Friday, October 11, 2013

Reading pseudo-Vincent Ferrer in 1529

Of the fifteen editions of pseudo-Vincent Ferrer's De fine mundi published between 1475 and 1582 (ten in Latin, five in German translation), the edition published by Peter Quentel in Cologne in 1529 (VD16 ZV 20103; Vienna facsimile here) is unusual in that it describes the circumstances of its discovery and why one contemporary reader found it worth publishing. The first two pages reprint a letter from Georg Steyn, pastor in Kirchheim by Heidelberg, to Ortwin Gratius (1475-1542). Here is a first attempt at a partial translation of Steyn's Latin:

Georg Steyn, master of arts and governor of the Christian flock in Kirchheim by Heidelberg, offers greetings to the stalwart doctor of the liberal arts and learned director of the Quentel print shop, Ortwin Gratius.

Most learned Ortwin, a few days ago I came upon a very old little book in the library of the Dominicans in Heidelberg, covered in dust and mold. On opening it, I found the renowned teacher St. Vincent’s prognostication on the end of the world, which brought me great delight. When I asked to borrow it from the prior of the Dominicans, Johannes Cronaberg, a man of the most genial character (lest I say anything that sounds too lofty about an exceedingly modest man), he generously acceded to my wishes….

We see unheard of evils growing daily and taking root so that it is no surprise that the Most High God chastens mortals with plagues also unknown before our time. Who does not see that the world lies in evil, Christian charity has grown cold (lest I say that it is entirely uprooted), and people are engulfed in the chasm of all sin?...

See how the heretics seek to besiege the walls of the faithful soul with the battering-rams of error and plunder them, and how they attempt to pollute the sacraments of the Church by their pestilential and foreign doctrines….

Therefore such filth is a portent of great confusion and uproar. From that little book, we can carefully determine that the fire and smoke are near, and the day of conflagration can hardly be far off. For the sinner (as St. Augustine said), who took no thought of God his creator while he lived, is struck by this punishment that he forgets himself. Your role therefore, O dearest Gratius, who are the most faithful cultivator of the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts, will be to consider this little book, enwreathed by various little flowers of scripture, for the common benefit of mankind. You will return with no small profit for God and man. I have left the style of this tract as I found it, considering how that holy man made manifest great and hidden mysteries in simple style. Farewell, with fond regards from your Georg. From Heidelberg, August 22 [X. Calendas Septemb.], 1529.

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