Friday, June 6, 2014

The Strange and Terrible Visions of Wilhelm Friess, Chapter Five: A Horrible and Shocking Prophecy

As you can see from the sidebar, The Strange and Terrible Visions of Wilhelm Friess is now in print. The book was the result, among other things, of trying to figure out what connected two sets of prophetic pamphlets that appeared to have nothing in common and were separated by two decades, although both claimed to have been found with Wilhelm Friess of Maastricht after his recent death. I answer that question in chapter 5.

The first part of the answer is that the second prophecy ("Friess II"), a desolate vision of utter devastation about to be visited on Germany in the form of demonic armies invading from all sides, shares a few details specifically with the Lübeck editions of "Friess I." Also, I argue that one of the two Lübeck editions has been misdated. While the first of them, VD16 F 2844, is dated in VD16 to 1558, there is strong evidence that it dates to 1566, as nearly all references to years earlier than that have been removed or increased by eight years. In addition, the titles of the Lübeck editions are nearly identical to a lost Dutch edition printed in 1566, last seen at auction over 200 years ago. The best guide to the text it contained is found in the Lübeck editions of Johann Balhorn the Elder.

So not only do we have a version of "Friess I" circulating in the Netherlands and Northern Germany in 1566-68, but it appears to be a specifically Lutheran text. The enemies list that appears in these editions distances itself from Catholics, Anabaptists, and Sacramentarians - that is, from Calvinists. It also condemns insurrection more harshly than other versions of "Friess II," foreseeing that some people will rise up and pillage churches, but the authorities will eradicate them. The setting that gave rise to this version of "Friess I" thus appears to be Dutch Lutheranism at the time of the Dutch Revolt in 1566.

I argue that "Friess II" is a specifically Calvinist reaction to the specifically Lutheran "Friess I" pamphlets circulating in the late 1560s. I suggest that one specific catalyzing even was the Calvinist uprising in Antwerp that ended in a humiliating stand-down after the Calvinists found themselves surrounded on all sides in the city by a force consisting of both Catholics and Lutherans and representatives of Antwerp's merchant community from all the nations of Europe, a source of resentment for many years to come. "Friess II" thus recapitulates as a nightmare vision for Germany the hopeless strategic situation that the Calvinists of Antwerp found themselves in in March 1567.

While the earliest dated editions of "Friess II" were printed by Samuel Apiarius of Basel in 1577, some textual-critical detective work points to an origin in 1574 with a Calvinist sympathizer in Strasbourg, but I treat most of the Strasbourg context in the next chapter.

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Due to conference presentations and summer travel, blog updates may be sporadic for a while.

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