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Anti-Franciscanism in the Early Reformation: The Nature and Sources of Criticism

From: Franciscan Studies
Volume 55, 1998
pp. 53-81 | 10.1353/frc.1998.0047

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Anti-Franciscanism in the Early Reformation: The Nature and Sources of Criticism In the pamphlet "Against the False Religious Known as the Barefoot Friars or Franciscans," penned in the spring of 1523, Johann Eberlin von Giinzburg wrote of St. Francis: If its founder was so foolish to think that this rule is the Gospel and was thereby deceived and deceived others, then he is indeed a great and harmful fool.... If, however, he knew that this rule is not the Gospel and, nonetheless, introduced this deceit into the world, then he is an arch-rogue....1 Although the sharpest in his criticism, Eberlin was not the only former Franciscan to turn his pen on the Order in the first half of 1523. On 27 February, Johannes Schwan completed "An Epistle, in Which He Shows from the Bible and Scripture Why He Left the Franciscan Order in Whose Cloister at Basel He Formerly Was."2 'Eberlin, "Wider die falschen Geistlichen, genannt die Barfiisser und Franziskaner," in Ludwig Enders, ed. Johann Eberlin von Guenzburg, Saemtliche Schriften, vol. 3, Flugschriften aus der Reformationszeit, vol. 18 (Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1902) 65: "Ist der stiffter so nerrysch geseyn, das er maynet, dysse regul were das Evangelion, und ist also betrogen worden, hat auch also andere betrogen, so ist er ein grosser schedlicher narr gesein, . . . Hat er aber gewisst, das disse regel nit ist das Evangelion, und dennocht den betrug in die weit gefuert, so ist er ain ertzbuob, ..." On the dating of this work see pp. 70 and 88. Born sometime around 1465, Eberlin likely did not enter the Franciscan Order until 1500. Before his move to Wittenberg, he was committed to a humanist program of ecclesiastical reform, to which he may have been introduced by Paul Scriptoris in Tübingen and Conrad Pellican in Basel. However, he first openly declared himself for Luther's cause while a member of the Observant priory in Ulm. Eberlin is by far the most intensively studied of the former Franciscans under consideration here. For detailed bibliographies of the literature on him, see Christian Peters, Johann Eberlin von Günzburg ca. 1465-1533. Fanziskaner Reformer, Humanist und konservativer Reformator (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1994) and my Antifraternalism and Anticlericalism in the German Reformation: Johann Eberlin von Günzburg and the Attack on the Friars (Leicester: Scolar Press, forthcoming 1996). 2"Ein Sendbriff Johannis Schwan. Darinne er anzeigt ausz der Bibel und Schryfft waru-b er Barfusser orden des er etwan ym kloster zuo Basseil gewest verlassen." Hans-Joachim Köhler, et al., Early Modern Pamphlets: Sixteenth-Century German and Latin, 1501-1530 (Zug, Switzerland: Interdocumentation Company, 1980 ff.), F 1186, #2980, Biii(c). Johann Schwan from Marburg had been a member of the Observant cloister in Basel. In 1522, he left the city and the Order for 53 Franciscan Studies, 55 (1998) 54GEOFFREY DIPPLE About the same time, Francis Lambert of Avignon wrote "The Reasons why He Rejects the Status of and Association with the Minors," and in March, he began writing "An Evangelical Description of the Franciscan Rule."3 Also in March, a response by Johannes Briesmann to Caspar Schatzgeyer, the south German provincial of the Franciscan Observants who had written against Luther's "Judgement on Monastic Vows," was printed in Wittenberg.4 Thereafter, the polemics became more virulent and more detailed, and the object of attack is expanded to include the mendicants, and in some cases, the cloistered in general. Eberlin's "A Second True Admonition to the Council of Ulm," written between 16 April and 23 May, identifies the Franciscans and Dominicans as the chief opponents of reform in the imperial city, and develops several themes which foreshadow the contents of his "Against the False Religious."5 Shortly thereafter, Heinrich Spelt completed "A True Declaration or Explanation of the Profession, Vows and Life which the Coloured, False Religious Pursue Against Evangelical Freedom and Christian Love."6 Sometime during this Wittenberg and Luther's camp. In late 1523, he moved to Strasbourg where he was active as a printer until his death in 1526. 3Roy L. Winters, Francis Lambert ofAvignon (1487-1530): A Study in Reformation Origins (Philadelphia: The United Lutheran Publishing House, 1938): 45; Lambert...