the late medieval Schoolmen for their extremely intellectualized and routinized logic, degrading their efforts by connecting the realm of the intellect with the lower stratum of bodily needs. In place of Scholastic sterility, thus, Rabelais exalted the popular culture of the marketplace, whose rites celebrated the organic functions of degeneration and regeneration.

While the French author's imagery may have found its inspiration in the popular culture of the marketplace, as Bakhtin theorized,[82] German uses of scatology were more universal. Unlike Rabelais, who directed his attacks against what in his view was a sterile intellectual culture, the propagandists of the late sixteenth century employed the material bodily principle to destroy residual Catholic devotion. Indeed, as the religious situation grew ever more tangled, polemicists like Fischart were to heighten the brew of diabolism and scatology to baroque proportions. In the late Reformation offensive against a renewed Catholic priesthood and its miracles, Lutheran theologians and propagandists rarely ventured merely that Catholicism was a merely deluded religion; their jeremiads warned incessantly that it was a diabolic cult.

In tales of sorcerous priests and diabolically produced miracles, late Reformation pastors, poets, and pamphleteers strove to destroy the enduring allures of Catholic thaumaturgy and the saints. That many in the Lutheran leadership believed these charges cannot be doubted, if only because of the then-reigning explanatory malaise in which Satan was playing an ever greater role. Yet these negative attacks could never really inoculate the Protestant laity against the resurgence of clerically promoted miracles then under way in many South German regions, for they carried no "purified" Protestant doctrine of the supernatural as a countermeasure.

On just what such a theology should include, indeed, there was little agreement. Some, like Marbach, argued that the "true" miracles of the present were those that increased the gospel of faith.


At the same time, however, many Lutherans were promoting the founder of their confession in ways that could have been lifted directly from the late medieval thaumaturgic and prophetic traditions. Revering his image and retelling his prophecies, they celebrated signs that confirmed his divine inspiration and message. Some searched the heavens for clues that would reveal the date for the impending conclusion of world history; others continued the trade in strange, prodigious tales about cases of divine interventions worked in the seas, grain fields, and childbeds of Europe. While we cannot doubt that Protestants feared the onslaughts of Satan, they were nevertheless unwilling to credit him with everything inexplicable that occurred around them.

In the limited confines of cities like Strasbourg, Augsburg, and Regensburg, where Catholicism was as politically, socially, and economically threatening to burghers as it was religiously ominous to the Protestant clergy, the repeated warnings of Lutheran propagandists may have helped prevent a renewal of the traditional Church.[83] Beyond urban gates, however, in rural Alsace, Franconia, Bavaria, and other territories throughout South Germany, Protestants proved incapable of stopping the intense missionary efforts of a resurgent Catholic clergy. As this group increased its efforts, miracles began to reverberate once again from pilgrimage chapels like those at Eberhardsklausen and Altötting. There hundreds, and sometimes even tens of thousands, of reports of healings and intercessions would be assiduously recorded and circulated during the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[84] Clearly, many Germans after a half-century of Protestantism were still inclined to agree with the Catholic reformers: if the miracle's end result was good, it was surely a work of God.


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